Based on reading one of the answers to this question Effects of "know before you vote" political system I started wondering if a system openly based on money could work and also be acceptable to the voters. The system would work like this:

For each piece of legislation / appointment to political office / referendum there would be an announcement of the date to vote by. Anyone not casting their vote in time results in that vote being lost.

All adults are eligible to vote and each vote holds equal power. (consideration of what defines an adult are not part of the scope of the question)

You may cast your vote at any time between the initial announcement and the closing of the vote. Counts of votes already cast become public knowledge so people can see what is 'winning'.

At any time you may sell your unused vote to another person for a value agreed between the two of you. Total free market here, it's worth exactly what someone will give you for it. That person then either sells it on or uses it to vote with in the way they want. Essentially you have a free market in votes much like shares in a company today. The government takes 10% of the money you get for your vote in tax to help fund itself.

Under this set of rules you would either vote the way you wanted to vote or sell off that right for whatever price you could get.

Under this system I see the poorest parts of society selling their votes on matters they didn't deem directly affected them quite quickly so it would be possible for people with deep pockets to get the result they wanted.

On issues that were close I see people holding onto their vote for longer as the value potentially rises the closer it got to the deadline.

Quickly people will understand that it's stupid to personally vote unless you have to be 100% certain your vote goes the way you want. For example on Important-Issue-12345 I may personally want the vote to be 'yes' and so would other people. If I can find a person or organisation that also wants the outcome to be 'yes' and I can reasonably trust them to vote the way they are publicly campaigning then I can sell them my vote, get the result I would have voted for and some cash!

On a personal level people would be playing the market to get either the most money or the most money they can with the outcome they wanted.

We can ignore any problems in the machinery needed for this system to happen (no worries about getting your money or being forced to hand over your vote under threat of violence etc) but consider problems inherent in the system (just because the person buying your vote says they will use it one way doesn't mean they have to).

companies could exist to simply trade on votes to make a profit. You would be allowed to sell your vote in the 'future' or for a period of time? Someone in need of money for say a debt or a deposit may deem it necessary to sell their voting rights for a year without knowing what issue would be voted for in that time.

Given the framework (lets call it the true-capitalist-democracy) would the system work? Is there too much of a concentration of money already in the hands of a tiny minority to mean that is becomes a total dictatorship? Is it really that different than the huge 'campaign funds' and lobbying gathered by existing political parties during properly 'democratic' voting that we have in the western world today?

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    $\begingroup$ I think the media would heavily oppose such a system. It would cut out their role as a middle man in buying votes. $\endgroup$
    – dunc123
    Jul 27, 2016 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ @dunc123 If you tried to impose a system like this tomorrow then I agree. If this was the system from the start then the media wouldn't have evolved to have that role. You probably would still not have unbiased reporting even then. $\endgroup$
    – Paul7926
    Jul 27, 2016 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ Why not vote with SHA-256 PoW? It is not that much more unfair than the current system (you get to chose between a limited list of candidates chosen by the "party"), and is much easier to verify. One problem: China would control the election. $\endgroup$
    – k-l
    Nov 26, 2016 at 16:28

5 Answers 5


In practice the current American election system is already monetized. Statistically speaking, the candidate that spends the most money on the campaign trail will be elected most of the time. Using True-Capitalist-Democracy this outcome simply becomes more certain. Or does it?

Firstly, we must assume that everyone will be willing to sell their vote for a price. As the vote market stabilizes, it will become clear where the median price lies, and vote prices will likely take on a Chi-Squared style distribution around this "average" price. To buy your candidates election, you simply have to be willing to fork over more cash than the other guy.

Secondly, we're going to have to assume there will always be holdouts. Certain people will refuse to sell their vote, or they will have a higher price if they do. Depending on the election issues, this may even create a secondary price bubble (similar to the kind of double-peaked price distribution a black market creates inside a regulated market).

I expect this second price peak will always exist more or less, which brings me to my third point: people will be more likely to sell their vote for a lower price if they know their vote is not "being wasted," so to speak. Basically, a republican will sell for cheaper to the republican party than to the democrats, and vice versa. This will affect the market more significantly during election with vast polarization. For example: in the current election I suspect there are democrats who would literally rather die than sell their votes to the republicans, and who would probably sell to the democrats for very cheap. This will dramatically widen the price peak gap, making it very easier for the parties to buy votes from sympathizers rather than from opponents.

So what's likely to develop is a heavy reliance on campaigning to bring as many votes from the opposing party to the sympathetic party while simultaneously bolstering the sentiments of the sympathetic party. This will ultimately drive down the cost of buying their votes. However, since campaigning costs money, a balance will probably develop between spending on the campaign and spending on votes. It would be up to the campaign manager to balance the budget and get the most bang for the buck, much like they do today but with the added consideration of vote prices on top of everything else. This is not very different than the system we have now, except votes are being bought and sold outright, rather the indirectly.

There is, however, one majorly disturbing possibility that might arise: Investment Banking. It is very, very likely that banks will end up in control of the government. "Whoah whoah whoah; where did THAT come from?" you might ask. Well, it's actually rather simple, though it will take years to happen. As votes become a market asset, banks will begin investing in them. At first the market will be very volatile, but as the banks invest in more votes they will begin to temper things and start acting like a buffer between the public and the candidates. People will no longer have to sell directly to the campaign, but can now sell to brokers which will streamline the process. Prices will become more regulated and the campaigners will not have to focus so much on public campaigning as private meet-and-greets with brokers and bankers. Banks themselves will instead have to advertise in order to get people to sell to them rather than to a different bank. But wait a second, all of a sudden things are backward: candidates are lobbying with banks, and banks are campaigning for votes! With the voting power in their pockets, banks are now the ones electing officials, and they can firmly remind the candidates of this every election year.

Welcome to your new Puppet Government!

  • $\begingroup$ And some of those banks might be controlled by foreign powers, etc. Damned good answer. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 27, 2016 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ Whilst it's apparent that the sytem I described has serious problems I think the worst is large outside interference (also mentiond by @jBiggs). It's one thing to be on the loosing side when your fellow citizens voted but another when you know it was a foreign government of company that made the decision. $\endgroup$
    – Paul7926
    Jul 28, 2016 at 6:55

I think it would not work out the way you imagine.

The first thing that would happen would be a new standard employment agreement: "As a condition of employment, I agree to sell all my votes to my employer, for no further compensation beyond my salary." Sure, if you have a job with any sort of leverage, you might be able to negotiate, but everyone working minimum wage will be forced to sign such agreements. McDonalds and Walmart would permanently own about 1%, each, of the votes to be cast.

Slumlords would try the same thing as conditions for renting apartments. The only thing holding them back would be the number of their tenants who sold their votes to their employers.

There is no surer path to superlative exploitation of the working poor than a scheme like this.


This will lead to wild abuse of the voting system. Yes, even more so than what we see today.

Quite simply, most people (especially the young) don't realize how valuable their votes are - voting rates are typically quite abysmal. Add to this the fact that in today's materialistic, instant gratification society people always want a new phone, ipad, etc. and you're basically destroying what little democracy we all have left.

You see, in today's world politicians have to spend millions of dollars to try and convince us to vote for them. They also lie, and make wild promises. Is it perfect? Heck no.

But in your version of democracy rich interest groups will simply offer people cash for their votes. Teenagers will line up to sell their vote for $100 - or less. Buyers will go around ghetoes and poor neighborhoods offerring people a few bucks, cash, for their vote. It's going to be incredibly simple for a candidate to buy up hundreds of thousands of votes in any election.

But Andrei - you might say - when people catch on that the rich are buying their votes they'll just ask for more money! Free market capitalism and all that. Eventually even the rich won't be able to afford to buy all that many votes.

Yes, and no. Sure, some people might catch on that they can sell their votes for a mint. But for every person asking for $100K there's 10 crack heads who would sign theirs over for a hit of their favorite drug.

Furthermore, you open the door to abuse such as people selling their vote under duress, foreign interest groups influencing elections, and many, many other complications.

Example 1: A candidate is secretly groomed by a foregin government, and provided with the funds to buy many, many votes. Once in power he immediately start voting in policies which create an opportunity for that foreign power to gain an advante (it can be something subtle, the effects of which won't be felt until a decade later).

Example 2: An extremist sect announces a candidate. This candidate is "universally hated", however the group backing him succeeds in buying a large number of votes covertly, and he either wins, or at the very least secures a position in government for himself.

Do you see in how many ways this could go wrong?

The principle of democracy is that everyone is equal under the law, and everyone gets a say in elections. You may choose to abstain from voting, but selling your vote? You may as well start selling people into slavery next.

Edit to answer OP's comment:

"it occurred to me that it might actually be a way to convince the disenfranchised that their vote has a value." - OP

The very first time you use this system an interest group is going to exploit the situation better than anyone else, and of course win. Now in power they will realize that come next election they're going to face a lot more competition for buying votes because other people will have caught on as to how to do this as well.

So the people in power will start legislating under what circumstances votes can be sold, or in exchange for how much money, etc. such that they maintain an advantage in the next election cycle.

As far as people accepting that their votes have value: they will, but not in a good way. The reason many people don't vote is because they each think:

"My vote doesn't matter, it won't make an impact. Why bother?"

And in a way they're correct - 1 vote doesn't make an impact. But a few hundred thousand people thinking the same thing sure does. However, you will replace that mentality with:

"My vote is worth $XXX! I can buy YYY with that! Sweet!"

They will start valuing their votes, yes, but not in the context of shaping their country, only in the context of what material gain they can get in exchange for selling it.

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    $\begingroup$ But as a political system, what is wrong with this? Sure it may be unappealing to you, but so would a society of cannibals (which have existed in history). You aren't making a case that it wouldn't WORK as a political system, just that it would have (to you) unappealing consequences. $\endgroup$
    – JBiggs
    Jul 27, 2016 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. My initial reaction was that the rich would always get what they wanted as well (don;t they always). Then it occurred to me that it might actually be a way to convince the disenfranchised that their vote has a value. Sure many would sell it for less than it was worth however both sides would be buying those up. $\endgroup$
    – Paul7926
    Jul 27, 2016 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JBiggs - well, communism "worked" too, for values of "worked". People get certain living conditions, if they don't like it other people shoot them. Easy, right? Literally anything can work if you brain wash the population to a high enough degree, or scare them into accepting it. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 27, 2016 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Paul7926 - yes, and no. People might start attaching a value figure to their vote, sure, but something very interesting would happen. I'll edit to give you an idea of what I mean. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 27, 2016 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Paul7926 It where historical examples of such, in russia in 90, this. In nature it was similar to votes - my opinion, small peoples where fucked even more then usual. Would it be on regular basis, peoples approach could change over time. But those changes would be not result of the system, but result of changes in peoples themselves, same way how it might be done for current system. Way u suggest, by it's nature do not prevents exploiting it, do no makes easier to notice imperfections. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 28, 2016 at 5:49

Can candidates buy elections?

Is it really that different than the huge 'campaign funds' and lobbying gathered by existing political parties during properly 'democratic' voting that we have in the western world today?

Money matters more to challengers than incumbents. The challenger needs to introduce herself or himself to the electorate and explain why the electorate should vote differently. Communicating with people takes money.

Incumbents have less need for money. It's noteworthy that many of the biggest fundraisers aren't in competitive elections but simply ambitious. A Nancy Pelosi or Paul Ryan raises money to support challengers. A side effect (or the main effect if you're cynical) is to leave successful challengers beholden to the donor. And Pelosi/Ryan are able to donate much larger sums than a typical donor.

If both sides are well known, money doesn't seem to be as important. There have been several elections where one candidate outspent the other and lost. For example, in 2010, both the governor and senate races in California involved candidates who were independently wealthy and could outspend their opponents.

In elections where the winner outspent the loser, it's not evident that the money mattered. The causality might have been that someone was more popular, so they both won and outraised their opponent. The 2012 US presidential election is an example of this. Obama was more popular than Mitt Romney, so he raised more money and outspent him.

This system would make that system work. Very few people say that the fundamental problem with politics is that it just isn't corrupt enough. This system legitimizes corruption.

Money too concentrated?

Is there too much of a concentration of money already in the hands of a tiny minority to mean that is becomes a total dictatorship?

Currently there are different opinions among the rich. Some are conservative, some liberal, some authoritarian, and some libertarian. The largest problem here is not the people who control the money but the corporations.

Corporations will be incented to grab control. To them, it's just another expense. Buy coal and iron to make steel. Buy votes so as to be able to burn the coal in your factory..

What if the system blocks corporations? Then you'll find that such businesses will switch to structures that do allow them to buy votes. People like George Soros and the Koch brothers may be able to make money directly. Votes cost $1 billion. But create $10 billion in income. That increases the concentration of wealth that was already concerning.

No checks and balances

One of the things that keeps government weak is the system of checks and balances. This bypasses that. Just buy enough votes and you can pass whatever you want. Then the government gives you more money, so you can buy more votes, and give yourself more money.

All it takes is one election. Someone says that they want to do one thing, e.g. reform law enforcement to reduce the number of fatal shootings by police. Then they win and do something totally different. But there is nothing holding them to their original platform. They've already bought the authority that they need.

Too few voters

Some voters would refuse to sell their vote. But the majority of people don't vote. What's to keep them from selling their vote? It's not like they were going to use it.

How might something like this work? We do have an example of a system where large numbers of people were given small shares of a large organization. After the fall of the Soviet Union, one privatization method was to give all the employees shares in their factory or whatever. And we know what happened. Most, instead of keeping the shares, sold them immediately to whomever would give them money for them. As a result, business ownership in Russia is very concentrated.

People are notoriously bad at valuing things like this. You argue that people may suddenly value their vote because they can sell it. It's just as likely that the reverse would happen. If people can sell their votes, then that takes the burden away from them. Just sell it, and let someone else worry about it.

Look at the primaries in the US presidential election this year (2016). Instead of nominating two broadly popular candidates, the two parties nominated the two most disliked candidates ever. How? Most people didn't vote.

Much has been made about Trump getting more votes than any other Republican primary candidate, ever. Yet all the candidates combined received fewer votes than Mitt Romney received in losing the 2012 general election. Think of how much money you could save by picking both candidates in the primaries. And then the general election is easy, as you have no serious competition.

Why didn't people value their votes enough to vote in the primaries? The candidates were better then, particularly on the Republican side. Yet most people didn't value their vote enough to use it. Will such people value their vote enough to hold out for a good price?

Especially dangerous is the idea of selling your vote to someone who agrees with you. What if they lie? There would be tremendous incentive to misrepresent your position when buying a vote. What if you promise to do more research because you are undecided? That appeal might work for someone who is unsure. Doesn't it sound great to let someone else do the hard work to make this difficult decision for you?


It would probably work better than most might think. For one thing, you would immediately increase the total percentage of the population interested in and involved with politics, even if only out of speculation. Lots of people would keep track of issues just to see what might become valuable, etc.

As a decision making mechanism, it would work, but with some caveats. What you are gaining by having more people involved in the decision making process, you are probably losing by people making decisions not based on what they think is best per se, but what they can get the most money for. The society at large might start to look like a true plutocracy over time, or evolve in ways similar to the once popular "cyberpunk" genre, with dozens of competing "megacorps" with opposing takes on issues that effect their bottom line and a weak central government. In history, societies based almost entirely around mercantilism, trade, and money have existed and (obviously) prospered for a time, but over the course of time, they tend to become unstable. In ancient Athens, there were mechanisms for the rich to buy more influence in the democratic system. In the middle ages, several city states held "elections" that more or less handed the government over to the most prosperous merchant family. In renaissance Italy, this sort of effect led to a period of chaos as rival wealthy factions competed for power using eminently buyable mercenary armies.

What tends to happen is that over time, the society stops being able to make intelligent decisions of self preservation that go against it's own short term economic interest. Outsiders used money to buy influence at the table and undermine Athens' security. City states likewise made good short term decisions and bad long term decisions based on trade interests that got them in trouble with much bigger and stronger kingdoms, etc. The ability to "buy" a large hunk of the political power of a society tends to work okay so long as that purchase is coming from inside the society. When outsiders (who do not have the long term interest of that society in mind) figure out how to buy influence, Athens gets taken over by Alexander or Rome or whomever.

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    $\begingroup$ People will start valuing their votes as a commodity they can sell in order to fulfill their short-term needs, and nothing more. This will lead to a massive inbalance, not people getting more involved in politics. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 27, 2016 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM; If even half of the population of our country was even AWARE of 20% of the issues being discussed in Congress (even just the NAME of the issue) you are talking about a massive increase in knowledge of politics across the board. It is obvious that some of these people would decide they actually did have an opinion about some of these issues. $\endgroup$
    – JBiggs
    Jul 27, 2016 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ I don't understand why you think that attaching a value dollar to votes is going to increase political awareness. It's going to increase awareness of what amount of money you can get for selling your vote, nothing more. People who are not interested in politics (due to disgust, lack of education, etc.) will not suddenly become interest. On the contrary, people who are on the fence (don't think either Hillary or Trump are good candidates, for example) might just say: "Screw it, I'm selling my vote! The country is going to hell either way, may as well make a buck out of it". $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 27, 2016 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ If you want to sell something, you go on craigslist or somewhere (Votelist? VoteBay?) and you LOOK AT LISTS OF THINGS. Those lists of things will be issues, buyers, people who want to buy your vote. They will have a pitch, and they will try to tell you something in order to get your vote for the least dollars. You will look around a bit to see WHAT ISSUE IS HOT because even the most ill-informed, apolitical person on the planet will not want to sell for 20 what they can sell for 50. As I stated, just this incredibly basic activity would radically increase the amount that most people know. $\endgroup$
    – JBiggs
    Jul 27, 2016 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ I think I agree with AndreiROM; at least on this comment thread.  Political issues would become like publicly traded stocks.  Investors in the stock market don't particularly care that company X is mistreating their employees, Y is exporting jobs, and Z is polluting the environment, etc. — they care only what price changes can be anticipated.  Votes would become independent commodities; disassociated from the fundamental underlying issues. It would be comparable to baseball cards.  Fifty years ago, kids collected them because they liked the players.  Now, they're just (re)sellable commodities. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2016 at 10:11

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