Gaming the Vote

Book reviews

gaming the vote

Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It) (2008)

“Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It)” is an entertaining primer on the craziness of our usual method of running elections in this country and the various alternative methods proposed to replace it. Long on anecdotes and short on in-depth analysis, it whets the desire for electoral reform without making a definitive case for “What We Can Do About It.”

Our current electoral system is bedeviled by the “spoiler” effect, which can (and often does) result in a candidate winning even though a majority of voters are opposed to that candidate. The 2000 Presidential election is often presented as a spoiler election. (I would disagree, but it makes for a familiar illustration). George W. Bush won with a minority of the votes, even though a combined majority of voters for Ralph Nader and Al Gore were opposed to Bush.

There are plenty of other examples if you look for them, and the author, William Poundstone, is deft at picking the most colorful ones to make his point. The most literally colorful is the case of “the Blue Man,” whose skin turned blue from drinking what he believed to be a “natural” antibiotic. His hopeless 2006 campaign for U.S. Senator in Montana (he got 2.55% of the total vote) resulted in the Republican loss of a majority in the Senate.

Poundstone describes the shady maneuvering of politicians and their consultants to exploit this electoral flaw, but probably no reasonably intelligent observer needs to be convinced that something is wrong with our electoral system. The first section of the book describing the problem is thus overkill. It is the second part, on the proposed alternative electoral systems, that is the meat of the book.

He runs through the most prominent alternatives, doing a good job of making it clear how they differ and keeping the reader’s interest with stories of the history of electoral reform debates. He raises problems with each of them, lending weight to Professor Kenneth Arrow’s famous dictum that there is no perfect democratic electoral system. The consensus of academic voting theorists is that the system we now have may well be the worst of the lot. But what should we replace it with? Continue Reading

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Predicting a New Economic Era

Book reviews

zero marginal cost

The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (2014)

Despite its unenticing title, I emphatically recommend this book. It is easily one of the most important books I’ve read lately, as it gave me a better comprehension of the wrenching changes our world is going through as well as providing some welcome hope for our collective future.

The full title is “The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism,” most of which was opaque to me until I read the book. It was the phrase “eclipse of capitalism” that caught my curiosity, and the author’s familiar name that sealed the deal.

Jeremey Rifkin is known for his best-selling works making sense of social, economic and technological trends in the modern world. I’ve read two of his nearly two-dozen previous books, “Own Your Own Job” (1977) and “The End of Work” (1995), one on worker ownership and the other on the impact of automation on employment. Both were targeted on topics I was puzzling through when I came across them, and this one fits the same pattern. We must be on similar wavelengths.

His topic this time is how the internet is radically changing the world economy. And he really means radically in its literal sense—going right to the roots. According to Rifkin, we are experiencing the beginnings of a shift from one economic era to another that is as big as the shift from feudalism to industrial capitalism. We’re talking big, folks. Continue Reading

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