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True Democracy. - Ed's journal
True Democracy.
OK, here's an idea for you.

Today, here in the UK, large numbers of the population are online. Not _everyone_ has a computer at home, but pretty much everywhere has available broadband internet access. Either in their house, or nearby in a public terminal.

This is a very interesting state of affairs. Unprecedented in human history in fact. We have in our capability (or at least, fairly near) the ability to allow every citizen to vote on every issue.

At the moment, we elect representatives, to go forth into Parliment, and represent their constituents. It's worked for quite a while, but ... essentially it's a workaround for the fact that it wasn't really possible to hold votes on every bill that went past.

So what if we changed the system. What if we elected representatives, who's job it was to propose bills - along with all the supporting information regarding legality, costing and feasibilty. And their job was to pay attention to bills, read them, and comment with their opinion and why.

But not cast a vote (well, other than their own). The vote on everything, passing to the individual citizen.

There's weaknesses, I know. At the moment, the average citizen isn't really paying attention to what's going on in Parliment. The reason's very simple though - their opinion matters once every 4 years, and it's then we see the campaigning, and the putting forth the word, and the smearing and the general circus that is our political arena.

But I can't help but feel that the _point_ of a democracy isn't to be the best possible form of government, but the least worst. The average citizen, being able to express an opinion on what should or shouldn't be done, may not be the best form of government, but ... well, they'd get what they asked for. We formed a government in the first place based upon the acceptance that the common good was relevant to all of us.

We have issues with accessibilty at the moment too. Not everyone in the country has a computer and the internet. But ... I don't think it would be too much a stretch to ensure that public terminals were available in most urban areas. Most libraries have net access these days, for example. You'd need some measure of authentication too, but again ... well, we see online banking who've issued 'chip and pin' style readers. Wouldn't be too much a stretch to move that to a 'voter card' that did the same thing.

Bottom line, MPs represent the populace in parliment, because it's infeasible for the populace of their constituency to directly represent themselves. Now it is.

The best part though, is that we're not actually worse off - if you are happy to have someone represent your opinion, you can just look up what they say, and click 'yes'. But you don't have to wait 4 years to stop supporting someone who you realise doesn't stand for your point of view as well as you thought.

This would be a massive mess initially, I accept. I think we'd have a few years of complete circus politics, and 'voting by daily mail'. But once people actually see that it's serious business - that they receive exactly what they deserve - I think they'll start to behave rationally. I mean, it's one thing to rabblerouse and vote on crazy things when it makes no difference, and another entirely to see that your vote to save taxes by making litter collection annual, has resulted in piles of rubbish in your street.

The only question is though, do we actually want a true democracy?
9 comments or Leave a comment
amabat From: amabat Date: June 2nd, 2008 08:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think giving people the chance to have more say in what happens would be good. Currently politics is something vague that I'm removed from.

However, anything that suggests using computers

If computers are used for voting it wouldn't be truly democratic. We do have a lot of people who haven't used computers before, and wouldn't really know where to go to access one. They're generally shy, scared to ask for help, and vulnerable enough to need their voice defending. There would need to be alternatives to ensure everyone had an equal chance to vote.

Most people I know live in a society of computer literate people. That's not an accurate representation of the people that live in the UK. I've worked with a lot of people who really would be scared to find that in order to express their opinion they need to master an entire new skill. There are a lot of people (mostly over 30) who've never used a computer. My grandfather can just about double click with a mouse, and will never let himself be comfortable using a computer by himself.

Also, by moving voting out of controlled environments and into private spaces you lose the ability to ensure that people can't be forced to vote against their own opinions. . It's important that people can't influence other peoples votes. It would happen, people are corrupt.

sobrique From: sobrique Date: June 2nd, 2008 11:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, computers aren't commonly accessible, no. But they're becoming increasingly so. The technical capability _is_ there, and the current generations are all very IT literate. There will come a time where the person who's never used a computer, is as uncommon as the person who's never watched TV.

My grandad, who's coming up on 90 now, is often on his computer and using the internet and using emails. It's not to everyone's taste, I know, but the capability exists. It's just a question of inclination, and one that becomes increasingly less relevant as time passes.

Hell, you could have 'voter TV' using wossname interactive button.

No, the real question is one of inclination I feel. Technologically within reach. Sociologically? I'm not so sure.
the_g_man From: the_g_man Date: June 2nd, 2008 09:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
The problem is that it takes some effort to vote, and perhaps a little more to vote in a way that feels vaguely informed. The nice thing about voting for a representative is that you only have to do it once every 4 years. And, relatively speaking, it counts for a lot. Having to vote on every single issue, and in a way that only affects that issue, makes the act of voting a much less efficient lever. The effort-to-benefit ratio of voting will be much less. Only activists will vote on most issues. I think, by and large, people - even if they don't quite realise it - are happy to delegate this democratic effort to an elected representative. And it's much more efficient to do so.

That said, people are disengaged from politics, but that is because they feel their votes "don't make a difference". As I've said, I don't think that 'true democracy' really addresses that sense of disenfranchisement. Proportional representation would be a better bet, I think. And also, perhaps, re-electing some proportion (maybe a third) of parliament every year, rather than the whole lot every four years or so would increase the sense of accountability.
queex From: queex Date: June 2nd, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
A true referendum government would be terrible.

It's not enough to have an opinion on the subject- to be valuable it must be an informed opinion. A good 90% of the opinions held in the general population (including us in that calculation) are not well-informed enough to be worthwhile.

Everybody has an opinion on taxation, for example. How many people have access to all the economic metrics, fiscal summaries and economic theories and also the time to fully examine them? I'm guessing maybe 5 people in the entire country at most.

How many people actively monitor OPEC, crude oil prices, country-wide petrol consumption and the impact haulage has on other markets? Fewer people than complain about prices at the pump, that's for sure.

The point of democracy, in my opinion, is not to carry out the wishes of the electorate. This should be obvious, because it is simply not possible for any significant fraction of the electorate to be properly informed about any issue. The point is to elect a representative that you trust to do all that work for you and act on your behalf in government. Everybody's interests should be equal, but everybody's opinions are not.

In the current political landscape, there is a lack of trust. That's a major problem for this model of government, but still better than the alternative.
mcnazgul From: mcnazgul Date: June 2nd, 2008 09:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think we'd have a few years of complete circus politics, and 'voting by daily mail'.

Well that is the current state of affairs isn't it?

Once you get past the whole flashmeme thing (yeah, let's all be Jedi!) then you'll get some limited consensus. Unfortunately, vox populi is a powerful force and there will always be demagogues hoping you'll endorse their own brand of political commodity. The reason Rome wasn't built in a day, apart from the unions, was the mob (or the Praetorians) tearing down whichever plutocrat or tyrant was in charge.

The problem is that government involves an obscene amount of decisions; some of which are blatantly against consensus but which make sense in the wider context. It often amuses me that the people who bang on about the bureaucracy of government are the same ones who are outraged whenever the government tries to ratify a decision bypassing lengthy deliberation.

(yes Mr.42 day rule, I'm looking at you)

Informed consent is far beyond the ken of most people (how many of us actually care about EU subsidies on dairy farming to the point where they can make an informed decision) and as much as I'd like to see everyone educated to a level where they can do things like eliminate Third World debt I have some time to wait (e.g. Make Poverty History).

A possible solution? Well we have all this computing power. Why not advocate the creation of a sustainable model for peace and prosperity taking into account risks and balances? Or even collating the data we need to make an informed decision instead of following the mob?

Peter Cochrane raised this point. I think he may be onto something.
draxar From: draxar Date: June 2nd, 2008 11:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Beyond all the other comments people have made, there's also the issue that there would still need to be many votes in Parliment, because you still need to come up with the text on which people are voting.

And yeah, there is the issue that one of the things we get MPs to do is spend their time being sufficiently informed on all of the various issues that arise to vote sensibly upon them. Normal people wouldn't have the time to do so.
From: sebbo Date: June 3rd, 2008 01:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

slight adjustment

Have all local and national representatvies have a true proportion of the voting power for the number of people they represent.

Everything is the same as above, except that every individual can take their share of the representatives vote and use it themselves, or let the representative cast it on their behalf. Admittedly still open to weaknesses, but a hybrid that allows for all the issues to be addressed at some level. After all, the most we can be expected to do as individuals is vote on speciic issues, not all. While it may not seem so on occasion representatives actually have enough work to do to justify calling it a day job. Even just reading extracst covering all sides of an argument on every issue would be very time consuming.
From: dj_rws Date: June 4th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I see where you are coming from but in practise this is still a big no no. I argee largely with Queex so I shall not repeat but technical practicalities aside the main problem I see is this:

Our MPs have full time jobs to investigate and instigate actions in order to run the country. Given the number of man/woman hours (PC correctness and all that) this takes up, no matter how easy the voting procedure is it will only really work well if people have the time to know what they are voting for. Democracy isn't just about having a voice, it's about government i.e. running a country and a load of hot air and debate will not get anyone anywhere. Not to mention by the time you've put all issues to the electorate, the amount of time it will take for everyone to vote or have their say on the issue, many millions more person hours would have been wasted in just pushing buttons rather than useful work done on behalf of the stae, economy, etc. etc. and all this just to make the everyday person fell in control of their destiny? I'll play the pessimist card and say even if people felt empowered in controlling their lives in this way, it's still all an illusion and they've just as powerless to fate as they were before. It's merely an exercise in psychology rather than politics. And to sum:

"A million idiots asked a question will still give a million stupid answers."
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 17th, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
You should watch this classic Peter Cook film:


He plays a flamboyant politician who eventually persuades everyone to vote about every single tiny decision of governing the country. I won't say any more and give away the ending... :-)
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