Serving The Common Interest

To the extent we believe democracy should fit Lincoln's ideal of "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people", we must not ignore the 'by the people' clause. What has evolved in the United States is not government "by the people", it is a pseudo-democracy governed by the parasitical vested interests that control our nation's political parties.

Nothing in our Constitution expresses or implies the need for political parties. They are an extra-Constitutional invention, devised to advance private interest. In the more than two centuries since our Constitution was adopted, our political system has degenerated, becomming inbred and corrupt. One hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt[1] warned us about "the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics", and Robert Michels[2] described the Iron Rule of Oligarchy:

"It is indisputable that the oligarchical and bureaucratic tendency of party organization is a matter of technical and practical necessity. It is the inevitable product of the very principle of organization ... Its only result is, in fact, to strengthen the rule of the leaders, for it serves to conceal from the mass a danger which really threatens democracy."

To date, we have not heeded that guidance. Instead of a democracy, we have a top-down political system that is incapable of serving the common interest. Constructive resolution of political issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to recognize the value in the various points of view, from the people's perspective. That is impossible for legislators elected to represent partisan interests.

If we are to serve the common interest, we must devise a bottom-up arrangement of political participation that lets the people decide the issues that concern them and the individuals they want to represent them in their government.

Have we the wit to conceive such a structure?

Fred

[1] Progressive Platform of 1912
http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=607
[2] Robert Michels, Political Parties,
http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/michels/polipart.pdf

Comments

"parasitical vested interests"

What has evolved in the United States is not government "by the people", it is a pseudo-democracy governed by the parasitical vested interests that control our nation's political parties.

I think that here, we all agree on that. See Are Capitalism and Democracy Incompatible?, a commentary on a diary that reaches more or less the same conclusions.

Fred, in some ways, your opinions are different from and complementary to those held by current active members like Michael, Adrian or myself. Please check the poll: What can we do to improve our democracy?, add any new option that you'd prefer and then vote.

Progressive Party

You quote the Progressive Platform of 1912. I admit that I don't know much about that period of American history. I had to dig wikipedia for some contextual information:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressivism_in_the_United_States
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Era
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt
and more importantly:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Party_(United_States,_1912)

I found all of this very interesting, so I created a new page on the policy wiki for "Democracy" and added a reference to the above in it:
http://minguo.info/usa/wiki/democracy
[Edit: I moved Progressive Platform quote to this page: http://minguo.info/usa/wiki/money_politics ]

What amazes me is that the same problems that we decry today were already seen as rampant problems exactly 100 years ago! It puts some of our perceptions into perspective!

Also, it's amazing how political parties change over time. The Republican and the Democrats seem to have switched positions several times over the last century. There is no way I would vote for a Republican today, but back in the 1900's... they seemed to be the progressive party, with Teddy Roosevelt as their standard bearer! I probably would have been a Republican back then! (and maybe I was, in a previous life! ;))

Practical Democracy

For information, here is Fred's former blog:
http://whither-democracy.blogspot.tw/

Delegable Proxy

Fred,

One aspect I like from your proposal is the delegated proxy system. It is to a fair extent very similar to the concept of "Free Associations with Delegable Proxy" that Abd ul-Rahman Lomax has been promoting. Unfortunately, his former web site and articles on the subject is no longer available.

Delegable proxy is implemented at minguo, although the implementation is a bit rough. That's why we don't actually use it for the time being. If you are interested, we can discuss this more, see the differences and similarities, and to what extent we could use and improve the possibilities that already exists here.

Delegable Proxy

Good Morning, Augustin

I understand how you can see the Practical Democracy proposal as a method of delegating one's proxy, but I prefer to see it as choosing a person I believe has the qualities needed to address and resolve my concerns. The problem, to my mind, is where the focus lies.

Delegated proxy keeps the focus on me: "I'm giving you my proxy to do what I want". I don't think that's a good idea. What I want is but one want in a multitude of wants. It is only important to the extent others share the same want.

Practical Democracy keeps the focus on the person selected: "I'm choosing you because I believe you are the best person to resolve our commone concerns." You are my representative, in part, because I believe you have good judgment.

A very important distinction

I like the distinction you make. You're pointing at something that has been bothering me for a long time, both as the host in this web site, and as a concerned citizen in general.

The way you put it clarifies many things for me. I'd like to use this site's resources to explore those concepts (delegation, motivation, etc.) that are key elements of our imperfect democracies.

I just put 3 days straight, 12 hours a day, polishing the code of this web site, fixing annoying bugs, etc. I need to get back to my regular duties, but I'll come back soon and create some wiki pages to cover those concepts, maybe create a poll or two...

Have you covered those topics in greater details before? I'd like to read more about your take on it. Maybe add it to your book, here.

Good Morning, Augustin I'm

Good Morning, Augustin

I'm glad you replied to this post because I, too, think the distinction between self and representative is important. I do hope we can dig a little deeper into the topic.

I often wonder what will happen when, in some community, the Practical Democracy process reaches about the 5th level. By that time, most of the people who advanced are people who want to get elected. Now, three of them spend time together, trying to select one person to advance. I think that's going to be pretty intense - and it will get more intense as the levels advance. It seems to me that some triads will be unable to make a selection because none of the participants wants one of the others to be chosen.

You ask if I've ever looked at this before. I've been thinking aobut it for a long time. I wrote about BELIEF about 20 years ago. It's a look at the nature of belief in religion, but I think it is directly related to this topic.

It's not directly political, but it seems to me it explains why the strong take advantage of the weak. To me, the idea is very powerful. Unfortunately, since it describes the topic in terms of religion, religious thoughts tend to mask the significance I'm trying to describe. I'll send it to you, if you wish.

Fred

A Post Copied Here to Allow Deeper Discussion

On February 22, 2017, Gareth Adamson posted this comment on Quora regarding Practical Democracy:

Interesting idea. Needs to be tried somewhere to find out how practical it really is.

I wonder whether it really would get rid of parties, though. There would be plenty of opportunities for party leaders to come a-cropper at the different levels. Nonetheless it might be mainly party figures, with their professional persuasive ability, who came through, and would be in position to lead at the end of the process.

If that was the case, this system might share plurality voting's tendency to give the largest or best organised minority untrammeled power. Letting people declare their political tendencies beforehand and grouping them on that basis would counteract this tendency. To what extent, only experiment could show.

Gareth Adamson's Comment, Copied From Quora

This comment was posted on Quora, 02/22/17, by Gareth Adamson:

Interesting idea. Needs to be tried somewhere to find out how practical it really is.

I wonder whether it really would get rid of parties, though. There would be plenty of opportunities for party leaders to come a-cropper at the different levels. Nonetheless it might be mainly party figures, with their professional persuasive ability, who came through, and would be in position to lead at the end of the process.

If that was the case, this system might share plurality voting's tendency to give the largest or best organised minority untrammeled power. Letting people declare their political tendencies beforehand and grouping them on that basis would counteract this tendency. To what extent, only experiment could show.

Reply to Gareth Adamson

Good Morning, Gareth

(In the following, I'm going to ignore political correctness; my references are not gender specific. It is much easier to use the traditional terms than to try to accommodate someone's idea of fairness.)

I don't think the Practical Democracy approach would get rid of parties. I think it would make them more useful. For example, if it were adopted by a small town, I think there is a very good chance that the businesses in the town would form a party to (perhaps) seek to arrange more convenient parking for shoppers.

The business party can be expected to raise the best advocate of the businessmens' interests - which are not limited to parking - as far as the party size allows. At some point, the business advocate would have to describe the businessmen's desires to members of the community who reached the same level. It may be that the desired parking arrangements are not practical. In that case, the businessmen's advocate would have to modify the businessmen's goals to accommodate the reality of the situation. If the business advocate cannot persuade two peers (who achieved the same level by a non-business route) that he represents their interests as well as those of the business community, the advocate will not advance.

It is important to note that, if the triad cannot select a representative within the allotted time, none of the members will advance. In other words, find a consensus - or drop out. This may lead to considerable tension in triad discussions.

The interests of the triad members are not mutually exclusive. In all likelihood, many of their interests will be shared. Whichever member of a triad advances, he will have listened to and discussed the interests of all the triad members. The business party's advocate will have influenced the advancing member to the extent that the business community's interests coincide with, or, at least, do not contradict the interests of the other community members.

I cannot, nor do I believe anyone can, say precisely how these discussions will develop, but, after the first few levels, two things are certain: All members of the triad want to advance, and, they need the support of both their peers if they are to avoid disqualification. They may reach their current level because of their advocacy of business interests, but they will not advance unless their perspective is broad enough to appeal to the other members of their triad. In effect, as the levels increase, those who advance will tend to be the best representatives of the entire community.

I agree that the most persuasive individuals are the most likely to advance. However, as they advance, they will be grouped with talented individuals that advanced to the same level by another route. Persuasiveness, alone, will not be enough to continue their advancement.

You are absolutely right. We cannot guess the extent to which organized groups can influence the results until we have a way to experiment with the idea. We are discussing the actions of widely diverse individuals. We don't really know what they'll do. Still, the pursuit of self-interest is a constant and this process submits the pursuit of self-interest to frequent and repeated examination by ever-more talented individuals.

To Gareth

To Gareth:
I am not a member at Quora, so I cannot reply to you directly there. Hopefully, you will see this comment here.

You mention some of Plurality Voting's serious shortcomings. So I assume that you are aware of alternative Election Methods and their benefits. I don't know what your favourite EM might be: IRV, Condorcet, Approval Voting, Score (or Range) Voting, etc. You might be interested to know that this site implements some of such alternative voting methods, so that people can try them out and get a feel for them. There is also, of course, Fred's Practical Democracy proposal, which we also take very seriously. Members of this site might not always agree. We certainly do not have all the answers. But we definitely agree on the problems, and we do our damn best to be part of the solution. We work together to research and document solutions to all of our society's ills. We are building a collaborative platform from the ground up, so that discussion leads to documentation and documentation leads to action and implementation. We are all very passionate, and looking forward to a better future for our society, just like you seem to be.

To Fred:
I am not sure that your book covers in enough details the role of interest groups (parties, factions...) in your PR process. I, too, would like to know more about your views on this. You might want to add a page or two in your book to properly address their role in the process.

I like what you wrote in your comment just above, in particular: "they will not advance unless their perspective is broad enough to appeal to the others". I think that the same positive outcome would be achieved with a better Election Method like Score Voting or Emocracy1. Where Plurality Voting enhances negative campaigning and divisions, those EMs would favour candidates who are more inclusive, uniting, and who make the best synthesis of the different concerns (economic, and environment, etc.).

Now, what I really like about Practical Democracy, is the self-selecting nature of the process: people who are not interested in politics, or who are ignorant on policy matters, self-select themselves out in the early stages of the process. As far as I can tell, this is the key aspect of your proposal that is not found in other alternative EMs.

At this stage, any of the alternatives we are discussing (PD, alternative EMs) would be a tremendous improvement on what we have right now (party-, media-, money- politics ridden Plurality Voting). Which of those alternative would perform better? I guess nobody can say for sure until we try them out. The important thing right now is: we all agree that the current system is broken, and we have to find a way to make people aware that it doesn't need to be this way! There are alternatives!

  • 1. Speaking of Emocracy, I spent the whole week improving the current implementation of Emocracy. The changes will go live early next week, so we'll be able to try it out. It's much better than the old implementation.

Interest Group Operation and are Voters Stupid?

I would like to expand on the role of interest groups in the Practical Democracy process, but a proper description of the role must be the product of many minds. To show the difficulty, in my note to Gareth, I hypothesized a businessmen's party seeking better parking arrangements.

The reality would be much more complex than that; the party would be seeking better police protection, more effective snow removal, relaxation of delivery truck restrictions, and goodness knows what else. Some of their ambitions would parallel the goals of other members of the community and some would run counter to the community's wishes.

That is the point. We are all made up of a very complex set of wants. The relationship between those wants is in a constant state of flux. Some, right now, are more pressing than others, but as circumstances change, the urgencies change, too.

This is true of all interest groups; their main focus is never a complete description of their purpose. Attempting to describe a party's goals, in an atmosphere where they are necessarily influenced by the resistance or acceptance they experience, is difficult. When we have a discussion where many of us try to form a consensus, we will get a better insight into the complexity.

I hope you don't think I'm ducking the suggestion. The role of parties and factions is vital. They are the way society achieves the critical mass necessary to inspire action and progress. I think this discussion helps show the power of a political process where varying desires compete with each other in a dynamic environment, with constantly changing advocates that have varying levels of persuasive ability. As you mention, candidates "will not advance unless their perspective is broad enough to appeal to the others".

I'm not competent to comment on Score Voting or Emocracy. I do have a question about them: Who names the candidates?

I'm excited that you recognized an important facet of Practical Democracy: "... people who are not interested in politics, or who are ignorant on policy matters, self-select themselves out in the early stages of the process." May I say that it's not entirely self-selection, particularly at the lowest levels. There, candidates are grouped with neighbors who may have opinions about their interest and wisdom. Those neighbors will have an influence on their ability to advance, regardless of their perception of themselves. This circumstance raises the possibility of personal animosity preventing an individual's advancement. That's the reason "no two people are assigned to a triad if they served together in a triad in any of the five most recent elections."

I often wonder if this aspect of the process has been described with sufficient clarity. I am constantly hearing people whining about the stupidity of the voters, speaking of 'the people' as a huge amorphous mass. Presumably, the complainers excuse themselves from the stupidity they attribute to everyone else. No-where do I see recognition that there are many very bright people. The problem is not the 'stupidity' of the people, it is the lack of a mechanism that encourages the more talented individuals to rise to positions of public representation.

Along the same line is the silly suggestion that the electorate needs to be better educated. For what? In what way will educating the electorate improve the quality of the choices the the people are allowed to vote for in their elections? Even a Doctorate in Political Science wouldn't have helped you make a wise choice in the 2016 U. S. Presidential Election.

You mention the existence of alternatives to the present political infrastructure and note that they need to be tried. I agree one or more of them might be "... a tremendous improvement on what we have right now (party-, media-, money- politics ridden Plurality Voting)." The problem is implementation. One advantage of the Practical Democracy concept is that is does not require a complete replacement of the existing system. It can be implemented in a small community and prove its worth over time.

Achieving democracy is much better done by evolution than revolution.