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Debates Forum

Debates Forum

  1. 21 Jan '11 16:04 / 1 edit
    In the developed world, almost all of us live in representative democracies; frequently, however, the wishes of citizens seem not to be fully implemented by serving governments. Direct democracy is an alternative, but we are all aware of its dangers: the potential for a majority to override the wishes of minorities, often to violent extremes.

    However, I wanted what posters thought of the following proposal for a revised political system incorporating Direct Democracy with safeguards for basic rights. It consists of four main bodies:

    1) The legislature. A parliament would be elected every four or five years as is now the case in most democratic nations; the government would propose legislation, and the parliament as a whole would vote on it. If legislation is passed and not challenged by the public, it would become law. However, as in Switzerland, the citizens could trigger a referendum on any legislation passed by the parliament if a certain number of signatures are gathered within a specific time period.

    2) The voters. Firstly, they would vote in a referendum on any government-initiated policy proposal that had gathered sufficient signatures to trigger one. If the voters rejected proposed legislation, it would not become law. Secondly, the voters could themselves propose and initiate legislation via initiatives that, if sufficient signatures were gathered, would trigger an immediate referendum. Legislation passed by referendum would not be subject to review by the parliament.

    Neither the voters nor the legislature can initiate legislation regarding tax rates, as explained below. After a law has been passed, but before it is written into the statute books and implemented, it passes to:

    3) The supreme court. Their role would be to determine the constitutionality of the legislation passed both by the parliament and by the people. Legislation considered to violate constitutionally guaranteed rights would be thrown out and would not become law. Legislation accepted by the court would pass to:

    4) The civil service. Their function is to determine the cost of bills that have been passed. Tax rates are then modified accordingly, so that the country remains in budget. Thus, if a universal health care bill is introduced, tax rates rise automatically to provide for it; if defence spending is cut, then tax rates automatically fall. Or vice versa. If the initial costing turns out to be in error once the policy is implemented, then the tax rate is modified the following financial year.

    The constitution itself could be modified but to do so would require a supermajority in all branches - say two thirds of the parliament, plus three quarters of the voters, plus two thirds of justices on the supreme court.

    How would this scheme work? Would it succeed in implementing the will of the people while still preserving the rights of minorites?
  2. Standard member bill718
    Enigma
    21 Jan '11 21:12
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    In the developed world, almost all of us live in representative democracies; frequently, however, the wishes of citizens seem not to be fully implemented by serving governments. Direct democracy is an alternative, but we are all aware of its dangers: the potential for a majority to override the wishes of minorities, often to violent extremes.

    However, I ...[text shortened]... t succeed in implementing the will of the people while still preserving the rights of minorites?
    Not a bad set of ideas, pretty good in fact. We must bear in mind however the larger a government becomes, the more dysfunctional. This is a universal problem for large countries such as the U.S.A. China, Russia etc. Like most, your model would work better in countries like France and Japan than in the larger ones.
  3. 21 Jan '11 21:22
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    In the developed world, almost all of us live in representative democracies; frequently, however, the wishes of citizens seem not to be fully implemented by serving governments. Direct democracy is an alternative, but we are all aware of its dangers: the potential for a majority to override the wishes of minorities, often to violent extremes.

    However, I ...[text shortened]... t succeed in implementing the will of the people while still preserving the rights of minorites?
    There's a lot to it but I'll limit myself. The referendum and initiative processes you describe are pretty similar to California's. It is far too easy to amend the California constitution this way. The "hurdles" needed to get things on the ballot or to get the constitution amended, have to be carefully considered. I don't like having the Supreme Court judge every new law. Backlog city. I prefer the system of the bill becoming law and then someone with "standing" bringing a suit if they think the law is unconstitutional. Also did you mention the President having veto power? Your idea about how taxes are set is interesting. Basically, it is similar to a California law that says that certain corporations, such as homeowners associations, must fully fund their obligations. We can't vote to do something and then vote not to fund it.

    The question I have is whether these reforms address the things that are wrong with or threaten democracy. These reforms will not in and of themselves eliminate voter apathy, influence peddling, and the like, and it would be very optimistic of you to think that these reforms would usher in a new era that way. So I guess the question really is, what problem are you trying to solve?
  4. Standard member wittywonka
    Chocolate Expert
    21 Jan '11 21:38
    "Legislation passed by referendum would not be subject to review by the parliament."

    I think I would have mixed feelings about this provision. I understand that the courts would have another look at any such referendum, but a law could still be "constitutional" while disadvantageous to portions of the population, which the legislature might realize and/or be able to address. Thoughts?
  5. 21 Jan '11 22:19
    The main problems with direct democracy, and which are not really fixed by your proposal are twofold.

    First of all, in direct democracy people don't have an equal vote, but the loudest vote carries the most weight. People don't want to bother with politics all the time, so people with lots of money can put something on the political agenda simply by hiring people to ask for signatures (as in California).

    Secondly, direct democracy with referendums on single issues does not take into account how strongly someone feels about a certain point, while indirect democracy does. For example, muslims in Switzerland probably feel very strongly about the minaret ban, while most people who voted for the ban most likely are not as strongly in favour but simply find them ugly or find the "islamization" an uncomfotable idea. Indirect democracy takes care of this issue because it is issues people feel strongly about that determine who people vote for. Incidentally, this is also why agricultural subsidies can remain even though they are severely disadvantageous to people as a whole (indirect democracy also has its disadvantages).

    Perhaps in a slightly ironic twist of fate I vote for a party which favours direct democracy, because they are largely on my side when it comes to issues I feel are more important (i.e. socio-economic policy, education, being able to deliver competent ministers).
  6. 21 Jan '11 23:11 / 3 edits
    I don't like having the Supreme Court judge every new law. Backlog city. I prefer the system of the bill becoming law and then someone with "standing" bringing a suit if they think the law is unconstitutional. Also did you mention the President having veto power?

    I think my proposal would work fine without presidential veto power; indeed, it has to, since I wasn't specifically designing it for the US, and was hoping it would work in a limited monarchy like Britain (where the Queen never exercises her theoretical power of veto). As long as the Supreme Court holds that power of veto, the President doesn't need it. However, having a presidential veto would provide an extra safeguard, so I've no objection to it.

    If we're thinking about a presidential system, indeed, then perhaps we could incorporate a provision whereby, if the President had concerns about constitutionality, it could be his duty to forward the bill to the Supreme Court for consideration? This would reduce the backlog problem while still ensuring that constitutional objections were spotted before the bill became law.

    The question I have is whether these reforms address the things that are wrong with or threaten democracy. These reforms will not in and of themselves eliminate voter apathy, influence peddling, and the like, and it would be very optimistic of you to think that these reforms would usher in a new era that way. So I guess the question really is, what problem are you trying to solve?

    The main problem I'm trying to solve is the fact that representative democracy means that voters have to support a party's whole platform, and that this is likely to consist of a mixture of policies that voters may or may not approve of. A libertarian, for instance, will probably feel closer to the Republicans on economic issues but to the Democrats on social issues; no major party represents all his opinions. Under direct democracy, he can vote for cuts in state provision of public services (and, consequently, lower taxation) but he can also support, say, gay rights.

    I think voter apathy is partly about the fact that many voters don't feel represented by the available parties - so actually, yes, I do think my proposal would go some way to curing it. It wouldn't of course solve all the problems of the democratic process, but it might solve some.
  7. 21 Jan '11 23:17
    Originally posted by wittywonka
    "Legislation passed by referendum would not be subject to review by the parliament."

    I think I would have mixed feelings about this provision. I understand that the courts would have another look at any such referendum, but a law could still be "constitutional" while disadvantageous to portions of the population, which the legislature might realize and/or be able to address. Thoughts?
    I suppose one could have a provision whereby, if legislation was initiated by the voters, then the parliament would be given the chance to modify it, within certain clearly defined bounds. But if the parliament can actually abandon the legislation, then it's not really direct democracy any more.

    Perhaps it might be easier to discuss your objection if you can give some examples of possible laws that might fall into this category?
  8. 21 Jan '11 23:36 / 2 edits
    People don't want to bother with politics all the time, so people with lots of money can put something on the political agenda simply by hiring people to ask for signatures (as in California).

    Could one take care of this objection by introducing a provision that stated that the process of gathering signatures must be unpaid and voluntary?

    Secondly, direct democracy with referendums on single issues does not take into account how strongly someone feels about a certain point, while indirect democracy does. Indirect democracy takes care of this issue because it is issues people feel strongly about that determine who people vote for. Incidentally, this is also why agricultural subsidies can remain even though they are severely disadvantageous to people as a whole (indirect democracy also has its disadvantages).

    So there are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. However, the advantage that one casts votes based on the most important issues raises problems in itself; one might feel strongly for and strongly against several policies pursued by one party (eg, strongly in favour of Tony Blair's introduction of a minimum wage; strongly opposed to his participation in the Iraq War). In the current system, particularly if it's a two-party one, there's no way of registering these ambivalent feelings - one ends up having to decide which issue (or the sum total of which issues) one feels most strongly about and casting votes on that basis. In a direct system, one can cheerfully vote for the minimum wage and against the Iraq War. The problem you raise (about the banning of Islamic minarets) could be avoided through strong constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, so that the law in question would be thrown out by the Supreme Court - indeed, in general it would be necessary for this system to have strong constitutional guarantees of basic individual freedoms to avoid the tyranny of the majority.
  9. 21 Jan '11 23:49 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by bill718
    Not a bad set of ideas, pretty good in fact. We must bear in mind however the larger a government becomes, the more dysfunctional. This is a universal problem for large countries such as the U.S.A. China, Russia etc. Like most, your model would work better in countries like France and Japan than in the larger ones.
    If you're talking about population in terms of the size of a country determining the size of government, then he population of Russia is 142 million (the ninth largest population in the world), while the population of Japan is 127 million (the tenth largest population in the world). The difference is little more than ten percent, surely a statistically insignificant margin.

    If you're talking about the sheer geographical extent of the US, China and Russia, I don't see how it follows. Greenland is pretty big after all but, being scarcely populated, requires very little governance.

    In any case, by delegating authority from the legislature to the voters in many case, my proposal surely acts to reduce the size of the government.
  10. Subscriber FMF
    a.k.a. John W Booth
    22 Jan '11 09:16
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    Greenland is pretty big after all but, being scarcely populated, requires very little governance.
    Pencil it in as a possible location for Wajomastan then.
  11. 22 Jan '11 09:55 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    [b]People don't want to bother with politics all the time, so people with lots of money can put something on the political agenda simply by hiring people to ask for signatures (as in California).

    Could one take care of this objection by introducing a provision that stated that the process of gathering signatures must be unpaid and voluntary?

    S constitutional guarantees of basic individual freedoms to avoid the tyranny of the majority.

    Could one take care of this objection by introducing a provision that stated that the process of gathering signatures must be unpaid and voluntary?
    [/b]

    Possible, but this seems rather difficult to enforce. Surely, even volunteer efforts have some money involved, where do you draw the line?

    ...one ends up having to decide which issue (or the sum total of which issues) one feels most strongly about and casting votes on that basis.

    This is why you need a multi-party system.
  12. 22 Jan '11 13:54
    Originally posted by FMF
    Pencil it in as a possible location for Wajomastan then.
    What - despite its being under the control of statist Denmark?

    I think the best location for Wajomistan would be the Bir Tawil Triangle between Egypt and the Sudan - it's claimed by no state on earth, and it's a very long way away from almost everyone else.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bir_Tawil
  13. 22 Jan '11 14:01
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    What - despite its being under the control of statist Denmark?

    I think the best location for Wajomistan would be the Bir Tawil Triangle between Egypt and the Sudan - it's claimed by no state on earth, and it's a very long way away from almost everyone else.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bir_Tawil
    Awesome, people are free to trade there without gummint busibodies!
  14. 22 Jan '11 14:14
    Originally posted by KazetNagorra
    Awesome, people are free to trade there without gummint busibodies!
    Shame there are precious few resources there for them to trade - which is one of the reasons why no-one wants the bloody place!
  15. 22 Jan '11 18:13
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    In the developed world, almost all of us live in representative democracies; frequently, however, the wishes of citizens seem not to be fully implemented by serving governments. Direct democracy is an alternative, but we are all aware of its dangers: the potential for a majority to override the wishes of minorities, often to violent extremes.

    However, I ...[text shortened]... t succeed in implementing the will of the people while still preserving the rights of minorites?
    This is a very interesting system you have here, but I think some difficulties might arise in the occasion of constitutionally-designated rights clashing with new legislation. I'm afraid this system entrenches the kind of Constitutional idolatry we see in the US.

    Ironically for a system of direct democracy there seems to be too much rigidity as regards development in the law. Considering amendments to the Constitution can only be made with the backing of a supermajority in all branches chances are that these will never materialize, not without extraordinarily prolonged bargaining anyway. The system you envisaged would give far too much power to the Supreme Court, without the possibility of amendments by Parliament/Congress alone the members of the court seem largely unaccountable and with a disproportional amount of power over the conduct of government and the people. It only takes a moderate degree of judicial activism to deprive this system of the very democracy it aims to protect.

    Also, you say that "if legislation is passed and not challenged by the public, it would become law". Personally I feel that given the relative ignorance of the general population concerning political matters and their ability to be swayed by the media I fear that a majority of Parliament-initiated legislation would be shot down, severily crippling any chance of effective governance. The power bestowed to the voters by this system would lead to an Ireland situation (such as that seen in the initial rejection of the Lisbon treaty) which I think can be easily avoided.

    If can propose a modification to your proposal I'd say that, for the sake of effective government, the voters' right to reject legislation should be renounced. I understand perhaps this would make the system less democratic, but considering they'd still retain the power to directly implement legislation themselves I think the removal of such power would only be a minor impediment to direct democracy. However, I do think that the laws initiated by the public should be reviewed by Parliament so that they could be properly evaluated and drafted into feasible pieces of legislation.