“Crisis are opportunities!” By now only the most pessimistic reject that.
The pandemic is an opportunity to update representative democracy. The disparities in wealth and political power are the other motivators to bring direct democracy.
The economy and the pandemic can trigger the shift to direct democracy. We believe it but, even better, we know it because it has happened before. It happened 2700 years ago in Greece and it happened in 1867 in Zurich.
The Zurich cholera epidemic provoked the rebirth of direct democracy. Yes, rebirth, because the inventors of direct democracy are the Ancient Greeks. They did it 2700 years ago.
Democracy, direct democracy, was developed in Athens as a way to resolve a crisis. In their case it was an economic crisis not unlike the one we have now caused by the virus.
The Greeks did not go through the “representative” democracy stage; they went from aristocratic rule (Ancient Greeks did not go for kings), to direct democracy.
This is what happened; 2800 hundred years ago exaggerated wealth disparity made ordinary Greeks mad at overly rich Greeks. Most people were reduced to work for somebody. To meet their debts many sold themselves as slaves to the rich.
In a way we have something like that now; we could say millions and millions of people are enslaved by debt to the rich. Often they live from pay check to pay check; when they lose their jobs tragedy strikes.
So we have right now the “ideal” situation for change without violence; we have the virus pandemic and we have the economic crisis. Both are enriching the rich and pushing the rest down or out. Even before the pandemic the rich were becoming richer much faster than ordinary citizens were able improve their salaries and wages. The result is the wealth gap, the health gap, the happiness gap, the anxiety gap, the alcoholism and drug gap; ordinary citizens fall further behind.
So solve the mess in Ancient Greece, in Athens, the rich decided to listen to Solon.
Solon was an important fellow. He had been the Archon, a sort of CEO of Ancient Athens. He had prestige and credibility.
Because of the social and economic mess the elites who run Athens feared violent revolution. Revolution would not be good for them; the rich are the ones with the most to lose. Revolution might even kill them, take their wealth away, and everybody end up in a totalitarian regime that would take everything else away.
Solon introduced economic reforms. The two most important were: canceling the debts of citizens and giving them back the land they had lost to pay debts.
It is quite amazing that some wealthy Greeks did not kill him, but I suppose they decide it was better to lose money and political power, as insurance, to avoid losing everything in a revolution. They knew that if the masses get mad, the power of the elites goes up in smoke.
Solon also decided political reform was necessary. He decided that not only wealthy aristocrats would run Athens; he opened political power to citizens in general.
He decide that all citizens would participate in the Popular Assembly. Citizens were all adult males who were not slaves. The Assembly was the body that made the laws, elected officials and decided on appeals to the most important decisions of the courts.
However, Solon decided that the highest government positions would be reserved to people above a certain wealth level. This was later removed.
If you look at how representative democracies are run today, in more than one way they are not far from what was happening in Athens before Solon.
In representative democracies, and I refer only to stable, not corrupt, representative democracies, the politicians are the governing aristocracy. We vote them in but once elected there is nothing voters can do about the laws they pass.
We also have the political influence of the rich and the executives and large shareholders of big companies. These groups do not govern directly but they have a lot of influence over the politicians. They have it by donating money to the political campaigns of politicians and parties.
They also have influence over politicians because corporation, official institutions, universities, etc., often offer politicians, once they leave politics, well-paid and socially prestigious positions. The elites do not have to threaten or say much; politicians know that “proper” behaviour has rewards later on.
It is amazing, but we have not caught up to the Greeks. Yes, women vote now, and we do not have slaves, but the people who vote in representative democracies have a lot less power than the people who voted in Ancient Athens. In Ancient Athens, citizens, voted to elect politicians and voted also to make laws and decide issues. Now we just vote to elect politicians.
The Swiss are close to the Ancient Greeks in citizen power, but are not there yet either.
It is time to let the people directly make the decisions, like they did in Ancient Greece and how they do now in Zurich.
What happened in Zurich? you may be thinking.
As the cholera epidemic advanced in Zurich, the people saw how the authorities handled the health and social effects of the epidemic. They lost trust in the authorities. They also saw how many rich could escape the epidemic by fleeing the city. They lost trust in the elites too.
The mess motivated ordinary citizens of Zurich to get rid of representative democracy; they pushed until the people became the final decision makers on laws and on the Constitution of Zurich. From Zurich, the idea spread to all of Switzerland. They still elect politicians but the power has shifted, from the politicians and the elites, to ordinary voters.
It is time direct democracy spread to all representative democracies and, eventually, to the rest of the World. For the long-term good of the rich and the rest of us we need “GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE”, we need direct democracy.