Sunday, March 31, 2013

DD=OO: Direct Democracy is the Only Option

The Problem:
Karina asked this question on Is direct democracy good for state government?

The Solution:

Direct Democracy is the only way forward because:

  1. It ensures that decisions are made by the biggest possible group which reduces the possibility of elite capture of government.
  2. It encourages everybody to take part in debate which not only ensures people are more aware about important issues, diversity will ensure that solutions are better and more creative as proven by crowdsourcing.
  3. It allows everybody to propose issues that are important to them so the debate is about things that matter to large parts of the population, not only to specific interests.
But if it would be easy to do, some would have tried already. Luckily, information technology has allowed new ways to organizing. Efficiency remains the biggest challenge but it can be solved as follows:
  1. Everybody can propose issues for discussion on a government facebook page
  2. If 2% of the eligible voters click like on a proposal, it is put up for discussion.
  3. Everybody can have their say or make changes to the proposal, but to encourage compromise and limit the range of ideas, amendments must be voted up. The submitter of the original idea can revise a proposal taking into account various amendments to improve the quality of the proposal using the wisdom of the crowd and to increase the support for the proposal from a wider group.
  4. Once the proposal is final, everybody can say whether they are for or against. Again statements can be voted up. 
  5. From experience everybody knows that crowdsourcing relies on a very small group of people to contribute (the so called 1%), there are about 9% that are willing to vote up a proposal. The remaining 90% is silent but should not be voiceless! Therefore, voting cannot be done on a voluntary basis as we will reduce the voting public to the 10% active citizens. So here comes the crucial part of the solution: rather than asking everybody to vote on everything, we need to demand that a random sample of all eligible citizens votes on each proposal. If you demand 600 randomly selected citizens to vote, the result will be much more representative than when you ask all citizens to vote and only 70% actually vote (which is a very high figure for turn out). It is certainly more representative than asking 600 parliamentarians...

The Transition:
This is how direct democracy can work. But let's keep discussing, I am sure that the crowd has even better ideas.

Stealing from the Swiss!

The Problem:

The Swiss are often in the news because they have a system of direct democracy. While this is not really the case as Switzerland has a parliament (national council), it is true it uses referendums once in a while. 
In 2012 for example, the Swiss population was asked 12 questions in 4 referendums of which 4 questions were adopted. Just as a comparison, US congress introduced 3914 bills in 2012 of which 61 were adopted, and that was their worst performance since WOII. 

From experience the Swiss know that asking the People more often than 4 times a year is counterproductive because fewer people will show up. Participation in any election has already dropped below 50% in Switzerland, so any vote can be approved by 25% or less of the electorate. That is probably better than asking 200 parliamentarians but it falls short of direct democracy. Or at least, we can do better.

The Solution:

But there are little gems in the Swiss system: any proposal that gets 100,000 signatures (that is less than 2% of the registered voters) will have to be considered in a referendum. That is a beautiful idea that this blog fully supports.
But the most beautiful part of the Swiss system is not used to its fullest. Each time the Swiss have a referendum, a random sample of the population is selected to count the votes. That is of course a waste of time and resources. But the random sampling is perfect and the referendum should be replaced by asking this randomly selected group to vote for the Swiss population. The result would be closer to the will of the Swiss People then the referendum result. And a lot cheaper too. That is what I would call direct democracy.

The Transition

The key elements of Agile Direct Democracy already exist and have been tested. It is just a matter of putting them together into a functioning system.