Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Demarchy - Democracy without the "demos" problem?

Democracy these days is having quite a tough time trying to live up to its reputation in the developed world.
The other day I wrote about the recent fate of the democratic governments of Italy and Greece, ousted under foreign economic pressures, to be replaced by technocracies.
(A technocracy, by the way, is government by bureaucrats and "experts" - the kind of government the civil service in the developed world would love to have, if they didn't have the hassle of democratic elections to get in the way of the decision-making process)
Meanwhile, other autocratic regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, seem to be doing very well without a properly-functioning democratic system, if they have one at all. Outside of Europe and North America, the only major world economic powers that are (fairly) well functioning democracies and are economically stable with a likely good future to look to, are India and Brazil.

All this makes you wonder why people still put up with democratic government at all; it's messy, prone to instability, suffers from the threat of continual ugly compromises. The example of Greece and Italy may well add to the scepticism that the Eastern giants (such as China, Russia and Saudi) have towards any steps in the democratic direction.
After all, it could be argued that it was the constant pressure of the democratic process that put Italy and Greece's politicians on the slippery slide into granting their electors whatever irrational wish they had, regardless of the cost. If those country's politicians were weak, it might be argued, that was simply because they reflected the weak will of their populations to deal with reality.

Of course, that depends on the politicians and the people of any democratic country; if the people and politicians are both irrational, then by definition, democracy quickly becomes dysfunctional - infact, it may not even be called "democracy", but rather could be something technically called "Ochlocracy" - Mob Rule, to you and me, where government is at the whim of every protest group, interest group and one-issue party that has the largest voice at any given moment.

The main functional problem that many see with even "rational" democracy is that in order to become elected, a person has to become known to the public; this necessitates the formation of parties that broadly reflect that person's views, unless that individual is extremely rich.
Those parties then develop their own interests, sometimes they scheme together to gain power or influence decision-making, and after a short while, many ordinary voters see a "political class" that seems seperate from them. Hence in the USA you have "the Beltway", a term to describe all decisions and actions carried out by the elected politicians in a faraway and disconnected capital; in Europe, "Brussels" has much the same character.

There is another system, that was tried with positive results, most recently in medieval Venice (and in ancient Greece), that has been called "Demarchy": where governing officials are not voted into office at all; instead, they are appointed at random from the electors.

This might sound perfectly insane, but there are some immediate differences that can be seen with this system compared to democratic election.
For a start, the "party system" that is a necessary evil in democracy, becomes totally irrelevant if government officials are chosen at random. A persons opinions, income, background, or any other factor, are not counted for or against them, and besides, campaigning would be pointless, because there is no "election", only selection.
(At this point, it might be fair to add that there perhaps could be some minimal criteria to qualifying for governmental selection: age, minimal residential requirements, and so on; though this may be no more than would be expected for someone to qualify for jury duty)

It also makes the job of goverment cheaper: no party funding, no election campaign costs. Furthermore, as the people in government will have only just entered for the first (and probably only) time, they should instinctively have no special interest to be able to promote (as they would not have had the time to do so; and besides, any of the other potential government members would be able to oppose any special interest in government). Although it may be practically impossible to stop this from happening entirely, it certainly should reduce the risks to a minimum.

One possible criticism of this method is that if the people selected all chose to act (as a group or individually) in their own interests for their term in office, then things would quickly become dysfunctional; that said, the very fact that they would lose their position next time around should also make any potential wrongdoers think carefully about how the rest of the public would react to them once they became "civilians" once again - unless the culprits chose a self-imposed exile. In that sense, it would be in the selected goverment's own interests to attend to the public's concerns.
Another obvious point is the potential danger of allowing people without suitable education and experience to the reigns of government. Democracy, so its proponents say, is good for seperating the wheat from the chaff. Well, that may be so much of time, but even the system of democratic election serves its fair number of regrettable results - again, it all depends on the rationale of the electors, as we have seen over the years in Italy and Greece.
One way around that problem could be to have a stable civil service, or shadow "technocracy" that could be also selected in a similar random manner to the "regular" government, albeit using more stringent criteria to be eligible for selection (based on a higher level of qualifications and experience) - by definition it would therefore be from a smaller base of potential candidates (in the tens of thousands rather than the millions, for example). The function of this "technocracy" would be to act as a counterweight to the potential drawbacks in the "common" selected government; namely, the slight risk that the government taken from the general population could make an instinctive or poorly-reasoned decision.
Therefore, a little like in the USA, you would have two arms of government of equal stature: a general cabinet, and a technocratic cabinet, working together where necessary to reach a common agreement.

How often, and in what way, could these positions be selected?
The best compromise as I see it would be to have local governments, national "civilian" government, and the "technocrat" government selected at different periods and for different terms in office - for example, local government every four years, national "common" government every four years, and the "technocrat" government every five years.
A further amendment might be to have the selection list for national government come from the existing list of local government officials; that way, anyone who is selected to the national government already has several years experience in dealing with the basic affairs of local bureaucracy; they then will have a better hands-on knowledge of the best methods of dealing with public concerns.
Technocrats' terms in office ought to be longer as, to use the same rationale of the Founding Fathers of the USA, those who are more senior and experienced will have a greater chance to better inform those in the "civilian" government who may benefit from a older hand and wiser head.
So, for example, if country X decided to create this form of Demarchic government in the year 2020 with all three branches of government at the same time the following selections would go as follows:
Local: 2024, 2028, 2032, and so on
Civilian: 2024, 2028, 2032, and so on
Technocrat: 2025, 2030, 2035, and so on

Maybe this all sounds nuts. But every system of government has its benefits and drawbacks.

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