Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Two Scenarios for Future Fiction

I have been thinking about ways in which things might develop over the next few decades and have two ideas that someone might build stories around.

1. Permanent Covid. Suppose it turns out that a vaccine producing long term immunity is not possible and that even short term is not very reliable or comes with unacceptable risks, so society has to adapt to the continued existence of the disease, as it already has to flu. Mortality rates will presumably go down as we get better at treating the disease but remain substantial for the more vulnerable parts of the population, especially the old. What happens?

One is that retiring at something between 65 and 75 becomes social as well as professional. Younger people, facing a mortality risk of under one chance in a thousand, mostly ignore Covid, as they mostly ignore flu now. Older people interact almost entirely with each other. With luck, we have either fast and cheap testing or some subset of people known to be immune, so there can be some younger people interacting with the older, but for the most part, medical care for the elderly is provided by elderly nurses and physicians, haircuts by elderly barbers. Interaction with adult children and grandchildren is either online, as I currently Skype with my grandson every week, or carefully organized with suitable precautions, perhaps as one weekend a month in some suitably isolated holiday spot, with everybody getting tested immediately before the event starts.

After a decade or so, it's the new normal.

2. The Unplanned Results of Vote by Mail. One feature of mail-in voting that I have not seen discussed is that it makes vote buying possible. For a mass production version, the purchaser buys hundreds of ballots, fills them in, has them signed in a variety of handwritings — nobody is actually likely to check, even if the signature is supposed to match one on file somewhere — and mails them in. 

The obvious place to start is with local elections where fifty or a hundred votes can change the outcome. But once you have a hundred ballots, selling only the votes on one issue is an obvious waste; you may not care about everything else on the ballot, but other people do and will pay for their desired results. Buying votes will presumably remain illegal, but with a reasonably well organized black market, such as what existed for alcohol under prohibition or for other illegal drugs since, it might be doable. As with bootlegging, it could become a recognized, if not openly approved of, part of the system. As the market develops, probably online and protected by public key encryption, it looks more and more like a conventional market, with known prices for what are, after all commodities — one vote for candidate X is a perfect substitute for another. 

My wife, reading this over my shoulder, objects that vote buying, unlike bootlegging, is not a victimless crime. The candidate you are buying votes against has an incentive to go after the seller — who is, after all, breaking the law. I am not so sure. After all, that candidate may also want to buy some votes, in this election or the next. If he has a reputation as a trouble maker who tries to get honest businessmen into trouble with the law, he may have a hard time finding a seller.


Anonymous said...

This has been going on in North Carolina for years, and I expect other places, too.

It appears to only be concerning to certain people now that non-Republicans are voting by mail in much greater volume.

David Friedman said...

Do you mean vote buying? Via the mechanism I described or something else?

blink said...

It seems to me that modern technology makes prosecution nigh impossible. I buy votes but do not need to collect the ballots -- I just need sellers to submit scans of their ballots to a site that will automatically verify they have voted as agreed and send a payment. The value of one vote will be small enough, that even payments in dollars will be effectively untraceable.

In any case, vote-buying deserves to be considered here; I had not thought of it and much appreciate that you have broached the topic.

Student of Liberty said...

I really do not like your dystopian first idea but you may well be on to something there...

On the second one, it seems that California (or part of it - see has a system to check the signatures automatically. Buying correspondance votes may be more difficult than you suggest.

Eugine Nier said...

Oh, it's been going on in all kinds of places. Witness the way "vote harvesting" was used in California since it was legalized in 2018.

Also your idea that something resembling an efficient market would develop is ridiculous. Look what happened with Tammy hall in the 19th century. One faction uses vote buying to win power and then uses that power to make sure their side, and only their side, isn't prosecuted.

Adam said...

As a voter in Washington state, I've had my real mail-in ballots rejected twice in the last decade because of signature checks. The threat of vote buying is well studied, and defenses against it work well at scale. Take a look at the National academies reports on voting security.

Anonymous said...

Washington State has a human checking every single signature. Presumably other Vote By Mail states are the same.