What would a better democracy look like?

Our current democracies are poor at serving the needs, never mind the wishes of the public.  Some of this is for obvious reasons – tyranny of the majority, particularly in the US with a two party system, the entire political system is built explicitly around a zero sum game, which at a minimum means it cannot be ‘win-win’. (Note: For a better understanding of why pretty much all human progress depends on the development of better non-zero sum game, see Robert Wright’s book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny)

What would a better democracy, look like?

Well first it would be designed not just to achieve majority, but to treat a greater level of agreement as inherently better – the possibly unachievable ideal being mass consensus.  The harder problem is to overcome the ‘power corrupts’ problem.  No known political system can be truly leaderless for long.  Ultimately individuals have to be given positions of power with limited oversight.  Recent social science experiments suggest that power really does corrupt.

It is probably achievable to continue to move incrementally closer on the continuum from majority toward mass consensus.  One possible incremental mechanism might be a referendum voting system where a group of people representing all known major views work to craft the questions, so that these questions are phrased in a way more acceptable to all parties.  Another mechanism for consideration, would be making sunset laws with a testable goal (e.g. did this law demonstrably cause a decrease in unemployment, in two years, show evidence).

A harder part is the step beyond representative democracy, where individuals are chosen to fill roles as specialists where their incumbency is based on agreement that they are best for that specific job and that their tenure only lasts as long as they are doing what is needed.  I know of no great models for this, however various books fiction and non-fiction provide near and short term models for how this could work.  These include:

  • ‘The Art of Community’ by Jono Bacon talks about how governance is done in the Unix community, mixing meritocracy and consensus.
  • ‘Freedom (TM)’, the Daniel Suarez novel defines reputation systems that identify who is good at something and how trustworthy they are.  This reputation is dynamically created based on their interactions with others.
  • ‘Adiamante’ (far future L. E. Modesitt, Jr. novel) has many interesting concepts – but one is that people who are designated as leaders have to work off this obligation later.

Balancing democracy with meritocracy while minimizing the potential for power to corrupt is a hard problem, which I will no doubt continue to struggle with and pontificate about:-)

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