We Need More Democracy

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The other night I watched Requiem for the American Dream about Noam Chomsky. He said something that surprised me. Chomsky talked about how the amount of democracy was variable. That the history of the United States showed democracy ebbing and flowing. I always thought democracy was an either or situation. Chomsky said the people who rule in a democracy usually wanted less democracy. We can certainly see that happening now.

Requiem for an American Dream

This documentary is currently showing on Netflix and other online sources.

This got me to thinking. How do we get more democracy? This is a rather tough problem because of the people in power controls the amount of democracy. If we want to change things we have to plan end-runs around their power.

This morning a friend sent me an email about 5 Calls. It’s both a website and app for your smartphone. All it does it help you call your representatives. If a bill is coming up, it provides information on that bill. Evidently, our representatives value phone calls over other means of letting them know what we think.

What I find revealing is when Congress votes opposite of what their constituents want. Today the Republicans are trying to ram through a repeal of Obamacare, yet if we look at the polls, Americans don’t want that. Is that democracy?

If we had maximum democracy every registered voter would vote on every bill without using representatives. Since we have a representative democracy, our elected proxies should vote the way we want. Often, this doesn’t happen because they work for a minority rather than the majority. This is called an oligarchy, and since our oligarchs are rich, we call our form of oligarchy a plutocracy. I guess that’s fancier label than Rule by Billionaires.

Interestingly, Chomsky talked about how in ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy, the minority rulers also wanted to limit democracy. Recently I read White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America which chronicled the history of various American leaders who wanted to shape the nation and how they dealt with the democracy problem. The ruling elite has always sought ways to marginalize our needs in favor of their wants.

What we need is a shadow democracy that exactly shows our wishes. A system that allows registered voters to vote from their smartphones with perfect validation. The results should be public and separate from the current legal voting system. So for every issue, referendum, bill, law, etc. that comes up, we could have a peoples’ vote. Then we could compare the peoples’ votes to the representatives’ votes. Over time representatives might have to pay more attention to our votes than the plutocrats who currently run the system.

Since smartphones have fingerprint sensors, GPS locators, and other tools for ID validations, it should be possible to develop a system where legally registered voters re-register with the people’s voting system. It should be a system that has near foolproof validation for controlling one vote per qualified voter. Having a voting app on your smartphone should make voting so easy that we’d get very high turnouts.

This system wouldn’t replace the current legal voting system, but be a tool to fight backroom political shenanigans. By comparing the two systems a real time voting record could be made for every representative to show how well they supported the desires of their constituents.

There’s a book version of Requiem for the American Dream. Both the book and film cover ten ways those in power stay in power:

  1. Reduce democracy
  2. Shape ideology
  3. Redesign the economy
  4. Shift the burden
  5. Attack solidarity
  6. Run the regulators
  7. Engineer elections
  8. Keep the rabble in line
  9. Manufacture consent
  10. Marginalize the population

What the population at large needs to do is invent ten ways to control their elected representatives. The trouble is we can’t expect them to change the laws to reduce their own power. The electoral college benefits political parties, not people. Politicians don’t want referendums because it cuts into their power. They don’t want laws on contributions because it cuts into their power. We should have a law against voting on combining bills because that lets them make deals that benefit each other.

The 2016 election seemed to be a vote against Washington, but Donald Trump hasn’t changed the power structure or increased democracy. In fact, he seems hell-bent to give more power to the plutocracy.

Noam Chomsky quote

Our country is facing a wealth inequality crisis. It will probably destroy us before climate change does. In fact, it’s easier to solve climate change than wealth inequality. It’s understandable why the plutocrats are against doing anything about either problem. Fixing wealth inequality and climate change will cost them wealth and power. Of course, we have to live with the poverty and climate change chaos.

Increasing democracy might break the deadlock. But then again, it might not. Among my most cynical friends, there is no hope for the future. I like to think all problems have possible solutions. To solve many of our problems will require more democracy to create a sustainable form of capitalism. Right now capitalism is destroying the environment and distilling the wealth to a very few. My cynical friends will be right if we can’t change that.

JWH

 

7 thoughts on “We Need More Democracy”

  1. Interesting idea. What about the digital divide and privacy? Not everyone owns a smartphone. Some parts of the country don’t have broadband nor good cell coverage. And any system can be hacked and hijacked. Just ask the Russians.

    1. I tend to think most people will eventually own smart phones. Even in the developing world, smartphones are becoming more common. It might even be important to subsidize them with poor people because it would be unfair to have a digital divide.

      We now use 2-step authentication with our banks. With smartphones, we probably could have 5-step identification: fingerprint, voice print, password, phone number, and GPS. We could add more. Also, the backend software could be used to track attacks on the system. It should be far superior to voting booth machines.

      But the point would be real-time data on the public’s opinions. This should be several magnitudes better than a Pew or Gallop poll. Decisions could be made on specific issues rather than party lines. That should break up the polarization of the country.

      1. All that is well and good but I am very skeptical of ‘real-time data on the public’s opinions’ because more often than not ‘mob rules’ and I don’t care for mobs nor groupthink.

        Yes, I would prefer a referendum like democracy but the reality is those in power will continue to be corrupted by their power until those of us with pitchforks start some fires.

      2. Just people we have the public’s opinion doesn’t mean it has power. But such information would be valuable.

        The reason why we have a representative government is that the founding fathers feared mob rule. The elite always wants to believe they are right and the majority is wrong. But that still brings us back to the problem of the plutocracy.

        We need more democracy because the plutocrats are about the destroy the nation. There are two ways to solve this problem. The first involves inventing new systems to counter their power without expecting them to change the rules. The second, which is the basis of all history, is a revolution. Look what’s happening in Venezuela right now. Do we want to endure such social chaos to rebalance the system?

        What do you suggest to bring government more in line with the desires of the population?

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