September 24, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes
elephant, donkey

By the title I mean political parties, not the fun get-togethers that help us to achieve community immunity from Covid-19 and other long-forgotten but still extant little buggers.

If I told you that Murica was controlled by two national cartels that have long been in cahoots with each other but now appear poised to engage in the greatest turf war in a century and a half, you’d want governments great and small to crack down on them using RICO statutes and all the other law enforcement tools at their disposal.

But governments won’t do anything like that because the cartels run most American governments and have made their sundry nefarious activities not only legal but the very paragon of “democracy.” 

Just as Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage in Genesis (25: 29-34), Americans have sold their liberty for a mess of ballots. Everything is great, Americans are told, because they can vote. Soviet citizens could vote too, for Stalin or for execution. Are Americans’ choices much better? 

Go register, Americans hear daily, so they can make the most momentous choice of their lifetimes, Dotard #1 or Dotard #2 for POTUS. “Which shall you choose?” they are daily asked. Pick wisely, they are told, because their very lives depend upon it!

Down ballot options are just as momentous because whether Power Hungry Policy Imbecile #1 or Power Hungry Policy Imbecile #2 becomes X will determine the future course of the nation! ‘Tis Americans’ sacred duty to pick one of the miscreants, even if both appear to be shady characters bound to misappropriate taxpayer resources one way or another.

Making fine distinctions between assorted dotards and power hungry policy imbeciles is a lot of work but thankfully the cartels make matters easier. Simply picking a party and dutifully selecting its candidates is the pinnacle of democracy, or so Americans hear over and over, as if truth comes from the repetition of lies. 

What could possibly go wrong? Pretty much everything as it turns out. There exist two Americas, and they are not Democrat and Republican; they are voluntary/market and coerced/government. The former works like a charm and is responsible for just about everything good in life. The latter reeks like a cesspool of disinformation, the raw sewage of power.

What policymakers truly interested in the common weal should be doing is discovering ways to roll back their own powers, removing everything they possibly can from the cesspool of coercive government and exposing it to the disinfectant power of voluntary, market transactions.

Instead, the two major political parties conspired to create and expand a public school system, K-postgraduate, that maintains their duopoly and channels public discourse into dark, dead end alleys. I see it every day in the classroom and social media: some problem clearly caused by partisan politics gets blamed on “capitalism” or “systemic racism” or some other amorphous, ill-defined strawman. The dullest members of both cartels then have at it and no argument, data, policy innovation, or theory will induce them to budge an inch from their respective, equally untenable positions.

Thankfully, millions of Americans were homeschooled, attended private schools, or somehow transcended public school indoctrination techniques. They became swing voters, nonvoters, or independents unafraid to “throw their votes away” on third party candidates. But the cartels constitute a duopoly that has rigged the game in their favor. Almost invariably, one of them wins no matter how few votes are cast because “democratic” America does not provide nonvoters with a voice, with a say in the outcome of elections. Non-votes are not counted as a vote for “neither of the above” or “I do not believe this elected office is necessary or Constitutional” because that would create unwanted competition for the duopoly, the legitimacy of which is based on winning a plurality of votes cast, not the affirmative consent of a majority of the electorate.

Previously, I have suggested moving to a system of lottocracy or sortition, of choosing leaders randomly from a pool if no candidate can garner the votes of at least half of the adult population. I believe that such a policy would force parties to put up moderate candidates and reduce the power of gerrymandering and campaign contributions. 

Another option would be to do away with political parties entirely. The idea isn’t crazy. It’s an old canard that the Founders disdained political parties. Nebraska’s legislature (and that of American Samoa) is nonpartisan, as are the legislatures of various small island territories. Moreover, numerous states choose judges under various iterations of the nonpartisan Missouri Plan. It’s imperfect, but better than rank partisanship.

Despite the Founders’ dislike of political faction, critics might retort, we have had political parties since the early 1790s and the economy has grown at modern rates ever since. That is right, but America has managed to grow despite slavery and tariffs and scads of other bad policies enacted by partisans. Think of how rich America would be today without those policy disasters. I daresay it could have lost twice as much GDP to lockdowns this spring!

And yes, political parties, like drug cartels, might form even if they were illegal, but at least then some government officials could be induced to put the RICO screws to them. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a “war on partisanship?” “This guy has a dozen pics of donkeys and elephants in his trunk! He must be a dealer. Lock him up and confiscate his car.”

I stand by both sortition and a party ban but for the upcoming election I want to suggest something more grassroots for those of you who do not sell your mail-in ballot, voting for a third-party candidate. No one in particular, just nobody associated with either of the two cartels ruining this country for their own benefit. Yes, your candidate will lose but this election might be one that nobody wins. I am proud to reveal that I have not been complicit in any of the disasters to sit in the White House since I voted for Jesse Jackson when I cast my first ballot in 1988. Most of the time, I’ve voted straight ticket “Neither of these bums, we can do better than this.” But America apparently cannot do better, not while its partisan duopoly rules anyway.

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright is the (co)author or (co)editor of over two dozen major books, book series, and edited collections, including AIER’s The Best of Thomas Paine (2021) and Financial Exclusion (2019). He has also (co)authored numerous articles for important journals, including the American Economic ReviewBusiness History ReviewIndependent ReviewJournal of Private EnterpriseReview of Finance, and Southern Economic Review. Robert has taught business, economics, and policy courses at Augustana University, NYU’s Stern School of Business, Temple University, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere since taking his Ph.D. in History from SUNY Buffalo in 1997. Robert E. Wright was formerly a Senior Research Faculty at the American Institute for Economic Research.

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