Voting blocs are an emergent property of representative democracies wherein each new voting issue carries with it an automatic right for each representative to vote. In other words, when votes are treated like a continually renewable resource, there becomes incentive for each representative to give away votes on issues they care less about in exchange for something of greater value. When that thing of greater value is money we call it corruption. When the thing of greater value is a promise of future support from an outside agency, we call it lobbying. And when groups of representatives agree on an ongoing basis to trade away votes in exchange for membership, we call it a party.

Once parties exist, they are self-perpetuating. Even if all representatives from all parties were to agree individually that everyone would be better off long-term without parties, there are always short-term political gains to be made by utilizing the party system. Each representative reasons, logically enough, that they are better off first using the party to achieve their immediate goals, and then later pushing for their elimination. Ironically enough, the one issue that should inspire a unanimous voting bloc — namely the elimination of voting blocs themselves — is the one political ideal that parties are not capable of achieving, despite a will to do so. Parties are a true tragedy of the commons.

An alternative basis for representative democracy arises when one considers the possibility of turning votes into scarce and hence valuable resources. When you own a scarce resource, you are loathe to squander it. For instance, suppose a representative body expects to vote on 100 issues during its term in office. We can agree for the common good that each representative only receives 20 votes, to be used however desired.* Given such scarcity, it is not hard to see that to swap even a single vote would be foolish. Furthermore, representatives under this system are forced to plan the allocation of their votes strategically over the course of their term, lest they run out before they can vote on an issue they care about deeply.

Undoubtedly there will be issues that arise as the term progresses that nobody could have predicted. And undoubtedly there will be representatives who plan poorly or recklessly and who then must sit idly by while their colleagues decide such issues. But this is just one instance of a larger class of transgressions representatives commit against their constituency after getting elected. Whether you break an explicit campaign promise, or fail to represent your constituents’ interests through mismanagement of public resources, your fate should be the same come re-election time. Voting track records speak for themselves, and the public knows when its trust has been breached.

In a democracy we acknowledge the right of all citizens to participate equally in their own governance. In a representative democracy, we acknowledge further that we are all better off when there is division of labor: a small group represent the interests others in governance so that those others are freed up to work on providing daily bread for everyone. In an election process consisting of one vote per person, votes are inherently limited and thereby valuable. Where democracy gets derailed is when we take that precious commodity — the will of the people — and we devalue it and dishonor it by allowing our representatives to create new votes each and every time a new issue comes up or piece of legislation is suggested. To achieve the abundance yielded by division of labor while honoring the democratic process, it is imperative that we prevent the counterfeiting of our ideals by our elected representatives.

In a democracy the motto is “one person, one vote.” In a representative democracy the motto should be “one vote, use it wisely.”

* For the purposes of this discussion, it does not matter whether representatives are allowed to cast more than one vote on a single issue or not; the incentive to swap, sell or otherwise broker votes goes away.