The Steev (seregost) wrote,
The Steev

On Political Scalability

Okay, so observation and idea:

I believe voting in America has become an ineffective exercise in social gaming. I'll steal a couple of links from wikipedia:

1) Voter Fatigue
2) Rational Ignorance

In other words, our current representative democracy is manifesting the primary attributes that plague direct democracy. The representative system is no longer scaling. Gone are the days of town-hall meetings and impromptu debates. I think there is a real sense that state and federal politics are detached and ineffective at representation.

Now to the idea. I'm not claiming it is original. However, I have no known references... Essentially, representative democracy is fundamentally a tree structure. In its current state, it has only one level of indirection.

Each of us has to elect our representatives at every form of government. When the country was small, this was a perfectly reasonable responsibility. However, with millions of citizens we now are experiencing voter fatigue. We have too many candidates, and too many issues which we may not really care or know about.

Instead of this giant money machine, why not return to a fundamentally scalable approach?

Maintain a representative democracy, and the same basic state/federal structure we have today. However, instead of a two party ticket, start off small. Have a system wherein people are divided into small groups. Lets say a group of friends organizes into a small group of 10 people. These debate groups register with the state, and they exist with a single purpose:

Debate the issues relevant to the group and decide on a single person who is best able to represent viewpoints at the next level. This representative then moves to the next level where he takes part in a debate with 10 other representatives to elect someone to the next level of government. This repeats until offices have been filled at every form of government.

Say there are 250,000,000 eligible voters in the country. Assuming a balanced tree with each leaf containing 10 people, that would mean that log10(250,000,000) ~ 9 elections would have to be held to elect a single prime minister. Considering that we already have community->city->county->state->legislature->executive, 9 levels isn't all that unrealistic. We can always increase the forum size to decrease the number of levels.

This approach has the advantage of allowing people to locally debate regional issues at every level, and I believe have their issues more directly represented in higher forms of government. It has its own potential problems, I know. But is it possibly a solution to our current system?

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Most people are not in the least concerned with politics. The individual political will required to participate in your piece of the hierarchy is just simply lacking in the bulk of our compatriots.

Even political activist Liz has me turn off Keith Olberman when he's talking about how we've abolished habeas corpus, requesting a channel change on the grounds that it's too depressing. (See also this lovely video clip: Why Does Habeas Corpus Hate America?)

I think your proposed system is more vulnerable to voter fatigue than the existing (and deeply fucked up) system. Perhaps I misunderstand your proposal?
First off, my theory is that voter fatigue is not a natural human state, but rather is occuring because people feel overwhelmed and out of touch with the entrenched political system. Arguably, one of the primary reasons we have a representative democracy is because direct democracy fails to scale (i.e. voter fatigue and ignorance increases with population size).

The whole point of representative democracy is to reduce the agent size down (at each level) to a size where direct democracy has a chance of working. You then introduce checks into the system to try and ensure that the decision makers are roughly proxies of the people they represent.

The problem is, with one agent representing thousands of people, the approximation of direct democracy for the election of that person no longer holds. Hence, we end up with politics becoming a professional game of sociology.

All I'm saying is that we extrapolate representation out to the point that an approximation of direct democracy can happen at each decision making level. Then, as the population grows you scale the number of layers.

I actually think you would get much greater participation if the political process focused on a series of small scale hierarchal elections wherein the principals of direct democracy could be more easily applied. In the example structure, each representative only has to filter 10 peoples needs, as opposed to hundreds of thousands.

The only other alternative I can think of is to conceed that representative democracy fails to scale with population size. In that case, perhaps the nation state principal should collapse, and we should revert to a more regional governance system (like the city state organization).