When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do… I will tell you that our system is broken.
— President Donald Trump, August 2015
Democratic corruption is when an elected leader betrays their responsibilities, enriching themselves or close allies instead of serving their constituents.
Unfortunately, most Americans consistently report perceiving widespread government corruption:
Is corruption widespread throughout the government in this country, or not?
We have an intuitive sense that money buys influence.
According to author Lee Drutman (The Business of America is Lobbying), private interests not only sense that money buys influence, they act on it:
“For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34.” (source)
And if you think this is simply a partisan issue, you’re wrong:
OpenSecrets.org: “Corporations Give Big to Both Side… Democrats and Republicans Share Big-Dollar Donors”
Is all that money having any effect?
It would appear so, per results like the infamous 2014 Princeton Study:
What is the cost of corruption?
The most obvious cost is our taxpayer funds being used for crony handouts.
But on top of this, researchers identify dire second-order effects:
Corruption can undermine the state’s ability to deliver inclusive economic growth in a number of different areas. When government functions are impaired, it can adversely affect a number of important determinants of economic performance, including macro financial stability, investment, human capital accumulation, and total factor productivity. Moreover, when systemic corruption affects virtually all state functions, distrust of government can become so pervasive that it can lead to violence, civil strife, and conflict, with devastating social and economic implications.
But a liquid democratic legislature could be orders-of-magnitude more resistant to corruption.
Right now, we have 535 elected legislators for the entire United States (100 Senate + 435 House).
Let’s assume, for simple analysis, that buying enough influence to tip one member’s vote on one issue costs $50,000.
That means that the cost to “capture” a majority of the legislature would be
(535 / 2) * 50,000: $13,375,000.
Now contrast that with a liquid democratic system, which could scale to include thousands of times as many active participants.
If the number of active legislators goes up by a few orders of magnitude, so does the cost of capturing a majority of them.
And remember, liquid democracy means real accountability. If your chosen representatives no longer seem to fight for your interests, liquid democracy lets you replace them immediately, no questions asked.
Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants
One may wonder if having many more lawmakers might make it easier for nefarious deals to slip through the cracks. This is a good point to consider.
But compare it to our current system: would it really be easier to organize blatant political corruption at this scale? More cost effectively?
Not even close.
Sure, deep pocketed influencers might hypothetically be able to buy off a few financially desperate voters.
But right now, our 535 legislators each represent an average of 600,000 constituents, so the cost per voter would have to be 600,000 times less than the cost per legislator.
In other words, a member of Congress would have to sell out for no less than $600,000 today, whereas every regular citizen would need to be convinced for less than $1. And that’s just to break even.
And all of this is supposed to happen, at scale, without leaving massive amounts of evidence?
Both briber and bribee would still be breaking the law, facing fines up to $10,000 per instance, and jail time. It’s hard to see many people finding that worth the risk for such a tiny payout.
Compared to our current situation, it seems safe to say that liquid democracy can have a massive impact towards eliminating corruption in our legislatures.
We have a duty to look after each other. If we lose control of our government, then we lose our ability to dispense justice and human kindness. Our first priority today, then, is to defeat utterly those forces of greed and corruption that have come between us and our self-governance.
— Granny D