Selling the USA to the Highest Bidder and Paying Off the National Debt

Feb 06, 2012 | Updated Apr 07, 2012

Last week, Steven Pearlstein offered a Swiftian proposal in The Washington Post to legalize buying votes and thus make the bribing of voters -- already the norm in practice -- a legal norm as well. Clear away all the hypocritical rhetoric about democracy and get on with selling citizens and their votes to the highest bidders.

As usual, however, the timid Washington Post stops at water's edge, leaving us with a clumsy in between proposal that still forces big money to buy big power only indirectly, by going through voters. But why go through voters. What if they refuse to sell?

Yes, there is a better and swifter way to reunite money and political power. It will not only give the rich the access to office they crave, I mean, deserve, but will also contribute heftily to reducing the budget deficit. Don't sell votes, sell federal offices. Auction off seats in the House of Representatives starting with a floor of two billion per seat. Not cheap, but it comes with office space and a staff of a dozen or more young MBAs and Hill-lifers ready to serve the business of America, which as some GM tycoon said long ago, is American business.

With the House at two billion per seat, the Senate needs to go for at least 100 billion a seat -- but remember you get six years for that, not two, and the offices are much larger. The big prize, the White House, should start at 5 trillion, though I imagine that floor would be quickly exceeded. The pretty and, well, you'd have to say sort-of iconic building that comes with the office can probably be leased for a good sum, to offset some of the costs.

The Supreme Court is a special case, but since it will eventually have to pass on the constitutionality of selling public offices to private bidders, it probably also needs to go for a trillion per court seat. After all, if you want to buy not just public offices, but legitimacy as well, you gotta expect to pay out.

A simple solution, no? First of all, no more hypocrisy and hype. "Buying office" means what it says. Second, I mean, I'm no math whiz, but even if the entry level numbers are not bid up in auction, I think sale of the House of Representatives nets nearly a trillion, the Senate 10 trillion, the Supreme Court 9 trillion and the White House another 5 trillion. That's a cool 25 trillion, plus or minus a few hundred billion. Replicated every couple of years ad infinitum. Wouldn't THAT put a helluva dent in the national debt?

Of course, the purchasers might prefer to use the loot (see, it goes to government and they ARE government!) in another way, say to invade Iran, Egypt and North Korea, for which 25 trillion would be a pretty good down payment.

The country benefits coming and going. We finally get something for selling out democracy, and can watch American Idol and the Super Bowl without being interrupted by those endless Republican debates (dedicated to convincing us that selling government is a good thing, about which we will no longer need to be convinced) and those lofty presidential speeches about how the only way to produce jobs is drill baby drill (with the Arctic melting, what difference does it make anyway?), and hydrofrack some more along the way. I mean, the oil industry already owns the country, so how about they actually PAY something for it!

Best of all, the private vendors who buy the public trust have a great way to recoup their investment: issue an IPO. That lets the public pay for selling off public power and accountability to private companies. And makes citizens stakeholders in the new system (kind of). And isn't that what democracy is all about?