Friday, 14 August 2015

Representative Democracy: The Work of Cthulhu

Liberal Democracy is perhaps the most congruent style of government for a progressive society. But how is it that in progressive societies, like Canada, the United States, New Zealand, UK or Australia get policies so at odds with methods that have demonstrated advantages over what is being offered by the present government's of these countries?

Perhaps the secret to this problem lies in the style of these governments. Representative democracy promises that parties represent the will of a nations people, and since everyone wants and even expects their will to be represented it certainly sounds good. But where do these parties get advice on the will of the people? Mostly from special interest groups, whose representations of the the people's may be quite selective at best, or otherwise distorted. 

In any event, the parties form their policies good and bad and offer them up as promises to the voting public. This presents the public with a complicated decision, boiling down and balancing long and short term advantages and disadvantages to a choice between two our six parties or candidates depending on the particular electoral system.

Often strong support for a particular policy direction is almost completely ignored by this calculation. Climate Change/energy policy for example was lost in a media frenzy focused on slamming the Australian Labour Party, leading to the most right wing government  that Australia has seen in the best part of a century.  Similarly climate change/energy policy in New Zealand is going backwards with the government sand bagging real progress with weak targets, and the crippling of the emissions trading scheme. All despite the prime minister's assertions that "we are 100% pure", ignoring the Cadmium in the farm land and the Nitrogen in the fresh water ways.

One big problem in New Zealand is child poverty with 1 in 4 children in poverty. The breakfast in schools programme was squeezed out as a public/private partnership that scale to address just 10% of children in need. This is not how tithing is supposed to work.

So the voter is rarely presented with a clear choice from which to choose clear policy directions.

Participatory democracy, or issue driven democracy, reduces the confusion by unbundling irrelevant policy directions from each other.  Why should we accept weaker pollution standards because we want to allow gay people to marry? We shouldn't it is a clear non sequitur and yet as voters we are regularly offered such false choices.

Switzerland offers an interesting example of how issue driven public policy making can work. The Swiss vote for people to work in various issues, and they vote on the work product, economic policy is considered separately from social policy, which in turn is considered separately from environment policy and labour policy. Leaving the voter to tie the threads together.  Over time this has led to better public policy and a more politically aware population. Sure policy mistakes will happen, but these are also corrected by the same process.

Meanwhile in representative democracy problems are only fixed when the wealthy and powerful lobby government or mass popular movements push for change. Here is where we find Cthulhu's tentacle, you will notice that governments respond to lobbyists backed by money much faster than popular mass movements. Lobbyists and the moneyed interests they represent care little for the good order of the system, only for what they can get out of it. Good order of the system is only of concern when the system breaks down and they are less able to exploit it. Thus Cthulhu is served by keeping the system on the brink of collapse.

So we see deregulation of building, extraction,  finance and other sectors; weakening of social safety net programmes at the same time electoral hopefuls promise jobs  and prosperity if only they are elected to remove trade barriers and regulations designed to prevent the system from collapsing eg Glass-Steagal which kept American banks from breaking Wall Street and the broader economy for 80 years.

In representative democracy, a special interest group only has to capture the ear of maybe a few dozen influential politicians in a major political party to get their will expressed in public policy, if not in the current electoral term then in a later one - these SIGs can be patient. But in participatory democracy, SIGs have to make their case to the people in order to gain votes in the referenda. This process is harder to corrupt, which is why Cthulhu, Wall Street, Walmart(US), and Koch Industries(US), Fletcher Building(NZ), Fonterra(NZ), Affco(NZ), Ports of Auckland,  do not like it. 

His Noodliness, The Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce be upon him) prefers participatory democracy, because it allows for communities to develop strong solutions to the issues they face, and hijacking of the process is less effective.  It is also less of and insult to the intelligence of the voting public.  Sadly representative democracy has devolved into oligarchy, To fix it will require a political revolution, which the oligarchs will not embrace, they will certainly distract us with nonsense wedge issues and shiny new things where they can, and simply dismiss the idea as absurd if forced to address it. We can develop a mass movement, right? They let us  have that option.

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