In the glorious light of this nail-bitingly dramatic Republican primary, I am taking the opportunity to articulate a plan that would forever change our political process. The plan would hopefully push candidates to do more to educate their constituents and pander towards the generally knowledgeable instead of special interests or the ignorant folks who can’t pick out Saudi Arabia on a map. My plan, which has been rolling around in my head for some time, is based on two equal premises. The first is as lofty as the second is pragmatic.
Premise 1: Everyone has a right to influence their country’s decision-making processes.
Premise 2: Those who have more knowledge and understanding in relevant areas should have more influence in their country’s decision-making processes.
In other words, everyone should have a voice, but not all voices are equal. Some people do not track the news at all, some have never shown any interest in economics, political theory, history, foreign policy, etc. I’m fine if people do not engage in these issues. That is up to them. However, if you don’t cook, I’d rather not eat your food. If you don’t know anything about construction, I’d rather you not build my house. In the same way, governing takes skill and picking governing representatives takes skill. I’d rather live in a country that tried to recognize and use those skills.
Under our current system, politicians cater to those who are less informed rather than more informed. Why? I believe a big reason is that those with well-wrought opinions tend to be less easily swayed. So unless there is an incentive to appeal to those with carefully constructed opinions, they will be increasingly ignored in favor of the emotional, more easily manipulated, less informed voter–those that might change their mind after seeing an ad or two, or hearing a talking point or two.
Therefore, I have created the 1-1-1 Plan. It’s quite simple. Everyone has the opportunity to have their vote be worth 3 votes. Each of us would start with a baseline of 1, by virtue of being a citizen only. The second amount would be given based on a conglomeration of life experiences that society deems valuable. These experiences would be identified by a bi-partisan congressional commission every year. For example, 0.1 points could be given for military service, 0.1 for Peace Corps/AmeriCorps/Teach for America service, 0.1 for college, 0.1 for having visited a foreign country, etc., up to 1.0 max.
The final amount would be allotted based on how many correct answer the voter gives to a simple 10 question basic knowledge test. Questions would be randomly selected from a question bank which a bipartisan commission would create: 2 questions would be budget related, 2 questions would come from U.S. history, 2 would be about the constitution, 2 about foreign policy, and 2 the economy. One of each question pair will be easier and one harder. A typical quiz might look like the following:
- Currently, our national debt is closest to what percent of GDP? A) 40% B) 70 C) 100 D) 130%
- Department of Defense spending accounts for what percent of the national budget for FY 2011? A)10% B) 20 C) 40% D) 60%
- Which president signed the Civil Rights Act? A) JFK B) LBJ C) Nixon D) Ford
- After the Boston Massacre in 1770, which Founder represented the British soldiers? A) John Adams B) Samuel Adams C) Thomas Jefferson D) John Marshall
- Which branch of the federal government is empowered by the Constitution to declare war? A) Judicial B) Executive C) Legislative D) Military
- A constitutional amendment requires how many yea votes in both the House and Senate? A) 1/2 B) 3/5 C) 2/3 D) 3/4
- Iraq shares a border with all but one of these countries: A) Israel B) Syria C) Turkey D) Iran
- Through this shipping lane travels 35% of the worlds seagoing oil. A) The Straits of Malacca B) The Strait of Gibraltar C) The Bering Strait D) The Strait of Hormuz
- The dot-com bubble spanned roughly: A) 1986-1990 B) 1990-1995 C) 1996-2000 D) 2000-2005
- In economic parlance, the word “externality” refers to: A) goods which are undersupplied in a typical market. B) an extreme case of failure of competition as a restraint on producers. C) a means of final payment for goods in most price system economies. D) social costs or benefits from production or consumption that are not reflected in market prices.
Obviously, there are problems with the 1-1-1 plan. For example, literacy tests were used in the South to oppress African Americans for decades, and, in the early days of our country, only land-owning white men could vote. So there is a bleak tradition here of discrimination under the guise of prudence. One question particularly concerns me: will the 1-1-1 Plan favor the more educated, and thus the more wealthy? And I’ve come to think that yes it will. Or more precisely, it will tend to give wealthier people a more influential voice in the process in proportion to their population.
However, under the current plan, why do the rich already have a more influential voice in the political process? I believe that a big part of it is for the reason I mentioned earlier: the rich partner with ignorant people by exploiting their lack of knowledge through multimillion-dollar ad-buys. So the 1-1-1 Plan would dull the cudgel that the rich already wield. Also, helping the poor, I believe, is a very difficult and complicated affair. Being knowledgable in economics and economic development, for instance, is a more helpful qualification than having been personally poor.
Finally, and I find this most assuring, this plan has a third premise:
Premise 3: Generally, those less knowledgeable in a particular area desperately want those more knowledgeable to take the lead in solving important problems in that area.
Ultimately, I like the 1-1-1 Plan because it incentivizes education, raises the level of debate, and asks us all to take a breath and humble ourselves. Voting is serious business. In fact, I would say the average voter is more responsible for our current troubles than the average politician. So lets pray for a day when society expects more from voters than merely the possession of an opinion.