Friday, June 03, 2011

On Democracy

I'll admit to having bought but not yet read Lindsay Tanner's Sideshow. I am however in violent agreement with him on the fact of the dumbing down of politics.

I contend, however, that this is a global phenomenon, not one that is uniquely Australian. I further contend that the culprit is not, primarily, the Media (meaning traditional big media) but is instead social media and communications technology.

I take as a starting point an observation I made as a school boy, that Robespierre instigated the Terror after the French Revolution as an expression of direct democracy - what he was doing was expressing the "will of the people" as discerned by understanding "the mob" that filled Parisian streets (one day I'll re-write and post that essay).

Today's politicians find themselves equally distracted by the mob, that has new forms of organisation.

Take the reaction this week to the 4 Corners report on live cattle exports to Indonesia. I've already mentioned the fact that the Australian designed box is more humane than the traditional method. To ban Australian live exports doesn't mean any cattle will not die inhumanely, only that Australian cattle won't die inhumanely.

But the reaction of politicians has been swift spurred by the intense interest created through Facebook. The call has been merely for an end to the export trade. Reaction has been swifter than it has been to the "greatest moral issue of our time", that is climate change.

What we see is the critical weakness of direct versus representative democracy, the opportunity to plump for all the individual preferences you might make without reconciling across issues. Its extreme is seen in the model of California where direct democracy demands more services and lower taxes.

Unfortunately I'm still short on solutions to the scourge of "the mob". I don't favour a return to "elites" as espoused by some (be that Plato or Pareto). But I sure as heck don't agree with Ordan ANdreevski who wrote in Online Opinion;

Australians are increasingly becoming dissatisfied with the dumbing of democracy. The nation is ready for a transformation of civic and political culture. Australians are poised to embrace a smarter democracy that is fit for purpose.

Australia needs a new, vibrant, well informed and vigorous political culture, practices and performance to upgrade the dynamism of society and economy and increase our image, relevance and ability to attract and persuade others on a world stage. The dumbing down of politics can be curtailed though social innovation and collective impact involving all relevant stakeholders including parliamentarians, the media, research and education institutes, communities, civil society and progressive diasporas.

Unlike Lindsay Tanner, I am optimistic about the future of Australian politics. Australian democracy has the ability to change and improve for the better as new voices, new practices and talent enters the Australian Parliament, the media, research institutes and universities and contribute to national, parliamentary and policy debates and actions.

Indeed this is written in MBAese (The Urban Word of Today).

What is the actual "social innovation and collective impact"? How will "stakeholders" progress it.

I actually think the solution relies on some structural constitutional reform that does a few things;

Properly construct a "Washminster" system. Have a bicameral parliament in which one house is elected by national proportional representation and the Prime Minister and Ministers are exclusively drawn from this house. This house behaves a little like the US electoral college for President but the PR process results in the whole potential Ministry being on the ballot.

The other house continues to be drawn from separate electorates with either one or two members per electorate. But we do a better job of one-vote one-value than we do now by giving each MP the number of votes as they were elected by (in a one-member electorate that is the total of all formal votes cast, in a two-member structure it is their final votes after the elimination of all but the last candidate). Actual votes in the House require computer tabulation (can anyone explain why we still have tellers and headcounts for divisions), things won't be decided "on the voices" but by the button - press Yes or No. Even show the result on a screen. You can't use "pairs" to get around unavoidable absence - but proxies would work fine (simple rule though, a member can have a proxy for only one other member - the Whip can't control all the votes).

This at least provides some logic to the system and addresses the public concern about thinking they "vote" for the PM of their choice under the existing system. You get to vote for the PM you want and the person to represent your local needs. he local rep really stays local by not faxing redistributions every six or so years.

Does this make an improvement?

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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