Turbo Democracy: Voting to Fund Voter Information
36 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2004
Date Written: July 31, 2006
Media reformers, political campaign finance reformers and corporate governance reformers are all trying to solve the same problem: how to make elected leaders more accountable to voters. Solutions proposed in those different arenas can be hybridized to create a more potent and far-reaching reform mechanism.
Several researchers have independently designed similar systems for reducing the voters' free-rider problem, by letting voters allocate collective funds to pay for improved information. Some designs originated in the field of corporate governance, to help investors in publicly traded corporations vote their shares more effectively. The potential for adapting those systems to help voters in civic politics was also cited. Other designs originated in civic politics, as campaign finance reform: public funds allocated by voters could counterbalance special-interest contributions to political campaigns. Likewise, these ideas have been adapted as a proposal for corporate governance reform. A similar proposal for media reform would allow each taxpayer to direct some government funds to any nonprofit news medium, since existing media seem to provide inadequate public-interest news.
These various designs differ markedly in the degree of voter consensus required for allocating funds. The proposals from civic politics and media reform let each voter allocate her portion of collective funds independently, whereas those from corporate governance require a substantial proportion of voters to approve each allocation. This Essay argues that the latter consensus requirement provides a necessary defense against pervasive incentives to divert collective funds toward narrow interests. It then outlines how to implement a consensus requirement in a civic politics information funding system. Such a mechanism could reduce the dysfunctions of partisan politics, and provide the profit incentive now lacking in public-interest investigative journalism.
A turbocharger is a feedback loop that increases power. A system in which voters allocate funds to buy information that feeds back into voting decisions (where information is power) could thus be called "turbo democracy".
Keywords: Democracy, media reform, campaign finance reform, corporate governance, free-rider problem
JEL Classification: D72, G34, H4, K22, L96
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation