Direct Democracy vs. Representative Democracy
In the section "Democracy", in the paragraph starting with "As the issues facing...", you are no longer making the distinction between direct and representative democracy, after introducing the difference in the paragraph starting with "Rome and most democracies..." Do you think that both kinds do not scale, and that new tools will enable both kinds to scale? Or only direct democracy? Or have you switched to representative democracy only? -- AlexSchroeder
I guess I made the assumption (possibly wrongly) that all national democracies were representative/republican) and switched after I said, that direct democracies don't scale.. -- JoiIto
Furthermore, you make no reference to the following section "Polling and direct democracy"; this might be important, because a reader might assume that the short reference to direct democracy in the "Democracy" section is all you have to say on the topic. Here in Switzerland, and I assume in other countries where you have initiatives and referendums (I heard that this is true on the state level in the US), these are elements of direct democracy. These are very similar to polls in that the public gets to decide questions such as "Do you want to refuse the proposed change to law X, yes or no?" (and you get a booklet with articles by proponents and opponents, too!). -- AlexSchroeder
This is an interesting area that I haven't not developed enough and am trying to study now. If you could help me find examples of and things to read about how governments currently use direct democreacy, this would be very helpful... -- JoiIto
We're talking about a referendum, and we have those throughout the U.S., at least at state and municipal levels. I'm not 100% sure how we get the decision to make a direct vote - it's probably a legislative or council decision. - JonLebkowsky
In California, a "voter initiative" may be placed on the ballot by the public if the proper number of voter signatures are collected (about 420,000 in 2002)
And as a result, California's laws are a complete mess. It is both possible and likely for two initiatives which contradict each other to both pass. It is common for a very small special interest group to use the initiative process to embed its concerns in the law with little or no regard for the resulting ripple effects. With dozens of complex initiatives on the ballot, it is difficult or impossible for the voters to figure out what they are actually voting for. In all of these cases, it is very difficult for the legislature to remedy the problem because, in doing so, they would be "ignoring the will of the voters," a political impossibility.
California is, IMO, an excellent argument in favor of representative democracy and against direct democracy. I'd like to see those who argue the reverse take a hard look at California's issues and explain how they would address them.--KatherineDerbyshire
If I were to say anything truly critical about this essay it would be simply that it is you do not put enough charity towards history, such as a fair discussion of representative democracy, its motivations and successes. You certainly don't give much hope against Shirky's "Power Law". I read into the Power Law more the reality of a privitized state, where it will allow people to organize more freely and strongly against the public. Certainly now that weblogs aren't very important, they remain liberal, but if such technology did become vital to running the state, it won't be long before people find a way to organize themselves to take power. Emergent behaviour relies on the fact that the parts do not have identities known to the other parts, so any communication is "opportunistic". However, human social systems are not like this, which is what I believe Clay was talking about when he said the eventual structure will reorganize into a power law distribution. It's this reason that populism is a dangerous ideal, as it quickly destroys itself. Representative democracies provide a stopgap against populism. For instance, the leader of government is put into an Office, and that Office has additional legal responsibilities to set a higher standard of behaviour. And I'm sure you've heard a politician say, "Leaders sometimes have to make unpopular decisions," which is true. -- SunirShah
Yes. Common wisdom and history are against me. I should probably discuss it more... but I guess I'm half hoping that it will be different. I'm groping in the area of emergent behavior just because of the discontinous/nonlinear nature of emergent behavior. Can we break the historical tendencies by causing a new kind of order based on some principles we can learn from emergence... but I promise to do more history... -- JoiIto
"Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
Joi, I think if your goal is some kind of direct democracy, wisdom and history are against you. But I think there are practical goals that we can achieve: we can use social software tools to extend the discussion and debate about compelling issues, and to organize influence on public policy (as EFF-Austin has been doing recently via Adina Levin's work opposing the state-leve 'Super DMCA' in Texas). Rather than replace the existing republican forms of governance, I'm confident that we can increase participation and take the steps necessary to enhance citizen involvement and translate emergent will in to effective action. To do that we need to work toward an informed populace (so that 'emergent democracy' will have a basis in real understanding of the issues), broader access to tools for participation (which may mean working through community networks to extend participation), and cultivation of activists who understand the legislative process. - JonLebkowsky
It seems that no-one's http://joi.ito.com/joiwiki/RecentChangestalking about the bigger problem of direct democracy, that some decisions are necessarily interdependent (eg. taxation and government spending) The finer the granularity of the direct involvement, the more chance there is that the things being decided are interdependent, and the greater the possibility that the electorate choose inconsistent policies (low taxes and high government spending). One of the justifications for indirect democracy is (or should be) that representatives combine policies into consistent packages.
Maybe to reproduce this in a more direct way, we'd need referendum software which highlighted the constraints : perhaps like Touch Graph, showing them as elastic connections between different policy decisions. Or an Amazon recommendation system ("citizens who voted for low taxation also voted for low government spending."
Representative democracies haven't done as well as one might hope in this area. In the U.S. at least, governments (city and federal) routinely fail to balance the budget, to the point of bankruptcy. State governments supposedly now have state constitutional prohibitions against running a deficit, but I'm not sure if these are completely effective (e.g. California seems to have an unassailable budget shortfall this year).
Given the low standard, I feel that direct democracy could do as well as legislatures here. Maybe not at first, though; that is, it might take some hard lessons before the proper attitudes set in about these things.
As with many ideas that concern many people (eg. free markets), you cannot just take the idea and "do it" -- implementing these ideas requires all the political tools humanity has developed to organize people. In this particular case, we need an institution (eg. parliament) that verifies that new laws don't conflict with old laws. -- AlexSchroeder