Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- February, 2003

A Modest Proposal

By Ernest Partridge
University of California, Riverside
www.igc.org/gadfly // gadfly@igc.org


Out with the old -- in with the new!

The American public has a well-deserved reputation for discarding shopworn institutions that have ceased to serve any useful purpose, and to replace them with imaginative and appropriate innovations Thus passenger railroads were replaced by the airlines and private automobiles, and daily newspapers by television, which is likely in turn to be supplanted by computers and the Internet.

In the same spirit, I propose that we abolish elections and replace them with auctions.

Clearly, the polling statistics show that the public has lost interest in elections. The Congress has no prospect of adopting effective campaign finance reform. (The McCain-Feingold bill only managed to re-direct the inflow of campaign "donations"). Furthermore, studies have shown a high correlation between campaign spending and electoral success. Finally, in the Buckley v. Valeo decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that "cash is speech," thus effectively nullifying citizen equality at the ballot box in favor of the "free market" principle that the political influence of an individual or a corporation is properly proportional to one's wealth. (See "A Bribe by Any Other Name").

We Americans are realists, after all. So why not simply acknowledge the obvious facts: that public offices serve private interests, and that legislators' votes are bought and sold by bidders, politely referred to as "contributors." If this is the way things are, and the public is too apathetic and alienated to care about it, let's bring the practice out into the open. If elections are relics of simpler and more naive times and public offices have become commodities, let's treat them as such, honestly and openly. 

Let's select our politicians by auction.

Consider the Advantages:

The auctions could become a public celebration of "the free market," just as elections were at one time celebrations of the archaic notions of "citizen democracy" and "public interest." The biennial national "auctions" would be televised, with Rather/Jennings/Brokaw as auctioneers. Throughout the realm, stockholders would sit spellbound by their TV sets, cheering on the CEOs as they bid for preferred Congressional treatment of the viewer's investments.

"Conservatives" constantly complain about "tax and spend" government programs. If our proposal is adopted, proceeds from the auction might replace taxes. Furthermore, corporate complaints about spending might subside as government, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the corporate bidders, spends at the behest of those who "bought" it.

Nor is this the end of opportunities for "revenue enhancement." Just think of the advertising space available on our currency, as portraits of Ken Lay, Dean Witter, Donald Trump and Bill Gates replace those of the dead presidents. 

Still more opportunities: Recently, corporations have taken to purchasing the privilege of having their names placed on major-league stadia. So why not adopt the same practice for government buildings: "The Archer-Daniels-Midlin Department of Agriculture," "The Smithsonian/Boeing Space Museum," "The Prudential Securities Treasury Building," "The Dow Chemical Environmental Protection Agency," "The Eli Lilly Center for Disease Control."

With the privatization of the government, we would see an end to political hypocrisy and public cynicism about government. With no further pretense of representing "the people," politicians may now be openly identified by their correct designations: e.g., "Congressman Bliley from Philip Morris," "Senator Heston From NRA," "Senator Frist from Pfizer," Senator Lieberman from Met Life," and so on. 

For purposes of identification, the logos of the corporate sponsors would appear on the jackets of all members of Congress, and on the front of the podia during their public appearances. On the nightly newscasts, the anchors would announce, "this congressional bill brought to you by the good folks at the National Manufacturers Association." And the tobacco companies, relieved of the embarrassment of the health warnings on the cigarette packs, can replace them with the label "proud co-owners of the United States Government."

Finally, the efficiency managers of USA Inc. can go to work and "downsize" the government, most notably by eliminating redundancies. It has long been noted that federal regulatory agencies are eventually "captured" by the private interests that they are supposed to regulate. Now this "capture" can be openly acknowledged, as the Securities and Exchange Commission merges with the New York Stock Exchange, and the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Agency, etc., become trade associations of their respective industries. And of course, with the privatization of government, the distinction between corporate lobbyists and members of Congress will disappear entirely, as lobbyists officially and openly become legislators and vice versa.

Radical? Not at all! This proposal and all its nuances follow directly from the "conservative" doctrine that "society" is nothing more than a market place, and thus that all social problems can best be solved through privatization and the free market. (See "The New Alchemy" and "The State Religion"). We have privatized the Postal Service, and soon the schools will follow. So why not the government itself? 

If, on the other hand, we wish to keep our system of free elections, perhaps we had better take another look at a campaign reform law, keep sending the Buckley Case back to the Supremes until they get it right, and call the soi-dissant "conservatives" by their right names -- i.e., "radical anarchists." Finally, we might entertain the notion that, as citizens of a free society, we are, and deserve to be treated as more than mere customers, that our polity is more than a marketplace, and that the most important political document to appear in 1776 was written, not by Adam Smith, but by Thomas Jefferson.

Copyright 1998 and 2003, by Ernest Partridge  

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .