Sunday, October 15, 2006
The problem with democracy
By and large, we do not have democracy in America. When Benjamin Franklin, upon leaving the Constitutional Convention in Philidelphia, was asked what sort of government had been created there, ole' Ben replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." And for that, we can be thankful. If you think the current republic misrules this nation, democracy would have been a thousand times worse.
To illustrate the fundamental problem with democracy, here is exibit one: The absentee ballot I just received for the upcoming California elections. It is two legal-sized pages (that's the *BIG* pages, roughly the size of a laptop computer), front and back, in tiny print. One page is candidates. The other page is ballot initiatives.
Let's look first at the candidates pages. Now, I'd like to think that I'm a fairly well-informed person. I have no problem with figuring out which of the gubernatorial candidates I want to vote for (the Governator or Phil Who? Hmmm). Same deal with the local mayor's race and my local city council race. But then there's all these other wierd offices on the ballot. Fire district? Community college district? District judges? Appeals court judges? Board of Effin' Equalization?!!!! Hey look, what I need is someone with views compatible with mine who has a full-time staff that does nothing but look at all these little local offices and figure out who the best person is. I don't have a staff to do that. Hmm, but I know some people who do... they're called "the governor" and "the mayor". Whoa, what an idea, have my elected officials actually WORK FOR ME in finding the best people for these low-level staff positions, what a revolutionary (pun intended) notion!
Same deal comes to the ballot initiatives. Two pages of small print?! Look, there's a couple of high profile initiatives that have been properly dissected by the local press, and I know what to do there. But past those, it's all a blur. I need someone with views compatible mine who has a full-time staff that does nothing but look at all this small print and figure out which ones are a good idea and which are not. I could call this person, hmm... oh, I know! I could call him CONGRESSMAN!
Sans such a person with a full time staff, what am I to do? I know what most people do. They just vote according to who has the best ads on television, or what the guy at the water cooler said, or whatever. But that's no way to hire the best people to run the local community college, and that's no way to make sure that the laws being passed aren't going to have the sort of dire consequences that Proposition 13 (which destroyed California's educational system) had. What I want is a person (call him governor, mayor, or congressman) who has views similar to mine who has a full-time staff to look at these things and thus can make more informed decisions than I can. I'm just one man, and I have a full-time job and I don't have the resources to hire staffers and lawyers to look at all this legal gibberish. How the hell, without having a full-time staff and lawyers on retainer to decipher all this legal gibberish, am I supposed to be able to tell which of these five competing proposals for improving the schools is the best one to vote for?!
And that, my friends, is why the Constitutional Convention in Philidelphia created a Republic, not a Democracy. Democracy means that governing decisions are made by people who do not, and cannot, have enough information to make informed decisions, and the inevitable result of democracy is bad laws and bad governance. Of course, it can be said that the same is true of our current "representative democracy" (republic), but as we might put it in computer science land, that's a problem of implementation, not a problem of fundamental algorithm or structure. Implementation can be fixed. Democracy, on the other hand, can't.
-Badtux the un-democratic Penguin
Posted by: BadTux / 10/15/2006 10:45:00 AM
To be a little more precise, a republic is a representative democracy that does not have a monarch; this is what makes it different from a constitutional monarchy like Canada.
All in all, I'm not sure that either the democracy or the republic is all that healthy in the United States right now.
# posted by Chester N. Scoville : 15/10/06 2:07 PM
The League of Women Voters usually does a pretty good job of "compare and contrast" with candidates (at least for state-level offices). As far as fire district commissioner goes, vote for the guy who's not going to cut the FD budget, especially if you're in southern CA -- you folks get some miserable wildfires there. On county and local races, if the local LWV doesn't have guidance, you'll have to do some research yourself.
# posted by andrew : 16/10/06 3:30 AM
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