Another Political Fantasy

Apparently, I’ve been living in a fantasy world lately.  The fantasy that I want to share this time is quite unrealistic.  It is like hoping that we elect a wise unicorn to the presidency.  It simply cannot happen.  So, if I were getting paid to philosophize, I’d call this a thought experiment.  But, since no one is paying me, I’ll stick to fantasy.  It sounds more fun that way.

My current fantasy is for elections to be anonymous.  And I don’t mean the current secret ballot kind of anonymous.  I mean the candidates would remain anonymous.  Basically, anyone who wants to be president would submit their names to their parties.  The parties would each choose a candidate, but would not announce the name of the candidate.  If anyone disclosed the name of a candidate, that candidate would be disqualified and the snitch would be imprisoned for election tampering.  Then, each party’s candidate would write up a speech outlining their positions and governing philosophy.  The anonymous speeches would be sealed in envelopes randomly labeled A, B, C, D. . . (I would also limit the number of parties.  We don’t want a thousand candidates.  But I’m not sure what a good limit would be.)  The envelopes would be delivered to a prominent actor to be read publicly.  (I like the idea of Morgan Freeman reading them, but it should change with each election cycle.  Meryl Streep would do an excellent job as well.)  They should also be printed in the news and made available online.  There would be a two week period where people would discuss the speeches.  Then, each candidate would present another speech in the same way as before, but modified (if they so choose) to incorporate the feedback.

Election day would be two weeks after the second set of speeches is presented to the public.  People would go to the polls and vote for Candidate A, B, C or D based entirely on the content of the two speeches.  The one who receives the most votes wins and that person’s name is revealed and sworn in as president.  The losers could out themselves if they so choose, but nothing official would disclose their identities.  And, finally, to keep the system honest, the speeches would be considered binding contracts.  Congress and the courts would treat ignoring or contradicting the contents of the speeches that resulted in election to be an impeachable offense.

Clearly, this is fantasy because we’d have to chuck more than half the Constitution to make it happen.  But just think how great it would be.  The entire election cycle would be less than two months.  Everyone could be an informed and engaged voter just paying attention while a famous person speaks.  It would remove sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, etc. as factors in the election since no one would know any of those things about the candidates.  Since the parties would pick their candidates, they would be a kind of filter.  We wouldn’t have to worry about nut-jobs like Trump that are despised by their own party.  It would break the current duopoly.  And it would completely remove likeability as a factor, since no one would know who was running.  And likeability might be the dumbest criteria for choosing a president there is.

I know it is a fantasy, but it is one worth indulging.  It takes some imagination, but get a transcript of some of the campaign speeches and read them in Morgan Freeman’s voice.  You might be surprised at what they have to say.  With many of the candidates being famous, everyone goes into the election knowing who they love and who they hate.  That’s a huge barrier to electing the best person for the job.  I wish we could find a realistic way of changing it.

The Job Market

Robert Paul Wolff writes a very entertaining blog called The Philosopher’s Stone.  Even when he is just bragging about his grandchildren, it is still utterly charming.  A little while ago, I read a post called Ein Gedankenexperiment A La Rawls.  In this post, he describes a thought experiment to determine what jobs would be worth in a free market.  The gist of it is that all jobs are handed out randomly to all the workers, all with the same salary.  Then, people start trading.  The value of the jobs will depend on how desirable they are and how difficult they are.  It shows how messed up our current system is.  Garbage collectors would be making much more than stock brokers in a free market, so clearly our labor market isn’t free.

Since reading the piece, I keep thinking about it.  I like the thought experiment, but I believe it is missing a key feature of a truly free market and I want to make a modification.  In a truly free market, there needs to be an option to opt out.  If you imagine a market for dinnerware, there will be some pieces that are rare and coveted and they will sell for a lot.  There will also be some pieces that are chintzy and those will sell for a little.  But there are also some people that will say, “No thanks.  I’ll just use my hands.”  It is even probable that the chintzy dinnerware winds up disappearing because people would rather eat with their hands than purchase it.

In order to add the opt out feature to the labor thought experiment, we just need to posit a guaranteed minimum income.  This is an idea with some pedigree from Hayek on the right to Galbraith on the left.  Once the guaranteed minimum income is in place, when the jobs are handed out randomly, the options become to keep the job given, to try to trade for a different job or to opt out.  The dynamics of the market would be largely the same.  The biggest difference is that no one would take certain types of jobs.  There would be no worry about necessary jobs being unfilled because those would have to pay more.  And there would be no worry about fun jobs being unfilled because people would want them.  The jobs that would disappear would be the jobs that are neither fulfilling nor necessary.  I can’t imagine many middle managers would come out of this system.

When all is said and done, there would be a much smaller work force, but it would be a much more efficient workforce.  Perhaps we could even get a glimpse of Plato’s ideal state rather than the city of pigs he describes in The Republic.  Unfortunately, the people who are always talking about market efficiency and freedom would never go for this.  They have too much to lose since their jobs aren’t really necessary.  And they run the world.  So, this will remain a humble thought experiment.