Disrupting Democracy

That experiment reminds me of a summer job I had in college, working for Longaberger Baskets. They were a multi-level marketing business that was fairly standard in 80s and 90s (think Tupperware parties). On the production side they had a few innovative features I’ve yet to see elsewhere.

  1. Employees elected their supervisors from a qualified pool of peers. They couldn’t pick just anyone — management still had a say. I think the goal was to overcome the Peter Principle. I wasn’t there long enough to participate in an election or really gauge it worked in practice, but it is intriguing.
  2. The basket makers drew chits that determined what type of basket they’d be making the next day. There were incentives to specialize and get good at a small subset. Your workday and pay was determined by a quota. You could earn your maximum day’s pay in 4–5 hours if you mastered a particular basket. Trading chits was encouraged. Some baskets were complex enough that you’d occasionally just get stuck with a long day, but not often.
  3. The owner wanted to make a company town that existed to serve the town, rather than the other way around. He envisioned having on-site health care, child care, grocery, carry out food prep. The plan was drop off the kids, drop off the shopping list and dinner menu, go to work, have a break and see the dentist or doctor, get your kids, get your food, go home. My fiance got me in, and she directed tours of the factory. There was a long term plan to make a kind of theme park out of it.

I think it was death of the visionary that killed the company. Before the election I thought maybe Trump would buy their giant basket building and use it as studio for a new media company, The Deplorable Network.

One bright spot in the 2016 elections was the passage of Maine’s initiative to use ranked choice voting for future gubernatorial and statehouse elections. While ranked choice lacks all the signaling benefits of spending pennies, at least it lets people vote their hopes and fears and mehs all on the same ballot. It seems likely that elections under ranked choice will feed more information forward. A surprise second place showing seems more likely and will create more momentum for challengers to stay in the game.

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