General Question

nerfmissile's avatar

Why aren't we governing ourselves via the Internet and living participatory democracy as first defined by the Greeks?

Asked by nerfmissile (313 points ) November 20th, 2007

Imagine the benefits! What obstacles do we have to overcome? The means are here, but is the motivation? And what about the detriments? Are there any obvious problems with this model of government that are worse than our 18th century bureaucratic republic?

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19 Answers

hossman's avatar

There are tons of problems. Do you really want government to become a popularity contest? It didn’t work well for the Greeks, either. Poland briefly experimented with a similar version for a while, also with disastrous results. Imagine the benefits! If the majority of the populace decides nerfmissile should down some hemlock, let’s do it! Hey, I’ll bet more than 50% of Americans hate France, let’s invade! How about going to war? Let’s invade if it’s popular, but pull out the moment a majority is tired of it!

This isn’t meant as an insult, but the average American lacks the information, judgment, and time to make many necessary decisions. Governance frequently depends upon detailed information and expertise, which the citizenry has neither the ability nor inclination to absorb. Further, sometimes the time a bureacracy takes to do anything is a good thing. If we had the system you describe, we would have had troops on their way to invade somewhere on 9/12.

As an attorney, I see the problems with poorly conceived legislation all the time. Many people, including some of our legislators, lack the ability to anticipate unintended consequences. Thus, laws that sound good and appear to be doing something are passed, then screw things up. The direct involvement of every citizen in the details of governance is not desirable. The direct involvement of every citizen in selecting representatives they believe are the best available (which I know isn’t saying much a lot of the time) to handle these matters for them.

Think of some of the issues pure democracy could affect. Should the legality of abortion depend on a simple majority? If the majority of Americans identify with a particular religion, should that become a state religion? If the majority of Americans think you should pay more for taxes so they can pay less, should that happen?

Our system certainly isn’t perfect, but I have yet to find anyone with a significantly better one.

Perchik's avatar

From the Internet side- The internet is privately owned by a handful of corporations. If the heads of those corporations wanted something to happen, any kind of voting could be skewed. Once a vote hits the net, it’d be gone.

blueberryme's avatar

At least there are lots of government functions available on the internet. That makes government much more accessible to people across the country, since now a person need not be limited by geographical proximity for some forms of participation.

glial's avatar


nerfmissile's avatar

I will concede the following:

1) Civilization as a whole is far more complex now than it was when democracy was first conceived.
2) “Group think” can be irrational and come to false consensus or jump to conclusions too quickly… but so can politicians (Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, possibly Iraq)
3) The military, and in particular, the “big red button”, must be steered largely by pre-determined policy rather than strategically unfavorable mass hysteria or the unilateral bias of the present system.

My question does not suggest abolishing existing structures, but improving upon them. As is, we have an 18th century bureaucracy steeped in its own seclusion that prefers contemplating its own redoubtable ass to action. To say it is transparent, or even undergoing reform toward convincing transparency, is absurd—and contradicted by the appalling rate of voter non-participation and the general feeling of disenfranchisement for all but career politicians.

As with all systems that remain static despite outside pressures, this closed 18th century oligarchy will evolve, be surpassed, or crush the society it crowns. Bread and circuses were enough to amuse most Romans, but the populace of America, with its outrageous per capita student loan debt, is necessarily more educated and capable in the 21st century. Not to mention constantly underestimated and worse, underutilized.

“Experts” always proclaim the informed superiority of their own prerogatives. This is a putative meme, a drive to maintain the status quo as predictable as the need to eat, or territorial behavior in animals. Yet Einstein was an outcast and a patent officer who performed poorly in school—hardly noticed before he wrote his little paper on relativity. And the man who is recently making a buzz in theoretical physics and cosmology for proposing what might be the geometric key to a Unified Field Theory, one of the few true heroes who is really doing something to get us off this rock—Lisi—is a nigh-homeless surfer dude, no poster boy for obedient capitalism or commercial-grade respectability. Experts have a well-known tendency to discount outcasts and true innovators; this is to be expected of memebots defending their turf. The status quo is often in their perceived best interest.

The hard, cold truth of the matter is that most every field is moving toward automation. This is most obvious, perhaps, in manufacturing or any human endeavor involving computers. Government is perhaps the agency best-equipped to resist change, so we can expect to see resources squandered most, and change last, where change should be first. It would be irresponsible, perhaps, of he-who-is-entitled-most to get his hand out of, say, the social security cookie jar.

* Databases and expert systems are faster, more reliable and more accurate for routines such as air traffic control and medical diagnosis than humans.
* Expert systems will soon surpass, if they haven’t already, the abilities of the average driver, pilot and politician for routine —not exceptional—duties.
* Our present government bureaucracy is outrageously elitist, unwieldy, unjustifiably expensive and makes terrible decisions, such as the national debt and the prison system.

So, what do you think are the necessary steps to modernize our 18th century oligarchy with its shrines to cracked pieces of paper, cracked bells and its visions of underpaid, unappreciated world police and cheap goods imported from child labor sweatshops… and begin to incorporate the Internet and at least some of the elements of the democracy suggested by its name?

Or, do you suggest that the Internet hurts and cripples most systems it touches and is not, in general, to be trusted as much as career politicians?

sdinnage's avatar

The internet is the ideal platform for improving democracy, we shouldnt underestimate the ability to distribute information as well as collect it. It would be perfectly possible to expect that to vote a certain amount of approved literature (prepared by consensus in the government on an all party basis) would have to be consumed by the voter before forming an opinion, the option to abstain should always be available.
informed opinion may well float to the top if a system was correctly implimented anything to increase the number of learned individuals who currently make up our democracy (Im in the UK) could be an improvement.
I’d suggest that governement should control which issues went to the broader base of individuals but it could for example make the process of having a referendum much simpler.
An open source democracy if you will could change the world for the better.

nerfmissile's avatar

To imply that we need politicians or representatives to be a judicious, efficient and successful society seems to me akin to saying that we need pastors, priests and rabbis to be religious or to get closer to God. In a sense, to accept uncritically a system that has caused incredible embarrassments (the aforementioned national debt and lack of health insurance being among them) is to demonstrate a lack of imagination.

Every other industry and organization is keen to cut out the middle man. Some would argue that politicians have been particularly keen to cut out job opportunities for the middle class with outsourcing. Doesn’t the pendulum swing both ways?

bob's avatar

I think there are lots of ways the internet can change government. The simplest answer to the question is “Because the internet is still brand new.” Let’s see where things go. There are lots of things we can and should do before we decide whether or not direct democracy is a good idea. Such as increasing the transparency of government budgets and programs. Obama recently released a pretty exciting plan on this front.

But I agree with hossman about the limitations of direct democracy. In Washington state, ballot measures cause a fair amount of problems. They tend to tie the legislature’s hands with poorly conceived solutions to complex problems. The consequences of the ballot measures aren’t understood by the voters, and voters just get an up or down vote on a measure drafted by a partisan group. Direct democracy via the internet might be a better idea, but it’s still a trade off—representative democracy has its own advantages—among them, expertise on the issues and the ability to compromise.

We’ve seen how polarized, ugly, and simplistic the national debate can be. My hope is that representatives of both parties have substantive and honest conversations in private—they certainly don’t have them publicly. The public debate in this country isn’t nearly good enough to maintain direct democracy.

hossman's avatar

The anonymity the Internet affords is part of what makes it untrustworthy. If a majority of Americans voted to screw up our nation, how do I hold them responsible? On the other hand, despite their flaws, representatives can always be removed. Pure direct democracy has failed every time it has been tried, just as pure socialism has failed every time it has been tried on a large scale. Bureaucracies do have positive features. While you, nerfmissile, may be ready to trust machines, I am not. I find it “absurd” (to use your own rhetoric) that you attempt to pass of as “facts” that expert systems can handle air traffic control and medical diagnosis better than humans. This is simply untrue. “Expert systems” cannot consistently drive a vehicle offroad or land a plane. “Expert systems” have difficulties beating human experts at relatively noncomplex games like chess, much less reality. “Expert systems” have routinely proved inferior to human experts in the diagnosis of many conditions, like cancer. “Expert systems” cannot consistently operate even routine surveillance planes, or else they would be used rather than humans for the “Predator” system or to operate a tank. If you should contract a life-threatening illness, are you going to rely on the Internet for treatment?

While I certainly am no fan of unwieldy bureaucracies (as someone who has had to deal with the Chicago and Illinois bureaucracies on a daily basis for a decade, I know the nightmare it can be better than most anyone), pure democracy is itself tyranny. If you think you can rely on the information available to the average citizen, their comprehension of said information, and the value of their judgment, as opposed to the experts available to our leaders, for our most important functions, then Orwell was right, Ignorance is Strength.

Einstein may have originally been an outcast, but all of his research was conducted within and depended upon the system of academia and collegial review.

You talk about memebots, yet your “essay” above is merely a rehashing of the thoughts of others. You are amazingly conformist in your alleged “nonconformity.”

While I believe in change, I also believe in the value of learning from history. Representative democracy has enjoyed success far beyond any other political system. Interestingly, if you are a student of history, you will find your arguments above were made during the classical period, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, postmodernism, etc. All with the same result. It wasn’t new or insightful then, it isn’t now.

And I wouldn’t overestimate the differences between Americans now and Romans then. Read some Marcus Aurelius, you would think you were reading Newt Gingrich. Outcasts and true innovators have a historical propensity to overestimate the quantity and value of their “innovation.” “Innovators” always proclaim the informed superiority of their own agenda, yet always, inevitably, end up becoming the status quo.

Mangus's avatar

I like the comment about “lack of imagination”. It’s funny to me that when direct democracy gets brought up, the only vision folks have is of everyone voting yay or nay on a single decision. First, in every other part of my life—from work to home and in-between—I participate (key word) in group decisions in a much more granular and interactive way than a yes or no vote. The oft-cited problems with initiative processes are similarly limited. Wouldn’t the advent of participatory democracy not only include mass participation, but also a cultural shift around engagement and understanding that might be able to resist the simple-minded arguments of PACs and politicians?

I think we’ve got better imaginations. Instead of citing all the half-assed, almost-but-not-quite attempts at direct democracy, what about looking at all the abounding evidence all over the world that groups of regular people can make the big decisions with relatively less hierarchy and relatively more participation? Mondragon co-ops in Basque Spain; open-source software development; collective government in Chiapas, Mexico; worker-seized industry in post-collapse Argentina; social movements in black South Africa; Italian co-ops…

nerfmissile's avatar

Mangus – I’d love to hear more from you on what you think can be done to begin this. I’ve seen a few sites on pro-direct democracy, but they seem fragile and neglected. Do you know of any good ones?

Hossman – First, I never claimed to have new and insightful thoughts or to esteem my innovation abilities worthy of worship. In fact, I believe quite the opposite. What I seem to excel at is stating the obvious—the obvious conclusions that people like you seem to lose track of. While I have the deepest respect for the depth of experience you bring to this discussion, I find many of your assumptions… well, uninformed:

“Absurd” expert systems? Did I say they should take over or be trusted? No. Did I imply that they should be allowed to support decision making as information systems, because they are proven to augment/enhance? Yes.

Offroad robotic vehicle
Medical diagnostics
And again
And again

Would I trust the Internet to treat me for an illness? Of course not. Would I trust a physician with a PDA and an expert system for medical diagnosis more than one without one? Who wouldn’t?

Real-life example (I know, they’re never insightful!): recently I went to an MD three times in a row complaining of various nasty GI symptoms. She said that because the results of a test were inconclusive, I could not be treated for H. pylori. Because this expert was a by-the-book status quosy person, I took it upon myself to do the necessary research and found out a host of information via the Internet (gasp!) that sufficed to convince her less-qualified assistant, a nurse practitioner, to dispense with the antibiotic therapy regardless of the test result.

I’m certainly glad I found someone less qualified, but more wise, to help me out. The product of my own initiative and use of the Internet for this process was a resolved infection.

<Elvis> Thank you, thank you very much </Elvis>.

nerfmissile's avatar

Bob rocks here, too.

hossman's avatar

Ho hum, nerfmissile. Perhaps while you are stating the obvious, you should examine your own links. Let’s see:

Your link to Offroad Robotic Vehicle: Only 5 of 23 vehicles were able to finish the race.
Avionics: Gee, I see they’re still using a pilot. Wonder why?
Chess: OK, some limited success here. Chess is less complex than real life.
Medical diagnosis: Nope. All of your links discuss the use of computer algorithms to supplement the diagnostic ability of medical professionals LARGELY OUTSIDE their areas of expertise. Still not replacing the value of a human expert. Am I more comfortable if my general practitioner is using a specialized otological database to diagnose my ear problem? Yup. Does this replace the value of an actual otologist? Nope.

So you have some limited anecdotes. Big deal. I don’t think you’re quite as adept at stating the obvious as you think. That much is obvious.

“People like you?” Wow. Not sure what that means, other than being a pathetic rhetorical device. Means nothing without a context. People like me. Wonder what that is supposed to mean. Do you know me? Seems to me you’re the one making assumptions. And if you wish to say I am . . . uninformed. . . then gird up thy loins, brother, and explain in what manner. Try some actual argument rather than tossing out a conclusory label, lest I find your persuasive technique . . . effete. Bob can tell you, you may disagree with me, but uninformed I’m not. Of course, if you’re relying on self-congratulatory Elvis impersonations, I’ll move on and not burst your bubble with logic and actual argument.

But to get back to your original topic, we see evidence of “burnout” and “oversaturation” of the American public all the time. At some point, Americans get tired of hearing about the economy, the war, etc. and some just want it to go away, and they don’t care how. Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of representative democracy is that the details of governance are handled for the citizenry. While I certainly acknowledge (who couldn’t?) there are tremendous opportunities for corruption, incompetence and just plain evil, these opportunities exist in any system, and I believe, IMHO, pure democracy would be even worse. Most of the politicians (not the same thing as bureaucrats) I know personally, even the ones I believe are incredibly wrong and misled, are sincerely trying to get something done for their constituents. Of course, I must admit the ones I know are probably not an accurate sample of the population of politicians. But part of what many Americans expect from government IS for somebody else to handle the details. Many people are far to busy with their own lives to be directly involved in governance.

Perhaps we need look no further than one of the prominent examples of pure democracy in our culture today, “American Idol.” Is this how we want our
governance to be determined? If we can’t pick a singer without allegations of voting fraud and irregularities, how will we set fiscal policy? There is a reason there was a huge difference between the conduct of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Part of it was the prevalence of pure democracy and mob rule in the French Revolution. Again, while we have plenty of problems, if anybody can give me an example where pure democracy has been effective on a large scale, I’d love to be proven wrong, as idealistically, I’d prefer pure democracy myself, but pragmatically, I don’t think it will work. Neither did much greater minds than mine when they wrote our Constitution.

nerfmissile's avatar

How did I end up arguing with a lawyer?! Our spectra are a little off, here, but I think we’re shining just about the same light.

Hossy, it seems that your fear of 1) mob rule and 2) Skynet/The Matrix have somehow led you to believe that I want us all to throw logic and justice out the window while we wait to become assimilated by intelligent machines. Anarchy followed by RESISTANCE IS FUTILE is just not what I’m advocating, here. Where did I say anything about humans being replaced? Career politicians, pastors, priests… representatives, in other words… yes, to an extent. I’d like to see more of a grassroots representative structure rather than John Harvard beginning his career as a lawyer, going to Washington and retiring a multimillionaire ten or twenty years later even though his official paycheck wouldn’t have gotten him there, if you get my gist. Graft, if you don’t. But I bet you did!

On my limited anecdotes

You’re a lawyer. You’re going to be able to pull apart even good arguments, turn them around and resell them as poo. You’re going to be able to get O.J. acquitted… so ho hums and big deals await ye in the mirror. And congrats, justice system, O.J. is still free!

On The Borg

First of all, I never claimed that systems were better than human brains for exceptional duties: just regular routines. And that expert systems are especially good at augmenting and informing the human brain… <Tyra Banks> NOT… not… NOT… replacing them on America’s Next Top Model. </Tyra Banks>

“Your link to Offroad Robotic Vehicle: Only 5 of 23 vehicles were able to finish the race.”

I encourage you to look into this some more… do a little research. Major car companies, not merely defense contractors, are creating autonomous systems/autopilots to take care of routine driving. This 5 of 23 vehicles scenario was offroad, in an irregular environment much more difficult to negotiate than roads.

“Avionics: Gee, I see they’re still using a pilot. Wonder why?”

Did I ever say they didn’t, or shouldn’t? No. Because, as I originally said, we still need human brains for exceptional situations while automated systems take care of routines.

“Chess: OK, some limited success here. Chess is less complex than real life.”

Chess is a limited routine, yes. This is where expert systems excel, where all of the potential ramifications are mapped. And kicking the ass of the world’s top human chess champion routinely is not “limited success”.

“Medical diagnosis: Nope. All of your links discuss the use of computer algorithms to supplement the diagnostic ability of medical professionals LARGELY OUTSIDE their areas of expertise. Still not replacing the value of a human expert.”

Thank you for aiding my argument for the usefulness of these systems… but I never said that human experts should be replaced. Merely augmented, and their roles changed.

“Am I more comfortable if my general practitioner is using a specialized otological database to diagnose my ear problem? Yup. Does this replace the value of an actual otologist? Nope.”

Totally agreed! There! Our point of harmony. Namaste, Herr Hoss.

On Direct Democracy

Everything you wrote after “But to get back to your original topic” totally resonates with me. I couldn’t agree more! And the idea of “pure” democracy scares me, probably because of the word “pure”. Perhaps you and I can agree that we don’t have direct democracy now because “pure” democracy doesn’t really work… and that’s most likely the case. We haven’t figured out how to make it work.

But we can fly to the moon. So, the next question becomes, why don’t we try harder? I submit to you that the status quo Establishment doesn’t want it to happen. The moon was a nifty nationalistic hat feather, but how can we have direct democracy AND the Pentagon? Personally I think we need both. But not “pure” democracy… this isn’t very thought out, but I’m thinking that the archaic system we have now is in danger because of 1) the Internet and 2) the “burnout” you speak of, which I think is fed by disenfranchisement… i.e., it’s easy to get burned out when you’re asked to vote but not being engaged, and your vote is next to meaningless because of not-so-arbitrary filters such as the electoral college.

Do you think, Herr Hoss, Esq., that there is a way, on some imaginary cloud that could possibly be pragmatized, to take our thesis/antithesis here and make a synthesis with public appeal that would actually engage the public? Is there a place where the imaginary world of “pure democracy” via the Internet meets the broken and corrupt world of “archaic bureaucracy” in a mutually beneficial way?

It’s already beginning to happen… we see candidate profiles and some political debates posted online. There’s a potential for electronic voting systems, though it hasn’t been realized due to technical/tampering concerns.

One excellent point you made is that without representatives, there’s no one to hold accountable but everyone and therefore no one. On the other hand, I don’t think our elite politicians are being held accountable—or the majority of them wouldn’t be retiring with Swiss bank accounts stuffed with under-the-table monies from PACs, etc.

nerfmissile's avatar

“The anonymity the Internet affords is part of what makes it untrustworthy.”

So true. So, what obvious and not-so-obvious things can be done to bridge the anonymity gap?

Here are some suggestions:

Localized government, such as townships, can ID, register and test individuals for candidacy to vote on issues grouped in topical areas. We set up a national curriculum for licensing voters on a categorical/scalar basis (local, national, global), something like Wikipedia with more controlled access for editing, as well as testing capability. This vehicle would allow both necessary historical perspective and documentation, but would also be editable on the fly, with “emergent” categories linked to reliable press feeds viewable as new entries are being made.

Local representatives, such as mayors, or a new type of position (congressmen and senators descended from Washington?), can serve to educate individuals on issues as objectively as possible (bias is inherent in any human system and it’s way inherent in the present system, so get over it) and host democractic town hall events to engage the members of the public who are interested enough to attend the meetings, register to vote and become certified to vote based on testing.

The licensed voter (educated/tested) is superior to the registered voter (citizen) and treated as such. Those who volunteer their time to participate in the local democratic process are given the power of the majority of today’s career politicians. Those who are merely citizens and registered to vote, but do not take the time to participate, continue to have the power they do today: to elect local officials and the President.

The structures of power flow from career politicians, who are few enough to be easily bribed and become mysteriously rich, toward meritorious people—so many of them that they cannot be effectively bribed. Each of them with the character of a volunteer who loves his or her country enough to donate time and effort.

But the Pentagon and the office of the President as commander-in-chief stand to coordinate military activity, as does the Constitution.

nerfmissile's avatar

And Congress? Senate? Perhaps the existing congressmen and senators would be best anointed as tenured professors of a new capital institution, a political athenaeum or university dedicated to establishing the national curriculum, educating licensed voters domestically and spreading democracy globally. A think tank with clout and experience like this might actually have the ability to steer our civilization out of present-day shortsighted confusion and gloom. Rather than creating an ever-amassing tangle of conflicting laws sparking gross inequities and inefficiencies and trillions in debt, these experts could be put to work creating a vision for the future of human civilization: proactively and preventively.

Forward-looking agency of note, as a possible model:
The Long Now – Wikipedia
The Long Now Foundation

hossman's avatar

I’m not sure which nerfmissile to respond to, the one with some decent analysis in the first two posts above, or the one with the effete and infantile comments of his two posts prior to those. I’ll take the high road and stick with the excellent comments in the last two.

I’m not sure I trust any institution to come up with the “curricula” to “educate” voters in a direct democracy. After all, garbage in, garbage out. I do like the concept of localizing government as much as possible, as I am a firm believer the federal government should only be concerned with those issues that cannot by their nature be addressed by state or local governments, such as common defense, treaties and trade agreements, interstate issues, and policing state and local government.

Your suggestion there would be two classes of voters, “licensed” voters and “registered” voters, while an interesting idea, falls into that category I’ve mentioned above of good ideas with unintended consequences. In the interest of brevity, I’ll only mention the most important, that such a tiered plan would certainly be held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, as prior efforts to require voters to be “tested” or “licensed” have all been rejected. Inherently, some special interest or minority group will claim their group is prejudiced by the test. Past attempts, for instance, to require that voters be merely literate have been struck down as inherently placing minorities at risk of having their voting power diminished.

I think we have also all been using the wrong “label” for our target. It appears you are trying to eliminate “career politicians,” not bureaucrats. Eliminating career politicians is most effectively addressed through term limits. Even in the various systems outlined, bureaucrats, meaning those nonelected officials that are responsible for the routine functioning of government, would still exist. Somebody has to shuffle the papers.

I would suggest an immediate partial solution which could address your concerns without invoking constitutionality issues and make politicians more accessible and accountable to their constituents. A large part of the problem with national politicians is the Beltway Syndrome. The current system requires federal politicians to spend so much time in Washington, away from their constituents and under the influence of each other, lobbyists and the bureaucracy, that they quickly lose touch, and maintaining their power base within the Beltway becomes more important than their role in the communities which elected them.

Given the communication power of the Internet, I see no real reason, other than fostering the elitism of the power brokers, to permit them to meet centrally. In fact, an argument could be made it is inherently insecure to have our power base in one location. Why not require legislators to office solely in their districts? Why not require them to meet and vote electronically, and excepting those meetings and votes which must remain closed for national security reasons, require their communications to be open to electronic access by the electorate? Make the lobbyists go to Wyoming to schmooze that Senator. At least then concerned activists could see who was going in and out the office door. At least you would have the ability to go right down to your Congresscritter’s office and make an appointment. If you couldn’t get one, you could at least camp outside and make your presence felt. Our state and federal officials would know what is going on in their district because they would spend their time there, not in Washington or the state capitals.

nerfmissile's avatar

Now we’re getting somewhere. Great answer, Hoss ( I voted for you: Great Answer! ), and nicely steeped in your insider perspective on politics. I was a little wary there for a while that we were getting off-issue and into personal territory, but I’m appreciating your entries more now.

It’s absolutely essential for the success of any systematic political reform 1) that it appeals to the power-brokers AND the people enough to draw interest and commitment ( a fact I sensed before you brought it more clearly into the light ) and 2) that it is “legal” and does not draw the usual darts from special interests, minorities, feminists, the Michigan Militia, etc. etc.

Telling the congressmen and senators that they have to do less while retaining their posts locally, and to decentralize Washington on a national security basis is both a plausible and brilliant strategy.

Thanks for establishing the point that, for the health and integrity of our county, it will be necessary to work within the existing system. The alternatives are pretty ugly.

Let’s just hope we can get some reforms done before we go from “multiple trillions in debt” to “meaningless” as a nation in a global sense.

What about the idea of converting the two-tier voting system into something that uses the existing structure? If the politicians move local, down from the Beltway, then what do we do to further engage and enfranchise voters at the grassroots level?

hossman's avatar

I’m not sure what you mean by “converting” the two-tier voting system. I don’t see anything even close to any form of tiered voting system passing constitutional review.

Engaging voters requires motivations unique to the voter. I myself am usually motivated by someone who seeks to “mandate” any behavior on my part. If George Soros and Warren Buffet feel they aren’t paying enough in taxes (which they both have said) then fine, they should write bigger checks. My problem is what they really mean, that I should pay more taxes. I suggest they lay off the accountants and lawyers that spend their lives finding ways these guys can avoid taxes, and they should just pay a flat rate. They should put their money where their mouth is. I am offended when Edwards tells me I should do something about poverty when he uses incorporation to avoid income taxes and is paid huge honorariums to talk about the poor. I resent Al Gore telling me to reduce my carbon emissions while he burns jet fuel and electricity. These are the things that motivate me.

Other taxpayers would be motivated by other things. Jackson found it very productive to buy whiskey for voters just before an election. Our own Gov. Blagojevich tells taxpayers with household incomes in the six figures that Illinois will subsidize their children’s health insurance. One man’s “grass roots motivation” is another man’s “buying votes.”

Part of what makes our legislators frequently look more evil than they really are (not that I’m any fan) is the sorts of “deals with the devil” they have to make in order to get anything done. Constituents may be upset their legislator, for instance, voted for an arms appropriation, not knowing that vote was the quid pro quo for their legislator to get another legislator to pass another bill allocating funds for an educational program benefiting the constituent’s children. The voters have neither the patience nor inclination to hear or appreciate an explanation of these matters, which is another reason why direct democracy won’t work. The majority would always win, the minority could never get their projects approved by “trading” support.

I am tempted to fall into the trap of longing for the good old days by presuming the American voter has lost a degree of patriotism since, say, World War II. By patriotism, I mean the willingness to place what is good for the country above what is good for the individual. This is merely my perception, I could certainly be wrong and looking at the past through rose colored glasses. I do, however, find it interesting Marcus Aurelius predicted the collapse of the Roman Empire, blaming the ever growing percentage of citizens who were dependent upon government programs to satisfy their needs and desires. Aurelius concluded not only did this stifle individual effort, but it lead to the voter voting for a larger government solely from a selfish desire for the voter to receive more from the bloated bureaucracy. As I said previously, we are somewhat arrogant in thinking the evils of today are somehow unique. But like Aurelius, I find more Americans willing to push for what benefits themselves, either heedless of the effect on the nation, or willingly and selfishly accepting a negative net result so long as they themselves prosper.

Perhaps, as another thread has suggested, we should adopt the Israeli and Swiss models and require every citizen to serve a minimum term in the armed forces. At least every citizen would then have some appreciation for the potential stakes involved in governance, and have some personal risk.

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