Could it be that when it comes to identifying what shapes our societies – either into ones that are inclusive and work for the many, or are extractive and work for the few – that rather than imagine some moral battle between good and evil, or fixate on rooting out the “few bad apples”, we should ask instead: “What incentive structures could explain what we’re seeing?” 

Here’s an example: in the United States, The considerable amounts of money that are required to run successfully for any type of office incentivises those in the race to focus their energies on fundraising and not actually constituency-building. If democracy is government by the people for the people, then here we see democracy working in the interests of the smallest group of people.

As Jilani writes of 2016: “The amount of money at their disposal enabled [some to be] competitive candidates, while others were forced to drop out not for the lack of ambition or vision but for lack of funds.”

We’re publishing below Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy, a non-fiction graphic novel by Daniel G Newman, illustrated by George O’Connor. It’s a first-hand account from former US congressional candidate Paul Perry, whom Newman introduces in the first panel. exemplifies the latter group Jilani describes. 

In Unrig, attempts to show, in his own words, that “although it requires many changes so that ‘the people’ control democracy, the single most important change is to have elections financed by the public instead of wealthy corporations and special interests".

He adds: "Think of the government as an amazing, expensive sports car that we, the people, pay for through our taxes. Yet we let corporate lobbyists and billionaires pay for the key to that car – the political campaigns – which gives lobbyists control over our government. With the public paying for political campaigns, we keep the key, and the public drives the car instead of the lobbyists."

Both the illustrated story below and Jilani’s story reiterate how much of a problem the outsized influence of wealth is for our democracies – using the US as an example. But both go further to also consider what the solutions could be, drawing attention, for example, to Seattle’s democracy voucher experiment. Newman says: “In Seattle, Connecticut, and more than a dozen other cities and states with clean elections systems, candidates can run for office and win without dependence on special-interest money. By breaking the dependence between wealth and political power, we can elect the best leaders, instead of the best fundraisers.”

Read both stories together to get a fuller picture of both the problem and the solution.

– Eliza Anyangwe, managing editor

Read this story next US elections are bought. And the people paying don’t want the same things we do. Read Zaid Jilani’s story here

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Blue, black and white illustration with a banner saying ‘Running for Congress’, figures holding papers up, and two speech bubbles by a person door knocking: ‘meet paul perry. like the other people whose stories appear in this book, he’s a real person. Paul decided to run for Congress’. And: ‘on paper, I was an ideal candidate for the Democrats’. Below, a person stretching in three vignettes, with three speech bubbles describing their life

More from our billionaires series

We can’t have billionaires and stop climate change Ecological breakdown isn’t being caused by everyone equally. If we are going to survive the 21st century, we need to distribute income and wealth more fairly. Read Jason Hickel’s article here There’s no such thing as a self-made billionaire For all their talent or intelligence, a person stranded on a desert island with no technology, infrastructure or labour wouldn’t be able to amass extreme wealth. Understanding that no one can claim that they fully deserve what they earn is the first step to addressing wealth inequality. Read Ingrid Robeyns’ article here