Thought Experiment: A Super Democracy

If living by the will of the majority of the people is democracy, then super democracy, in my opinion, would be living not by the majority, but by absolute agreement of every citizen.

Let’s start a small thought experiment: what would it be like to live in a world where any dissenting voice could stop the wheels of government at any time? That’s what I would term a super democracy. It would be a world where there would only be government action if the voice of the people were completely unified, with no dissenting voices whatsoever.

What gave me the idea? I read an article in which one of my favorite economists suggested we commence a direct democracy, rule by the majority of the people. His view is that our technological advances allow us to have everyone participate in the decision making process now reserved only for those who have one elections.

But first a little background. I live in a city with <25,000 residents. We’re squished in to a narrow piece of land bordered on the east by towering mountains, and on the west by one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. They say that within ten years the city will be completely built out. Our city government is made up of a Mayor who doesn’t vote on issues unless there is a tied vote in the City Council, which shouldn’t happen because the City Council is five elected representatives. The City Council is supposed to guide and direct the efforts of the full time City Manager. The City Council meets publicly twice a month in the evening, and at other times as circumstances require. While the City Council and Mayor are somewhat hands-on and as involved in community issues as they want to be, the real work is left to the City Manager who works inside city government full-time and pretty much does what he is directed to do by city codes. He also has a tremendous amount of leeway as to code enforcement and implementation.

The reason I bring this up? You would think that a small city with a small representative government would run fairly well, that problems would be infrequent, and that your representatives and Mayor would have the best interest of the city at large and small in mind.

I used to think this way. Then I sat through city council meetings where the Mayor told residents that they weren’t allowed to do what they want with their own property unless they were willing to give something back to the city, where women were told to be quiet, where I was told that I had better play nice or I was going to be ignored. I’ve sent dozens of kind, respectful emails with questions and never received a reply. I’ve filled out forms on the city website and received no answer.

My experience with local government doesn’t get much different the further up the chain I move. I have been ignored by state government. I have been told by my senators and congressmen that I need to “let the adults make decisions”, and more.

We had a Mayor in Farmington a while ago that really wanted a swimming pool. He just thought it was the right thing to do. If Bountiful had a pool, then by golly Farmington needed one, too. Citizens in the council meeting discussing the pool were told that if they spoke out, the sheriff would be called and they would be thrown in jail. There was never any public forum for residents to even discuss the pool and many got very angry about it and attempted to organize a resistance. In spite of a large public outcry against the pool, the Mayor convinced the City Council to allocate money and build a pool, the public be damned. For the first two years, the pool lost money, and had to be subsidized by taxes, until the council finally listened to the residents and closed the pool on Sundays. Since then, the pool has at least broke even. I’m not arguing for or against the pool per se, but the obvious contempt for public input is especially ugly. It’s the ugly side of our representative republic.

Our history is littered with examples of individuals winning political power, and then using that political power for personal or professional gain. The part that makes it so tempting is that government is force. If I can force you to do something, then I have ensured my marketplace. Or, if I can make the legal barriers to entry in my chosen field of work extremely difficult, then I have assured a safe place for myself professionally, at the expense of everyone else. If I am on the council that decides what developer gets to do any valuable city project, I can ensure my friends get to develop valuable projects. Or or or.

Political power means force.

And after my direct experiences with government and elected officials, I would like to throw them out entirely. I no longer believe in the benevolent hand of government. It does not exist. It is a fallacy. Good old big brother mayor or big sister congressman are bought and sold either by their own whims or by the special interest groups that finance their campaigns, vacations, and other activities.

You gave my nephew a job? I’m glad to make it harder for your competition.

You need to make it so smaller companies suffer the burdens of expensive reporting and regulation so that your company can corner the market? We’ll need to make it sound better, but for $50k in donations towards my re-election campaign, I can make that happen.

I would love to see everyone unshackled from the tyranny of special interest groups, and the only way to do that is to take special interests out of the equation altogether. And remove their governmental representation. If they can’t use force, their advantage dies.

But how?

A representative government is nice. It is supposed to do a lot of things, including protecting the individual against tyranny by the majority and protect the majority from tyranny by the minority. It is supposed to make it so that small groups of people still have representation. A direct democracy on the other hand provides that a majority can, at any time, make decisions that may negatively effect a minority. And we have many examples of both problems in our history.

What’s fair then?

Jeffrey Tucker thinks it is time to try a direct democracy. Technologically, this is not a problem. There could be many cost effective ways to administer a direct democracy, even in a small town like mine. In a direct democracy, the voice of the people rules, not the voice of six “adults” who are elected to “make the hard decisions” for us. You want to build a new casino in town? Take it to a vote. If 51% of the population agrees with you, then you get to build it. If not, too bad.

There are myriad problems associated with direct democracy, tyranny by a majority being the most obvious. What if you are consistently part of the 49% and the 51% uses that political power to suppress you, dominate you, and enslave you at your expense? Big problem, right?

One of the interesting things about direct democracy, in my opinion, is that it has never been tried. Why not take a small town like Farmington and see what happens? Majority rule, no holds barred. Disband all committees and turn decision-making over to the residents of the town. It would be interesting at least.

That brings me to my thought experiment: a super democracy. What if you expanded the idea of a direct democracy past just a simple majority rules? What if you had to have complete agreement for any governmental action to be taken? Consider the case for it. In a super democracy, there would be no tyranny because there would be no ability to force change on people with political power. If your measure doesn’t pass the snuff test of every resident, then it doesn’t pass at all, and you are remanded back to the free market where voluntary action can be used to accomplish what you want. The government, then, would be instrumental only in accomplishing the will of the people, in its entirety or not at all. If everyone voted to burn your house down, including you, then it burns. If you are the dissenting vote, then force cannot be used against your personal property.

I’m not naive enough to think this would be easier. It would make concerted government action much harder. And it would take a very virtuous society for it to work. If there were dissenting voices on a project that 99% of the population wanted, it would take a tremendous amount of self-control by the majority to not use force against that 1% dissenting vote.

If a super democracy were something that could be achieved, it may prove to be the most freedom and liberty embracing society ever created. As long as the rights of life, liberty and property were respected by government and individuals and there laws on the books preventing the abuse of those rights, and the only government action to be taken were action by absolute unified voice of the people, then every action taken by government would be free of tyranny.

What happens to the projects that the majority wants done but there is a dissenting voice? They are taken back to the realm of the free market, where individuals could create committees, form interest groups, raise money, and do what it normally takes to get a project off the ground. Voluntary cooperation becomes the norm and political power falls to the wayside.

What do you think? I’m glad to hear any opinion in the comments…

 

2 Comments

  1. Tamio Stehrenberger October 23, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    I like the idea. I’m a idealist as well in nature. The only issue is pure democracies have been tried and failed in the past. They actually lead to anarchy and then tyranny. People think it’s spectrum- with Tyranny on one end, and Democracy on the other, but in fact it’s a continuum where a pure democracy has always lead to tyranny. Maybe with today’s technology, we might be able to try it a different way :)

    The US was set up as a Democratic Republic. If we actually stuck to the principles in the Constitution, we would avoid many of the power and authority problems we see with today’s career politicians. The Constitution was not a framework for government, but a framework to control man’s power greed in the government. As TJ said, “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man (meaning we can’t trust nobody), but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution. ” Many of its principles are eternal in nature for dealing with human’s lust for power.

    I love Abe Lincoln’s quote- “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test his character, give him power.”

    Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox. I simply love our American heritage and wish we could remember the responsibilities we all must take for having/fighting for these freedoms. They’re definitely not free, and we all have a price to pay for them.

  2. secchione9 October 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    I’m no historian, so can you tell me where a direct democracy has been tried? And I mean that all major decisions were put to a public vote? And for sure, super democracy hasn’t ever been tried… so we can’t say anything about that but what comes out of our nether parts. Myself included.

    I love the Constitution as written, but the problem I see with it is that it is toothless against any congress and president that want to subvert it. Our history as a nation almost starts with government subverting the constitution. If the republic could withstand that kind of internal threat, I would agree that it is as awesome as you think it is. As written I agree, but our history shows that the framework doesn’t bind anyone down. Every new administration adds new usurped powers to the list that was never intended for the executive branch.

Leave a Reply