Democracy allows dumb people to vote, so dumb things happen. They stay dumb even though average education and qualification rates climb. Left or right, or whatever side you’re on, the results can look like dummies did it. Can we remedy that fault in democracy with better aggregated facts, AND keep a broad-based high participatory democracy?
Consider: if you buy a car, a house, a spade, or a fridge; you do your research. After all if you make a smart choice, you reap the rewards. And if you make a bad choice, you suffer consequences. Over time most people learn to become better consumers.
Whereas: if my university professor told my class that “Three months from now, we’ll have a final exam. You won’t get a personal grade. Instead, I’ll average all your marks together, so everyone will get the same grade.” No one would bother to study, and the average would be F.
But it’s the Professor’s version that compares to voting; it’s a class of four million voters. Most voters are ignorant or misinformed because the costs to them of acquiring political information greatly exceed the benefits. Voting is more like doing the wave at the Sevens tournament, than actually mandating a set of policies.
So here’s a couple of alternatives.
1. AGENCY GOVERNANCE
Central banks, public superannuation funds, and public insurance entities periodically make changes to short-term interest rates, reserve requirements, investment mixes, and other policy parameters. Such actions are made to smooth out business cycles, limit inflation, account for consistent rates of return, and promote growth rates.
Some argue that public entities like ACC or NZSuper or the NZ Reserve Bank should just hire knowledgeable people, keep it all at arms’ length, and then let them go for it. Others argue that there should be more political accountability (although we hardly ever argue about injury liability or pensions anymore).
Information about the state of the economy that is now given to monetary officials and asset managers could instead be made public, and hence available to market speculators. Monetary experts would have to persuade market speculators to influence monetary decisions. Market speculators would have to decide, like buying a car, which experts over time were more accurate.
The job of elected representatives would be limited to defining and overseeing X, a measure of national welfare. Bet on policy at your local stock exchange and TAB!
2. GAME SHOW GOVERNANCE
Ever six months – or 3 years – parties as we have now are provided with a live model of the NZ economy, society, and environment. They can write their own model, or agree to a common one (or use Civilization v3!). A model that operates a set of algorithms mashing the cumulative effects of all their policies. The results are published in all media to a constitutionally set sequence.
Currently all District Health Boards must publish data on a variety of health outcomes. They don’t get related to District Health Board elections at all, but they should be. GINI coefficients are regularly published, as are a whole raft of stats easily related to policy projections: population, real estate, crime, transport, GDP, environmental effects, etc etc. parties can choose their own inputs. So the baselines are there.
Anyway, choose your own fact set. Choose your settings. Run the model. Make a gameshow of the programme running live. What a teaching resource! Vote as a citizen tv viewer/cellphone user/newspaper reader on the results for the party you want to take over, based on the results of the models they present. You can still use paper voting and polling stations if you like. Policy via Simon Cowell’s panel, and no-one had to make Stephen Joyce sing!
A fully corporatised version would be run solely with a public Statement Of Intent (SOI). Auckland Council is an extreme version of this within the OECD. But it only runs on about 30% citizen turnout, with barely an aggregated fact needed other than last quarter’s rates bill.
I am sure there are anarcho-syndicalist versions. Go for it.
What I was looking for was a couple of ideas that would broaden the decision-making access of democracy AND aggregate data sets for smarter voting AND support a current New Zealand nation-state.
Many people enjoy their illusions about politics and policy. It might needlessly hurt them to forego such illusions via better information aggregation. Even today, media often avoid telling viewers distasteful details of how legislative sausage is made.
But this is the age of big data and big models. There’s no need for dumb or under-informed voting, or indeed for a dumb democracy.