Radical Democracy

How can governance represent the needs of the people?  How can governments disseminate power, and give equal consideration of interests? One proposal is quadratic voting, outlined in the book “Radical Markets”. The authors, Eric Posner and Glen Weyl, propose “Quadratic Voting”. This proposal replaces ‘one person one vote’. It replaces equal influence in choosing governments with equal influence on governance. Equal influence rather than equal say.

Under quadratic voting, everyone receives an equal number of voting credits. These credits can buy influence. Raising an issue for consideration or voting for it once raised. Or voting against an awful proposal, as the case may be. We would all have the same number of voting credits. We could all use them how we like. Perhaps climate change moves you. Or marriage equality. Or mental health policy. Or any number of things. You could your influence on what is most important to you.

Consider our current system. The passionate minority often overwhelmed by the disinterested masses. For example, a new healthcare program might benefit rural communities. Perhaps they know this. This program deserves political support. Like any issue, I expect most voters are unaware or indifferent. How could such a program find political support? In our current system, the voices of any minority drown in a sea of indifference. But the voices of those affected are exactly the voices we should listen to. Quadratic voting would give any group the power to influence the issues that matter most.

The discerning reader may already see a problem. The passionate minority can always overwhelm the disinterested majority. They have too much power. Some policies are justified by a small but significant benefit spread across millions. Quadratic Voting seems to imply small groups benefiting at a significant cost to the rest of us. Imagine a tariff that benefits a handful of producers but raised the price for everyone else. Such a policy would be harmful, on balance. In general, we want to create more benefit and less harm, in these situations we don’t want any motivated group to win.

There is a simple solution to this problem. We give everyone an equal ability to impact everyone else. Thus, the cost of voting should reflect the impact of voting. I first imagined one credit buying one vote. But the cost of one vote should be the cost inflicted on others. Economists have calculated this cost as the square of the number of votes. Hence “quadratic” voting. The cost of one vote is one credit, but the cost of five votes is twenty-five credits. This solution gives equal voting credits, but make the cost of voting a square function of votes. The passionate minority can still win where they should win. But where they shouldn’t win, they won’t.

The proposal helps another problem. The current voter must vote on every issue. And on average, this voter is uninspired and confused.  But I care about certain issues, and so does the faceless voter. I am motivated to understand those issues which I deem important. Most people are like me: uninspired and misinformed on all but a select few topics. When we exert influence on what matters to us, we exert influence within our circle of expertise. Quadratic Voting increases the expertise of voters, without any extra work.

That’s it. We should all have equal impact on governance. Quadratic voting plays to the strength of democracy, disseminating power to the people. It mitigates the weaknesses: allowing informed influence and appropriate force for minority voices. Because of my own disposition, I would add a hedge. Even the best theoretical system may have hidden practical problems.  We should always trial changes on a small scale, finding out where the territory doesn’t fit the map.

To find out more check out the book, or this episode of the 80,000 hours podcast with Rob Wiblin

Image from http://radicalmarkets.com

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