Revenge of the voters

Posted on 18/12/2010

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The government needs lots more money, and there are lots of companies out there we hate.

So let’s pick a figure, say £60 billion, and let every voter have five votes. Say there are 30 million voters, then each vote is worth £400. We get a window of time to vote for the companies we hate. The company has to pay a levy of £400 per vote cast against it.

The government runs the website which lets people nominate the companies they would be levying their votes against. HMRC has most of the data needed. I’m sure there would be an army of competent developers and programmers queuing up to the work very inexpensively. Any corporation with a trading presence in the UK is eligible (subject maybe to some tweaks I suggest below). We can watch in realtime as votes are cast. Maybe it’s even possible to withdraw votes and reallocate them prior to a specific deadline. Imagine how great it would be to tell the droid in your mobile phone company’s call centre that you were going to fine the company £400 – and this wouldn’t be an empty threat – you’d be able to do it, and prove to them that you’d done it).

Why do we hate certain companies?

  • They treat their customers like crap.
  • They produce overpriced, useless products.
  • They wreck the environment, and exploit the poor and underprivileged.
  • They patronise us.
  • They seem to have a “get out of jail free card” from the government.
  • They manipulate, exploit and lie to us.

Of course, there’s a charge that it’s arbitrary and unfair.
Well, no it isn’t. Starting with unfair: corporations aren’t people. It’s already a joke that they can sue individuals for libel and slander (which would have to go as part of this plan. Happy to keep malicious falsehood though, for some sort of balance).  There’s nothing wrong with ganging up on Top Shop or Tesco or Microsoft. All they have to do to avoid trouble is to avoid people hating them.

The companies are the ones advocating the free market, and consumer choice, when in reality they are all seeking to eliminate competition. They are always advocating people vote with their wallets: i.e. make a choice, as arbitrary or informed as they like about a particular product or service. In many cases, that’s just not possible. Mobile phone companies: you can choose between appalling, execrable, crap, mendacious and dismal. It would be much more fun to vote with their wallets.

And what I really love about this, is seeing the hated companies’ spokespeople squirm. Of course nobody would ever vote for their company. Everyone loves their company. But it’s unfair on their competitors which people do hate….err  hang on?

It would put huge pressure on companies to act ethically. If times are tough, people might not be prepared to pay more for ethically sourced products, but they’ll have no qualms about fining a company £400 if they don’t like the way they treat people, or animals, or the environment. The cultural dynamics of this could be fascinating.

But this is not a one shot deal. If it happens year on year, then the questions at the victims’ shareholders’ meetings will start be: why do people hate our company so much? Why are we not pursuing policies which make people less likely to vote for us to be levied?

How great to be able to buy a product from a company you hate, and then stick the boot in at voting time!

As to arbitrary: well, no, it’s democracy in action. Except that this is much less a blunt instrument than opening policy decisions up to X-factor style plebiscite. It will redress the balance of power that corporations have over us. If our choice to buy things from companies can be arbitrary, then why not or choice to levy a tax on them?

The more  I think about this, the more it seems to make internally consistent, logical sense.

I think that the only downside is that it will fuel the creation of consultants and “experts” even more irritating that self-styled social networking gurus who will generate reams of PR in a misguided attempt to lower the profile of their clients as potential targets. And oh, the irony, when they themselves all go bankrupt because of a concerted campaign by Private Eye for us all to target them with our £400 tax grenades.

I am also bit concerned that the scheme could be misused: the far right could use it to harass the owners of corner shops, for example I think the simple way to deal with this is to have a threshold value for the eligible hatees: maybe there needs to be a threshold turnover (say £20,000,000) which would make this sort of personalized vendetta more difficult. Except against Murdoch pere et fils, or Philip Green.

I welcome a world where hated companies are brought to their knees; of TV specials where where we see live voting, and get the CEOs of the losing companies grovel to try to explain why they are not as bad as we think they are.

Yes – the losers may have to make cuts in their workforce. Pretty quickly, the shareholders (and banks) will realise that it will be vastly more financially effective for the senior management to have their bonuses severely docked instead. Remember, the money is not disappearing: it is being redistributed, but by the people, for a change, from corporations.

Above all, in an era when we’ve seen egregious misbehavior be totally unpunished, for once, the miscreants may get their comeuppance.

Please. I want to see this happen. I’ve already started playing this game in my head. But we, the people, could make it real.

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