How Range Voting would impact World Problems

Famed linguist and scholar Noam Chomsky worried that range voting was a minor issue, not particularly relevant to the big, important problems with US democracy that he concerned himself with. That reaction, in some form or another, was also exhibited by many other people.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. He has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, contemporary issues, international affairs, and U.S. foreign policy. His books include New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind; Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance; Deterring Democracy; What Uncle Sam Really Wants; and many others.

However, Chomsky's reaction was wrong. To make that clear, we will now go through a list of important problems with US democracy pointed out by Chomsky both in his last 6 months of web posts on Znet, and also a few extracted from books written by Chomsky. It turns out that over half of the problems in the Chomsky web posts would have simply automatically solved themselves (either partially or totally) if the US had been using range voting. In contrast, Chomsky himself in these webposts and books did not propose anything which would have nearly as great a positive impact on these problems, or which would be nearly as simple to do. Indeed in his book What Uncle Sam Really Wants Chomsky gives a litany recounting 1940-2000 world history as horrifically dominated by America's greed for power and money and then lamely concludes with a section about "what you can do" in which he recommends keeping yourself informed and trying sit-ins at your congressman's office. That is Chomsky's best idea of a "solution."

In other words, far from being "irrelevant" to Chomsky's problems, range voting in fact is "a simple idea with far greater impact on these problems than anything Chomsky himself thought of."

The list

1. Chomsky was interviewed on Znet about "anarchism" and "transcendentalism." Let me simply say that anarchy has simply never been a stable state of affairs in any country. Some organized power-group always moves in either from an external country, or is self-generated in that country. The anarchists, being un-organized by definition, are unable to resist. Given that this is the case as is shown by the past 2000 years of human history, anarchy is not a workable stable solution to anything. (Chomsky did not even mention all this in his interview.) Next.

2. Chomsky was asked: "Q. Do you go to the polls/ Do you vote?" His answer: "Sometimes... depends on whether there is a choice worth making... If Massachusetts were a swing state, I would vote against Bush... Since it is not a swing state, there are other choices. One might have reasons to vote for Ralph Nader..."

Our response: obviously, if the only way to vote for Chomsky's apparent favorite Nader is if one lives in a non-swing state in which a victory for Bush or his major-party opponent is certain, then the act of voting Nader is almost futile. Also obviously, the 2-party system is precisely what is preventing Chomsky from having "a choice worth making," since he disapproves of both major-party candidates and even if he approved of one, since he lives in a non-swing state his vote still could have no influence. With range voting Nader would truly have a chance to win, there would be no reason for Chomsky not to vote Nader top (whether or not he was in a swing or non-swing state) and more choices than two would be credibly available. In short, every single problem Chomsky is complaining about here re voting would be fixed, instantly, if we had range voting.

3. Chomsky, commenting both on Bush and a recent book, noted "similarities to rise of fascism... implicit reference, which can't be missed, to the Bush administration." I.e, Chomsky complains that many Fascist techniques were also used by President Bush.

Our response: In case you forgot, Bush got elected because of a Gore-Nader vote split in Florida 2000. With range voting, Gore would have won. Every time there are 2 good candidates and a bad one, the bad one has the advantage under the present plurality voting system. The problem is that Chomsky then futilely complains about the result of that, as opposed to complaining about the cause of it. Bottom line: if we had range voting, this complaint of Chomsky's simply would not have happened and his problem, again, would have been completely solved.

4. Chomsky on corporate domination of the US government (and consequently of foreign governments): Chomsky has often complained about this. For example in a recent web post he complained about WTO and NAFTA as examples of this. And in one of his books he complains extensively about the US-orchestrated coup which destroyed democracy in Guatemala, and was inspired by the United Fruit Company. UFC was afraid some of its land holdings – by far the largest in Guatemala – were going to be nationalized by the Guatemalan government (to be repaid with bonds for the exact book value of the land the UFC had quoted to the Guatemalan government for tax purposes, but that was felt by UFC to be an outrage). Actually, in the Chomsky book I saw, he did not mention either the United Fruit Company; the land-nationalization plan; the fact US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was a former member of United Fruit's law firm and his brother Allen Dulles headed the CIA; the fact the Assistant Secretary of State for InterAmerican Affairs, John Moors Cabot, was the brother of United Fruit's former president; or the fact that United Fruit was later bought by Zapata Petroleum Corp, the company cofounded in 1953 by future CIA director and later US president G.H.W.Bush; nor did he mention the CIA's own history of the entire coup "operation SUCCESS" which was later declassified and now is available online as part of the "National Security Archives" of George Washington University, e.g. see this and this. UFC also overthrew the Honduran government using mercenaries, and contributed boats for use in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Chomsky did not mention all that and instead merely argued that the Arbenz government in Guatemala was "getting a little too independent." However, we shall be generous and assume Chomsky knew that stuff. But in a recent web post, Chomsky (atypically) argued against the corporate domination notion: "In the US and elsewhere, the government is often the tyrant of business... after the overthrow of the Mossadegh regime in Iran, the US ordered the energy corporations to take over 40% of the former British concession, which they did not want to do for very good reasons of short term profit and advantage, but had to agree under threat." This atypical argument by Chomsky unfortunately was monstrously misleading because he neglected to mention that the entire Mossadegh overthrow was orchestrated by the UK and US secret services as the result of a request from an oil corporation in the first place. This coup was planned by the UK and US secret agencies (CIA and SIS) as "operation AJAX" and funded with about $10-20 million. The chief CIA agent in charge was Kermit Roosevelt, who was awarded the US's national security medal for his role. It was inspired by fears of (the Democratically elected) Mossadeq's plans to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. Specifically, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) had total control of oil in southern Iran, under an agreement valid until 1993 under which it paid Iran rents and taxes. Although this money accounted for over half of Iran's budget, AIOC actually paid more in taxes to the British government than to the nation whose oil it extracted, and the AIOC earned 10 times what it paid Iran. Mossadeq nationalized AIOC on 2 May 1951, but AIOC refused to cooperate, organized a worldwide Iranian oil boycott, and lobbied the British government to declare war. There is some description of the coup in the books by Prados and Yergin, but the clearest, most extensive, and most primary description was a secret history of the entire operation written by one of the coup's chief planners at the CIA, which in 2000 fell into the hands of the New York Times and then was described in a long series of articles.

So, in one of Chomsky's rare arguments that the US government dominates the corporations instead of the other way round, he got it totally wrong. So anyhow, it appears Chomsky feels that the US government often "covertly" destroys foreign democratic governments like Iran and Guatemala in order to do favors for rich corporations. And regardless of what Chomsky thinks, that is certainly the view advanced in the book by John Perkins. ("Covert" meaning, not secret from the Guatemalans, but secret from the US Congress and Public, which were not consulted about either plot or the Bay of Pigs.) In the case of the WTO, the US and other signatories actually signed away their own sovereignty to an unelected WTO board, composed largely of corporate bigwigs, which meets in secret.

Now suppose the US had had range voting. How would that affect corporate dominance? There would be more viable candidates, from more parties, expressing more points of view, including anti-corporate views. (Both the Democrats & the Republicans were pro-WTO and pro-NAFTA. Voters therefore had zero democratic choice since the third parties, all of which across the board were opposed to both – were not viable.) US elections would no longer be 98% predictable over a year in advance. It would therefore be a much harder task for the corporations to dominate that new, less predictable, scene and shut out opposition voices. Range voting would therefore have partially solved this problem.

Also, with more parties in charge of the government and probably none having a 51% majority, it would be harder for administrations to keep plots such as these secret and to undertake them without the permission of Congress. That is another way range voting would partially solve this problem.

5. Chomsky on the United Nations: "There is plenty wrong with it, but the main problems trace back to the great powers, mainly the US, that pretty much determine what it can and cannot do."

Our response: Chomsky is completely right: the US (and each other vetoing power) can simply unilaterally shut down the UN by simply vetoing everything. The US can and often has failed to fulfill the obligations it itself agreed to about, e.g. funding the UN, and since the UN is completely prevented from doing anything the US does not want, there is nothing they can do about it. The political design of the UN is simply insane. This is not an argument for range voting per se, but it is a revealing recognition, by Chomsky, that political design is a centrally important issue that can dwarf every other thing.

It is also interesting that the UN uses approval voting, a simplified form of range voting, to elect its secretary general, and that particular part of the UN's political design has been highly successful, as we think Chomsky would agree.

6. Chomsky on the "Watergate" scandal versus the COINTELPRO outrage (COINTELPRO was a US FBI operation to target dissidents like Martin Luther King with illegal wiretaps, blackmail attempts trying to influence him to commit suicide, etc.): "The difference is that Watergate was annoying to powerful people, who struck back, while COINTELPRO targeted people who were weak, vulnerable, dissident."

Our response; Chomsky needs to ask (but didn't): why were those "dissident voices" such as King "weak"? King represented American Blacks and hence enjoyed the support of at least 20% of the population. A priori, there is no reason that should lead to him being "weak." The reason for the weakness was: it was artificially caused by the plurality voting system. Nader, Cobb, Badnarik, all would have got over 20-90 times more votes relative to Bush under range voting in 2004, our poll study showed. With Socialists it appears the weakening factor would have been more like 1000. Get it? Large weakening factors. Caused by the USA's plurality voting system.

And this factor 50 is only the beginning. Obviously with more votes and a fair voting system, such candidates would be more common and better funded. Increasing the 50 by more. This huge anti-democratic distortion, weakening dissident voices by factors of 50 or more, is caused because we do not have range voting. Chomsky exhibits blindness by complaining uselessly about the effect (COINTELPRO) rather than doing something about the cause – no range voting. Obviously, in a situation where some Martin-King-like candidate could – even if not winning – get a very large fraction of the votes, would be a vastly different power situation, in which COINTELPRO would be a lot less possible to undertake with impunity. So again, this whole problem would have been instantly solved, or at least partially solved, by adopting range voting.

7. Chomsky on the Vietnam War: "Unpopularity turned to serious opposition to the war by about 1967... public... opposed the war as mentally wrong and immoral... by about 70% by 1969."

Our response: again, Chomsky is completely right: polls showed the US public turned against the war many years before it actually ended. In a political system in which that public had a way to get what it wanted, therefore, about a million lives would have been saved.

However, the anti-war majority of the US public did not have such a way open to them: in the 1968 election, both Humphrey and Nixon, the two major party candidates, were pro-war (although offering mysterious lip service to keep the public guessing, e.g. Nixon claimed to have a "secret plan to end the war" which was never revealed, ever – and anyway after he got elected he immediately expanded the war by starting secret and overt bombing campaigns of Cambodia and Hanoi – while Humphrey, after being hounded by anti-war protestors throughout his campaign – since he was associated with Kennedy and Johnson, who started the war – toward the end began to distance himself from the Johnson administration on the Vietnam War, calling for a bombing halt). The only candidate who was clearly and genuinely anti-war (i.e. with a record to prove it, as opposed to mere mystery-speak) was Eugene McCarthy, who tried but failed to become the Democratic nominee. McCarthy then, thanks to the 2-party system, regarded it as futile to run as an Independent, and game over.

With range voting, an antiwar candidate could have run and been elected with a real chance, and without triggering "spoiler" voting pathologies. This would have saved maybe a million lives if he won, and even if not, would have put real anti-war pressure on the other candidates.

Exactly the same scenario happened with the second Iraq war. Polls in 2005 indicate the majority of the US public say the Iraq war was a "mistake." However, their two choices in the 2004 election were John Kerry (voted for the war) and George W. Bush (started the war). All the third party candidates (Nader, Badnarik, Cobb, Peroutka, and the Socialists) were against the war but had no chance. Again, with range voting well established, the US public would at least have had the option of going with an antiwar candidate, which would have either totally or partially solved the problem.

8. Chomsky on the US mainstream media such as the New York Times: Chomsky continually complains throughout his books that the US media simply does not cover certain very important stories inconvenient for the corporate/governmental power-establishment to have aired. He gives too many examples for us to enumerate. [See the excellent book by Amy & David Goodman: Exception to the rulers, Hyperion 2004, for more about lapdog media.]

How would that situation change under range voting? Remember, one of the most important functions of the US media is to cover US politics and politicians. However, with 2-party domination, that comes down to covering only two kinds of politicians, who are (as Chomsky complains) highly corporate dominated. The US media has no incentive to cover third-party candidates with no chance, and hence their views are almost blacked out. Change the voting system to range voting and now voters have to provide scores to every candidate, and every candidate becomes much more relevant and with a chance to win. So the public will want and need information about all candidates. And the media will want to supply it. Hence the media will cover a much wider range of views and stories. Heck, Chomsky himself then could run and get coverage. So: much of this blinkering of the US media would automatically cure itself with range voting. (More on media+RV and even more – about media "lapdogs.")

9. Here are some other problems which, to our (limited) knowledge, Chomsky has not discussed:

  1. The fact that antibiotics are put by the ton into animal feeds. This increases the growth rate of farm animals, but also could lead to the development of a drug-resistant pandemic super-plague. (A large fraction of human diseases started in domestic animals, according to Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel; the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria has been noticed ever since Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin; Klebsiella strains resistant to almost all antibiotics now are endemic throughout US hospitals and cause 1000s of deaths annually; multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis, Pneumonia, and Staph are now becoming common.) That is exactly why physicians do not give out antibiotics to humans without a prescription and every medical association stands against this. So: consider the benefit – slightly faster animal growth, versus the possible risk – huge untreatable pandemic. Not worth it. Obviously the practice should be banned. This issue is simply never considered by the corporate 2-party-dominated US government.
  2. Oil is running out, and sometime between 2010 and 2020 we will hit the all time world production peak. (See also Simmons' book.) From then on oil production will be below demand and oil prices will rise dramatically. Our entire oil-based civilization and economy will face an immense worldwide crisis. The 2-party dominated US government shows zero sign of admitting this or of trying to prepare the economy for this by, e.g. raising oil taxes, encouraging production of fuel-efficient cars (as opposed to giving a tax break to SUV purchasers...), highly-funding nuclear energy "breeder" and waste disposal research, etc.
So: tremendously important issues are simply not considered at all by the US government, because of the lack of diversity and corporate dominance engendered by the plurality voting system and 2-party (and 1-party) domination. These issues could be so important that they will literally cause the end of the world, and due to the USA's voting system, they are being ignored.

10. More examples.

So frankly, although Chomsky's reaction might be understandable for an average person with little time to think, for a mind as brilliant as his and for someone as familiar with problems of US democracy as he is, we find it incomprehensible. The amount of social good obtainable with range voting is huge, and the effort required to enact range voting is (comparatively) small, making its bang/buck ratio quite probably larger than any other possible reform that the USA could undertake.


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