Subverting a Democracy: A Fantasy

My friends and I are very wealthy: most of us are billionaires, many of us multi-billionaires. While we are doing well, we would like to lock things in, and make sure that we, and our children, and our children's children, are at the top of the human heap for decades to come.

We have made our money in many ways and are currently invested in many things. But we tend to be concentrated in a few sectors: finance, energy, and the military. And what we most benefit from in those areas is volatility: macroeconomic instability, energy price swings, regime change, and war. So, to the extent we could capture the policy agenda of a very powerful nation we could use that power to create volatility in all of those areas, thereby continuously enhancing our own positions.

So we picked out one of the most powerful nations on earth, Freedonia, as our target and set out to make sure its policies worked to our benefit. But we had a slight problem: that nation thought of itself as a democracy, where the votes of the people would steer policy. Now, we had plenty enough money to buy one of the country's two major parties (the Orange party and the Violet party), and make sure that party always did our bidding. But that strategy would run the risk of the people figuring out that we had co-opted that party, and they might unite to vote against it. Therefore, we decided it would be better if we need sure that the majority of candidates from both parties would always support our agenda: we would buy both of them.

However, that strategy ran a different risk: what if the people of Freedonia noticed that both parties were running on our platform? And here we hit upon strategy that, if I'm not being immodest, I must say is brilliant: we found a number of issues on which the people of Freedonia were divided, and made sure that we played up those issues as much as possible, and that the candidate from the Orange party always would take an extreme position on one side of the issue, while the candidate from the Violet party always would take extreme position on the other side.

So, for instance, it happens that Freedonia is sharply divided on the topic of horse meat: some sections of the country are horse-riding regions, and treat their horses almost like members of their family. Largely, the people in those regions are revolted by people who eat horse meat. On the other hand, in the other regions of Freedonia, horse meat forms an important part of their traditional cuisine, and they are highly resistant to giving up those dishes.

This is a perfect issue for us to exploit: we can make sure that our candidates from the Orange party will campaign on a platform that "Horse meat is murder," and claim that they will work tirelessly to ban it throughout the nation. Meanwhile, the candidates from the Violet party will claim that Orange party candidates are fanatics who want to take away our "right to choose" what we eat.

What is so great about this issue for us is that we don't care. We are fabulously rich. If we want to eat horses, we will eat them, whichever party wins. And if we want to ride them, we will ride them regardless. And we also don't care at all what happens to the proles' horses. So we can play up this issue to the maximum extent possible, so that the electorate will never notice that, on the issues that matter to us, both the Orange party candidates and the Violet party candidates are totally on our side.

And we will work hard to make sure the people don't notice that both sides have a decent compromise available to them: Freedonia happens to have a federal system, meaning they could just leave it up to the regions, so that the horse-loving regions ban horse meat, while the horse-eating regions continue to enjoy it. This would be an adult political solution to this conflict: adults would recognize the gulf in evaluations of this situation, and would look for a compromise that would make everyone mildly happy, and realize that this is what politics is about: negotiating compromises that allow us to live together peacefully. No, we want no adult solutions, we want fanaticism on both sides of the issue, so that it (and issues like it) always appear far more important to the committed Orange and Violet partisans than the issues we really care about.

So, we will allow and indeed encourage violent disagreement on any of issue that has no bearing on our project. But, if at any point, any Violet or Orange candidate who threatens our interests on our key issues gains popularity, we will use the full force of our money and power to discredit that candidate as "unstable," "fringe," "radical," and so on. And our bought media will trumpet the theme, "If you of party X nominate such a unelectable, fringe candidate, think of how badly you will lose on the horse meat issue when the evil candidate from party Y wins!"

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But, of course, this is all just fantasy: no group of wealthy people could really be so self-serving, and no electorate so easily duped.


8 comments:

  1. There is one thing, though.

    In the US, the turnover of the very wealthy is very high.

    The top 5 richest are not from the same families as the top 5 richest 2 decades ago.

    So clearly the hold on power of the rich is a bit slippery.

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    1. See Gregory Clark, The Son Also Rises: the turnover in elite families is quite slow, and a family tends to be on top for many generations.

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    2. That was a very very very interesting review to read. Wow.

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  2. I'd be curious if you delineated what ideas/views were so important to the very rich. I certainly have my ideas...

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  3. They know enough to take the long game though and make sure they own office holders high and low, so even if one gets through, there are more than enough others prevent what they don't want and bide their time on what they do.

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  4. Great post ... but if I'm reading the analogy right, that would make Trump the character they're trying to discredit as "fringe". And he's rich. Is there some subtlety I missed?

    It would be applicable pretty cleanly to Sanders though.

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  5. Very interesting. I've thought the "rich own both sides" thing to be a little cliche, but this better explains how it might be exploited by rich donors.

    "And we will work hard to make sure the people don't notice that both sides have a decent compromise available to them: Freedonia happens to have a federal system, meaning they could just leave it up to the regions, so that the horse-loving regions ban horse meat, while the horse-eating regions continue to enjoy it. This would be an adult political solution to this conflict: adults would recognize the gulf in evaluations of this situation, and would look for a compromise that would make everyone mildly happy, and realize that this is what politics is about: negotiating compromises that allow us to live together peacefully."

    That may follow if you hold compromise to be a value or if you think compromise is acceptable for this issue. The "horse meat is murder" crowd might be of the opinion that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. The "right to choose" folks might point to the Due Process Clause of the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of Freedonia and Incorporation Doctrine that goes with as an argument for why the federal system's zone have no right to ban horse meat. If either party honestly believes either of these things, then I don't think it would make sense for them to compromise and wouldn't try to offer it as a solution to them.

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