Tis the season to become frustrated with politics, and this election season has got me thinking about the nature of democracy.
In its pure form, everyone votes on everything. This scales poorly, so we have representative democracy, where we vote for people who then vote on our behalf.
The problem I see is that we're to judge them based largely on policy ideas. These are in areas where it takes a long time to become an expert in one area and learning enough to make informed decisions about all areas is impossible. The system can't help but gather the popular, ignorant notion of what the right solution is to a very complex and difficult problem. We don't have infinite time or motivation for every citizen to become experts in every area. It isn't the voters' fault, none of them can live up to that expectation.
Here, then, is my pipe dream.
Instead of voting for representatives based on what they'll do for us (or to other people), we have the debate around priorities and restrictions. Very high level, here are some examples off the top of my head:
- Do we want to have a social safety net?
- Should we continue to be the dominant military power in the world?
- Do we want to be one of the countries exploring (and long term, exploiting) space?
And so on. Once we've determined what we want to do, we prioritize and allocate resources. Finally, we determine the boundaries of what we're willing to have our government do in order to fulfil these priorities. Is torture okay? How do we treat our citizens, permanent residents, human beings in general? How about the environment?
Once we've got these three things determined, as a democracy:
- What we want to do
- How any resources we want to devote to it
- What means are acceptable and unacceptable
... we hand it over to scientists, engineers, and others who are results driven rather than politics driven. We've made all the decisions already that are reasonably made by a political process, that is where you have differing opinions and agendas. Once we're through that process and decide something needs to be done, here are the resources to do it, and here is your list of dos and don'ts, now it is about determining the best way(s) to accomplish the goal and make the best decision under the circumstances.
This is the arena of evidence-based social policy, science, technocrats, and so on. The men and women who actually know what they're doing, who are the experts in the fields. We need to free them up to make incredible things happen by having clarity about what we as a people want them to do and then let them do it.
Hold them responsible for their work, certainly. Fight corruption, incompetence, abuse of power, etc. Oversight, checks and balances, the fourth estate, we need all of this. And those jobs are much easier when the parameters of what is expected are clear.
Then we just let. them. do. it.