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Government Politics

Could Crowd-Sourced Direct Democracy Work? 594

maccallr writes "The Occupy movement is getting everyone talking about how to fix the world's economic (and social, environmental, ...) problems. It is even trialling new forms of 'open' democracy. Trouble is, it's easy to criticize the physical occupiers for being unrepresentative of the general population — and much of their debating time is spent on practical rather than policy issues. Well-meaning but naive occupiers could be susceptible to exploitation by the political establishment and vested interests. In the UK, virtual occupiers are using Google Moderator to propose and debate policy in the comfort of their homes (where, presumably, it is easier to find out stuff you didn't know). Could something like this be done on a massive scale (national or global) to reach consensus on what needs to be done? How do you maximize participation by 'normal folk' on complex issues? What level of participation could be considered quorate? How do you deal with block votes? What can we learn from electronic petitions and Iceland's crowd-sourced constitution? Is the 'Occupy' branding appropriate? What other pitfalls are there? Or are existing models of democracy and dictatorship fit for purpose?" One issue I see with a global version of something like this is all of the people in the world who haven't even heard of the Internet.
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Could Crowd-Sourced Direct Democracy Work?

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  • by nepka ( 2501324 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:13PM (#37979888)
    The main reason being that people in general are stupid. Everyone thinks they know better than anyone else without actually knowing anything at all. They just have a need to comment and vote about it, saying they know better. Added problem is the impulse decisions to any problem that comes along, selfish thinking and group stupidity as a whole voting out any expert that actually knows about things.

    Direct, 100% democracy also leads to huge problems for minorities. If back in the 90's older people would have been thinking that computers and machines are destroying the world, they would had just banned them from all geeks. No reasoning, majority just thinks so. Similarly, and even more noticeable, it leads to huge problems for sexual minorities, ladyboys, "rich" people (those who actually create jobs and make things happen) or anyone else the majority as a whole starts to hate. It's akin to mob justice. Full democracy is never good.

    However, and I cannot stress this enough, people in general just are incredibly stupid.
  • by RyuuzakiTetsuya ( 195424 ) <taiki@[ ].net ['cox' in gap]> on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:18PM (#37979932)

    It's not that people are stupid, it's that people may not have a complete education in given subjects.

    Even if we posit an ideal Libertarian utopia, I don't know what to do about interstate grazing rights, do you?

    While this is true in the legislature, there's a reason why we specialize and have committee and sub committee rules.

  • No, it won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dragon Bait ( 997809 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:19PM (#37979944)

    People who actually have jobs and a life will be under represented as the people who have nothing better to do besides sit around and watch TV would be over represented.

    Over time democracies degenerate into mob rule. A constitutional republic -- the constitution to protect individual rights, republic to pick someone to represent you -- is much preferred.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:21PM (#37979966)


    While I agree with your point... ugh. Please use a more civil term, such as "transgendered". Not only is that somewhat offensive to male-to-female transgendered people, it basically disregards the existence of female-to-male transfolk.

    But, yeah, most people are stupid and really shouldn't be making decisions that impact an entire country. Wanna know what should be done? Put the country in the hands of intelligent, altruistic, understanding people.

    Of course, good luck selecting people that actually fit those criteria.

  • by Scareduck ( 177470 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:28PM (#37980034) Homepage Journal

    It confuses technological means with good governance. As others have mentioned upthread, the major consideration of mob rule is no different than without technology. Read your Federalist Papers, then get back to me.

  • Look at California (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:29PM (#37980052) Journal

    California is almost a "direct-democracy" due to the large number of ballot measures voted on by the public. California is a disaster. Direct democracy doesn't work because people are not fully educated on all the issues and to become fully educated would take away from their time spent doing other, more interesting activities.

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:38PM (#37980126)
    Even if everyone were geniuses, it's also a time-sink. Would everyone really want to vote on the minutiae that local state and federal governments deal with hourly? Heck, I find it a pain when /. Gives me another bundle of mod points just after I spent my last one ("oh jeez, now I have to judge").
  • by cdrnet ( 1582149 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:43PM (#37980170)

    The majority of people, in general, are not as stupid as you may think (usually only about a third of them).

    Looking at currently established direct 100% democracies, most of them:
    * agree (democratically) to limit their own rights to put human rights on top (other than say the US that doesn't really care about them)
    * often priorize education very highly (as opposed to e.g. military expenses)
    * are politically very stable (middle ground, instead of back and forth between extreme positions)
    * are economically very stable (even these days)
    * have almost no strikes
    * sometimes even agree to increase taxes (yes, they can essentially vote on how much taxes they want to pay)
    * have low unemployment rates
    * do not start any wars or threat other countries (seek diplomatic solutions and cooperation instead)

  • Constitution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by agm ( 467017 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:43PM (#37980180)

    This would only work if there were a constitution that specifically sets out to protect people so that the majority cannot vote in laws that initiate harm against someone else. One man should not be allowed to vote away the freedoms of another.

  • by Grygus ( 1143095 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:44PM (#37980190)

    The problem with that position is that you are always the smart one to you, but to everyone else you're one of the idiots. Since it all balances out, we pretty much have your system in place already.

  • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:45PM (#37980196) Homepage Journal

    "rich" people (those who actually create jobs and make things happen)

    PfffhahaHAWHAWheohoohoohaaHAAAAAAA! You had me until there, bro!

    At least your first paragraph is right, though. You can expect to see real mob justice after all those disgruntled soldiers and Marines come back from the sandbox with PTSD and no jobs to support themselves.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:48PM (#37980234) Homepage Journal

    Pollster: Hey, you!
    Guy: Huh?
    P: What do you do?
    G: I have a Master's degree in puppetry.
    P: Wow! That's... a thing!
    G: Thanks!
    P: So how do you think the Global Economic Steering Committee should plan for the next 5 years? Should they continue to implement the existing computable general equilibrium models or switch over to the new Klein-Mobius models that have arisen from the joint econometric project at MIT and Oxford?
    G: Um. Wait, what was that about a joint?
    P: Do you feel the current IS/LM techniques are effectively pushing both the local and global economic realities toward the general equilibrium point, or is the locus of points generated by the algorithms simply not reflecting actual market trends?
    G: Did you say lotus? I can do the lotus position.
    P: Is there someone else here we can talk to?

    Amusing, but more likely scenario:

    Pollster: Hey you!

    Guy: Me?

    P: Yes, what you you think about cutting spending?

    G: It's great, I'm all for it!

    P: Where should we cut? Arts, Medicine, Defence, Research, Social Programs or Education?

    G: Anything which doesn't directly affect me.

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:51PM (#37980268)

    No, it wouldn't work, and I'll tell you why, based on the very source of the debate: the "occupy" movement. First off, what do they stand for? Go to one of these protests and start asking people why they're there and what they want, most of them will give you different answers. Of the answers that are similar, most of them will be so vague and generic as to be almost useless. The rest will cover so wide a range as to make it almost impossible to find some sort of middle ground or consensus. The issue of consensus-making is hard enough in a representative system (needs either party-line voting or coalition voting to happen). And this is in the rather limited population of elected representatives. The problem is greatly compounded when the number of voters goes from a couple hundred to a couple thousand; while direct democracy would involve millions. At the same time, elected representatives are supposed to be specialists; theoretically they should have the time to research and evaluate issues up for vote before they cast their votes. Currently they have huge staffs and are still overwhelmed when it comes to knowledge of what they are voting for. How do you expect a person who is working 40 hours a week, raising a family, etc going to find the time to do his due diligence and research and think about the issues, ethics, and ramifications around one potential vote, much less all the others he would have to do? It would lead to massively irresponsible voting, simply because people would be overwhelmed.

    Another problem with this is that everyone can tell you what the problem is, and how they think it should be fixed, but none of them can give a practical way to obtain that fix. Ask them if they want free healthcare, or free college tuition, and they will say yes. Ask them if they would be willing to pay 30-40-50% or higher taxes for this, and they will probably say "no, I don't make enough money. The people who make over $250,000 should pay for most of that." Ask them, and they will say "the people who make over $1,000,000 a year should pay for it". And really, when you are getting into tax rates of 50-60-70%, it actually becomes cheaper for you to pay for those things yourself. What they suggest either doesn't fix the problem, or causes far more problems than it fixes. There is also the inherent need to "stick it" to someone, or to come out ahead over someone. People are perfectly happy to have stuff given to them, but they are far less willing to give things up for others. They all want to pass the buck to someone better off than them.

    I know what I am about to say will get me modded down, but I'm going to (mis)quote Heinlein anyway: "when you vote the impossible, the disastrous possible happens instead." The few times that any majoritarian consensus is achieved, it will slightly benefit those it favors, and substantially damage those it doesn't.

    tl;dr: It won't work because the numbers are simply too big, and ignoring that hurdle what policies could pass would themselves be either so impossible to fulfill or so unequal (due to the naivete/ignorance of governance or selfishness of the voters) that they would have consequences much worse than what we are facing today.

  • by Maltheus ( 248271 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:51PM (#37980272)

    "Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms."

  • by Bogtha ( 906264 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:52PM (#37980276)

    It's not that people are stupid, it's that people may not have a complete education in given subjects.

    No, often it really is just stupidity. People are happy to clamour for something without even thinking it through. They are happy to argue to the death for something based on knee-jerk reactions. That's not a lack of domain knowledge, that's just stupidity.

    Even if we posit an ideal Libertarian utopia, I don't know what to do about interstate grazing rights, do you?

    Not a clue, and I'm happy to be quiet on such a topic. Unfortunately, many people in the same situation would not, and I dread to think what would happen if we listened to all of them. The number of people who know something about an esoteric subject is usually outnumbered by the number of people willing to interfere in things they know nothing about.

  • by Cryacin ( 657549 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:53PM (#37980300)
    The funny thing is people are generally good with hindsight. For example, when the banks are dishing out loans so that htey can buy their dream home now with no money down, they're pretty much all for the idea. It's a good thing.

    When the banks turn around and foreclose on them because they, along with hundreds of thousands of others can't meet these loans, let alone in unfavourable conditions, they all turn around and say it was a bad decision.

    An interesting approach would be to rate decision makers who voted against the idea in the first place to get a future higher rating. This approach might provide a good average between the broad stroked autocracy which has an agenda, and democratic process, holding that agenda in check. If voting is not a cyclical, and arbitrary thing, the cycles of appeasing voters will hopefully come to an end.
  • by Freddybear ( 1805256 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @09:29PM (#37980668)

    No, direct democracy cannot work, and the Occupy movement is a perfect example of why not. The occupiers aren't even able to govern themselves. Witness the unsanitary conditions and crime in any of the camps.

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <mark.a.craig@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Monday November 07, 2011 @10:07PM (#37980996)

    Just because you use the latest buzz-phrases in an attempt to reframe it doesn't change the picture: it's still what Jefferson and others described as the tyranny of the majority and went to considerable lengths to restrain when they devised our form of government. A rose is still a rose by any other name and all that. There are certain things that should be inalienable rights, that not even a majority should be able to take away from minorities with a vote. Your "crowd-sourced democracy" would allow that to happen.

    Read up on tyranny of the majority, and then you'll understand why your re-branded crowd-sourced democracy is the same thing and just as un-egalitarian.

  • by Dragon Bait ( 997809 ) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @12:22AM (#37981922)

    However, it's not impossible to envision a direct democracy that moderates the group-think and trolling in a way similar to Slashdot(although considerably more sophisticated).

    How much time is currently wasted on Slashdot reading and responding to these types of posts? Now we're going to include everyone and get everyone's opinion -- and the stakes are going to go way up. Currently if I ignore a post, who cares, I may or may not have influence one other person's thinking. If it's direct democracy, now I have someone raising my taxes or slashing important services (depending on which group is currently glued to the system).

    Also, If your system had a way to establish a persons credibility on a particular subject, they're input might be "weighted" above the uninformed masses.

    So now we're officially going to be controlled by unelected elitist just because they have high karma points.

    In contrast, a strict republic inherently marginalizes *everyone* except for a select few representatives. Then the problem becomes that your representatives are "package-deals" who may or may not represent your interests(usually not).

    I don't know anyone who's stated that the current system is perfect -- just better than alternatives (or at least the alternatives proposed).

    A republic by itself is insufficient -- the elected government will fleece the people. The constitution -- deliberately designed to limit what the elected officials can do -- is required to protect the people from the ruling class.

    The question is essentially, do we start from a point where we listen to everyone except for a select few?

    What select few are you offering to not listen to? People who work for a living and have a life outside of work?

    Or, do we listen to everyone and slowly add in controls and balances as they become apparent?

    You can already have your say -- on the internet, newspapers, anywhere you can scrawl your name. In California, they even have a ballot initiative process so that you and your buddies can [try to] pass any law you want (as long is it passes constitutional muster).

    But that does bring up an interesting point. Back before the 2008 (or 2010?) elections, a reporter on NPR was interviewing someone from Washington state regarding ballot initiatives. The reporter noted that every state with a ballot initiative process (the most direct democracy we currently have) is in financial difficulties.

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