Idle thoughts about how we can reform democracy

Idle thoughts about how we can reform democracy

OK – here is a big question and I will probably get myself into hot water with this, so I am asking for forgiveness in advance. But I find myself reading lots and lots of commentary regarding recent decisions in democratic countries. For years now I have also listened to lots of people complaining about every side of politics. Eeeek!

I guess the first thing to consider is whether or not democracy in its current form is meeting the needs and expectations of its stakeholders. Which then thrusts us back to trying to figure out what those needs and expectations actually are. I guess Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a safe starting point. Are you familiar with it?

So first are Physiological needs, the things needed for survival: food, air, water and so on. Then comes safety needs (personal security, financial security, health and well-being, etc). After this we want love and belonging, then esteem, and finally self-actualisation.

Democracy is not responsible for these things, but forms of government in general are intended by societies to facilitate at least some of these.

Most of us expect to live in a society where the rulers/government provide us access to physiological needs. If not, then we move or die.

Most of us also expect a degree of safety. As you will see this comes in various forms and is actually the source of some friction. Many refugees are obviously escaping their homelands because safety is not guaranteed. But residents of the countries that are receiving refugees are feeling that their own safety needs are being threatened (I am not going to debate whether they are right or wrong to feel this, it’s just what they are expressing that they feel). It is also evident that some recent decisions made in democratic countries result from a whole heap of feelings in relations to their safety needs. I know that I personally have worries in respect to financial safety.

Then there are the needs for love and belonging. Issues around these are sweeping many a democratic nation.  Belief systems (religious, sexual, social, etc) are striving with each other because many a “believer” in them cannot co-exist with those who believe something different.

Ok – so far I am being pretty obvious and not actually getting to my point which is that we are in turmoil (again obvious).

Now one of the problems I see is the major political parties limit democratic choice. I mean, how many times have any of us liked part of the policies of one party AND part of the policies of another? So when we vote we have to decide which party has the most of the policies we like and we just have to live with the policies we don’t like. Or even worse, how many of us don’t like any of the major parties and just have to vote for the lesser of the two evils or not vote at all? Eeeek! So yes, we pick one party or the other and that is all the choice we get. I would love to see us get more choices.

Another problem in democracy is the cult of the individual (that’s actually quite funny). We vote for a Prime Minister or a President more than their policies. Some of you may deny this and some of you actually do look at policies, but if my statement is incorrect then why in so many elections is there a focus upon character assassination? Let’s face it, if some guy gropes women then it may make them a sleazy sod, but will it make their understanding of business any worse? Or if some lady lies about emails, does it invalidate her social programs? Sure, the issues are deeper than that, but if I were going to hire a surgeon to perform a life-saving operation on me would I rather have a world-class surgeon of moral ambiguity or an honest bloke with very average surgical skills?

A third issue is the entire “mandate of the people” thing. Do you get it in your countries. In Australia, every party that wins power (even if only by a percentage or two) starts talking about their policies as if they were a holy duty given to them by the voters. Look, if a party wins government by a few percent then there will be millions of people (just under half the population) who feel unhappy and certainly no all-powerful mandate is in place. Perhaps if a party wins with a 90% majority, but otherwise no.

So what I have been wondering is how I would restructure democracy if I was suddenly made ruler of the world (by the way, I am available should you feel the need to thrust such a responsibility upon me).

I guess that I would:

  1. change the role of political parties from policy makers and law givers to that of public lobbyists (i.e. people who lobby the voters with their ideals and nothing more)
  2. establish major policy areas (crime and law, trade, defense, etc)
  3. establish an organisation/council/assembly/bunch-of-people who would be responsible for drafting a range of directions/options for each policy area
  4. establish a regular voting process for deciding the preferred directions/options in each of the policy areas
  5. establish a regular voting process for deciding who will implement each of the winning policy directions
  6. establish watchdog organisations to protect the sanctity of the process

So what would this look like?

Well, just say that in the policy area of Immigration the options presented to the public are:

  1. Generally increase immigration
  2. Increase immigration but only skilled labour
  3. Increase immigration but only unskilled labour
  4. Increase immigration (preference to refugees)
  5. Increase immigration (but less refugees)
  6. Decrease immigration (but same number of refugees)
  7. Decrease immigration of skilled labour only
  8. Decrease immigration of unskilled labour only
  9. Generally decrease immigration

The public then votes which option they prefer. Then in a subsequent vote they decide who will implement this direction. By this I mean, who will make it workable while still meeting the needs of the stakeholders. It may be a wing of a political party, but maybe even private corporations might bid for the contract. And there would be rules in place and budget constraints etc.

Now I know that many of you who read this will throw your hands up in disgust and think “such a plan would be a red-neck paradise!” And why? Perhaps you think that the majority of people are ignorant and self-interested. I won’t argue either way on that point.

Another problem with this system is that it ignores interconnectivity of issues. Just say, for example, that the population votes for a decrease in skilled labour but also for decreased spending on education/training.  Ouch! That will be a problem in coming years. So at least one benefit of everything being run by one political party is that one group is doing the balancing act with everything.

Hmmmm. Difficult.

I don’t know. Probably my idea sucks, but I feel that we do need to have a democracy with more options than two all-encompassing choices.

Does anyone out there have an idea about how we can restructure democracy to reduce the general disillusionment in politics? Or have I thoroughly alienated you all?

Thanks for reading and enduring my drivel. :)






  1. I think you’ve pinpointed the exact problem here: lack of actual choice. Everybody’s acting so depressed now that you-know-who won, but personally I’d been just as depressed in the months leading up to the election. Because, honestly, they were both worse. It’s like back in the 90’s in Russia, when democracy had been just introduced, they used to have “against everybody” option on the ballot. They took it off pretty quickly, though, because it started winning. I get a feeling that iif they had it now in US, it’d win by a landslide.


    1. Hi =) When I told an American friend about that old (and much missed) practice, she told me they have an empty line to write an arbitrary name into. I’m wondering now why Bill Gates didn’t win, then.


      1. I expected people put too many _different_ names there =)


        1. And it’s the weirdest thing. Why couldn’t they get organized and “nominate” someone? I keep hearing about how internet access is so bad and expensive in the US, and it’s probably the only plausible explanation – they aren’t as much online as we think they are.


  2. There is a much simpler reform that would improve democracy in the U.S. That is, to make the winner the person who got the most votes. That is the opposite of what happened in our recent presidential election because of an odd 18th century institution called the electoral college.


  3. Coincidentally I recently found an old fansite with archived Blind Guardian interviews that gave me this wonderful quote:

    The interviewer: Yeah we Greeks like to give pleasant surprises to people…
    Hansi Kürsch: And problems.
    Interviewer: Problems ? What kind of problems ?
    HK: Democracy, which is a problem because no one understands her and treat her the right way.

    Now, I’m not claiming to understand democracy for real, but whatever I know about Ancient Greek democracy from history lessons suggests that it was designed to operate within small (by today’s standards) and pretty homogeneous communities.


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