Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Better Democracy, Perhaps?

No discussion of the merits or evils of democracy can be complete without at least a passing nod to that famous quote from Winston Churchill who once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

In it’s favor, democracy is a somewhat participatory form of government where the general population seems to have a hand in deciding how the country is run by voting the people who will represent their interests into the positions of power where they form the policies and laws that govern the nation. But absolute power corrupts absolutely, so, to keep the politicians honest, they are restricted to a set term, and then must step down, and a new leader must be selected. At least that is how it is supposed to work. But this system does have it’s flaws.

One of the flaws is that the potential leaders spend most of their time in office trying to position themselves to get re-elected. It sometimes seems like their whole job is merely about getting elected and then dealing with the aftermath of that, (paying back favors, etc.), and then they are focused on preparations for re-election. It seems like very little time is actually spent on the business of running the government. In other words, it seems that politics is not about managing the country – it’s merely about “Politics” itself.

When it comes to politics, there are always those who will show up and try to change things and make things happen, and then the vast majority who do not engage – except to complain.
There is nothing any government could do that would make it exempt from complaining. People will ALWAYS complain. This is because, although people never admit it, most people are generally NOT interested in fairness. What they really want is to have more than everybody else. More than their fair share. This is not universally true, but it is true of the majority. So, since people want more for themselves than for others, their desires are, by definition, mutually exclusive. If there is one pie, three people cannot each have half the pie. Therefore someone always has less than they want no matter how the pie is split up, and so it is with government. If they spend as much on defense as some people want, then there is not as much to spend on education. If they spend as much as some want on roads, there is not as much to spend on parks as others want, etc. If they open up the immigration doors to allow cheaper labor in, then employers are happy because they operate more efficiently and more competitively, and consumers are happy to pay less for their lifestyle, but workers are unhappy because of perceived competition for jobs. There is no amount that is right for everybody.
So, no government is immune from criticism. Nevertheless, someone has to show up and try to make it work for most people.

But there is more to it than simply “showing up”. In a world of jerrymandering where politicians get to re-draw districts, etc. in order to effectively pick their voters (instead of the voters picking their politicians), simply showing up to vote has less power than it once did. The electoral college eliminates the effects of all the dissenting votes in each state, for example. Every vote does NOT count, because the politicians got ‘clever’ with how the votes are counted. With the Electoral College approach, if 45% of a state votes Democrat, and 55% of the state votes Republican, then the state becomes a “Red” state, and only Republican representatives are sent to Washington. And since the representatives vote according to their party policy, this means that 45% of the voters will NOT have representation and their wishes will be ignored.

So the only real way to effect change is to become a politician and join the system and work within it. But for that there are steep entry fees. It costs a lot of money, a lot of favors, and a significant piece of your soul.

Ironically, I suspect that many of the people who go into politics go into it for the wrong reasons. They may want power, they may want influence, they may want fame, or historical significance, or to simply use a position of office to leverage their financial and business interests. I wonder how many politicians really are there simply to try to represent the interests of their constituents? In fact, in a party system such as we have, most of the members of each party vote for every issue according to party philosophy and doctrine and goals – NOT the wishes of their constituency. They are not representing their people, they are representing the party they belong to.

I think this is a fundamental flaw in the political system that runs this country. This system is effectively broken.

A Better System
I think the interests of the people would be better served if the PEOPLE voted on the bills and legislation rather than the politicians. The politicians should be the ones to draft the bills for consideration, but NOT then be the only ones allowed to vote on them. Special interests can easily sway the votes of a few senators, but not so easily the whole population. Also, it is far more likely that legislation and policy that is decided and voted on by 3 million people is far more likely to be fair and sensible than that voted on by a few politicians looking to line their pockets or build and protect their power base. So this new approach has a much better chance at having our laws and policies represent the real wishes of our population.
Back in the 1700’s when the constitution was written, it was a time when the average common people were uneducated, uninformed, and incapable of making intelligent choices on complex issues. So they simply voted for someone smarter to make the decision for them. That is how our current form of democracy was birthed.
But people have changed. We, as a population, are better educated and better informed now. We are more capable of making informed, intelligent decisions. Sure people will still have special interests and will vote to support their personal interests, but that’s fine. Because each single vote won’t have an inordinate amount of sway, but the overall direction will follow the true will of the people – and THAT is a TRUE democracy.

How would we do it? We could make it online for one thing. Almost everybody now has access to a computer. Either at home or at work, or even at airports, internet cafes, and other public places. Even little children have access to computers these days. But even if they don’t – at LEAST everyone has access to a phone. Votes could be taken on issues the same way people vote on American Idol, by calling a number and then pressing a number to indicate their choice. If they can poll tens of millions of people to pick a favorite singer, they can certainly do that to make important choices about our country.
To make informed decisions, the information about the decision needs to be available publicly. Every newspaper could have a “blue pages” section at the back that contains the facts and details, and arguments about any piece of legislation up for vote. And the information can obviously, easily be available online, for the vast majority to look up at their convenience.

This system would mean that politicians are still needed and still useful – but their expertise would be used for drafting legislation, not deciding it. That means that they would definitely have a hand in helping to form the future of the country, but they would no longer be open to corruption and being paid off, since their vote would no longer count any more than any other citizen’s vote would.

I think THIS would be a fair system, finally. It uses the expertise of the skilled people where it is useful, but takes away the source of possible corruption and undue influence. And best of all, it allows the actions of the country to truly follow the desires of the people of the country. The original constitution was fine for the times of the founders of the country 200 years ago. But they didn’t have the technology and infrastructure that we have today. After two centuries, we’ve learned a thing or two, and we should leverage that to our modern advantage. This system better reflects the needs and abilities of today.

The problem then becomes one of getting politicians to adopt this plan. Since it effectively reduces their power, they are not likely to introduce it themselves - especially since many of them went into politics for the power it gave them.

It's hard to get people to participate in their own demise.

2 Comments:

At 5/02/2006 7:32 AM, Anonymous Igor said...

wow, I am not the only one who thinks along that way!

may I suggest my 2 cents ?

1 cent) I think there is a need to "encourage" politicians to do good work about drafting legislation. Let's add 3rd option to "yes/no" - "reject", and if the proposed law was rejected (it's being too vague or smthing), politicians who did the draft are to be fired.

2 cent) Now, I know it's a touchy subject, but whaddayafink if we move on from 1man1vote system, say: any qualified individual gets his 1 vote automatically, and then gets another vote for having a job/income, yet another for having a spouse, yet another for having 1 child, another for having 2nd child, another for owning property over a specified value, etc, etc.

the idea being to give more voice to "better" members of society.

current idea that an unemployed single man living off welfare gets the same weight as a working mother of 2 in deciding public affairs seems ... somehow ... rotten to me.

 
At 5/02/2006 8:11 AM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Igor,
You make a couple of interesting observations, my comments are as follows:
1) I like your idea of rejecting legislation that doesn't make sense, as a third option. It sends the message that you don't simply disagree with the idea being presented - rather, you reject the WAY it is presented. I don't think being vague is the real problem, though. I think the current practice of bundling other non-related legislation in with the original bill is the problem. This is pure politics and a way to get unpopular legislation in by riding on a larger issue. That's cheating. If people reject a bill, that doesn't say they don't agree with the fundamental legislation - just that it should be decoupled from the other pieces that don't make sense.

2) Giving more votes to better citizens SEEMS unfair at first. But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea, actually. Everyone gets a vote. But the values of the country should MORE reflect the values of it's citizens that try harder to achieve and succeed. Not merely as a reward for doing well, but because their personal values will be reflected in national policy, and that helps to move the country ahead to a better future.
For example, if people on welfare make most of the votes, then all our social policies would favor welfare and would punish those who earn a living by taxing them to death, because they would have to pay for a huge expense to provide a wonderful life for welfare recipients.
So a fair system has to ensure that there is a fair representation of all people and their interests, but then also skew it slightly toward those whose values and achievements reflect a better direction for the country. I like it.

 

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