This is how the Swiss go about keeping their Constitution up to date.

To give you an idea how direct democracy works, let us start with citizen’s initiatives in Switzerland.

The Swiss law of citizen initiatives allows ANY citizen or any group, even if they are completely outside parliament, to propose a partial or total change to the constitution of the country.

If your country was as democratic as Switzerland, you would have the power to do that too.  All you would need to do is persuade 100 000 people, who are legally entitled to vote, to sign in support of your initiative.

You would have 18 months to collect the 100 000 signatures. In Switzerland the requirement is 100 000 signatures, in your country could be more or could be less, depending on its population and other criteria.

Is it not amazing that one single person or a small group, completely unrelated to political parties, unions, business lobbies, etc., can change the constitution of their country? It is not incredible they can do that without speaking with the politicians or obtaining their support at all?

If a Swiss voter has an idea for the constitution, that person can get the whole country to vote on his ot her proposal!

The law requires the person to get 7 to 20 voters to form the committee that will help him or her draft the proposal.

This requirement of 7 to 20 people, helps screen out absurd ideas. Anyone person alone can have an absurd idea that him or her looks like total common sense; it is more difficult to get seven other people to support the absurd idea.

Once you have your working group you contact the Swiss federal government. There they explain to you all the steps you have to follow.

Your committee will have to draft the contents of the initiative in any of Switzerland’s four official languages.

Because it is Federal initiative, the government will translate it into the other 3 official languages.

Then you prepare a list form for the 100 000 people will put their name.

In the next step the Swiss federal government publishes a notice that the initiative process has started. As I said, from the date of the notice, you have 18 months to get the 100 000 people to sign.

The validity of the signatures is determined by the local municipalities. This makes sense because they are best placed to detect fake signatures.

Obviously, to give the proposal widespread diffusion you will need money, donations, appearances in the media, debates, etc. People can help you with unlimited money and other resources.

Once you get the 100 000 signatures, which amounts to about 1% of the population, the referendum will be held. It will be held no “if or buts”, but it will not be held immediately.

The Swiss have many checks and balances; they like to go slow and sure footed.

Things go slow because the law allows the Swiss federal government and the federal parliament to have the opportunity to give their opinion on the initiative and to propose alternatives. Sometimes this takes years. Whatever their opinion, the referendum will be held, they can not stop it.

I am not sure if it is a good idea to allow politicians to slow down the process like the Swiss do. However, I respect the experience of the Swiss. They know more than anybody, except the Ancient Greeks, about direct democracy. By the way, the Greeks had direct democracy, not representative democracy.

The alternatives proposed by the politicians are included in the referendum. This means that when the people vote they do not vote just “yes” or “no” to your initiative, the can also vote for the alternative the government proposes and select it instead of yours.

It makes sense to keep the politicians involved because their experience and responsibilities may allow them to provide valuable input to the process. Perhaps they can improve your proposal.

So, why can’t the people in your country do what the Swiss can? There is only one reason; the politicians lose power with direct democracy. Nobody likes losing power, even if it is only a partial loss of power. Swiss politicians did not like it either, but the people pushed until the politicians passed the laws of direct democracy. The law of citizen initiatives is just one of many direct democracy laws.

At the local and canton (state or province) level, there are also many direct democracy laws.

In the Swiss direct democracy system the politicians do not lose their jobs, political parties do not disappear either. The same will happen in your country.

Because it is not a revolution to eliminate politicians, a number of your politicians may even support direct democracy. They may do it because they realize it promotes stability. Politicians, like all people with some common sense, like stability for themselves and their families.

Direct democracy is just the natural evolution of representative democracy, but you have to give politicians a push to bring it about.

Direct democracy is a better way for representative politicians to listen to the people

Again, I only refer to politicians in stable representative democracies.

In non-stable democracies, affected by corruption, by lack of freedom, feeble separation of power, perhaps poverty of many citizens, direct democracy will not work. For example, when a country is corrupt it corrupts most ordinary citizens too because it is almost impossible to survive otherwise. How can you switch from such situation to direct democracy! It is possible, but very difficult.

In non-democracies the situation is even worse; they have terrible guard dogs to prevent citizen power. The “politicians”, the “great leaders”, the “great party”, the “great religious regime”, do not need to listen to the people because the people of such regimes are convinced “they know better” than the people what is good for the people. They will not hesitate to imprison or kill anyone who threatens their power. It is crazy but…

Let us stick to stable representative democracies.

In representative democracies the politician always tells you: “vote for me because I am listening to your concerns”.

Well, tell them direct democracy is a better way of listening to you, the voter.

If the politician is not in power he or she will tell you: “we (our party) are different, we will really listen to you, but we need your vote to throw the rascals out”. Of course, you know what happens once you throw “the rascals out”; once the new party is in power becomes “the rascals”.

There is another problem in representative democracy; you have your ideology. It is not easy to vote for “that other party”, the party who opposes the progressive or conservative ideas and measures you support; you feel you have to be “loyal” to those ideas. Because of that you are much more likely to continue voting “your party”, even it made decisions you strongly disliked.

Direct democracy will change everything with a small change in the way politicians listen.

You see, in Switzerland, because they have direct democracy, the vast majority of decisions politicians make are supported by the people and no referendums are needed. This is so because Swiss politicians have learned to make decisions the majority support, or at least do not oppose them.

In direct democracy we ask the politicians in power to go a step beyond current listening; to let us, the voters, tell them we formally agree with their decisions when enough people want to have a vote on the decision.

Who knows?, perhaps even the politicians in “the opposition” will join you in the push for direct democracy.

Let me give you an example of how direct democracy is clear progress.

Suppose that in your village or town the local government formed by elected representatives decides to build a new road, or decides to make available for commercial or housing developments some public land.

If you do not agree with the decision, in representative democracy all you can do is call or write the mayor or the councilor who “represents” you. You can also demonstrate, get media attention (if the media is free AND independent), distribute flyers, set up billboards, etc.

But even if the majority of people “represented” by the politicians making the decision oppose their decision, there is not much the people can do to stop it because the people do not have legally the mechanism to stop the decision.

If the politicians decide your protests could hurt them at the next election, it is possible they will change their mind, but that is far from certain.

It is far from certain because they make political calculations; by the time next election comes around perhaps you have forgotten, or you have to swallow your frustration because the same politicians you were angry at, have done other things you support.

Representative democracy is a good system that needs improvement. It needs improvement because it is still a system allowing governments to make decisions that go against the wishes of the majority or that ignore what the majority thinks.

In representative democracy, once you vote them in, politicians have a lot of freedom, too much freedom between elections, and not just the government; often government and opposition parties join forces against the will of millions of voters. That does not make sense; voters should have the final say on all issues voters decide they should have the final say.

Under representative democracy governments can also count on the fact that since they are a “progressive” or “conservative”, you will vote for them because you are also progressive or conservative. In a way, ideology becomes a chain that keeps you chained to “your” political party.

In real life, moderate progressives and conservatives can have the same opinion on issues, such as building the new road or opening up more land for development. Without direct democracy they can not join efforts to control the government or parliament, even if the majority of voters want to.

Is it not much better for the citizens, the community, to have voters vote their agreement with the politicians on controversial concrete issues? It is not better also for the politicians over the long term, because such cooperation generates trust in them? The quality and stability of democracy is directly related to the trust citizens place on the people they elect.

Direct democracy is a system to make better decisions, it produces decisions that are better technically and politically. They are better because decisions are subject to more study and more rational debate.

Over the long term, direct democracy is also better for all those who now lobby representative politicians; the very rich, the large companies, and other groups on “the right” and “the left” (except the extremists on both sides). It benefits us because it promotes stability. All reasonable people want and need stability; the reasonable rich, the reasonable large and small business and their reasonable employees too.

Another important benefit of direct democracy is that it trains citizens to look more into the concrete aspects of the issues and less at ideology. This is good because ideology-based decisions are less focused on the “here and now”, when that happens people make less than optimal, or make outright bad, decisions.

Direct democracy is superior because, to their own ideas politicians can add the ideas of the people. It is not just a matter of being more inclusive, it is smarter too.

In business, more and more companies are learning they make better decisions when they learn to seek the input of employees and customers. Because of that they are better run and  make more money. Such cooperative business management is superior to traditional management. Cooperation between government and voters is also superior. Direct democracy is a proven system to bring cooperation to politics.

No doubt direct democracy is one of the key factors making Switzerland the most stable country in the World.

In the next post I will describe in detail how you would go about having a binding referendum on any law the elected public representatives pass at the local, state, provincial, regional or national level.


The C virus pandemic and economic “diversity”; the opportunity for direct democracy

“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.

In Direct Democracy, elected politicians work less and have less responsibility, but most do not want it, why?

You might think that in democracies, elected politicians would support more power for the voters because more power for voters is more democracy, but many do not support that, why?

I do not doubt the democratic values of the vast majority of elected politicians, at least those in stable, reasonably well-run democracies. For example, in Central and Northern Europe, several English-speaking countries and a few others.

Why then so many elected politicians oppose direct democracy?

Here are some of the arguments I will give if I am an elected politician to oppose direct democracy:

“Some issues are too complicated for ordinary people to grasp”.

“People need leaders. Leaders are people with special qualities. To select good leaders you need a good pool of practising leaders. It seems logical to select the best leaders from among the elected representatives”.

“If the voters directly made important political, economic or social decisions there is a grave danger that the rich, lobbies, influential commentators, demagogues, etc., will fool the average voter; the results would be catastrophic”.

“To get people to decide directly on so many important issues will take a long time. This will cause decision paralysis. Just imagine how long it will take for most ordinary persons to understand so many issues”.

“Most voters elect us because they do not want the responsibility of making concrete decisions”.

“The average voter, perhaps most, lacks the formal education necessary to understand many issues. They will not be able to vote intelligently”.

“People will easily fall prey to demagogues; democracy will die quickly”.

“We have been elected to govern because it is not practical for the people to govern themselves”.

“History shows all peoples needed leaders, people with special knowledge and vision to lead, especially at critical times. Great nations always had great leaders”.

“People may be intelligent enough to vote for me but not intelligent enough to grasp issues”.

There is one argument elected politicians will never make but is one of the most important, or the most important;

“If the people start to decide by themselves then, us, the elected politicians, become less important. If we become less important, our status, our income, our special prerogatives (privileges) will disappear, our incomes while we are in politics will drop and we will not find as many high-paying and prestigious positions in private industry, foundations, academia, the media, etc., once we leave politics. We are not making these arguments up front because they are in bad taste”.

The reality shows that the most advanced society in the Ancient World, the Greek city-states, they were not monarchies, theocracies, oligarchies, dictatorships, or even representative democracies; they were direct democracies.

Likewise, in the Modern World, the best governed country overall is another direct democracy; Switzerland, although it is not yet quite as direct as the Greek city-states.

This shows no great visionary leaders are needed to have the greatest societies. “All is needed” is ordinary people making the key decisions and controlling the decisions made by those who lead.

In Greece they were so direct that the people decided all major issues and also governed.

Switzerland has, however, one key element of direct democracy; the people make major decisions and directly control the decisions made by the elected representatives.

It is time to, at least, do what the Swiss do; do not do away with elected politicians, let them demonstrate their vision and leadership qualities, let them propose where they want to take us. We just want to decide if we want to go.

Good leaders will persuade us to follow them; why object to us formally saying we will follow by approving what they propose?

We want our elected politicians to propose new laws, joining international organisations, change the constitution, a new tax law, spending millions on high speed trains, having a space program, having universal health care, having gay marriage, immigration laws, building a new school, building the Olympic stadium, and on and on.

We can also tell our politicians direct democracy will lighten their responsibility. Who does not want a little less responsibility? Tell your elected representatives you want to take on some of their responsibilities, that you are ready to do it for free!

You can also tell them that millions of eyes see more than hundreds of eyes, we just need an orderly way to organize the seeing.

Tell them also that us, ordinary citizens, are far from the “corridors of power”. This  gives us a healthy distance from certain interests, pressures and benefits.

But the Swiss had to work very hard, like every other democratic people, to have democracy. You will have to work hard too. Direct democracy will not “cascade down”. If, on top of that, the political parties in your country are not even internal democracies, then you can forget about your elected politicians ever wanting direct democracy.

Even after you have direct democracy you may have to fight to keep it.  The Swiss had to when, in the 1940s, elected politicians were given special powers during Second World. The politicians enjoyed the added “responsibility” and did not want to back to direct democracy. Fortunately, ordinary Swiss decided they wanted it back and forced a national referendum on it. It passed, but just by a hair; barely over 50% of voters wanted direct democracy back!

Conclusion: Elected representatives will not bring direct democracy to your village, town, city, region or country; you will have to push for it. Now is the time to push.

Thanks for your comments.

CLICK: to switch to other languages/cambiar a español u otros

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)