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Agora, a virtual parliament
April 14, 2012 3:57 AM   Subscribe


 
If this party comes into power, could I assume every single place name in the country will be renamed in honor of Stephen Colbert?
posted by efalk at 3:59 AM on April 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


Yes, but pot would be legal, so you wouldn't mind so much.
posted by mek at 4:01 AM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Vote delegation. Ooh. I love that kind of stuff, 'cos it makes forcing your family to vote the way you want so much easier.
posted by Leon at 4:16 AM on April 14, 2012


This is a pretty extreme way just to finally make the "year of Linux on the desktop" a reality.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:25 AM on April 14, 2012 [20 favorites]


If this party comes into power, could I assume every single place name in the country will be renamed in honor of Stephen Colbert?

Given the team behind this project (see page at "Equipo" link), sure, but the country where that would happen would I guess probably be Spain. Hmm, "Colbert, España" has a nice sound.
posted by Stoatfarm at 4:32 AM on April 14, 2012


Representative Democracy: you're doing it wrong.
posted by Curious Artificer at 4:38 AM on April 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


I presume all PDI campaigns will be financed by massive donations of bitcoins?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:39 AM on April 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."
-- Alexander Fraser Tytler
posted by kcds at 4:40 AM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


And once they are in power, we can expect The People to rapidly bone up on the intricacies of maritime regulation in the Gulf of Mexico, federal-state partnerships to fund libraries, trade policy with Argentina, and the like. I look forward to The People's efficient, prudent, and deliberate decision making, which will not be random or arbitrary in any way.
posted by tempythethird at 5:12 AM on April 14, 2012 [36 favorites]


"After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing"

Except for Republicans, who votes for the candidate who promises to fuck them over the most.
posted by PenDevil at 5:13 AM on April 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


because we need things like hank, the angry drunken dwarf day, public executions, mandatory drug testing for everyone and god knows what else a majority of idiots will come up with
posted by pyramid termite at 5:13 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


And once they are in power, we can expect The People to rapidly bone up on the intricacies of maritime regulation in the Gulf of Mexico, federal-state partnerships to fund libraries, trade policy with Argentina, and the like.

Of course! Just like professional politicians do.
posted by XMLicious at 5:16 AM on April 14, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that Tytler quote is fake, but in any event we all know that democracy deteriorates into mob rule which eventually gets up back to monarchy, not tyranny. Polybius told me so, and I have no reason not to trust Polybius.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:17 AM on April 14, 2012


.A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury...

If that were true, you would provide an example instead of a quote.
posted by deanklear at 5:18 AM on April 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


At this point, I just hope the machines rise up and take over before it's too late.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:25 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


And once they are in power, we can expect The People to rapidly bone up on the intricacies of maritime regulation in the Gulf of Mexico, federal-state partnerships to fund libraries, trade policy with Argentina, and the like.

We can surely expect random voters on the internet to bone up something, pretty much all the time somewhere.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:31 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Political Party.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:38 AM on April 14, 2012


The Tytler quote is fake. More importantly, the idea that societies move in cycles or obey anything like physical laws is fake.
posted by escabeche at 5:44 AM on April 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


I look forward to The People's efficient, prudent, and deliberate decision making, which will not be random or arbitrary in any way.

If you make a single unauthorized connection to a network, and you are caught, you can be sentenced to years in prison. If you grow certain plans and consume them, you can go to federal prison for years.

If you get drunk and you punch someone in the face, or date rape someone, you may not go to jail at all.

Right now, corporations are given tax breaks for destroying domestic jobs and moving them offshore. That means that you and I are paying to have our jobs taken away, and to have our economy dismantled.

It's already arbitrary, but right now, it benefits a select few Assholes instead of People. I'll take one hundred new federal holidays named after cats as long as some amount of justice is returned.
posted by deanklear at 5:56 AM on April 14, 2012 [17 favorites]


Technology has moved past the point where we need to send our representatives to a faraway capitol, hoping that they will make the decisions that we want them to.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:07 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yay! I've been waiting for this for years. [Moves to Spain.]

It's an experiment that needs to be done. Why couldn't this work? I'm a big believer in the concept that if you treat people like responsible adults, they'll act like responsible adults. If you treat them like untrustworthy, ignorant children, they'll elect authoritarian right-wing representatives.

Plus the climate here is lovely.
posted by sneebler at 6:15 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Tytler quote is fake.

Wow, yeah, and it gets quoted in the Congressional Record quite frequently - that search is currently showing fifteen hits just since 1994. Google Books has it showing up first during the 1960s but an interesting source it appears in then and repeatedly over subsequent decades is a newsletter/magazine called The Cross and the Flag that was published by the Christian Nationalist Crusade which according to Wikipedia also published copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other anti-semitic dreck.
posted by XMLicious at 6:35 AM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Given the random voting for stuff in some Team Fortress 2 servers, I predict this will end well.

"Melee only came out yes? Let's vote again. Wait, I accidentally said yes, let's vote again. Still yes? Vote again."

"Is Todd gay? 1. Yes. 2. YES. 3. Double yes. 4. Fish"
posted by Foosnark at 6:42 AM on April 14, 2012


It's an experiment that needs to be done. Why couldn't this work?

Hey everybody, do you want $NEW_GOVERNMENT_SERVICE?
- Yes! Yes we do!

Hey everybody, do you want to pay $NEW_TAX?
- No way! Why would we want to pay that?

In California, there is a strong tradition of direct democracy through ballot initiatives; there's usually 8-12 propositions or so every election. How's that turned out? What has happened over the years is the passage of Proposition 13 (1978), which limits the powers of taxation (property taxes can't go up more than 2% per year, essentially).

Also, the passage of a number of spending bills, ranging from Proposition 98 (1988), which sets a minimum proportion of spending on K-14 education, to Proposition 50 (2002), which mandated the spending of $7 billion on water projects, to Proposition 21 (2000), which isn't a spending bill at all, it's a "tough on crime" juvenile offenders bill. Except that getting tough on juvenile offenders and putting more of them in jail for longer costs money for prisons.

The net result is a government that is essentially hamstrung; it's required to spend money in various and sundry ways, but there's no ability to raise enough revenue, so anything that isn't protected by a proposition is squeezed like crazy, and the state is still in a budget crisis.

And that's not even starting in on things like Proposition 8 (2008), the gay marriage ban, because you can't always trust the majority to protect the rights of a minority.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:43 AM on April 14, 2012 [25 favorites]


I think we can change change a lot about American politics if we switch to parliamentary style voting in each state for the federal House of Representatives, no districts required, just a party list vote. Each party will be represented according to their population in relation to the state. It solves our main problems of gerrymandering and voter apathy, and it's legal, because the states get to choose their method.

Also, internet voting should be an option for voters so they don't get shut out of the vote in crowded areas. Main concerns about internet voting disappear as long as the method remain the voters option, and not the only option.
posted by Brian B. at 6:45 AM on April 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Obligatory Edmund Burke:
Certainly, gentlemen, 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.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:52 AM on April 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's already arbitrary, but right now, it benefits a select few Assholes instead of People. I'll take one hundred new federal holidays named after cats as long as some amount of justice is returned.

There ain't no justice like mob justice.
posted by bpm140 at 7:25 AM on April 14, 2012


I'll take your Edmund Burke and raise you the Marquis de Condorcet:

"Every man has the right to live by his own reason; but when he joins society he agrees to submit some of his actions to common reason; ... his own reason requires that he submit and obey [this common reason] even as he foregoes [the dictates of his own reason] Thus when he submits to a law contrary to his own opinion, he must say to himself: this is a question not of myself but of all; therefore I must act not by what I think reasonable but by what all who like me have abstracted their own opinion must regard as conforming to reason and truth."
posted by escabeche at 7:25 AM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


What we really need is party that disclaims any Presidential aspirations and explicitly seeks to be a 'wedge' that spoils the usual two-party gridlock calculus, such that things actually happen in Congress.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:28 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also: previously on Metafilter, we talked about what happens when you try to formulate a budget by direct democracy.
posted by escabeche at 7:29 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not an expert but: Unless you issue a one-time pad to everybody at their eighteenth birthday, there's no way to know for sure that the crypto is sufficiently secure? I mean, you would have to be exceptionally paranoid about the security given the stakes and all.
posted by biochemicle at 7:37 AM on April 14, 2012


What we really need is party that disclaims any Presidential aspirations and explicitly seeks to be a 'wedge' that spoils the usual two-party gridlock calculus, such that things actually happen in Congress.

Anyone who lives in a proportional representation democracy is laughing with bitter irony at the notion that a fractured legislature is the way to end parliamentary gridlock.

The way to end gridlock in the US is to end the filibuster. And even better way to end gridlock is to have a unicameral parliament, but that would be too radical a step for Americans. But if you want a government that actually enacts a legislative agenda, the best set-up is a two-party system, first-past-the-post elections, no supermajority requirements for parliamentary votes and a unicameral legislature. That way you always have a clear majority in the House and they are able to move their agenda forward.
posted by yoink at 7:45 AM on April 14, 2012


If this party comes into power, could I assume every single place name in the country will be renamed in honor of Stephen Colbert?

Given the team behind this project (see page at "Equipo" link), sure, but the country where that would happen would I guess probably be Spain. Hmm, "Colbert, España" has a nice sound.


No, everything would be named after Esteban Colberto.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:47 AM on April 14, 2012


Why couldn't this work?

Because building and maintaining a well-functioning society with reliable infrastructure and just laws is decades-long and thankless project, and the broader internet-connected public has the attention span and moral fortitude of a crack-addled squirrel.

I'm a big believer in the concept that if you treat people like responsible adults, they'll act like responsible adults.

The available evidence suggests that this is not true in the general case.
posted by mhoye at 7:47 AM on April 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


"I presume all PDI campaigns will be financed by massive donations of bitcoins?"

Yeah, at least until the McCat-FEINBOT 3000 Reform Bill.

This is all incredibly silly. Why do so many people who know about the interneta assume that they also know how to completely redesign society?

Personally, I blame Wired.
posted by graphnerd at 8:06 AM on April 14, 2012


Why couldn't this work?

Because California doesn't work.
posted by spaltavian at 8:10 AM on April 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


And once they are in power, we can expect The People to rapidly bone up on the intricacies of maritime regulation in the Gulf of Mexico, federal-state partnerships to fund libraries, trade policy with Argentina, and the like.

That's why this system supports vote delegation. If you don't understand/don't care about an issue, whomever you choose gets to cast your vote on the matter. It's at least no worse in this respect than what we have now, where we have uninformed politicians making decisions about (for example) internet and copyright law. Wouldn't you rather be able to delegate your vote to say, someone from the EFF or Lawrence Lessig? There are a lot of potential problems with this, but the fact that the populace is uninformed on most issues isn't the biggest one.
posted by Wemmick at 8:13 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is moronic, but I'm willing to put it to experimental testing. In some other country, though. So yeah, Spain's cool by me. Althought given their present circumstances, seems to me Greece would be a better choice. I mean, it couldn't possibly make things worse there, could it?
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:20 AM on April 14, 2012


I think this is a fantastic idea. Not perfect, perhaps, but it shows an admirable willingness to consider alternatives to the current electoral systems used across the world.

I've long thought that delegated voting would be a good way of improving politics (I even wrote a little story about it in my A History of the Future in 100 Objects project). Let me try to explain why, from a UK perspective.

Here, I get to vote once every few years for a local council representative, a Member of Parliament, and a Member of the European Parliament. These representatives are then, somehow, supposed to divine the wants and needs of all the thousands and tens of thousands of people they represent in an enlightened, forward-thinking, and unbiased manner, saving us from the notional hell of endless referenda.

I am not an overly cynical person but I cannot believe that my representatives can possibly do that. In fact, I really do believe that most people get into politics for noble reasons and they make a good try at their jobs. However, it is impossible for any person to be unbiased; they'll always favour their friends, families, and interests to some smaller or greater extent. If they didn't, they wouldn't be human. And we accept these things in people because that's just how people are.

But when you have a few hundred people in the country wielding such enormous influence - and when, in some countries, you have those people being targeted by very, very rich and powerful people - it is absolutely impossible to see how you can get people who will really govern in their electorate's interests. There is a serious principal-agent problem here, one that exists in all sorts of arenas but is particularly bad in politics.

So, why not change it? Why not try and spread out the decision-making process to more people? And if we think that people cannot or will not understand the issues they need to vote on, why wouldn't delegated votes help?

Well, there are all sorts of reasons why we shouldn't. For example, maybe delegates would be even more biased than politicians. Maybe, if this was all done online, there would be security problems and family members might be coerced into delegating their votes. Maybe we'd get gridlock like in California.

I think the most important reason, however, is that we are afraid of change. We think that anything different from what we have right now will be worse. But let me tell you - it couldn't be any fucking worse than it is right now. Sometime I am amazed how anything gets done in democracies when you hear about how politicans spend so much time fundraising, and when our Prime Minister is so cosy with the media, and when - in the UK - we have Ministers being reshuffled to lead department in which they have absolutely no experience on a frankly bullshit merry-go-round every year or two.

And in fact, if we look at the problems a bit more closely, we might realise that they aren't quite as insurmountable as they seem. In the UK and other countries, for example, we've had postal voting for many years. There are legitimate concerns that this could result in coerced votes. But weighed against the fact that we want as many people to vote as possible, postal votes have won out.

And given the admirable belief on Mefi that we should having national holidays on elections or do them on weekends, or let people vote early, etc, so as to help time-poor people have their voices heard, wouldn't postal votes be an imperfect but still useful solution? And will we still be using postal votes in 20 or 30 or 50 years, or might we have figured out a good way to do it online, while making proper provision for those who can't get online?

Then there's the question of California's experience with direct democracy. Let me say this in the most direct way possible: just because Californians can't get their shit together doesn't mean the rest of us can't. Switzerland has referendums every year and I don't see their country falling apart. Similarly, Norway held 13 local referendums last year and still seems like a fine place to live. Sure, you could say that that's fine for Norway and Switzerland, after all, they're small rich countries that are more homogenous and have less money in politics than the US. But they are an example, just as California is.

Myself, I think that people in the future will be aghast at the kind of shit we put up with. We think we're the pinnacle of civilization with our universal suffrage, but just as we look back at earlier generations and wonder in amazement at how they could ever think that denying the vote to non-landowners, or blacks, or women, was a good idea, future generations will look at us with our crude one-vote system and shake their heads in amusement at how we could ever think we were so smart.

We shouldn't rush in to anything. But we should also be humble in realising that we may not be living under the best of all possible voting systems.
posted by adrianhon at 8:20 AM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


So, what happens when the people won't stop voting for ice cream and cake?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:25 AM on April 14, 2012


Because California doesn't work.

Too soon to tell. They just switched election methods.
posted by Brian B. at 8:28 AM on April 14, 2012


Another issue that bothers me is the general belief that everyone is stupid and shouldn't be trusted to vote on issues that concern them - that it's bad enough that we give stupid people the vote, and that it'd be even worse if we gave them even more votes.

Guess what? In some countries, we even let stupid people decide the fate of an accused person's life, on things called 'juries'. Sounds idiotic, right? Moronic, even. Sure, we give them more time to consider and we give supposedly give them advice, but does that really work?

...

Obviously it would be far better if everyone was more informed and thoughtful during elections. But based on my highly limited experience of sitting on a jury, I think they're not all that bad. People make a genuine effort to understand the issues, to render a fair judgement, and to reach a consensus.

Maybe they don't do it every time, but they try. And based on my conversations with barristers, they're often a damn sight better than our 'expert' unelected magistrates (and frequently, judges).
posted by adrianhon at 8:34 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


And once they are in power, we can expect The People to rapidly bone up on the intricacies of maritime regulation in the Gulf of Mexico, federal-state partnerships to fund libraries, trade policy with Argentina, and the like. I look forward to The People's efficient, prudent, and deliberate decision making, which will not be random or arbitrary in any way.

But what on earth leads you to think our elected representatives under the current way of doing business are any better about this? Currently, they've mostly outsourced legislative and policy expertise to unelected lobbyists and industry trade groups. I can't count the number of times our legislature has had to cop to passing legislation no one in the legislature could be arsed to actually read. And in our system there are no tests for suitability for office other than the ability to raise money and the electoral judgment of those same people you're claiming can't be expected to show good judgment.

So I'm kind of struggling to see your point.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:43 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, what happens when the people won't stop voting for ice cream and cake?

O hai there from Greece.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:44 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


We mostly elect old rich guys who are too privileged to have to know what they're talking about most of the time and good old boys. How's that a better recipe for sound decision-making?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:45 AM on April 14, 2012


(That being said, with delegated voting you can have both an irresponsible voting body and a manipulated, opaque ruling class - wacky fun either way)
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:46 AM on April 14, 2012


We've had this for a while now in Australia, through a party called Senator Online. No-one votes for them.

One major problem is that elected representatives don't just have the task of voting on individual bills - they have the task of drafting the bills, and indeed in developing policy, and making sure bills supporting that policy are consistent. How does a party like this actually develop the bills they are going to put to parliament? Pastebin? Who's checking to make sure those bills are constitutional? Crowd-sourced lawyers? And what's the bet the public tell the party to approve massive increases to spending on education, while at the same time opposing all tax increases? What happens if a member of the party becomes a cabinet minister? Do the public get a vote on all the ministerial decisions they make for the department they're in charge of?

It's a neat idea, until you think about it.
posted by Jimbob at 8:48 AM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Jimbob: Yes, there have been a few things like Senator Online. I don't think they can work particularly well if done within a traditional electoral system for some of the reasons you mentioned, plus it's hard to get people to care enough about such an abstract idea.

However. You mention 'crowd-sourced lawyers'. Is that really so ridiculous when we have things like Kickstarter funding all sorts of stuff now? And might that work with the experimental wiki-style drafting of legislation seen in NZ? The answer is: we don't know. But it's worth seeing what happens on a smaller scale, perhaps on local levels.

Or maybe we should just do nothing and elect the [better party/politician] who'll fix everything, get money out of politics, and will never abuse our trust.
posted by adrianhon at 8:59 AM on April 14, 2012


Jimbob: are you under the impression our current elected reps do any of those things? Because its legislative staff that do all those things with the help of industry groups like ALEC.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:01 AM on April 14, 2012


Because its legislative staff that do all those things with the help of industry groups like ALEC.

So what happens when those legislative staff are directed to implement two opposing, incompatible decisions by the "public" in legislation they present to parliament? Do the public get to vote on every fine-grained regulation in the legislation individually, which would be unworkable, or do they just give the politician some broad mandate and leave it up to her staff to come up with the wording? Wording that will be law, and will be enforced and interpreted, and which is therefore kinda important.
posted by Jimbob at 9:08 AM on April 14, 2012


You don't think we get contradictory policy now?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:10 AM on April 14, 2012


In my experience, the staffers find a way.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:11 AM on April 14, 2012


Here's the solution: the entirety of the U.S. Code gets put into a wiki and whatever it says on that wiki at any given moment is the law.
posted by XMLicious at 9:13 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, to be fair, you're in the United States, where there are no real, defined party platforms and policies, no party discipline, and individual members have much more autonomy to mess with legislation for their own (or their corporate sponsors') purposes.

I'm coming from a Westminster system where there is more party discipline and a defined party platform, and I think more consistent legislation comes out of that. A system like this probably would work better in the US, because presumably you're just trying to replace lobbyists with public opinion.
posted by Jimbob at 9:14 AM on April 14, 2012


XMLicious: "And once they are in power, we can expect The People to rapidly bone up on the intricacies of maritime regulation in the Gulf of Mexico, federal-state partnerships to fund libraries, trade policy with Argentina, and the like.

Of course! Just like professional politicians do.
"

Yes, actually they do. Professional politicians have portfolios, which they learn about, and they form relationships with people and institutions that concern them.
posted by klanawa at 9:18 AM on April 14, 2012


Jimbob: Right. Except you're talking about consistent legislation here, and we're talking about public input and representation. They've both important, but they're not the same thing. I live in the UK and of course parties here have more discipline and definition than in the US.

However, that hasn't stopped people from feeling incredibly disenfranchised - and that includes people who voted for the Tories, who supposedly 'won' the election. Legislation might be consistent, but if it's not what people voted for and it doesn't seem to be fair, then it's not a good result.
posted by adrianhon at 9:18 AM on April 14, 2012


(Contrast, for example, "riders" in the US and Canada.)
posted by Jimbob at 9:19 AM on April 14, 2012


Legislation might be consistent, but if it's not what people voted for and it doesn't seem to be fair, then it's not a good result.

Fair enough. Then you vote for the other guys next time.

Who can guarantee, once they're elected, a member of PDI is going to follow their word and do what the public wants? If they don't, I guess people will vote for someone else next time. Nothing is any different.

And as for the Tories...well, people should have known better...
posted by Jimbob at 9:21 AM on April 14, 2012


Then you vote for the other guys next time.

But this is exactly what I mean: we do vote for the other guys next time, and it's not really any better. Why doesn't it change? Because of course politicians are going to disregard their voter's preferences - in most systems other than proportional representation, they can afford to piss off a lot of people when you've got a straight choice between two or three parties.

I don't think that PDI will actually work out - but I would like to see its spirit carried forward in systems like the Swiss referendums where we don't need to worry about members of parties following their word because we are just doing a direct vote.
posted by adrianhon at 9:27 AM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


in most systems other than proportional representation, they can afford to piss off a lot of people when you've got a straight choice between two or three parties.

I guess that's why I love proportional representation, which we have to some extent, in the Australian senate. I think reform of voting systems towards proportional and preferential would make a concrete difference (as would compulsory voting, another source of patriotic pride for me, although many regard that as a step too far). I worry that the kind of "direct democracy" suggested here would not work well, either enhancing the tyranny of the majority, or producing a legal mess in the legislation.
posted by Jimbob at 9:34 AM on April 14, 2012


In my experience on the Hill, an annoying number of Americans think that democracy more or less already works this way. I lost count of the number of constituent phone calls I've received demanding to know exactly how many letter/phone calls/emails the congressman had pro/con their pet issue of the day, and would go into absolute hysterics if I wouldn't tell them more than "some pro, some con" and insist that they were going to FOIA it and then get my boss impeached for violating the will of the people (right...).
posted by naoko at 9:41 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


And that's how we got President Kitty. For a while it was adorable, then, one day, the dogs disappeared. And from the rooftops, the state song began playing 24hrs a day.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:49 AM on April 14, 2012


Yes, actually they do. Professional politicians have portfolios, which they learn about, and they form relationships with people and institutions that concern them.

Again, it depends upon the country we're talking about, but in the subject of the OP - the U.S. - this isn't true except in a completely informal sense in most cases for particular elected officials on particular issues. One can, for example, be elevated by an election to be in a position of ultimate legislative authority over governing telecommunications and as the Chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee end up explaining to your colleagues on the Senate Floor how the Internet is a "series of tubes".

Or, for another example, at a local level in a majority of states IIRC elected judges aren't necessarily required to have any knowledge of law.

If you mean that in an organization like Congress on any given topic like maritime regulation in the Gulf of Mexico, federal-state partnerships to fund libraries, or trade policy with Argentina you could find some small number of the people exercising power who might be able to claim expertise on the matter, well that of course would be true were we looking at "The People" directly exercising power as well.
posted by XMLicious at 10:02 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had this direct democracy idea 20 years ago when I was in college too!
posted by Windopaene at 10:03 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Again, it depends upon the country we're talking about, but in the subject of the OP - the U.S.

Actually, the OP is about Spain...
posted by Jimbob at 10:08 AM on April 14, 2012


Oops, I guess I was confused by this line:
Anybody can create a delegate (or Proxy) in Agora, all that is necessary is for the delegate to be appropriately registered in the system. Examples of delegates could be “Richard Stallman”, “Green Peace”, “The Republican Party”, “Amnesty International”.
Sigh. I guess Richard Stallman belongs to the world now.
posted by XMLicious at 10:17 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


And thus began the twelve-term presidency of Chief Executive Baba Booey.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:17 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"And once they are in power, we can expect The People to rapidly bone up on the intricacies of maritime regulation in the Gulf of Mexico, federal-state partnerships to fund libraries, trade policy with Argentina, and the like."

Of course! Just like professional politicians do.


Actually, if you ever listen to the more dedicated members of Congress talk about process, they are actually quite informed about these kinds of things.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the job of the Legislature is just too damned big. There is no way for one person to be expert on more than a few narrow topics. Sure, that's why we have the committees, but even then, their members are often chosen for political reasons rather than practical ones. Especially when the current process basically requires them to be constantly campaigning and back in their home states shaking hands and kissing ass, instead of in DC working.

What we need to do is reform Congress to some extent. The direct election of Senators has removed an important distinction between the two houses. Senators were supposed to be the elders, representing the States as a whole and taking into account the good of the nation, working in friendly opposition to the more volatile whims of the House of Reps.

So what I propose is something like this: add one senator per state, plus one senator per territory (Puerto Rico, DC, etc.), and those new senators would be appointed by the legislatures of the state or territory.

Then, make the house of reps a dual house. 3/4 the reps are elected strictly via geography, basically like today, except that the districts are not bound by state lines. Figure out an algorithm for determining boundaries that eliminates gerrymandering. Also, everyone would be in two overlapping districts, voting for two members. This would keep in the spirit of every state having at least two representatives. Each rep would represent the same number of people, and each person's "vote" would count basically the same. And make the elections for these reps be non-partisan and require an actual majority. Either instant run off voting, or have an open primary followed by a two-person race.

The other quarter of the reps would be elected by some form of nationwide preferential voting. They would not represent any geographic area, but would instead represent an interest. I have no idea how to mathematically make the voting work for this, but there has got to be a way. Maybe hold a series of 4 run offs where the top 27 vote getters get a seat.

(If the split house idea is too unworkable, maybe just reduce the scope so that it happens in each state instead of nationwide. The point of it being that each citizen isn't stuck with a representative that a plurality of his neighbors just happened to vote for.)

The internal operations of each house would work the same.

Finally, regardless of all of this, we need to eliminate the lame-duck session.
posted by gjc at 10:41 AM on April 14, 2012


let me tell you - it couldn't be any fucking worse than it is right now.

As bad as things are, I submit that government by Facebook, 4Chan, and MetaTalk might actually be worse.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:35 AM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, the passage of a number of spending bills, ranging from Proposition 98 (1988), which sets a minimum proportion of spending on K-14 education, to Proposition 50 (2002), which mandated the spending of $7 billion on water projects, to Proposition 21 (2000), which isn't a spending bill at all, it's a "tough on crime" juvenile offenders bill. Except that getting tough on juvenile offenders and putting more of them in jail for longer costs money for prisons...

The net result is a government that is essentially hamstrung; it's required to spend money in various and sundry ways, but there's no ability to raise enough revenue, so anything that isn't protected by a proposition is squeezed like crazy, and the state is still in a budget crisis.


California's budget deficit was around 25 billion. Texas' deficit is about the same. But, as you might guess, California has a higher GDP.
California's deficit is the largest of any of the 50 U.S. states in absolute dollar terms, but Texas' projected 2012 budget shortfall is equal to 31.5 percent of its 2011 budget, versus 29.3 percent for California, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Experts say Texas' budget has been under pressure for years. The state used about $6.4 billion in federal funds from the 2009 Recovery Act to fill a shortfall in its 2010-2011 budget cycle, but those funds will not be available in the 2012-2013 period.
In fact, per GDP, California is rarely in the top 10 of worst debtors across the nation. They also contribute more to the Federal budget than they take out, so any comment about how California is more broken than other states is entirely incorrect and misleading.
posted by deanklear at 11:37 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Figure out an algorithm for determining boundaries that eliminates gerrymandering. Also, everyone would be in two overlapping districts, voting for two members.

Gerrymandering has different purposes; sometimes used to spread out a strong vote to water down the opposition, and sometimes used to aggregate a minority vote to ensure representation. Any algorithm would need to have a governing purpose for it. Consider an alternative point: Senators could more easily have districts, because there's no natural way to willfully enrich one district with a class of voters without altering the chances of success in the other, thereby balancing all interests. By creating only two voting districts per state, this serves both chambers and eliminates the major concern of any one city having over-representation, and it allows more than one congressman per district, or less so, in the case of Wyoming. After taking this step, we then allow every federal House candidate to run for office super-district wide, making them best known on the ballot in their locality or interest sector. After the vote, the order of winners are chosen down to the last allotment for the super district. No matter who enters that polling station, people will have a wider choice of who they want to represent them on that list, and it may not be their neighborhood hacks.

I can't imagine how this would not serve everyone better, since they would naturally contact the member of congress they voted for if they needed any services. And it's legal, no changes necessary to the constitution.
posted by Brian B. at 11:43 AM on April 14, 2012


Hey everybody, do you want $NEW_GOVERNMENT_SERVICE?
- Yes! Yes we do!

Hey everybody, do you want to pay $NEW_TAX?
- No way! Why would we want to pay that?
Whew; it's a good thing we don't do this direct democracy thing in the United States, then. We might be hundreds of billions of dollars in debt by now!
posted by roystgnr at 12:16 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


But what on earth leads you to think our elected representatives under the current way of doing business are any better about this? Currently, they've mostly outsourced legislative and policy expertise to unelected lobbyists and industry trade groups...

My statement wasn't meant to imply that I'm in any way satisfied with the status quo, and whether or not the proposed system would yield better results than what we have now is debatable. A fun mental experiment though.

However, I think proposals like this throw out the baby with the bathwater, the baby being the concept of government and leadership. I am convinced that the sheer complexity of a state such as the US demands a serious amount of delegation, ie - government.

We've allowed government to turn into either a laughing stock or a pit of depravity or both, and we've set all the incentives backwards, so we practically ensure that most people who are willing to get anywhere near the legislative branch will be corrupt, power hungry egotists, or be turned into such.

Restore government work to a position of excellence and prestige higher than Goldman Sachs, build and maintain firewalls between the government and "special interests", sprinkle in some reasonable strucutral reform, and it will work. We don't need to experiment with completely new forms of government, nor can we in such a massive state. What we need is something old and time-honored. Its called institution building.
posted by tempythethird at 1:13 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


And once they are in power, we can expect The People to rapidly bone up on the intricacies of maritime regulation in the Gulf of Mexico, federal-state partnerships to fund libraries, trade policy with Argentina, and the like. I look forward to The People's efficient, prudent, and deliberate decision making, which will not be random or arbitrary in any way.

I'd argue that if only decision making was truly random on these issues we would be better off than with the current status quo.
posted by patrick54 at 1:28 PM on April 14, 2012


tempythethird: I don't disagree, but you'd be hard pressed to convince me the current system isn't already failing in most of the ways these kinds of grand reform schemes would; our system really has not scaled up well is the big problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:37 PM on April 14, 2012


So, what happens when the people won't stop voting for ice cream and cake?

Seriously. As loathe as I am to make a Simpsons reference, we don't need the mob in direct control. The saving grace of politicians is that they're lying. They frequently don't do the horrible, horrible things they promise to do in order to get elected. The current incarnation of the GOP is so awful because they make good on so much of their platform.
posted by spaltavian at 1:52 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Direct democracy != liquid democracy
Liquid democracy != pure majority rule
posted by mhjb at 1:59 PM on April 14, 2012


People should not fear the republic. Voting for competent people who are gradually tested and qualified to govern is a good idea that helps protect us from sudden bad ideas.
posted by Brian B. at 2:16 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Totalitarian regimes offer the idea that ordinary people can't be trusted to rule themselves as an excuse for their existence. Democracy is supposed to be based on the idea that people can and should be trusted to choose their own destiny as a society. A lot of people in this thread seem to think that the general public can't be trusted to exercise that control appropriately because they would make dumb choices.

So which is it? Do we need strong leadership to protect us from ourselves or should we control our own destiny? Do you think that democracy is a good idea except for those idiots who don't agree with your ideas?

You say mob rule. I say cut out the corrupt middlemen in our horribly broken system.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:25 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


So which is it? Do we need strong leadership to protect us from ourselves or should we control our own destiny? Do you think that democracy is a good idea except for those idiots who don't agree with your ideas?

False dilemma there. Leadership needs to be smart, principled and courageous, not strong or powerful, and so that's typically a small minority right there. The trick is to create a society that honors the distinction of competency and recognizes it. Corrupt middle men also write the laws-du-jour and pay to have them passed. In America, we currently live in an environment where minorities or misunderstood freedoms like expression or art could be outlawed under populism, and that's always been the case.
posted by Brian B. at 2:38 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Professor of neurobiology and behavior Thomas Seeley presents insights offered by years of close observation of how honeybees find new homes. He explains the experiments undertaken to understand how bees identify and investigate potential sites for a new home, communicate information gleaned from their explorations, and come to a successful group decision on which site will work best.

His conclusions:

How bees make good collective decisions
1) remind indiviudals of shared interests.
2) minimize the leader’s influence on outcome.
3) seek diverse solutions to the problem.
4) avoid tendecy to seek rapid consensus.
5) balance interdependence with independence.
posted by mhjb at 2:44 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Three cheers for experiments and good ideas on democratic reform, but I don't think this idea works very well.

For starters, I can't imagine significant numbers will vote for this party. There have been several "vote for me and I'll vote how you say" parties and none of them, at all, have ever had any electoral impact, because people might trust their own instincts, but they clearly don't trust the instincts of their fellow citizens. Obviously early days, but in the one election where PDI has stood, it garnered 603 votes out of 625,791 cast (in Cadiz province during the most recent general election).

Second, it's hugely reductive, turning government into a set of votes, when in fact it's years of discussions and debate within and outside formal political structures, with votes happening at the very end. Those sorts of discussions are where the real decisions are framed and eventually made - if you're going to turn voting into something much more open and participative, you need to do the same to the preceding discussions, selection of issues, and so on, which is much harder. See also the hideous monster that is MyFootballClub.co.uk.

Third, it underestimates the benefits of parties (recognition, sense of common purpose, shared history, organisational memory). Non-partisan ballots (where those standing for election have no formal party affiliation) have not worked well in motivating Los Angeles voters, for instance. I think that the idea of every issue being up for grabs is likely to reduce rather than increase people's belief that their involvement can change things.

Fourth, these sorts of rebuilding-the-plane-while-it's-flying constitutional reform efforts are often beautifully thought out for a situation where they are up and running and widely accepted, but haven't worked out the transitional arrangements. They leave a long transitional period where new arrangements aren't well-understood, and can be captured by the better-informed and more powerful. Most people, in other words, aren't that interested and possibly can be made interested, but only over a long time period.

Finally, there is an argument (with which I don't agree) that the democratic process ought not to be democratic for its own sake, but should as far as possible ensure swift peaceful changes of political power, providing a legal structure for the peaceful competition of the societal elites who are the only people who really care who wins. It's an idea from Joseph Schumpeter (summarised - self-link - here).
posted by athenian at 3:32 PM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


So which is it? Do we need strong leadership to protect us from ourselves or should we control our own destiny? Do you think that democracy is a good idea except for those idiots who don't agree with your ideas?

You could make a similar argument about free-markets versus socialism. Do we want free markets to ensure innovation and wealth creation? Or do we want socialism to ensure equality and fairness? The solution identified pretty much universally in wealthy, successful, "free" countries over the last century is a blend; "social democracy" - which looks different in the US, than in Australia, than in the UK, than in Germany, than in Japan. But it seems to be, if you like, a locally optimal solution.

We don't need a choice between complete direct democracy and totalitarianism, because the blend of the two that's popular at the moment seems to work quite well. I'd definitely argue for some tweaks - as I said above, proportional/preferential representation is an improvement. Reform of candidate and party money raising away from donations and towards public funding.
posted by Jimbob at 4:19 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Political power resides in being able to set an agenda, not in voting on an agenda set by others.
posted by jonp72 at 5:37 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's long seemed to me that Internet-based voting has a single point of failure, which is that there's no socially and technically feasible way to prevent people gaming the systems by creating multiple online identities.
posted by flabdablet at 6:57 PM on April 14, 2012


I was letting my hyperbole run away with me. I should have used plutocracy in place of totalitarian regime. My argument would have made more sense and avoided the appearance of a false dilemma, because the fact that we are rapidly becoming a complete plutocracy is a very real dilemma.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:35 PM on April 14, 2012


George Woodcock's Power to Us All is an interesting look at direct democracy and various democratic forms aimed at involving citizens more, especially at a local level.

Personally, I think debate is as important as the vote. A vote alone isn't very nuanced, and debate can change a proposal, or persuade people to switch sides. If the proposals must stand without debate, I don't think the results will be that good.
posted by chapps at 10:40 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."
-- Alexander Fraser Tytler


And what does the faked ravings of an obscure Scotsman have to do with the price of oil in Nantucket market?

Possibly he said that. But I'm interested in case studies showing it. Do you have any? Or is this just a quote that says something you'd like to hear despite having nothing to do with anything.

Because from what I see the greatest consistent threat to democracy has consistently been oligarchs realising that they can simply bribe elected representatives and lie through their teeth to exploit wedge issues, thus recreating a court system where what they want matters far more than the will of the people.

And of course democracy can't be permanent. Nor can anythng else. Humans are ... human.
posted by Francis at 2:51 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


am assuming the majority of the people behind this project are straight euro/american white males
posted by liza at 6:32 AM on April 17, 2012


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