Putting democracy on steroids

Everything today has an immediate feedback mechanism to optimize it’s performance.

If a restaurant‘s food is bad, we give it a bad rating in Yelp or Zomato. With plummeting bad rating of the crowd, the number of customers begin to drop. This means they have to start working on improving their food/service to win them back. But what about Public “Service” of our representatives? Do we have to stick to a bad decision for 5 years? That seems way too long today. We have no hold on our representatives or politicians after election. Their actions sometimes seem irrelevant to the public opinion or worse just irrelevant to the “public service” at all. How do we ‘de-rate’ a representative who is just in it for power, fame or money?

Once elected, a representative is good to go for half a decade — within which we would have changed 2–3 phones, upgraded many Operating Systems, switched jobs, etc. If every industry is upgrading to improve efficiency, why doesn’t democracy? Why do we still stick with the Athenian principles? Why do our Parliaments have to be so inefficient, sluggish and bureaucratic?

Whenever the topic of politics comes, we ask directions: “Left or right?”. We seem to question only the direction of the policies, but never about the process design of the mechanism. We could change our culture of work from factories to desktops, but somehow never be able to change our design of governance. Why doesn’t anyone want to alter this design to be more ‘crowd sensitive’ and ‘work efficient’?

We probably have to start thinking of a dynamic time-dependent system with faster feedback and be able to break the term of representation.

Every system of operation is becoming dynamic. Even large established industries are changing rapidly from wanting ownership to just wanting the service. A company/service that existed yesterday may disappear tomorrow. The change is so fast that even companies are increasingly struggling to survive. While companies fear death and are forced to adapt or perish, politicians seem to be enjoying their long “terms”.

Historically, we chose the representative mechanism to have better structure in Governance. It did make a lot of sense, then. At the time, 5 year terms made sense to effectively manage large constituencies. It would have been impossible for every citizen to travel to a parliament or to accommodate everyon in one place for a discussion or decision. But today, with Twitter, Whats app, Facebook and every other tool, listening to public opinion is not that difficult. So is signing a petition or discussing a new bill.

If technology upgrades us to a new culture, why not upgrade Democracy’s design? Why not change the Voting method and keep the MPs or Congressmen or MLAs on their toes? Why not move from the Athenian voting system of “winner-takes-all” method to a Spartan Range Voting mechanism?

What we have today is a system where a candidate emerges as a clear winner from a majority to represent a constituency. He has a secure job for 5 years when he can do anything or even nothing. It seems like a locked-in investment where you can’t sell your stocks for 5 years, you can’t ask for a quarterly report and you have no say on what that company does. This is an extremely inefficient system design that has no check-points on bad choices or bad performances. Also, what’s worse is that sometimes we don’t even remember what they did 2–3 years back. So, the candidates do make-belief acts to win trust close to the election or cheat to win votes by bribing voters. (This bribing phenomenon exists across the world. Heard a friend mention that meat was given to win vote in an eastern European country.)

All this because it is a once in 5 years gala for winning huge perks and power with 100% job security. As for the loser, he walks off to his old routine for the next 5 years. The flaws, expense and all the mess seems to be from this design of twice in a decade hiring and firing job-option of these representatives. If we could redesign and adapt this sluggish system to the current rapid economics with more inclusive participatory feedback-possessed versions, our society could progress much better in a collective fashion.

Of-course, this can’t be done at random by some crowd-sourcing mechanism. These systems without proper design could turn out to be more disastrous than the existing ones. Stability and coherence would be of prime concern in designs of such sort. Iceland’s attempt to crowd-source their constitution could be the best example of how messy and incoherent a large audience can become, without a proper design in place.

Design upgrade v1.1

With huge access to communication tools, why not slightly alter this voting mechanism to a more frequent participatory Range Voting mechanisms? This could be nothing more than an app on our mobile phone that is already linked to the Aadhar(like SSN). In this case, you give a rating between 1 to 10 for any number of candidates of your choice and rank them by your priority. By default, the rating is 0. If you don’t give a rating, then that candidate gets 0/10. The final ranking is issued based on the truncated mean whereby the 10s and 0s (extreme biased scores) are featured out to improve the efficiency of voting. Finally, candidate on Rank #1 takes the membership with the Parliament or the Assembly for a least a year.

Every quarter or half-yearly, the representatives will have to report publicly the work that they did — the bill they helped write or the roads they helped build or the companies they brought in to give more jobs or the bills they opposed etc. We need some report to be able to see what they’ve done.

Just like how ministers are getting on twitter and listening to the needs of the public, we probably need all the elected representatives to be online on social media to listen to the people. How else can they represent the public without any digital presence, today? (It’s sometimes disappointing to see our representatives completely out of phase from the world.)

Every quarterly or half-yearly, we get a chance to revise our rating for that representative. If something is dissatisfactory, we get to ‘de-rate’ the representative and give them a strike. If the final truncated mean value after public devaluation is less than the score of the candidate ranked #2, then the system gives them strike #1. The system could allow 3 strikes. After strike #3, if this representative loses his top ranking 3 times continuously, then he is fired. The new top candidate on our ranked list gets elected to be the new representative. This way, the representatives becomes more sensitive to public opinion in fear of losing their job. Hence, he is always on his toe to deliver promises.

The formal 5 year term elections could mean the complete application filing process. The actual elections could continue to run in parallel to process the applications , check eligibility, etc. while this ranking mechanism can check their performance.

However, there is one question in this. The stability of governments when we consider the long term policies. This possibly can be contained if the Government can be subject to a mid-term election if more than majority of the parliament or assembly is lost to other parties by multiple strikes.

The whole idea of democracy vests on the belief that the cognitive capacity of the voters is high, and that the voters are intelligent to make rational decisions. With the current ability of the public to access information and the explosion in communication, education on policies or bills and uplifting the collective intelligence shouldn’t be difficult.

For a start, least the big cities can begin this as an experiment. With better digital literacy, cities would probably be more active and participatory.

In social evolution of governance and political system, somehow we have begun alienating democratic governments from ourselves. Somehow, the illusion of democracy began fading and the prevalence of oligarchy started surfacing.

The sad reality is that this upgrade, ideally, should not have been necessary. If every MP or MLA or congressman actually meant every word when they swore in to represent their people, we wouldn’t need any of these check-points. If they stood by stronger principles of serving people than sweeping the wealth under their rug, we probably would have progressed far ahead. It’s indeed disheartening that we have lost and forgotten the true sense of “Public Service”. Although, power seems to have corrupt the value of the phrase ‘Public Service’, there is still hope for change.

Hopefully, someday, these processes become more inclusive and more true representatives who care for their countrymen begin to explore politics.

Note:

  1. This blog tends to be more India-centric. Governments serve 5 year terms and the nature of our system is far less participatory than the US.
  2. The idea behind this blog is to only seed the possibilities. With the tools available today, we can build an even more inclusive system. Union strikes and petitions seem to be the only way of expressing opinion to the government. Political systems today are more reactive than proactive. But, democracy can be made much more effective and efficient. However, change in these fundamentals are more difficult as the bill needed to initiate such a system needs to be passed by the very group that will be disrupted.
  3. I wanted to write this blog after listening to Josh Silver of represent.us, and the guys from Democracy OS. If you like the concept, you’d like this ted talk too.
  4. This is just one possible upgrade. May be there are many others that can help us improve even better. The point is that we need to think of amendments in our constitution to accommodate and facilitate more change and efficiency.