Does more democracy mean better government?

Desmond Avery sent the following comment by email:

If I understand it rightly, you’re proposing more local autonomy as the way to make decision-making more democratic and therefore better. I have two immediate questions about that:

  1. Having worked for good decision-making locally here and there in the world, I have  the impression that it is usually the most ruthless and stubborn people who prevail, not the most enlightened, and with a small pool to fish in for leaders you may not get any good ones.
  2. Aren’t Facebook, Twitter etc. giving everyone a chance to have their say, and isn’t that making politics impossible rather than better?

I think democracy is better than the other ocracies on offer, but in itself is no solution to our current ills. I would start with the more basic values of justice and wisdom, and try to see what they would entail now.

Just an immediate reaction, but perhaps the kind of doubts that could be disposed of or taken into account somehow at the start.

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1 Response to Does more democracy mean better government?

  1. Thank you for the comment, Desmond.

    “you’re proposing more local autonomy as the way to make decision-making more democratic and therefore better”

    Not exactly. Some of our proposals are indeed aimed at empowering the public but ‘more democratic’ certainly doesn’t automatically mean better government. I see greater democratic accountability and enhanced representation as ends in themselves, but part of the function of democracy is to give people the government they deserve. Personally, I do think greater democracy is likely to lead to better government, because my feeling is that people generally respond well to responsibility. But, of course, there’s no guarantee of it.

    Ultimately, good government has to result from people choosing political structures and processes which will provide it. That’s why some of our proposals, such as Coherent Law and Separation of Powers, are aimed at improving the process of government rather than enhancing democracy.

    On your first bullet point, the first thing that comes to mind is that, even with a pool of several millions to fish in, the quality of our recent national leaders has been pretty dispiriting. But that’s primarily because of the processes through which leaders emerge – and the faults of those processes are entwined with the structural faults of our political institutions.

    I think we have to take that into account at the local level as well, albeit from a different angle. When local authorities have so little power, and so little impact, it’s no surprise that many people aren’t interested in getting involved, and no surprise that the wider public don’t actively demand higher standards. I think that would change with our proposed reforms; with the job having more potential for shaping how local communities function, there’d be more reason for wiser or more conciliatory people to oppose the ruthless and stubborn ones. And our Spontaneous Democracy proposals would make it much easier for local people to support them.

    On your second point, it’s certainly true that social media are giving people more of a say, and the results are often pretty depressing. But then it is just a say; it’s very different from a vote. It has more in common with shouting at the telly than going to a polling station.

    I see things like justice and wisdom as goals we should aspire to, rather than things we can start from – for the simple reason that we cannot guarantee either of them. Justice relies on a system of law and order, because without those things it is bound to be the most ruthless and stubborn who dominate. So arbitrary law is better than no law because it provides fertile ground in which just law can grow.

    From that perspective, I see my Coherent Law proposal as being perhaps the most important, because it’s likely to lead to transformation of the economic foundations of our society. But it’s not a vote winner. It’s essentially a technical reform to the legislative process and most voters will need something more directly empowering to get them enthused.


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