May 9, 2008
Economic equality may not be a necessary condition for a well-functioning democracy. In an eklogecracy, however, an economic advantage translates to a political advantage. While there are other attributes that confer political advantages in an eklogecracy (this is probably true to some extent in any system of government), large economic advantages are among the most effective ways to gain political power in an elections driven system.
Various devices have been proposed and implemented in an attempt to reduce the ways in which economic advantages can be translated to political power. The most widely adopted device is probably anti-bribery laws. Other, less universally accepted devices are various campaign finance rules. Undoubtedly, those devices have some effect in the intended direction, although, clearly, these devices are far from eliminating the advantages of wealth. It is also clear that eliminating those advantages altogether, or even diminishing them significantly goes against the intrinsic characteristics of eklogecracy and is therefore an unlikely prospect.
Nevertheless, experimentation with additional devices for diminishing the political power of wealth seems desirable. One possible type of devices involves conditioning the assumption of powerful government positions on a renunciation of wealth – a concept which may be termed “plutoctomy”. Under this rule, people running for powerful positions in government, or accepting nominations to such positions, agree in advance that in case they do win the position they will, from that point on and for the rest of their lives, limit their standard of living (as measured by, say, total yearly expenses, including gifts) to a pre-set level (e.g., no more than twice the median level among the citizens).
For rich officials, plutoctomy will involve giving away all of the official’s existing wealth beyond a certain amount when the official assumes office as well as forfeiting significant future income. For all officials, it will mean that the position cannot be used to dispense favors to powerful interests in the hope of receiving material compensation from those interests in various ways after leaving office (high-paying jobs, consulting fees, giving high-honorarium speeches, or gifts).
Compliance with the agreement will be verified by an appropriate authority, which will be vested with the power to prosecute violators.
The objective of plutoctomy is to align the interests of the powerful with those of the citizenry. By assuring that the elected official lives the rest of his or her life within the means that are available to the average person, the official’s outlook on the costs and benefits of policy is likely to be closer to that of the average person. The rule may also deter the rich from seeking official political power since attaining such positions will force them to let go of much of their wealth. Since the rich are currently over-represented among the set of elected and non-elected officials, such deterrence would serve as a counterbalance to this bias.
Plutoctomy aims to achieve those goals without making demands on anyone, except those who voluntarily seek political power. As such, plutoctomy could enjoy wider support than measures, such as progressive taxation, that aim to reduce economic inequality (these are supported in principal by a majority in the population, but at the same time are many times fail to be supported by a majority when taking a specific form, such as taxing estates). At the same time, plutoctomy may achieve much of the intended effect of the reduction of economic inequality – a significant political empowerment of the non-rich.