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Caravanfan's avatar

What are your opinions regarding representative vs. direct democracy?

Asked by Caravanfan (2493points) 1 week ago

Specifically I’m talking about the passing of laws. In California (and many other states) we have an initiative process where the population can pass or reject laws on themselves. Often they are funding measure that can involve billions of dollars. Do you agree with this direct democracy, or do you agree with a more representative democracy (where you vote for people who vote on the laws)?

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14 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

Direct democracy (initiative process) is essentially a slap in the face of the legislature. It means that the legislature has failed to do its job and represent the people, and as a result the people have had to do an end run around them. Direct democracy, no matter how well-meaning the initiatives are, is essentially mob rule.

Representative democracy, when it works, is better and safer. A responsive legislature is wonderful when it is responsive. The problem nowadays is gerrymandering and special interests that are not representing the needs of the people.

@Caravanfan, you need to frame the question a slight bit differently. In an ideal world which is better, direct or representative democracy?. Right now we don’t have an ideal world.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I agree that the escalating resort to the initiative process is the result of the failure of the legislature to act in the public interest.

Demosthenes's avatar

I lived in California for many years. I remember the constant complaints about the city council of the town I lived in and their failure to get anything done and their capitulating to big business. Direct democracy does seem more appealing when representative democracy produces corrupt, ineffective legislators.

I don’t think direct democracy is particularly practical. Imagine having elections every week. That’s probably what it would take to get through the amount of initiatives that your average local government deals with (let alone a state or federal government), and most of them would be so mundane that they would discourage people from participate.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

Direct democracy can lead to tyranny of the majority, which is why I believe we are in many of the situations we are in today.
The majority(or those who can influence the majority) can take away rights from the minority.

From what I understand, the founding fathers feared being a democracy over a constitutional republic due to tyranny of the majority.

Caravanfan's avatar

@elbanditoroso Actually I framed it exactly how I wanted to. I wasn’t interested in people’s opinion on ideal worlds. But I agree with your post.

zenvelo's avatar

There was a book out in the late 60s about this, (Superstoe) that people could vote on things via their television. Every body loved it at first but then people got tired of it and then laws could be passed with only a dozen people voting.

The initiative process in California is good, but too often, corporations use it to get their own agenda onto the ballot, because the legistature knows what the corporation wants is not in the best interests of the people. For instance, next week there is a proposition to limit profitability of dialysis clincs. It was put on the ballot by the Service Emplyees Union.

Caravanfan's avatar

@zenvelo Your example is an excellent example of why the initiative process is broken. The general population has absolutly no business making dialysis policy.

Jaxk's avatar

In your question you say “the population can pass or reject laws on themselves”. That’s not what happens. People pass or reject laws on others. The dialysis example mentioned above is a case on point. Most of the voters will never have used the service nor worked in the industry. They will be voting on something that doesn’t affect them. Laws these days are very complex and have wide ranging implications. Just because a representative doesn’t vote the way you want doesn’t mean they are corrupt and just because they do vote the way you want doesn’t mean they are doing the right thing. Most people don’t have the time to do sufficient research to make an intelligent decision on issues that they know nothing about. A republic is a good system. Yes there is corruption and yes we make mistakes but it is the best system available. People can get as involved as they want and still enjoy time with friends and family. If you force people to get more involved than they want or can afford, you’ll get worse decisions not better.

noitall's avatar

My reply is off topic a bit, as I’m not treating the ‘versus’ part of the question: I don’t like either direct or representative democracy, because in any kind of democracy I’ve ever seen, the majority abuses, takes advantage of, or discriminates against the minorities (by which I mean any kind of minority). That said, I also can’t think of a better system than democracy, as autocratic or despotic rule has even more downsides. Specifically, even if there is a great dictator or monarch for their lifetime, the next person can be horrible. Constitutional democracies, ones like in the U.S. where we have a bill of rights, are better. The problem is that the rights are ‘interpreted’ by, for example, Supreme Court justices who are appointed by a President who has a particular political bias. So it’s really pretty hopeless to expect any form of government to be fair to everyone in a country. Anarchy or feudalism, however, can be even worse, as we know from history. So, unless one happens to be in a privileged situation with regard to elected leaders at the time, one is screwed. Again, though, there is no solution. You can go out and try to get your candidate elected or your proposition passed, but ultimately the majority rules, and that majority may not want to treat your own minority equitably—in fact they probably won’t: they have their own wants and desires and prejudices to take care of. So, again, any government, or lack of government, is a pretty hopeless situation as far as having a wise, just, society, because ultimately people are all out for themselves and their own.

Irukandji's avatar

This question is a bit of a mess, which might be why it received such disjointed answers. First of all, you can’t agree or disagree with direct or representative democracy. You can only support or oppose them. Second, direct and representative democracy are both comprehensive systems. What you are asking about is the plebiscite system used in some US states, which can be more or less direct (depending on how much power the state’s legislature has to review or reject the proposal) and does not necessarily conform to the standards of direct legislation that characterizes direct democracy. Since the plebiscite system already exists within the context of a representative democracy (the United States), they obviously aren’t mutually exclusive.

So what I think you’re trying to ask is what we think of the plebiscite system and whether we think it should be expanded. Because again, the two can coexist. A plebiscite system can also be constrained so that only some matters are up for public review. So if you think that the masses aren’t qualified to decide on some things, those can be taken off the list of things that they’re allowed to vote on via referendum. With that understanding, I think that the plebiscite system should be expanded to all 50 states. But I don’t think it should apply to everything. Letting the people vote on amendments to a state’s constitution seems like an important check on legislatures (and mirrors the way that the states have to approve amendments to the US Constitution). Voting on other people’s basic civil rights, however, seems a bit more dodgy.

Caravanfan's avatar

The question is a mess on purpose because I wanted to foment discussion. It worked :-)

Thomasmariel's avatar

Healthy government is a civilisation without any central government. Any central government is the creation of violence, therefore between the two options I would have to go for Direct Democracy

Caravanfan's avatar

@Thomasmariel So you are an anarchist? (I don’t mean that negatively.)

stanleybmanly's avatar

Is civilization possible without bureaucracy?

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