Enhanced Democracy for the Information Age

The following is my vision of what a direct democracy could look like. A society where people have direct say, government is open, accountable and free from partisanship.  And people are able to think independently. People are able to easily participate and obtain information as easy as reading the morning news through the use of the internet. I am not claiming this is foolproof or the best solution but I hope it will encourage discussion and debate to work out what is or is not practical. I would like to thank Anders for his extensive comment on my blog about Open Source Voting / Democracy, which lead me to expand beyond the constituents voting system.

New Model

A society of open, free and independent thinkers where partisanship is extinct.

Old Model

Power rest with the few. From ancient times of royalty to modern democracy, there has not been a system where individual citizen have direct say on government affairs. Even in U.S., the supposed beacon of democracy, big funded party usually win and electoral college system exist in which Bush have used to great effect. Once elected, decision usually lies solely on the hands of the elected representative for the next 4 years. Or in some countries like the Philippines, for 6 years.

Concerns and Excuses Against Direct Democracy

It could lead to mob rule. It’s a form of populism which usually lead to fascism. People would look after their selfish interest first and there won’t be stability.

Argument Against the Misconception

Mob rule exist when there is no well-established rule of law. Populisms leading to fascism are all results of people who are not able to think independently. Take for instance Hitler, China’s Youth Cultural Revolution, Salem Witch trial, and if you are a Christian you can argue that mob rule is what leads to Jesus being crucified. But in all of these cases, people are following orders from a charismatic or respected leader or from gossips and rumours without thinking for themselves. Voices of reason are non-existent. In those cases, it might seem like majority of people are on board, but that is usually not the case. Rather it’s just vocal minority with silent majority feeling helpless and less unified. Human collectively are good, but vocal minority usually win, albeit temporarily, because the majority are complacent, naïve, or tend to underestimate the degree of malignancy. The majority react only once it reaches catastrophic stage. But if the true majority have voices and able to exercise them easily, then the vocal minority can easily be silenced.

Changing the Mindset

Voter’s education will be the key. It could be integrated into the secondary curriculum.  People can be trained to be better decision makers. Critical thinking without being cynical. Learning to think for long term rather than short term. Look at wider perspective rather than narrow vision. No knee jerk, quick jump to conclusion, heard it so it must be true, and sensationalist reaction. Calm and thoughtful rather than angry and excitable. Ability to think independently.

Exercise and examples could be used to demonstrate importance of having wider perspective. For instance, demonstrating that indifference to crime problem in bad neighbourhood could come back to bite you unless you want to live in a gated community. Neglected First Nation reserves with poor living conditions could be breeding ground for epidemic. You don’t have to worry about epidemic starting from third world nation because we have a third world situation in our own backyard. These are just few of the examples.

Low voter turnouts are not necessarily due to voters indifference. Rather it is a sign that voters does not think they can have real influence. That whoever they vote for, after the election it will be politics as usual. So part of voter education will be to demonstrate how they can be effective and efficient in making their voices heard and making an informed decision.

Lessons on bad political tricks and deception can also be taught not so much for it to be practiced but instead to allow people to easily tell if such tactic are being used. Guarding against hysteria and being easily provoke. Some instances of possible deceit for discussion could include Taiwanese President who was accused of staging assassination attempt to generate sympathy vote on the eve of the election. He suffered minor injury and went on to win by a tiny margin. Others could include non-verifiable claim of attacks or incidents to outrage citizens to agreeing to go to war.

Direct Democracy

Direct democracy is possible with elected representative (NOT politicians). The representatives represent their constituents. No affiliation with any political parties. Political party as a concept is abolished. Instead you have representative that works collectively / co-operatively to advance common cause and concerns. Each constituents vote for their representative and each voter get to vote on every issue using system like Open Source Voting/Polling System. With enhanced user friendly interface that is easily accessible, voting and getting information could be as easy as reading the morning or evening news. Minimal effort would be needed to vote and they can do it at home in their pajamas, registering their vote with just a click of a button. Summary of debate and online discussion are presented as a newscast.

What if they don’t want to get involved in every issue? There are several options:

Abstain – voter would be encouraged to at least abstain if the issue is of no concern to them. For example, if 60% of the vote is required to pass a bill, 60% will be based on those who participated. So if there are lots of people who did not vote, then vocal minority can easily win. However, if people abstain then the vocal minority still have to achieve 60% of total participant. The importance of abstaining must be emphasized. The problem with this approach is if lots of people abstained, then it could lead to deadlock. A deadlock could mean there is not enough agreement or interest. Further discussion is needed to reach consensus.

Vote of Trust – Another option would be for people to choose Vote of Trust by giving their vote to the representative (proxy voting). The representative can then use these votes to vote according to what he/she judged to be the better option.  Vote of trust is granted for each issue rather than blanket authorization. This will give voters second thought if priority on an issue has changed.

The representative leadership role will be to make all relevant information available to their constituents. Make sure it is only factual, undistorted and non-sensationalized. People not buying in or not interested could be due to lack of information.  Neither the representative nor the voters are expert on a lot of matters. An expert can then be brought in with careful consideration of possible conflict of interest or biases.  The people are the government. Government and representatives are ultimately responsible to the people.

Each legislation should have clause, which acknowledges that any possible long term consequences have been considered and stating what they are. Not only consequence for yourself but for other part of the country (riding, municipalities, provinces). List out sector, groups or companies that could be impacted and whether impact is positive or negative. Guidelines could be established to say what the intent of the law is. Define at what point it alters the intent enough to warrant re-consultation with the voters or at what point the representative, working among themselves, could proceed with minor amendments.

Stability & Independent Departments

To prevent things changing with moods of the population, some area of government need stability. This can be achieved through having different independent departments.

Information and education department – moderator of debate forums. Task includes compiling summary of discussion and delivering them in the form of news. Other responsibilities could include obtaining and maintaining census;  Ensuring dynamic and affordable education system.

Economic Department – make decision on minimum wage and taxes based on fixed guideline and trend. Make sure government is fiscally responsible (i.e. Fiscally conservative with a social conscience).  Department could include the Bank of Canada. Promote free enterprise and healthy business environment, including for small businesses.  Depending on the size of the market, monopoly or triopoly should be restricted. Even quadopoly might be anti-competitive if the market share is very huge, leading to price agreement/fixing and cartel.

Science, Innovation and Health – an independent department with regular funding looking after science related work and research. They should be free from constant interference and tinkering in order to promote stability and allow them to concentrate on research and on carrying out their task, rather than getting bogged down with constant re-organization. Innovations and discoveries could go toward benefiting the citizens. However, a system that encourages private enterprise research should be maintained. This does not mean everlasting patent, or patent that allows hoarding of technology and price gouging well above cost long after they’ve recovered their research cost.  This department would not act like crown corporation where external funding option is limited. Instead, they can seek outside funding and donations. Responsibilities could include food safety and health – inspection and testing (e.g. food container and packaging, food processing, toxic chemicals on toys).

Audit department – act as check and balance on independent department.

Justice – the motto ”Justice Delayed is Justice Denied”  should be honored. Cost should not hamper a person’s ability to defend themselves. This include low income earner working double job being susceptible to accepting plea bargain (to avoid costly and time consuming legal process). Intent of the law could be defined to make the system more flexible. An example could be taken from current events where a Toronto grocer nabbed the person who stole from his store.  He detained the person while waiting for police to show up.  The crown then turned around and proceeded to prosecute the grocer for forcible confinement following the law strictly by the book.

Law and Order – law enforcement officers should be respected and should conduct themselves accordingly. Any law enforcement officer found engaging in conduct contrary to enforcing law (e.g. case of undercover police in Quebec protest instigating violence. Or cases of police randomly arresting innocent protester), will be banned from any public trust positions – i.e. government or publicly traded company’s jobs. The agency should not be used as a tool to crackdown on political dissent.

Privy Council – help representative implement proposed law.  Manage government affairs. Give advice on matters they have the expertise with.

Representatives – work for the voters and salary should not be higher than salary or wages of professionals. No exorbitant pension well above what a professionals would earn. Expenditures that are allowed should also be well defined. E.g. only specific numbers of travel paid for by taxpayers are allowed in a year. All records are transparent and readily retrievable and readable with minor effort on voter’s part. By not having dual chamber or houses, cost savings could be directed to education or other areas of needs. Wasteful spending should not be tolerated. If efforts are put in for careful thoughts and considerations at the start of drafting a law, a 2nd house or chamber becomes unnecessary.  Representative should not feel a sense of entitlement.

Representative should consult with constituents, get consensus by providing leadership role in informing voters and laying out the pros and cons. Coordinate information gathering and seek out information from experts if necessary and reporting the findings back to voter in easy to understand and easy to access format.

Conflict of Interest

Any conflict of interest by people disseminating information or campaigning must be stated. Akin to health warning at the end of a cigarette commercial or product. Any person caught in corruption or neglect costing millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money could permanently be denied employment in public trust position – i.e. government or publicly traded companies.

How to Bring about Change

Mass movement and networking, not necessarily on the street, but instead through mass mobilization on social network. While this involves some changes, it is by no means a “radicalization” – an excuse that could be used to justify a crackdown by overzealous leaders with authoritarian tendency. Instead, this is merely adjusting the focus back to grassroots level and away from the radical partisanship and the special interest group influenced politics of this day. Implementation of changes cannot be fully dependent on politicians alone, if the plan is to abolish political parties. Big changes usually brings with it great anxiety. History throughout the world have cases of authoritarian figures cracking down by burning books, closing down university or any tools deemed “corrupting” and threatening the status quo or the old ways, or challenging its authority.  Any street action should be peaceful. Vigilance should be exercised against instigation. There should be no room for those who exercise violence as a protester or against peaceful protest. Only an overwhelming demand for change will be able to force government to implement changes.

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