$5 billion in moral trade surplus?

Over $5 Billion was spent in the 2012 US presidential election. I think this zero-sum waste of money is a ripe target for moral trade. I also think that it would be a great opportunity for an EA venture!

The Premise:

What if people had the option to ‘cancel out’ the donations of an opposing political party by paying the same amount? What if these ‘canceled out’ donations were subsequently given to an effective charity?

Let’s say that I’m a Democrat, and my friend is a Republican. We both plan on donating $100 to our respective candidates. But after discussing it, we realise that this is a pretty pointless waste of money, and instead we agree to each put our $100 towards a charity recommended by Givewell.

I think there might be strong demand for a mechanism that could lower the transaction costs between people in the above situation. Both so that they can cancel out donations of those outside their immediate circle, and simultaneously confirm that the other side is holding up their end of the bargain.

The technical difficulties of such a mechanism might be fairly minimal, ironically due in part to the comic lack of regulation on super PACs (which don’t have limits on donations or other onerous restrictions). One could simply have an escrow account that receives donations from each side and ‘clears’ every so often. If $200,000 came from Democrats and $260,000 from Republicans, our organisation would donate $400,000 to an effective charity and $60,000 to a Republican super PAC.

Would it really be that easy?

Maybe? Probably not? It’s still a half-baked idea, but one that I hope can be developed further. In addition to having a credible escrow account, one would need strong marketing and general operations. The idea would certainly get tons of media attention—basically nobody in the US enjoys the election process and this might be a breath of fresh air.

Other problems might be if only one side tends to donate to the escrow account. That might be remedied by appealing to wealthy donors on the other side. Another problem might be a perceived lack of a 1-to-1 ratio in effectiveness. One might open a market (such that I could donate 1.1 dollars to cancel out 1 opponent’s dollar) but honestly I think the simpler version is better from a marketing perspective.

Might this be a candidate for incubation within EA ventures? Pun totally intended.