Imagine that you come across someone committing a rape. You start to intervene, but the perpetrator holds up an official-looking insignia, and says that you have to let him ‘finish his term’ before you can make him stop, so you should come back in a couple of hours.
I imagine there are a lot of voters in Virginia just now — and in New Hampshire, too, for that matter — who are feeling like they’re in a similar situation. Do they really have to wait until the next election for relief?
In Virginia, people have started collecting the signatures needed to initiate recall elections. The government has responded by introducing legislation designed to make that considerably more difficult, maybe even impossible.
Which illustrates a very important, but often misunderstood point about elections. People often think that the purpose of an election is to select the right person for a job. But that’s not really the case. History and common sense make it clear that there is no right person for any job that involves wielding power over others.
No, the point of an election is to be able to get the wrong person out of a job without having to shoot him. That’s why we make such a big deal every four or eight years, when a new president takes office, about the ‘peaceful transfer of power’.
The Marquis de Custine said that the Russian form of government was ‘an absolute monarchy, tempered by assassination’. Properly understood, elections are nothing more than an alternative to assassination.
It’s a good idea to go back and check every once in a while to see whether we still have the problems that our current institutions were designed to solve.
Representative government is designed to solve two problems.
First, there’s the problem of slow communications. Representative government is appropriate in a world where messages travel by horse, or ship, or railroad. A world where tangible messages are carried in moving containers. A world where people in one place can’t quickly or easily ask people in another place what they think about something. You send a representative to some distant location, and he negotiates decisions on your behalf, without having to consult you about them.
But we no longer live in that world. And when communication is quick and easy, there’s no particularly good reason to leave a representative in power once it’s become clear that he’s abusing that power.
Second, there’s the problem of specialization. Representative government is appropriate in a world where not everyone can, or wants to, stay up to date on every important issue. It’s useful to have people who can focus on things that government needs to do, so everyone else can focus on their individual lives.
We do still live in that world.
But we also have a new problem, which wasn’t nearly as much of an issue when our current system was created: Over-reach by elected officials.
When government can act quickly, citizens need to be able to react just as quickly, rather than endure assaults on their rights until the next arbitrary deadline arrives.
So what we need, in the world we live in now, is representation without elections. Happily, it turns out that non-governmental institutions have, over the years, created and refined a mechanism that meets this need: proxies.
A proxy is basically a limited power of attorney. ‘So-and-so is empowered to act on my behalf in matters concerning the following: …’
The crucial difference between a proxy and a vote is that a proxy can be withdrawn immediately when the holder loses the confidence of the owner.
That is, imagine a system where each citizen who would be able to vote for an office can assign a proxy for that office to some other person. The person who, at any given time, holds the most proxies for an office, holds that office.
But an official who steps out of line — for example, a Republican state representative who votes for a Red Flag law — could be replaced within minutes of a transgression, if enough of his supporters withdrew their proxies and assigned them to someone else.
It’s rumored that when Live Free or Die was chosen as the state motto, I trust you as far as I can throw you came in a close second. In any case, the latter is better reflected in the structure of our government.
In New Hampshire, the governor can’t do very much without the permission of the executive council; towns can’t do anything without the permission of the state; select boards can’t spend money without warrant articles; elections are frequent; terms of office are brief; and so on.
That is, government in New Hampshire is largely a collection of very short leashes. And proxies are the ultimate short leash, which makes them perfect for the Granite State.
In fact, proxies would be a direct implementation of Part 1, Article 8 of the state constitution, which says that the magistrates and officers of government are our substitutes and agents. If I give you a proxy to act on my behalf, it can’t empower you to do anything I couldn’t do myself — like take one person’s property in order to give it to another; or punish someone for ingesting something; or require two people to get my permission before conducting a voluntary transaction. It’s difficult to imagine a shorter leash than this.
In addition, proxies would increase citizen participation in the selection of representatives, something we all claim to want. You don’t have to remember to go to the polls on a specific day, or take off work to do it, or get a ride there… you just have to decide who you think would best represent you, and give him your proxy. The moment he screws up badly enough to make you regret your choice, you transfer it to someone else. You should be able to do this at any time, without ever leaving home.
And with no elections, there can be no question of election fraud.
I’m not saying that proxies would get us all the way to government by consent, which is where we need to be. But they would bring us a hell of a lot closer than elections ever can.