Let’s Take Away Trump’s Biggest Weapon and Fix Democracy
How can we fix democracy? We are in no shortage of ideas: from eliminating money in elections via public financing, to mandatory voting, to eliminating lobbying, to Congressional term limits, independent redistricting, etc, etc.
One fundamental flaw however remains with our democracy: we don’t actually have much of a say in what laws get written and passed. We simply elect representatives and pray to God that they don’t screw us over (oftentimes forgetting to even do the latter).
Here’s how our “democracy” works. Candidates make promises, we “believe” them, and vote for the political theatrics we hated the least. We then remain more or less powerless until the next election cycle while these “representatives” decide national policies and determine our collective fates.
How bad is it?
A simple quote from this Princeton University study should suffice. This study looked at over 20 years worth of data to find out how likely the United States government was to pass laws that actually correlated to public opinion. The results were as close to a failing grade as a democracy could earn:
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
What’s The Alternative?
The conventional wisdom says that we need elected representatives because we can’t all possibly know the details of all the laws that must be enacted and enforced.
I don’t want to start a discussion about the feasibility of a democracy without representatives here. Although not that unrealistic of an idea, even in such a big nation, it would nevertheless require large scale, fundamental (yet probably healthy) changes to our government that is unwilling to give up power.
However, there is one very simple change that we could all collectively demand to almost guarantee a government that actually represented the will of the people. Funnily enough, it’s currently the weapon of choice of our Dear Leader, the Donald.
This simple change would be asking the voters a very simple question every year: how would you like your tax dollar spent?
As we’re still emotionally reeling from the devastating budgetary shuffling that the Donald, or more likely, his cronies have proposed, why not take this opportunity to use his own medicine against him? Not simply using it against him, but more broadly to fix our democracy overall!
The Power of the Purse Strings
Imagine every year, when we file our taxes, we were allowed to vote on how our tax dollar would be spent the following year.
Picture this: an interactive website where people would see in broad categories the various items they could “purchase” with their tax dollars from healthcare, to international aid, to environmental protection, to military expenditures. They could increase the defense budget for example, but would have to contend the fact that the allocation of every other governmental agency would fall.
Every year voters would have the power to direct their tax dollars any way they saw fit. And every year, the government would average out the results of this budgetary voting, announce them to the country, and get to work allocating the elected sums of money to various governmental departments which would then be forced to work within the limits of those tax dollars.
Such a constraint would be the ultimate blow to special interests, career politicians, billionaires, corporations, and any other government-industrial complexes that exist. It would be the ultimate constraint upon our representatives and would force them to act like a true democracy, reflecting the will of the people.
Citizens would see the huge differences in the way they themselves would prioritize the national agenda to the way their “representatives” have chosen to spend their money.
Such a yearly exercise would not only have a huge positive impact on the effectiveness of democracy, but it would also have many other positive ramifications.
For one, such a system would serve as an educational tool. It would force people to confront choices about balanced budgets and prioritization. It would get people thinking about the various ways their tax dollars could be spent leading to more civic curiosity and engagement. This would be different than the status quo of our democracy: voting for deceptive Congressmen or voting about hard to understand measures. Everyone understands what it means to take away money from one department to another.
Such a system could also conceivably serve as an anti-corruption tool. Those interested in budgetary details would have the option of diving into even more detailed breakdowns of each category and could even be allowed to adjust them to how they see fit. Such a breakdown would, for instance, uncover the huge, corruption laden projects such as the $1+ trillion dollar F-35 or would probably prevent them in the first place.
This Wouldn’t Be The First Time
This wouldn’t be the first time where we altered a foundational mechanism of the American experiment. According to Articles 1 and 3 of the Constitution, Senators were to be elected by state legislators. Only in 1914 was the power to elect Senators transferred to the people with the ratification of the 17th Amendment.
Details To Iron Out
There would be a few details that would need ironing out. For instance, considering the size of the government, it would probably be unwise for the budget to fluctuate wildly from year to year if public opinion swayed too heavily in one direction or another. Such potential variations would cause wasteful layoffs where the budget was slashed or wild, wasteful spending in areas where the budget was suddenly increased.
We could moderate such swings by limiting the maximum change in each area of the budget during any given year. If the change in sentiment continued from year to year, the budget would continue to change but limited by this maximum change.
April 15, A Day For Democracy!
Imagine April 15 being not a day of dread, but a day where we as the voters truly put the “social contract” to work by deciding what our priorities were as a nation.
Let’s make April 15 not a day where we feel like slaves to our “democratic” overloads, but a day for true democracy where we the people finally have the power to determine how our hard earned tax dollars get spent!
Let’s put the power of the pursestrings in the hands of the people where it belongs.
Let’s make budgetary pie charts as American as apple pie!