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Political failure modes and the beige dictatorship

Random meta-political noodling here ...

For a while I've had the unwelcome feeling that we're living under occupation by Martian invaders. (Not just here in the UK, but everyone, everywhere on the planet.) Something has gone wrong with our political processes, on a global scale. But what? It's obviously subtle — we haven't been on the receiving end of a bunch of jack-booted fascists or their communist equivalents organizing putsches. But we've somehow slid into a developed-world global-scale quasi-police state, with drone strikes and extraordinary rendition and unquestioned but insane austerity policies being rammed down our throats, government services being outsourced, peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, tased, or even killed, police spying on political dissidents becoming normal, and so on. What's happening?

Here's a hypothesis: Representative democracy is what's happening. Unfortunately, democracy is broken. There's a hidden failure mode, we've landed in it, and we probably won't be able to vote ourselves out of it.

Representative democratic government is theoretically supposed to deliver certain benefits:

  • Firstly, it legitimizes principled, peaceful opposition within the constitutional framework; we have multiple parties, and the party in power doesn't simply round up the opposition and have them thrown in a GULAG. They concede that the opposition may disagree with the party in power on precisely how the state must operate, but agree that it should operate: the difference is a civilized argument over details, not a knife-fight with totalitarian enemies.

  • Secondly, it provides for an organized, peaceful succession mechanism. When a governing faction becomes unpopular, it can be voted out of office, and will go peacefully, knowing that eventually their successors will become unpopular in turn, and there'll be another chance to take a bite of the apple. (Totalitarian governments tend to hang on until people start shooting at them, with a variety results we've recently had a refresher course in — Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iran.)

But. But.

What if the channels through which concerned people of goodwill who want to make things better enter the political process and run for election are fundamentally flawed?

Our representative systems almost all run on a party system; even pure PR systems like that of Israel rely on a party list. (I could take out Israeli citizenship and run for the Knesset, but I'd be running as "the Charlie Stross Party", not as myself: if I was a runaway success I'd need to find some extra representatives to tag along on my coat-tails.) Parties are bureaucratic institutions with the usual power dynamic of self-preservation, as per Michels's iron law of oligarchy: the purpose of the organization is to (a) continue to exist, and (b) to gain and hold power. We can see this in Scotland with the SNP (Scottish National Party) — originally founded with the goal of obtaining independence for Scotland and then disbanding, the disbanding bit is now nowhere to be seen in their constitution.

Per Michels, political parties have an unspoken survival drive. And they act as filters on the pool of available candidates. You can't easily run for election — especially at national level — unless you get a party's support, with the activists and election agents and assistance and funding that goes with it. (Or you can, but you then have to build your own machinery.) Existing incumbent representatives have an incentive to weed out potential candidates who are loose cannons and might jeopardize their ability to win re-election and maintain a career. Parties therefore tend to be self-stabilizing.

A secondary issue is that professionals will cream amateurs in any competition held on a level playing field. And this is true of politics as much as any other field of human competition. The US House of Representatives is overwhelmingly dominated by folks with law degrees (and this is not wholly inappropriate, given they're in the job of making laws). The UK's Parliament is slightly less narrowly circumscribed, but nevertheless there's a career path right to the top in British politics, and it's visible in all the main parties: you go to a private school then Oxford or Cambridge, participate in student politics (if you're on the left) or debating societies (if you're on the right), take a post as researcher or assistant for an MP or (less commonly) run for a local council office, then run for parliament. There are plenty of people in every democratic constitutional system who have never held a job outside of politics — and why should they? Such a diversion would be a waste of time and energy if your goal is to make a difference on the national stage.

The emergence of a class of political apparatchik in our democracies is almost inevitable. I was particularly struck by this at the CREATe conference, which was launched by a cookie-cutter junior minister from Westminster: aged 33, worked in politics since leaving university, married to another MP, clearly focused on a political career path. She was a liberal democrat, but from her demeanour, speech, and behaviour there was nothing to distinguish her from a conservative, labour, or other front-rank party MP. The senior minister from Holyrood was a little bit less plasticky, slightly more authentic — he had a Glaswegian accent! And was a member of the SNP! — but he was still one of a kind: a neatly-coiffured representative of the administrative senior management class, who could have passed for a CEO or senior bank manager.

So, here's my hypothesis:

  • Institutional survival pressure within organizations — namely political parties — causes them to systematically ignore or repel candidates for political office who are disinclined to support the status quo or who don't conform to the dominant paradigm in the practice of politics.

  • The status quo has emerged by consensus between politicians of opposite parties, who have converged on a set of policies that they deem least likely to lose them an election — whether by generating media hostility, corporate/business sector hostility, or by provoking public hostility. In other words, the status quo isn't an explicit ideology, it's the combined set of policies that were historically least likely to rock the boat (for such boat-rocking is evaluated in Bayesian terms — "did this policy get some poor bastard kicked in the nuts at the last election? If so, it's off the table").

  • The news cycle is dominated by large media organizations and the interests of the corporate sector. While moral panics serve a useful function in alienating or enraging the public against a representative or party who have become inconveniently uncooperative, for the most part a climate of apathetic disengagement is preferred — why get involved when trustworthy, reassuringly beige nobodies can do a safe job of looking after us?

  • The range of choices available at the democratic buffet table have therefore narrowed until they're indistinguishable. ("You can have Chicken Kiev, Chicken Chasseur, or Chicken Korma." "But I'm vegan!") Indeed, we have about as much choice as citizens in any one-party state used to have.

  • Protests against the range of choices available have become conflated with protests against the constitutional framework, i.e. dissent has been perceived as subversion/treason.

  • Occasionally cultural shifts take place: over decades, they sometimes reach a level of popular consensus that, when not opposed by corporate stakeholders, leads to actual change. Marriage equality is a fundamentally socially conservative issue, but reflects the long-term reduction in prejudice against non-heteronormative groups. Nobody (except moral entrepreneurs attempting to build a platform among various reactionary religious institutions) stands to lose money or status by permitting it, so it gets the nod. Decriminalization of drug use, on the other hand, would be catastrophic for the budget of policing organizations and the prison-industrial complex: it might be popular in some circles, but the people who count the money won't let it pass without a fight.

Overall, the nature of the problem seems to be that our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change. They have done so by converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election. And in so doing, they have broken the "peaceful succession when enough people get pissed off" mechanism that prevents revolutions. If we're lucky, emergent radical parties will break the gridlock (here in the UK that would be the SNP in Scotland, possibly UKIP in England: in the USA it might be the new party that emerges if the rupture between the Republican realists like Karl Rove and the Tea Party radicals finally goes nuclear), but within a political generation (two election terms) it'll be back to oligarchy as usual.

So the future isn't a boot stamping on a human face, forever. It's a person in a beige business outfit advocating beige policies that nobody wants (but nobody can quite articulate a coherent alternative to) with a false mandate obtained by performing rituals of representative democracy that offer as much actual choice as a Stalinist one-party state. And resistance is futile, because if you succeed in overthrowing the beige dictatorship, you will become that which you opposed.

Thoughts?

358 Comments

1:

There's an interesting crossover with http://www.aeonmagazine.com/living-together/peter-turchin-wealth-poverty/

I don't think the current state is forever; it's not as stable as it seems. The increasing inequality (historically) has always been corrected by a swing back, because the powerful recognise that it's necessary to avoid violent revolution.


Personally speaking, I'm planning to get rich, and then change things.

2:

Suspect we need a great definition of what a working representative government looks like and how it functions before we can come up with a system that gives us one.

3:

Nothing lasts forever, not even this beige dictatorship.

However, this in the short run is probably going to be only long enough until something upsets the applecart. My money is on a catastrophic global warming-oriented event.

The reset buttons on this failure mode are firmly on the outside of the box we are in.

4:

For reference, Charlie, would you like to describe what the non-failure mode of representative democracy looks like on a day-to-day basis?

5:

Simple solution:

Pick eligble citizens to parliament using a scientifically backed randomized method.

You will get a parliament which truly reflects, in a statistical meaning of the word, the electorate, and you dispense with the "beauty-contest" aspect of modern democracy.

Sure, there are downsides, but I have a hard time seeing them be worse than the current medio-cleptocracy.

6:

For reference, Charlie, would you like to describe what the non-failure mode of representative democracy looks like on a day-to-day basis?

That's a hard problem to answer.

The solution may well not be representative democracy -- at least, not as we know it -- any more than the solution to the problems besetting monarchical system in Europe circa 1848 was a better monarchy.

7:

>The news cycle is dominated by large media organizations and the interests of the corporate sector.

This is the most vulnerable part of this trend - various Internet based technology continue to erode this monopoly by reducing the power of gatekeepers. And this is where entrenched interest's backlash would be in the nearest future. And this is where real battle should be fought.

8:

@7:

Actually, if you look at how Huffington post evolved from a challenger of the traditional media, into a copycat of them, you will see that once your incentive becomes "attracting eyeballs" it all becomes cute kittens, fake outrage and diets...

There is very little qualititative difference between Huffington Post and The Sun today.

9:

@8:

Yes. And that's what will kill HuffPost. Any specific media outlet will have limited time before succumbing into beige. But unless you can prevent formation of the new ones - it will just be replaced by incumbent. Who will also fall into beige after some evolution

10:

I think you are on to something here.

Even in the more chaotic setting of the Dutch system (proportional representation, based on party lists) this problem occurs. The traditional parties with strong organizations and lots of experience occupy the centre of politics and decide policy. The only real way for other groups to come in is from an extreme position.

In theory that means that we do have a mechanism for change present, but practice teaches that the only groups that can enter the system successfully are those that copy the structure and organization of the traditional parties.

Of course we do have a slow shift throughout the decades, but that is probably similar to how the large UK and US parties slowly shift, only more clearly labelled.

11:

Well - you're proposing an (interesting!)answer to a slightly different question - what is better than representative democracy.

I'm asking what a functioning representative democracy would look like.

And, I suppose, I'm getting at the point that perhaps the beigemony we see is a feature not a bug.

Could it be that, given human tendencies towards clannishness, semi-hereditary cliques, and corruption, that the least worst state is an ongoing "management" of the beige though periodic and neverending rounds of reform and - if things get really bad - revolution? With the understanding that you're never going to reach the utopia your reform or revolution seeks, and that the best you'll ever do is to keep the shade of beige tolerably benign to a relatively large section of the populace.

12:

What you don't mention, but which is an obvious corollory to your general rule of Beige, is that no politician who supports smaller government really stands a chance of getting elected. And if they do by some chance get elected they'll never get a chance to actually implement those policies because they are directly threatening all those rent seekers sucking from the government teat.

13:

That's articulated my thoughts quite accurate Charlie! I don't have the imagination to think up what might come next, or even, what I can do about the shit situation we're in.

In Aus, we have a choice between a quite obviously crazy right wing Christian who wants to tear up the best infrastructure project we've had since the Snowy Scheme, and a reasonable well adjusted, annoyingly voiced, relatively normal, not quite so right wing Prime Minister who sends children to concentration camps because they and their families had the audacity to buy passage on a boat.

All presided over by two parties, almost indistinguishable in policy who play politics instead of governing, and are reported on by Mr Murdoch and Mr Packer.

I like the idea of a Demarchy facilitated by ubiquitous technology and useful public key encryption (GPG signed and encrypted ballots for example), doing away with the two houses of parliament, and retaining the Governer General as a head of state, at least unless the Monarch visits :)

No idea where to start for implementing that in the world I live in though.

14:

Two interesting observations here:

If you want to see if this failure mode is self-sustaining, you should be able to observe it much quicker in South Africa. We seem to have transitioned into it immediately. It's amazing how *quick* the transition happened between "revolutionary force" and "ruling class". The ruling party is promoting an official secrets act to "bring us more into International" line where whistleblowers are basically given mandatory sentences.

I seem to recall an ignobel prize given to a set of researchers that proved that promoting people randomly in an organization leads to better performance. I think they applied the same logic to politics and found out that people were much happier if a sizeable percentage of the public servants (heh, heh) were "drafted" by a random process.

Maybe, introducing chaos into the system will prevent stagnation in local maxima. Although, introducing that type of chaos would be akin to a complete shift in power, which might never happen.

15:

Yeah, meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Special interest groups (some of which constitute the real Big Brother) learn to game the system faster than the system develops an immune system to them. The more complex the system, the more it favors special interest groups with expert agents who know how to use it. Simpler systems put everyone on an equal footing. Given what has been learned so far about how all this happens, it would be possible to design a form of democracy that had better resistance, but it's gone too far and the existing system won't ever make any move in that direction. The last gasp in the USA was the movement to restrict congressional term limits back in the early '90s. It gave Newt Gingrich control of congress and then promptly died.

Since anyone who gets in power will use it to alter the system to ensure continued power, it's amazing that any semblance of democracy has lasted as long as it has--probably surviving as cover because "they" know they own it anyway and why not make it look good. If serious reform loomed that velvet over the iron fist might vanish. The best we can hope for is noblesse oblige and meritocracy. And gin.

"causes them to systematically ignore ...candidates ...who don't conform to the dominant paradigm "
You have to work with the existing system or you won't get anything done. It would be foolish for a party to waste energy on someone who will be ineffective.

16:

There are also factors exogenous to the country. I see two.

One is the Martian-like international corporations; this is what you hear when somebody proposes to raise taxes for the 0.01% -- the corporations will simply move their head office to Switzerland or some other fiscal haven, followed by a cortege of upper-class twats.

The other is the more or less direct and brutal meddling of the nation-state in the sphere of influence of which the country lies. A good example of this is what happened to the Australian Prime minister who'd stood up to the USA, and swiftly got deposed by a palace coup lead by someone from the same left-wing party, but who happens to have glowing reviews in the US embassy cables. You can iterate this all over the world, and sometimes down several recursions (for instance, France is a US protectorate, and behaves in the same way in its own sphere of influence).

My faith goes in institutions that are transversal to this state of things, like the United Nations, the European Union, and some NGOs. They are not enough to carry the brunt of society, but thay might help shaking the conventional political system enough for the crassestly rotten fruits to fall.

17:

And one last post - on the question of better systems of governance - what would a technologically-enabled quorum sensing system for humans look like on the scale of a nation?

What bits of the human condition would you need to pave over and route around to make it work? What are the pitfalls? How would the system break or be exploited by those seeking power? Would the end-result be worthwhile? Would the end result be a society we'd even recognise as human any more?

18:

Oh yeah, I completely forgot. Douglas Adams knew about this ALL ALONG: http://wso.williams.edu/~rcarson/lizards.html

"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"

All presidents eventually tend to be Zaphod Beeblebrox.

19:

In the UK, this list is quite interesting. It lists now-prominent past Presidents of the Oxford Union (which is the debating society of that University, not the student's union).

If you check the full list, you'll see other familiar names such as Michael Gove.

It's not Oxford or Cambridge Universities as a whole, it's a tight coterie within them that seems to spit out the politicians and political commentators. The two Unions are the concentrators - if you're politically minded, you'll end up in them, and those who gain the presidency are frequently those already able to work the machineries. Not all - my former brother in law is one who prefers being the gadfly to working for elected office, unlike Hague who was two years later.

(And on the Cambridge side, the already-sort-of-mentioned Arianna Huffington was a President.)

20:

@11: You ask "Well - you're proposing an (interesting!)answer to a slightly different question - what is better than representative democracy."

What we have is not "representative democracy", it is "democracy by proxy".

Representative democracy would where the elected parliament actually represent, in the sampling theory use of the word, the electorate as a whole.

If you want that, just dispense with all the ballots, and pick your MP's at random amongst the eligble persons, and make it a citizen duty, like jury-service, to serve, once picked.

You'd get a Parliament with an average intelligence 10-20 percent lower than today, but they would represent the electorate within a statistically well defined uncertainty.

21:

Well from that analysis it does reflect the electorate in a lowest common denominator type a way. At least in so far that a TV dinner reflect a real dinner.
I think that we are looking at a convergence of several different dynamics and the biggest one is too much information. When I were a lad one could only buy 2 of Irelands 3 national newspapers with any reliability and there was only one radio station and one TV station. 'Serious Newspapers' reported 'Serious News' now anyone can present a headline about gossip involving fictional characters in the same manner as the Latest Appalling thing happening in the real world.
As a culture we have no recent practise at working out the provenance of information. Some people react by disbelieving anything that contradicts their preferred notions, others believe nothing and the rest believe that half of what their are told is lies but there is no consensus on which half.
this will encourage the trend to the mediocre. Radicalism is dangerous, it can lead to bad places, so we get this bouncing about the median.
One interesting development is the Obama big data and target individuals and turn them into activists model.
If a focused outsider party could operate in this way they could out manoeuvre the centre and radical change could come about. Whether that would be good thing or bad remains to be seen.
Is there a better way, maybe, giving it legitimacy is an issue. there is something to be said for a jury style upper house. Pick them at random, pick enough to be pretty representative, pay then enough that people would not mind serving and change them every 7 years. One term only.

22:

The current success of the various Pirate parties in European countries shows that there are at least enough voters cognizant of this "failure mode" in order to vote some of them into not inconsequential democratic institutions (i. e. Swedish Pirates in the European Parliament, German Pirates in the state parliaments of Berlin, Saarland and Northrhine-Westphalia). Of course, their different approach to politics immediately led to both media and internal voices shouting for them to become more "professional" in order to compete better.

23:

Depressingly I fear you have hit the nail on the head. The upcoming Australian federal election presents two choices of the major parties with little to choose between them. Mining and media interests dominate and influence policy. And trying to change this is blocked by the inertia you describe.

24:

Coming from the slightly greenish version of beige (i.e., I earn my money as researcher for the state Green party faction), I have two questions/observations.

1. How do new ideas enter this gridlocked system? You mention radical new parties and culture change. The 30+ year history of environmentalism and the (German) Green Party can be seen as both. It would be interesting to see how/if a relatively strong Green party, proportional representation and a population rather fond of environmental consciousness worked together to establish stronger environmental standards (or not). (Nota bene: as far as I know, this is an open question - and it's not about how good/bad PV/nuclear/whatever is, but about the interaction between "radical party", "culture change" and "details of the representative system" resulting in different outcomes).

2. I'm not sure who said it, but something along the line of "representative democracy is bad, but it's the best we have found" rings true to me. To put it the other way round: I see how one could make better representative democracy by including elements of direct democracy, but I can't see a working non-beige model of democracy. Politics means expertise, and expertise isn't cheap. Even if it is only expertise in power brokering. Thus the formation of factions and party machines, forming the moulds for the next generation of politicans. Throw media and their attention economy in the mix, and attention maximization will start to influence politics.

25:

Two nit-picks on random and jury-picking.

1: A parliament stacked with proponents of [insert political viewpoint here] is a possible (if unlikely) outcome of truly random selection. It's no biggie - but just remember that truly random selections can produce outcomes that don't seem random (aka "OMG my iPod can read my mind!").

2: The people that actually end up on a jury (as opposed to being selected for jury service) are anything but random - once the defence and the prosecution have winnowed out the ones they don't like the look of.

26:

I'm actively involved in the LD party in London, and in the business of selecting candidates and getting them elected, so my perspective on this is coming from the other side. I'd say that you're about half right, but you've missed the really big issue. I'll return to that later, and take your points one at a time:

"Institutional survival pressure within organizations" - this one isn't really applicable to us. Our candidates tend to be opposed to the status quo and are often quite strange. I don't have much deep information on the other parties, but I think they might suffer more from this one. However, it will seem to you that our candidates don't talk about this sort of thing much, and that's a systemic problem.

We are fundamentally committed to constitutional reform and breaking out of the cycle of "two parties, zero differences". But all the canvassing, polling, and election results indicates that the public at large isn't very interested - something around a fifth of the population feels strongly about it, and the rest thinks the system is working fine. That has two important effects. Firstly, we can't get candidates elected if we spend too much time talking about constitutional issues. Secondly, the media will not print stories about it even when we send them a press release, because they think "people aren't interested", so it's hard to get the message out.

"The status quo has emerged by consensus between politicians of opposite parties, who have converged on a set of policies that they deem least likely to lose them an election" - yes, this is very much true. We are sharply constrained by the need to win elections. In this sense, representative democracy is "working": the candidates are all a bit samey because they're all trying to fit themselves onto the beliefs of the people they are representing. We're probably more resistent to flagrant populism than the other two parties, and care less about hostility from the corporate sector, but there's no point standing for election with policies that nobody wants. We put our own spin on it, but all three parties are working from the same hymn sheet - the opinions of the voters. Inevitably our answers are quite similar.

"it's the combined set of policies that were historically least likely to rock the boat" - actually not. While there is some sensitivity to issues which have blown up in the past, we do a lot of polling and surveying about what people currently think, and that's the primary deciding factor in what policies we run with.

"The news cycle is dominated by large media organizations and the interests of the corporate sector." - yes, this is a huge problem. Worse, Clay Shirky's observations are extremely accurate in the UK media. A national political journalist has minutes to write a story, not days. That's enough time to type up a press release that you got from an MP's office. It's not enough time to do anything else. Hence they do little more than decide which press releases to print.

"The range of choices available at the democratic buffet table have therefore narrowed until they're indistinguishable" - I would argue that there are still differences between us, but it's certainly true that the range of choices has narrowed. The main cause of this has been that all players have much better information about the opinions of voters and what it takes to get elected. It turns out that if you want to get elected, you have to land within that fairly narrow range of choices, so politicians are aiming there. While there are certainly people whose opinions differ wildly from this norm, and probably a high fraction of readers of this blog will fall into that category, the harsh reality is that in any election those people are a tiny minority, and any candidate who targets them will lose.

"Occasionally cultural shifts take place: over decades, they sometimes reach a level of popular consensus that, when not opposed by corporate stakeholders, leads to actual change" - absolutely true. Since we're targetting the range of opinions that people are willing to vote for, cultural shifts that expand the range of tolerable opinions let us take up causes that were previously impossible. Marriage equality is a great example: a hundred years ago, the Liberal party could never have taken this position, but today there are enough people who agree with it that we can make it happen.

"They have done so by converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election." - the other two parties certainly suffer from this. We receive pretty close to zero in direct corporate funding, so it's never really been an issue for us. However, it is true that we don't always serve the public interest. To borrow a phrase, "the public interest does not mean that the public is interested", and we have to run with what the public is interested in, rather than the public interest, because that's the only way to win elections.

So, what's the really big issue? Since I've said it a few times, you'd be forgiven for assuming I was going to say "public opinion", but it's the other one. We are fundamentally constrained by the need to win elections - that's the structural impact of representative democracies. There are two essential things that you need to win an election. The first is that you need is to be preferred by the voters in your constituency, and I've already covered the impact that this has.

The second thing that you need to win an election is a candidate. It's so obvious that you weren't expecting it, but this is a huge problem. There are 65 million people in the UK. There are about 150 thousand people involved in politics. We don't get to pick the best and the brightest. We have to work with the people who show up and that is a tiny fraction of the population. And yes, we do make huge efforts to reach out to people outside politics and get them involved, but we almost always get the same answers: "I couldn't do it. I don't have the energy or the time. I have a job that keeps me busy. I need to edit three books this year." It's a fair enough response - winning an election demands a substantial time investment. If I was in Edinburgh, I'd try to get Charlie to stand for us, and he'd say no for all the same reasons. That's why politics doesn't include many people like Charlie. Occasionally we do find somebody who says yes, and surprisingly often those people end up winning - many of our strongest MPs and councillors are from this group.

Sadly, most of the time they say no, and the election is coming and we have to pick one of the three or four beige applicants that were willing to stand as our candidate. It is always incredibly frustrating when this happens, so we lie to ourselves and tell each other that they'll be a great candidate, because we still need to motivate ourselves through an election campaign. While I don't know what happens internally in the other two parties, when all the nominations come in and I see three unremarkable people on the list, it's a safe bet that they have the same problem. Nobody with any sense wanted the job.

"And resistance is futile, because if you succeed in overthrowing the beige dictatorship, you will become that which you opposed." - here's where we diverge. The status quo that you describe is very real, and the system does push strongly in that direction. But resistance is possible. We can get Julian Huppert, Evan Harris, and Tim Farron elected. The problem is that resistance is exhausting and so few people are willing to do it. Many will complain bitterly, but they won't come out and work to change things. Spectating is easy, and they can shout at the TV instead of doing something about it.

(I shall try to respond to the inevitable replies, but I've got a stack of letters to deliver and there's a by-election down in Eastleigh in three weeks so my time's going to be limited)

27:

I think it important to note that "make a difference on the national stage" is not necessarily the same as "governing well, passing good laws, making people's lives better in whatever way you claimed you would in your manifesto".

Which raises another issue - the Tories didn't say anything in their manifesto about dismantling the education system or destroying the NHS and selling it off to the private sector. Nevertheless that is what they are doing. How are we supposed to get back at them for this given the many different issues which people are involved in. E.g. they might vote Tory because they believe in 'family values' and denying gay marriage, never mind that Tory policies can be shown to be materially reducing their standard of living.

This is also why of course there was a debate about whether left wing parties and organisations should get involved in parliamentary politics. It appears now that the revolutionary minded folk who said that the lefties would get seduced by the way things were done and forget their origins and purposes were correct.

28:

You're forgetting the corollary of converging on Beige™ policies, though you've implied it. It's the systematic focussing on intractable (often mareketed as "moral") issues for the purpose of distracting the populace from other more immediately-important issues. For example, the persistence of the "abortion debate" and the "gay marriage" issue in the US, both of which serve to distract the populace from (1) the emergence of the US police state and its corporate-run prison complexes, (2) the lunatic sums of money (relative to total US budget and international peers) thrown into the US military black hole and its multiple colonial-imperialist battlefronts, and (3) global climate change, amongst probably others.

29:

>>>But we've somehow slid into a developed-world global-scale quasi-police state, with drone strikes and extraordinary rendition and unquestioned but insane austerity policies being rammed down our throats, government services being outsourced, peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, tased, or even killed, police spying on political dissidents becoming normal, and so on. What's happening?

Charlie, not that I think any of the things you mention here are good, bu is this really a trend or just repercussions of 9/11 and the economic crisis?

Because, you see, I skim all kinds of media, both right-wing, left-wing and traditional. And they all have a news cycle. And they all tell me about horrible things happening that I should be outraged about (they have very different definitions on what is horrible, of course). And the next month they all find new horrible things.

So my bullshit-blocker goes into overdrive and dismisses them all. And I'm not left with much. I dunno, quality of life over the world keeps on rising.

30:


Pick eligble citizens to parliament using a scientifically backed randomized method.

^^This. Though I'd limit the parliament eligibility to people capable of scoring respectably above average on some sort of intelligence test.
IQ scores can be improved by practice, so even dumb but determined people could get in.

Also, implement partly direct democracy like the Swiss have, -important issues, large expenditures, taxes have to be approved by voters.

Possibly, it'd be a good idea to also hold online voting on paragraphs of laws, where the law-makers would have to convince a randomly selected number of eligible voters that said paragraphs are necessary.
They could be renumerated for that, to increase attention.

That could cut down on loopholes for cronies in laws.

Also, more eyeballs spot more bugs, no?


The US House of Representatives is overwhelmingly dominated by folks with law degrees (and this is not wholly inappropriate, given they're in the job of making laws).

It is wholly inappropriate.

Lawyers have a vested interest in laws being as complicated as possible, because that gives them power.

Look at their fokking tax code, for example, or criminal code. No one has even the slightest idea anymore of how many offences there are.

31:

quality of life over the world keeps on rising.

Quality of life in China, India, Africa, and much of South America keeps on rising. Quality of life in the recession-hit parts of the developed world: not so much. Quality of life for anyone below the 80th percentile in the USA: not so much. Quality of life in the Middle East: not so much.

As for the zero-tolerance policing thing: if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to be afraid of, comrade.

32:

I think that there are actually two problems here.

There is Michel’s law about oligarchic capture but once you have oligarchic capture, it is then much easier to influence / capture the direction of politics.

There is also a separate question about the current state of political parties in the UK (it could probably be broadened to the US but lets keep focus). It’s not that long ago – OK, it’s actually a generation, but still – when there was a genuinely functioning left labour party. It got creamed by the Tories in 83 but from 45 to, let’s say92, there was a social-democratic alternative to the Tories. This may not be revolutionary but it’s not to be sniffed at.
No doubt part (and only part) of the move to the centre of the Labour party is due to the breaking of and breaking with the unions – which did use to offer a genuine alternative path in to politics that the one you describe.
You also have to look at the change in media presentation, and media politics too for an additional factor in the, for want of a better word, professionalisation of politics. (though when you look at some of the idiots on the backbenches of both parties, you do have to wonder about this so-called trend).

But I think a lot of the above does not happen, or does not happen as easily, if you can fix / avoid oligarchic capture.

How can this be done? Interestingly this was a problem that interested the radical right for a time too – anybody else remember the 94 Contract with America a major part of which was the limitation of terms to twelve years. It didn’t get the 2/3 majority needed to pass but term limits is one way to try to reduce the effect of oligarchic capture – does anybody really need to be a politican for more than ten to twelve years?

But term limits are a really boring possible & partial solution. A friend of mine used to argue that we need to rethink the function of the second house. He suggested that membership of the second house should be by lottery [edit – somebody else has already suggested this, glad I’m not alone], if your number comes up, that’s it for five years (one year of mandatory training in how parliament runs, how laws are made, basically a-level politics, economics and media studies) and then four years of being let loose with no other mandate than serve your country.

You can incentivise it if you want – basic wage of £30,000 a year £150,000 at the end of five years on meeting basic turning up, speaking in debates, voting record kind of things, if you want – but that may not be necessary, depends on how cynical you are about people in general.
Oh and before anybody sounds off about the general population being let loose on the political process – rewatch the quality of debate over gay marriage and adjust your beliefs about professional politicians. Seriously, I’ve seen better arguments in pubs between drunk cabbies (to mash up two stereotypes).

You’ve then got to decide how the balance of powers between the two houses is set up – and whether you’d be willing to accept the occasional bit of gridlock, but how much gridlock there’d be, who knows? I don’t think we can presume to know a priori.

Of course, this changes the meaning of 'representative democracy' somewhat, but it's worth remembering that because of the vagaries of history, our second house is anything but representative at the moment.

So there are my two suggestions : term limits and a second house elected by lottery
None of this does anything about oligarchic capture of the civil service but I’m less sure that’s a major problem in the UK for the moment. Anyway, one thing at a time !

33:

@Vanzetti: we've had drone strikes, extraordinary rendition and torture for ten years now. Neo-liberal/Freidmannian political economics for 20 to 30 years. These are not fads.

It is true that the quality of life rises. Also, inequalities and violence diminish. These are true averaged all over the world and over centuries. But now we are in a local minimum. It might be good to keep the larger picture in mind ("think of the starving little children in Africa"), but it should anaesthesise the consciousness of the very real present problems.

34:

PS: as a matter of fact, most of the rise in quality of life in the West has been confiscated by the 0.001% for years now. See "plutonomy".

35:

>>>Quality of life in the recession-hit parts of the developed world: not so much.

Erm. I assume that's because it is recession-hit. The world regularly have economic crises. Any reasons why this one is different?

36:

>>> we've had drone strikes, extraordinary rendition and torture for ten years now. Neo-liberal/Freidmannian political economics for 20 to 30 years. These are not fads.

OK. And before that we had the Cold War.

37:

>>>PS: as a matter of fact, most of the rise in quality of life in the West has been confiscated by the 0.001% for years now. See "plutonomy"

I'm not talking about pure GDP per capita, but stuff like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index

38:

I need to formulate further thoughts on all this, but one thing: if randomly choosing people works for parliament, why won't it also work for, say, choosing welders? Or people to build my next house? I should just pick someone off the street to build a house, whether they're a builder or not?

If it doesn't work for welders then I don't think it works for parliamentary representatives either. The random choice idea bespeaks a particular view of the government: that a representative is there to be a mouthpiece for their constituency. That's not representative democracy. That's everyone-votes-on-everything "true" democracy; it's just a convenient way to organise it. A representative does more than just poll their constituents and then report the majority verdict. Being a politician is a skilled trade in itself, like welding is. It is possible that this point is precisely one of the things that Charlie is identifying as the problem, I admit. But I think that proposing "choose people at random" is not "how to make representative democracy better", it's proposing a different political system entirely.

39:

Pick eligble citizens to parliament using a scientifically backed randomized method.
...
Sure, there are downsides, but I have a hard time seeing them be worse than the current medio-cleptocracy.

I've heard Martin Luther once said he'd rather be ruled by a smart Muslim than a Christian fool.

I think you're advocating that the fool is OK. We've had some fools get elected around here locally. I'd rather give them easier access to the levers thank you.

40:

'As for the zero-tolerance policing thing: if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to be afraid of, comrade.'

Coffee, keyboard, that sort of thing. It's the final 'comrade' that does it, I think.

41:

@Vanzetti: The Western block managed the entire Cold War maintaining traditions and regulations of Human Rights and "Rechtsstaat" (or rule of law).

For a decade, the USA have descended into arbitrary abductions, arbitrary detention, arbitrary assassinations, and open usage of torture; a staggering proportion of their allies have practiced the same or are complicit in US practices. Lesser behaviour has also taken place: general surveillance (including illegal but State-sanctionned), infiltration of harmless dissident groups, exemplary punishment of dissent (you could say that in the last years, we have seen the appearance of Western political prisonners).

Something definitly has changed, and there is a case to say that the change is radical.

42:

The key here is if the system allows and makes it easy for new parties to enter the power struggle - it that is so, then existing parties can not become too bland as going too centrist would allow for too much space on both left and right for new parties to enter and grab a share of the voters (for any definition of left-center-right). If, on the other hand, you are basically locked into existing parties (like US is), then, well that democracy is basically screwed. Their best hope is to implement recursive democracies inside each of the existing parties.

43:

Decriminalization of drug use, on the other hand, would be catastrophic for the budget of policing organizations and the prison-industrial complex:

I think this bugs you way out of proportion to it's size. As best I can tell in the US prisons at all levels account for 0.5% of GDP. (Which is way higher than I'd like.) But there are many other sectors of the economy which have much more clout. Health care is over 25 times as big. The auto industry about 10 times or more bigger.

The single biggest impediment to changing drug laws in the US is the Evangelical church. No matter what the costs prohibition is better than legalization like alcohol. They could care less what politicians think. They want it banned and enforced. Even if it means locking up 99% of the population.

44:

I think that what you are describing is nothing new, though you are right to identify these specific problems. Extrajudicial killings, domestic spying, mistreatment of protesters etc. have been happening as long as democracy has existed--longer in fact. The difference now is that we are more aware of what is happening as it is happening. The Secret War in Cambodia did not come out completely until the late 90s. Today, in contrast, we learn of the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere in real time. To me, this looks not like a new failure mode of democracy, but rather improved transparency in an increasingly connected world. It's a new set of challenges, or more precisely, it's we the people becoming aware of a problem set in need of solutions. Where our parents' generation faced Communism and their parents faced Fascism, we face these issues. Those generations (in the US at least) also dealt with the Depression, Vietnam, Civil Rights, and dozens of other domestic political problems. They found solutions and I hope we do as well. So I guess my point is that this is not a novel 'failure mode,' but rather is an example of how democracy works. Representative democracy is a problem solving process and problem solving begins with identifying the problem. Discovering a problem and encountering a new failure mode are two ways of describing the same phenomenon. The difference is that you describe it as something new, rather than the continuation of an iterated problem solving process.

45:

The idea that there's no meaningful choice between major parties ignores pretty much the entire sweep of American politics since 1980. Behaviorally, the choice between parties in the US is now more stark than at any point since the (US) Civil War.

Likewise, the idea that politics has gone wrong because of a class of apparatchiks who are all the same across parties can't possibly apply to the US. Outside of a very few states most of our real WTF? problems don't come from professional-ish apparatchiks, they come from the random small business owners and assorted mindless yahoos who get elected to state legislatures. Parties don't reject mindless yahoos because they can't -- they can't afford to, because their alternative is often simply nobody (because being a state legislator is a terrible job), and they can't because they do not have the legal capacity to do so. Without a truly vast amount of time in court, whoever wins the primary is the nominee, no matter what the party organization thinks about it.

Why lots of Europe has austerity isn't some mystery: you elected tories, and austerity is what tories do. Likewise, the small Keynesian package in the US died because Americans overall were stupid enough to hand control of the House to Boehner and his pack of dumbfucks, and Massachussetts was hit by the stupid-ray so hard that they handed significant power to Mitch McFuckingConnell.

46:

Suggestion - Add a "none of the above" option as well as voting Condem, Liebour or whatever. Instead of requiring that people turn out to vote NOTB, treat a failure to actively vote or a spoilt ballot as NOTB. Candidates are only elected if they actually return more votes than there are NOTBs. If NOTB wins, this triggers a new election for this seat, and none of the original candidates may stand this time.

47:

@napadvocacy: some of the problems we are facing now have been *created* by the democratically elected powers. A good example for this is the legal limbo in which the detainees of Guatanamo are held, which has prevented the closure of the prison and any elegant outcome. Another is the surveillance system put in place in the USA, where the State is clearly hostile, or at least suspicious, of its own population.


48:

Worth noting I think that today has the arrival of a new UK far-right wing party, founded by a former National Front committee member:
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/02/neo-nazi-former-bnp-members-launch-new-far-right-party

Perhaps inevitably, it is called the British Democratic Party.

What role do such parties play in the enBeigening process?

49:
Decriminalization of drug use, on the other hand, would be catastrophic for the budget of policing organizations and the prison-industrial complex: it might be popular in some circles, but the people who count the money won't let it pass without a fight.

Is this a prediction?

I'd be more inclined to predict that decriminalization laws haven't been passing due to unpopularity rather than due to conspiracy theory. In the USA, support for mere marijuana decriminalization only passed 50% a year ago, and that support is still heavily weighted towards younger demographics that are less likely to vote. That's already been enough for complete decriminalization in a couple states' laws. Unless the rapid increase in popular support reverses (which is what happened a couple generations ago, but I wouldn't bet on it this time) the main obstacle to changing US federal law is simply the lag time introduced by the high incumbency rate in Congress.

That incumbency rate is another ugly effect of party politics you forgot to mention. In a nationally two-party system, game theory pushes both parties' platforms towards the median views of the electorate, but local electorates lean towards one side or the other compared to the whole. This makes it extremely hard to unseat an incumbent from the more locally-popular side with a challenger from the other party, and party insiders are very good at applying pressure against unapproved primary challengers in already-held districts.

50:

See also, this interview by the LSE with Professor Colin Crouch. Sample: "A post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell".

51:

"What role do such parties play in the enBeigening process?"

They sit outside it due to first past the post, further delegitimising the extremes and effectively reinforcing the political middle by draining off voters into parties that will never have any success.

52:

In a nationally two-party system, game theory pushes both parties' platforms towards the median views of the electorate, but local electorates lean towards one side or the other compared to the whole.

Only if you have local constituencies. A national electoral system that relies on a party list system and some version of PR (be it the German threshold-based system or Israeli pure PR) breaks the link between representatives and local issues.

Arguably, this may be a better form of special-interest representation in these days of ubiquitous internet access: we could have the (small but active) Internet Civil Liberties Party, for example, holding down a couple of seats and a portfolio in a national-level coalition, whereas today we have the MP for Lesser Potting, who is really good mates with the local business owners but doesn't give a shit about national-level issues and votes the way Party HQ tell him to.

53:

What role do such parties play in the enBeigening process?
Probably very good at creating boundaries and establishing the idea that anything not-beige is dangerous. Any idea that's not in the beige mainstream (the beigestream?) can be associated to some 'fringe' group and thus anyone advocating it can be linked to all the other policies they espouse. Not necessarily linked to the far-right, but look how anyone who advocates vaguely Green policies can get tarred with 'well, you must believe all the other nonsense they espouse too'.

Also as a 'if we fall, look what will take our place' message to preserve the beige.

54:

"What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free
On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young"

"IGY" by Donald Fagen

55:

You wouldn't want the wrong lizard to get in....

The late, great Douglas Adams has addressed this obvious flaw in democracy.

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/162557-it-comes-from-a-very-ancient-democracy-you-see-you

56:

The only slight problem with party lists is that they surely help maintain a party oligarchy, with the only people getting on the lists being friends of the right people.

57:

I think the implication is that citizens who want change should focus on organizing and participating in direct action: starting workers' co-ops, organizing unions, launching B-type or triple-bottom-line corporations, civil disobedience, and so on.

Improvements sometimes come from the political process, so I don't argue for disengagement, but often they occur as the establishment system accommodates itself to a genuine threat in the form of direct action or organization.

58:

Yup, sounds about right.

If I actually did have my notes on me, I could tell you the name of the most well known person who has articulated the idea.

59:

Damn html formatting.

The first line was:

"Consults Economics & Politics degree notes"

60:

I'd like to posit an alternative (or perhaps complementary) hypothesis that what you have described can be accounted for, at least in part, by far quicker convergence on the revealed, as opposed to stated, preferences of the electorate by the major parties. One might think that the polarization of the parties that we see in the US (for example) as evidence to the contrary, but I think that can be explained largely in terms of the electorate itself. Instead of a nice bell curve (whether Gaussian or not), on some of the important issues of the day there is more of a bi-modal distribution, hence elected officials converge on two conflicting positions.

I think that further evidence for this can be seen in the response of elected officials to shifts of the electoral distribution over time. On the issue of marriage equality that you mentioned, the Obama Administration, for example, was initially slow to act. I would put this down to bad memories of what happened to Bill Clinton when gays in the military was the first big issue it tackled. As it became clear that the attitude of the electorate, especially those who would be willing to vote for Obama anyway was changing rapidly in favor of gay marriage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_opinion_of_same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States the Administration's position began "evolving" with similar speed.

As to alternatives to democracy in its current configuration, I can see a range of possible fixes which might make things a tad less dysfunctional. On the moderate side, we are already seeing some experiments in trying to do away with gerrymandering: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/11/gerrymandering-as-it-declines.html Experiments on the more radical end of the spectrum are also at least conceivable. I have always wanted to see what would happen with an experiment in weighted voting (as depicted in Don Kingsbury's "Courtship Rite") where one has the option of registering predictions of the consequences of policies to gain extra voting weight if proven correct. The most important point in this is that we are far from exhausting the ways in which democracy could be implemented and it is certainly premature to alternatives. In this matter I am very risk averse, with excellent historical justification for being so.

61:

If NOTB wins, this triggers a new election for this seat, and none of the original candidates may stand this time.

This might work in systems without fixed election dates but in the US it would rapidly lead to lots of empty seats.

62:

Something you've missed. The whole system is clogging up with prescriptive laws... it's a bit like cholesterol and the clogging is getting worse as the system ages.
Instead of rethinking policies about drug abuse, we kowtow to the existing system and throw more detailed policies and micromanagement at it. Excessive and over complicated laws combined with mandatory sentencing is drowning us all. Where I come from, it is more important for a policeman to meet his quota of busts than to solve serious crimes.
One possible way out of this gridlock is to preface every law with a social justification for its existence, a list of social deliverables that have to be achieved in a certain time frame and a sunset clause that forces bad laws to be re-evaluated or abolished after a certain time period. I think of this mandatory re-evaluation as a sort of social "statin".
As an afterthought, I don't think the intelligence or social background of elected officials makes one iota of difference.

63:

I'm all for a variant of PR and a new form of voting (perhaps some form of approval voting?) over FPTP plurality voting systems. The latter creates disenfranchisement and runs straight into Duverger's law, though I do think that some mechanism needs to be in place for local politics to fit neatly into the government structure.

For me the problem facing making a system better than we have now is two fold: how do we get more people involved without creating a crippling bureaucracy and how to we ensure that people are informed. The first point tries to tackle the issue of career and institutional politics and the latter special interest groups.

Honestly though I'm struggling not to be pessimistic about the future of democracy. Modern propaganda (advertising, public relations etc) is far more advanced than mechanisms of the past I.e. the divine right of kings. Given the nature of some political and economic discussions I've been a part of it seems it's easy to convince people that the system is great and working just like they want to. This is even easier to achieve if people aren't educated formally or kept up to date with how things are different in other countries (who has heard of the Icelandic revolution in western media? You'd almost think nothing has happened since their banks collapsed other than an ask cloud). I have a worry that the future will resemble a worse political/economical set up than even the US has with working class people believing that their situation is much better than if there was social provision and if they just work harder and smarter they will easily climb a career ladder to the dizzying heights of wealth of the 0.01%. It seems a great way to keep people poor is the illusion that they could get rich if only they did something to deserve it.

64:
I could take out Israeli citizenship and run for the Knesset, but I'd be running as "the Charlie Stross Party", not as myself: if I was a runaway success I'd need to find some extra representatives to tag along on my coat-tails.

That's true, but it's hardly a big hurdle, because after all if you couldn't find people to support you, you'd never be able to be a runaway success. Israel's system *is* a lot more open to new parties/ideas than Westminster is -- for example Yair Lapid's new party (founded last year) just got 19 seats in the Knesset.

The Scottish system is somewhere halfway between the Westminster system and the Israeli one -- there is PR, but with a higher threshold (6% v. 2%).

65:

Your fellow SF writer David Brin has an intersting take on why this is so. We can thank/blame General George Marshall:

The United States of America has been the most exceptional thing ever to happen to humanity. I say this not out of reflex triumphalism or chauvinism, but as a simple matter of outcomes appraisal. Indeed, I bet that in the grand context of time, the American Experiment will turn out to have been one of the major reasons, if we wind up succeeding as a species and even reaching for the stars....

Most moderns have no idea how stunning the American Revolution seemed, to onlookers around the world. Especially the example of "Cincinnatus" George Washington, who turned his back on power not once but three times. Or Abraham Lincoln, whose legend penetrated all the way to tribes deep in the Caucuses, as told by none other than Leo Tolstoy.

If Britain and France had listened to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, and imposed a gentle peace on Germany, there would have been no Weimar Depression, no seething resentment leading to Hitler.

Later, in 1945, when America stood as the world's behemoth, men like George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower had their chance to impose structure on the world, an imperial peace or "pax," as had Rome, China, Babylon and Britain in their day. The long (comparative) peace that ensued - Pax Americana - was deeply flawed in many ways. But compared to all other "pax" eras -- and especially to the lawless times in between -- it was the gentlest ever known.

Certainly it was beloved by those we defeated in war. Today the U.S. has no better friends than those former foes who benefited from the plan of the 20th Century's greatest man.

Marshall aimed to avoid a core mistake of every previous pax empire. All the others - even Britain - set up mercantilist trade patterns that sucked fortune out of distant satrapies and fed gold back to the central kingdom, fostering poverty and resentment everywhere else, making inevitable a later collapse.

In contrast, the counter-mercantilist pattern imposed by Marshall's unusual Pax Americana favored transferring low level, labor intensive industries (e.g. textiles) en masse to poor regions around the globe in a cascade sequence that uplifted, successively, Germany and Japan, then Korea and Taiwan, then Malaysia and Singapore and so on, until right now this program of "foreign aid via WalMart" is raising up more than a billion people in China and India at the same time.

The core of modern development, this innovation is the number one reason that two thirds of children on this planet live in clean homes with electricity and sanitation, never hungry, and go to school every day. A program fueled in large measure by the American consumer, thanks to wise patterns enacted a lifetime ago. Patterns unique in the long and lamentable history of human empires.

- Prof David Brin

66:

Much of your hypothesis seems broadly right; however, I think the likely thing that causes us to break out of this cycle isn't the invention of some new form of democracy.

One of the side effects of the oligarchical need for self-preservation, and the need to win elections, is that we generally don't have long-term strategies, so problems which are likely to take more than 5 years to have an appreciable impact tend to be ignored. There are some well-documented long-term risks - global warming, resource depletion, acidification of the oceans - which nobody wants to tackle.

For "the West", there are additional long-term risks - the productivity gap with the emerging economies, the demographic changes with an aging population, the underfunding of pensions.

The most depressing failure of representative democracy is that these long-term issues are so toxic that no political party wants to touch them - anyone who suggests you might have to pay more for your petrol, take a lower salary, and work until you're 75 is unlikely to bring in the votes...

The other observation is that the causes and symptoms you identify have been around for at least 150 years - the political class has always been drawn from a fairly small pool, the media has always been powerful, large corporations have always exercised influence.

I think there is a element which explains the current situation: the lack of a credible alternative.

Whilst there was an external threat, with a radically different system, the self preservation instinct meant that political parties firstly had to keep moving society forward, otherwise the Soviets would invade; it also meant they had to spread the wealth a little more equally, because the working class had seen a successful revolution re-distributing the wealth.

67:

A sociologist named Mancur Olson has written extensively about this sort of thing. His analysis goes like this:

- Politics (democratic or otherwise) rewards groups that can take concerted action on highly specific agendas, i.e. interest groups.

- Interest groups take time, even decades, to really set up and get rolling.

- Interest groups are basically conservative. They're mostly concerned with protecting their interests. Expanding their interest comes a distant second, everything else gets ignored.

- The political process is full of little choke points where an interest group can dig in, get influence over a particular, small set of decision makers, and block actions that they don't like.

- Over time, the increasing proliferation of entrenched interest groups results in gridlock and ossification of the political process.

- Politicians, having seen wave after wave of hopeful reformers slaughtered in the no-man's land of political process, go beige. The idea is to be inoffensive enough to burrow into some tiny corner of the process, at which point you become one of the people interest groups go to when a reform needs to be killed. Reward follows.

- History keeps happening. Eventually the ossified system goes completely up its own ass. When a change happens that the system cannot ignore but is too ossified to accommodate, the system collapses and another system is built.

- Repeat.

68:

I always thought Suarez's "Daemon"/"Freedom" novels were a lot about these same issues (if I can bring up other author/science fiction works here).

Look out, if Charlie is a) smarter and b) a better hacker than we think him to be, perhaps his unstated answer to his own question (of what a non-failure mode representative democracy might look like) is Charlie's own Sobol's Daemon.

69:

This might work in systems without fixed election dates but in the US it would rapidly lead to lots of empty seats
And the issue is? I was specifically trying to design a system that forces politicians to make people actually want to vote, and the best idea I've come up with since I first met Andy Nimmo (yes the one of ASTRA Glasgow "fame". This may mean nothing to most of you) in about 1990 is to offer a "none of the above" option.

70:

When I read Frank Herbert's Whiping Star and Dosadi novels I wondered how exactly something like Jorge McKie's Bureau of Sabotage (BuSab) would actually work.

Is something like this the answer to the danger of political ossification? Could such an organization actually exist? How would it function? Get budgeting? Avoid becoming just another cog in the status quo.

(Off subject: And why hasn't Dosadi ever been made into a movie - similar themes as Dune, but a lot easier to film.)

71:

@65 - Oh dear. I remember Brin advancing this hypothesis at a con in Scotland when he was living in the UK back in the eighties. The only more stunned silence I've ever heard at an Albacon was when Ellison said something along the lines of "British, Scottish, Irish or Welsh - whatever, you're all English" and go on to explain it was silly to have so many different labels for such a small place.

But to address the ball, not the man: yes, no-one denies that America did some Good Things. But so did Rome and Byzantium, and we probably remember more of the Bad Stuff from those days (applies also to the last years of the British Empire, too, for that matter).

I really don't see America being any different - or China in another couple of generations.

72:

"peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, tased, or even killed"

this always happened. it's just that the protestors have to be white rich kids before the media takes notice.

73:

I'm a little bit proud of the fact, and interested to see the end result of Bristol electing an independent mayor, and an independent police commissioner, seemingly as a way of giving the finger to the three main parties.

Mind you, Bristol was the only city to vote to have it's own mayor, so maybe people here just like being different.

74:

One could say that the US system is an attempt to fix the Monarchy. The President is basically an elected monarch, originally without term limits, and counterbalanced by one group of legislators representing the wealthy and another representing the larger people.

As for what replaces Democracy... assuming there is no reversion to another form like monarchy or feudalism, some form of anarchy is probably the next step. I know people are skeptical and say anarchy won't work, but they also said that about democracy and republics once. The key is a combination of the right structure with a population/society that is ready for it.

75:

Which bit? If Britain and France had listened to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, and imposed a gentle peace on Germany, there would have been no Weimar Depression, no seething resentment leading to Hitler. is only even unusual in the implied claim that the USA did not seek punative reparations and/or humiliating demilitarisation from Germany.

76:

And this also explains why, although the first terms of the Scottish Parliament were gradualy filling with non-mainstream parties (3 in 1999,17 in 2003) they slipped away (3 in 2007 and in 2011) leaving the beiges to play their party games.

Party politics is horrible and anti-democratic.

77:

rouxenophobe@45
"the choice between parties in the US is now more stark" Stable meritocracy and noblesse oblige vs a slide into a high tech middle ages (it would be so cool--in a video game).

roberth @62
Maybe there should be a limit on the maximum size of the whole of current statutes, say 1 million words, so that in order to make new laws old ones would have to be repealed. In the US that would lead to brief statutes being built into detailed executive branch regulations. Perhaps that's the crux of what you are talking about. Detailed prescription is the legislative branch getting into the business of the executive branch.

"One possible way out of this gridlock is to preface every law with a social justification for its existence"

I was thinking about something like that regarding the US Constitution as Living Document issue. Here's the deal. Currently the constitutionality of a statute is judged by the judiciary from one of two perspectives. One school of thought tries to determine original intent. The other considers the constitution a living document whose meaning evolves with the times. Both have pros and cons. But is this function of keeping the document alive being performed by the judiciary only because the legislature is silent? Who says only the judiciary can breath life? Why could lawmakers not preface statutes with explanations of how they would like the words of the constitution to be interpreted in new ways to justify the statute? Then the judges could decide if the justification has strayed too far and has nothing to do with even the words. If the legislative branch wasn't broken this would be a great idea for them.

ryan@63
" it seems it's easy to convince people that the system is great "
Most people know it's messed up and doubt there's any way to fix it. That's why they are increasingly just trying to get their own and think short term. It's all they think they can do. The ship is sinking, fine, how do I make sure I get on a lifeboat?

"how do we get more people involved without creating a crippling bureaucracy "

I've got an idea for how to redo democracy, if you could do it from scratch. It all hinges on a monocameral legislature which operates on codified procedural rules that it cannot itself alter. This legislature selects the executive. Citizens vote, but not at regular intervals. Instead, each citizen is publicly on record as supporting a particular candidate for a seat in the legislature. It's printed, it's in a database, multiple redundancy. At any time any citizen can go change his or her support to a different person. There's a minimum threshold to get a seat in the legislature. If you have enough supporters, citizens whose ONE vote is currently on record to support you being there, then you get a seat. If your number of supporters goes below the threshold, you're out. Maybe have a nonvoting category for those with over half the threshold amount so those about to get a seat will know what's going on and be on hand if they "go threshold."


danielduffy@65
Statesmen are rare. How long before Marshall's influence fades? Was it a spark that lit a fire that will never go out?

DerkeHarter @68 Those novel's by Suarez are a really good example of self publishing succeeding. Also Freedom in particular depicted a really cool alternative economy. Best of breed, if not unique. But toward an electoral system they serve only as a cautionary tale about putting too much faith in computers.

-------------
Also, this unrelated thought that popped into my head while I was driving on the interstate in a snow storm.
Randians and Marxists elevate means as ends because their systems recognize no higher purpose in the world and there is nothing else available, but they recognize that people get depressed without a sense of higher purpose. There was more but I hit a pothole going through Scranton. North I-81: warning if anyone should go that way.

78:

I assume you're aware that Washington and Jefferson both warned of the dangers to society that political parties represented? From Washington's farewell address:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

Jefferson:

I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.
79:

"In Aus, we have a choice between a quite obviously crazy right wing Christian... and a reasonable well adjusted, annoyingly voiced, relatively normal, not quite so right wing Prime Minister."

Forget the NBN & asylum seekers, why are you contrasting Abbott's "quite obviously crazy" with Gillard's "annoyingly voiced"? You're obviously pitting them both as irrational choices, and yet these personal attributes you selected are not comparable. Why did you frame the statement that way? (Protip: the answer is your internalized misogyny. That is, you wouldn't bother to comment on a politician's voice except that she's a woman and they're meant to look pretty and smell nice and not have opinions, right?)

Australia has three broad social movements. The red centre, or the isolationist, rural social conservatives who want to raise tariffs, peg the AUD low and sell their produce for great profit. The middle & upper-class business-folk, who want open trade, foreign investment and minimal government regulation (including on social issues, because if fake vomit is profitable then by damn they will manufacture fake vomit and be damned government-enforced standards of decency). And, of course, the socialist, unionized labor party which was the impetus for the two aforementioned forces joining up to form their unwieldy Coalition party.

In recent years what we've seen is the Labor and Coalition both go for the economically-liberal, socially-moderate mantle. This is what squeezed the Democrats out of existence, and what forced so many Nationalists (the red-centre folk) to go Independent just to spite the Coalition. It's also what allowed the Greens to make gains where Labor abandoned its socially-progressive, economically-restrictive values. That is, the two major parties going centrist and ignoring two corners of the triangle in their haste.

You can look at this as a choice between two bad options, but you're ignoring the leverage of the minor parties and independents which, by their success, will force the major parties back into their separate corners. Australian politics don't really fit to the model Charlie is describing.

80:

Hmmm. While I hate to lift the sheeting over any project, I'm currently working on a book that involves the end of World War 2, so I'm reading a lot on that era.

And what you wrote isn't seem right at all.

Remember, Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech was delivered on March 3, 1946, or seven months after the Pacific War ended and less than a year after Germany surrendered. The cold war was settling in even before Japan surrendered. Remember that fascism was originally presented as an alternative to both communism AND capitalism. The Soviets fought with the US and UK only because fascism was as much a threat to them as it was to us. With the fascists out of the way, communists and capitalists had no reason to stay friendly.

America wasn't a "world striding behemoth" until the 1990s, in that decade between when the Soviet Union crumbled and China and India rose.

That's the genesis of the problem. We've still got the institutions of the Cold War, and that includes all the Whatever-Industrial complexes that grew up to fight the Cold War on our side.

These complexes are fighting for survival too.

They should have disappeared when the Cold War crashed, and instead they've metastasized, and other industries are trying to reinvent themselves using the same model.

That's one reason we've got the incompetent chimeras of the TSA and Homeland Security in the US. Terrorists make a perfect bogie to replace the Communist bloc as the enemy of our civilization. And one could argue that the Iraq war ended up as an excuse for the MIC to make a lot of money, and that we didn't get truly involved in Afghanistan until we figured out how to make it profitable too. And we have--black ops and drones are getting increasingly expensive, and we don't know where the money's going any more, or whether they are still effective. Silver-plated airplanes? It's for stealth, as in the Osprey. That sort of thing.

I'd suggest that this is where we're having trouble: we have these giant industrial complexes that know how to suck a lot of money out of the government. Unfortunately, most of the stuff they produce (other than salaries) doesn't go into the broader economy. For example Weapons are the ultimate consumer items--use them up, and then someone might spend money cleaning up thereafter. Ditto with prisons. A few people get rich, a bunch of poor people (the guards) get living wages, and a lot of lives get wasted to make it happen, all in the name of public security.

Does this sound familiar? I've seen a claim that the US has been captured by four industrial complexes: military, financial, oil, and medicine. Admittedly we all depend on oil and medicine, but anyone who doesn't see the media war against alternatives to any of these isn't paying attention.

And the -Complex meme is spreading. Here in California, I'm even seeing the state fire fighters attempting this approach. They've got an approach on the board to bulldoze and burn over 100,000 acres of wildlands per year, all in the name of preventing fires. All state parks are on the board for these treatments. They explicitly aren't paying more than token attention to the environmental laws that want them to be responsible, nor do they have any way of determining whether their treatments have anything like the desired effect. It's primarily designed as a money transfer to a few private contractors, using public safety as the fig leaf. A fire-industrial complex? That's what people are trying to set up.

Oddly enough, the way to fight against them isn't to rebel. To get rid of these things, we need to just get into such a bad budget strait that the government cuts them away to save itself. In this weird way, things like the bizarre Washington sequester might actually work. Call it the clown revolution.

Or not. We'll see.

81:

One other aspect about the corporate-government "symbiosis" you didn't mention was the STAFFs of the legislators. They are the people who really write the laws their purported masters pass. Consider the following essay:

http://dailyreckoning.com/revolving-zombies/

about just how certain aspects of Obamacare got passed and just who engineered them.

82:

"nobody can quite articulate a coherent alternative"

I think this is where you get closest to the root cause of our failure mode - one that's historically specific, and one that we can *conceivably* act upon. Our societies have not discovered compelling replacements for those exhausted reds and blues (sorry yellow, sorry green, but No), so it's beige versus blank, until we do.

In sociologist speak, this puts us in a "pre-political" moment, where social currents chop and change around until profoundly new unifying dynamics can be articulated and groups of us can come together around them in proper movements. The beige parties are zombie shells of previous, real, political movements. They'll keep stumbling around moaning and snapping at us until we can articulate coherent alternatives.

But when we do, there's nothing inherent in representative systems preventing us from reclaiming our world. Resist the urge to universalise this moment - that's doing the zombies' work for them.

83:

justinboden @79 "Australian politics don't really fit to the model Charlie is describing." What you are describing is a functional multiparty system. Do you think it will ever stabilize into two big deadlocked parties, and if not why not?

heteromeles @80
"most of the stuff they produce doesn't go into the broader economy." But isn't that what Keynesian economics is all about? I remember in Economics 101
about how Keynesianism was described, "it doesn't matter where the government spending goes, it could go into a pit, it will stimulate the economy."

84:

Since he was my favorite professor, I feel obliged to say that Mancur Olson was an economist not a sociologist. I agree that his books (The Logic of Collective Action and The Rise and Decline of Nations) speak directly to Mr. Stoss's comments.

85:

Not exactly - the actual example was something about paying men to dig holes and more men to fill them in afterwards. That at least guarantees the unemployed some money to spend on goods and services, whereas fat paycheques to modern capitalist organisations doesn't since the money won't go to people who need it.
See also quantitative Easing.

The real issue is that you've got lots of things you could be spending money on which would definitely feed it straight back into the economy, but your politicians refuse to do so.

86:

My hypothesis is that we have gotten *too good* at politics. Back when democracy was young, politicians used relatively naive strategies that left them at the mercy of the electorate. But as democracy has matured, there has been plenty of opportunity to discover all the tricks and hacks that can help politicians take control *despite* the wishes of the electorate. A couple examples include (i) the evolution of incredibly sophisticated marketing methods that know exactly which buttons to push for exactly which segment of the electorate and (ii) ever-more sophisticated techniques for gerrymandering, (iii) a extensive understanding of how to discourage participation in the democratic process. Unfortunately, the knowledge of how to hack the democratic system cannot be unlearned, so I'm pessimistic about any future improvement.

87:

As a US citizen, the most terrifying piece of this analysis is the observation (which for me, echoes some thought by David Graeber and others) that the Tea Party is the only viable radical party currently present. If the choice is between beige corporate technocrats and those guys, paint me beige.

88:

Hmmm, Dosadi as a story would be somewhat easy to film, but perhaps the mega themes involved put people off. It wouldn't be too hard to cut out some of the unnecessary stuff, or re-write conversations so that they explained things rather than hinted at them.
But then thinking about it, there's quite a lot of things told to teh reader e.g. Gowachin unease at being out of water so long, or the importance of certain postures and hand movements that would be hard to get in a film but make the book much deeper.

But I think you're getting confused re. the Burea of Sabotage. It was created not because of ossification of government but by its rapidity. I think Herbert was wrong in that respect, or else he was showing more obvious dictatorial leanings. I think the aim as it ended up being in the books and story is more to prevent government turning into a massive, overriding machine which crushes everyone under its wheels.
See also bureacracies etc. Mistakes and disagreements are human; making a machine system in the name of efficiency and crushing dissent are more what the BoS is about stopping.

The relationship of this to Charlies post is obvious.

The more subtle thing mentioned in the Dosadi Experiment which most people don't see or comprehend is the Demopol. It isn't explained very well in the book (Dosadi is not the most coherent book, it should be 50 pages longer) but the impression I have is that it is a method of polling a 'representative' sample of the population to arrive at the answers the ruling oligarchs want. Exactly how this method works is unclear, I think it would include what they buy, what they spend money on, media viewing, as well as questions about what issues they are concerned about.

The modern equivalent is of course poll manipulation and the use of focus groups.
For a fictional treatment involving the horror of a simulated town that the politiians can experiment on to their hearts content and use to steer and design policy without reference to the actual voting populace, see "Red Men" by Matthew de Abaitua. As soon as I reached that point in the story, I was like "Demopol!!!"

89:

I only partially agree.

Politics isn't just about winning elections, it's about running a group of people.

We've gotten very good at gaming elections, but, frankly, Washington (and many state capitols) are less good at actually doing the job of running the country.

So we've had a lot of innovation in electioneering. Where we desperately need more innovation is in the political process.

To be perfectly honest, innovation in the political process does get dangerous: a dictator taking over a semi-functional democracy is certainly an innovation, although it's not necessarily an improvement.

90:

I have to say I agree with Charlie's hypothesis but I'm not sure we have an evolutionary escape. Vive la revolution!

I guess my hope for the UK, if we have to keep the current system, is that the coalition disillusions one (well two actually) load of voters, the memories of Blair and Brown remain to disillusion the other mainstream, and we get relatively large votes for other parties. My politics would prefer Greens to UKIP and so on, but a significant disruption of the status quo and a radical overhaul of the system following that. Parties that, unlike Cameron, don't have long, close ties to the media and might castrate the newspapers so they start holding politicians to account (good) and not trying to choose who gets elected (bad).

And I would still like to see a system where we, the population, are consulted as much as possible. We don't see the stupid faux dichotomies "We're doing this for the best!" "We oppose you!" but we actually get to see the situation, a range of choices and understand them. There are very few problems I've met over the years where there are only two possible approaches - and the ones that spring to mind like "Should we invade Iraq, yes or no?" are lazy because they're not addressing the actual problem, they're forcing the simplistic question.

We don't look at George Osborne (and lets face it, even most of the Tory backbenchers are) and say "WTF are you doing with this policy that seems blatantly not to be working?" we see if he's got any choices and we kick him where it will do most good to get onto another track if there is one available. Of course that will upset the special interests... all those bankers he was at school with. But I can live with that.

91:

Your point about the Tea Party misses the fact that they got a lot of their funding during the first Obama term from rich wingnuts -- these folks have now closed the money taps, because they poured eight digit sums into the machinery and got nothing except a pain in the wallet.

I'm more worried about UKIP, in the UK, who seem to be genuine populists -- the Little Englander wing of the Conservative party in exile. When (not if) Cameron goes down in flames, UKIP will be waiting in the wings.

92:

Plus one on comment number five. My mother also supports government by lottery--she has been saying so for years.

Perhaps more threatening to the status quo is my idea of the Phone Book Olympics--international sport by random selection.

93:

I think you're misjudging the Tea Party. From what I can tell it tapped into real sentiment.

94:

None of the issues you cite in your weblog post are new or unique or unanticipated. Reading Machiavelli, Montesquieu, the Federalist Papers, and de Tocqueville is a pre-requisite to having a sensible discussion on these matters.

Democracy in particular is a particularly pernicious form of government, for as soon as the hoi polloi figure out that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury, the jig's up. Democracies inevitably slide into tyranny and empire; ever since the United States begin its slow devolution from a republic into a mere democracy, starting with the direct election of US senators; continuing with the centralization brought on by the Second World War; the so-called 'Great Society'; and the current 'terrorism' nonsense, incompetent empire has become the seemingly inevitable result for the USA.

There are various arguments for and against political parties in the source documents cited above. Their main beneficial function is to keep out most of the crazies.

Term limits are one way to help winnow out the professional political class. Unfortunately, they haven't seen much in the way of adoption beyond the two-term limit of the American President.

95:

as soon as the hoi polloi figure out that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury, the jig's up.

Cite, please. At least two examples of democracies where this has happened.

I'd find it a lot more plausible if in place of "the hoi polloi" you'd said "capital-intensive industries" and instead of "vote themselves" you'd written "buy themselves votes for".

But frankly, all I hear from you right now is recycled Heinlein wise-cracks and libertarian nostrums which don't actually correspond to observable reality.

96:

All political systems are oligarchies of one form or another. Our current democracies are still better than alternatives. Why does they appear so wrong now ?

Are they more corrupt than 15 years ago or has our expectations grown higher at a quicker pace than reality ?

My feeling is that representative democracy is still a good idea. I agree that our political elite is between bad and mediocre. However, we, the people, are the root cause for that. We are too dumb when we vote. We listen for demagogic promises and ignore reasonable voices.

Maybe one day we will learn, get more clever, become more resistant to memetic diseases. Democracy will become really effective then.

97:

Yes, the sentiment was real, leading to people burning themselves out organising, but money was also funnelled in by rich people who wanted a nice popular front campaigning against government spending.

98:

Various random notes:

The Teaparty is a "progress-party" in the same shape and mold as we have seen them in Denmark, Norway, NL and other countries: Racist, retronationalist skeptical of anything and everybody that threaten their preconceived notions, and ready to discount tangible reality, if it conflicts with same.

These parties are also one of the more credible arguments for the theory that addition of lead to gasoline has been the most expensive mistake we ever made in the western world.

Back to Charlies hypothesis:

One very big problem in the current western democratic systems is that the lawmakers do not feel the burden of the volume of laws they enact, and therefore laws accumulate.

It would be an interesting experiment to update a national constitution with a bandwidth-limit on legislation.

One way would be in the form of a mandatory expiry of all laws: After 10 years they expire and must start the legislation track from scratch, no shortcuts allowed.

My preferred model is based on the "rule" that a citizen can only be held accountable to the law, if he has a chance to know what the law says:

I would require that the member of parliament who propose a law, must recite it correctly, in toto, from memory, in front of the assembly, before the final vote can progress.

I'm sure that would do wonders for brevity and clarity in law-making.

99:

Agreed. Since I live in a strongly term-limited state, I can say that governance has largely decayed under the term limit system.

Problem is, big states are hugely complex. Just figuring out what goes where takes years. If you've got, say, six years to organize the campaign for your next job, you're not going to spend much effort doing your present job.

Term limits breed simplistic solutions. Basically, you'll try your party's orthodoxy, and if that doesn't work, move on to another job and try the same strategy.

The other thing to remember is, if these problems were easily solvable, they'd be solved already. While there are some stupid politicians out there, most of them are pretty intelligent. Certainly smarter than average.

It takes years of persistent effort to solve most big problems. Cutting their effort short via term limits isn't smart.

100:

Despite the several pitches for term limits as a potential solution to the pervasive Beige, I would advocate against them. Nearly two decades ago, my state passed term limits for all non-federal elected offices. They didn't work to combat the Beige. In fact, they exacerbated the problem.

Short term incumbency left most of our higher elected officials sorely lacking in expertise in handling state government. Lobbyists, party officials, and long-term government employees run rings around the electeds and in most cases simply dictate policy. The party structures have expanded because individual candidates no longer have the experience of running for a particular office and so they fall back on the parties to develop strategy and message. Party unity is at an all-time high.

The worst part is that we've managed to get some really stupid people into office simply because they blend in with all of the other unknown, cookie cutter candidates and are willing to back the party 100%. Some of them even manage to rocket up the ladder since the opportunities for higher office open up faster than it takes to find out that your representative is a dingbat.

101:

"we, the people, are the root cause for that. We are too dumb when we vote"
There's only so much smart you can put into your vote because you have to pick between two packages. Now, within a party, in candidate selection, that may be true. Still, there are practicalities and trying to get somebody who can win in the general election and function once in office. Maybe the answer is branded "factions" within the parties, akin to the tea party but more of them. More packages.

heteromeles@99
Maybe it takes a while for the term limits system to take effect. It's like if you work for a demanding boss who watches what you do when you finally get a day off. You lie around and watch TV. He says "why should you have time off, all you do is waste it." But if you had MORE free time, what would you do, once you were rested up. What I mean is, the term limited legislators are ineffective at dealing with a system designed to empower entrenched elites. What they do at first isn't necessarily what they will always do. Like when you take over a new office desk or something, you aren't very efficient until you rearrange everything for your own way of doing things. Once they simplify the system, arrange everything for their style, they may start doing things right. Stick to simple laws that the executive branch bureaucrats administer the details of under also term limited top executives. Like the State Department is run by career diplomats who know how to do things Hillary didn't understand in detail and Congress shouldn't think of legislating in detail. (Won't you give? Save the bureaucrat!)

102:

Charlie,

Funny, but even five years ago my response to this post would have been surprise you had bothered: your point is so obvious one would think there is no need to express it. (As well as you did express it.)

I'm no longer convinced this is the case. Yes, I'm in the choir. Yes I know this sermon all too well. Hell, I've delivered my own version of it from time to time. But the rest of your audience is largely made up of those who actually believe their political illusions are solid reality. These people need a constant drum beat of stuff like this before they can break the rhythm of their march;the political lockstep they find themselves in.

Even those outside the mainstream on these things are often blinkered by their political affiliations to the point they cannot see the forest for the trees. For example, someone mentioned David Brin earlier in the comments. Brin does tend to be right about a lot of things, but he embeds those nuggets of correctness in a matrix of dipshittyness so dense one needs dynamite to work them loose. In the end he is just a right-wing version of John Shirley, I.E. an intelligent and socially aware SF writer with a decent understanding of politics and a tendency to be right on the issues and wrong on the substance.

I find it fascinating the extent to which socialist Scottish SF writers (including yourself, albeit a 'naturalized' one) tend to show such a clarity of vision on this subject. Now there is a subject I would love to see you write about...

103:

Maybe it takes a while for the term limits system to take effect.

Thought experiment: would you advocate term limits for jobs other than "politician"?

How about MD? Would you like your GP to be limited to "eight years then find another speciality"?

How about airline pilots?

Hell, how about paid novelists? Do you think I'd write better or faster if I knew I only had an 8 year window in which I'd be allowed to profit from my work?

Term limits on elected offices are the wrong answer to the problem of elected officials "sticking". The correct solution is one that makes gerrymandering impossible and punishes poor performers in office by replacing them. (The problem, of course, is how you define "poor performance".)

104:

All political systems are oligarchies of one form or another. Our current democracies are still better than alternatives. Why does they appear so wrong now ?

Because we've completely failed to solve global warming in time to prevent serious consequences, and there's a damn new continent made of discarded plastic adrift in the north Pacific, and we don't seem to be making any progress in dealing with our environmental problems.

105:

While I agree there's benefit to experience, I wonder if what we should do is get rid of mass elections and instead have a smaller number of weekly/monthly elections. When $_CANDIDATE turns into $_REPRESENTATIVE they get a term (with, possibly some recall potential) of (say) 5 years.

But you undermine the party structure to some extent because you won't get the almighty mandate for "a parliament" so we won't have parties voting through barking policies and keeping going regardless - if moderately large parties persist and they block vote in unpopular ways they'll lose people when their next election comes around. I suspect this will make our so-called representatives actually represent their local electorate.

Traditionalists will throw their hands in the air and run round in circles of course, asking how we'll ever get anything done, how you can set plans. So some extent you can't, not in the current way anyway. But there are options like discussion, compromise and the like. And since we have semi-annual budgets, pre-budgets and so on, we just formalise that as part of the process, along with other things, so the big issues get thrashed out and discussed regularly to keep us ticking along.

Would we stay beige? Maybe. But I think we'd see a shifting pattern of smaller alliances rather than true parties, which might derail the failure mode. And I rather more sure we'd see far fewer safe seats and a move to actually elect people who do a good job.

106:

Sure, government is complex, as are many of the problems it faces, and this requires expertise like Doctors and Pilots. But my thinking was that the expertise would be provided by expert career functionaries based on direction by big picture legislators akin to short term high level appointees. They would just, for example, create a Minister of the Environment and vote in some vague mandates and powers that the MOTE would then run with. In theory.

107:

Surely the question though is, does you really have to do the modern political recruitment method as outlined above, to become a good representative?
I think it obvious that the answer is no, of course not. But it is the way to go if you want to be a good politician, which may or may not involve actually doing good for your country and its citizens.


This is also related to the Staffordshire hospital disaster - manaterialism in services as a result of the politicians not being here to serve but to manage. Everything becomes an issue of how best to manage it, rather than how to get the actual outcomes the public desire.

108:

Nitpick: Not Mr Packer. Kerry passed away a few years ago; James sold off his media stake and got into casinos instead.

As for the rest, justinboden @79 said it better than I could.

RDSouth @ 83: I don't see the Australian system sliding into the two party hole that the US is in, for one simple reason: our polling system. I won't go into the details of the Australian Senate's system; it's too complicated to explain quickly here (but suffice to say, it encourages a high diversity in parties and opinions, which means the fringe elements are more likely to have a small showing.) The House of Representatives, which is what defines a group as being "in power", is elected by instant runoff voting: we number all of the candidates (not some - all) in order. If one has an outright majority, s/he gets in. If not, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and his/her votes are redistributed to the second preference (for each ballot paper.)

This means that the issue of "voting for the party most likely to get in that I dislike the least" doesn't happen here - because a vote for somebody who can't get in doesn't get thrown away.

It isn't ideal - there are times when I look at the list of parties and think, "Dear $DEITY, who the hell do I want to put last; they're all appalling!" - but it's far, far, far better than the first-past-the-post system the US uses.

109:

No. Term limits had a fairly swift negative effect, and produced no obvious up-tick.

I live in California. A couple of elections ago, they tinkered with the term limits (via California's infamous public initiative system--also a bad idea), and oddly, possibly coincidentally, we're now getting positive action for the first time in years.

While we did get some notably corrupt actors prior to term limits, some of those corrupt players also had notably positive impacts on the state (I'm thinking of Willie Brown here, in case you're wondering).

California's fundamental problem is that distrust of Sacramento politicians was built into our political system back in 1911, and term limits is part and parcel of the same distrust. We like to think our politicians either are crooks or will be corrupted, and therefore the public needs to be able to over-ride them at will.

While I like checks and balances, treating everyone as a crook is, I think, a bad idea. Oddly, it doesn't automatically make everyone into a crook. However, it hasn't notably slowed corruption, so it hasn't solved the major problem it was intended to solve.

Term limits did have one result that was obvious in hind-sight: the lobbyists and consultants know much more about the issues than the politicians do, because they worked on the issue far longer than the pols did. So do some of the bureaucrats. This disempowers the politicians to an unhealthy degree, because they have to decide out of ignorance on issues that are full of complexities.

Most environmental issues take decades to sort out, due largely to the politics around them. The people who prosecute these efforts aren't the politicians any more, although they used to be. Now, they're corporations, consultants, lobbyists, and activists. While this is a form of participatory democracy, I tend to think that having our elected representatives participate too is a good thing overall.

110:

Charlie,

I think I must have misunderstood you. I thought you were saying one of the problems is that politics has become a profession. Would term limits not help with that? I would think if every member of a party knows they will not be in office for very long they would care less about re-election. The imperative of the party to survive would be, to some extent, countered by the desire of the elected membership to do something during their relatively brief tenure.

I can see you disagree with that and I'd love to hear more.

111:

I think that any serious discussion of this problem has to take account of what happens when democracy really fails. Professor Matthew Flinders (http://www.shef.ac.uk/politics/staff/matthewflinders) was attached to the UK embassy when he saw the riots between Thailand's reds and yellows. People were having limbs hacked off on the basis of the tee shirt they were wearing. And then dying because there is no health service in that country.

This has given him a strong desire to retain and strengthen democracy. I strongly recommend his writings on the subject. One of the points he makes is that politics is such a scrutinized area, and is made so unpleasant by the media that no normal person would want to enter it.

Obviously, UK politicians have not been the best of the bunch (why didn't any go to prison when they signed an expense claim that "These expenses were wholly, necessarily and exclusively for my parliamentary business"?) and are self serving with their demands for more pay.

One other point is that these days voluntary groups in general are finding it harder to recruit active members. This means that the pool from which to select candidates shrinks even further.

112:

Yeah, representative democracy. Roman style? An earlier alternative was direct democracy, Greek style, where citizens (at the time, land owning free men, I think?) voted on the ISSUES, not on the society of lizards (Adams) who would bend said issues to their personal gain.

Of course, when groups of people vote directly on issues that affect them, you get more uninformed voting etc, but perhaps that's less distortion of interest than having goup A (politicans) vote on policy for group B (workers, business, unemployed, child rearers, children).

113:

my thinking was that the expertise would be provided by expert career functionaries based on direction by big picture legislators akin to short term high level appointees.

We have that in the UK.

Unfortunately, we also have institutions like the Home Office, which develop their own agenda and policies and then brain-control whichever hapless minion is parachuted in to run them. (See also "Yes, Minister" for a hysterically funny fictional depiction of this process.)

114:

No doubt part (and only part) of the move to the centre of the Labour party is due to the breaking of and breaking with the unions – which did use to offer a genuine alternative path in to politics that the one you describe.

...until the unions themselves fell victim to the problems described. Closed shops; Arthur Scargill insisting that the remnant of the NUM should continue to provide him with rent-free luxury accommodation; union leaders blowing the Gini coefficient out of the water; the creation of a professional union employee (much like professional politicians - why bother with a proper job, just get into the hierarchy pronto...)

115:

In other news, A monarchist strikes back. Provocative and worth reading to the end.

116:

I thought you were saying one of the problems is that politics has become a profession. Would term limits not help with that?

Politics has become a profession, but term limits are the wrong answer -- all they result in is a revolving door between the legislature and lobbying firms.

The real question that needs answering in my view is why has politics become a profession, and how can we open it up so that a wider range of views are represented. (Of course, some folks disagree.)

117:

I'm not sure why you say "democracy is broken". It doesn't seem to be any more broken today than it was 50 years ago. In some respects things are better than they ever were.

People live longer and have a better quality of life than they ever did historically. I think your filter bubble and lack of long term perspective are the problem.

Given the large media companies are dying I don't see how the "failure mode" we're in is stable in any case.

118:

...They concede that the opposition may disagree with the party in power on precisely how the state must operate, but agree that it should operate...

Except if you live in the US, where the only alternative to the Beige Dictatorship is the Tea Party, who have decided that the state shouldn't operate and have spent the last 4 years attempting to monkey wrench the government as much and as often as possible.

This is the fourth item on that menu: Chicken Kiev, Chicken Chasseur, Chicken Korma, or Chicken Shit.

119:

A logical conclusion from ASuffield's post is that we need shorter working hours so that people have more spare time and energy. This would also have the added benefit of freeing up more time and effort for volunteer organisations and suchlike. (More important the more the condems cut welfare)

I can't see any downsides to it, but I'm sure the companies can find some. A tired workforce with anaesthetic tv is a docile workforce. Keep them slaving at 50 or 60 hour weeks and they don't have time to object, especially in an atomised society.

But then you have trouble organising the voluntary workers who are supposed to take over the work the state was doing, as you hack it all to pieces in the name of austerity... Wait, was I expecting conservatism as practised by politicians to make sense?

120:

I'm not clear what he's on about but he really means it and has written with style and immediacy. I've bookmarked the post so I can read it while less drunk. I suspect he has made a category error distinguishing between 'public opinion' and 'informed opinion' but I'm not sure. In any case if I were a politician I'd want him writing speeches for me.

121:

He does rather undercut the serious points in his long and detailed rebuttal by opening with some back handed compliments of Charlie's writing, and something of a mild ad hominem. It does leave the rest of the article smelling slightly of sour grapes I-could-have-been-a-novelist-too sentiment.

122:

I'm glad you wrote this reply because it captures many of my doubts about Charlie's post. You also add more points and to cap it all you write with the experience of someone within the system.

To other posters on this thread, I'd be interested to read your responses to this "inside view".

123:

Pick eligble citizens to parliament using a scientifically backed randomized method.

Problem is, someone who looks good on paper (and to a scientifically backed method) could be a real narcissistic chump IRL. Look at Academia as a model: it's full of people whose credentials paint them as a group of smart, accomplished individuals but put them in a room together on a committee and it turns into an exercise in passive aggressive tyranny and petty ego-boosting. Now give them triggers to nuclear devices and an army of robot drone assassins...

124:

If you people are going to get into Moldbug you might as well resign yourself to giving in to 100 hours of fun but ultimately useless time going through his whole site and supporting material. Of course in the end you will probably end up hating him, because you are biege.

125:

You approach the issue and back away at the last moment, likely due to horror. I don't blame you. But I can't help but needle you in the hope of getting you to look at it, even if you can only do it with a sideways glance through slitted eyes.

Political decisions do, in fact, track the median voter's preferences fairly well. Everything is working correctly.

126:

On a slight tangent, thinking about the US, I wonder if one reason the US House of Representatives has so much trouble is that, with 435 members, it's deep into the Dunbar Number hole between 150 and 500, too large to organize as a band and too small to organize as a tribe? If so, the logical answer for the US might be to increase the number of congressmen by 100 or so, and let more parties join. The reason I put in the second statement is that the parties within Congress are also big enough to be into intermediate Dunbar misery.

Now, if you believe this theory, the UK Parliament should (as a body) be safely into the Dunbar number for a tribe, and therefore should function better than the US Congress. However, the UK parties within the Parliament might be too big to operate harmoniously. Does this prediction accord with observations?

Actually, the nice thing about this idea is that it's subject to easy disproof. All we need to do is find enough well-run legislatures of 200-400 members, and enough badly run legislatures of 500 members, and we can throw out an argument based on Dunbar numbers.

A good case in point is the US Senate, for that matter. It has only 100 members, so it should operate better. Somehow, it hasn't managed that trick. Hmmmm.

127:

I honesty don't want to derail the conversation - not that anyone would let me - but I'd love to take the rare opportunity to have a more general political discussion with an active member of the Liberal Democrats.

Keeping it on the topic, (but UK-centric) what's the role of the Third Party (as a working definition, not a fate or dismissal)? As an instinctive socialist, an Orwellian "Tory Anarchist", I don't really feel I have a party. The best I can hope is that the Labour Party, when in power, chuck as much money at science & technology as possible, and try not to lock too many people up - that the Conservatives, when in power, don't sell and smash everything.

I see the OP, the original problem - the "grey men" and women who one hopes are only like that when in the public eye.

The Third Party, whoever it may be at the time, should, I hope, have more room for people who are a bit more individual - who aren't doing politics like they're reading it out of a franchise binder, with special inserts for x particular ministerial job.

Being a "character" can be a trap in itself, but I hope that any third party has plenty of room for people such as the late lamented David Penhaligon - someone who would always try to do the right thing, to make a moral choice, as it seemed to them. I'd trust a government - of any party - if was composed of men and women with his integrity - with as much connection and loyalty to their constituency as to the country. That's a high standard, but that's the luxury of being the third party - you can set your heels deeper, and your sights higher.

Finally, I know you meant well, that there probably wasn't an alternative, but Jesus, can't you hold back these Tory scum a bit more, just for a couple more years? Please?

128:

My previous comment held for moderation. I'm not sorry it was a bit of a ramble. tl;dr - the Third Party, whoever that is in any context - has an opportunity to dig it's heels in deeper, and set it's sights higher. Any third party with a broad enough left-right intake has room for a serious concentration of dissent in any clime. Is this reflected in reality?

129:

The automatic filters have been working overtime for some reason on the comments on this entry. I don't know why, but about 10% seem to have been held.

As of now, they've all been reinstated.

I expect more will get caught.

130:

My thoughts? White male complaining that the government isn't doing what he thinks it should?

"The news cycle is dominated by large media organizations and the interests of the corporate sector." Yeah, you'd never see a science fiction writer with a popular blog but no establishment connections being invited to speak at a new government funded research centre for copyright and new business models. Oh, wait.

"peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, tased, or even killed" That never happened to, for example, the suffragettes before WW1. Oh, wait.

"police spying on political dissidents becoming normal" Coal miners presumably aren't normal. Neither are anti nuke protestors.

And most aggravating of all

"Occasionally cultural shifts take place: over decades, they sometimes reach a level of popular consensus that, when not opposed by corporate stakeholders, leads to actual change"

I read this as saying that feminists, blacks, gays who joined poliitcal parties and campaigned and stood for election and made speeches once elected didn't accomplish anything.

Representative democracy as practised in the UK, US, Australia *is* the fricking popular consensus.


131:

Years of no writing but terse fault reports & brief emails have left me with less grammatical skills and worse punctuation use than a modern spambot. Such is progress.

132:

Everyone, no frothing rant replies, please. Feel free to correct each other, but sarcasm doesn't always carry well, and citations are always better than declarations of truth.

133:

That's not quite correct, though close. A smaller government can be supported *if* it's a government that yields more control to those deciding policy. (Even in that case, though, it's one of the rarer modes of action.)

To me the central tendency appears to be yielding more control to those who currently hold power. (This almost always means "and also their successors".) These are people who have a goal that they wish to accomplish, and they are willing to adopt what they see as reasonable changes to enhance the probability of their acheiving that goal. (Note that I said enhance. It's it's a wildly improbable goal they will still not be likely to accomplish it, at any rate in any useful manner, but the enhancement of power that they have bestowed upond the office will continue.) This is a positive feedback system with friction. The friction is a delaying force, but not one that is likely to return the system to it's previous state.

134:

That doesn't bear on anything that I said. American slavery was endorsed by its democratically adopted Constitution. The US government has spied on its citizens since at least the Civil War, if not since the Salem witch trials. God knows the UK's government has spied on its own citizens for bloody centuries now. I'm pretty sure even Aethelred the Unready spied on his freaking subjects. None of this is new.

Democracy creates problems, yes. But it also solves them. Look at how far the world has come in eradicating disease, hunger, and poverty (I know it's not perfect, but just read up on how much of the UN Millenium Development Goals were achieved years ahead of time).

Sometimes those solutions in turn create new problems. And then democracy tries to solve those. And on and on and on. For example, drugs ruined many American communities in the 60s and 70s. So we started the Drug War. Turns out that solution was worse than the problem it purported to fix, creating the highest rate of incarceration in the world. So now we've got people pushing for legalization. But if adopted that will undoubtedly lead to greater access to drugs and therefore to higher addiction rates. So we'll create treatment programs, and then maybe finally solve the problem.

Until one day, suddenly there's no room in the budget for treatment and we abolish the programs. Communities start to fall apart again and we've come full circle. Democracy, government, and human life in general rarely provide conclusive answers or solutions. Things come in cycles; history ebbs and flows. Democracy is unstable, that's what makes it adaptive and effective. Today, maybe we're killing people extra-judicially with drones. But at least we stopped torturing. At least we stopped legally discriminating against women and minorities. At least we require people to be convicted for crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. Progress, man's distinctive mark alone etc.

So yeah, get mad about drones, torture, indefinite detention. You absolutely should. But don't confuse the existence of flaws in the democratic government of the moment for systemic failure, whether hidden, explosive, creeping, or otherwise. No system is perfect, but at least democracies for the most part are trying to get better. And the fact that we're getting angry and raising alarms about all this evil crap that our governments are pulling is the surest evidence of that.

135:

P.S.: The only reasonable alternative that has occurred to me is the randomized choice of officials that was mentioned earlier. But do note the importance of diluting the power of any one official in such a system. Some of the random choices will be "real winners".

Also remember Aesop's fable about the Frogs who wanted a King. And in a similar vein the warnings of the prophet Samuel before he chose Saul as King of the Jews. Centralized power is inherently both corrupting and dangerous, largely because there aren't any expected consequences that are dangerous to those weilding the power.

136:

Count me along the folks who see the beige politicos as a feature not a bug, we're already slated for life in interesting times this century without adding Great Leaders to the mix.

The overton windows are shifting in the right direction along most of the axis I care about, and surprisingly fast in some cases. Just how fast do we want world culture to change anyway? Do we really want a global society that can spin on a dime? I haven't hit 40 yet but already 20 years seems like a relatively short time to me.

As for fixing the system, I wouldn't even consider it. I'd like to see it all replaced seamlessly by more efficient alternatives that creep up on it unnoticed. Roll out some post scarcity tech that'll do to the world economy what skype has done to international phone calls (Sure, that corpse is still walking, but it just had a lot of momentum).

137:

I think one of the determinants of people's views on this issue is how they think about the environment. As I noted back in #104, I consider the environmental news very worrying, and think that our apparent inability to respond to the problems on anything like the necessary scale is something our descendants will dearly regret.

If, on the other hand, you think that environmental concerns are overblown, then the present situation seems fairly good, and significantly better than most past situations.

P.S. My browser crashed the first time I tried to post this. My apologies if it winds up accidentally duplicated.

138:

One quick way of determining if you are part of the "establishment" is whether you use the term "we" when describing government policy. We should do X. We shouldn't do Y. If you are using the term we then your subconscious doesn't believe your posturing against the status quo.

People who don't like the status quo say things like, "they did that." Those people out in Washington should do X or stop Y. The status quo isn't something they participate in (even if they vote), its something they endure.

139:

@5:
Pick eligble citizens to parliament using a scientifically backed randomized method.

---

I've been advocating that semi-seriously for a couple of decades now. Pick a [whatever citizen ID number your country uses] via the Powerball Lottery method; your number comes up, you take the next available political office.

Objectors often say, "what if incompetent or evil people were then put into office?"

My usual reply is, "how could we tell?"

140:

I'd like to toss Joan D. Vinge's "Outcasts of the Heaven Belt" into the mix. Written in 1982, one of its background threads was the operation of a truly democratic society, implemented via a real-time, high-bandwidth computerized information and voting system. Voting was done pretty much continuously, on anything and everything, with the process also serving as news and entertainment for its participants.

Since it was secondary to the story Vinge didn't develop it extensively, but the first thought that came to my mind was, "Exactly how much democracy do I want, anyway?"

Politicans and functionaries would need some level of "empowerment" to avoid clogging the system with trivia; I don't necessarily want to have to make an informed vote on whether Animal Control needs new equipment, or parsing a 5,000 page bill on financing a foreign war... what I want is a way to empower people whose informed opinions would agree with mine, if I cared enough to form an opinion.

141:

One thing I have seen in recent British political history is a pattern of prolonged Government by one party. The Conservative Party from 1979 to 1997. The Labour Party from 1997 to 2010.

In each case, the Opposition parties lost most of their experienced politicians to age and retirement.

This is effectively a single-party state. If the mutual beigeness was a big problem, the party in government would lose more elections. But the tendency for the opposition to be more like the government, or perhaps less unlike it, is going to make elections like Monty Python episodes: not their Election Night Special, but the Spam sketch.

142:

@70:
Dosadi... movie
---
I'd wondered that about "Whipping Star," and spent some time writing my version of a screenplay for it some years ago. With modern CGI and/or animatronics it wouldn't be difficult to film the events.

The main problem I ran into was that the backstory wasn't really amenable to conversion to dialog. That led to the same problem as the movie of "Dune." The "movie experience" of those who had read the book(s) vs. someone who only saw the movie would be much different. There was just way too much backstory to fit into a film that long. Fortunately, few viewers seem to expect a movie to actually make sense, so it didn't matter.

143:

1. The UK over the last 50 years.

2. The USA over the last 50 years, as it's devolved from a republic into a mere democracy.

I'm giving up discussing political topics with you, because you've demonstrated that you're simply not a serious person in this regard, that you're stunningly ignorant of large swathes of the history of political development over the last five thousand or so years (the post to which this is a comment proves that), and that your devotion to your childhood religion of vague leftism has so distorted your worldview that you view anyone of rightist/conservative leanings as being stupid, narrow-minded, evil, what-have-you.

I'm shocked that you didn't actually condemn Mencius Moldbug. My guess is that you secretly believe him to be a sort of fanatically devoted Internet uber-troll.

Here's a hint - he isn't. Another hint is that people who disagree with your vaguely leftist views aren't all stupid, or evil, or both. Perhaps with age, your unwarranted arrogance in this regard will dissipate - but I doubt it, since you're already old enough to know better, yet you don't.

For the record, I'm not a libertartian, I'm an American paleoconservative. I don't think the Mexican War nor the War Between the States were a good idea, much less the Great War, the Second World War, the Balkan war, or either Mesopotamian Expedition. While I certainly prefer libertarians to leftists of any stripe, they certainly aren't my first choice.

I'm sure you'll 'red card' me, now, which is of course your right on your own weblog. But remember that it's you who set the tone with your 'libertarian nostrums' & 'recycled Heinlein wisecracks', not me.

144:

@103:
Thought experiment: would you advocate term limits for jobs other than "politician"?
---
The size of the legislature is fixed or regulated by stature, and there's generally only one chief executive.

You can choose your MD of plumber from a large pool, but you're stuck with what other people think you need for a Minister of Roads or a President. You don't get a personal choice until you have the opportunity to vote for someone else... and you might not get your choice.

145:

Modest proposal for adding a check and balance to the beige, in the US system at least:

Create a third house in the legislature. Populate it equivalent to the House of Reps from state jury pools. (And like jury duty, impose an appropriate series of penalties re: mandatory attendance, but maybe cut the term down to like a year with a year's warning so people can make arrangements. As a political entity, they'll pretty quickly vote themselves the amenities - how about a pension? - to make sequestration more of a lottery win than a gigantic pain in the ass.)

Let things pass on the vote of 2 out of 3 houses. Chop things up so an appropriate balance of cooperation is or isn't required to get things done.

Here's the thing: With a straight lottery draft system, the 'winners' are easily corrupted - hey, once in a lifetime chance, take all the influence and gladhanding you can before your times up! Politicians are professionals at that game, so keeping them as a class means they'll be very good at calling out corruption in the 'draft winners,' particularly if it goes against their own interests. Meanwhile, the short-term draft winners aren't going to be as willing overall to look the other way at stupidity 'as a favor' to preserve their own chances at pushing legislation the way the careerists are.

Meanwhile, it'll push a sampling of constituents into the political media theater - the careerists will be forced to acknowledge the third house and negotiate with it in relation to their policy stances - and some of the draftees might prove popular or effective enough to be encouraged to run for elected, rather than forced, office later (probably 'adopted' by parties or equivalent machinery, but at least that'd expand the selection pool from beyond groomed lizard-people).

146:

Democracy in particular is a particularly pernicious form of government, for as soon as the hoi polloi figure out that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury, the jig's up.

Democracies aren't the only governments that have problems with overspending to keep their citizens quiescent. IIRC, at the time of his death, Louis XVI had spent his expected tax receipts for the next seven years. The Arab regimes have been doing this for decades, but the game is winding down as oil revenues decline.

Secondly, the US government owes trillions of dollars, but is greatly helped by the fact that the US government is the sole arbiter of what a "dollar" is. It's very difficult to go broke in your own fiat currency. Yes, printing money would be inflationary, but if I had to choose between inflation or debt deflation I'd choose inflation every time.

147:

Political parties, like most large institutions, are often able to avoid accountability because blame for collective failure doesn't necessarily translate to individual representatives. While we can't eliminate parties in a system where freedom of speech and assembly are constitutional rights, we could at least remove some of the institutional support they currently enjoy in the electoral system. Elections should be non-partisan, and not list candidate's party affiliation on the ballot. If a voter doesn't know who the candidates are, voting merely based on party is unlikely to produce a better outcome. Similarly, there should be a single primary with all candidates and the top two candidates go onto the general election (and/or use a system such as IRV).

148:

On the one hand the post is so obvious as to not bear repeating

On the other hand, it's only as true as we let it be.

Life is funny that way

In general representative democracy is kinda old fashioned at this point anyway technology is plenty capable of implementing straight out democracy

149:

Maybe a dumb question here, certainly a general one: How do you evaluate job performance?

150:

You can stop that any time you like. Please do so sooner.

Everyone else, again, please don't feed the trolls.

151:

I do rather enjoy those posts when someone says: "You are an idiot and I refuse to spend any more time discussing this with you, now here's my big long explanation of why I won't discuss it further."

152:

I find it interesting how many comments suggest that a randomized sampling of people from the population would be make a better representational democracy. Wouldn't that just move the career politicians out one level? It's not like there wouldn't be political organizations still running the long term politics, which means you would end up with the exact same set of problems as are currently found, if the self preservation mechanisms of the organizations are indeed a large reason for beige politics. The only difference is that it would be easier to find the loose cannon on the inside layer, at least until the next set of people are randomly picked to represent the population. But there would still be the same heterogeneity in the occupants of the second layer (the more permanent political layer), so I really don't think there would be any real difference.

I'm really not sure there is any form of representation that would not eventually lead to beige politics, since forming organizations is so fundamental to trying to represent a large number of people in any way that allows long term planning.

A second note: For the comments about revolution being the solution to beige politics, at least in cycles--What makes you think that the result of a revolution would be another representative democracy? A military state or dictatorship seems just as likely if not more so. And if you're talking about a revolution within the system I think you're deluding yourselves if you think anything would be different by the second election after a change in leadership. The long term interests that shape the beige politics (corporate interests) would stay the exact same and the new parties could not survive more than an election or two before being turned back into the same system.

Realistically the beige policies themselves (especially fiscal and possibly environmental ones) are more likely to cause collapse at some point that will result in something a lot bigger than a revolution within the system. And that's not likely to be another representative democracy. As seen by the cyclical flip between parties within our current system, we as humans tend to flip to a different set of policies if the current ones seem to be going bad, and if we reach anything near a point of collapse that would be bad enough to provoke a flip away from democracy completely. To what is the scary question. Most likely some form of dictatorship, based on Rome.

153:

Seriously?

The general answer is a negotitated series of measurable targets over a timeframe (make X widgets per shift, complete Y operations per year with a death rate of <z%, educate a% of the class to achieve such-and-such a grade or better at exam). There's usually negotiation from both sides (management and workforce/unions) on this and there are problems with setting targets that cause perverse behaviour (one of the classics was forcing the NHS to get all waiting times for seeing the consultant under 6 months which actually caused a smallish but measurable RISE in average waiting times) but that's the general rule.

In the specific, in the case of politicians, it's pretty easy. They publish, of their own accord a statement of "we're going to do this in the next parliament" e.g. "we're going to introduce austerity measures to get the deficit down and stimulate the economy because there will be less debt" and although there is time left, we're also looking into the serious risk of the first ever triple dip recession. Oops.

There's lots of things by which to judge them though. Michael Gove is determined to improve education (no problem there). He just seems to be choosing ways that are illegal, confusing or cause disastrous unexpected consequences. Surely that must count as a failure in anyone's book?

154:

troll (?) rd @ 143
The USA over the last 50 years, as it's devolved from a republic into a mere democracy.
Oh dear.
Politics FAIL oh troll...
The Most Serene Republic of Venice

Does that give you a clue?
As to the hollowness of your arguments.

Sorry, folks, late to this discussion.

One point.
It shows that a lot of us have (some) poins of agreement with the "libertarians", even though some of them appear to be christian fruitcakes.
We are all, justifiably worried about "The power of the executive"

See also This article from "Big Think" ....

155:

Coincidentally after seeing this topic I came across a review on the works of Simone Weil. As far as I can see, she claims that most of our problems with govt stem from political parties. Contrary to what many think in this group, the collective mindset is inherently dictatorial... we should be represented by individuals who can follow their conscience on issues.
She is also on the record for saying "Democracy, majority rule, are not good in themselves. They are merely a means towards goodness..."

156:

Back around the AV referendum I proposed a different new voting system. At the time I was half joking, but I've since become convinced it would actually be a good idea.

Basic premise is simple: You take exactly the current British system. Still have local MPs, everyone still votes in general elections and votes for a single candidate, etc. You just change one detail:

Once everyone casts their vote, you pick a voter at random and use their choice.

This sounds like the "Just elect the house by lottery" proposals but is in fact completely different: Your probability of winning the election is directly proportional to the number of people voting for you.

When I proposed it initially I highlighted that it removed a lot of the pathologies of voting - the system has no spoilers, no incentive to vote strategically, etc.

What I've since decided is much more interesting is the fact that despite the fact that it's based entirely on local constituencies, it achieves a very strong form of proportional representation: For any property you care to name (party, religion, race, gender, views on one specific niche issue), if x% of the votes across the country go to someone with that property, you expect x% of the parliament to have that property. This makes it very powerful for getting independents into power (if roughly x% of the country want an independent candidate, roughly x% of the parliament will be independents) and helps parties who are thinly spread over a large number of constituencies.

Hard to say whether it would completely avoid this failure mode, but I think the dramatic increase in diversity of the house can't but help.

157:

Oh no, Greg. What the libertarians want is strong, manly, authoritive government with massive powers of coercion. They just don't want these powers used against them.

158:

(This post's reaching outside my personal experience to things which I've heard from our politicians - so it's second hand information)

But my thinking was that the expertise would be provided by expert career functionaries based on direction by big picture legislators akin to short term high level appointees. They would just, for example, create a Minister of the Environment and vote in some vague mandates and powers that the MOTE would then run with. In theory.

This is actually the system that we've ended up with. We like to claim that our politicians build up "experience" over time, and it's true in a sense, but not the one most people think.

A government minister is one person with a staff of about five. They stand on one side of the field. On the opposing team is the thousand bureaucrats that make up the ministry. The minister's objective is to change something. The bureaucracy's objective is to keep doing what they have always done. Given the rate of reshuffles, a minister is typically in post for about two years. It'll take them the first six months to really figure out what's going on because their predecessor was a political opponent who didn't brief them. That gives them about 18 months to accomplish something and they're going to be fought every step of the way.

The bureaucrats in the ministry have all the experience in education or health or whatever the issue is. Today, in the UK, the experience which the politician brings to the table is digging into obstinate organisations and making them change direction - and far too few ministers are any good at it. A lot of them end up pushing policies which were handed to them by their ministry. Most of the acts of parliament are written by the bureaucracy. (To be fair, most of the controversial acts are written by lobbyists or party think tanks, but this is a tiny fraction of the hundreds of bills that go before each parliament)

So that's another reason why things don't seem to change much from one government to another. The minister changes - the ministry doesn't. Note that this time, I'm talking about what governments manage to deliver, rather than the policies which parties talk about - a lot of the policies "introduced" by this government and the previous one took years, consumed a lot of money, and some still didn't really go into effect before the next policy killed them off. Some things, like the headline tax rate, can be changed very quickly. Most can't.

This is also why the feedback system on job performance is quite broken. A parliament lasts for 5 years, usually. It can take upwards of 10 years for a policy to go from announcement to delivery. By the time we find out what effect a politician had, they're history.

159:
Once everyone casts their vote, you pick a voter at random and use their choice.

It sounds like a good idea on paper, on the basis of the mathematics, but you've missed a crucial hidden criteria for voting systems:

The counting of the votes must be done in such a way that all parties are confident that the results are correct and fair. Electoral courts must be able to validate the results in the event of a dispute.

160:

The points you identify seem to me to be valid to a point Charlie, and there are many deeper issues at play also.
Asuffield raised some interesting points.

napadvocacy comes very close to identifying a solution to the problem you posed, when he writes of real time networks.

rou.xenophobe raises some interesting points which have a degree of validity, but don't reveal a full picture.

Colin Crounch's post democratic analysis is interesting, and shallow. It does not explicitly delve into the deeper set of incentive structures that produce the outcomes described.
It seems to me that all such approached are about to be overtaken by exponential trends. The thing about exponential trends in noisy environments is that they are invisible in the noise to most people right up to the point that they emerge as almost vertical walls.

neville.kyut's idea that people need to work harder has no real basis in reality.
The reality is that machines are getting better and better and producing stuff with little (if any) human input. The fact that those products are not getting to the people who need them is a failure of the distribution system (markets and capitalism) not a function of productive capacity.

heteromeles gives a possible strategy, but it is still one firmly based in an economic paradigm, and as such, has no hope of ultimate success (as the deep incentive structure is against it).

First we need to look at the history of democracy.
It started in small city states - of just a few thousand people. Each person had direct contact with the people he represented. When human groups get much above 200, their stability breaks down. Around 200 seems to be a limit imposed by many different factors (mostly within the human brain) on the number of stable social relationships we can maintain in one context (it seems that we can maintain multiple contexts, and there does seem to be a working limit of around 200 within any one context).


Before exploring that theme any further, I need to introduce a few other themes, before bringing them together.

Evolution, cooperation and competition.
The traditional view of evolution is one of competition (nature red in tooth and claw) and that is certainly part of the picture, and it is only part. The full picture of evolution is seeing that all new levels of development in evolved systems come about when sets of strategies come together that allow for new levels of cooperation to stabilise. In the history of life this has happened many times, between RNA and amino acids to deliver proteins, then between RNA, proteins and lipids to deliver cells, then the jump to eukaryotic cells, then multicellular organisms, then to complex organs, then to brains and to the many levels of mimetic evolution we now observe.
It seems clear to me, that what is required to empower the next level of evolution, is a set of technologies and strategies that stabilise cooperation at the global (galactic) level between all self aware languaging entities.


Money, market valuation, and capitalism.
It is clear to me that most of the problems we observe today are the result of the systemic incentives within the market valuation paradigm. Markets are great tools for allocating scarce resources, and have served freedom and humanity well over the last few millennia, and there are serious limitations in the paradigm.
The paradigm is essentially the product of two sets of functions. One set of functions is how important something is to us, and that can have a potentially infinite set of components to it. The other set of functions is how scarce we perceive something to be. The more important it is, and the less common it is, the more money we are prepared to pay in the market. Conversely, the less important it is, or the more abundant it is, the less we are willing to pay.
The aspect of this that most miss, that is critical, is that markets cannot deal meaningfully with real abundance. Real abundance must always have zero market value, and there is thus a real set of meta incentives within monetary systems to destroy anything that threatens to deliver real abundance to all (of anything).

This aspect of market valuation systems (aka money) is in direct conflict with our exponential development of automated production systems, that are rapidly approaching the ability to deliver real abundance of all the necessities of life to every individual. There is simply no meaningful way to deal with such a thought from within an economic paradigm - is does not make any sense.


Concentration of power, protection of money and money production.
The incentive structure within monetary systems is to deliver free markets, and the free movement of capital, which logically tends to accumulate into ever greater clumps in corporations. One trap is that those involved start to treat fiat money as if it had any meaning in reality, rather than acknowledging the reality that it is simply a convenient myth that has had some historical utility, which is now coming to an end.


Evolution of understanding, intuition, and the role of what is common to individual minds.
As human beings, we did not come with a users manual. It seems that what happened was, that as language evolved, we came to consciousness as languaging entities, and became aware of ourselves in a world. We had little idea about anything; so we made up stories to try and make sense of what we were. These stories were a product of the contexts of the time.


Distinctions - binaries to infinities, and the infinity of possibility.
When one first encounters an infinity, one cannot distinguish it. The simplest act of distinction we can do is to choose some essentially arbitrary point (though it might have some relevance to us at the time) and make a binary distinction at that point. As children we each do this many times, with distinctions like hot/cold, dark/light, tall/short, right/wrong, good/evil, heavy/light, ....
None of those simple binary distinctions has any sort of absolute reality, they are first order approximations of understanding an infinity. As our experience sets grow, so do the depths of our distinctions, and no human mind (I suspect no mind) can actually comprehend any infinity. All infinities are beyond comprehension by definition, and we can make every more useful approximations (as we gather more experience).

Epistemology, probability and error.
It seems that all of our experience, all of our perceptions, contain finite probabilities of error.
The more common our experience, the greater is our confidence around it.
Thus, for many of the ordinary every day experiences of being a human, we have such high confidence that we do not normally think of the probability of error, until we do something like meet a stage hypnotist, or a stage magician.


Habits, intuitions, and context.
It seems that the human brain is an exceptionally complex set of sets of collections of patterns, and it is capable of doing many things.
We are capable of learning habits. We do this automatically for the most part, and we can take some conscious control of the process.
We are capable of having intuitions. Actually we do this many times a second, but most of us are rarely conscious of that fact. It seems that our intuitive faculty (our ability to distinguish pattern that was not previously distinguished from a set of precepts or concepts) is the result of the way we store and retrieve information in a distributed fashion (much more analogous to how LASER holograms are made than how our current computers store and retrieve information). The really interesting thing about such "holographic" storage, is that the intuitions returned are completely dependent upon context. One does not need to maintain indexes, or indexing algorithms. Simply by changing the context of recall, all of the available data in memory is automatically aligned to the new context, and the intuitions returned (most of which are subconscious) realign accordingly). This can result is state changes of consciousness that are profound. The habitual aspect of brain requires a lot of retraining if one wishes to alter such a "state change" to a "stage change" of awareness.


Now, in order to allow your underlying "holographic" processors to freely associate, I ask you to consider the contexts of games theory, information theory, evolution, probability, systems theory (and a few years of programming at multiple levels is useful in the experience set) and all aspect of science and the history of humanity, our planet, and the cosmos within which we find ourselves.


Which bring me to my answer to the question Charlie posed:
A credible alternative to democratic governance seems to me to be to completely decentralise governance, and establish distributed trust networks.
It seems to me that real time communication of information between intersecting trust networks does provide an alternative. If we are each responsible for the integrity of our own datasets of such things as, when did you meet someone, how often do you meet them, how much do you trust them in different situations or contexts, etc. And we are open with that information to anyone we trust sufficiently within our networks, then we could create a system of cooperation that is universal and highly resistant to cheating at all levels.

If that system is further empowered by a set of machines that are capable of manufacturing and repairing themselves, and also providing a basic range of essential goods and services, then no one needs to "work" to survive. Our age of abundance has secured an abundance of the essentials of life for everyone.

There are constraints.
Reality to be commanded must be obeyed.
We are natural evolved entities.
We are part of natural ecosystems, and I strongly suspect that we depend upon them in far more ways than we are currently aware (and we are aware of many levels of dependence).
So this is no licence to act on a whim, and it is freedom for responsible action (though not freedom from the consequences of action - the distinction is extremely important).

My 2c worth for the evening.

161:

I'm shocked that you didn't actually condemn Mencius Moldbug. My guess is that you secretly believe him to be a sort of fanatically devoted Internet uber-troll.

The first time I met Moldbog his greeting was, "dude! Come inside! Let me show you the lizard room!"

And there was, indeed, a room full of fricking' huge iguanas and chameleons. And a snake or two.

Moldbug understands and uses both irony and sarcasm. Can you say the same of yourself?

162:

napadvocacy @134
"get mad about drones, torture, indefinite detention. You absolutely should. But don't confuse the existence of flaws in the democratic government of the moment for systemic failure"

But there is a trend that the system increasingly doesn't respect itself. It violates its own rules out of sheer laziness and sense of immune empowerment, even when it would be too easy to produce the a comparable result within the existing rules. That is systemic decay. I think the attitude that the rules are untenable so we should just violate them with a smile really accelerated with the conspiracy to force everybody to violate Nixon's 55 mile per hour speed limit.

At least those practicing slavery made an effort to keep it technically legal. In the absence of the viability of amending the constitution, gun control for instance could be done self respectingly by simply making it illegal to sell guns of whatever type. Doesn't violate "keep," in fact mandates it. Indefinite detention of foreigners could be made legal by simply giving detainees triels under country of citizenship. Or, more creatively, declaring them insane. Someone says he intends to kill you, I say keeping him locked up is self defense. If the grounds is less clear, maybe reconsider doing it. Drone strikes could be done more carefully by giving public notice that certain areas and persons are targets and association with them is likely to be dangerous. Where possible, summon targets to report for trial, then they are evading apprehension. Or maybe reconsider if it can't be done right.

Sometimes going through the motions of navigating the maze can be therapeutic. But there isn't the creativity, there is just the exertion of authority by what are essentially anarchist moles.

163:

How do you evaluate job performance?

That is indeed a key question.

(As Tony Blair put it, "I entered office at my least experienced and most popular. I left office at my most experienced and least popular." Popularity and experience are often inversely related; as witness everyone's fondness for that expert and accomplished prime minister, Gordon Brown.)

Also: is job performance in policy-making posts to be evaluated on the basis of successful policy-making, or the making of successful policies? And if the latter, what time frame do we use for reviewing them? (Look how quarterly profit/loss accounting helps corporations plan for the very long term when, like Boeing, they're manufacturing products with a 30-year service life.)

164:

If the worst problems with the system are the practical implementation of it, I'm OK with spending a bit of time and ingenuity on solving those rather than just say "Oh it has practical problems, it couldn't possibly work" :-)

The description was intended to be conceptual. You wouldn't want to literally pick a random ballot paper. It's relatively easy to solve in a way that lets you make the system deterministic but based on a secret that is distributed before the election.

Example: You distribute a random seed to each constituency to be opened after the ballots are tallied. When the elections are announced closed you announce a second random seed nationally. You combine these in each constituency to produce a fixed number N between 0 and number of votes in that constituency. You order the votes alphabetically by name of candidate they voted for and pick the Nth. It's deterministic, reproduceable, and fairly stable against recounts because most of the time you'll be deep inside a block of votes.

165:

Political decisions do, in fact, track the median voter's preferences fairly well. Everything is working correctly.

That they do, in a sense, allowing for some degree of time-lag, in either direction: political decisions lag behind popular opinion in cases like federal marijuana policy (although there are surely more interesting ones that could be found by someone writing something less inherently uninteresting than a blog comment!), and anticipate public opinion quite a bit in cases like desegregation.

But even ignoring that, the problem persists. Whence the median voter's preferences? Is the media completely irrelevant to the formation of a voter's political opinions? What about formal education? What degree of consensus is there among people who work in the media and formal education? Do they trend in a certain direction relative to the median voter? The answers to those questions are: the Cathedral, of course not, of course not, a lot, and leftward.

The Cathedral is another bit of Moldbuggery. I've had bad experiences with spam filters before so I won't link to the exact post of his that this is from, but this bit is pretty self-contained:

The great power center of 2008 is the Cathedral. The Cathedral has two parts: the accredited universities and the established press. The universities formulate public policy. The press guides public opinion. In other words, the universities make decisions, for which the press manufactures consent. It's as simple as a punch in the mouth.

The Cathedral operates as the brain of a broader power structure, the Polygon or Apparat - the permanent civil service. The Apparat is the civil service proper (all nonmilitary officials whose positions are immune to partisan politics, also known as "democracy"), plus all those formally outside government whose goal is to influence or implement public policy - ie, NGOs. (There's a reason NGOs have to remind themselves that they're "non-governmental.")

(If we did not have an existing category for the press and universities, we could easily think of them as NGOs - in particular, the system wherein journalists are nominally supervised by for-profit media corporations is purely historical. If the Times and its pseudo-competitors ever fail, as they may well, the responsibility of funding and organizing journalism will fall to the great foundations, who will certainly be happy to pick up the relatively small expense.)

166:

...er, those last three paragraphs are all Moldbug, I guess italic tags don't span line breaks or?

[[ Seemingly not. Now fixed for you. mod ]]

167:

And it's exactly that sort of targetting which has caused problems in the NHS and suchlike. The evil of managerialism is that that it thinks you can sum everything up in box ticking and numbers.

Which works okay in the widget factory, but doesn't in a human based environment with many many variables. How is a nurse supposed to meet certain targets if they can't control what the new patients on the ward are like? One week they may need lots of attention, another they don't.

Meanwhile, back in the world of widget making, or in my case, furnace insulation making, the place I used to work at did bonuses. Which meant a certain amount of trimming and hasty work was done to ensure that targets were met.
In fact, Scotttish Engineering, a quango/ assisting organisation for Scottish manufactring companies, stopped suggesting that they use bonus schemes years ago, because such things are counterproductive as the targets and such distort what people do.
This has been observed in the police, with superindentents actually getting performance related pay, leading to PC's under pressure to ignore or pay attention to certain types of crime.

One answer is professionalisation, but as we've seen with surgeons and the inability of some to admit that their techniques dont work or their capabilities aren't as good as they used to be, that isn't the complete answer. Another is creating a workplace culture in which you all contribute to quality and good outcomes without being checked against tick boxes every hour. Sure, you still need to record stats like deaths and the like, but instead of using them as an excuse to sack people, you use it as a method of finding out what is wrong.

Meanwhile, everything is moving in the opposite direction - more supervisors, more boxes to tick, more paperwork, because people think managers are the answer, rather than leaders, and who needs professionals, they are awkward and don't do as they are told, placing patients above targets and boxes ticked.

168:

I propose that this beige dictatorship (/oligarchy) is substantially vulnerable to corruption by money, and that this could represent an escalating problem.

169:

See also Baumol's cost disease. Basically, you can't obtain arbitrary efficiency improvements in human-labour-intensive jobs that are not amenable to automation. So the cost of services provided by such roles tends to rise over time relative to other goods and services which can be automated.

If managerialists set targets for performance improvements in ignorance of this principle you end up with horrors like the Mid-Staffordshire NHS trust scandal.

170:

You've nailed Charlie. It's the party system crossed with rep democracy that has lead us down this garden path. It pushes governance towards an appeasement route and we get the lowest common denominator. No one is willing to take a hard stand to do the correct thing if it jeopardises an election victory.

A large part of the part problem is that unless you are extreme right or left you are highly unlikely to ever agree 100% with any party. So your vote invariably goes to the party that disagrees least with your world view so collectively you end up with the least worst option instead of the best option.

But it doesn't necessarily need to be that way any more. Rep democracy was only necessary when we couldn't all be directly involved in a decision. It has changed the landscape so it's about time that we reviewed what types of governance can be achieved and suits the tools we have at hand.

One model that strikes me as worth considering is allowing each citizen to directly elect up to 5 ministers of the miniseries of their choosing. This gives your vote(s) value not only for whom they are for but for what areas of government are most important to you. You could even consider allowing several ministers within each ministry each having voting power as per their results from the last election. It would completely eradicate the least worst option result and would go a long way towards undermining the party system as candidates with relevance and experience to a ministry get up over party hacks.

Or we just wait until we can hand ball governance to an AI. We just gotta hope that we have enough deep control over it that it doesn't decide that humanity IS the problem.

171:

Once again you've managed to touch a point with many people! As some others, I too have long since decided that representative democracy and the party system are part of the problem, not the solution. Granted it's First World Problem (tm), but I'm for striving for improvement!
Personally, I'd favour a direct democracy with the subsidiarity principle placed firmly front and center: It'd cancel this continued stage performance, where we may choose the actors but not the play. It disrupts the beige dictatorship failure mode. Organised with foresight, it does not introduce any equally bad failure modes that I am aware of. In all aspects it should equal or improve on representative democracy, so in this sense it would pareto dominate it.

@94 Reading all that stuff must have mightily confused you, if you can't even get the relation of the terms "Republic" and "Democracy" right any more.

172:

Meh. The situation you describe is the result of people not voting for better candidates. I'm not sure how you jump from that to thinking that this is a problem with representative democracy. People can vote for people who are better; they just don't a lot of the time. Changing the system wouldn't change this underlying problem, it'd probably just make it worse.

And yes, if you wait until the general election, you're most likely into "lesser of two evils" territory. If you want to make a difference, get involved much earlier.

173:

How do we get better candidates? The main parties usually have a lock on who gets to stand - often overruling local electors who think someone else would be a better candidate. The new numpty still gets voted in, because of their party ticket, but that doesnt' mean they will be a good candidate.

Also increased centralisation of the party's has undermined any attempt at being mass membership party's.

174:

In the US, parties can't overrule local electors. If people want to vote for a candidate in the primaries, there's nothing that can stop them. I understand in the UK it's a bit tougher and requires people to either work within the parties or run as independents - in which case, that's what they need to do.

175:

"We are fundamentally committed to constitutional reform and breaking out of the cycle of "two parties, zero differences". But all the canvassing, polling, and election results indicates that the public at large isn't very interested - something around a fifth of the population feels strongly about it, and the rest thinks the system is working fine. That has two important effects. Firstly, we can't get candidates elected if we spend too much time talking about constitutional issues. Secondly, the media will not print stories about it even when we send them a press release, because they think "people aren't interested", so it's hard to get the message out."

Speaking as an outside observer, the LD party is now the party of zero differences. It (or rather, the leadership) has been helping the Tories be Tories, and much more Toryish than both the Tories and the LD promised in the election.

This is a problem for third parties, I'd guess - party death by beige.

176:

"In the US, parties can't overrule local electors. If people want to vote for a candidate in the primaries, there's nothing that can stop them."

That's a bit disingenuous, isn't it? Just last year both the Cripps and the Bloods demonstrated at their conventions exactly how the party apparat deals with those who possess inconvenient things such as principles.

177:

"
@Vanzetti: The Western block managed the entire Cold War maintaining traditions and regulations of Human Rights and "Rechtsstaat" (or rule of law)."

In the USA, at least, human and civil rights improved tremendously from 1947-1989/91.

178:

It's not disingenuous at all. How are the parties going to stop someone from voting for who they want? When someone gets into the voting booth, the parties can't control who they vote for.

179:

In the US, parties can't overrule local electors.

That's how the Conservative Party operates in the UK. Labour, the LibDems, et al tend to be more centralized. In the case of Labour, much more centralized -- the central party apparat parachute candidates into constituencies and the constituencies are expected to shut up and deal.

Both methods have problems. In the case of the Tories, their grass-roots anarchy results in the prime minister having to deal with endless back-biting back-bench factions in the Parliamentary party. In the case of Labour, the system was deliberately engineered (in the late 80s early 90s) to ruthlessly suppress dissent, which resulted in it becoming possible to hijack the party from the top down (thank you, Tony Blair).

Note that once a candidate is in Parliament, they're subject to the party whips, i.e. they don't get to vote their conscience without consequences if the party has a strong policy on the matter in question.

180:

"Your point about the Tea Party misses the fact that they got a lot of their funding during the first Obama term from rich wingnuts -- these folks have now closed the money taps, because they poured eight digit sums into the machinery and got nothing except a pain in the wallet."

Incorrect - they got a false front reactionary couter-wave, which sharply limited what the Democrats could do. Remember, in 2008, the GOP was discredited, and the oligarchs needed a stopgap.

181:

"Your point about the Tea Party misses the fact that they got a lot of their funding during the first Obama term from rich wingnuts -- these folks have now closed the money taps, because they poured eight digit sums into the machinery and got nothing except a pain in the wallet."

A lot of real and 100% dishonest sentiment, the sort of peoplewho were shocked!!!! at big, corrupt government the moment the the other gius won. People who hat Big Gov,except when it comes to war, surveillance, assassination, torture, and never prosecuting big bankers. And their Social Security and Medicare.

182:

"Democracy in particular is a particularly pernicious form of government, for as soon as the hoi polloi figure out that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury, the jig's up"


Mr. Pournelle, it's the 21st century and the people who seem to rake on all of that loot are the 1% (really, the 9.1%).

BTW, the USSR has fallen.

183:

I suppose then you're left with the same problem I mentioned before, which is not a problem of democracy. If the electorate keeps voting for a party that ruthlessly suppresses dissent, then it's a problem with individuals, not the system. No doubt centralized parties make things more difficult than primary systems, but the electorate still wields power. They just do a poor job of using it.

184:

I guess it's a political version of the Fermi paradox.

If it's actually possible for decent people of good conscience to get elected and supplant the careerist scum who typically gain and hold office , why hasn't it happened yet?

185:

The whole point about the rise of the political classes in the UK is that the Conservatives were one of the last to properly centralise power, and the point about Cameron et al is that they have done so, making them more like new labour etc.

186:

Suddenly, the phrase "Keep Calm and Carry On" springs to mind. [cough] (And now I suddenly don't feel so bad about bringing up heated issues.) Anyway, I agree. Democracy is fraught with issues these days. I also agree that they crept in via a mentality that values the status quo above all else and that there is a corporate mindset involved. I also agree that the issues are complex. Where we disagree is that the issues are irreversable.

In the US (and I can only speak for the US) and an observer of US politics for [cough] years--the problem can be traced back at least as far as Nixon.[1] (Nixon's corrupt, power-mad Republican Party is where Karl Rove learned his trade.[2]) In fact, Karl Rove was very nearly prosecuted for illegal activities (spying on the competition) back in 1972. Watergate saved his ass in that it provided bigger fish to fry. Rove has been pushing for a one-party system ever since '70s.

Next, we have Ronald Reagan who touted the myth that big business is somehow more efficient, and thus, more ethical than big government.[3] And here we have the start of the concept that government=bad. Also, this is where we ran headlong into the problems of corporations running the state. The fox is in the hen house.

So, we have 1) political parties using CIA tactics to eliminate the opposition and 2) big business worming its way into government via...campaign contributions.

One of the biggest problems in US politics is that one is required to be a multi-billionare in order to run for national office. It's impossible to do otherwise. No one in the upper levels of politics actually has a concept of what regular American life is like because they're all super rich. Thus, a majority of the American people don't actually have representation. Any other country would see campaign contributions for what they are: bribes.

So, corporations pushed for less regulation via bribes and vilifying 'big government.' With less regulation, corporations became people, the anti-pollution laws were losened, the ATF was made totally ineffective as a regulatory force, long standing monopoly laws were pulled[4], financial institutions went back into the gambling business[5], jobs were shipped to countries where labor (even slave labor) is exploited, corporate tax loopholes were expanded, and the list goes on.

Then we have the media. Back when Reagan was president he repealled a law that prohibited the media from portraying opinion as fact. The 'common sense' reason was given that people have enough sense to discren the difference between fact and fiction. "Why should big government have such a law? It's stupid!" As we've seen over and over again, this is a very dangerous thing because people actually can't discern the difference. And because monopolies were allowed--once again our key media outlets came under the control of a select few individuals who ultimately might as well be foreign interests.[6]

I know all this sounds pretty impossible to deal with, but frankly, this isn't the first time we've seen this set of problems. We're basically re-living the Gilded Age. (Everything cycles.) I seem to recall that the main thing that pulled us out of that tail-spin was the impact of investigative journalism. Today, we have the internet. I have hope that all of this can and will change. We've done it before. It's just going to take a lot of time and hard work. It did, after all, take both to get us here.
------------------------------
[1] Although, one should note that Nixon didn't appear out of nowhere. Mainly, I want to note that this isn't a new problem that appeared overnight.

[2] He also studied with George H.W. Bush who was the Director of the CIA before he became president. It's no accident that the tactics used by Rove bear a striking resemblance to those used by such an agency.

[3] Never mind that governing has totally different goals from business. In certain American minds they are one in the same. This is a direct result of Reagan's super-expensive hammer/toilet seat and welfare mother driving a Caddy urban myths.

[4] Hello, 'Too big to fail.'

[5] Factors which brought about the Great Depression in the US.

[6] Big businesses consider themselves to no longer be tied to their country of origin. They speak of themselves as 'multi-national' and 'global.' Thus, their needs no longer match those of the state in which they were once tied.

187:

It's an exaggeration to say that one must be a billionaire to run for national office --- Barack Obama certainly wasn't. What you do need is sponsorship from the extremely wealthy --- meaning in practice one of what OGH has previously defined as the *real* two parties of American politics: the crazy billionaires ("let's kill the poor and take all their stuff!"), and the sane billionaires ("but if you do that, who'll mow our lawns?"). Which, in turn, limits acceptable political discourse to the range between those two parties.

188:

it's a problem with individuals, not the system

The system is simply the manner in which individuals are accustomed to interacting with each other.

How are the parties going to stop someone from voting for who they want?

Deciding whose names get on the ballots is a big part of it. Deciding whose commercials get on the air is another big part of it; you can't get elected if nobody's heard of you, no matter how good your ideas are. Having necessary political infrastructure owned and operated at the party level is a third part; if Bob is elected to Congress as an independent and Alice is elected as a Democrat, guess which one is automatically slotted in to the existing nationwide political machinery on everything from Congressional committee assignments to donor lists?

189:

The trouble with assuming people can tell the difference between fact and fiction is that when opinion and just outright lies that the viewer wants to believe are presented as fact... then it's much harder to tell.

Mix in some fact and it gets harder, particularly for random consumption - you're far more likely (well I am) to check facts in a science paper you're reading carefully for some reason, or a history text or similar, than something you're half watching on TV while having a coffee, yelling at the kids and so on.

Add in repetition, and it gets even easier to believe it. In fact, even the people peddling the lies start to believe them if the Fox analyst that refused to believe the Ohio result is anything to go by.

190:

I think that representative democracy has become less functional across the entire first world in recent decades. This suggests that the problem is nothing specific to any one nation nor any one form of representative democracy. But since representative democracy has functioned better in the past, the cause can not be inherent in representative democracy.
My own candidate for the cause is that the economy has long reached a point where it needs to shift to be knowledge-centered but our social systems have not kept up. So we have a slowly unfolding tendency toward decay, which is particularly acute when it comes to social consciousness.
Alternatively, one might see the root cause being the shift in power from working people to the elite created by introducing over a billion (originally) desperately poor workers in the 3rd world and former Soviet countries. Arbitraging centuries of misery in a dark necromancy.
Either way, what it shows up is the same, in a corrupting of all processes related to creating social understanding.

191:

In the early 19th Century, Americans were constantly forming and then dissolving associations for various purposes. Now, almost none of these paid their officers, so dissolution was fairly easy. Most famously, organizations devoted to the abolition of slavery simply disbanded after the end of the Civil War. Not that the work was finished. Providing decent opportunities to the newly freed slaves, and advancing legal equality for them was also important, but that work was done by new organizations opening with a clean slate (albeit with many of the same people heading them. Serial activism is something the Unitarian and Episcopal churches subsidized with their clergy, which they still do).

The same thing happened with prohibitionist organizations, and with associations that fought too reverse prohibition. But there is the issue of what happens when getting anything done requires paying people full time.

192:

I know it's not an original thought, but I can't help wondering if we need a good revolution in most of the first world countries.

Any system that is about power, probably any system in fact, gets gamed. I suspect a lot of the current democracies are gamed to the point of failing to match the best of intentions with which they were created, or even the worst of intentions.

I'm not advocating a return to revolution each time to change despots. But every now and then an revolution or two in short order to try and set up a better system might work, for a century or two, until it too becomes massively gamed.

193:

Another idea to make politicians more accountable: how about we separate job evaluation from the selection of a replacement, and add some personal risk? Each election cycle, voters would cast a vote of either approve, disapprove, or jail. If 50%+1 approve, the politician is automatically reelected. If 50%+1 disapprove, a new election is held for which the politician is not eligible. If 50%+1 say "go to jail", the politician spends a year in a minimum security prison. If there are less than 50% "jail" votes, they are converted into "disapprove" votes.

194:

"The USA over the last 50 years, as it's devolved from a republic into a mere democracy."

That is such a profoundly silly argument. The USA was never a republic or a democracy. The USA was, and is, an amalgam of Greek, Roman, Saxon, Norman, Swiss, Dutch, and yes, Judeo-Christian notions of governance (the latter was particulary significant in the early decades, when Anglican Virgina, Puritan Massachusetts, Quaker Pennsylvania were all expressly theocratic).

Plus small elements that are clearly a reaction to conditions at the founding. The Constitution is on a strict calendar because of the whole lack-of-representation in Parliament problem. America had no MPs because there was no way to dissolve parliament and reconvene a new one quickly if it meant shipping messengers to America and collecting new MPs to London in a timely fashion. So when the new government was formed, it was decided to use a calendar.

195:

The bland and beige state can be changed when a party suffers a big enough defeat. The current ruling party in Canada, the Conservatives, had been reduced to two seats, and came back by being taken over by our local hard-right party, "Reform", who are anything but bland.

Right now, their main opposition, the Liberals, have fallen into decline, and are looking exceedingly hard for a way to come back. It rather looks like they will, in part because some very non-bland members are running hard for the post of leader.

My own MP, Martha Hall Findlay, recently came out in her campaign against what used to be a shibboleth, "supply management". Supply management used to be popular when we had lots of small farms struggling to stay alive by selling milk and eggs, as it gave them some price guarantees.

A hundred years later, we have factory farms run by the blandest of corporations, making out like bandits at the expense of people who buy the milk at artificially inflated prices.

The professionally bland now have a problem: they can come out for the status quo, which their paymasters would prefer, but if they do they'll be held up to public criticism for supporting a rip-off by big business against consumers. And they won't be able to point to the small farmers, because they're all out of business.

People with actual opinions are running, with a conscious intention of fixing the current bland mess you describe. Why? Because excessive blanditude was one of the reasons they suffered significant previous losses!

I suspect the party will end up reforming itself for a human generation or two, by following Martha into evidence-based policy making. If so, then we're OK until the master of beige can start creating their own facts to back up their opinions and preferences

--dave

196:

Revolutions occur when regimes become intolerable. Is successful revolution against a beige dictatorship even possible? By definition they keep the majority just happy enough, so are unlikely to drive a revolution. Also by definition, however, they are not optimally effective, so external events can make life miserable and there could be a revolution against the misery brought on by incompetence. Like severe economic problems or a war with the Kaiser. Also perhaps they can be changed quickly by the equivalent of a Gorbachev.

197:

I remember in Economics 101
about how Keynesianism was described, "it doesn't matter where the government spending goes, it could go into a pit, it will stimulate the economy."

At some point if you get too many make work jobs then the economy doesn't work anymore. Someone has to actually product something for an economy to work.

198:

In the Army we had these gadgets on our diesel trucks that were for starting them quickly in cold weather. As I recall they injected ether or something into the fuel mix. So, a stimulus is like that ether--not good for a steady diet.

199:

Revolutions occur when regimes become intolerable. Is successful revolution against a beige dictatorship even possible? By definition they keep the majority just happy enough

No.

By definition they keep their backers happy enough.

Their backers may not be the majority. (One could argue that in the USA -- and in the UK, currently -- they clearly aren't.)

Gorbachev, in Soviet terms, was a disastrous failure. Meant well, tried to fix the system, it was more broken than he realized (due to systematic lying by production agencies) and it broke even worse.

200:

At some point if you get too many make work jobs then the economy doesn't work anymore. Someone has to actually product something for an economy to work.

There are two common problems in an economy, insufficient supply or insufficient demand. To figure out which, go to the mall. If the shelves are nearly empty and you can't afford what little is for sale, it's a supply problem (e.g. Soviet Russia). If the shelves are packed to bursting and sellers are offering large (<20%) discounts, it's a demand problem.

Keynesian stimulus is an appropriate remedy for problems stemming from insufficient demand. This happens to be the problem we currently have throughout the developed world.

201:

This is a very good point: people like Rumsfeld and Cheney were already toxic in the Nixon and Reagan era; under the George W. Bush administraion, we gathered the fruits of years of maturing, consolidation of power and lucrative links with business. I shudder to think of what will happen if people like John Yoo or Douglas Feith manage to fall on their feet, build successful carrers and make a comeback in 20 or 30 years.

202:

I believe the UK has valuable experience in neutering formerly powerful institutions such as the monarchy, church, peerage, etc into merely ceremonial institutions.

I'd favour organizing some nonprofit foundations/NGOs to take over basic human needs like housing, healthcare, food, etc... it seems governments fall over themselves to farm these out to the private sector anyway.

203:

What makes you think they'vebeen neutered?

The peerage doesn't have much power -- the legislative/revision element has been turned into a kind of glorified committee full of bureaucrats appointed for a life term -- but the church is still established and has enough clout to meddle in law-making, and the monarchy has a rather shadowy veto power of alarming proportions.

204:

"I suspect a lot of the current democracies are gamed to the point of failing to match the best of intentions with which they were created..."

That's something that I, too, have long suspected. It needn't be a revolution in the traditional sense, either. Just anything to shake things up and invalidate the old models - a year of Jubilee on steroids, if you like.

205:

repeat of #199, with "greater than" sign removed because it caused trouble.

[[ Fixed post #200 for you anyway. Mod ]]

At some point if you get too many make work jobs then the economy doesn't work anymore. Someone has to actually product something for an economy to work.

There are two common problems in an economy, insufficient supply or insufficient demand. To figure out which, go to the mall. If the shelves are nearly empty and you can't afford what little is for sale, it's a supply problem (e.g. Soviet Russia). If the shelves are packed to bursting and sellers are offering large (more than about 20%), it's a demand problem.

Keynesian stimulus is an appropriate remedy for problems stemming from insufficient demand. This happens to be the problem we currently have throughout the developed world.

206:

One possible way out of this gridlock is to preface every law with a social justification for its existence, a list of social deliverables that have to be achieved in a certain time frame and a sunset clause that forces bad laws to be re-evaluated or abolished after a certain time period.

In the US most (all?) laws passed by Congress by stating why they are to exist. And most cite the Commerce clause of the Constitution as that clause has the broadest opening to make a law constitutional.

But if you read some of these preambles you can get some real laughs out of how far they stretch reality to try and make some new federal power constitutional.

In my opinion any basis for a law can be weasel worded such that it will never expire. Most of the time the people pushing for a law have absolutely not desire to see it go away and so any expiration requirements will be watered down to the extend they will never happen.

And I can just see the court cases when a law is though to expire by one interest group and not by another. You think we have fights now, just wait for these.

207:
That's how the Conservative Party operates in the UK. Labour, the LibDems, et al tend to be more centralized.

I can't speak for the other two parties on this one, but for us (Lib Dems), absolutely not. I'm speaking here are somebody who will be on the shortlisting committee for my constituency when it kicks off in a week or two, so I am intimately familiar with the process. All applicants to be candidates must pass the national approvals process, but that's not at all hard if you're a liberal and not a flaming nutcase - in large part it's a test of whether you can stand up to press pressure without breaking down.

After that, the process is simple (this version is somewhat abridged, the real rules run to a couple of pages). When a constituency is ready to select a candidate, it appoints a shortlisting committee (made exclusively from party members who live in the constituency) which will advertise nationally for candidates and sift through the applications to throw out people who have entirely failed to read the application paperwork - and the committee's mandate is to approve as broad a selection of candidates as they possibly can. All accepted applicants are then put to a ballot of party members who live in the constituency. The national party has absolutely no say in the matter. They are explicitly forbidden to meddle.

We believe in localism and we are really serious about it.

208:

And another thing! (Sorry, always wanted to do that).

The whole "peaceful succession" / "transfer of power" benefit of Western democracy thing is something that I hear a lot. I do wonder, however, whether a succession or transfer can truthfully be said to have taken place, when all that's changed is the glove puppets and the new lot have the same hands up their arses as the last lot did.

209:

"By definition they keep their backers happy enough."

And so far, they have also kept the knowledge worker ("creative") class in the fold. These are the folks who often produced the ideas that the broader masses rallied behind.

I think RDSouth was correct that a revolution (or even major positive reform) against a beige dictatorship is difficult. But not because they always have majority backing so much as that they do not present a visible point against which to apply leverage.
They are beige and they are non-transparent.

210:

By the way, I think it is only the first world that is run by Martians. The badly run parts of the second and third worlds are run by classic Earthling thugs and tyrants.

211:

To effectively neuter an institution, it's best if it is not aware of it, or else you get 18 year old kings taking back their throne like Moldbug was talking about.

In my pet scenario I envisage the game of democratic politics continuing as it is, drawing out all the authoritarian leaders and enthralling their followers. In order for this to be effective they would have to have some levers of actual power, preferrably status related like the Prince of Wales apparently has. Meanwhile the actual running of important things is hopefully left to rational professionals*.

I do not know if someone actually engineered this state of affairs - in the case of the monarchy it's more plausible, the church seems to be more of a case of cultural drift.

*The checks and balances on this group would be of course that they cannot be seen to be in charge, so in effect they aren't, for status values of "being in charge"

212:

The parties can't stop anyone from getting their names on the ballot. It's true that some states make this more difficult than it should be, but not to the extent that they can overrule the electorate. We've even seen examples of successful write in campaigns when the candidate preferred by the voters is not on the ballot.

Likewise, the media doesn't keep good people from voting for who they want to vote for. It merely sways uninformed voters (the vast majority) who are too disinterested or lazy to spend half an hour researching the different candidates, and instead make their decision based on advertisements. Again, the problem is that people want a system that will work without requiring them to pay attention or exert any effort. You can't blame democracy for human sloth.

213:

"
In the early 19th Century, Americans were constantly forming and then dissolving associations for various purposes"

Elaborating on this a little furhter, in the 19th Century, all Americans had a deep familiarity with parliamentary procedure, and seemingly a love for it. THis was the era in which Gen. Robert wrote Robert's Rules of Order. So forming associations was easy as far as they were concerned. And nobody ran associations for a living, so dissolving them was also easy.

Nowadays, we have a more populated society, in the US and beyond, which makes any sort of policy push a lot harder and means it requires hiring people to do it full time. And it does not happen spontaneously the way it once did, which is why we saw the Occupier protesters come up with rules of order that are so tedious they make Robert's Rules look good in comparison.

Still, the Occupiers had the right idea about one thing. If you want the political process to yield a beige interest in favor of a populist one, sitting in a public square and sleeping rough in it is a good first step.

214:

Why hasn't it happened yet? Comment #26 summed it up pretty well:

"The problem is that resistance is exhausting and so few people are willing to do it. Many will complain bitterly, but they won't come out and work to change things. Spectating is easy, and they can shout at the TV instead of doing something about it."

It's not a paradox anymore than global warming still being a problem is a paradox. Things don't fix themselves, and they require effort. Right now the vast majority of people can't be bothered to work on improving our political landscape.

215:

... randomized ...
Objectors often say, "what if incompetent or evil people were then put into office?"
My usual reply is, "how could we tell?"

But we'd get a lot more guys like this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNZczIgVXjg

It amazes me how the guy with the stars and bars kept such a straight face.

216:

You're painting a scenario in which the majority of people are lazy mushrooms.

If that's true then the sad thing is that the Trots were right. Entryism is the most effective method.

217:

Also: is job performance in policy-making posts to be evaluated on the basis of successful policy-making, or the making of successful policies?

Several people have danced around this issue. You also to some degree.

How do you get everyone to agree on what a successful policy actually is. Like we have now in the US where for many major initiatives of either part 40% are totally for it, 40% are dead set against it, and 20% will go along with whatever.

218:

I thought you were saying one of the problems is that politics has become a profession. Would term limits not help with that? I would think if every member of a party knows they will not be in office for very long they would care less about re-election.

In many ways this entire issue is related to size and the speed of change.

In my city (Raleigh, NC, USA) the population has grown over the years:
Year Pop Percentage change from previous year.
1990 212,092 41.2%
2000 276,093 30.2%
2010 403,892 46.3%

Our city council consist of 8(?) locally elected officials paid not that much and expected to really be just a few hours per week on the job. They share one secretary, one lawyer, and the city manager reports to them. The city manager is in charge of everything below him.

Guess what. They can't keep up. The job has just grown too complex for them as a part time poorly paid position. Budget is around 1/2 Billion. And lately some serious issues have come to light due to the local paper finding things out. Basically the City Manager made some legal decisions that seemed to follow the city council but it turned out were decidedly unpopular.

So now the council is talking about pay that would allow them to get deeper into details and a staff for each member to digest the fire hose of information coming their way.

My point is that making the elected officials more amateur, AT ANY LEVEL, doesn't seem to help things out.

Check out WHOOPS for more amateur fund in elected officials.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_Northwest

219:

How many hours monthly do the people you know work on political issues? Participation tends to be pretty low. Where I am, our primary is our general for the most part, since we're a one party jurisdiction. Yet only 17% of the eligible voters bothered to vote in the last primary. We recently tried to pass a ballot initiative for something that's fairly popular, but only had a few hundred people (out of a population of 630,000) willing to volunteer and collect signatures. The vast majority of people wouldn't even stop to look at what the initiative was.

220:

the problem is that people want a system that will work without requiring them to pay attention or exert any effort. You can't blame democracy for human sloth.

The problem isn't that people aren't trying to get the government to work. I used to live in Washington, and a 30 mile commute regularly took 90 minutes because of all the people in the way who were going into town to try to get the government to work. We're talking hundreds of thousands of people, full time, before we even get around to touring the state capitals.

The problem is that, for all that effort, nothing much actually happens. I described my favorite theory to explain the difference between inputs and output back in #67.

221:

This is where the Tea Party got it's start. People wanting to change things so that the government left them alone because the wanted to be left alone. (Except where they didn't.) It morphed, somewhat quickly, into a strange destroy all government creature, later.

Most people want government to stay away except when called. But when called show up fully prepared for anything. And of course it should cost $0 when not called. :)

222:

I composed a marvellous rebuttal to your post. It was somewhat long, but well written, entertaining and informative.

Sadly, my "session expired" while I was typing it, which fact only became apparent when I clicked submit.

Had I known that that was a risk, I'd have copied it before doing so. I didn't, so I didn't and I'm buggered if I'm going to type it all out again.

So, you'll have to take my word for it - you're utterly wrong and I have a marvellous proof of that, but this comment box it too small to contain it.

223:

Democracy is incompatible with liberty.

Read libertarian objections to democracy.
The basic idea is that it's a transition to totalitarianism.

224:

You're making, you're seeing no difference between federal systems and centralized systems.

225:

Everything is worse with libertarians.

226:

I'm not sure beige governments keep the majority just happy enough, but Charlie's dealt with that.

I'm also not sure a successful revolution really needs a majority to start, even if it's in a traditional sense. It probably ends up with one but the tipping point to serious threat and suddenly expanding to be a popular, majority group is with some sizeable minority in most cases I can think of.

227:

That's really got nothing to do with the random method, unless you somehow randomly pick hundreds (or even thousands, if you want to mix this in with getting the numbers high enough that reps are accessible) narcissists.

Though, there's a bigger problem in that special interests with big money might be even *more* powerful. Lobbying isn't about bribing the politician anymore, its about bribing his staff and friends, and random people off the street don't have any kind of defence mechanism against that.

228:

el @ 225
A successful revolution needs about 1/3 of the pop. supporting it, and at least half of the remainder sitting tight. Look at the first stage of the slaveowners treasonous rebellion, in 1776.
See also David L @ 216

The other Rob @ 215 is horribly correct.
My local Lemmingcrat party has been entry-ised by islamicists (in disguise, of course).
& @ 207 .. and HOW did those believers in Dark Ages camelherders' myths get into place then?
Yup, entryism.

Chatham @ 213
One reason people can't be arsed to work on changing things is that they don't think it will change anything, no matter how hard they work.

the other Rob @ 204
I'm fucking CERTAIN they've been successfully gamed!

Charlie @ 199
Agree re USSA, not so certain here, given that we do actually have, you know, a coalition & the votes cast for that coalition was a majority. [I'm NOT going into the disgrace of the constituency-boundaries gerrymander, thank you] IF Camoron had got an absolute Majority, then you would have been correct.
But it would also have been true of every government since 1951, with the very possible (just) exception of 1997, wouldn't it?

Stina @ 186
The Guvmint=bad meme is loose here, now, too.
Exception, the usually much milder local libertarians have spotted that the corporations are running guvmint & are against that, as well, which I think is different form the US situation?

the other Rob @ 184
From a previous thread:
The phrase you are looking for is;
"Psychopathic Weasel" - origianlally applied to the wee Eck, I think.

229:
You're painting a scenario in which the majority of people are lazy mushrooms.

No, not at all - the people we ask who refuse to participate aren't being lazy (we wouldn't bother asking people who were!). They just firmly believe that politics is not that important and they have lots of other things to do that are important.

Most of the time, when pressed, they will say that while they don't love how the system works, they don't think it's all that bad.

So that's another dimension to why we get beige: it is something that most people are willing to accept, even when many of them don't really like it.

230:

One relatively underrated anticipation book on the subject is "Soft Gulag", by Yves Velan. Most of his point revolves around numbness and passivity.

Interestingly, as soon as 1978, Velan gave airplane travel as an illustration of crypto-totalitarian setting to come to the West, where people do not as much travel as they are handled like some sort of human fret (and this was long before the modern form of air travel, with its industrial humiliation of passangers and where you can be whisked away at the whim of any moron wearing a security badge).

More recently, French journalist Jean-Mars Manach has argued that "the real risk is not Orwell, but Kafka" ( http://bugbrother.blog.lemonde.fr/2011/04/13/le-vrai-danger-ce-n%E2%80%99est-pas-orwell-c%E2%80%99est-kafka/ ). And indeed, Guantanamo is at least as strong by its bureaucratic entanglements as it is by its barbed wire.

231:

Yes, congressional staffers and State Department researchers don't spend their time trying to push for radical change. They usually spend their time doing the job they were hired to do. Likewise, despite the fact that the US Postal Service has half a million employees "trying to get the government to work," they've failed to get the government to enact better legislation.

232:

"For a while I've had the unwelcome feeling that we're living under occupation by Martian invaders. (Not just here in the UK, but everyone, everywhere on the planet.)"

Perhaps this is the awareness that we really could do so much better, not merely that we somewhat used to.

233:

Charlesstross@199 I mean top insiders like Gorbachev can effect change, unintentionally catalyze revolution

jay@200 Maybe being developed is direct what made
the oversupply, so it's not going back.

cahth3ik@201 Expert system users have always been developed like sports stars. See Tammany Hall.

nestor@202 Except for the nonprofit parts that sounds like you are proposing what we call "corporations"

charlestross@203 So these old institutions are being placated with power because they have residual power?

theotherrob@204 People are accustomed. They wouldn't know what to do with revolutionary change.

jay@205 Maybe there's a phase change where post scarcity leads to high demand again.

davidl@206 So better lawmakers would solve this?

assufield@207 "Constituencies." Is there gerrymandering? If not, how come?

theotherrob@208 What about proposition ballot initiatives decided by referendum?

jessicayogini@209 So, an adjustment to the formula: they keep the majority of the Power happy.

jessicayogini@210 It's got to be a continuum.

nestor@211 A thought: could royals run for office?

chatham @212 The uninformed aren't so much the majority as the decisive minority.

chatham @213 Sometimes the TV is bad. And global warming is inevitable. Brace for impact.

davidl@214 I'll take beige, then.

theotherrob@215 Don't know about Trotskyism. What's entryism?

davidl@216 So success in making policies comes from
making of successful policies. Sounds like democracy

davidl@217 Could they simplify, as manufacturers redesign products for ease of production?

chatham@218 We trust our party because we think it makes good picks. So we don't help it make picks.

jay@219 In an age of internet and nukes the government should be physically more distributed

davidl@220 I want lower taxes and more services.

theotherrob@221 You only have to do that once, then you learn.

something @222 Rule is rule. Democracy is closer to
totalitarianism than is a hypothetical power vacuum.

ndgmticd@223 huh?

seanericfagan@224 see reply to 222 above.

el@225 see reply to 227 below. Though a slow boil
version could undermine based on other than firepower

core@226 I agree. Also, for accessibility, what about trickle up? Reps elect higher echelon reps.

gregtingey@227 Historical numbers for revolutions applied with single shot technology. See Syria.

assufield@228 So under Beige, the majority must be kept content, despite not being the true masters?

cath31k@229 Oppression based on passivity implies a plan rather than accidental drift.

chatham@230 That's because the postal service is part
of the executive branch. They don't make laws.

jessicayogini@231 That's the concept of social progress. But sometimes we can go up dead ends.

234:

I think that some of you guys are part of the problem.

You are long-winded and boring.

The sound-bite, and the associated short attention span, are part of the problem, but at least they're not boring. We want something a bit better than elevator-pitch elections.

It would help if I could believe that politicians would deliver on their election promises, but I am pretty sure which liar I am not voting for.

235:

Maybe there's a phase change where post scarcity leads to high demand again.

Demand, in economics, means the combination of wanting things and having money to spend on things. Wants are abundant, so that part's easy. Keynesian stimulus is about getting money to people so they can spend it.

In an age of internet and nukes the government should be physically more distributed

That's been tried, but not very successfully. Generally the distant office winds up creating a Washington office to try to keep abreast of the politics.

236:
Except for the nonprofit parts that sounds like you are proposing what we call "corporations"

This is correct, yes. I've been thinking about the "corporations as AI made of people" analogy and wonder if we can't actually make human safe corporations we certainly don't have much of a prayer of doing it with real AI.

Encouraginly there do seem to be such a thing as a nonprofit corporation, and you have such things as google's "do no evil" policy, or Valve software's egalitarian hierarchy

A thought: could royals run for office?

Certainly. They may need to abdicate first, Wallis Simpson rules may apply.

237:

Actually, here's a simple problem with the random method:

Most politicians, at all levels, get routinely criticized for their actions. Many get called evil, stupid, incompetent, corrupt, and/or greedy whenever someone doesn't agree with their opinion. Often, they get called these things to their faces, and they have to sit there and take it. Sometimes they are even procedurally required to thank these raving nutcases for their nasty and irrelevant comments.

Now, how many randomly chosen people could deal with for years without breaking down in tears, going postal, or (if still sane) quitting and walking away?

Politics IS a dirty occupation, even without talking about corruption. It requires a high tolerance for awkward and unpleasant social interactions, coupled with a high level of stamina (All day meetings? Cool! Spend all evening fundraising? Cool!). Passion can substitute for this in the short run (CF the Tea Party) but that really only lasts for a few years before they burn out.

So no, I don't think a random lottery would work for choosing our politicians. Most of the people chosen have no talent for and no desire to do the job. This is one reason why so many don't get involved in politics at all, even so much as voting.

238:

Um, that's only a problem with the random method if the same structures and processes of the current system continue.

If you have a random selection, there won't be party lines, at least not as clearly, structures and so on. Things like PMQs could actually become about questioning the PM than attempts at point scoring and playing to the various back-benchers.

Who knows, it's even possible U-turns like Gove's recent set, could be well presented and well received. In the current UK political situation there's not a hope in hell of it being well received (by his own side or the opposition). And although I don't actually agree with the "he wasn't trying to improve education, he was trying to placate the far right of his party" criticism, other criticisms of his policy - like there's a lot of evidence he was talking rubbish about the impact of his ideas - might even have been worked in *before* he presented them and we wouldn't have wasted several months and a shed-load of money on mad ideas. Jo(e) Random, Minister of Education, might look at a range of evidence and make an informed decision, even if it's presented by the same bureaucracy rather than a very ill-informed decision that does seem to be inspired mainly by rosy memories of a non-existent golden age of education and party divisions on the process of trying to improve it from then.

239:

Nestor @ 236
"Could Royals run for office" ??
Well, members of the (then) hereditary House of Lords could, provide they renounced title, permanently.
Look up Anthony Wedgewood Benn (Lord Stansgate)
Or for that matter, the previous Duke of Buccleugh, who stood, very sucessfully as an MP, until HIS father died, & he had to move to the Lords.

El @ 238
And what happens if the supposed professional bureaucracy are out to lunch?
The current disatrous results at DafT (Oops, Dpearment for Tansport) are a prominent case in point.
Or the multiple-manslaughter at Mid-Staffs hospitals, where the guilty men have been promoted.....

240:

Oh, I'm not a proponent of the random system. I'm a proponent of revolutionary change of systems. It starts simple... shoot everyone that stands for office... and proceeds from there. To full, direct democracy ideally.

Just pointing out that if we do have a randomly selected political class, there's a decent chance we don't get that particular problem of the old system perpetrated.

241:

So, without parties, you're saying that you randomly get chosen, thrown in with a room full of strangers, and get put to dealing with all the tedious problems of the country, while everyone on the outside criticizes you relentlessly for not getting the job done?

What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, the better question is: what could possibly go right?

All the solutions of such a government will be those that get people out of that room as fast as possible, and the people who are better politicians (e.g. those who listen, make alliances, and plan) will dominate the government. Having ad hoc parties running the government for each session probably won't result in anything citizens would want to live under. Think government by Survivor, with everyone trying to get off the island because there is nothing to win.

Worse, the government will be run (as it is in all term-limited states) largely by the lobbyists, consultants, and bureaucrats, who understand the issue, educate the politicians, and are totally outside the electoral process. Having lived in such a system for years, I don't think it's a good idea. Ignorant politicians seem to be particularly bad at solving complex issues, and a lottery government guarantees that almost every politician will be ignorant, alone, and looking for allies at the start of each term.

H.L. Mencken had a quote that covered this admirably: "For every complex problem, there is an answer that is simple, clear, and wrong." Whatever your political stripe, you don't want your leaders and problem-solvers making this mistake.

242:

No, I'm saying I disagree with the criticism you gave of the system. It's not my choice of system. I'm still in favour of revolutionary change.

243:

"Corporations as AI made of people" would run software, ie bylaws, which can be written to order,
such as for more shareholder involvement than picking between two strangers for the board.
But benevolent corporations would be uncompetitive unless the government mandated desired bylaw features across the board. Or just created fiat stock to give itself a 25 percent stake in all corporations.

244:

Oops, 243 was @ Nestor

245:

@178:
It's not disingenuous at all. How are the parties going to stop someone from voting for who they want? When someone gets into the voting booth, the parties can't control who they vote for.
---
Each state has its own voting regulations. In my state, each county has its own regulations. My county used to have big cardboard ballots and felt-tip markers; you went into a curtained booth, marked your ballot, and stuffed it into a slot in a box on the way out - it was a secret ballot. If there was a question about the count, the ballots were trucked to the local school, where blue-haired old ladies spread them out on cafeteria tables and recounted them, out in the open for all to see. As a former computer security wonk, I thoroughly supported the system.

In 2008 the county electoral commission went to electronic voting machines. These are suitcase-sized boxes supported on easels, with touchscreen displays. You present your voter registration card to the clerk, who then programs a "module". An election official walks with you to the voting machine. He or she stands behind you, watching the screen, to "help" you if needed. When you're done, he official walks the "module" back to the clerk, who plugs it back into her laptop. You don't get a receipt, nor is there any apparent paper tape made in the voting machine.

Secret ballot? Really?

I'm going to skip over my lack of trust in the whole "electronic voting machine" system, both in general and at the local level.

I make no secret of my political affiliation and who (or what, in the case of bills) I vote for, but with the "secret" part of the ballot gone, I can see how others might be pressured into voting against their preferences.

246:

@237:
Actually, here's a simple problem with the random method:
---
The purpose of a random method isn't to achieve good government - for whatever values of "good" you may prefer.

Its purpose is to obtain a true representation of the population, not to ensure competence or affability.

If your population is composed of idiots, that's what you'll get.

247:

You know, the classic answer to this objection of a lack of knowledge/experience/fresh ideas in handling complex topics is that the only thing politicians (or people chosen in a more or less random way)really need is some good people skills.

All they have to know is how to handle, when to trust the experts who give them the required wisdom/experience.

That way you could have term limits of 2 years and it would not matter.

I don't like this. I want the people I help elect to be able to read and make up their minds themselves and have a lot more than people skills.

That's why I would not want a sort of random lottery or something like the jury system, where they would test for people skills instead of jury stuff.

248:

All they have to know is how to handle, when to trust the experts who give them the required wisdom/experience.

That's the managerialist fallacy -- that because they know how to manage processes, they can manage any given business without having to understand the underlying details.

It is, frankly, rubbish. (See also "the first MBA President of the United States".)

249:

TRX @ 245
That is how it is still done here ....
And the count is done at the local Town Hall, & outside observers are often REQUIRED - certainly the parties will have people on hand to cry "foul!" or "recount!" if anything looks amiss....

250:

"jessicayogini@231 That's the concept of social progress. But sometimes we can go up dead ends."
You are right.
I think that the transition to a true knowledge-driven economy (not the bansai-ed currently existing one) requires deep changes, we have failed to make them, and as a result, there is a strong element of decay in society. I think a lot of quite disparate phenomena are manifestations of that decay or as you called it dead-end.
The distinction between a possibly random dead-end and a failure to complete a necessary stage-transition seems useful.

251:

If you think that you have to have a cryptic one-sentence-or-less response to dozens of comments at once, you are doing it wrong.

252:

I'm still in favour of revolutionary change.

In the best case scenario, a revolution gives us a system just as flawed as the one the last revolution gave us, because it's necessarily a compromise between competing interests.

The worst case scenario gives us Oliver Cromwell with a Texan drawl.

253:

Just an experiment. It was fun

254:

The worst case scenario gives us Oliver Cromwell with a Texan drawl.

That's not the worst case.

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken. Yes, that was Oliver Cromwell. Dictator? Yes. War criminal in Ireland? By modern standards, yes -- but by the standards of his time, that of the Thirty Years War, the answer is more equivocal. But simple-minded totalitarian? No, that hat doesn't fit.

The worst-case revolution-in-the-USA scenario I can think of probably looks a bit like "The Handmaid's Tale", with added "1984" flavoured special sauce on top. Certainly it's not as if there isn't a Christian dominionist faction who seem to think THT is a road map, not a warning. And it's not as if the tools to build a joined-up totalitarian Oceania don't already exist there. But I hope and trust that's a low probability worst-case outcome -- for much the same reason that the current system is Beige.

255:

I was using Cromwell as a prototypical Puritan dictator, which is probably what the American South would wind up with if it gave itself a chance. I surely agree that it could get much worse, especially now that ubiquitous computers have solved the "who watches the watchmen" problem that previous tyrannies have faced.

256:

You might want to check out Otto Kirchheimer's 'Catch-All' theory of politics - arrived at in the 50s, it's a decent analogue to your arguments above. Not everything that he predicted came to pass, but enough to suggest that he was on to something: http://dare2.ubvu.vu.nl/bitstream/handle/1871/33745/157072.pdf?sequence=1

257:
"Constituencies." Is there gerrymandering? If not, how come?

Depends on your definitions - the correct answer is "sort of". Constituency boundaries in the UK are adjusted by the politically independent Boundaries Commission. However, the commission only provides a recommendation, which parliament must approve (but not edit). Here's the trick: net population migration in the UK is out of the Labour-dominated urban areas and into the Tory-leaning suburbs. This means that if boundaries remain unchanged, Labour's safe seats become tiny geographical areas with relatively few people in them, all of which vote Labour, while large Tory seats get gradually increasing numbers of hard-line Labour voters moving into them. So the system automatically accumulates bias towards Labour. (If you're wondering where the LDs are in this equation - we aren't, because there's no equivalent of Labour's unions or the Tory plutocrats.) Big surprise: when in government, Labour tend to reject the commissions recommendations (although the commission did eventually come up with some changes that were trivial enough to pass). Every time the Tories get back into power, they try to jump the boundaries back into their favour, and Labour starts screaming about gerrymandering (which they would certainly never do, oh no).

So under Beige, the majority must be kept content, despite not being the true masters?

More subtle than that. This system is self-correcting rather than an outright attempt to placate the majority. When people are feeling discontented in large numbers, they get more involved in politics and start pulling things back in the other direction. When things start to get better, people stop caring and pursue other interests.

Beige is therefore the stable equilibrium of the system over time - the point at which people are just content enough not to do anything about it.

In practice, interest waxes and wanes over the political cycle, depending on how much stupid has happened recently. The Iraq war made interest perk up. So did the economic crash. Now that the war's basically over and the economy has proven itself to be in a slow, boring, tiring recovery, people have gone back to what they were doing before.

Note that this is not about what people vote for, because voting takes no real effort. This is about what people are willing to spend real time and money on fighting for.

258:

Some years back I read of a Danish program where they conscript citizens in lieu of jury duty and commission legislative white papers from them. I don't know if it's still happening, but it's another way to bypass the beige.

259:

The system is, IMO and OGH's opinion, currently broken. There are fine details of differences about how I see that brokenness to those listed above but that becomes a tract or two in its own right, so I'll pass - it's close enough.

Part of the failure mode we're in precludes the system repairing itself. We have bigger differences of opinion about why it won't but we seem to agree it won't, so again I'll pass on the details of where I somewhat disagree with OGH.

I reject your hypothesis that if we have a revolution the best we can hope for is the same old mess. We can put together a system that, to us, appears to be strong, vibrant and safeguard against the abuses we current see or can imagine. It will ultimately fail, granted, as our descendants learn how to game it until they game it into a failure state. If we do a good job of setting up the new system that will likely take a few centuries. If we do a poor job, probably a few years. For some range of moderately acceptable jobs, a few decades. At which point we do it again (or quite possibly in the case of those that last only a few years have it imposed on us after losing a war).

Granted, there are some really shitty outcomes if it's a bad set of rules. Gilead has fallen by the time of the epilogue to "The Handmaid's Tale" remember, and is a historical curiosity. Oceania is certainly susceptible to revolution, Big Brother or no. And the real USSR crumbled and fell apart. Not, it appears, into something better yet admittedly, but Putin will die sometime if it takes that long.

But you know what? I'm willing to risk a few years, even a few decades of crap to get out of this current failure mode in the hope that we'll get an outcome that gives us at least many decades if not a few centuries of good governance. Bland politicians and beige dictatorship be damned. If we don't act to try and fix this problem, we'll just add it to the rest we leave for the next generation or the next.

260:

"For some range of moderately acceptable jobs, a few decades. At which point we do it again..."

This.

Here's a personal example as to why. After many decades of failure, I have finally managed to stop smoking cigarettes, with the aid of one of those electronic vaporisers (or e-cigs). It turns out that my triumph may be short lived, however, as the FDA (at the apparent behest of its masters in Big Pharma) is preparing to regulate the e-cig business into oblivion.

When a political system actually sets out to give the electorate emphysema, heart disease and even fucking cancer, just because it generates revenue for some corporations then I think it's fair to say that it has been gamed to the point where cleansing with fire might appear to be preferable.

261:

I think The Hunger Games actually is a higher probability worst case scenario.
The threat posed by Christianists is hyped to keep American liberals fearful and bought into the system, just the way that the threat posed by Islamicists is used to keep conservatives hyperventilating.

262:

I'll just say two things:

1: Revolutions are difficult if not impossible to control. The revolution that wound up putting Saddam in power was started by idealists with good intentions. Ditto Stalin.

2: Modern America is relatively novel in that most Americans literally can't feed themselves without the system functioning. A revolution that would be inconvenient to the nation of subsistence farmers we once were would kill tens of millions today, just from disruptions in logistics.

I agree that the present situation is bad, even kind of terrible in its way, but I simply don't think you understand how badly a revolution could go. Revolution is like setting a terminal cancer patient on fire; the fire will kill the cancer, but overall improvement is unlikely.

263:

"All they have to know is how to handle, when to trust the experts who give them the required wisdom/experience.

That's the managerialist fallacy -- that because they know how to manage processes, they can manage any given business without having to understand the underlying details.

It is, frankly, rubbish."

Well, yes, I more than agree with you in this. But the thing is that nearly all the directors, DGs, middle managers XO level managers, (in private enterprise as well as governments) VPs, etc, etc all deeply believe this rubbish.

This belief is what drives the beige behind the scenes. How do you denounce it other than by saying "utter rot". How do you explain the managerial fallacy in the light of the beige problem.

264:

Charlie: >> The correct solution is one that makes gerrymandering impossible ..

There is a relatively easy fix for that.

Gerrymandering is basically a hack to make votes for one party count a bit more than votes for other parties. It works because a winner is winner-takes-all. That is, he/she gets the political power attached to the votes for them, and also the political power attached to votes against them.

So, change the system so that the winner only gets the political power of the votes *for* them. When an elected (as my elected friend calls them) votes "yes" on a bill, don't increment the vote count by one. Increment it by 43,000 (or however many votes they got).

Hey, computers are good at arithmetic. And in the event of a power outage, bring out an abacus :-) This is not a complicated algorithm.

As I understand it, this would neutralize all benefit that successful gerrymandering gives. And it also removes the need for "the Charlie Stross Party" to have coat-tails.

265:

If you're going that route you might as well cut the middle man and run a direct democracy with constant ongoing polling (The internet has given us the infrastructure that makes this practical) for every issue.

You'd get very low voter participation per issue but those who did would be highly motivated, as they'd be voting for stuff they cared about.

266:

No, the ideas aren't connected.

I don't think highly of live participation. If you disagree, it's on your head to explain why it would work any better than Internet polls do.

267:

@ 261
Slight problem, undoubtedly exploited to the full by the beige dictator/string-pullers.
The threat from xtian dominionists in the USSA is real (though small)
The threat from the islamicists (Nazis re-born, in actual fact) is also real & very dangerous, if only because of appeasement.
How convenient for the puppet masters?
I thus see how über-conspiracy theories arise.
Can you?

Jay @ 262 [1]
You forgot, also: Robespierre, Ayatollah Khomeini, those to the even further out than old Noll (Scotland actually had these nutters in charge (euw), Mao Zhedong, & the great majority of revolutions, in fact.
General rule: revolutions fail, but when they succeed, they usually fail even worse!
Cases like Britain 1659-88, US 1781 are the EXCEPTION, not the rule. France only got a semi-stable guvmint as a result of a catastrophic military defeat in 1870-1, remember.
[2] Exactly

@ 263
Circular argument (though valid) so turning it around ...
How do you explain the beige problem in the light of the managerial fallacy?
Except, just, perhaps, the "managerial fallacy" is at least recognised as such by peole like us.
How long before this trickles UP the syatem towards the "top" & changes occur?
Another 20 years? [ i.e. as new people who realise the mistakes get, eventualy promoted??? ]

268:

The impression of "beigeness" is relative to a middle-ground that can drift. The USA or Israel, for instance, have significantly shifted their entire political spectrum to the right in the last 20 years. Different countries have different average attitudes, up to the possibility of "far-right-wing countries" -- like South Africa during the Appartheid, where the electorate plebiscited policies regarded as outlandish or even criminal in other countries.

Therefore, we should consider separately the notions of democracy and of "Rechtsstaat" (rule of law). It is quite possible to have a perfectly democratically elected government that violates legal standards, with or without appearance of legality. The possibility of keeping appearances of legality is why the health of the "Rechtsstaat" should be measured against international standards such as Human Rights or United Nations benchmarks. For instance, when a practice is universally regarded to be torture except in your country, it is time for some serious introspection.

One of the reasons why I feel very unconfortable when high-office criminal behaviour goes unpunished ("looking forward" attitude) or unexplained ("truth and reconciliation"-style), is that it leaves criminals free to engage in sedition. High-office criminals are experts at gaming bureaucracy and law, and thus are very apt at shifting national consensus, gradually leading the country to a darker and darker beige.

269:

Two points:
1) Hotelling applies, and in a stable polity both parties will try to be identical (within the ambit of their base coalition).
2) Democracy is conservative: how often do you change your mind? Most people will stay with their party of choice, with only that mysterious band of swing voters changing. Real change comes from franchise/demographic change.

270:

I'm coming to this thread late having just skimmed the comments, so apologies if I ramble somewhat.

One I always wonder when this site starts talking politics is, how many people have met their local MP or been to one of their local political parties meetings? At least one of above has and gave us a bit of an insight into the Lib-Dems selection. Personally I'd have to say that strictly speaking i've not, but in both my previous residences I did. Given my experiences in both Edinburgh North and Leith and Livingston I have to say you lot have no clue how our politcal parties work - a lot of them would, i'm sure, LOVE to be the well organised machine described, but at the local level they are so not. The key fact often missed is - if apathy about politics effects our democratic process nationally, what do you think is does to our local political parties internal decision making? Remember that although candidates may be screened centrally they will get voted for locally. The people who have commented on this post would probably be enough to swing a selection vote for a constituency if the candidate was remotely sensible. Anyone could probably get an internal job (the first step to selection) just by turning up and being able to speak. If you happen to be female It's likely you'd get from branch to constituency level just by volunteering (in Labour delegate count has to be gender neutral and there are rarely enough women who want to do it, leaving people who don't really want to go to the extra meeting getting pushed into it). Put a decent of effort in around an election and you can get yourself onto the council candidate list. This is how those young politics students do it.

Also remember that the apathy is not evenly distributed by age. The older people still vote. I wonder if the 'beigification' is not partly down to that trend. Also remember said old people REALLY dislike the trend towards apathy. A non-apathetic candidate who is roughtly in the right (or in this case, left) place already has a bunch of votes.

And finally, remember that the parties are full of people who really believe in what the party used to stand for. The compromises made to become electable and then the various decisions (i'm looking at you invasion of Iraq) might have driven many people to leave, but not all those who disagreed. (although here my experience may be slightly biased, since the one I have most experience with (EN&L) had an MP who polled his local party plus others and then voted against Iraq.

So you want to recapture politics? You don't need to start a fringe party, just join the mainstream party most closely traditionally aligned with your views along with a few of your keen mates and with luck you'll have far more influence on councillors/MSP/MP of your own soon enough. Pretty sure that would still be doable for Labour after their time in power (opposition is much easier for parties). Almost certainly going to be true of the Lib Dems soon. Of course once everyone starts doing it we've fixed one of the major root causes of problems with our system and the parties do their job again instead of being partly cored husks, far short of the manpower needed to really campaign.

And finally, just one more thing. For those who disagree i'll get my reply in first. Hove you personally met your elected representatives and actually talked to them? Or are your opinions formed from the media? Because if I was an oligarch/plutocrat media mogul the first thing I'd do is target the politicians who are SUCH an easy target -the very nature of their job means they upset people all the time.

271:

I've been one of those "Count Agents" (allowed if not required under the relevant legislation, the "Representation of the People Act" if anyone wishes to look it up).

Normally we, or the count tellers, would raise queries about whether or not a specific ballot paper was "spoilt" (basically, if someone had voted for 2 or more candidates, or marked their paper with something other than an "X" character). A recount is required if the margin of victory is low (for a parliamentary election, I think it's under 1_000 votes, and a typical turnout would have mid 40s thousands of votes polled.

272:

"how many people have met their local MP or been to one of their local political parties meetings?"

I was a Democratic party county delegate in 1992.
Had decided to be a Democrat after reading a history text book for Houston Community College. That was cool. Went to a precinct meeting on primary night just to check it out and they said, "we got x number of votes for Jerry Brown but we don't have anybody to be a delegate." So I went and voted for Jerry Brown but Bill Clinton won. Whatever, it was just for a lark as you would say in the UK.

As for meeting my representative, why would I want to meet someone whose whole thing will be "give me money"? I sent John Kerry's campaign a month's wages in 2004 and they sent me almost daily emails asking for money all the way up until I sent Hillary Clinton's campaign money in 2008, when the source of the emails switched, but the message stayed the same. I'm sure my congressman is just the same. "Feed me!" No more, I'll tell you what. Never another dime for a politician. I'll vote, maybe be a delegate again, but that's it.

Oh and I'll put a sign in my yard and a bumper sticker on my car. Have one for my Senator , who won with a 75 percent landslide and never asked for a dime.

273:

Grahm @ 270
I left the Lemmingcrats, once I realised, after about 3 years, that they were just as big a bunch of hypocritical lying shits as the other two.
I have met my current MP - she's probably quite good - certainly locally.
I met her long-serving predecessor several times.
And the previous two, both of whom were uttery, totally useless (neither lasted, which might say something).
I'm still utterly pissed-off with the whole thing.
Now what?
I have a lot of sympathy for some of the policies of UKIP ... but they seem to have got christianity, euw.
Greens? Forget it - they want no nuclear power & want to abolish The Corporation, which indicates that they are truly mad.
The others have policies & personnel I wouldn't go near with somonene else's.
Please note that I think of myself as a very socially liberal left-wing conservative, in Brit terms; but that is in a framework of my upbringing, and the Overton window has moved around a bit in the past few years, hasn't it?

paws @ 271
I know - I've been there for council elections - yes _ I've actually done the Heinlein thing & stood for public office [precisely ONCE]

274:

In 2008 the county electoral commission went to electronic voting machines. ... You don't get a receipt, nor is there any apparent paper tape made in the voting machine.

I'm hoping that these electronic voting concepts are a fad. Hopefully lasting not as long as punch card voting.

Here we use OCR paper ballots. As you said, if there's a issue, the blue haired ladies can spread them out on the big tables and count them by hand. But in the absence of issues our country wide results (900K pop) are known about an hour after the polls close.

275:

BTW, just to make a pitch for a form of democracy between representative and direct: if the Old Chartist demand (and the Pennsylvania 1776 constitutional practice) of Annual parliaments applied, things could be different, since you could throw the scoundrels out, knowing you wouldn't have to fave five years of the other lot, and each party would stand on its precise programme of legislation 9unlike now, where they say they can't tell what legislation they'll have to bring in in three years time); but you wouldn't have to have referendums on every blasted decision...

276:

I composed a marvellous rebuttal to your post. It was somewhat long, but well written, entertaining and informative.

Sadly, my "session expired" while I was typing it, which fact only became apparent when I clicked submit
...
So, you'll have to take my word for it - you're utterly wrong and I have a marvellous proof of that, but this comment box it too small to contain it.

Uh, no thanks.

Same happened to me on another comment. I've started doing a select all and copy before posting. :)

277:

Which bit? The whole claim of America as the most White-Hatted of the very best of the never-doing-a-thing-wrong-ever Good Guys....

278:

Breaking news ...
At least one evil old bastard in the dictatorship (& not so Beige, he) is going soon.
Let the partying commence!
One problem, to quote JRRT: "That we should seek to cast him down & put no-one in his place has not occurred to him"
But that is what we do want, I think?

279:
I don't think highly of live participation. If you disagree, it's on your head to explain why it would work any better than Internet polls do.

It's a bit more democracy than most people are willing to contemplate, certainly. And more revolutionary than I'd be willing to risk in the short term. But comparing it to internet polls is disingenuous, has anyone ever tried internet voting with the level of authentication required and made it binding to anything remotely meaningful?

I'd be more confident about having to vote individual issues on a regular basis through a secure website than pressing a screen on some Diebold creature and then having to live with the results for the next 4 years.

I have no particular preference for slips of paper and little blue haired ladies doing manual counts. It all ends up as numbers on a computer anyway.

280:

" I shudder to think of what will happen if people like John Yoo or Douglas Feith manage to fall on their feet, build successful carrers and make a comeback in 20 or 30 years."

I do, as well. A whole crop of bottom-level schmucks from the Bush administration will be mid-level guys in the next GOP administration; a whole crop of mid-level guys will be the high-level guys.

And they'll have the advantage of many, many civil servants who became compromised during the Bush administration; many of the political appointees will know which civil servants did what, and be able to use that against him.

And we've set the political, judicial and media precedents that they should get away with things.

281:

"This is where the Tea Party got it's start. People wanting to change things so that the government left them alone because the wanted to be left alone. (Except where they didn't.) It morphed, somewhat quickly, into a strange destroy all government creature, later."

As I've pointed out, before, this desire manifested in the physical world in November, 2008, right after their party got it's *ss kicked. Before then, they were quite OK with a big, strong government.

282:

Ah, no. It was going before then. But if you didn't rub shoulders with non liberals on a regular basis you would not have seen it.

My work has me interacting socially with almost all flavors of US political adherents. It can be interesting to hear a rant by someone in the area of Charlie's politics in the morning and someone who would be considered an Obama birther in the afternoon.

Then while my daughter was in OZ for 3 weeks last month she got unloaded on by a non trivial number of people about how 9/11 was a setup by the US government plus more interesting things. This was mostly a college through 20 something crowd.

As to getting this but kicked in 08, I know a lot of people who tend to vote R who thought it was a deserved but kicking.

283:

I agree. I have been worried about this for a long time and thus have been constructing a POSITIVE alternative to complaining about the way things work in politics. For two years I've been working on a model for a global democracy that is intended to be immune to centralization and directly connected to the inherent human moral sensibility. (The dedicated site is temporarily down, but) please check it out the alternative site at:
https://sites.google.com/site/democraticglobe/

I'd love to have this idea taken over for development by a group dedicated to the concept of power rooted in the people.

284:

Tim Holmes @ 283
the inherent human moral sensibility
What PLANET are you on?
The inherent human moral snsibility that lets Taliban & Boko Haram & the Inquisition & Jean Calvin & Kim Il-Sung & Adolf & & & ... running around loose, with millions of followers?

285:

Your post seems to lack imagination. (Unusual for you :)

No law prohibits a politician confronted with a raving lunatic from saying "You are an ass!" and walking away. The only reason they rarely do so is because they are concerned about re-election, or at the very least about party image. Randomly selected representative would have no such worry -- in fact, no real reason to waste time with public directly at all. No need for exhaustive fundraising and such.

There are real problems with representation by lot, but "having to be polite to assholes" is not one of them.

286:

Who needs imagination when you've got reality? I'm not the only person in my family who has testified at legislative hearings. This isn't a hypothetical to me, and if you think it's unimaginative, you probably haven't had a similar experience.

To put it very simply, the reason most politicians can't say "You're an ass!" and walk away is that their job requires them to take hours of public testimony every week. MOST of that testimony boils down to variations on "You are an ass if you don't do (X)!" In fact, I try to make an impact by sweet reason, rather than appeals to base emotion, just to stand out by contrast.

It's normal in contentious hearings to see tears, shouts, thumping the podium, frustrated businessman saying they'll be ruined, and all other sorts of real and theatrical performances.

Throughout all this, the politicians don't leave their seats. If they did, I think they'd be in violation of various laws (in California, I think the Brown Act on open meetings may be part of this), and they'd certainly shut down the meeting if there wasn't a quorum listening.

That's the basis for my admiration for them. I don't particularly like most of the politicians I watch, but I have to admit that I'd be incapable of doing their job, much less finding it satisfying in any way. I'm pretty sure that I'm normal in this regard, which is why I think lottery-model politics is such a bad idea.

287:

No law prohibits a politician confronted with a raving lunatic from saying "You are an ass!" and walking away. The only reason they rarely do so is because they are concerned about re-election, or at the very least about party image.

Existence proof of this principle: Gordon Brown's bigoted woman quip -- mike was hot, prime minister ended up on all the TV channels effectively dismissing a voter's concerns about immigration as "bigoted".

Well yes, she was a bigot, IMO. Unfortunately it was a hot-button issue in a very tight general election. Tight enough that it may well have been the sound-bite that cost Labour a skin-of-the-teeth fourth term in office ...

288:

To increase the voting turn-out, you have to make parties listen very intently to the electorate. To make them listen, hit them in the pocket.

As things stand in the UK, the Tory Party can subsist on a few large business donors, the Labour Party on a few Union donations, and who knows what for the Lib-Dems. The key here is that the parties themselves are only beholden to the whims of a very few donors; appease these people and the rest of the electorate can be ignored until election time.

To fix this, greatly reduce the amount of money that any one donor (be it a person or a company or a union) may each give per annum to as little as £500. This then forces the parties to listen to a very great many people in order to survive; it also hugely restricts the amount of political party machinery that may be accommodated.

289:

At this point, I'd suggest that one person can spin off 500 (or 5000) corporate "persons" faster than the law can catch up with it. The general problem is that it takes several election cycles to figure out how to fix any particular loopholes in the current campaign laws, so it's a Red Queen race between laws and fundraising tricks.

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if the Citizens United Ruling gets pitched sometime soon. It didn't result in a Republican landslide, and if it doesn't empower any one bloc, why let it stand?

As for politicians listening to voters, that's what they do at all levels. It's basic politics that if a lot of people are worked up enough to complain about something to a politician (which is very inconvenient), then there's political power moving. Like the magicians in fantasy novels, most adept politicians are very sensitive to the way the power moves, whether they can take advantage of it or not.

The other thing to remember is that most people get into politics because they want to make things better for other people (by their definition of "better"). It's hard to do that if you never listen to what people want and need.

290:

The other thing to remember is that most people get into politics because they want to make things better for other people (by their definition of "better"). It's hard to do that if you never listen to what people want and need.

But very easy if you never wanted any of that, and were forcibly drafted.

You are making a "planet of the hats" fallacy -- "If legislators were randomly drafted instead of elected and [i]everything were the same[/i] they would go crazy/could not function". But everything else would not be the same -- [i]could[/i] not be. For a random draft to work at all, draftees would have to be shielded from the public, for exactly same reasons you stated.

It's a bit like people saying "Significant life extension, let alone immortality, cannot happen because it would bankrupt Social Security". Goes without saying that significant life extension would by necessity force a change in retirement practices.

BTW, I am not saying that legislation by lot is a particularly good idea. But particular problems you listed would be a no-brainer to take care. Most legislators (or equivalents) throughout history did not need to listen to insults, except perhaps from each other.

291:

H, one thing the UK does better than the USA is election spending. We don't have caps on donations. Instead, we have caps on expenditure -- really strict caps, enforced by independent auditors, with criminal charges and serious prison time awaiting a candidate who over-spends on their campaign.

Upshot: an entire general election campaign, with 650 seats in play among 3 major parties and 3-6 minor ones, costs less than the campaign of a single candidate for Congress.

I will agree that not capping donations to parties is a problem -- it means day-to-day party operations can be bankrolled by a few rich donors, leading to capture by special interest factions -- but the cap on campaign costs is critically important.

292:

Wow, so instead of putting random people up in the council chairs and making them do the work of democracy--government by the people, you're going to hide them in a guarded palace where no one can talk to them, and expect them to do a better job?

Seriously?

The situation you describe, where a few people, picked by chance, are put in charge of a lot of money and power, is the classic setup for an oligarchic dictatorship followed by a revolution. There are a lot of examples of that in history, and they never end well for those in power. Generally they end even worse for those they rule, too.

Then again, you said you wanted a revolution, so I guess that's why this seems like a good idea to you.

293:
So you want to recapture politics? You don't need to start a fringe party, just join the mainstream party most closely traditionally aligned with your views along with a few of your keen mates and with luck you'll have far more influence on councillors/MSP/MP of your own soon enough. [...] Almost certainly going to be true of the Lib Dems soon.

I can tell you offhand that in almost all of the country we actively welcome and encourage such participation, and wish more people would do it - and have done so for decades. It's a running joke inside the party that if you show up to a meeting for the first time, somebody will ask you if you want to stand for the council. It's funny because it's true.

I have never personally encountered a fringe party that existed for any reason other than one or more of the key individuals involved being completely barking mad. They may exist, but I haven't seen one.

294:
As things stand in the UK, the Tory Party can subsist on a few large business donors, the Labour Party on a few Union donations, and who knows what for the Lib-Dems. The key here is that the parties themselves are only beholden to the whims of a very few donors; appease these people and the rest of the electorate can be ignored until election time.

I can only talk in broad terms about LD funding (I happen to know the details, but like all major parties they're confidential for obvious reasons - what I'm saying here is in the public record for anybody who can be bothered to look). However: we're different from the other two here. We run on bugger-all money by comparison and a heck of a lot more sweat. What money we do get comes in small amounts from individual donors.

I'm trying as hard as I can to avoid bringing actual party politics into this thread, but on your last point, I shall merely note that here in my borough, we're out campaigning right now, in winter in year 2 of a 4 year electoral cycle, and the other two parties aren't.

295:

@ 294
That's because the Lemmingcrats are screwed - & what's worse, they've screwed themselves!

297:

we have caps on expenditure -- really strict caps, enforced by independent auditors, with criminal charges and serious prison time awaiting a candidate who over-spends on their campaign.

How are issue campaigns handled? This is the big loop hole that drives a huge amount of election spending in the US. Ads that never mention a candidate or party but do advocate strongly for a position that aligns with a candidate or party.

298:

Actually, it has just got really horrible.
We are about to introduce secret courts, with secret information, never shown to the defence
Yes, really!
Totalitarian Britain, in the next session, unless something is done.
NOT so beige a dictatorship, huh?

299:

I honestly don't remember an issue campaign, at least not in our broadcast media. I suspect there isn't one in our print media. There may have been one or more on billboards and the like that I've missed but I don't know of any.

Our broadcast media are tightly regulated to be politically impartial and even-handed. Even the Murdoch owned Sky News (the closest, structurally and in ownership terms, we get to something like Fox News) lives up to that. During the build up to an election even stricter rules are enforced. For example, you in broadcast shows you can't ask about local issues unless all the candidates for the affected constituency are present and you must provide balanced air time to all parties (that's balance on some weird formula where the big parties get the same, and the smaller ones get some but it's standard and agreed across the parties pretty well.) If they carried an issue campaign it would almost certainly get both the electoral authorities and the broadcast authorities looking closely at them and the latter have the power to revoke a broadcast license so the station would be taken off air. It's also worth noting the most watched and listened stations in the UK are all BBC ones that don't carry adverts anyway.

The print media don't necessarily carry them, may not be able to, but our print media are all pretty much politically aligned anyway. I believe they're careful about what they carry in terms of adverts but they're full of editorials largely supporting a party. Not sure those looking to bend the rules would consider it a good return. It might also be banned but I don't know.

As more and more things happen online that might change. Blogging and the like is covered by defamation laws and most of the others that apply to the written word (we don't have an enshrined right to freedom of speech either). But bloggers can certainly write about issues and if Charlie decides to blog on either side of the independence issue for example, I'm sure he'd be pretty widely read. Although not necessarily by a lot of people that would have a vote in the referendum.

300:

#288 - I agree the point; perhaps we should combine the ideas, and then control the donation cap proportionate to the turnout at the last General Election?

#291 - As Charlie says, with the note that one MP near him (name and seat presently elude me) had the result of their election overturned, and criminal charges brought against them for an election expenses fraud; Yes, we take it that seriously as a nation.

301:

"Ah, no. It was going before then. But if you didn't rub shoulders with non liberals on a regular basis you would not have seen it."


I must have missed the large public protests during before Nov'08.

And I do have right-wing relatives, including Birthers and Tea Party protesters.

302:

@ 301
What do you do with insane ("Birther") relatives?
What's the procedure for the US equivalent of sectioning under the Mental Health Acts?
/Snark

303:

Existence proof of this principle: Gordon Brown's bigoted woman quip

What I found an interesting insight into Gordon Brown wasn't the "bigot" comment (which was perhaps understandable), but that the first question he asked was "who was responsible?"; for him, it seemed that the important thing was to blame someone...

...I'll confess to have been hopeful at the beginning of his term that there would be more content and less presentation, but Damien McBride ruined any remaining optimism (the constant backstabbing of Blair for most of the previous decade hadn't left much, but maybe could have been written down slightly to overenthusiastic supporters).

IMHO his best bet for an election win was to call it early on, when he looked quite calm and statesmanlike in the face of floods and terrorists.

304:

A government minister is one person with a staff of about five. They stand on one side of the field. On the opposing team is the thousand bureaucrats that make up the ministry. The minister's objective is to change something. The bureaucracy's objective is to keep doing what they have always done. Given the rate of reshuffles, a minister is typically in post for about two years. It'll take them the first six months to really figure out what's going on because their predecessor was a political opponent who didn't brief them. That gives them about 18 months to accomplish something and they're going to be fought every step of the way.

So - would it be fair to say that Politicians will favour "revolution over evolution" (because "something must be seen to be done"), while Ministries will favour "evolution over revolution" (often because they've seen several previous variations on the same "Politician's Really Good Idea", that have either failed or missed the point).

Neither is the perfect answer; in engineering or politics.

305:

What makes you think they've been neutered?

Well, the claims of "if we don't get to lock people up without trial for 90-plus days, we'll never beat the terrorists" and "everyone should have to carry an ID card, or we'll never beat the terrorists" from the last government got delayed and defeated in the face of a large majority in the Commons, so you're right.

As for "shadowy Royal veto", it looks as if you had a Monarch who was trying to keep an important constitutional principle intact, and to stop a Prime Minister who wanted no reins on his power to take the country into a war; looked like a good call to me.

To me it looks bad in principle, but far more attractive in actual practice.

306:

So - would it be fair to say that Politicians will favour "revolution over evolution" (because "something must be seen to be done"), while Ministries will favour "evolution over revolution" (often because they've seen several previous variations on the same "Politician's Really Good Idea", that have either failed or missed the point).

From "Yes Minister" "The trouble with Ministers is that something happens and they react by saying 'Something must be done. This is something, therefore we must do it."

307:

Then again, you said you wanted a revolution, so I guess that's why this seems like a good idea to you.

You must have confused me with someone else. I never said I wanted a revolution.

And if you re-read my posts, I specifically said I do not think representation by lot is a good idea. I was just pointing out HOW it would be set up if it WERE implemented.

308:

gravelbelly22 @ 305
Really?
See you this horror and raise you a Cuban bay?

309:

This thread doesn't really seem to be going anywhere, so here's a little something to think about:

A simple addition to the rules reversed this collapse of co-operation, and that was the introduction of altruistic punishment. Fehr and Gachter allowed players to fine other players credits, at a cost to themselves. This is true altruistic punishment because the groups change after each round, and the players are anonymous. There may have been no direct benefit to fining other players, but players fined often and they fined hard – and, as you'd expect, they chose to fine other players who hadn't chipped in on that round. The effect on cooperation was electric. With altruistic punishment, the average amount each player contributed rose and rose, instead of declining. The fine system allowed cooperation between groups of strangers who wouldn't meet again, overcoming the challenge of the free rider problem.

History does rhyme. But it doesn't have to repeat. Maybe game theory, the heterodox school of economics and the like really can make the world a better place without the mass re-engineering of the human race into New Soviet Man.

310:

My mistake. Still, I think simple human nature would preclude using the lottery model, and I don't think tinkering with it will ever make it viable, since most people lack the basic requisite skills and tolerance of other people to make it work.

311:
So - would it be fair to say that Politicians will favour "revolution over evolution" [...], while Ministries will favour "evolution over revolution"

Those are a fair description of their respective positions. What we usually end up getting in practice is sabotaged revolutions that end up being a rearrangement of the rubble of the same old system, and the gradual accrual of power to bureaucrats.

312:
That's because the Lemmingcrats are screwed

I shall reply to this trolling only to correct the gratuitous lie: this has been going on for over a decade, long before the present government, and hence has clearly got absolutely nothing to do with it.

313:

@ 312
NOT trolling
I used to be a party member of the Lemmingcrats!
Gave up when I found they were just as big lying incompetent shits as all the others. They were supposed to be strong on education - but one of the local Lem councillors is functionally illiterate - um.
Here (this constituency) they have been entryfied by followers of the "religion of peace" ...
Clegg has NO idea at all re tax: my wife is an expert & her language on the subject is not fit for a family publication!
They are anti-nuclear power.
Huhne is going to go down (most likely)
And they are NOT screwed?
Please elucidate.

314:

The biggest problem I have with revolution is that guys like me almost always end up getting shot.

Original point:
Government is like air. If it's being done right, you shouldn't notice it much at all. People don't get pissed off because the potholes are filled, criminals are arrested and given fair trials, and bandits don't invade and burn your house down.

If most people aren't unhappy(mostly), and stuff gets done (mostly), and it's efficient (mostly)..what's the issue?

Also: If we're bringing back Monarchy I totally call dibs. I get to be king, and everyone will build giant golden statues of me. Then you can complain about how bad democracy is in comparison.

But I get to be king. Cause I called dibs.

315:

The UK print media are where you get the political bias in reporting. And since we have more national newspapers than TV news channels, and they are "self regulating", that's where you will find the equialents of Fox News.

Under the current system, it's quite legal to publish a newspaper without having to pay any attention to the Press Complaints Commission, and if you want to see a single-issue campaign, the Daily Express is so frothingly anti-Europe it can't tell the difference between the EU and the ECHR.

There's a reason I sometimes watch Al Jazeera for news.

316:

@ 315
The Express is an embarassment (it always was, actually) to those of us who are or have become "anti-Europe"
As someone who wholeheardedly voted "IN" back in 1975, I am now wanting OUT.
The current EU is not what I voted for.
It has become a bureaucratic super-state, interfering in amazingly petty ways, where it has no business, usually at the behest of vested interests, such as the agrobusiness lobby. [to take but one example]
We pay, nett, approx £9.5 billion a year to the EU, for, what, precisely? Norway & Switzerland seem to be doing quite nicely.
Which reminds me, we should also be IN "Shengen", whilst OUT of the EU ......
Then since we are talking about the Beige dictatorship, there's the EU arrest warrant, where you do NOT have to show a Prima Faciae case, before you can sling somonene in a foreign slammer for years, with no trial or test, especially when you've got the wrong person - happened more than once.

317:

Observation ref 312 and 313.

Around 20 years ago, I would have considered voting LibDem.

The Scots Parliament happened, and in the first 2 terms they formed a coalition with Labour (giving said coalition an overall majority); fair enough, that's what was supposed to happen in principle regardless of party names. In the 3rd term, the Scottish electorate swung from Labour to SNP, and the LibDems refused to form a coalition, resulting in a minority government.

Now back to Westminster, where they've formed a ConDem coalition.

This leads me to the conclusion that they're actually just a power-hungry shower, who's only political principle or policy is support for the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England, and the 2 relevant ratifying acts.

318:

Great plan, but you'll have to stay undercover for the whole time it takes you to get richt. Like a spy in the Cold War, you can never loose sight of your dual goal or the beigeness will get to you, the endless powerpoint presentations, the quasi scientific economic shibboleths.
Good luck with coming through all that unscathed.

319:

What a great piece! I love beige as a description of the phenomenon!
Could the problem be compounded because everyone is using the same tools (software and such), being taught the same 'leadership' seminars and the same managerial techniques, and using the same marketing ploys?
In Germany the political system is less blatantly oligarchic than in Britain, yet the outcome is the same and beigeness reigns supreme.
I am, however, old enough to remember politicians who thought nothing of making uncomfortable decisions. Perhaps because the party lists were not automatically vetted for media compatibility?
And the beigeness has seeped into the minds of the very young. In consequence they are anxiety ridden, because the power of beige quells any hope or enthusiasm they might have started out with.

320:

Add to that how as recently as about 20-odd years ago most MPs were "second careerists" who'd been (still were) a businessman, a teacher, a lawyer, a trades unionist, a journalist... but now they're almost all law or politics graduates who made politics their career.

321:

The US lost that a century or more ago due to the size of the country as best I can tell.

If most of the population lives within a hour or so of the legislative body meeting house it is much easier to have a "real" career.

Or am I misunderstanding the geography of the UK?

Plus your system where the PM has almost dictatorial powers compared to a US president makes things a bit different. No majority other party controlling the legislature.

322:

As someone who wholeheardedly voted "IN" back in 1975, I am now wanting OUT.
The current EU is not what I voted for.
It has become a bureaucratic super-state, interfering in amazingly petty ways, where it has no business, usually at the behest of vested interests, such as the agrobusiness lobby. [to take but one example]

Which is where the Tea Party in the US got it's start. There was a growing crowd of "ordinary" people who were R's but who were growing more and more pissed at the R's in Washington during the Bush years. They just disliked the D's more. No Child Left Behind (not for it's goals but for its incredibly heavy handed and at times impossible implementation details plus no funding), unpaid expansion of prescription drug programs for elderly, starting wars with no plans for pay for them OR FINISH them, etc... The 06 elections were a sign of this discontent. And the 08 elections gave the big hard right money to jump in, give it a name, then take over the message.

And to decicco.barry, you're right there were no big protests but there were a lot of unhappy R's behind the scenes. Once O won in 08 there was very little felt need for "unity".

Of course then the money behind the TP public media campaigns started getting primary candidates who could never win and ......


323:

I think you're underestimating how slow travel was prior to the age of "cheap jet travel"; in the 1950s my grandfather lived near his main work base at Ardeer, Ayrshire, Scotland. He had to attend meetings at the company head office in London, England. If it had not been for over-night sleeper train services, he would have been away from his base (and his family) for 3 days and 2 nights for every one of those meetings.

AIUI, even in the 1990s, OGH was only able to live in Edinburgh and work in London by using the Sunday night sleeper South, and the Friday night one North.

324:

My knowledge of the UK is somewhat sketching having never been on that side of the pond but I think previous commenters have stated that something like 50% of the population of England lives near London.

And compared to the US in the 40s it was still easy to get from "end to end".

Even today traveling coast to coast in the US is hard even on jets. Unless you have a body that's not normal as to sleep patterns and such you really need 2 or 3 days to hold a meeting on one coast and live on the other. I did this for a few years and even staying east of the Mississippi it was hard to have a life. (I was single at the time.)

My point was it was EASIER to have a life outside of politics in the UK than the US. Not that it was easy in either place.

Or did I miss something.

325:

Ah; I thought you were saying that it was easy to have a life outside politics in the UK.

I actually picked a relatively poor example as it was. Ok, I'm now quoting outliers, but before air travel it would take more like 6 days to make the return trip from the Western or Northern Isles of Scotland to London, which is enough to make "a life there" and working in London impossible. "Easier" is a relative term, before allowing that our parliament sits until "silly o'clock" more frequently than Congress does AIUI.

326:

Ok, I'm now quoting outliers, but before air travel it would take more like 6 days to make the return trip from the Western or Northern Isles of Scotland to London,

I have a friend in her 50s. She grew up in Montana. After she gets off the last plane it is still a 5 hour drive to get "home". On paved roads. Cell service is so thin you call ahead and let them know you're on the way so if you don't get there in 6 hours or so they can start looking. :)

That part of the US will likely never be close to anything.

327:

Er, we've established that there are parts of both nations that are far enough from the capital to make a day trip there impossible. I didn't intend to make it a game of "top trumps".

328:

@ 319
No the 60-70's rebellion in "kids" isn't there, because of the fear of not ever getting a job, what with computer-gathered date tracking everything ...
David L @ 322
One also has to remember that, back in 1975, it was the Labour party that was horribly split on Europe, not so the tories, who saw it as a Big-Business opportunity. Whereas (parts of) Labour was concerend, rightly as it turned out, as to the power of the CAP to distort things.
What affects a lot of ordinary people is the bureaucracy - it really is beginning to filter down, so that there are quite a few Labour VOTERS, who are turning anti-EU. Doesn't seem to have penetrated to most of the leadership - yet.

paws @ 323
ICI Nobel explosives division, I assume? Where my father was drafted to make things that went bang in 1941 (as a post-graduate-qualified chemist)
You said "Ardeer" - not Saltcoats or Kilwinning or Ardrossan.

@ 326/7
"Far enough" does not have to be in physical distance, either.
There are some places condisderably nearer London, that are almost as awkward to get to as the Western Isles, or "Fair Isle".
The UK does have one advantage - it is all in one time zone.

329:

Nobel Explosives indeed, and my Grandfather spent 1941..45 in the Dumfriesshire and Galloway plants.

330:

I disagree - the reasons there aren't such obvious revolts by the young are far more complex than you suggest. For starters, they're outnumbered by old people, unlike the good old days.
Secondly there is a lack of political agitation and alternative political philosophies. In this sense beige has outlasted them all.
Thirdly there are lots of nice distractions such as computer games, tv and the internet which help keep you from getting organised and noticing what is being done until it is too late.
There will be a chilling effect of fear of databases, but that will be a contributory cause, rather than the main one.

Which is not to say that there aren't youngsters noticing things; the problem is that there are ever fewer ways for them to get involved and active.

331:

Yep. I wonder still why it too so long for politics in the UK to become a profession. :)

332:

Two huge reasons for the different in youth now from the 60s is the greatly intensified competition for jobs and, in the US, student loan debt. When youth were dropping out, they knew they could easily drop back in whenever they wanted. A college degree of any kind was an automatic ticket to a decent job. That ended in the US in the early 70s.

333:

Agree with you except for the last sentence. It's not that there are "ever fewer ways for young people to get involved and active" -- with Internet there are more such ways than ever before. But exactly because there are so many different ways "to get involved" (most of them single-issue), no single one gets much participation. If draft were reinstated, that would change in a hurry -- which is why it will never be reinstated.

334:

I suspect there's a mix of reasons.

Tories tend to come from monied backgrounds - the current crop perhaps a bit less so, but go back 20 years and it was a pretty sound generalisation. They were often expected to follow the family profession and would then "inherit" the family seat when Daddy-dearest shuffled off this mortal coil. So no profession there.

The LibDems, back in the Whig days were similar. Most of the time after Labour arrived they were largely the fairly distant third party and did odd things but in small numbers.

And Labour, to start, were the union's men. They were often picked from union official ranks - John Prescott was possibly the last of them, former steward on a liner and union shop steward too. Back in the 80's when I was living in Liverpool, about half the Labour MPs from Liverpool were former dockers, the older generation ship-builders. In other parts of the country, they'd be miners, steel-workers and the like. Interested in politics, definitely, but they worked first, then moved into it later. If they didn't, there wasn't the support base for them.

With Labour, the crop that grew up New Labour were the first were a huge majority went to university - supported higher education certainly helped there. I'm not sure why the Tories went that way - I suspect New Labour helped. They were in power for long enough for the older tories with more diverse backgrounds to retire or die and the Labour model, and the LibDem model too, which was moving that way, was seeming to work.

That would be my guess anyway.

335:

I thought someone would mention the internet, but I was feeling ill at the time and couldn't think of anything.
I sort of agree with what you said - except that I would like to distingush between ways of being involved with the actual main line political organisation, e.g. the labour party used to be about far more than just running MP's; there were labour clubs, organisations and suchlike, all involving younger people to a greater or lesser extent in something which was ultimately related to the actual political structures which ran the country.

For the conservatives, see Oxbridge, fox hunting and more recently, merchant banks in the city.

Nowadays, yes, they can click on a myriad of little pressure groups, but I think the direct connection is gone, and as you rightly point out, pressure groups spread the load and don't really join the dots.
Which of course brings us back to beige.

336:

Yes, that's true as well. Here (UK) I think it took until the 80's before things got bad. I've met quite a few people who were involved in nationalised industries as apprentices and the like, mere teenagers, when the 80's hit. They were able to move upwards afterwards because of the training and skills they had recieved in the industries, which opportunities are lacking for today's teenagers.

Personally, I can see that my dad still hasn't quite worked out how different things are from the 60's, when people sometimes started brilliant careers after meeting some bloke down the pub who needed a bit of help for the next month in his business.

337:

paws @ 329
In which case, even with the huge work-force at the time, given their levels (Your grandad had to go to Head Office) it is very likely that he knew my father!
[ Who had the sense to scrounge an OFFICAL motor-bike with unlimited petrol/mileage allowance in 1941-2, so that he could inspect the various ammo dumps around the Scots' lowlands ]

guthrie @ 336 (& previous)
The rise of "managerialsim" in the 80s together with the Madwoman from Grantham (note) & the slow creeping jelly of HR-departments - jobs were swallowed by the beige dictatorship BEFORE politics was .....
note: I thought of myself as a leftwing tory - until she came along - euw. I have also been a union Shop Steward - frightened the management witless - because I WAS NOT a "socialist leftie" they could safely pigeonhole ....
Got crapped on by both sides, needless to say - independance of thought & action NOT wanted on voyage.

338:

I'll offer a parable in lieu of a well-formed alternative to beige representative democracy:

The first pollykaryote arose quite by chance. Someone had started a co-operative insurance group with es neighbors so they could protect one another from foreclosures. Needing a constitution of sorts, they had found a set of governance rules online which looked to do the trick. But as it turned out, there lay a clause somewhere in that code stipulating that any section could be changed, added or removed on a vote. Naturally, members began to suggest new uses for their polity, slowly shifting, nudging, extending its initial function. As it matured and friends or neighbors asked to join, the leaderless society swelled beyond its earlier, more manageable size, and so, after much deliberation and a vote, it split in two.

339:

Greg, I think you may be right. My grandfather was a line commissioning engineer in that period, primarily at Powfoot (sp) in Dumfriesshire, but sometimes in Girvan.

340:

I note that in the Vinge paper, he specifically points to 2020-2023 as the most liekly time for "S".
A date which others (previous discussions here) also seem to be converging on.

Question: WE are all aware of this, but out there, amongst the muggles/drones/arts-trained/politicans/mundanes there isn't even the faintest flicker of recognition that the world is about to alter, profoundly & permanently.
Why is this so? And what will they (try to) do when the penny finally drops? Or will it be too late, since once the rails had been laid across Chat Moss, it was far too late to stem the power of steam?
One thing IS certain - the moment it does percolate through to religious leaders power-crazed mentalities, we are in for really deep shit, since they will strain every muscle to stop it.
Look forward to religious fundies bombing physics & computer departments!

Can the "S" be avoided?
If our machine-intelligences are all serial in operating nature, then yes, probably. But I think that isn't going to happen.

Vinge's paper is now 20 years old, with 10 left to run.
So far he seems to be not too far off-beam, especially where he speaks ofthe then Usenet, compared to the present state of interconnectedness. Um.

341:

Oops...
I think I may have posted to the worng/wrong thread!
Aplogies/apologies

342:

Question: WE are all aware of this, but out there, amongst the muggles/drones/arts-trained/politicans/mundanes there isn't even the faintest flicker of recognition that the world is about to alter, profoundly & permanently.

Some of Matt Taibbi's writing covering elections suggests a tension in many journalists and other public figures. They can see how broken the system is, yet they're deeply afraid of what happens when too many people see how broken the system is. It's OK to laugh about the system and its problems among them, but only if you signal that you're totally committed to the system and can't imagine anything else.

343:

Well, the technology exists to move towards "direct democracy" on the Swiss model. Both 10 Downing St and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have taken baby steps in this direction with on-line petitioning systems.

344:

You are suggesting a method similar to Sortition, which was quite successful in ancient Athens. I agree, it's the best representation of people.

345:

What I've seen of ballot initiatives in Florida and their reputation from California make me deeply skeptical of direct democracy. A reasonable understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each choice is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for good policymaking. Achieving that understanding requires a lot of time and effort that individual citizens usually can better spend elsewhere.

346:

The question of how we judge the performance of our elected politicians and officials (is there a difference) seems to keep coming up.

Here's something I heard on the radio a while back which has been kind of ticklingnthe back of my brain while reading the discussion here...

http://www.badscience.net/2013/01/i-made-this-radio-4-documentary-on-randomised-trials-on-government-policy/

...and there's an associated paper here...

http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/test-learn-adapt-developing-public-policy-randomised-controlled-trials

Evidence based politics anyone?

If we can objectively measure and compare how succesful politicians are at implementing the policies they promote and how effective those policies are in terms of their declared aims then make the results available to the voters in an accesible form then I'd say that was a step in the right direction...

347:

My understanding is that the Californian model requires that a ballot be held on certain matters, eg increasing tax rates?
If so, then it's not the same as the Swiss model that I suggested, which only requires that matters which gain a certain level of popular support be put to a referendum.

348:

I'm not from CA but as best I know a ballot measure is basically a way to write a new law bypassing the legislature. Almost anything is possible.

The hard part (but not terribly hard if you have a rich OR motivated group is getting enough signatures from eligible voters.

349:

So, I was thinking about the subject of neoteny that came up in the other thread, and I had a brainwave.

So you want a revolution? How about we give the vote to children?

Invert the franchise. Grant the vote to youth, on a bell curve of weighting so younger children begin voting on less important issues, or with a reduced percentage, gradually increasing until one reaches his full voting power at the age where mental faculties and idealism are at the highest point, and then gradually reduce the weight of the vote until corrupt, disenchanted, cynical adults are completely removed from the vote.

Yes, yes, crazy I know but the more I think about it the more appealing it becomes. Think of the knock on effects on education. People would try to use demography to affect the vote, but they do that already, only now children's indoctrination would be in the limelight, and closely scrutinized.

And funding for education? Critical thinking skills? The infantilization of young adults and teenagers, reversed. Politics demistified by the necessity to explain issues in a format comprehensible to a 12 year old.

Children of course are genuinely idealistic and compassionate, mentally flexible and open minded, naturally aligned with the underdog since they too are powerless and under authority in their daily lives.

And finally, what long term policies could be instituted by a voting constituency that genuinely believes it's going to live forever?

Crazy eh? But don't tell me there isn't something there.

350:

All you can do at the "sufficient signatures" bit is get a measure put to a full plebicite; you still have to actually win that plebicite to create a new law.

Creating a new law that way doesn't just let you do an end run round the legislature, but also round the lobbyists!

351:

Before activists spend to much time focusing on revolution, I would argue they should focus there efforts to to strengthen the foundations of liberal democracy. If these efforts achive results, and those reults are not significant enough, they should nonetheless make the greater change easier to achive.

1)Mass Media
2) Strengthening the rule of law by legislating for greater executive accountability.

The mass media needs diversification, sure the internet helps, but a healthier mainstream media needs to be legislated for. ( obviously this is against the interests of the present monopoly, which is why it would take focused activist efforts to have any chance of ever coming before parliament in a useful form.)

Also, somehow, the judiciary needs to be given a greater ability to judge the actions of the executive. Again without force it is unlikely that parliament will implement legislation that brings greater accountability to its actions.

But I feel that so long as power is not held accountable at the top corruption, is inevitable.

Maybe a 10 yearly commission into past actions of government over that time, and the ability to enforce accountability for acts committed by politicians, bureaucratic institutions, would help.

There needs to be accountability for such actions as the illegal war on Iraq. Under the present system this will not happen, but it is possible that under a stronger system, where the powers that be know they may face the consequences of there crimes, that those crimes would not occur in the first place.

352:

Creating a new law that way doesn't just let you do an end run round the legislature, but also round the lobbyists!

Not really. Anytime a measure seems to have enough support to pass EVERYONE with skin in the game starts spending money fast to either support or oppose the measure.

353:

California direct democracy has some unusual features which I think are bad:

1) Unusually few signatures are required (vs other similar systems in the US), so getting the signatures is actually not very hard for a large organized group or anyone with a few million dollars.

2) The constitution can be modified by a single simple majority vote (provided such modifications aren't considered "revisions" by the courts, which is horribly vague). That's just too quick and easy. The legislature can't undo such constitutional changes nearly so easily so if they are broken.

3) The legislature may never repeal or modify a measure without a popular vote.

4) Ballot measures can come in off-time elections where turnout is even lower than normal.


I think the system in Washington state works a lot better.

1) It requires relatively more signatures, so there aren't so many measures by random groups and people (one guy has made a career of starting up tax revolt style initiatives).

2) The constitution cannot be changed by initiative.

3) The legislature can't mess with them without a 2/3 vote for 2 years after which they are like any other law (so 50%+1 to repeal/modify/etc). There are initiatives which have been repeatedly passed and which the legislature flouts as soon as they expire. These initiatives are also dumb policy, IMO, so the system is working.

4) Same issue exists.

California popular-voted itself into a situation where the legislative majority had very little power to govern the state and the popular vote process is a very bad one for weighing and deciding between competing priorities.

California may be starting to turn this around, however. The legislature can now (as of a couple years ago I believe) approve a budget with a majority vote (rather than 2/3), though it still can't raise taxes, and some large fraction of the budget is off limits due to initiative mandated spending. The courts have begun to take a more limited view of what initiatives are legal and what constitutional changes can be accomplished via popular vote.


Oh, and to those who think initiatives get past lobbiests... hah. California ballots almost always have a measure or two written by a single corporation or person to benefit them very specifically. There are also regularly initiatives spawned out of national political organizations. The marketing campaigns for plausibly successful initiatives usually spend quite a few millions. That money means political professionals and lobbiests are involved.

354:

(This topic get cross-listed on Crooked Timber and I wrote skads there.)
@Charlie - I disagree with more than one unspoken (or not) premise.
1) I believe that representative democracy is quite a significant invention in human history but they are not created equally
(at the extreme undemocratic and dysfunctional end is the US but the UK, then perhaps France and Japan) all have anti-democratic and dysfunctional features.
2) I think PR systems are superior for the purposes of democracy (and for the representing the interests of the majority, especially working people) but even PR systems can have structural weakness (one sign of this might be too many party rather than too few).
3) I don't Michels is particularly insightful as to what happened to the German SPD (and Michels ended up a quasi-fascist so his judgement might be somewhat suspect). The big problem with Michels is the he demonizes a process which students of social movements take as inevitable, down surges in the levels movement mobilization, usually on a generational time scale.
4)Perhaps most important, it is not the oligarchs within the party that are determinative of democratic robustness (at least as a major factor), it is inter-party competition. In the US, there actually are no parties (in the European sense), no one is every thrown out of the DP or the GOP because they don't adhere to the party platform. But competition is what makes parties follow their own platforms because voters can punish errant parties by a non-self-defeating protest vote for another party (e.g. Socialist voters throwing their support to another left alternative). (Note, this is not what happens in the UK's 2.5 party system, the only alternative to Labor are a centrist minor parties, Labor remains a fratricidal "Big Tent") If think Anthony Downs analysis of ideology and party competition and its importance for democratic empowerment is much more instructive than anything Michels wrote.
4)Last point for now, how imperfect proportional multi-party democracies are (and I think they are more perfect you realize), their political choices and debates are influenced negatively by what happens in non-PR countries (which often are large and powerful). So not disagreeing we may be at a global nadir, we shouldn't be throwing the representative dem. baby out with the bathwater just yet.
-PJM

355:

In the spirit of Whitman's "I contain multitudes" I wish more than one of those multitudinous selves to be represented in our democracy. Now it's just one aspect of my geographical self that has a rep. I have no one specifically there to speak for my age or gender or profession(s) or my bio-region. My presence at a street address is the basis of my relationship with my sole representative.

Representative democracy is all very singular.

356:

Yeah. The money part of the vote divides up along lines of natural special interest groups, but the ballot vote is gerrymandered geographically. That's why I like the idea of self gerrymandering.

I'll give an example in a hypothetical US State. The state of Coronado has 5 members of congress assigned to it based on the Census. After the census, the state government divides the state up into 5 geographical districts, only having to ensure that the populations of the districts (also according to addresses on the census) are equal. These districts remain in effect until the next census, ten years later. If you move into the state and register to vote, you give your address, and that is the district in which your vote is counted, in which your polling place is, and whose electoral races you have a voice in.

However, there is no reason a state would really HAVE TO force individuals to register based on physical address. Why couldn't they allow residents of the state to register in another district if they were willing to travel there to vote? In large states, the special interest groups would game this system, telling members where to vote, not just who to vote for. So, if your main interest is Global Warming, and you lived in a large state, there might be somebody running in one of the races whose main interest is Global Warming. Your organization of like minded people would make it known that that person was technically running in district 9, say, and that all of his or her supporters should register in District 9 to ensure the election of a representative for their cause. Self gerrymandering.

An even better, but less probable, system would be to have a threshold system, as I described up above. Basically it would be like getting signatures on a petition. Get a hundred thousand registered supporters and you get a seat in congress. An individual can only support one candidate at a time, so if you want to vote for someone else, you have to go down to the perpetually open "Voting Office" and change your support from your old favorite to your new one. Thus politicians would constantly be getting put in and out of office--no scheduled elections, since they are constantly ongoing, and no terms of office at all. Any group with enough people would be able to have a representative voice.

357:

That there were discontent from harder-right conservatives within the U.S.'s Republican Party is doubtless true, but if it had just stayed discontent it would be essentially meaningless, since no matter what even democratic governments (or you) do, there will be some noticeable number of people who will be discontent therewith. It was the use of these people by oligarchs for their ends ('Rich people hiding out in the middle of a bunch of poor people,' according to the better translation of a fictional Chinese lecturer c.2030 C.E.) that made the difference...just about the same time as (for example) Jim Santelli had a pre-scripted rant against helping private individuals in trouble with their mortgages and there was a sudden need for men to shout debate about the proposed insurance reforms down.

This isn't as insidious as it sounds, since their professed ideology identifies the interests of all property-holders, whether someone who owns but a rude hut, waistcoat, and matchlock or William Gates III. That is to say, they are _proud_ to be tools of the wealthy, as the wealthy have proved their worth as leaders by being so. In the society they want, in which almost all decisions will be made by the Market, the wealthy would have even _more_ power, so doing as the wealthy will hastens the Kingdom both as a goal and also by its very practice.

(There are Tea Partiers who believe that the U.S. has veered so far from the True Knowledge that you can't even trust rich persons who _aren't_ named 'Soros', [and in a better world would come out the other side into Left Anarchism]...guess who doesn't get a lot of money thrown at them.)

358:

Why couldn't they allow residents of the state to register in another district if they were willing to travel there to vote?

Of course living in the US you do realize that you really vote in multiple districts. Local (sometimes several), state, federal. Your system would get to be a bit crazy unless totally virtual/online.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 8, 2013 10:20 AM.

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