What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

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What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby TrlstanC » Wed Nov 30, 2011 4:48 pm UTC

This started out as a few short questions, but grew as I started adding in background information to explain my views on the issues. So, I broke out a few big sections in to spoiler tags, and left the important questions at the end.

First, an overview of the issues we face, as I see them:
Spoiler:
The Occupy protesters are a small percentage of our population, but they appear to represent and have the support of a much larger number of people. And the problem they’re protesting is that the laws of our country have been changing to benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Now, how is it that in a representative democracy, where everyone has an equal vote to elect our government that a majority of people could be dissatisfied with the direction the country is going? There are two seemingly simple possibilities:

  • It’s possible for wealthy individuals, or people that represent them, to spend enough money to convince people to vote against their own best interests.
  • Or, a large percentage of people have been convinced that it’s not worth voting, either by making the benefits seem smaller or by just making it more difficult.
Either of these, or indeed a combination of both, would allow a wealthy minority to make changes to the laws that would allow them to realize short term relative gains. The easiest ways to benefit from distorting voting interests like this would be to either:

  • Lower taxes, whether it’s just for the wealthy or for everyone
  • Allow those in the position to take large risks the option to privatize gains while also making losses a public responsibility.
We have seen these kinds of changes, but the real question is why, if you can influence voting patterns and law makers, would anyone choose changes that are so obviously of only short term benefit, but also carry long term costs. Keeping taxes relatively low, or artificially increasingly the overall level of risk, will eventually have negative consequences for the economy, and that will hurt the wealthy the most. Of course, it would also be possible to try and push the costs of a downturn in the economy on to the portion of the population with the lowest capital investment, but it’s obvious that’s just a stop gap. The wealth of the small minority is built on the functioning economy of the majority, and it’s not in anyone’s best interest to cripple the economy. In addition, there’s strong evidence, which should make intuitive sense, that large income inequality leads to high societal costs, and worse outcomes for everyone (for more details see this TED talk with a good summary of the research: http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

The impact of biases and luck and how this affects our decisions:
Spoiler:
My opinion is that there hasn’t been a choice by a wealthy minority to undermine the economy, and to increase income inequality, for their own short term gain. The kind of long term planning and influence this would require combined with the long term costs for everyone makes this a less than ideal strategy. I’m sure that some people might’ve had this goal, but I think it’s far more likely that these problems have been caused not by a concerted effort, but by systematic biases in the way we view wealth and success in this country.

Our constitution was created to try and keep any one individual or small group from wielding too much power. There was trust that large groups, with checks and balances, could make small incremental progress towards the common good. While avoiding concentrated power and sweeping changes which carry with them the chances of large and irreparable mistakes. But some of the widespread biases that are common can undermine this goal, even the founding fathers who believed that “all men are created equal” ended up only ensuring that white men were given equal rights. Fortunately this bias was slowly, but surely, corrected over many generations.

What biases gave rise to our current economic problems, and what can we do to counteract their influence?

We trust our intuition, but it has limits that can cause problems when faced with problems that are larger and more complicated than it can handle. We’re not very good at intuitive understanding statistics, or uncertainty. We see causation where only correlation exists, and will make up stories and causes for random events. This leads us to systematically underestimate the role of random chance and luck in our lives. We want to find the causes of success and failure in our lives, and often times this leads us to conclude that wealth is the result of talent and hard work, or possibly of corruption, but very rarely to we recognize the true impact of random chance. If nothing else we should know that where and when you’re born, and who your parents are will have a huge impact on your life. This isn’t to say that hard work, talent and intelligence (or their lack thereof) don’t play a big role. We all know stories of people who started out with nothing and became successful, or the children of rich parents who squandered their fortune and ended up broke, but perhaps we’re overestimating the chances of these rare events.

If we recognize the role of random chance in our lives then we can conclude that success is a combination of factors under our control, or that we feel we should be rewarded for (talent, innovation, hard work, ect) and factors that are out of our control (good/bad luck). Therefore those who are most successful are most likely those with some of both, the people who are hardworking and are the beneficiaries of good luck as well. But if we don’t recognize the role of luck in our lives we will tend to learn the wrong lessons from these examples, if we think it’s just hard work that leads to success we will tend to believe those that are successful are more deserving of great wealth, and that those that are less successful are less deserving. This bias will affect the laws we pass and the politicians we support. Not only will good luck allow some people to have more influence in terms of connections and political donations, but many people will come to the false belief that the policies that lead to some people to become wealthy are the same policies that could work for everyone. Any random set of laws will lead to someone being the lucky recipient of a disproportionate amount of resources, we shouldn’t take that example as proof that this particular set of laws is good at generating wealth.

What would be the fairest and most successful way to create a government, and what changes can we make to get closer to that goal:

If we were to try and create the fairest possible system of government, and the one that would have the best chance of creating the most success for the most people what would it look like? A good guide is to think of creating the laws before you were born, if everyone had to decide what they wanted their government to be like – before they knew who they would be in that country, then that would be the best possible outcome for the most people. That’s obviously impossible, but it gets at the point that we learn a lot of false lessons in our lives, and develop a lot of biases. It’s these biases that lead people to vote against their best interests, whether they’re in the wealthy minority or not.

What changes can we make to our democracy now to account for these biases? Since the founding of this country we’ve worked to slowly fix past mistakes and correct past biases. The Occupy protests are a sign that we have a bias in the way we view wealth and success in this country, and that this bias has caused a huge increase in income inequality which is detrimental for everyone. We can’t ignore all of our experience, we can’t create the perfect government we would all want to live in regardless of how lucky we are when we’re born, or in life, but what can we do to get closer to that goal? There are three different types of possibilities I see:

  1. A big change to campaign finance. This idea seems to be at the heart of the issues of inequality, and it may require large changes. A constitutional convention or something equally drastic, since it seems unlikely that if we truly have a broken system that we can make small incremental changes in the system to fix itself.
  2. A big change in the tax code. This could be a move to a flat tax, or a reversion to historical tax rates on upper income brackets, or possibly even an increase on taxes for just about everyone to try and chip away at the budget deficit.
  3. A grassroots movement to make slow, but steady changes. This may be something like the Occupy protests, or it could be the rise of a legitimate third part, even though both seem unlikely (protests seem more likely to have large, but limited impacts, and third parties have never historically gained much long term momentum). But I think there may be a lot of good ideas that would fall in to this category. I’m thinking about something like a change to our voting laws, or nomination process, something to encourage more people to get involved in elections and government.
I’d like to hear ideas for #3. A lot of changes in this area have been tried and failed in the past, but maybe the time is right to bring some of them back. Or maybe there are new ideas that are possible now that wouldn’t have worked in the past?

For example, would it be possible to elect a candidate for president (or senate, or state senate, or any major office) without relying on fundraising at all? Is it possible to rely on supporters to spread the word organically, raise awareness of the important issues, and rely on media (old and new) to report on the candidates? Or is advertising too important to most of the electorate? What would a campaign that was structured around this idea look like?
Last edited by TrlstanC on Wed Nov 30, 2011 9:40 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Diadem » Wed Nov 30, 2011 5:55 pm UTC

Which democracy is that? I assume you're talking about Tuvalu right? Well, I'm no expert on Tuvaluan politics, but I've heard that one of the major problems (...)

In other words: Specify which nation you are talking about. I know it's probably Tuvalu, but it's still not nice to leave us guessing! Not all of us are from there, you know.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Роберт » Wed Nov 30, 2011 6:03 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:Which democracy is that? I assume you're talking about Tuvalu right? Well, I'm no expert on Tuvaluan politics, but I've heard that one of the major problems (...)

In other words: Specify which nation you are talking about. I know it's probably Tuvalu, but it's still not nice to leave us guessing! Not all of us are from there, you know.

Your location is the Netherlands, so if the topic applies to the Netherlands, that's great!

His location is the U.S., which is where the Occupy protests started. Take a guess which country he might be focusing on.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Griffin » Wed Nov 30, 2011 7:05 pm UTC

I've said it before and I'll say it again - democracy by jury. Have elector pools, have them dedicate a month or two to identifying and electing the correct candidates (with strict laws regarding attempts at corruption), and ignore the whole bread and circus that is the election/democratic farce we have now. No campaigning allowed - you throw your hat in the ring, and the elector pool decides who they want to look more deeply into and can ask the candidates questions personally. (and have access to whatever experts they desire)
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby TrlstanC » Wed Nov 30, 2011 7:32 pm UTC

I had actually thought about something similar to the "election jury" except instead of being picked by random, the pool would be narrowed down by successive rounds of voting. So, for example your town would vote for a few people to be on the jury (not people that wanted to be president). And then everyone voted to be on the jury from the state would vote to narrow it down to some reasonable number and then the remaining people would carry out the process of vetting and electing a president. The only difference would be the ability to vote for the jury instead of random selection, and so hopefully everyone would feel like someone in the eventual group represented their interests fairly well.

The real benefit to these kinds of ideas is that they force people to discuss politics with each other, and that eventually the decision is made by a group that's large enough to represent a diversity of opinions, but not so large that no one feels like their input has any impact. I think that people working in groups can be smarter than any of the individuals in the group - if the group is structured the right way. We all have biases, but if we can set it up so that our biases cancel each other out we should be able to get to our best ideas. Of course in the case of widespread and relatively homogenous biases this becomes more difficult and really requires that people not blindly trust their intuition, and work hard to double check their own opinions.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Silknor » Wed Nov 30, 2011 7:39 pm UTC

Without getting to the rest of your post, I am very skeptical of the idea that the very wealthy are working against their best interests (also if you were right that your favored policies just happen to be in the best interests of the very wealthy, the solution would be simple: convince them!).

Keeping taxes relatively low, or artificially increasingly the overall level of risk, will eventually have negative consequences for the economy, and that will hurt the wealthy the most.


I'm not sure what evidence you are bringing forth for these claims. Low taxes in itself of course cannot be an impediment to economic growth, so you must be concerned about either the long-term economic consequences of a large deficit or the distribution of spending. The first is caused by an imbalance between spending and revenue eventually driving up borrowing costs as demand for loans increases, thus dampening investment. This is indeed a problem, though not it's definitely not one in the short term, and probably not in the medium term (at least as of a couple months ago, the government was facing negative real interest rates on loans, not the type of thing that indicates they're pushing the cost of borrowing up, I'm not sure if they're still just low or negative in real terms). Nor, from the perspective of the very wealthy, is the solution obviously higher taxes as opposed to lower spending (unless perhaps you make certain assumptions about the distribution of spending). And from their perspective again, if the solution is taxes, it's almost certainly not taxes that fall principally on them, it would be broad based taxes (especially if you're going for economic efficiency!).

Which brings us back to the question of the distribution of spending. And here I agree that the present distribution probably isn't in the long-term interests of the very wealthy, and certainly not in the best long-term interests of the country as a whole. But this is not a question of overall spending levels (barring short term Keynesian stimulus) but if our spending is focused on areas that provide the highest long-term benefit (education and basic research for example, as contrasted to wars, farm subsidies which negatively distort the market and damage the nation's health, or some types of defense research where we don't expect the benefits to sufficiently carry over to the civilian economy) to the country (as opposed to say wealthy farm owners or defense contractors). But it's not at all obvious that the present distribution of spending is driven by the outsized political influence of the very wealthy as a whole as opposed to political reasons and the fundamental problem of concentrated interests (eg. farmers who receive subsidies are a small group and many receive a substantial benefit, giving them incentive to lobby and making it easier to work together as opposed to the broader population for whom the issue is of much less salience as the negative effects are widely spread. In other words, while the influence of money may be part of the problem, a substantial amount is just that a small determined minority is more politically effective than a broad majority who barely (if at all) cares about the issue and are too split on other issues to effectively work together.

Moving on to the part about risk, I take it you're mainly talking about the bubble on Wall Street. This again seems to be a case where the policy, even if it is bad for the very wealthy at a whole, is good for much of the minority who are engaged in that risk taking, and who, by virtue of the disproportionate influence policymaking on this area has on them, have disproportionate reason to attempt to influence that policy. More broadly, outside of the financial sector, risk is not a bad thing. Rather it's more often synonymous with investment, innovation, and growth. The general policy of privatize gains and socialize losses may be a bad one due to moral hazard and distributional effects, but taking risks is what drives economic growth, and that policy definitely benefits the very wealthy, certainly in the short-term and I would argue in the long-term as well.

As for income inequality, you should keep in mind that even if that is the case (and I'm not familiar enough with the research to have much of an opinion either way), this does not mean that specific policies to reduce inequality benefit the very wealthy (eg. making the tax code extremely progressive, in a revenue-neutral fashion, would probably not be a good deal for the very wealthy, even if it does reduce inequality and somewhat contribute to growth overall in the long run, and even if it's good for the country as a whole).

I don't doubt that people in general are overly eager to ascribe success to virtues like hard work at the expense of recognizing the role of luck (being born into a family that can afford to send you to a good school, or that has valuable connections, or even being born with talent in certain areas [raw talent seems to me to be something that is out of one's control, some people are just going to be much better at X, say basketball, for equal amounts of effort put into it]).

But even if things like these biases do influence our policy, and I have no doubt that they do, I don't think you can go from there to concluding that many of the current policies which aren't in the best interests of the nation as a whole also aren't in the best interests of the very wealthy.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby TrlstanC » Wed Nov 30, 2011 10:00 pm UTC

Silknor wrote:But even if things like these biases do influence our policy, and I have no doubt that they do, I don't think you can go from there to concluding that many of the current policies which aren't in the best interests of the nation as a whole also aren't in the best interests of the very wealthy.


Richard Wilkinson does a great job in his TED talk describing that while being richer rather than poorer in any particular country usually leads to better outcomes on most measures, it doesn't ensure good outcomes compared to other countries (or even other states). It appears that the leading cause of this may be because of stress. But for a particular example, take something that just about anyone would consider to be both fundamental and a good measure of positive (or in this case negative) outcomes: infant mortality. It's higher for fathers in low income professions (and in fact highest for single mothers) than for those with higher incomes. But this doesn't translate over to GDP, there's basically no correlation (otherwise the US wouldn't have such a relatively high infant mortality rate). What does seem to cause high infant mortality is high income inequality, and even more worrying is that in countries with high income inequality there is a fairly strong negative correlation between income and mortality i.e., it isn't just that in the US (or UK, Singapore or other high inequality countries) that we neglect our poor and they suffer the brunt of infant mortality. Over the entire spectrum of income the mortality rate falls.

But what's particularly telling is that if we compare fathers with similar incomes across two different countries, one with a high GDP and high inequality (for example the UK) and another with lower GDP but also low inequality (example: Sweden) than we'll see that across every income level the infant mortality rate is lower in Sweden. Which I find to be a shocking result, both because it shows that income inequality can have an impact on every income level, and also because it can have an impact on something as fundamental as keeping an infant alive. This is something that I would think that at least the well-off in countries like the US, UK and Singapore could use their wealth to ensure a positive outcome, but apparently there are limits even there.

On the other end of the spectrum when I think about high levels of income inequality historically it's usually associated with the collapse of a society and/or violent revolt. I don't think we're at that point yet, but looking long term, if I was extremely wealthy and my choices were either: 1) enact policies that continue to increase the income inequality or 2) attempt to keep inequality approximately the same while improving outcomes at all levels, I'd definitely go with 2 because at some point 1 becomes unsustainable. I think there are a number of very wealthy people who are of the same opinion, and certainly charitable giving is a good example of this, but individuals making contributions to help the worse off can't correct a systematic problem. At some point we need to stop this trend of rising income inequality, and I would think that anyone with any historical knowledge would agree that's true, it's just a matter of when.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby omgryebread » Wed Nov 30, 2011 11:06 pm UTC

Griffin wrote:I've said it before and I'll say it again - democracy by jury. Have elector pools, have them dedicate a month or two to identifying and electing the correct candidates (with strict laws regarding attempts at corruption), and ignore the whole bread and circus that is the election/democratic farce we have now. No campaigning allowed - you throw your hat in the ring, and the elector pool decides who they want to look more deeply into and can ask the candidates questions personally. (and have access to whatever experts they desire)


Aside from making me unemployed, the problem with elections by jury is that that's not an election. It's something of a choice by focus group, which is possibly the only thing worse than having one person choose it.

Firstly, you're assuming people would somehow care more if they were part of a small group. Unless you are making the people show up to study the decision (like they do in actual juries), there's no reason to believe your group is going to be more thoughtful or informed than other groups. Sure, if you sequestered people for a few months to decide the issue, you'd maybe get better results. Doesn't sound very feasible to me.

Secondly, you're also saying we'd outlaw campaigning. As if that would end misinformation. Is media prohibited from talking? Are political advertisements still allowed? If you're talking about America, how do you get around the first amendment on that one?

TrlstanC wrote:I had actually thought about something similar to the "election jury" except instead of being picked by random, the pool would be narrowed down by successive rounds of voting. So, for example your town would vote for a few people to be on the jury (not people that wanted to be president). And then everyone voted to be on the jury from the state would vote to narrow it down to some reasonable number and then the remaining people would carry out the process of vetting and electing a president. The only difference would be the ability to vote for the jury instead of random selection, and so hopefully everyone would feel like someone in the eventual group represented their interests fairly well.

The real benefit to these kinds of ideas is that they force people to discuss politics with each other, and that eventually the decision is made by a group that's large enough to represent a diversity of opinions, but not so large that no one feels like their input has any impact. I think that people working in groups can be smarter than any of the individuals in the group - if the group is structured the right way. We all have biases, but if we can set it up so that our biases cancel each other out we should be able to get to our best ideas. Of course in the case of widespread and relatively homogenous biases this becomes more difficult and really requires that people not blindly trust their intuition, and work hard to double check their own opinions.
This sounds a lot like the electoral college. Except instead we vote for electors by name instead of the President. Thing is, people don't care about elections like that. They care about the president. Even in parliamentary systems,
where people don't vote for the Prime Minister, their vote is often very influenced by the leaders of the parties, sometimes moreso than their local MP candidates. You'd also have the issue that people who'd run for jury would be, you know, politicians. I don't see how this is different from having state legislatures choose the President. Which pretty much everyone thinks sucks.

It's okay, you'll never get rid of actual campaigners, because it would require votes to do so, and we're very good at winning those.


Ideally, I'd like to see SuperPACs and 527s banned from talking about candidates. Right now, SuperPACs are unlimited, and 527s just have to avoid magic words like "vote for", "vote against", "defeat", or "elect". So instead they say stuff like "Bill Smith is an honest man and visionary leader. Bill Smith loves pie. Bill Smith has 47 guns. Bill Smith is awesome" or "John Doe is unamerican. John Doe hates babies. John Doe might be French. John Doe sucks." They just can't coordinate with the parties and candidates.

I don't think this would run afoul of the First Amendment, because I think Congress has a strong and overriding interest in preventing corruption. The Supreme Court differs, though!

I'd also very much like to see public financing greatly increased. Make it much better than the matching funds given now, so candidates actually take it. Also (and more importantly) extend it to state and local elections (this would obviously need state and local money as well.)
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Derek » Wed Nov 30, 2011 11:32 pm UTC

I would like to see some form a campaign finance reform, but this is a trickier subject than it sounds at first, because at the same time you can't violate freedom of speech. A lot of people are very critical of the Citizens United ruling, but when you look at it, the law really was violating freedom of speech. Unfortunately I don't have any specific suggestions for this area, but I'm open to ideas.

On the issue of third parties, I would like more diversity in elections, but I'm strongly opposed to proportional voting systems. They generally lead to people voting for parties more than candidates (even more so than now), which leads to more entrenched politicians, less personal accountability in politics, and almost universal toeing of the party line. I would rather have two loose parties where each politician is basically acting on his own, than five or more parties where each party is a monolithic block. Proportional systems also mean less (or no) regional representation, and while I despise pork barrel, I think regional representation still needs to exist. What I would propose instead, to increase political diversity within the confines of our two party system, is to increase the importance of primary elections. Primaries are where the blocks within parties vie for power. To that effect, I would have all primaries on the same day, a reasonable time (six months maybe?) before election day, so we get none of this Iowa, New Hampshire, early primaries crap. Primaries would be decided by some form of popular vote, and there would be no super delegates. Primaries would probably be open, but I'm not sure on this one.

I would also like to see the election of the President by popular vote and term limits on Senators and congressmen. I'ld also like to see something done to discourage/end lobbying, but I don't think I've heard any suggestions to this effect. It would also be nice (though much less important) if we could get rid of all the exceptions that congress makes for itself.

TrlstanC wrote:I had actually thought about something similar to the "election jury" except instead of being picked by random, the pool would be narrowed down by successive rounds of voting. So, for example your town would vote for a few people to be on the jury (not people that wanted to be president). And then everyone voted to be on the jury from the state would vote to narrow it down to some reasonable number and then the remaining people would carry out the process of vetting and electing a president. The only difference would be the ability to vote for the jury instead of random selection, and so hopefully everyone would feel like someone in the eventual group represented their interests fairly well.

The real benefit to these kinds of ideas is that they force people to discuss politics with each other, and that eventually the decision is made by a group that's large enough to represent a diversity of opinions, but not so large that no one feels like their input has any impact. I think that people working in groups can be smarter than any of the individuals in the group - if the group is structured the right way. We all have biases, but if we can set it up so that our biases cancel each other out we should be able to get to our best ideas. Of course in the case of widespread and relatively homogenous biases this becomes more difficult and really requires that people not blindly trust their intuition, and work hard to double check their own opinions.

This is, in fact, exactly how the Electoral College works. The population of each state elects "jurors" to discuss and vote for a president. As you can see, it sounds much better in theory than in practice. In reality there is no discussion, "jurors" already know who they are going to vote for and are elected on this basis.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby omgryebread » Thu Dec 01, 2011 12:13 am UTC

[quote="Derek"I would also like to see the election of the President by popular vote and term limits on Senators and congressmen. I'ld also like to see something done to discourage/end lobbying, but I don't think I've heard any suggestions to this effect. It would also be nice (though much less important) if we could get rid of all the exceptions that congress makes for itself.[/quote]More directly putting me out of work! (I only just want to work on campaigns, right now I work for a lobbying firm, so full disclosure on my personal stake in the debate.) Lobbying, especially on the state and local level, is actually pretty important.

Companies don't have the political knowledge and resources to talk to politicians about issues. They also should be able to. They hire firms like the one I work for to bring problems to the attention of politicians or bureaucrats. It's not anything shady at all. We gather information on the effects of whatever the business wants to do, and bring the good parts to the attention of politicians or bureaucrats. In a good democracy, people who oppose a project should also be putting resources into telling politicians about all the bad parts. Often, this takes the form of letter campaigns, or just people complaining about something. If you banned lobbying, you would probably see a lot less development, as the NIMBY crowd would be as strong as ever, but developers would not be able to communicate as effectively with politicians. As an actual example, our firm got approval from a county for a developer to build a large apartment complex which should have rent much below the average for that area. The neighborhood it's in protested strongly against it. The complex is good for the county, because it will result in new property tax revenue, it will raise the value of other homes in the area, meaning even more tax revenue, it will open some real estate for businesses on the ground floor, and it will bring people into the neighborhood, which will be good for local businesses. It's also very good for lower-middle income people who will be able to move into nice apartments in a nice neighborhood. It's very much good for the county as a whole, and it only got approved because we were there to lobby for it.

Politicians, especially state and local ones, also do not have the time and money to research everything. Lobbying firms provide a large amount of data on various subjects. Maryland state legislators do not have the time or money to research environmental policies on the Chesapeake Bay. The state does some of it's own research of course. But some clients of ours feel they don't do enough research documenting the effects pesticides have on the Bay, so these organizations fund scientists to study that. They then pay us to use this data to argue that pesticide use should be limited. The farmers of course pay lobbyists of their own to argue the opposite. This is healthy, and how democracy should work. People bringing their opinions and concerns and information to the politicians. That it happened to evolve into a class of professional being hired to do that is unsurprising and inevitable.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Griffin » Thu Dec 01, 2011 12:49 am UTC

Aside from making me unemployed, the problem with elections by jury is that that's not an election. It's something of a choice by focus group, which is possibly the only thing worse than having one person choose it.

How, exactly? How is it not an election? It's not a focus group any more than a jury is a focus group, though I suppose one could argue they both are.
Firstly, you're assuming people would somehow care more if they were part of a small group. Unless you are making the people show up to study the decision (like they do in actual juries), there's no reason to believe your group is going to be more thoughtful or informed than other groups. Sure, if you sequestered people for a few months to decide the issue, you'd maybe get better results. Doesn't sound very feasible to me.

That is exactly what I am proposing, yes.

Secondly, you're also saying we'd outlaw campaigning. As if that would end misinformation. Is media prohibited from talking? Are political advertisements still allowed? If you're talking about America, how do you get around the first amendment on that one?

Okay, perhaps I phrased that wrong. The point is that you would be "applying", not campaigning, and the value of campaigning would be minimal - you could still campaign to the population at large, if you wanted to, but you couldn't 'campaign' to the elector pool, only provide them with the information they request or come in and answer the questions they ask - the point is, while you can still say whatever you want, the voters would control the medium of communication, not the candidates. Technically, they might potentially seek you out even if you don't apply, whatever.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Newt » Thu Dec 01, 2011 1:02 am UTC

Quote spoilered.

Spoiler:
TrlstanC wrote:
Silknor wrote:But even if things like these biases do influence our policy, and I have no doubt that they do, I don't think you can go from there to concluding that many of the current policies which aren't in the best interests of the nation as a whole also aren't in the best interests of the very wealthy.


What does seem to cause high infant mortality is high income inequality, and even more worrying is that in countries with high income inequality there is a fairly strong negative correlation between income and mortality i.e., it isn't just that in the US (or UK, Singapore or other high inequality countries) that we neglect our poor and they suffer the brunt of infant mortality. Over the entire spectrum of income the mortality rate falls.

But what's particularly telling is that if we compare fathers with similar incomes across two different countries, one with a high GDP and high inequality (for example the UK) and another with lower GDP but also low inequality (example: Sweden) than we'll see that across every income level the infant mortality rate is lower in Sweden. Which I find to be a shocking result, both because it shows that income inequality can have an impact on every income level, and also because it can have an impact on something as fundamental as keeping an infant alive. This is something that I would think that at least the well-off in countries like the US, UK and Singapore could use their wealth to ensure a positive outcome, but apparently there are limits even there.

On the other end of the spectrum when I think about high levels of income inequality historically it's usually associated with the collapse of a society and/or violent revolt. I don't think we're at that point yet, but looking long term, if I was extremely wealthy and my choices were either: 1) enact policies that continue to increase the income inequality or 2) attempt to keep inequality approximately the same while improving outcomes at all levels, I'd definitely go with 2 because at some point 1 becomes unsustainable. I think there are a number of very wealthy people who are of the same opinion, and certainly charitable giving is a good example of this, but individuals making contributions to help the worse off can't correct a systematic problem. At some point we need to stop this trend of rising income inequality, and I would think that anyone with any historical knowledge would agree that's true, it's just a matter of when.


You say that you'd like to 'end' lobbying; I'd be careful what you wish for. A fundamental problem with collective decisions "decided" by majority is that, by being pivotal around the median person who votes, they neglect to incorporate the degree to which people care about the outcome. Suppose we are voting on a school bond issue; while this is very important to people whose children's school is being given/denied funding, it may matter very little either way to most voters, but they may vote down a miniscule small amount of new debt on principle. Lobbies can play a vital role in conveying information to representatives about their constituencies (e.g., the AARP); an effective pro-school lobbying group could persuade a city official to pursue extra funding in a more direct fashion, to their great benefit but to negligible harm to everyone else, including the politician.

Does lobbying, in practice, given undue influence to groups to enact policies that have significant pernicious effects on society? Sure. Is this such a problem that it would justify abolishing lobbying? Maybe, but I doubt it. I generally feel that the heterogeneity of corporate interests is underestimated, while the effectiveness of money in altering the outcomes of elections is significantly overstated in common belief.

I would suggest that your cross-country comparison, as with most broad cross-country(or general cross-region) comparisons, is naive and poorly identified. I suspect that you understand that it's not clear why income inequality would in any way be a direct mechanism for higher infant mortality, and that you are just using that term as a proxy for a set of characteristics people commonly associate with high levels of income equality (weaker, or a lack of, subsidized natal care). That said, I seem to recall a paper that established that relatively recent natal aid programs in DC have been quite effective (and cost-effective) in reducing DC's embarrassingly high infant mortality rate. I'm not sure why you listed Singapore; its infant mortality rate is lower than Sweden's.

I'm not sure why you would want more abstainers voting, other than that you think they would vote in a way you like; one might be concerned that this would just dilute the probability that "educated" voters or voters who are seriously interested in the outcome form a pivotal voting bloc. I'd also argue that people who feel it's not worth their while to vote are correct; the chances of them being pivotal are almost nothing. Even if they somehow are pivotal, it's still unclear that the person they elected will be able/willing to enact the policies they wanted, and even then there's a good chance that this policy didn't translate into the positive outcome you expected! I would gladly trade my right to vote for a Klondike bar.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby TrlstanC » Thu Dec 01, 2011 3:46 am UTC

Newt wrote:You say that you'd like to 'end' lobbying; I'd be careful what you wish for.
I'd agree that lobbying is a complex issue, but I'm not sure anyone wants to end it, since lobbying is basically just a very straightforward form of free speech. I think the problem most people have is how much seeming corruption is lumped in with lobbying, and how this seems to be accepted by so many people. A lobbyist should be a person with more information, and someone who's better prepared to present it and make a case for a particular viewpoint, not someone who has special access to politicians for whatever reason.

Newt wrote:I would suggest that your cross-country comparison, as with most broad cross-country(or general cross-region) comparisons, is naive and poorly identified.
I wouldn't go so far to call them "my" comparisons, since: 1) they're just historical facts about a huge number of countries (and states/provinces) pulled from a variety of sources and 2) I haven't done anything special besides relate the the research of some very bright people who have done a huge amount of work. But just looking at the recent research in this area I'd say that the result they've found are fairly strong, both because they seem to be more or less consistent over time and across different cultures, and because they're so unexpected.

As far as why it's so hard for us to intuitively understand or expect these kinds of statistics, or to see how small biases in the way we view uncertainty in general can have such big outcomes, I'd recommended anyone to read Daniel Kahneman's latest book "Thinking, Fast and Slow" - the title could've easily been something like "a list of all the ways human intuition can lead us astray." Here's a short article from him as well, covering a short example of the type of research in his book.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby lalop » Thu Dec 01, 2011 1:34 pm UTC

I think one of the major issues is that government decisions are not truly accountable to the people; at best, you end up voting for a couple of people out of a very small list of candidates, every few years. This allows the government to pass legislation in defiance of the people: that could never possibly be passed in, say, a direct democracy.

Imo, ratification by the people needs to be an additional safeguard, and would also help against them passing stupid/overtly complicated laws. In addition, the public opinion debate on bills would actually matter, rather than just being sidelined while people just hope for the best. People shouldn't have to just hope their leaders are responsible in a true democracy; they should be able to ensure it.

With the internet, such a directly democratic feature is more feasible then ever (though it may be helpful to grant a "right to high speed internet access" like in Finland; such a right would make sense because it'd be part of the good functioning of government).
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby TrlstanC » Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:29 pm UTC

Ok, here's an idea that's a little bit out of left field (inspired by this article that takes an interesting perspective on the "Occupiers" The Untouchables of Zuccotti Park) that maybe our political "conversation" in this country is too one sided or divided. It pretty much goes from voters to candidates in a single direction (either through polls or votes in elections) and mostly goes from politicians to voters via media (tv, internet, radio), and there's not very much activity in the middle i.e., the line between "voter" and "candidate" is pretty stark in any major election. Ideas like voter pools, or changes to the electoral college or voter ratification via the internet all try to bridge this gap somehow, to get more citizens involved directly in the process, or to get a subset of citizens involved a lot more. But this separation of voters and candidates may be more of a symptom of the problem than the cause. And the real problem might be that most people only have any real discussions with a very small number of close friends, and that even then politics (along with religion) is almost never discussed explicitly. One of the attractions of the Occupy protests might be that people are making themselves explicitly available to talk about issues that's bothering a lot of people, something a long the lines of the people who hold up "free hugs" signs in public parks. They feel there's something we should be doing (talking about politics/corruption in the first, hugging more people in the second) and they're willing to overcome some personal discomfort to make it happen. Or, as Walt Whitman said:

“STRANGER! If you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?”

So, is there something in this idea that people can start to change on a personal level without having to make the giant leap to occupying a public park? I'm reminded of the guy who wore a "Hello, my name is: ________" sticker for a whole year. I don't think that would work for everyone, but something in that same vein, a small change to facilitate more political discussion between interested people who wouldn't normally be able to make that connection?
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby omgryebread » Fri Dec 02, 2011 7:08 am UTC

Griffin wrote:How, exactly? How is it not an election? It's not a focus group any more than a jury is a focus group, though I suppose one could argue they both are.
Juries are legally obligated to come to a decision. Skipping jury duty or not performing your duty as a juror is a crime.



That is exactly what I am proposing, yes.
That we take people away from their jobs for a few months and make them choose a candidate for public office?

Okay, perhaps I phrased that wrong. The point is that you would be "applying", not campaigning, and the value of campaigning would be minimal - you could still campaign to the population at large, if you wanted to, but you couldn't 'campaign' to the elector pool, only provide them with the information they request or come in and answer the questions they ask - the point is, while you can still say whatever you want, the voters would control the medium of communication, not the candidates. Technically, they might potentially seek you out even if you don't apply, whatever.
I don't trust voters to ask candidates important questions any more than I do media interviewers or the candidates themselves. I really wanted people to ask the Republican nominees what they thought about Slovakia and the Euro bailout (and I wanted someone to ask Obama to talk about it.) It's a very important question, and the President should have a good answer. If voters don't want to watch candidates talk about Slovakia on TV (which is why the media doesn't ask them about it), why should electors want to hear them talk about it otherwise.

I just imagine elector juries as being tiny electorates that are just as volatile, uninterested, and juvenile as the electorate as a whole. Questions would be exactly like debate questions, and candidates would answer exactly the way they answer debate questions now. (What would you do about gun rights? "Well, I own 214 guns myself, and I think they are valuable to protect families!" or "We need to clean up our streets and provide our police with the tools they need to reduce crime.")

lalop wrote:I think one of the major issues is that government decisions are not truly accountable to the people; at best, you end up voting for a couple of people out of a very small list of candidates, every few years. This allows the government to pass legislation in defiance of the people: that could never possibly be passed in, say, a direct democracy.

Imo, ratification by the people needs to be an additional safeguard, and would also help against them passing stupid/overtly complicated laws. In addition, the public opinion debate on bills would actually matter, rather than just being sidelined while people just hope for the best. People shouldn't have to just hope their leaders are responsible in a true democracy; they should be able to ensure it.

With the internet, such a directly democratic feature is more feasible then ever (though it may be helpful to grant a "right to high speed internet access" like in Finland; such a right would make sense because it'd be part of the good functioning of government).
This is nice in theory, but in practice, you get California.

As a general example, the City of Townsville has just implimented a referendum process, so things the Mayor wants to do have to pass a vote. The Mayor decides to build a Buttercup statue, and of course the citizens approve it, because Buttercup is awesome. Mayor then realizes the city spent a lot of money on the statue, and they need money. So he tries to raise taxes. People hate taxes, so they vote against this. Later, the Mayor, being the irresponsible guy he is, attempts to build a Bubbles statue, and has another bond issue put on the ballot. It passes, and the city is deeper in debt. Taxes get denied again. He's finally convinced he can't keep building statues, so he stops. But now the whole city is clamoring for a Blossom statue to round out the trio, and he has to do it, or Fuzzy Lumpkins will win the mayoral race. And he still can't raise taxes. Townsville is now very deep into debt, with pretty much no way out.


Yeah, I just used the Powerpuff Girls as an example in a political conversation. Pretty sure my life is complete.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Derek » Fri Dec 02, 2011 7:38 am UTC

omgryebread wrote:As a general example, the City of Townsville has just implimented a referendum process, so things the Mayor wants to do have to pass a vote. The Mayor decides to build a Buttercup statue, and of course the citizens approve it, because Buttercup is awesome. Mayor then realizes the city spent a lot of money on the statue, and they need money. So he tries to raise taxes. People hate taxes, so they vote against this. Later, the Mayor, being the irresponsible guy he is, attempts to build a Bubbles statue, and has another bond issue put on the ballot. It passes, and the city is deeper in debt. Taxes get denied again. He's finally convinced he can't keep building statues, so he stops. But now the whole city is clamoring for a Blossom statue to round out the trio, and he has to do it, or Fuzzy Lumpkins will win the mayoral race. And he still can't raise taxes. Townsville is now very deep into debt, with pretty much no way out.


Yeah, I just used the Powerpuff Girls as an example in a political conversation. Pretty sure my life is complete.

Best example ever.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Proginoskes » Fri Dec 02, 2011 7:40 am UTC

The USA isn't a democracy, it's a republic. Don't you remember that oath you took in grade school? (Called "the Pledge of Allegience", if I'm not mistaken.)
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Dec 02, 2011 10:16 am UTC

omgryebread wrote:As a general example, the City of Townsville has just implimented a referendum process, so things the Mayor wants to do have to pass a vote. The Mayor decides to build a Buttercup statue, and of course the citizens approve it, because Buttercup is awesome. Mayor then realizes the city spent a lot of money on the statue, and they need money. So he tries to raise taxes. People hate taxes, so they vote against this. Later, the Mayor, being the irresponsible guy he is, attempts to build a Bubbles statue, and has another bond issue put on the ballot. It passes, and the city is deeper in debt. Taxes get denied again. He's finally convinced he can't keep building statues, so he stops. But now the whole city is clamoring for a Blossom statue to round out the trio, and he has to do it, or Fuzzy Lumpkins will win the mayoral race. And he still can't raise taxes. Townsville is now very deep into debt, with pretty much no way out.

I'd like to add something to this example: this problem with direct democracy is not simply due to people wanting impossible combinations. That's a problem too. After all, even experts don't agree on what policies are possible, so why should voters know? But there is even a problem with direct democracy when people want completely feasible things.

Imagine that our toy city can afford one statue at current tax rates. About 1/3 of the people want a Buttercup statue, 1/3 a Mojo-Jojo statue, and 1/3 wants to raise extra money so they can have 2 statues. Those are all reasonable, possible choices.

Now there's referendum with the question "Do you want to raise revenue?". 2 out of 3 vote against. "Do you want a Buttercup statue?" 2 out of 3 in favour. "Do you want a Mojo-Jojo statue?" 2 out of 3 in favour. The people have spoken, and they were completely clear on every question. But the aggreagate doesn't make sense

Of course, for such a simplified issue you could increase the ballot options. Not just binary options, but a single more complicated election with run-offs or something that pits all possibilities directly against each other. But that stops working if there are more issues at hand. Pretty soon you're asking people to choose between "3 Mojo Jojo statues, 2 Buttercup statues, increased money for the hospital, firemen can train in the park, and aggressive dogs must wear a bell" and "3 Mojo-Jojo statues, 2 Buttercup statues, increased money for the hospital, firemen can train in the park on saturdays only, and aggressive dogs must wear a bell", plus all other combination imaginable.

So real politics always has to have negotiations, if it is to function well. A well-functioning democracy might decide to build two smaller statues and raise a bit more revenue, and Mojo-Jojo gets a slightly bigger statue because the Mojo-Jojans agreed to vote for dog-bells if dog-bell supporters voted for Mojo.

So we vote for negotiators instead of specific proposals, and that gives power to the people doing the negotiations, sometimes too much power. But direct democracy is throwing away the baby with the bath water.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Griffin » Fri Dec 02, 2011 3:08 pm UTC

Juries are legally obligated to come to a decision. Skipping jury duty or not performing your duty as a juror is a crime.

Yes. Selecting our leaders is a civic duty, and I'd argue it is at least as important as finding people innocent or guilty of the crimes those leaders legislate against.

That we take people away from their jobs for a few months and make them choose a candidate for public office?

Well, I'd imagine they'd probably choose more than one while they are there, and they wouldn't choose a "candidate", they would choose the person who will fill the position. But yes.

I just imagine elector juries as being tiny electorates that are just as volatile, uninterested, and juvenile as the electorate as a whole. Questions would be exactly like debate questions, and candidates would answer exactly the way they answer debate questions now.

Except, of course, that if everyone in the "jury" got to ask their questions, until they were satisfied, it would only take one person to ask those sort of questions. While as with the current structure, they will never be asked.

On Referendums
I think referendums are good for deciding on goals, but not implementation. That's why politicians exist - to find the best, reponsible way to implement the desire of the voters. And if those desires don't reconcile, they make a choice, preferably after attempting to have a dialogue about it to get a better understanding of the general desires.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby omgryebread » Fri Dec 02, 2011 3:13 pm UTC

Proginoskes wrote:The USA isn't a democracy, it's a republic. Don't you remember that oath you took in grade school? (Called "the Pledge of Allegience", if I'm not mistaken.)
The USA is both a republic and a democracy. It could also be called a Democratic Republic or a Republican Democracy. They are not mutually exclusive, but nor are they synonyms. You can have a republic that is not a democracy (China). You can also have democracies that are not republics (Ancient Athens, though it was not a liberal democracy, and would likely not fit any modern classification as a democracy because of its limited suffrage.)

Democracy does not mean exclusively direct democracy.


Griffin wrote:
That we take people away from their jobs for a few months and make them choose a candidate for public office?

Well, I'd imagine they'd probably choose more than one while they are there, and they wouldn't choose a "candidate", they would choose the person who will fill the position. But yes.
And for people who can't leave their job for that time? If I want to travel to Korea to practice Starcraft 2, but my name comes up, am I obligated to return? Or can I opt out, in which case, why should I have to opt out of participating in my country's governmental process because I happen to be abroad?
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Griffin » Fri Dec 02, 2011 3:23 pm UTC

And for people who can't leave their job for that time? If I want to travel to Korea to practice Starcraft 2, but my name comes up, am I obligated to return? Or can I opt out, in which case, why should I have to opt out of participating in my country's governmental process because I happen to be abroad?


There would likely be exceptions similar to the jury duty exceptions that exist now. And obviously you would not be forced to opt out if you are abroad, but if you are not willing to return and do the work required to make a good decision, I fail to see how you've been wronged any more than those who can't vote on election day now are because they didn't bother to take the time to register.

And if people can't leave their job for that amount of time (and, again, this would probably be under similar rules for exceptions the current jury system operates under), then they don't have enough time to get involved and the process and make a good decision, so they don't. I fail to see how this is an issue.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Diadem » Fri Dec 02, 2011 3:44 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:
Proginoskes wrote:The USA isn't a democracy, it's a republic. Don't you remember that oath you took in grade school? (Called "the Pledge of Allegience", if I'm not mistaken.)
The USA is both a republic and a democracy. It could also be called a Democratic Republic or a Republican Democracy. They are not mutually exclusive, but nor are they synonyms. You can have a republic that is not a democracy (China). You can also have democracies that are not republics (Ancient Athens, though it was not a liberal democracy, and would likely not fit any modern classification as a democracy because of its limited suffrage.)

Much better examples would be the UK or The Netherlands (and quite a lot of other European countries), which are not republics but monarchies. Democratic monarchies to be precise.

As a tangent, where does this weird "The US is not a democracy, it's a republic" notion come from? I've heard it several times before on this forum, and I've also seen it in other places. But it's so silly. Why would you even think that not having a hereditary head of state and having elected leaders are mutually exclusive?
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby lalop » Fri Dec 02, 2011 3:47 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:As a general example, the City of Townsville has just implimented a referendum process, so things the Mayor wants to do have to pass a vote. The Mayor decides to build a Buttercup statue, and of course the citizens approve it, because Buttercup is awesome. Mayor then realizes the city spent a lot of money on the statue, and they need money. So he tries to raise taxes. People hate taxes, so they vote against this. Later, the Mayor, being the irresponsible guy he is, attempts to build a Bubbles statue, and has another bond issue put on the ballot. It passes, and the city is deeper in debt. Taxes get denied again. He's finally convinced he can't keep building statues, so he stops. But now the whole city is clamoring for a Blossom statue to round out the trio, and he has to do it, or Fuzzy Lumpkins will win the mayoral race. And he still can't raise taxes. Townsville is now very deep into debt, with pretty much no way out.


There's a simple solution to your particular problem: require that all bills being voted for balance the budget, providing for their own support.

In all seriousnessness, though, your example is no worse than what already happens with representatives today. The Republican party, by and large, supports wasting trillions of dollars in military action, while cutting taxes all the time. You're providing a worse case scenario for my proposal while ignoring the ones that happened already.

Zamfir wrote:Imagine that our toy city can afford one statue at current tax rates. About 1/3 of the people want a Buttercup statue, 1/3 a Mojo-Jojo statue, and 1/3 wants to raise extra money so they can have 2 statues. Those are all reasonable, possible choices.

Now there's referendum with the question "Do you want to raise revenue?". 2 out of 3 vote against. "Do you want a Buttercup statue?" 2 out of 3 in favour. "Do you want a Mojo-Jojo statue?" 2 out of 3 in favour. The people have spoken, and they were completely clear on every question. But the aggreagate doesn't make sense

...So we vote for negotiators instead of specific proposals, and that gives power to the people doing the negotiations, sometimes too much power. But direct democracy is throwing away the baby with the bath water.


Hang on, I think you're throwing away the baby with the bath water. The democratic process isn't perfect; therefore we ditch it entirely for a process that doesn't even take into consideration voter desires?

Voting deadlocks and procedural issues in Congress can and do still happen; why don't we leave all final decisions to that President guy? With such power, he'll definitely get stuff done! What, that gives him too much power? Perhaps, but having a semblance of a democracy is "throwing the baby away with the bath water" (again, I say: WTF?)

Griffin wrote:On Referendums
I think referendums are good for deciding on goals, but not implementation. That's why politicians exist - to find the best, reponsible way to implement the desire of the voters. And if those desires don't reconcile, they make a choice, preferably after attempting to have a dialogue about it to get a better understanding of the general desires.


I don't actually think referendums are good for deciding on goals (Zamfir sort of illustrated why). I think of them more as a "sanity check" for the politicians' decisions.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Dec 02, 2011 3:59 pm UTC

lalop wrote:The democratic process isn't perfect; therefore we ditch it entirely for a process that doesn't even take into consideration voter desires?

Huh? I wasn't proposing a new system, I described representative democracy.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby omgryebread » Fri Dec 02, 2011 4:52 pm UTC

Griffin wrote:There would likely be exceptions similar to the jury duty exceptions that exist now. And obviously you would not be forced to opt out if you are abroad, but if you are not willing to return and do the work required to make a good decision, I fail to see how you've been wronged any more than those who can't vote on election day now are because they didn't bother to take the time to register.

And if people can't leave their job for that amount of time (and, again, this would probably be under similar rules for exceptions the current jury system operates under), then they don't have enough time to get involved and the process and make a good decision, so they don't. I fail to see how this is an issue.
So if I have a job in which I cannot return to the US or my job needs me to continue functioning, I don't have a say in democracy? I have to choose between my work and having a say?

Small business owners basically cannot vote. Trial lawyers wouldn't be able to just drop a trial and vote. Foreign bureau reporters, Americans managing foreign arms of businesses, and soldiers would all have to choose between being effective at their job and having a say in their government. The problem isn't just that individuals lose say in government, it's that classes of people do as well. As much as my interests conflict with that of small business owners, if they had their voting power severely reduced, it would be a severe blow to democracy. I'd go so far to say that it's actually undemocratic.

lalop wrote:There's a simple solution to your particular problem: require that all bills being voted for balance the budget, providing for their own support.

In all seriousnessness, though, your example is no worse than what already happens with representatives today. The Republican party, by and large, supports wasting trillions of dollars in military action, while cutting taxes all the time. You're providing a worse case scenario for my proposal while ignoring the ones that happened already.
Balanced budgets are also bad. Borrowing money is not always a bad thing for a government to do.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby lalop » Fri Dec 02, 2011 5:26 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:Balanced budgets are also bad. Borrowing money is not always a bad thing for a government to do.


True, but if people never want to increase taxes (and this is the case amongst the elected representatives as well, not only the populace), it seems difficult to know when to stop.

Nevertheless, I suppose balanced budget is not a mandatory requirement. I was just providing a solution that would always work. Even if you don't adopt any solutions when imposing ratification, we would still only be facing the same phenomena as we are today (heck, maybe less depending on how many government actions people don't support).
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Dec 02, 2011 6:04 pm UTC

lalop wrote:
omgryebread wrote:Balanced budgets are also bad. Borrowing money is not always a bad thing for a government to do.


True, but if people never want to increase taxes (and this is the case amongst the elected representatives as well, not only the populace), it seems difficult to know when to stop.

Watched Europe lately? More taxes, less spending is the mantra of quite some governments, and many voters agree. They love the idea that they are the prudent ones, unlike those nasty southern and lefties who just want to spend. And it's a widespread belief that austerity will solve economic crises, on the grounds that things that hurt must be healthy. Angela Merkel is an elected politician, you know. Trichet wasn't, but he was still appointed by elected politicians because like the hard currency line.

Both views seem to have wide support in the US too, if you look at how many people obsessed about the deficit.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby lalop » Fri Dec 02, 2011 10:23 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Watched Europe lately? More taxes, less spending is the mantra of quite some governments, and many voters agree. They love the idea that they are the prudent ones, unlike those nasty southern and lefties who just want to spend. And it's a widespread belief that austerity will solve economic crises, on the grounds that things that hurt must be healthy. Angela Merkel is an elected politician, you know. Trichet wasn't, but he was still appointed by elected politicians because like the hard currency line.

Both views seem to have wide support in the US too, if you look at how many people obsessed about the deficit.


Then the deficit example was unrealistic anyway, which is fine with me.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby TrlstanC » Mon Dec 05, 2011 7:26 pm UTC

Here's what Iceland's doing to write their new constitution in the wake of financial collapse in their country:

To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.


More here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/0 ... Revolution
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Ixtellor » Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:57 pm UTC

I stopped reading after your first spoiler.

Few problems with your analysis in just the first section.
1) Free Speech. If I want to convince hillbillies that capital gains taxes should be zero, I have a right to do so.
2) Voting, or lack thereof, isn't the problem. It could just as easily be argued that we would be more successful if the ignorant masses just stayed home.

3) The negative aspect of money has nothing to do with voters, it has to do with its influence on lawmakers. Its effectively legal to bribe law makers. Start by solving that issue.
(There are solutions, but many of them have negative externalities, and cause a lot of liberty headaches)
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby distractedSofty » Sat Dec 10, 2011 2:53 am UTC

Ixtellor wrote:2) Voting, or lack thereof, isn't the problem. It could just as easily be argued that we would be more successful if the ignorant masses just stayed home.

Australia is a pretty convincing case study that disproves that. On the one hand, compulsory voting, and on the other hand, low taxes, high wages, social programs that work and excellent public infrastructure.

3) The negative aspect of money has nothing to do with voters, it has to do with its influence on lawmakers. Its effectively legal to bribe law makers. Start by solving that issue.
(There are solutions, but many of them have negative externalities, and cause a lot of liberty headaches)

It's pretty disingenuous to suggest that representatives not representing the voters has nothing to do with voters.

I've always thought it odd that in modern representative democracy I have to share a representative with my next door neighbour. We don't agree on the appropriate times to play loud music, so why is there this implicit assumption that our goals for the country will line up? In my mind, one of the ways to improve democracy would be to remove geographic representatives. Instead of voting for a local member, everyone could give their vote to the member who best represents them. Member's votes could count based on the number of people the represent. (Oviously there are some kinks to be worked out: there would propbably need to be a cap on the total number of representatives, and you probably want to limit the number of votes that any one member could represent also.)

This would probably solve a good deal of the money problem, since voters would not be forced to choose only the limited number of local representatives. If a representative is pushing interests that you don't agree with, you'll stop voting for them, and they'll have less power.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Josephine » Sat Dec 10, 2011 7:02 am UTC

Diadem wrote:As a tangent, where does this weird "The US is not a democracy, it's a republic" notion come from? I've heard it several times before on this forum, and I've also seen it in other places. But it's so silly. Why would you even think that not having a hereditary head of state and having elected leaders are mutually exclusive?

Is it just me, or did this make very little sense? "democracy" does not mean "not a monarchy".
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby distractedSofty » Sat Dec 10, 2011 11:12 am UTC

Josephine wrote:
Diadem wrote:As a tangent, where does this weird "The US is not a democracy, it's a republic" notion come from? I've heard it several times before on this forum, and I've also seen it in other places. But it's so silly. Why would you even think that not having a hereditary head of state and having elected leaders are mutually exclusive?

Is it just me, or did this make very little sense? "democracy" does not mean "not a monarchy".

No, it means "having elected leaders". The question is why "not having a hereditary head of state" is considered mutually exclusive.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby aoeu » Sat Dec 10, 2011 8:56 pm UTC

distractedSofty wrote:
Ixtellor wrote:I've always thought it odd that in modern representative democracy I have to share a representative with my next door neighbour. We don't agree on the appropriate times to play loud music, so why is there this implicit assumption that our goals for the country will line up? In my mind, one of the ways to improve democracy would be to remove geographic representatives. Instead of voting for a local member, everyone could give their vote to the member who best represents them. Member's votes could count based on the number of people the represent. (Oviously there are some kinks to be worked out: there would propbably need to be a cap on the total number of representatives, and you probably want to limit the number of votes that any one member could represent also.)


Wouldn't a system where you essentially vote for a party (like the d'Hondt method) be better? Groups tend to be more reliable and knowledgeable than individuals and people don't remain as objective when they are voting for a real person rather than a more abstract movement. This is asking for personality cults.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby distractedSofty » Sun Dec 11, 2011 6:01 pm UTC

aoeu wrote:Wouldn't a system where you essentially vote for a party (like the d'Hondt method) be better? Groups tend to be more reliable and knowledgeable than individuals and people don't remain as objective when they are voting for a real person rather than a more abstract movement. This is asking for personality cults.

No. (And also, party list systems seem strictly inferior to STV systems, after all, they can devolve to a party list system, if that's how the electorate wants to vote. Eg, the Australian Senate)

As was said upthread, in representative democracy, we are electing negotiators to negotiate for what we want. Voting for a party is like electing a negotiator after the negotiation has already taken place, and now they'll just stubbornly stick to what they decided before I even got a say.

I consider it a tragedy of the highest order that a politician changing their mind is considered a bad thing, and not the mature, adult thing to do. (And the corollary, the thing that infuriates me the most is when people trot out "the Ronpaul's consistent voting record" as a good thing, and not as the complete failure to be an effective politician that it is)
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby flippant » Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:52 am UTC

distractedSofty wrote:
I consider it a tragedy of the highest order that a politician changing their mind is considered a bad thing, and not the mature, adult thing to do. (And the corollary, the thing that infuriates me the most is when people trot out "the Ronpaul's consistent voting record" as a good thing, and not as the complete failure to be an effective politician that it is)


A politician changing their mind is one thing, but when a politician campaigns and is elected on a platform of xyz and promises of abc and then takes office upon winning and does ick and dum because all along they were in some special interests pocket is messed up and a big part of our current problems. Obama is a perfect example, he had a small window of time when he was elected to pass a bunch of things with a Democratically owned House & Senate. He decided to try bi-partisan negotiations instead which failed and when the GOP took over the House all progress and change became dead in the water. He should have seized the moment and enacted major legislation change but he didn't. Give me a politician who says what they're going to do and sticks with it after they're elected even if it costs them the next election. It would be a nice change from what we have now.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Glass Fractal » Mon Dec 12, 2011 6:51 am UTC

Diadem wrote:As a tangent, where does this weird "The US is not a democracy, it's a republic" notion come from? I've heard it several times before on this forum, and I've also seen it in other places.


It's always trotted out by the same people who like to talk about how "democracy is two wolves and a lamb" so I'm going to go with it being a Libertarian talking point. The fact that it completely contradicts reality seems to support that idea.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby omgryebread » Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:21 am UTC

flippant wrote:Give me a politician who says what they're going to do and sticks with it after they're elected even if it costs them the next election. It would be a nice change from what we have now.
Then he loses and the next guy undoes everything?

Winning reelections matters, a lot. Every term there are judges to appoint, decisions to make, fights to win. You can't govern without thinking about the future.
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Re: What changes do we need to make in our democracy?

Postby Whammy » Wed Dec 14, 2011 11:37 pm UTC

Glass Fractal wrote:
Diadem wrote:As a tangent, where does this weird "The US is not a democracy, it's a republic" notion come from? I've heard it several times before on this forum, and I've also seen it in other places.


It's always trotted out by the same people who like to talk about how "democracy is two wolves and a lamb" so I'm going to go with it being a Libertarian talking point. The fact that it completely contradicts reality seems to support that idea.


Actually, it's really not a libertarian talking point. It really is an important distinction in political theory. Granted a republic is sort of a sub-group of a democracy, but generally speaking, whenever someone goes on about this being a 'democracy', they're usually going off the idea of a democracy as "rule by majority" and usually direct voting on issues (so direct democracy). So to a degree yes, that would be the idea of "democracy is two wolves and a lamb" and that's because the idea of "direct, majority rule" can in fact lead to such things if, let's say, the majority in the town decides to pass a law that discriminates or hurt a minority group in some shape or form (usually called like tyranny of the majority or what not). Of course, again, there is a crap load of different subgroups on democracy so it depends on who you are talking about XD: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy

A "republic", on the other hand, tends to imply certain things. The biggest thing being, of course, the election of people to represent us in the government instead of direct democracy. It usually also implies some form of limitations on the abilities of those representing us (in the form of a constitution of some sort), which can solve the "two wolves and a lamb" thing by restricting what can and cannot be up for vote. Generally speaking, this is what I tend to hear about whenever the "we're not a democracy, we're a republic."

A more important issue though is that being a republic does bring into discussion something unique to it that a direct democracy doesn't have is the "delegate vs. trustee" question; are representatives simply voicing our views and votes whatever way we want them to, or should they be able to use their own judgement (while of course taking into consideration into what we want".

I don't have a nice quote on the first position, but the trustee position is pretty well summed up by Edmund Burke here:

...it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

-The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Volume I. London: Henry G. Bohn. 1854. pp. 446–8.

Of course, again, we're a lot more complex than a republic. In really specific terms we're a liberal democratic constitutional republic XD.
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