Is it Possible to Improve Democracy?

Surely nobody would say that democracy is the best system imaginable. Assuming a utopian system impossible, quite a few would suppose that it is the best possible system in practice. However, there is hardly a consensus on what constitutes democracy; it lists representative and liberal, Islamic and Christian, constitutional, grassroots, and even totalitarian democracies among its congregation. So newer, better kinds of democracy are certainly imaginable, if not necessarily practicable.

Most adherents and propagators of democracy would surely agree that a fundamental principle on which it always must be based is that the people are to be trusted to choose the best candidate, and thus make the best decision for the country. We know that this is rarely guaranteed, partly because there is no sure way to make everyone make the right decision. This is an innate, and unavoidable, aspect of democracy. But if the system could lean towards replicating the free market economy—that is, grow an Invisible Hand that caused people, even when voting selfishly, to unintentionally benefit the country—then we may have a better form of democracy. There may be an innate difficulty in the idea: in economics, there is at least one principle universally agreed upon, which is that more money is better than less money. If each person succeeds in making more money for himself, everyone succeeds in improving the economy as a whole. However, there is no such universally accepted principle in politics, and perhaps then the analogy must fail.

Capitalism naturally provides incentive for people and businesses to perform well, but democracy provides no such incentive with regard to voting. For every voter who marks his ballot paper with the best of intentions for the country, there will be another who votes for purely personal reasons. That whole category should not be vilified (it consists of the majority of people), but among their ranks are likely to be those who vote for racist reasons, for reasons of misplaced party loyalty, or generally with unsavoury or ignorant intentions. And of those who vote for the country’s well-being with sincerity, there is no guarantee that they are truly able to judge that correctly. No one can reasonably expect that all voters should or could be gifted political and economic analysts, but it surely is within reason to expect them to have a good understanding of the subject, generally speaking and regarding current events, otherwise they are not even able to make a merely honest decision.

To achieve a genuine Invisible Hand democracy, a sort of cosmic process of a system that by its nature produces the best results, may be an ideal, and it may be an impossible one. Therefore the following idea is not a blueprint for the thing itself, but rather a possible stepping stone towards it.

Meritocratic Democracy

The idea behind this system is simply that some votes have more value than others. The value of your vote can be judged in one of these ways:

1. You have to take a test to show how much you know about the political climate. Obviously you don’t have to be an expert, but you have to know enough to justify giving you such a responsibility.

2. You have to justify your vote. Justification doesn’t have to be in-depth, it simply has to be a proper reason. So, if someone votes for the BNP and justifies it by saying “I hate immigrants”, their vote would have less value because it’s not a real reason. Voters will also have to show some knowledge of the policies of the parties they’re not voting for, as otherwise there would be no reason to suspect that their chosen party is any better than the others.

Now of course, there are likely to be many who will rebel against the idea of a test, and it goes without saying that the logistics of such an enterprise are difficult at the very least. However, the benefits might outweigh the costs as follows: there will be some who won’t be averse to taking the test when told that it is a short and painless thing, and that the value of their vote will increase; though there will be less voters, each vote will be worth more for the country, since it is more likely to be well-considered. The seemingly simpler idea of asking for justification for one’s vote has the advantage that it becomes less likely that people will be able to justify voting for plainly bad parties, such as the BNP. But a complication arises in the question of how justifications can be objectively judged. This would seem to entail the creation (or amendment) of a constitution, with legislation designed specifically with the system in mind, and this is not a simple, short term solution.

The value of the vote in this system can be thought of as the political equivalent of capital in the free market. People should, if the system is to work, desire a higher value vote for its own ends. Presently, many people think voting is useless because their vote doesn’t make a difference. And despite the protestations of the well-intentioned that that is true only if everyone thought like that, their individual vote actually is negligible (which is part of the point of democracy). If they could change the value of their vote, it is more likely to make a difference. This may have the effect of weeding out the indifferent and apathetic, and encouraging the truly enthusiastic to make better decisions.

One difficulty with the economic-political analogy here is that, if we are to take it to its logical extreme within the context of the Invisible Hand idea, it should then be possible for someone resourceful enough to accrue vastly more vote-power than the majority of others. Only then would the idea of voting-power be a true incentive in the sense analogous to capital in capitalism. But this would be absurd, not to mention impossible within the system, because the only way someone could become “vote-rich” would be to take thousands of tests. Given that that obviously wouldn’t be allowed, and that there must be imposed a reasonable limit on the value of each vote, the Hand is not quite invisible yet, though it is gradually becoming a little more translucent.

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5 responses to “Is it Possible to Improve Democracy?

  1. Interesting thoughts! Democracy is better than any other system … that’s a given. Even a failed democracy is better than any other system. A democracy fails when the citizens are not well informed and enlightened about their choices. Media in a democracy plays the role of of informing and enlightening citizens and a democracy fails when media is a failure ….

    I can see where you’re coming from with the meritocracy angle but it would no longer be democracy, would it? The election system will become very elitist … oligarchy more like it. It would not remain democracy anymore …

    your thoughts?

  2. Perhaps it wouldn’t strictly be democratic anymore. But the way I see it, it takes the best elements of democracy, while weeding out the worst (i.e. voting for the wrong reasons). I appreciate, however, that it’s far from perfect. It would be interesting to see it tested out on a small scale first.

    What’s intriguing, though, is that many voters (if not the majority) think that their voting choice is a good one. So why not put it to the test? The problem, of course, is the nature of the test.

  3. can you can give me some advises for”discuss in what ways democracy can promote good will,understanding and progress in plural society”.thanks

  4. Is it possible to improve democracy? Perhaps we should start asking questions about the big picture…

    Do we need a Referendum For A New Democracy?

    Are you concerned about the future of democracy? Do you feel democracy is under attack by extreme greed in countries around the world? Are you sick and tired of: living in fear, corporate greed, growing police state, government for the rich, working more but having less?

    Can we use both elections and random selection (in the way we select government officials) to rid democracy of undue influence by extreme wealth and wealth-dominated mass media campaigns?

    The world’s first democracy (Athenian democracy, 600 B.C.) used both elections and random selection. Even Aristotle (the cofounder of Western thought) promoted the use of random selection as the best way to protect democracy. The idea of randomly selecting (after screening) juries remains from Athenian democracy, but not randomly selecting (after screening) government officials. Why is it used only for individual justice and not also for social justice? Who wins from that? …the extremely wealthy?

    What is the best way to combine elections and random selection to protect democracy in today’s world? Can we use elections as the way to screen candidates, and random selection as the way to do the final selection? Who wins from that? …the people?

  5. I reject the proposition of meritocratic democracy precisely because equal voting provides an antidote to the marketplace, where some have more money (and power) than others. Recent elections in British Columbia, Canada, provide a good example: in 2005 and 2009, almost all the upper-income ridings voted Liberal, while the lower-income ridings voted for the left-leaning NDP. It can be presumed that the upper-income ridings are also more well-educated and would therefore perform better on the proposed political knowledged test.
    Yet can it be assumed that these better educated voters are making a better choice for the common good? On the contrary, they are clearly the ones who benefit most from the Liberal government’s policies, while the poorer, less-educated ones are increasingly falling through the cracks. We need to keep equal voting and also work on increasing voter turnout among the poorest, least educated and most skeptical citizens.

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