Voters, Awake! Sheep shall not safely graze
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The USA is in the thick of the primary voting season. The party elections have been effective in narrowing the field of candidates. The parties will choose their candidates, and the voters will elect a president. But the important outcome is not government officials, but policy. How effective is our voting system in producing effective social, economic, and foreign policy? There, in my judgment, the system fails. That it is better than a dictatorship is small consolation.
When the world moved from the paradigm of kings to that of democracy, the electorate was small. Only free men with property voted. But confining voting to a few contradicted the premise of democracy, rule by the people, so voting was extended to most adults. Meanwhile, the population grew. So the unintended consequence of shifting sovereignty from kings to the people was mass voting.
One problem with mass voting is mass balloting. In the US, card ballots have been problematical, as errors are made in punching and counting the ballots, and there can be fraudulent ballot stuffing, or ballots which mysteriously disappear. Many states used mechanical voting machines, which are also subject to fraud. The states have been moving to electronic voting. But touchscreen voting can also be rigged, especially when there is no paper record. Hackers can break into the systems and change the results, with no way to trace it.
Even when there is no fraud, mass voting creates a demand for mass media messages. Candidates do raise funds from individuals, but the more money, the better, so this opens the field to special interests to help finance campaigns. The elected officials then have to pamper these interests in order to get financed again next time. This leads to agricultural subsidies, tax loopholes, and other privileges and favors. The main problem is not specific subsidies, but that the entire structure of public finance is destructive. The landed interests prevent rent from serving its natural function to pay for civic goods, and so we get a zoo of taxes too complex for any single mind to comprehend.
Humanity went down the wrong path when parliaments shifted from advisory councils to the king to representing the people as the ruling body. Government became centralized because the logic of mass democracy leads to centralized power. When the people cry for bread, a strong centralized monopoly government is most effective in extracting the tax revenue.
Consider mass farming. When millions of farmers produce the same type of wheat, small local markets are not effective. Mass farm production requires central commodity exchanges, where bids to buy are matched with offers to sell, setting a price for that moment, which becomes the world price. Mass commodity production requires central commodity exchanges.
The logic of mass voting leads to centralized markets for legislation, where big special interests bid for political favors. We not only get political conflict, but mass propaganda. The masses are ignorant and vulnerable to slogans and image making. Voters are swayed by candidates who seem to sympathize with their concerns, such as jobs. Candidates who utter goals get votes. Voters don't seem to notice that the candidates don't tell them how they will reach that goal.
Cellular democracy -- small-group bottom-up multi-level voting -- overcomes these problems. Anciently human beings lived in small clans and villages, and this is our natural political scale. Neighborhood councils do not need touchscreen voting, since the number of votes is only a few hundred at most. There is no need to spend much money. The voters can know the candidates personally and feel that their vote really counts. The rest of the government is elected from lower to higher level councils. This gives the bottom voter more power, through leverage.
To achieve this will require that one of the small political parties adopt cellular democracy. Some have been interested in proportional representation, which has its merits, but this is still mass democracy. We need political power to the people, not power to the political parties.
Will the Green Party or the Libertarian Party take up small-group voting? Activists in these and other small parties should bring the idea to their conventions. If one party adopts this in their platform, it will start the dialog on fundamental political reform. Start locally, getting your county committee to adopt it, then bring it to the state level, and finally to the national level. Once a political party adopts this, then voters will have a choice of not just candidates and policy positions but on whether to fundamentally reform the whole structure of government. The party which first adopts cellular democracy will be the vanguard. Which party will it be?
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2004 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
For more on how cellular democracy could work, see Immediate Democracy for Iraq!
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