Direct Democracy

The thing we have in most so-called “democracies” is actually a very limited version called representative democracy, a system where you get a chance every four years or so to decide which person will do the least bad job of representing your interests. The slate of candidates will generally be mediocre because representing the people properly is hard, thankless work. Most candidates are therefore quite self-serving and in the pocket of campaign donors and lobbyists. In the USAmerica it’s so bad that Lerry Lessig is exploring a run for their presidency on the single issue of fixing democracy. I wish him luck.

There’s the famous quote from Winston Churchill that “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” to which I would counter G.K. Chesterton’s paraphrased “[democracy] has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

I recently wrote about Elon Musk’s drive to colonize Mars, where the article displays Musk’s interesting thinking about what government on a Mars colony might look like:

Creating the Mars government will be like creating the United States. It’s an opportunity to reboot government and say from first principles, ‘What should government look like?’ I suspect people would do more of direct democracy than representative one. In the old days, it would take three months to take a vote—there was no mail system, mail barely worked and would take weeks, and a lot of people couldn’t read or write. It was extremely unwieldy so they had to have a representative democracy. On Mars, there could be instant electronic voting on issues, which would be much less subject to corruption, and laws could be made way simpler—you’d put a word limit on law.

The original vote-gathering hurdles were very real and also very irrelevant today, but I have my doubts that instant direct voting would be less subject corruption; just that they would be subject to corruption differently and it’s hard to imagine in just what ways legislation would be required to curb it. Here’s two few quick thoughts:

  1. A cap on campaign spending for discrete votes would have to come into play
  2. To ensure informed voters, every viable position has an opportunity to submit a 2 minute video. All videos would be required to be viewed prior to submitting a vote.
  3. The previous point would require safeguards to prevent spamming voters with so many videos as to make voting too time consuming and therefore unfeasible. It would be the equivalent of voter ID laws today that conspire against poor and marginalized voters.

If the idea of how a Mars colony might go from being wholly dependent on Earth for its existence to carving out an identity and polity of its own—despite Earth’s best attempts to prevent that outcome—is interesting to you, I highly recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s masterful Mars Trilogy.1

  1. Yes I linked to it in my last Musk/Mars post but dammit, it’s good. So is The Martian but there’s only the garden variety incompetent earth bureaucracy there. 


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