Wednesday, November 5, 2008

More democratic

I believe that democracy is a better way to make decisions, even more than the framers of our constitution did. The process they set up is one of limited democracy, with only direct popular election of congressmen. Election of presidents is by the state (used to be many states didn't use direct popular election, but picked electors in their state legislator), and most other positions are appointed without any popular involvement. I'd like to see things more democratic. Perhaps the reason that we have such low turnout at elections (even in yesterday's historically high turnout) is because voters recognize how undemocratic it is. But making things more democratic is not so simple as increasing the number of things we vote on, it also matters how you vote and what voting does. So how could we make a system that is more democratic?

The first thing to get rid of is indirect election. The most unpopular for of indirect election is the electoral college. Put to a vote, it would probably promptly eliminated. Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek makes an interesting comments about the Electoral College, that it is inconsistent for people to complain about how the electoral college is not democratic enough and yet not complain about other ways in which we are disproportionately or indirectly represented, like the Senate. I, on the other hand, harbor no inconsistency. I'm not too worried that the electoral college disproportionately distributes votes or in indirect. My biggest problem is that, by requiring a candidate to win a majority of electors and not just a plurality, it pushes it towards a two-party system. More choices is definitely more democratic, which is an even better reason to get rid of the electoral college (admittedly,there are bigger barriers than just the electoral college to third parties). Even better would be to get rid of all indirect representation. Better to have the people vote on new laws and not congressmen. I think many would object that the average voter can't vote knowledgeably or intelligently vote on bills, being not as well informed as professional lawmakers. But I think people completely overestimate the congressmen's knowledge of the bills they vote into law: they don't read most of them, they don't understand the repercussions of most of them, they sort of know the basic gist of the laws, but they primarily take into account which bills will best cultivate the image they want to present for their voters and thus are most likely to secure reelection (or which will best favor special interests who might benefit their campaign). At least direct voting would only permit laws that the people wanted, and it would certainly radically slow down the rate of buildup of the arteriosclerosis of excessive law. The big losers would be the lawyers.

Of course, the down side of this, is that people do make bad decision and we're sort of stuck with bad laws once we naively vote them in place. A good way to improve this would be to permit changeable votes. If I voted for a law or an official but changed my mind, I can withdraw my vote, and if they lose enough votes, then they're eliminated. Vice versa, I could also switch my nea to a yay, to bolster a law or official I had opposed. We could even somehow integrate the influx of newly registered voters, so that they could vote for or against laws that have already been passed, and thus add support to a law or increase the likelihood of its rejection. That would make it much more democratic.

Robert Lawson at Division of Labor also makes another comment about what he doesn't like about presidential voting, that, if you're in the minority, you're forced to go along with the majority. He contrasts this to a group of people voting on which restaurant to go to: this is better because you've always got the option of opting out if you really don't like the results. In the presidential election you can't opt out if the outcome isn't to your favor. I think this issue could be addressed. With elected officials, the simplest way would be a form of power-sharing. Let's say Obama gets 51% of the popular vote. He would thereby get 51% of the power, and maybe McCain would get 47% of the power, and the other 2% would go to various minor candidates. Dividing power wouldn't be too difficult for many duties. And, if in addition, votes were also changeable, and people who didn't vote had the option of adding their vote later, the power of officials could vary over time. How you might do the same thing with laws that are voted on by the people, I don't know. Maybe you'd have to simply settle with making most of them all or none, for lack of a better solution.

One of my favorite parts of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein, is when the characters, at the beginning of a lunar revolt for lunar sovereignty, are thinking about how to form a new government in ways that the American Founding Fathers didn't. It's interesting to think about. I would make it far more democratic. I don't know if I'd go to an absolute extreme of direct democracy on everything, like people voting on Supreme Court cases. In this day and age, with the technology for voting, the possibility of actually putting into place such measures, even in a county as vast and populous as ours, is possible, and we could very well go even further than the direct democracy of the ancient Athenians. Admittedly, it would have many flaws, but the real questions is, "is it better in the aggregate?" I also don't take into consideration certain questions, like "is it more democratic to have no government at all?" or "should I participate in such an undemocratic voting procedure as it stands" or "is the free market more democratic than this elective, legal process?" Maybe another time.

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