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On referenda and democracy

Written By: - Date published: 12:45 pm, June 18th, 2009 - 64 comments
Categories: democratic participation, referendum - Tags:

Parliament: As good as it gets?

Parliament: As good as it gets?

I have to disagree with the guest post below, which argues that because citizens’ initiated referenda tend to be brought by groups peddling an interest (so what?) and often deal with complex issues we should just put them in the too hard basket and leave it to the politicians to sort it out.

Somehow, that’s supposed to be ‘real democracy’. Sounds more like elitism to me. It’s my firm view that if the Left has a future it’s in fighting for greater democratisation of our society, whether in our political decision making, in our workplaces, in our communities or in our schools.

We know from our experience that people are intelligent enough to make complex decisions, and that armed with the facts they will make sensible choices. We also know that the people who wield the most control over our lives, both elected (politicians) and unelected (business), are capable of making appalling decisions, even when in possession of all the best research and with the best education behind them. The current economic meltdown is a case in point.

Yes, referendum questions can be stupid, but that can be tightened and probably will be by Sue Bradford’s bill.

Yes, there is a danger that well resourced groups can use their disproportionate wealth to hijack referenda by using expensive advertising campaigns and professional PR that other groups can’t afford. The example of Peter Shirtcliffe and his anti-MMP campaign comes to mind.

But that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If we recognise that participatory democracy requires an informed voting population and an equal hearing for all sides then we need to find forms of participatory democracy that will allow that.

There are plenty of options. We can make sure that any citizen’s initiated referendum comes with an extensive public education programme. We can look at limiting spending by interested groups. We can require referenda to first go before a citizens’ assembly. We can devolve decision making power down to local community groups. And so on.

Democracy is supposed to be about giving people power over the decisions that affect their lives. If we’re really committed to democratising society then we can find a way to make it work. The job for the Left is to get that discussion going and to start developing policy to make it happen.

64 comments on “On referenda and democracy ”

  1. Quoth the Raven 1

    Certainly agree. The left should repudiate the elitist attitude shown in that guest post. The left ought to advocate participatory democracy, which is much more than the occasional referendum. The exclusivity of representative democracy should be denounced.

    • Ag 1.1

      If you want to keep losing, then do that. All you are doing is making an election into a market transaction, which the right will be very happy with.

      If the left really wanted to improve the outcomes of elections they wouldn’t be arguing for more democracy but for improving the institutions that nudge people into making better collective decisions. The right would be quite happy with participatory democracy if everyone voted as atomized individuals. All that does is create a market for votes. Doing that is just playing into the hands of the neoliberals the fact that most people on the left cannot see this and just want “more democracy” is the root of the left’s recent problems.

      The left would be better served by trying to support and sustain political institutions that put voting in a collective context unions being the most obvious example. Such institutions set the act of voting within a different (a dialectical) context from mere individual interest. It’s one reason why the quality of democracy in the Nordics is much better than it is here, and why those countries have much higher standards of living and more effective government than we do.

      • Quoth the Raven 1.1.1

        Yes, Ag your so smart why didn’t I see it before empowering the people would play right into the hands of the elite.

        The left hardly advocates for more democracy today. That’s something they used to do when they were actually left wing.

        I really don’t think you understand what I advocate at all.

        Explain what you mean by “institutions that put voting in a collective context.”

      • Bill 1.1.2

        Ag
        What’s with the ‘voting’ and ‘participatory democracy’ and ‘atomisation’ all being in a single sentence if that sentence is seeking to make sense?

        Participation subverts atomisation. Voting ( if it is necessary) is a very small part of participatory democracy that comes only at the end of the decision making process.

        Any neo-liberal spin of participatory democracy seeking to create a situation where there is a ‘free market’ of votes, sorely misses the point.

        • Ag 1.1.2.1

          It’s more or less the difference between turning up at the ballot box having watched political adverts on television (which are just advertisements for a “product”) and turning up having talked about it with your neighbours, workmates, etc. On the one hand you are the object of marketing, on the other you are the subject participating in an open debate.

          Some American states adopt caucuses for much the same reason. In Iowa, you don’t vote for a nominee at a ballot box, but after a public meeting. It’s quite clever really.

          • Quoth the Raven 1.1.2.1.1

            It’s more or less the difference between turning up at the ballot box having watched political adverts on television (which are just advertisements for a “product’) and turning up having talked about it with your neighbours, workmates, etc. On the one hand you are the object of marketing, on the other you are the subject participating in an open debate.

            It is exactly the latter which me and Bill are proposing that’s particiaptory democracy. You even said – participating in an open debate. As Bill said Voting ( if it is necessary) is a very small part of participatory democracy that comes only at the end of the decision making process. So where your fervent defence of current “democratic” institutions came from I don’t know.

  2. vto 2

    yes. power to the people.

  3. I agree – there are great examples of participatory democracy on the left in places like Cuba, North Korea, and China.

    Yes there are plenty of options, all of which reward self interest.

    You miss the point of the guest post (god forbid, I’m supporting a post at the Standard!!) that in a democracy, the Government is elected to make decisions and there are already democratic processes in place. Referenda are easily high-jacked, emotive, and can often get in the way of constructive, strategic decision making.

    There is a role for referenda but not as a default mechanism for decision making.

    • Eddie 3.1

      Cuba, North Korea and China are not examples of participatory democracy. What a stupid thing to say.

      I’m not advocating government-by-referendum – I’m more than aware of the limits of that. What I’m saying is that more participatory democracy is a good thing, it doesn’t always have to be referenda.

      Saying it’s all too difficult and we should just leave it to Parliament – an archaic institution created so the King of England could extract taxes from the aristocracy – is not a progressive decision.

      • Daveski 3.1.1

        Yes, I know it was a stupid thing to say eddie but I get all stupid when I read equally stupid posts that infer that somehow the left is entirely responsible for either being democratic or shaping democracy. See my point?

        Actually, your history isn’t that good either. Taxes predated parliament and the English parliament was instrumental in limiting the taxation and other powers of the monarchy. While the Crown was restored after the Civil War, I think the parliamentarians had made their point!

        As Churchill has been often quoted to say, democracy is the worse form of government apart from all the others.

        • Eddie 3.1.1.1

          I’m aware of the history of Parliament. I was being flippant, comrade.

          I said nowhere that only the Left cares about democracy, but I’m talking about the direction of the Left here so it’s my focus in this post.

          Though I’d suggest any form of real democracy (that’s economic, not just political democracy) would be met with fierce opposition from the political Right.

          • the sprout 3.1.1.1.1

            true enough

          • Daveski 3.1.1.1.2

            And of course it is entirely democratic to oppose anything you disagree with 🙂

            Sprout hit the nail on the head below – if you really want to improve democracy, referenda ain’t the solution.

  4. Bill 4

    I guess the comment I placed here at 12:48 would have better placed under this post. Oh well.

    • Bill 4.1

      So the above that was over yonder is here now. Cut ‘n paste jobby. Sorry, but makes sense to place more appropriately.

      Representative Parliamentary Democracy is inherently dislocated from the every day lives of the people it claims legitimate sway over. So New Zealand’s current form of democracy will forever be unwieldy and an inevitable victim of complexity.

      It can never offer precise solutions that cater to NZ’s various societies and communities due to its overarching and remote nature. On the flip side, societies and communities are disenfranchised and lack the necessary structures and resources to develop forms of democracy that are immediate and meaningful in the context of short and long term societal or community development.

      There are (largely) atomised individuals on the one hand and a centre of decision making ‘a million miles away’ on the other. National parliaments are, and can only ever be, satisfying to democratic needs to the extent that a menu behind a restaurant window can satisfy hunger pangs.

      We are allowed to observe and comment on parliamentary decisions. But that’s no better than reading and commenting on the restaurant menu but never being allowed to sit at a table and eat.

      Referenda and all the other tools in the box are exercises in commenting and observing. More commenting? More observing?

      Still hungry!

      Democracy that falls short of access to the kitchen in order to create our own recipes, prepare our own meals with the aim of sitting down to eat is no democracy at all.

      • Quoth the Raven 4.1.1

        Yep, I agree. Decisions would, of course, only be made by those that are affected by them – which is quite different to what we have today. (That bit should’ve gone under you’re other comment)
        Atomization of individuals is what captialism has wrought. Society could be vastly different. The capitalists on this site simply cannot envisage a society so different from what we have today.

        • Bill 4.1.1.1

          Thought I did put that in my other comment, ie the one further down this thread.

          Anyway. So while we, of the so-called developed world headwank on the pro’s and con’s of referendum and the like, in Venezuela, Chavez is imploring that people not allow community councils to become appendages of the state apparatus.

          Ah, to be fluent in Spanish and able to withstand sub-tropical heat!

  5. Jim Maclean 5

    In the USA (Bush) Iran (Ahmadinejad) and Zimbabwe (you know his name) the leadership denied the common people their opinion believing that they knew better or that their motivation meant that they had a duty to lead rather than follow the clear wish of the majority. Those who wish to change the wording of a clear referendum question, petitioned by over 10% of eligible voters have more in common with the three mentioned above than they may think. It doesn’t matter how well intentioned the law or even if those pushing it are right, when politicians become too removed from the clear wishes of the people then it is no longer a democracy. I voted National at the last elections for the first time in 37 years because John Key seemed to present an alternative to this kind of arrogance. Right now I see little alternative emerging from Labour for the next election regardless of how dissatisfied I am with Key’s mealy mouth words on this issue and otherwise conservative agenda. The repeal of section 59 was a retrograde step that has done nothing to prevent child abuse in New Zealand.

    • Rich 5.1

      Actually not.

      Bush had the support of a substantial plurality of the population who had been convinced that terrerists were coming to get them and that Saddam Hussein was a radical Muslim who helped blow up the World Trade Centre.

      Ahmadinejad has substantial support from working class Iranians who consider that god demands nothing less and will help the pious.

      Mugabe enjoys support from large numbers of landless members of the majority Shona people. He bought their continuing support by granting them land confiscated from white commercial farmers.

      In all the cases you quote, there is substantial popular support for the “dictator”. Rather than an argument against populist measures, Zimbabwe, Iran and the US argue *against* such measures.

    • daVince 5.2

      The repeal of section 59 was a retrograde step that has done nothing to prevent child abuse in New Zealand.

      not what I’m hearing. Though I’m open to hear your proof of this assertion..

    • Draco T Bastard 5.3

      The question on the upcoming referendum is far less than clear. It’s not actually asking what you’re agreeing or disagreeing to but tries to meld the two into one. It has been designed quite specifically to get a no answer. The people who put forward that question as the question of the referendum should be jailed for misleading the people of NZ. The people that allowed it through should be fired for incompetence.

  6. NubbleTrubble 6

    “We know from our experience that people are intelligent enough to make complex decisions, and that armed with the facts they will make sensible choices.”

    Hmm, I think you give the proles a little too much credit… My faith in humanity to make rational decisions pretty much evaporated when Bush got re-elected. People hear what they want to hear, not matter what the weight of evidence against their position is.

    I do agree with the post in general though, we need to embrace all aspects of democracy even if it allows numbskulls like the child punchers to waste $9m on an issue that really is embarassing as a human in 2009 to be debating.

    • Ag 6.1

      Well..

      It’s obviously true that the most salient feature of our societies in the last 40 years has been the overturning of social conservatism and the promotion of unrestrained individualism and personal liberties.

      Now look at what has happened politically since then. As soon as the boomers became a genuine electoral force, from about 1980 or so, we have had more and more neoliberalism.

      These things are obviously connected, except in the leftist mind, which tends to assume without any reflection that freedoms from “oppressive” social norms will lead to a golden age of egalitarianism rather than a dog eat dog market society. As long as the left keeps pushing this sixties crap, they will keep losing or we will get more “New Labour” rubbish.

      • Bill 6.1.1

        Isn’t the market economy the big daddy of oppressive social norms insofar as it skulks largely invisible to ( ie unacknowledged by) but dominant over society?

        I agree there will be no golden dawn. Blind trust to faith debilitates and results in disappointment.

        We want egalitarianism, then we must do the hard yards in developing the necessary structures.

        • Ag 6.1.1.1

          Isn’t the market economy the big daddy of oppressive social norms insofar as it skulks largely invisible to ( ie unacknowledged by) but dominant over society?

          No. Seems to me it’s just a way of getting things done that seems to work in some respects, but not in others.

          We want egalitarianism, then we must do the hard yards in developing the necessary structures.

          Absolutely. I just reckon that asking for more democracy won’t be that magic bullet.

        • Quoth the Raven 6.1.1.2

          Bill – I agree with Ag when he says: Seems to me it’s just a way of getting things done that seems to work in some respects, but not in others. The market is just voluntary exchange. It’s capitalism not the market that is the problem. I believe a free market would be more egalitarian. I also think in a free society a greatly expanded gift economy would run parallel to the market and of course mututal aid is an incredibly important part of anarchism.
          You might be interested in some of these article:
          In a freed market, who will stop markets from running riot and doing crazy things? And who will stop the rich and powerful from running roughshod over everyone else?
          and
          Free Enterprise: The Antidote to Corporate Plutocracy.

          • Bill 6.1.1.2.1

            The market is not just voluntary exchange.

            Its allocation via competitive buying and selling Set it free and everything winds up in chains.

            Even today, with various checks and balances applied to some market behaviours, it dominates and skews the development of societies, cultures and individuals to the detriment of all and sundry; our intentional environments as well as our natural ones.

            Although a symbiotic relationship exists between the market and Capitalism, Capitalism is utterly dependant on the market for survival.

            It is the market which perpetuates Capitalism because it is the market dynamic that insists that exploitation exists in order to perpetuate the necessarily competitive nature of market exchange.

            Ag. Asking for democracy makes no sense whatsoever. It must be practised and developed by it’s participants. It doesn’t come all wrapped up in ribbons and bows like a gift.

          • Quoth the Raven 6.1.1.2.2

            Bill – I used to oppose the market, but then I started to learn a little more and I now I embrace the free-market. It’s an area of great contention and we’re not going to convince eachother here. Go through the links I provided above and start to see what some of the arguments are.You should definitely check this blog out: Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism.

            • lprent 6.1.1.2.2.1

              I like the market. It is really myopically efficient at allocating resources in the short-term. However it is abysmal at allocating resources in the long-term – which is why we have the state. The cut-off point between the two is on projects somewhere between 5 and 10 years or more.

  7. the sprout 7

    Lauding the benefits of referenda, and decrying the apparent ‘elitism’ of their critics, is really just ill-informed populism.

    Sure, like Talkback hosts we can flatter the public’s intelligence, but the truth is for referenda to produce genuinely democratic outcomes, they must be the product of genuinely informed decisions based on adequate and accurate information. How do the public get the information they require to be adequately informed on? usually the msm – which surprise surprise tend to present information in such a way that steers publc opinion in the direction of its own corporate interests. If we had a genuine public sphere where issues could be properly debated things would be fine, but we don’t, so relying on the media to provide the voting public with the balanced and thorough account of the issues necessary for referendum results to be properly democratic is pretty naive.

    The 1999 referenda to reduce the number of MPs to 99 was a good example. More that 85% said said, without any discussion of what reducing the number of MPs might do for properly diverse representation, what it would mean for our electoral system, what it would do for the quality of decision-making of our already quite stretched MPs – and in complete ignorance of the fact that after Israel we already have the fewest number of politicians per capita in the world for a democracy.

    Then there’s the problem of manipulative wording. In fact a lot of the public do get confused or mislead by referendum questions. This s59 referendum is worded as it is precisely to manipulate the outcome. The fact that we are having a referendum at all is the result of a manipulatively worded question based on ignorance of the facts.

    There’s also the tyranny of the majority problem. Democracies aren’t just about satisfying the majority’s interests – which, at best, is all referenda can reflect. What would happen if we had a refendum on Maori seats? Or a national referendum on whether Auckland should pay higher taxes than the rest of the country? Would you be happy with such ‘infallible’ outcomes?

    There’s the problem of unequal access to resources to promote one side of a proposition over another. Outcomes that serve elite interests will be supported by well resourced campaigns, those that serve the interests of the marginalized will be underresourced. Imagine a referendum that says “Should we halve corporate tax rates or should we double unemployment benefits?” Yeah I can totally see both sides of that argument on an equal advertising and PR footing, so no matter one side throw millions at a campaign while the other has no money to promote its position – the outcome will be infalliby democratic if it goes to referendum. Yeah right!

    Where are referenda most frequently employed? California. And what a monumental fuck-up that’s been. Abysmal turn-out rates (20-30%, usually white middle-class) mean results are easily skewed by elite interests. California now has such low taxation rates it’s going bankrupt, social services are in terminal crisis and thanks to referenda any change to tax rates now requires a 66% ‘super majority’. It’s a wet dream for ACT types but a disaster for ordinary citizens.

    Referenda are sops for those who think limited direct democracy is somehow superior to representative democracy for translating the public will into political action. They are not. There are so many more reasons why we shouldn’t put our faith in refrenda as democratic panacea but frankly I can’t be fucked arguing with those people gullible enough to think otherwise.

    • Daveski 7.1

      Bugger me. I agree 100% with Sprout. This is not a left-right thing – it’s about ensuring the right decisions are made for the right reasons and that there are checks and balances in place. That ain’t through the use of referenda and Sprout comprehensively demonstrates that.

      (Oops, I hope my fulsome support for Sprout doesn’t undermine his credibility here!)

      • the sprout 7.1.1

        strange bed-fellows etc Daveski. considering i have no credibility our agreement here is probably more costly to you 🙂

    • Eddie 7.2

      Yeah, as I made clear above, I’m not suggesting government by referendum. Referenda have their place on certain issues. Where they bind the government on spending you get all sorts of problems and they might not be appropriate. As you mention there are other times when referenda might not be appropriate, such as putting the rights of a minority to a majority vote. I agree the Direct Democracy crowd are a bunch of ill-informed zealots.

      That’s why I think the Left needs a discussion about how we can democratise society (and this goes beyond the political realm) while taking these issues into consideration. As I said in my post, there are many different forms of participatory democracy. Referenda are probably my least favourite, but they have their place.

    • Quoth the Raven 7.3

      Participatory democracy is as I said much more than just referenda and as Eddie notes there are many forms it can take. All the issues raised by sprout have been addressed by advocates of direct democracy. Obviously direct democracy is impossible (and I shouldn’t even have to point this out) with a centralised government – hence decentralisation. From an anarchist point of view of course there is the aspects of individualism (meaning we don’t consent to majoritarian rule) and anti-authoritarianism which means many of the issues are largely irrelevant. Many are of these issues are addressed at the Anarchist FAQ albeit from a more social anachist perspective. See sections like:A.2.11 Why are most anarchists in favour of direct democracy?
      A.2.17 Aren’t most people too stupid for a free society to work?

      • Bill 7.3.1

        Surely the decision making process changes with respect the decision being made?

        What to put on my toast this morning? Authoritarian decision making.

        Do we watch video a or video b first? Majority decision making if no agreement.

        Do we generate an income through the growing and selling of drugs? Consensus decision.

        Not necessarily good examples, but good enough to make my point.

        If the decision affects only me, then it is mine to make. If the decision will affect others then they should be able to participate in the decision roughly to the extent they will be affected.

        If the decision is of a fairly minor type with minimal impact, then simple majority will do.

        If the decision has the potential for major consequences then a form of consensus ( 100% agreement or 100% minus X ) is probably a better option.

        All fluid.

    • Rex Widerstrom 7.4

      How do the public get the information they require to be adequately informed on? usually the msm which surprise surprise tend to present information in such a way that steers publc opinion in the direction of its own corporate interests.

      We’re in the very space that’s ideally suited to delivery of information, discussion on its merits and debates on its vaildity.

      Which is why I’ve been advocating for some time that referenda be conducted electronically.

      I’d then personally campaign for it to be set up so that an intending voter had to answer a series of fact-based questions about the issue and get a certain percentage right before being allowed to vote. Of course they could try again if they got too many wrong.

      Cynics might say that supporters of certain parties would be bulk-disenfranchised by such a method, of course 😀

      Seriously, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable expectation to place upon people. If you want to take part in deciding an issue, at least take the time to understand it. If you can’t be bothered, fine… but those who can will end up making the decision for you.

      The 1999 referenda to reduce the number of MPs to 99 was a good example. More that 85% said said, without any discussion of what reducing the number of MPs might do for properly diverse representation, what it would mean for our electoral system, what it would do for the quality of decision-making of our already quite stretched MPs

      Okay, so after a few years of lousy representation and never getting to see your MP, it’d get changed back in another referenda. After all, that’s what happens with so much legislation now – the pendulum swings wildly from one extreme to another depending who’s in power (e.g. workers’ rights, unemployment benefits etc etc). Only the people who’re making those decisions not only have nothing vested in their outcomes, they have no idea what it’s like to even be affected by such laws.

  8. Quoth the Raven 8

    Interesting this little bit from infoshop.org:

    …this result is not an accident and the marginalisation of “ordinary” people is actually celebrated in bourgeois “democratic” theory. As Noam Chomsky notes: “Twentieth century democratic theorists advise that ‘The public must be put in its place,’ so that the ‘responsible men’ may ‘live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd,’ ‘ignorant and meddlesome outsiders’ whose ‘function’ is to be ‘interested spectators of action,’ not participants, lending their weight periodically to one or another of the leadership class (elections), then returning to their private concerns. (Walter Lippman). The great mass of the population, ‘ignorant and mentally deficient,’ must be kept in their place for the common good, fed with ‘necessary illusion’ and ’emotionally potent oversimplifications’ (Wilson’s Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Reinhold Niebuhr). Their ‘conservative’ counterparts are only more extreme in their adulation of the Wise Men who are the rightful rulers — in the service of the rich and powerful, a minor footnote regularly forgotten.” [Year 501, p. 18]

    It seems the above noted attitude is the same as that of the standards’s guest poster today.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      It’s amazing how much of the tripe Plato spouted made into the 21st century. We have the technology and education capable of bringing about an actual democracy but those in power refuse to see.

  9. the sprout 9

    i certainly agree wih you on those terms Eddie.
    this is a good discussion to have.

    • Eddie 9.1

      Yep. Also, agree with you about the MSM. They’re the major problem here. That’s where the public education stuff comes in.

      • the sprout 9.1.1

        personally i think the most valuable aspect of referenda is the extent to which they can be used to spark nationwide dialogue and greater popular political participation. but sadly that’s rarely an outcome of their use here. more commonly they are used to advance elite interests under the guise of faux democracy.

        btw, there’s another problem (stemming from a more fundamental probelm of trying to blend representative and partial direct democracy), namely referenda are great for allowing governments to eschew any responsibility for resultant irresponsible legislation – California being an excellent case in point. “Shall we lower all personal taxes to 10%”; outcome 90% vote Yes; subsequent result, surprise surprise, bankruptcy and dissolution of all social services. When the crises hits what would government say? “Well, you voted for it [suckers]”.

  10. r0b 10

    We know from our experience that people are intelligent enough to make complex decisions, and that armed with the facts they will make sensible choices

    Call me a grumpy old pessimist (which I am) – but I’m afraid I disagree at many levels. People can make sensible choices, but there is no guarantee that they “will”.

    One issue is that “sensible” means so many different things to so many different people. Even when there is agreement about what is sensible (eat healthy and exercise!), it is self-evident that we don’t all do it.

    Another issue is that the requirement “armed with the facts’ is so seldom met in practice. In general most people don’t have all the facts, we make decisions with the information (factual or otherwise, almost always limited) that we have at the time.

    So while I don’t disagree that people are intelligent – we are – the problems are:
    (1) that intelligence is only one factor in decision making,
    (2) we don’t agree about what “sensible’ means, and
    (3) we don’t work with full information.

    In short, people (individually and collectively) often make terrible decisions (often by default – inaction where action is required), and I don’t see that there is anything that can realistically be done about it. It’s just life, they say.

    • Kevin Welsh 10.1

      Fair points r0b. I think point 3, is far and away THE most important of the three. When you limit the information or only put one half of the equation in front of people we end up with what we have today with the referenda currently in front of us.

      When I read the sensible all I could see was McVicar and Dunne… yeeeerk!!

      The two least sensible people I could think of.

  11. Daveski 11

    If this continues and I start agreeing with r0b, sprout and god knows who else, I’m going to have to ban myself to KB for a period of reeducation!

  12. the sprout 12

    come to the Dark Side. surrender to its siren call.
    you are getting sleepy

  13. Ag 13

    We know from our experience that people are intelligent enough to make complex decisions, and that armed with the facts they will make sensible choices.

    We also know from our experience that just because individuals are capable of making good choices it does not mean that the same people as a collective will make a good choice. Collective action problems are a recurring problem for our societies.

    The financial crisis is proof of that. People just saw their homes appreciating in value and didn’t want it to stop, so they voted for politicians who pandered to them and now look where we are.

    Democracy is far from a panacea.

  14. Rex Widerstrom 14

    … they wouldn?t be arguing for more democracy but for improving the institutions that nudge people into making better collective decisions

    The answer, surely, is both?

    The weakness of referenda centres around the level of understanding of the issue in the mid of the voter when they tick (or click, as I’ve advocated for almost a decade) their choice.

    Every vote must be made as an individual, but referenda supported by informed collective reasoning and decision-making is about as close to a perfect system as I can imagine.

    Those who are advocating that the tough job of thinking be left to our betters in Parliament would perhaps have been more convinced by Eddie’s argument if he’d chosen not a photo of Lockwood (who’s doing an astoundingly good job as Speaker) to illustrate it but rather this one.

    Captioned with “Would you but a used Bill from this man?”, perhaps.

    • Rex Widerstrom 14.1

      Sorry, that’s a reply to Ag way up there ^^^^^^^. Stupid captcha… enter it wrong and it drops your comment from a reply to lat on the main thread. And is anyone else finding they no longer have the edit function?

      • the sprout 14.1.1

        i’ve still got edit, maybe your browser?

      • Draco T Bastard 14.1.2

        I’ve haven’t had edit features for awhile. As it always worked before I thought they’d been turned off for some reason.

        • Anita 14.1.2.1

          I don’t have edit when Im logged in, which is why I almost never log in. It looks like both of you are logged in,

    • Ag 14.2

      Every vote must be made as an individual, but referenda supported by informed collective reasoning and decision-making is about as close to a perfect system as I can imagine.

      Things like unions used to perform the function of making it about collective reasoning.

      If we just decide on our own and walk into the ballot box, then the results aren’t usually that good. On the other hand, if we vote after having talked it over with others the results are usually better. I guess what I am saying is that our society has to make genuine political participation and discussion more or less mandatory.

      If you wanted to do this on the small scale, compulsory neighbourhood associations would probably do the trick. People might complain, but, like jury service, it is really a civic duty. The Soviets used to have something like this; it was one of the few good ideas they had. This seems to me to be the only reasonable solution for devolving democracy and increasing a sense of participation. This, I think, would definitely improve local government.

  15. Craig Glen Eden 15

    Interesting discussion people I enjoyed all your thoughts.

    Daveski I can see these guys are having an effect on you. Earlier in the week you developed a sense of humor, now you are agreeing with Sprout,you will be wishing you voted for Helen very soon!

  16. vto 16

    Just let the people decide.

    Why would you not live by that?

  17. vto 17

    yes just as well that long term creature of thinking, the state, has made all those decisions for the last few milleminimum..

    edit – this comment should be below the one below

  18. Jo Botherer 18

    Fascists try to reduce political power of the people and place that power in the hands of the elite. A referendum question already must be subject to several hurdles, the first is a petition of 10% of voters. The proposed question must be acceptable to this many voters to even go forward to the referendum stage. Then the referendum itself. If the citizens are happy with the question and vote the direction that pleases the proposers of the referendum then the people have spoken. If the proposers fail to gain those votes then the people have spoken too. “Tyrrany of the majority’ is a term used by anti democratic movement when they know that they are pushing a non popular idea. Watch out Anti-Democrats, the USA may dress you in orange overalls and waterboard you.
    As for well resourced groups spending money to promote their pro or anti stance as in the Peter Shirtcliffe Anti-MMP campaign – he failed! The people were not dupped by his money or advertising! With hindsight Single Transferable Vote would have been a better system as it is very hard to get rid of unpopular or incompetent MPs at elections as they just pop back on the list.

    • Anita 18.1

      1) There is currently a process for checking the question before it goes out to start collection of signatures. All that is being suggested is that the criteria against which it is checked are tidied up because we seem to have had a run of problematic referenda questions so it appears that the current criteria are not working..

      2) STV is not proportional. Are you arguing that we should not have a proportional system?

  19. Jo Botherer 19

    STV not proportional? Please explain? First I’ve heard. It was on the list of proposed proportioning systems in the eighties for one the two referendums that gave us MMP.

    • Anita 19.1

      Um… I’m not sure what to say 🙂

      STV does not (and cannot) guarantee proportionality, it’s pretty good within an electorate (providing the electorate has at least four MPs, preferably more) but is not good country-wide. It tends to be biased toward larger parties. It is properly described as semi-proportional and it is much better than FPP, but it is only described as proportional because larger conservative blocs want prefer it if they have to give up FPP so they call it proportional *sigh*.

      The easy test, assuming you know how STV works (reallocation of preferences within each multi-MP electorate, every electorate decided independently, no seats allocated to give proportionality) is:

      Take a 100 seat parliament, consisting of 20 electorates, each electing 5 MPs. Imagine a small party (we could call them the Greens) which has 5% support the in every electorate. Now figure out the election outcome for each electorate, and work out how many seats will they end up with in the 100 seat house?

      Under a proportional system the answer would be 5. Under STV how many will they get?

      STV can’t guarantee 5 (it has no mechanism to do that) and it’s pretty unlikely to end up being 5.

      • Anita 19.1.1

        A simple model with only three parties, consistent voting patterns the length of the country, and everyone votes along party lines (it’s a nearly worst case scenario, but it makes the point and is easy to calculate)…

        Let’s imagine

        National: 51%
        Labour: 41%
        Greens: 5%
        Act: 3%

        Every electorate will end up with 3xNat, 2xLab (and no Green or Act voter’s vote will even be transferred to their second preference).

        The house will be 60xNat, 40xLab.

        • Jo Botherer 19.1.1.1

          Thanks Anita, you did very well for not knowing what to say. Well STV proportionality, that’s a subject to ponder….

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