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Over the past few years, there have been lots of complaints over how the great mass of voters in my country are badly educated and poor. The effect of this lack of education and poverty includes constraints on their ability to evaluate and critique politicians. Thus, when it comes to voting, their poor decision making ability makes them vote for poor quality candidates and so unfit people get elected. Since there are so many more poor people, the quality of governance thus suffers. Further, it is implied that poor people and those with no or little education have less of a stake in society, so their opinion on its governance should not determine the planning for that society. This opinion is usually held by those who think they would benefit if voting qualifications were tightened. One implication of this view, if followed far enough, is that a person's worth is determined by what a person has, or does, or is. It is a valid, but unpopular opinion. It is also old. Older than the current ethos of equality in politics. In the Wet by Nevil Shute is a novel that reintroduces a weighted (or more accurately, a plural) voting system. It describes an alternate history Australia which uses a voting system that could give a person up to 7 votes based on criteria that evaluate a person's worth. This worth is determined on measures that evaluate a person's contribution to society. The votes are awarded based on:

1. Basic vote: everyone has this.
2. Education: I don't recall what level of education is entitled to this, but I think it would be most logical for any further education above the mandatory or state sponsored level.
3. Living abroad for 2 years: I assume this is given because travel exposes (or is meant to expose ) people to different, equally valid perspectives.
4. Raising 2 kids to 14 years old without getting divorced: I suppose this is because stable families are key to a healthy, growing society.
5. Being a church official: considering the importance of churches to a healthy community.
6. Being rich: I think this is only earned income. A productive person obviously benefits the community.
7. Special vote: given by the monarch for extraordinary service.

I thought the concept was a good one, except for the votes awarded to church officials. I'd replace that vote with one given to people in more useful professions - medical staff, firemen, teachers. I'd do this firstly because as I said "more useful professions"; and secondly because the separation of religion and state is an important pillar of modern states and this vote, along with the one for wealth is subject to abuse. How would this work in a country that has many religions? It also discriminates against atheists.

The wealth vote is problematic because of its gradations. If it is unfair for the opinion of a person earning nothing to have the same weight as that of one earning a million units of currency, how about that between one million units and one billion units? Additionally, while I agree that a wealthy society is better than a poor one, I do not think a rich person is a better person. Further, how would inherited wealth be treated?

The Bible says there's nothing new under sun. I'd initially thought this idea was unique to the author. However, Mark Twain had written a short story about something similar and his own ideas were actually better. For example, rather than having the monarch dash anyone a vote, this power is wielded by a committee, comprised of members who have proven their mettle. Thinking further about it, the separate voting rolls in places like ancien régime France, Rhodesia and pre civil war US (a slave was 3/4 of a white man) are all variations of a weighted voting system. This realization reduced my initial high esteem for the book. However, it is an interesting story even if the voting bit is taken out. It is an alternate history set in a world where the Commonwealth is a tighter political entity than the current loose (and directionless) organization it currently is. The real life racism in the British Empire where the white colonies were given dominion status and self-rule is maintained in the book because only Australia and Canada appear to be important components. The only non-white places mentioned are Kenya (where the royal family went for a vacation) and Sri Lanka (a fueling stopover for planes). I liked the honesty of the author's racism which appears to have the unstated assumption about the reality of the world (at that time) being that only white people are equal to each other. The ugliness of microscale racism, while addressed, is glossed over by the liberalism and nobility of some of the enlightened white people. This book was written in the 60s and so having that rather genteel air of stable nuclear families and friendly communities that American pop culture has glazed over the 50s and 60s with, and which assumed that the niceness of some white people made up for the unfairness of the system.

Anyway, back to Nigeria. It would be good to have such a system where our government, even though a democracy (in the sense of the original derogatory term in Greek) does not reflect the baseness inherent in hoi polloi . Implementing it would be difficult though. Each side of the many divides would press for as low a bar as possible where it has an advantage. And we might end up with so many exemptions that the system would probably be worse than the current one.

I bought this book after reading about it here. I enjoyed the book, unlike this one and it is recommended if one is looking for an easy, enjoyable, short read.

Halspal asked for reviews of books by this author in Everything's Most Wanted.

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