Monday, August 8, 2011

A pitch for Randomocracy rather than Democracy

I have a secret. I don't believe in democracy. Well, to clarify, I do not believe democracy is the best form of government. I am not suggesting that I prefer theocracies or monarchies or any other form of government. However, I have a firm belief that there are better forms of government that have not yet been implemented.

It seems appropriate here to note that Winston Churchill once said something along the lines of, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others that have been tried." Well, in context, it is not clear whether Churchill was seriously espousing this view. However, that is really a non-issue.

Let's look at it objectively. Can anyone truly say it is impossible for humans to ever conceive a better form of government than democracy? Is this not akin to people claiming 100 years ago that the 4 minute mile could never be broken? What hubris! What vanity!

So let's start with the very simple, very reasonable position that there might actually be a form of government superior to democracy. Let's try to imagine what that might look like by initially identifying the problems inherent in democracy:

1. Limitations on Knowledge. Democracy holds open the hope that people can look around and put the best of humanity into positions of power. However, as a practical matter, very few voters have any significant first-hand experience with candidates for high office, and the rest of us are forced to settle for advertisements. Advertisements for and against the candidate. And I do not mean actual television, radio or print advertisements. Literally everything a politician or his/her adversaries say surrounding a campaign is a form of advertisement. A politician is constantly having to sell himself. And so they learn to guard what they say at all times. How many jokes exist about how hard it is to get a straight answer out of a politician? Because they are always hedging their bets, protecting their images. Democracy may work well if voters are well-informed, but there is virtually no way for voters to know who to trust for the straight dope on a politician for high office.

2. Monetary corruption. Campaigns cost money. And, as a general principle, advertising works. So, to some degree, elections are bought and sold based on what candidate has the most financing. This creates a fundamental corruption in any democratic system. There is always lots of talk about campaign finance reform, as if this fundamental flaw in democracy can be fixed with the right legislation. However, (1) that reform is just talk and it never gets passed, and (2) any reform is limited and there will always be new ways for money to equal votes come election time. Any reform is like plugging one hole in a damn, which increases overall water pressure which, in turn, creates a new hole elsewhere.

3. Individual corruption. Individuals are imperfect and are inherently corruptible. We have all heard the saying, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Though some of us might idealistically cling to a belief that there can be exceptions to this maxim, most of us agree this has a degree of truth. Part of the problem is that, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. By that, I mean that we all have our world view shaped, to some degree, by our position in life because that is the prism through which we see a subjective view of reality. Being a career politician is a very unique job, and a unique prism. Part of that prism includes the effect of sycophancy (i.e., people kiss up to those in power and that, in turn, is bound to affect how those in power view things). Part of that prism includes walking a constant, stressful tightrope knowing the wrong word can be fatal to your career. I cannot imagine how living with that kind of pressure can affect a person, but I am quite sure it must have SOME effect. The end result is quite simply that politicians evolve into people who are quite dissimilar to the general population, much like soldiers who go to war and live with unique stresses and in unique environs, and who return to find they cannot fit in or find common ground with their fellow man during times of peace. I think it's pretty clear our career politicians in high office are frankly just OUT OF TOUCH with the values of the common man.

An additional force that leads to inevitable, individual corruption is personal survival. Politicians are constantly having to re-apply for their jobs -- applying to their constituancy for re-election, or for election to higher office. This means they must spend a lot of their time and energy focused on what decisions and actions will best sell them in the next election, rather than what decisions and actions are truly best for the nation. You get politicians who defer to polls and lobbyists and special interests rather than acting out on their own personal sense of what is best, what makes sense for the nation. I've had enough job insecurity in my life that I cannot begrudge politicians for taking steps they think are reasonably necessary to ensure their continued prosperity, so they can provide for their families. This is an aspect of corruption that I blame not on politicians but on the democratic system in general, because it inherent in it.

Now that we have identified some problems inherent in democracy (note, there may be more), what form of government might address these issues?

1. Limitations on knowledge. The only way voters will ever be secure that they have a true picture of a politician is if they have access to their lives on camera 24/7. Unless we think there is any chance we can get our politicians to agree to live under that kind of scrutiny, we have to surrender any notion we may know the "truth" about any politician. And if we agree the majority of voters will never know for sure whether the image of a politician that is being sold by that politician (or that is being sold by his opponent) is truthful, all of this knowledge is useless. We may as well vote without any knowledge of the respective politicians. Our politicians should be anonymous until elected. A randomocracy -- selecting our politicians randomly from the population at large -- accomplishes this.

2. Monetary corruption. Money primarily corrupts candidates through (1) campaign financing, and (2) lobbying. A randomocracy eliminates the proble3m of campaign finance corruption because we have no election campaigns. People who find themselves in office have no obligation to any financial backers because there were none. Now, these people are still corruptible and could still be subject to being bought off, under the table, by lobbyists, but I think your average American Joe is simply not savvy enough in the ways of concealing payoffs to risk this. And I think our FBI and other law enforcement will have a much easier time catching novice politicians on the take rather than career politicians with a lot of clout, a lot of connections and a lot of experience in hiding payoffs. The bottom line is, randomly selected politicians may still try to take payoffs, but they will probably be much worse at doing it and worse at keeping it secret. And this, in turn, will probably make most of them too scared to even try it. Overall, I think random selection of politicians will necessarily result in a decrease in politicians selling out their votes.

3. Individual corruption. The randomly selected politicians should, statistically speaking, represent a true cross-section of the American population. Every gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and profession should find that it has truly proportionate representation. Now, random factors being random, this may not always work out perfectly. But over time, it will necessarily equal out. So we get rid of having our country run by people who are not in tune with us, who do not share our values. Surprisingly, this seems like it would effect a more representative government than what we get from a democracy where we are run by elitist career politicians.

The randomly selected politicians would, once selected, be subject to sycophants and the general pressures that can lead to corruption and skewed world-views, and out-of-touch thinking. However, that is why we have term limits and period, new random selection. Basically, before the current crop of randomly selected politicians can get too corrupted, we trade them out for a new batch of "fresh" randomly-selected politicians.

Note since these politicians have absolutely no hope of re-election, they will never have to split their energy or time between their job and their re-election efforts. This, too, helps ensure these politicians govern from their true consciences, not from any concern about job security.

Now, the notion of a randomocracy is not without its own inherent problems, but corruption does not seem to be one of them. The main problem with randomocracy, as I see it, is ignorance and inexperience. We get a fresh crop of uncorrupted politicians who do not know much about being a politician. Which can be like having a banker who does not know math -- it just won't work no matter how well-intentioned the banker may be. I have two solutions for this.

First, if a society ever implemented this type of government, it should simultaneously implement education in the form of civics courses in public school so that kids growing up would have a much better idea, by the time they turn 18, how to be a politician. For example, Roberts Rules of Order and Speech and Debate may be required courses. We would end up with a much more politically savvy population across the board.

Second, I would include a lengthy education program for newly chosen politicians. I think current, when new legislators are elected, they get maybe a month or so of orientation. I envision giving randomly selected politicians something closer to 6 - 12 months of orientation (maybe have this vary, longer for higher offices and shorter for lower offices).

The above two measures should easily avoid any situation of having politicians governing us with no idea how to govern.

I can see some other issues people might have. For example, are some people just by personality better situated for leadership positions? Can we truly risk having a total anti-social shleb randomly chosen as our president, for example? This actually has a surprisingly easy fix. We randomly select the number of people we need for Congress and for President, but we do not determine precisely who will be president. We let the people themselves vote for that midway through their educational period, sort of like picking a class president in school. For anyone who recalls school elections, they actually were pretty good at identifying who was that kind of "people person" who would make a good figurehead. Let's face it, 99% of politicians are not "leaders" because they are not the one making the decisions. To the extent we have a system that funnels very egotistical, type A leaders into Congress, it is probably a bad system that is somewhat to blame for having people who do not work well in a group setting, because they all want to be the leader of the group.

I'm not delusional. I don't pretend there is a realistic chance Americans will "wake up" and replace democracy with randomocracy. Nor do I think the powers-that-be will ever let that happen. I think the best hope is that, when societies collapse and new societies arise, there might be some window of opportunity for something along these lines to be implemented. And, as a precursor to that, I think it would be useful for learned minds to consider and discuss this potential form of government. I'm quite sure there are countless issues and problems it might cause that I have not addressed here. But let's address them. And if we find there are insurmountable obstacles to this EVER being a good form of government, let's then start looking for ANOTHER alternative to democracy. Let's not just side idly on the assumption that there cannot be anything better than what we've got. That's a sure fire way to be sure we never DO find anything better than what we've got.

Lastly, I do not want to take too much credit for this governmental system. First, I am sure some one must have thought of it and written about it before. Second, it is actually an existing system that is in limited usage right here in America -- on juries. We do not have career jurors. Instead, we randomly select people from the community to decide our legal cases. As a lawyer, I am aware that the jury system is often criticized on the grounds that most jurors are not savvy enough to follow all the legal principles or complex disputes put before them. However, I am also aware that judges generally think very highly of the honor of jurors, and that whatever else you may say about jurors, they tend to feel a sense of obligation to act justly when they are called upon to decide cases. And I, for one, wish our politicians were more just and honorable, even if it means they are somewhat less savvy. (To go back to the banker analogy, what good is a banker who is great at math, but is also corrupt and trying to embezzle from your accounts? I'd rather have a well-meaning and honorable banker who is merely adequate at math.)

Ken Myers

No comments:

Post a Comment