Our system for choosing presidents doesn’t work very well. Voters are woefully uninformed on the most basic of issues and many end up voting on whim. I don’t think restricting the franchise is a good solution, however. A better idea is to create procedures that encourage voters to become better informed. Our current institutions for providing information are lousy. Debates, for example, are boring, the politicians don’t answer the questions and most importantly the voters don’t know what a good answer is.
(If the voters, for example, don’t know the difference between Sunni and Shia then how can they distinguish foolish and uninformed approaches to foreign policy from intelligent and informed approaches? And if the voters can’t tell who is uninformed from who is informed then politicians have little incentive to become informed.)
Thus what we need is a way of conveying information to uninformed, unsophisticated voters in a way that is entertaining yet produces information about politicians that is correlated with real skills.
I suggest a game show, So You Think You Can Be President? SYTYCBP would have at least three segments.
Coase it Out: Presidential candidates have 12 hours to get a bitterly divorcing couple to divide their assets in a mutually agreeable manner. (Bonus points are awarded if the candidate convinces the couple to stay together.)
Game Theory: Candidates compete in a game of Diplomacy. I would also include several ringers – say Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan and Salma Hayek. Why these three? Robin is cold, calculating and merciless – make a logical mistake and he will make you pay. Bryan is crafty and experienced. And Salma? I couldn’t refuse her anything but presidents should be made of stronger stuff so we need a test.
Spot the Fraud: Presidential candidates are provided with an economic scenario (mortgage defaults are up, hedge funds are crashing, liquidity is tight). Three experts propose plans. The candidate must choose one of the plans. After the candidate chooses, the true identities of the "experts" are revealed. One is a trucker, another a scuba diver instructor and the last a distinguished economist. Which did the candidate choose?
Entertaining? Check. Correlated with important skills for governing? Check. Can the voters tell who the winner is? Check.
What segments for So You Think You Can Be President do you suggest?
Addendum: Yes, I am serious.