what’s wrong with democracy?
the fundamental principle of democracy is beyond question: that government is for the benefit of all people, and so must answer to their needs and aspirations. but implementations of democracy are flawed:
- disempowerment of minorities whose interests (e.g. religion, language and culture) are opposed or ignored by the popular majority.
- parties elected on manifestos of incompatible or contradictory promises, especially in different areas of government (business and environment, social security and tax, public services and minimal government, law & order and civil liberties); the biggest contradiction, which leads to recurrent disappointment, is the promise of improvements in public services and lower taxes.
- politicians who assume higher levels of responsibility become unable to honour their obligations for local representation.
- party line overrides individual views and inhibits proper representation of electors.
- governments make decisions that have consequences for people of other countries to whom they are virtually unaccountable.
- unregulated lobbying of elected representatives, with influence correlating with financial resources.
- public scrutiny frustrated by secrecy, arbitrary application of ‘classified’ status, and controlled presentation of evidence, inferences and decisions.
- dependence on distorted and partial coverage by the media to present government policy.
- elected representatives having no proven competence to do the job – compare this with the qualifaction requirements for lawyers, accountants, doctors or teachers.
- poverty of technical expertise amongst elected representatives for assessing scientific and statistical evidence.
- personality being the principal criterion for candidate selection, tending to favour vain, ambitious, corrupt and sociopathic individuals.
- autocratic decision making owing to lack of accountability during a term of office.
- candidates for election to high office requiring commercial sponsorship, creating obligations that may conflict with constituents’ interests.
- periodic hiatus in government in run-up to elections and following changes of government.
- planning, statistics and decision-making manipulated to improve a governing party’s chances of re-election.
what should a reformed government look like?
government should satisfy the following standards:
- transparency: there should be total transparency of planning, policy, decision making and spending. government should publish (electronically) minutes of all meetings; details of experts consulted, evidence and counter evidence acquired, assumptions, lines of reasoning considered, and conclusions drawn; detailed accounts of revenue and expenditure and formulae governing apportionment. where security or diplomatic issues are concerned and publication is believed to be inappropriate, an independent body of ‘civil auditors’ should scrutinize information on behalf of the public/media, publishing material as and when it ceases to be sensitive.
- avoidance of conflicts of interest: potential personal conflicts of interest should be identified, recorded and avoided. this would be made easier if responsibility were vested in groups rather than individuals.
- taxation policy should follow from other policies: people should vote for policies and feel the tax implications that follow; if people want to pay less tax, then they must vote for policies that entail lower taxes, not vote for lower taxes as a policy in itself.
- empowerment of special interest groups: special interest groups, such as those that represent the environment, trade, employees, people with disabilities, heritage, should participate directly in government in proportion to their popular support.
- professionalism: anyone involved in higher levels of government must have a proven competence in the disciplines required and knowledge of the framework (social, political, legal, historical) within which government operates.
- ongoing accountability: the electorate should be able to re-invest their vote at any time, not just at termly elections. a delay between the election and transfer of a vote (of, say, 60 days) provides a ‘cooling off’ period during which an elector may reconsider their decision; it also ensures that power shifts can be predicted and prepared for.
how can this be achieved?
modern government is a mammoth and enormously complex business that, barring war or disaster, will not change rapidly. therefore reform will only be achieved through incremental changes, each of which must be fully thought through, readily comprehensible and will have to attract popular attention and overwhelming support. a tall order!
- Central Government Reform (JP)
- Fabian Society (UK)
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