There is a lot of consistency of what a democracy means in modern times. Democracies are mostly representative democracies overseeing a permanent bureaucratic state that specific most of the rules the population must obey. There are a lot of variants for different countries or local governments, but many follow a similar pattern. That pattern is that representatives are selected by majority (or plurality) of popular votes, and then those representatives will set limits on bureaucracies that in turn have wide latitude for setting and enforcing rules.
There are complaints common across many variants of this approach. To the extent that the problems are rooted in the form of government itself, we consider alternatives that we contrast with the current system. These alternatives may have democratic elements, but they often move to further the distance of the population from the rule making and enforcement.
My impression is that we feel like we’ve exhausted the possibilities of democratic government or of representative democracies. We can tweak the concept here or there with little expectation of major improvements, or we can dismiss it with something that is far less democratic. I don’t take seriously the idea of direct democracy, at least above the level of local politics of small towns, but I accept that this is an option.
I think there is a lot more room to improve upon the representative democratic approach. In earlier posts, I described the problems of how the behavior of the current government is very sensitive to changes in age demographics. I feel my country (USA) was much better at solving problems and making progress when the majority of voters were younger. The modern difficulty of government is at least partly caused by the fact that voting population is older, with much more interest in preservation of benefits and less interest in taking risks that would put those benefits into jeopardy but nonetheless advance the country as a whole, benefiting everyone. One of my suggestions is to address this is to disenfranchise the older population or somehow divide the government into one for young and another for old. Another suggestion was to adopt a data-driven government where democratic processes were placed on accepting and validating data sources and analytic algorithms.
My suggestions are just idle or even sophomoric thought experiments. They are not backed up with much research or with some broad personal experience with politics or governments. I accept that these are not workable, but I am interested in considering alternatives to what I see as the default path toward more autocratic government with decreasing role for democracy.
One of my concerns with democratic systems is its fragility due to its reliance on majority or plurality voting. Voting does decide elections, but this voting does nothing to measure consent. My concern is that a majority vote may distract us from the recognition that we lost the necessary super-majority consent to be governed. Without consent of a super-majority sufficient in size to put down any rebellion, the government is vulnerable to collapse in spite of winning a majority of votes.
That gave me another idea for democracy based on super-majority voting instead of simple majority of representatives chosen in many cases by plurality votes. In such a government everything requires a super-majority of the vote, such as 80% of the vote. All laws and regulations will come from similar processes we use today but requiring super-majority votes instead of simple majorities involved in passing a law through two different houses and avoiding a presidential veto.
I envision this process to propagate downward to the local government level where many municipalities are already pretty close to being one-party towns where super-majorities are more likely to occur for routine matters. However, this post concerns the highest national level of governance.
Coincidentally, this is the same government that is unable to function even with a simple majority threshold. To break this barrier, I propose what I suggested for data-driven government: time-limited laws. There could be a rule that no legislation or bureaucratic charter can remain in force for more than a particular number of years. For argument’s sake, assume the limit is 5 years. That means any previously passed law would automatically become void after 5 years (at most).
Such a rule would provide the incentive to build super-majority approval for the law’s replacement or continuance.
This form of representative democracy would necessarily produce a very different government than what we have now.
One reason is the huge burden on legislators to new all of the existing laws and bureaucratic renewals every 5 years. This will force a streamlining of government to reduce the redundancy and to reduce the scope of legislation.
The bigger implication is the difficulty of crafting any legislation that will garner super majority (80%) approval. I think this is possible, but only by streamlining the legislation to focus on the highest priorities that the super-majority agrees on. Within legislation, there appears to always be certain provisions that are considered to be very high priority by most people and it is those provisions that drive the legislation to passage. The super-majority requirement forces the legislative body to prune out all but these core widely-accepted priorities.
I envision a result of such a government to be what I described as punctuated libertarianism. Most of the current laws would not exist. This would allow for libertarian or anarchy types of self-governance. The super-majority governance would come in when an emergency arises that requires immediate action and garners super-majority consensus. The resulting law would last only for a few years and then control would revert back to self-governance unless the condition remains a sufficient priority to get the legislature to renew the law.
I can imagine that there will be some problems that may require more permanent solutions. There can be a path toward such solutions through amending the constitution involving provisions that are similarly difficult as the current process.
This is just a thought to suggest that there are other ways we can extend the life of the concept of democracy, making alternate forms of democracy competitive to other proposals to replace the current system. The current system increasingly appears to be unable to make progress, and appears to be losing super-majority consent. It can be fixed with another form of democracy.
Addendum on 7/5/2017.
I compared this model with the current model and realized that there will still be a representative legislature and they will find ways to work-around the constraints. For example, such a government can perpetuate a similarly sized government by simple negotiation that agrees to quickly pass renewal of expiring legislation in order to keep the calendar clear to address only the more controversial topics.
Even if term limits were enforced there will still be a class of professional politicians that separate into parties so that each replacement member is drawn from the same party and agree to follow party politics instead of being individual statesmen.
I can imagine this system eventually being just as dysfunctional as the current system. The insiders will agree to pass most of the renewal bills in rapid succession. With the few remaining bills, they will spend the time to run out the clock with deadlocked debates in daily attempts to grab media attention with new promises or new attacks on opponents. When the clock runs out, they will simply complete what they started: quickly passing something that mostly resembled what just expired.
The governmental productivity of a super-majority representative democracy may end being the same as the current government. I suspect that this is inherent in any government of an established government because such behaviors emerge out of human nature and are not really influenced by the actual mechanics of governing.
Even if government dysfunction is unavoidable, there may still be some value in a super-majority approach. At end of the session, all of the passed legislation would be passed by a super majority. This implies that there is a super-majority consent in the laws. The laws may be just as bad, but there may be more broad acceptance of the legitimacy of the process. The primary goal at the start was to strengthen the commitment to defend the government so that any rebellious minority would be too small to challenge the stability in the government.
Give me another day, and I’m sure I’ll find some way to dismiss that as well, leaving me no choice but to go back to my pet proposal of punctuated libertarian government by data instead of humans.
An alternative way to introduce super-majority consensus into the process would be to have a system that is very similar to the current-day system except for a new need to have a super-majority vote that confirms a new legislation or change in existing legislation is needed. The idea is that first there must be a super-majority approval for the need for a change even though the change hasn’t been defined.
I think this is what is missing in the current system. The parties in power present new or changed legislation that then passes or fails on majority basis. The part that is missing is whether there is super-majority support for the need for a new or different law. Establishing super-majority support for something new gives more credibility and acceptance of the majority-rule result of the content of that law.
A recent example that affected me personally was the Affordable Care Act, a law that I didn’t think was needed. From the moment when the law passed, I didn’t feel it was legitimate and time has proven my concerns to be true. Irrespective of what it has done overall, it has affected me negatively in many ways. I reject the legitimacy of the government to pass such a law. Sometimes the government does things I don’t like. In the context of this discussion, there is a risk if a sizable minority have a similar view.
The need for super-majority support for government or its actions is so that the super-majority can overwhelm the resisting minority so that that minority does not undermine the stability of the government.
Using this example in particular, we are not at a point where congress is considering changing the existing law. Using this revised super-majority mechanism, there would have to be a super-majority approval to change the law. There is no such super-majority support for changing the law. As a result, my proposal would have to leave the law in place, despite the fact that a large minority disagrees with the legitimacy of the law.
This alternative proposal does not solve the destabilizing problem of a dissenting group that is too large to be overwhelmed by the remaining defenders of the law.
To address this, I can add the condition that all laws would have mandatory expiration dates within (for example) 5 years. The ACA law has demonstrated what it will do to healthcare. If that law expired this year, there would be a need to have a super-majority vote about whether we want another law just like it. I suspect that the super-majority would instead set a mandate to replace the law with something (anything) else. From that point, the usual majority-rule processes will come up with a replacement.
My point here is to find a new way to address the large dissenting minority that rejects the legitimacy of a law for the sake of maintaining super-majority consent to be governed by the system. Two modest changes may solve this problem. Require a preliminary super-majority vote to mandate the creation of a new law based on majority rule. Secondly, require all laws to expire after some small number of years.
The goal is to continually to reaffirm a super-majority consent to be governed.