In the Fourth Year: Anticipations of a World Peace was written in 1918, when the end of World War I was visible, but had not yet arrived. In it, Wells displays a strongly leftist, idealistic view of the world’s capacity for peace, and especially of the potential of the League of Nations. The argument is very much a product of its time, yet it holds remarkable interest as a measure of the way the future was then – what has come true, and how much more has not. The book is marred by an idolatrous reverence for Woodrow Wilson (“almost divine”), and by a much more troubling racism (I urge you to skip the chapter on Africa). Wells was also outspoken against racism, so the import of the section is uncertain.
Wells is on firmer ground with a sophisticated argument for the single transferable vote (STV). The STV is an idea whose time has seemingly not yet come, but which is still actively discussed in the international electoral community. It was a surprise to me find out such a promising idea had been around so long with so little success. The core idea is straightforward – rather than voting for one candidate or party, you mark your choices in order of preference. Any votes above the minimum needed to win get transferred to voters’ second choices. Similarly, if your candidate can’t win, your second choice gets your vote. And so on, until all votes are apportioned. While the STV has some drawbacks, it does deal nicely with the problem of third-party spoilers that gets so much attention in US politics.
In any case, Wells’ presentation is interesting, inspirational, troubling, and funny in turn, and well worth a read.