Thought Experiment On Democracy (The Non-Boring Kind)

I imagine that after last week, everybody is sick of politics, elections, and democracy in general. Believe me, I feel your pain. I almost long for the days when the news dedicated most of its time to what was going on with Kim Kardashian’s ass. Now that the 2016 Election is over, we can all stop fighting the urge to throw a brick at our TVs.

Now don’t worry. This post is not going to be about politics, at least not in the Anderson Cooper type tradition. I remain committed to keeping this blog relatively free of overly political bullshit that would otherwise kill the sexy mood I’m trying to create with my novels. While there are some political undertones in this topic, it’s not the kind that make most people want to beat each other to death with a sack of hammers.

This post is about something a bit more thought-provoking, at least that’s my hope. It’s another thought experiment. I’ve posed them before on this blog on other topics like disease and attitudes towards jealousy. I think it’s helpful to get people thinking about a difficult issue and this is as difficult as it comes these days.

More than anything else, the 2016 election in America highlights the flaws in democracy. It is prone to the irrational, irresponsible whims of our caveman brains. Those brains are wired in a way where we don’t give enough of a damn about what is actually true and instead go with how something makes us feel.

This is why demagogues, hypocrites, liars, cheaters, and reality TV stars can run for office and actually win. These people are smart enough to understand that the mass public doesn’t care if you’re a liar or a cheat. If you tell them what they want to hear and make them feel good, they’ll vote for you.

This is exactly why even the great Winston Churchill was critical of democracy. He said it himself.

Democracy, as beautiful a thing it is, has room for improvement. It’s definitely an improvement on the Game of Thrones style governments of the past where kings could routinely spit on peasants and shoot them for sport if he wanted. There are still tyrants in this world, but their governments tend to fail miserably in the long run. Just look at North Korea.

So rather than just throw democracy out entirely, why not give it some added polish? Why not look for ways to make it better? The Founding Fathers of America did that. People often forget that the first form of government they chose wasn’t the Constitution. It was the Articles of Confederation, which was so flawed that it didn’t even last a decade.

With that in mind, let’s channel the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and look at our current forms of government, not just in America, but all around the world. How do we improve it? How do we make it better, more efficient, and more just?

It’s a hard (if not impossible) question to answer. Many have tried though. Listverse even compiled a list of bizarre, hypothetical governments that have never been tried, but do seek to make improvements over the current system.

Some aren’t all that radical. The concept of the Perfect Commonwealth or Jeffersonian Democracy all have concepts that are fairly well-rooted in the real world, if not historically, then most certainly practically. Then, you get much weirder concepts like Liquid Democracy or Technocracy, which require more imagination than bureaucracy.

These are all interesting/strange/downright crazy ideas. So for the sake of this argument, let’s keep them all in mind as we conjure a better form of democracy. Let your imagination go a little crazy and conjure a government that might actually work in the real world.

Having done this thought experiment already in my own slightly crazy brain, I have an idea I’d like to share. It’s not something James Madison would probably approve of, but here it is. I even have a name for it.

Negative Democracy

Now don’t let the name scare you. I’m not talking about a democracy that will allow the King Joffrey’s of the world to reign supreme. I’m talking about a form of democracy that takes the current flaws, turns them upside down, and keeps them there so that the current corruption doesn’t get a chance to return.

So how does it work? Well, it goes like this:

  • There are three tiers: local, state, and federal
  • The local tier elects its leaders by popular vote
  • The state tier elects its governor by popular vote, but legislators are appointed by the local-elected officials
  • The federal tier elects its congressperson by popular vote, but the president/prime mister is appointed by a 2/3 vote by state governors
  • Every year on the first Saturday of November, the people can vote to remove any appointed and/or elected representative at any level if the vote is greater than 2/3 of the population

I know it’s basic, crude, and simplistic. I’m no Thomas Jefferson. That much, I admit. However, I make these points to highlight one key component of Negative Democracy that makes it unique.

It doesn’t focus as much on electing officials to public office as it does on removing those who don’t do a good job. Here in America, we do way too good a job at electing incompetent officials. The Constitution says a lot about how to elect these officials. It says far less about removing them.

That’s the key, Negative Democracy. You remove the incompetent, corrupt elements of government in hopes of allowing better, more qualified officials to fill the void. At some point, somebody who isn’t a total screw-up should come to power. Even politics is subject to the law of averages.

The second key is that democratic elections be held on the local and state level for the most part. Why is this important? That’s because people tend to be more in tuned with the officials in their neighborhood. They’re more likely to interact with the mayor or city council than they are a senator or a President.

As such, those local officials are closer to their constituents. They’re more likely to know them personally and when you know someone personally, you’re less likely to screw them over. It’s one thing for total strangers to hate you. For your own community to turn against you is pretty powerful. Only a select few have the ego and cruelty to try a terrible stunt like that.

Under this system, most of the federal officials are appointed and don’t have to run an election campaign. They can still be voted out of office every year if their constituents don’t like what they’re doing, but the key is they don’t run expensive, dishonest campaigns in the first place. They get appointed, they go to the capital, and they do their job.

If you think that might be prone to corruption, I don’t doubt there’s a chance. There’s a chance for corruption in every form of human-centered governance. It’s just a matter of managing the incentives to cheat as much as possible.

There’s a reason why the Judicial Branch of government in America gets less press and is often seen as the most effective branch. It gets to exercise Judicial Independence. Judges in this branch don’t have to run for office and they don’t need to be re-elected. They can, in principle, lose their jobs if they do something egregious, but those instances are rare.

So much time, energy, and money is spent on just electing officials. In a large, diverse country like the United States, that’s wholly impractical. For every country and society, the emphasis of all government should be to maintain rule of law, protect people from harm, and manage public services. It’s a difficult, if not impossible task to accomplish, but it’s too important not to be improved upon.

With this in mind, I challenge others to conduct this same thought experiment. What sort of new government system would you come up with? What would you call it? How would it work? Share it! During these trouble timed, these are definitely ideas worth exploring.

1 Comment

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

One response to “Thought Experiment On Democracy (The Non-Boring Kind)

  1. Pingback: Another (Potentially Distressing) Thought Experiment | Jack Fisher's Official Publishing Blog

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