LOS ANGELES — Americans watching events play out in Florida since Nov. 7 may feel a surreal sense of powerlessness; their president is being chosen by a handful of Palm Beach residents, it seems. In short, Americans have now gotten a taste of the way the rest of the world feels with each presidential election. Citizens of Asia, Europe, Africa and South America wait for election news to trickle down to us every four years, knowing that although we have no voice in his selection, the U.S. president will wield more power over us than many of our own elected officials.
Consider, for example, the case of Japan during the last few years. In the name of stabilizing the economy, the Clinton administration successfully pressured Japan to build wasteful public works. These Keynesian measures, implemented in a time that calls for anything but Keynesian measures, have saddled every newborn Japanese baby with $50,000 in debt, just to pay back government bonds. One result: Investment, not just from Japan but from the rest of the world, trickles into the United States before going to other markets, including investors’ home countries.
I write this not to criticize the U.S.; it is only taking advantage of its role as a unique military and economic power, as well as the premier power in the “invisible continent” of cybernetically-powered finance. But the U.S. is also a democracy, grounded in the belief that human beings are fundamentally equal in their political status, no matter what their economic and sovereign status might be.
The new economic capabilities of cyberspace have already placed unprecedented pressure on the nation-state and existing economic habits. The same transition will now take place in the political realm. For example, there is no innate characteristic of democracy that suggests that U.S. presidents should be chosen according to separate votes in 50 states (plus one district), organized precinct by precinct. This system exists because now-obsolete voting technologies have historically linked citizenship to residence.
When votes are counted with paper ballots or using primitive hole-punching machines, a locally based and group-weighted voting process is the only feasible approach. This, in turn, produces a system rife with inequity. A vote from Wyoming (with 454,000 people) outweighs a vote from New York (with 18 million people) in the Electoral College. Even more egregiously, a country like Indonesia (with 189 million people) gets the same number of votes in the United Nations as Palau (of the Caroline Islands), an island nation with only 15,000 people. No one knows what China’s billion people really think about their priorities, because they have no legitimate vote nationally, and internationally they are far underrepresented.
The availability of new technologies (for both the identification of voters and the casting of votes), and the new cross-boundary relationships of the post-Internet world make it feasible to fundamentally rethink the concept of “one person, one vote.” It is estimated that by 2005, a billion mobile phones will be in use globally. This means, with a proper mechanism, a reliable and safe direct voting system could exist for at least 1 billion of the 6 billion residents of the world, no matter where they happen to be located at the moment of the election.
This would make possible a system in which people were granted votes based upon their interest in the political process. For example, suppose that every U.S. resident was given one vote to cast in a presidential election. Conceivably, every citizen of every other country should get 3 percent of a vote. I base this figure on the fact that the dollar represents 50 percent of the global-savings instruments today, while the U.S. GNP accounts for only 30 percent of world GNP. Thus, the 6 billion people of the world own 40 percent of the U.S. dollar.
Similarly, those who have money invested in Japan, by virtue of being stakeholders there, probably deserve some percentage of a vote for the Japanese Diet. It is appropriate that for any country with a significant impact on the world, about 10 percent of the vote for national leaders should be allocated to stakeholders who will be deeply affected by decisions that the U.S. makes, but who don’t happen to live there or be citizens. Computer-managed election systems could keep track of all of these percentages, while facilitating some kind of encryption-and-validation process that lets people vote privately from home.
There is a precedent for this in the Maastricht Treaty, which calculates the number of votes each EU country has in deliberations about the euro, according to the amount of each country’s currency in circulation.
Consider the benefits: Politicians everywhere would become more mindful of the relationships between their country and the rest of the world — not just when quizzed about the names of world leaders, but as a matter of course. International trust would blossom. Other countries could now confidently “outsource” national defense to the U.S., with its technological might-knowing that not only does the world bear the cost of this “global policeman’s burden,” but people throughout the world contribute to the U.S.’ decisions. The voting mechanism would compensate for the fact that the U.S. is not known for its high-quality decision-making in deploying its armaments (as we have seen when its missiles cruise through Sudan and Afghanistan).
Nor would such measures be limited to the U.S. They would, for example, provide an ingrained mechanism for avoiding wars based on border disputes. In an ideal world, residents of Pakistan would provide a tenth of the vote for the prime minister of India, while residents of India put forth a certain weight of the vote for the prime minister of Pakistan. Just as a zebra looks gray from a distance, an exchange of voting rights between the hard-edged black and white stripes could allow the political entity to reflect the nature of the state’s people.
As for the U.S. Electoral College, I am sure there will be thousands of reform bills over the next year or so. Reflecting upon the interdependence of today’s economy, and the boredom of having to watch the U.S. “global” media for over a year on the election, I would like to suggest a change in the primaries. Instead of starting in New Hampshire and going through all 50 states, why don’t we start with Papua New Guinea and go through the 189 counties of the world, like the Olympic torch from Greece to Sydney?
In other words, the rest of the world (ROW) will conduct the primaries to choose the candidate, rather than the party (as we do not understand the party politics from afar), and the Americans will vote for the candidates preselected by the rest of the world.
In the current selection process, interesting individuals seem to fade out halfway through the process because the candidates must be voted by the party at the national convention. The ROW would primarily focus on the individuals worthy of global leadership as the president of the U.S.
This might seem like a Swiftian proposal, and impossible to put into practice, but it simply represents one way to develop an international political situation that accurately captures the interdependence already existing in the world. As computer and communications technologies and the cross-border flows of capital expand their influence, this interdependence will increase. Immense pressure is already placed on governments to respond. Is it better to channel that pressure through the clandestine byways of lobbying and influence-peddling, or to bring it into the light by making it a part of the democratic process?
Since President Bill Clinton’s eight years have been a diplomatic vacuum, decorated by a series of shows and views according to media bites, I hope the next one will care about the world outside of domestic politics. I know for sure that the next president needs to be loved by the rest of the world, as he is supported by only and exactly one-half of the American people.
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