conceptualizer

February 12, 2007

Improving Democracy

Filed under: Debate, Ideas, Observations, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , , — conceptualizer @ 1:20 pm

Government

The fundamental feature of a government system is a hierarchical structure of permanent fulltime positions. All government systems require this feature to effectively manage the requirements of the people they govern. A flat structure becomes increasingly problematic to coordinate as the number in government increases. As workload increases in volume and complexity, temporary and part-time positions become untenable. Below are some of the reasons why a government system benefits a country:

  • Greater specialisation is possible, giving the potential for better results; for example specialists in national security.
  • Centralisation enables cost advantages in the acquisition of inputs; for example purchase of construction materials.
  • Benefits from being managed by a single authority and hence with a single strategy; for example a homogeneous transport infrastructure.
  • Some requirements are only manageable at a macro scale; for example space exploration.
  • Mundane requirements can be deferred to government; for example refuse removal.

Democratic Government

The fundamental principle of democratic government is the control over those that govern by the governed. Specifically, the power of investiture and removal of people from government positions and control over strategy. This principle tends to encourage good stewardship in those elected and so over time may be responsible for the fact that the world’s most powerful and successful countries are predominantly democracies.
Another common feature often associated with democracy is the equality of all its members. Although a popular idea this is not essential in a democracy, nor is it strictly true, as some groups have more rights than others in some situations. Further, it is not always practiced where it is intended to be and many good arguments exist concerning its inadequacies.

Problems With Democratic Government

Democratic government, like all forms of government, is problematic. The consequences of those problems are occasionally obvious and reported on as news. If we believe that democracy is good and to be more democratic is better, then we need to enhance adherence to the democratic principle. That requires strengthening the control of the populace over who is in government and what strategies they use. There are three root causes to the problems with democratic government and all concern the democratic principle:

  • the timing of elections
  • control of strategic decisions
  • the suitability of the people in government positions

Elections to government positions are mostly at fixed time intervals. Where flexibility exists it is at the discretion of the incumbents, rather than the voter. Unfortunately time interval based elections are not likely to be aligned with the people’s need or desire for change. They are an historical remnant that should be replaced by elections based around need or desire for change; i.e. election timing should be event based rather than time interval based.
The strategies employed by democratic government are supposed to express the will of the people. Unfortunately government strategy is sometimes out of step with the will of the majority of people. This is in part because policies are bundled together by each government. It is also in part because potential new systems have not yet been implemented to devolve more power to the people. Some politicians may believe that they should be setting the strategic agenda rather than the people. They are not democratic in their political philosophy and should be excluded from a democratic government. There is a degree of indolence when it comes to advancing democracy and I believe that it is in part down to the inadequacies of the current politicians and in part a reluctance to advance democracy. The later is perverse in the sense that they only have there political position because of democracy.
If government positions can be filled with more appropriate people we will have improved government. As positions are filled by election, improving elections is vital and they have two main influences: the candidates allowed to stand for election and the people allowed to be voters.

Improvements to Democratic Government

Election Timing

Computers and the internet have made it possible and cost effective to replace time interval based elections with event based elections driven by need or desire for change. Such elections are more responsive to the people and so are more democratic. They also encourage better stewardship, because the behaviour of those in government is not skewed by a predetermined election timetable. They are forced to face the consequences of their actions every day.
Some care needs to be exercised to prevent knee-jerk reactions spawning elections. This could for example include a sustained period of strong disapproval to trigger an election. Straw polls and intermediate votes can be used to gauge attitude without triggering elections, creating a hierarchical system of voting. This would be preferable as people are better at making decisions after considering things more than once. Recording of opinion by voters can also be tracked so each voter can see the variability of their own views over time and correlated to events.

Strategic Control

Technology also allows government to gain a better understanding of public opinion on strategic decisions. Carried through to its logical conclusion this would obviate the need for party politics. Each position could be individually elected and their strategic goals defined by the voters. This would also circumvent the old problems in party politics such as those around proportional representation and the role of tradition in choice.

Appropriate People

To be more discerning when electing people to government positions we need to consider both candidates and voters.

Candidates

Enthusiasm is not enough. Important positions need open minded, informed, honest, hard working, balanced and mentally agile people. I propose that before anyone may become a candidate for election, they must take and pass a course that covers the range of possible ideologies and the historical causal effects of choices made. If government positions are considered important and worthy of respect then it is the duty of government to ensure that people who aspire to those positions are as good as they can be.

Voters

My proposals so far have significantly shifted power into the hands of the voter from the politician. That power shift must be balanced by checks on the veracity of the voter. Tradition and prejudice are not enough. In a democracy everyone may have the right to a vote, but only the interested, open minded, informed, honest and balanced should be allowed to exercise that right.
Voters must for example be able to prove at least a basic understanding of the major policies of the main candidates or parties. Also, voters that show little interest in the process by failing to vote could be suspended from subsequent voting rights, until they have applied to have their suspension lifted. Suspension could also be applied to those convicted of serious breaches of the law. The application for resumption of voting rights could require for example a hand written summary of the major candidates or parties top policies. The important point however is that some effort must be made to get voting rights reinstated. This system does not prevent anyone from voting, but presents an opportunity to make voting sufficiently discriminatory as to get a more considered result.
Lastly I think that in a true democracy the principles of democracy should be held at high value. People intentionally subverting, or attempting or planning to subvert the systems principles should be treated very harshly. That should include a long mandatory prison sentence and a punitive financial penalty followed by deportation if they have another nationality. Strong treatment should also be applied to those who learn of subversion but do not inform the system immediately.

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