Should voting be mandatory in the United States?

I recently came across a Democracy Paradox podcast on how to make voting mandatory in the United States. The podcast guest was Miles Rapoport, one of the authors of the book 100% Democracy. The Case for Universal Voting. A transcript of the podcast titled Voting reforms and ideas about voting can be found at

Rapoport made the point that democratic governance should involve every citizen, not just those most motivated to vote. He claimed that the most motivated voters hold the most extreme views, and that recruiting current non-voters would reduce political extremism. His main motive for pushing for mandatory voting seems to be his belief that non-voters are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican; make those people vote, and Democrats will form the government.

The thought that democratic governance should involve every citizen is a noble sentiment, but it is rather unrealistic. I would think that non-voters are too indifferent and disinterested to pay attention to what goes on, hardly a qualification for participating in public affairs. It would actually be more sensible to restrict the voting right to people who can at least demonstrate a basic knowledge and understanding of what constitutes a functioning society.

Obviously citizens have to have a say in public affairs, or we would soon lose our freedom. We have our say by voting, by deciding who will govern us. For this system to work, the voters need to agree on what constitutes a functioning society, what works and what needs fixing. We need to be familiar with the issues that matter, and give some thought to what needs doing. What sense does it make to let people participate in making important decisions if they are clueless and unqualified?

Unfortunately, life has become so complex that it is difficult to be as well enough informed as we should be. We need to know what issues are important and give some thoughts to these matters. On many subjects we need to rely on expert advice, information that may be over many people’s heads. Many voters cannot even tell who can be trusted in an age where fooling and manipulating people is a major industry. More than seventy million Americans voted for Donald Trump again in 2020!

People would likely object to losing the right to vote. Remember though that the voting right is quite different from fundamental “inalienable” rights like the rights to liberty, to due process of law, to freedom of expression et cetera – rights that guarantee our freedoms. The voting right, on the other hand, simply gives us a small say in who will govern us. I don’t mean to belittle this role. It is, in fact, important enough that it should require certain qualifications. Where else in life can you participate in decision-making without some proof of competence?

A system restricting the voting right to qualified citizens shouldn’t be a source of worry. Better informed citizens likely make better decisions at the polls, resulting in more competent and less corrupt governments. Non-voters would benefit just as much in this scenario as those allowed to vote – they live in the same society after all. Better governance should convince them that their loss of the right to vote was actually a gain.

Would the ruling class ever agree to such a reform? Politicians are probably even less inclined than voters to accept this, especially if their main interest is getting reelected and enriching themselves. For them the only thing better than not being answerable to an electorate is to deal with ignorant voters who can be easily manipulated. That suits the billionaire class too. The more pathetic the electorate, the greater the political power of the oligarchs.

I see no viable alternative to representative democracy – citizens electing the people who will govern them. But for the system to work, voters need to give some thought to the issues at stake. This is not an easy task in an age of ever increasing complexity, a cacophony of conflicting claims, and a sea of lies and misinformation. Rather than informing us, this kind of ‘discourse’ is more likely to turn voters off politics.

We need credible independent organizations who can explain the important issues we face, who present the possible solutions and the necessary actions, and who can do this in ways that the average citizen can undertand. Voters need to know what they must focus on, and they need to be able to recognize when they are being conned. Not everyone will listen, and not everyone can be persuaded even by reasonable arguments, but those who are willing to listen will make better choices at the ballot box.


“100% Democracy. The Case for Universal Voting.” E.J. Dionne Jr., Miles Rapoport

Could a better knowledge of prehistory guide us today?

I just came across a glowing review/summary (1) of a book titled The Dawn of Everything. A New History of Humanity by Graeber and Wengrow (2). The authors apparently present a new understanding of the lives of early humanity, insights that they believe today’s societies could learn from. According to the authors every conceivable variation on centralization, coercion, hierarchy, violence, agriculture and urbanisation already existed in the past. The shape of societies – hierarchical or not, authoritarian or free – is therefore not foreordained by our technology or living arrangements. We should be free to choose to be equal or unequal, coercive or free, warlike or peaceful, able to create our own destiny.

Can we really learn all that much from prehistory? I have my doubts. Human nature may not have changed greatly, but humans have greatly changed life on earth. And those changes have drasticly altered the balance of power in society. Scientific and technological developments have given the ruthless and power-hungry extraordinary power and wealth, and they are using that power to shape society in their own interests. Not only has the gap between the weak and the strong grown dramatically, but at the same time life has become too complicated for many people to meaningfully participate in public affairs. How would a better knowledge of prehistory help us build a freer and fairer society?

Rather than looking to the past for advice we should make every effort to better prepare all members of society to become informed and engaged citizens and voters. Our future depends on how successful that effort will be.

I don’t expect too much from this book, yet I’d still like to get the authors’ arguments in their own words. The subject matter, our societies and our future, is too important to simply dismiss any new ideas offhand. I am waiting for my library copy to arrive.


(1) Cory Doctorow, The Dawn of Everything,

(2) David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything. A New History of Humanity.

Is there an alternative to Capitalism?

I happened to come across an interesting blog by George Monbiot. The post that caught my attention was titled “The problem is capitalism” and the subtitle was “It is a weapon pointed at the living world. We urgently need to develop a new system.” (1). Of course, I share the writer’s concern. If we don’t change our ways, this ‘weapon pointed at the living world’ will sooner or later bring on an ecological catastrophe and threaten our very existence. The question is how to change course before it is too late.

What does the term ‘capitalism’ mean? It can simply be defined as ‘an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state‘. For all practical purposes the term is a label for the economies of the industrialized world.

What is the problem with capitalism?

Capitalism isn’t a planned economic system. It is the kind of economy that naturally develops in free and technologically advanced societies. People can use their ambitions, knowledge and entrepreneurial talents to build companies, and technological developments have led to the creation of large and powerful corporations. We can thank this combination of entrepreneurship and technology for our high standard of living. Unfortunately, technology can also be misused for power and profit, leading to the serious problems we face today.

The larger a corporation becomes, the richer and more powerful the people owning or controlling that corporation will be. Money and economic power buy political clout, which in turn can be used to further increase economic power and wealth. Big corporations can get favourable laws and regulations, tax breaks, and subsidies. They can influence the very agencies that are supposed to regulate their industries. Corporations that are successfully sued for criminal activities may pay hefty fines, but the people running those corporations typically get away scot-free. There is no effective deterrent against corporate irresponsibility and crime.

What new system could we devise to replace capitalism?

Any new economic system would surely also have to be part of a lawful democratic society. We would still need to outlaw harmful and unacceptable business practices and be able to enforce those laws. Yet, that new system wouldn’t change human nature. We would still have corrupt and incompetent politicians and irresponsible business leaders. So, how could we expect different results from any new economic system?

What is missing from this picture? We are missing – the citizens, the electorate. Politicians – our representatives – are supposed to govern. We – the electorate – are supposed to choose our representatives wisely and vote the corrupt and incompetent out of office. This is how democracy is supposed to work.

Of course, it isn’t enough to just go and vote. We have to be informed voters. That’s easier said than done in this age of fake news, misinformation, and manipulation. And here is the opportunity – in fact the need – for a new system, a system that provides the voters with objective and unbiased information on issues that matter. We need public discussions led by experts free from conflicts of interest, public meetings where people can get together to debate the issues, and other ways to inform, encourage and engage the electorate. Of course, not every potential voter can be reached, but it only takes a small number of informed and engaged citizens to make a positive difference (2).

The cure for capitalism isn’t a new economic system. It is an invigorated democracy.


(1) The problem is capitalism, George Monbiot The Guardian April 25th 2019

(2) The ‘3.5%’ rule: How a small minority can change the world, David Robson, BBC Future 14 May 2019,