Short essay on the much needed renewal of our democracy
When the tenant of the White House invents the concept of alternative facts or declares that the Press is the enemy of the american people, we know that democracy is in danger/threatened. Unfortunately, the problem is much deeper than the tweets of a lunatic.
Do you know why Americans vote on a Tuesday? “Farmers often needed a full day to travel by horse-drawn vehicles to the county seat to vote. Tuesday was established as election day because it did not interfere with the Biblical Sabbath or with market day, which was on Wednesday in many towns.” So basically, you can order a pizza from your phone that will get deliver in under 30 minutes by a flying drone, but you have to vote on a Tuesday because before it’s Sabbath, and after it’s market day?! Argh, Traditions…
The only thing that hasn’t changed
The world has changed tremendously over the past couple of centuries. From electricity to trains, cars, the internet, mobile phone, healthcare, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The way we make business, entertain ourselves or interact with each other has completely changed.
You can open a business from the comfort of your apt in Chicago IL, order in China through Alibaba and sell on Ebay France. Dentists can torture us with shiny equipment (can’t even imagine how it was before that) and filmmakers can shoot using drones or their iPhone.
Almost every profession has evolved. Even accountants! All but one: the Law. The way we edict (the law), defend and judge has stayed the same ever since. Though, the way we enforce law has changed and nowadays police officers look like Robocop. Great!
Insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result
The importance of technology
Elon Musk, who plans on leaving earth (who could blame him, some people still argue that climate change is a hoax), was asked about the political system he envisioned once on the new planet. His answer, as usual, was inspiring. He explained that political systems were designed based on the (information) technologies available at the time of their design.
When the Founding Fathers gave birth to the US, information was as fast as a horse could be. Not everybody could read and it was wise to delegate power to representatives that would all be based in Washington.
We are living at a time where i just have to go on Periscope to see what is happening live anywhere in the world or follow Potus on Twitter to keep in touch with modern populism. Shouldn’t we take advantage of all the new technologies available to us to rethink and redesign politics? Smartphones became popular once we developed the proper infrastructure to support high speed mobile internet. Infrastructures open up the field of opportunities.
If we don’t redesign the whole system, let’s at least simplify it. Simplicity inspires confidence. We need, now more than ever, confidence in our institutions. Everybody complains about regulations. But we are fighting the wrong battle. What we need is not less regulations. What we need is better regulations. Simpler regulations.
Eric Schmidt suggested (though i’m note sure it was him… oh well…) that new Bills should contain a maximum of a few hundred words. It is just a proxy to constrain for simplicity. Simple ideas are the most powerful. But don’t confuse simplicity for triviality. To pay, you just swipe your card or tap your phone. Simple. What happens behind the scene is tremendously complex (security, speed, compliance etc.). Simplicity is a proof of mastery. “What is conceived well is expressed clearly, and the words to say it come easily” — Nicolas Boileau.
From simplicity to transparency and accountability
Rules are so complex that you need to hire an expert to make your taxes. Hire two tax specialists, put them in a room and look at them arguing for hours about the right strategy to follow. The same applies for lawyers.
Complexity creates opacity. Opacity makes it difficult to spot irregularities and therefore encourages people to game the system. Tax fraud is enormous: $458 Billion per year. The budget of the Department of Education is $73 Billion. Get rid of complexity and you get rid of the incentive.
Opacity makes it easier to pass partisan amendments — which in turns create complexity. “Organized complexity” allows narrow interest to lobby and get special treatment. Not anymore! From simplicity to transparency.
In France we have public financing of political campaigns. Democracy is a public good and its financing shouldn’t be left to individuals. It is the duty of society. We can’t have democracy when only billionaires & friends can address the nation.
Republicans and democrats spent almost $2 billion in the 2016 elections. Limiting that amount would first stop the waste of resources (how much of that money could have gone to help entrepreneurs?), and second, change the whole approach to campaigning. Less negative advertisement, more discussions of ideas — i was astonished by the very low level of the presidential debates. The one with the most money would lose its edge. Good, it should only be about ideas, not about money.
Public funding is also more transparent. The president is the president of the whole country, not of some interests. You can’t buy influence anymore. The potential pipeline of candidates would also expand. From billionaires and people who know billionaires to ordinary, qualified people with ideas.
Diversity is the future
I personally don’t feel represented by old white billionaires. We need more people from different background, culture and origin. It’s not cosmetic, it is essential. We need to look at problems with a multitude of different eyes in order to find the best solutions. I will never know what it is like to be a woman (or Black, Latino, etc.). How would i be aware of some of the issues they face and even more find a good solution?
Somebody who lost the popular vote (by a substantial margin) shouldn’t be in the White House — unless you agree that a citizen is worth differently depending on where (s)he leaves. We are facing dramatic change everywhere in our lives. It’s time to download a political system update.