Direct democracy creates self-responsible and smarter voters

The concept of “leaders”, of individuals with a “vision” to “guide the people” makes no sense in a direct democracy.

In a direct democracy, the people are the key decision-makers, this forces them to think ahead. In this way, they develop the vision they need.

The key flaw of representative democracy is that deprives the people of veto power over the decisions, laws, and regulations.

In a representative democracy, the elected representatives make all executive and legislative decisions. Because of that, in a representative democracy, the people are not responsible and do not feel responsible for any wrong decision the elected representatives make.

In a representative democracy, it is logical the people blame the elected representatives for anything that goes wrong.

As for the politicians, they just blame each other viciously always, even before anything goes wrong, it is a crazy world.

In such a democracy, voters hope when they vote that this or that leader will be the “prophet” with the vision to lead them “out of their valley of tears and on to the promised land”. It never happens.

But they hope for that because representative democracy makes voters powerless; they feel their destiny is in the hands of the elected “leaders”.

But the most harmful effect in direct democracy is not that the politicians decide everything; the worst part is that with every new decision, law, or regulation, the government increases its power over the people, over the very same voters they are supposed to serve; it is a strange relationship.

Laws and regulations tell us what we must do or what they do not allow us to do.

Let me give you one example; how that control has grown in the United States.

In 1950, the regulations in the US Federal Register occupied approximately 10 000 pages. By 1985 the number had risen to approximately 100 000 pages. By 2018 it had reached 180 000 pages.

You can see more detailed information here

Good or bad, more regulations always mean more power for the government, for the politicians, over the population.

You would think that given the impact laws and regulations have on the private and work lives of voters, voters would have the power to approve or disapprove of the laws and regulations that will affect them. In a representative democracy, they don’t.

It is time voters demand the power to be responsible, self-responsible, for what happens in our countries.

The way to do it is by bringing direct democracy.

The Swiss, who have been practising direct democracy for decades, did not demand the switch from representative democracy to direct democracy to have more responsibility for its own sake, they did it because the politicians mishandled an epidemic in the 19th century (does it sound familiar in 2020?)  in Zurich.

The people felt that it would be better if before the next crisis arrived the people had veto power over whatever the politicians wanted to do. They did not do away with elected representatives; they just decided that the people would have the final say.

But the Swiss have found an important benefit; when voters have decision-making power, they behave very responsibly. In a direct democracy, voters know that no longer can they blame the politicians, and because of that they “grow up”.

Not only the voters decide responsibly in a direct democracy, they no longer expect the politicians to be “star politicians”, but they also do not need “leaders with a vision”, they do not expect magic solutions from anyone; they know grandiose promises make no sense either.

In a direct democracy, the politicians promise little too; they do not have the power to execute.

Because Swiss voters know they are responsible, they also inform themselves before voting to decide issues; they know their vote to decide an issue is much more important than the vote to elect a representative or a government.

In a direct democracy, voters also know they have the power to change their decisions if they believe they made a mistake, or if circumstances change.

It is time we demand direct democracy until we get it, but do not be naïve; most politicians will not support direct democracy because the power they now have gives them many benefits.

Direct democracy has not hurt Switzerland at all.

Switzerland used to be a relatively poor country.

For example, in 1864, the Swiss had an income per capita of 2400 USD, in the US it was then 3800 USD. In 2020 the Swiss have an income per capita of 82 000 USD, in the US the figure is 65 000. Switzerland has left behind all other representative democracies too.

You can check the data here and here.

Perhaps direct democracy, and the responsibility it develops in the population, does not seem to have hurt Switzerland.

Direct democracy also prevents instability, populisms or demagogues of the Right or the Left, or religious.

Wherever you live, you can not go wrong by demanding direct democracy… and getting it.

Corporatist “democracy”, representative “democracy” and direct democracy

Some people speak of corporatist democracy as a better system than “democracy”. Perhaps such people have not heard of direct democracy.

I believe corporatist democracy appeals to those who trust the people even less than those who support representative democracy.

Corporatism rests on the belief that representatives of employer organizations and representatives of unionized workers, working together with the government, is the best way to run a country.

Direct democracy is superior ethically, politically, and socially because, the people vote to elect representatives too but, more importantly, the people vote to decide issues. The people also make laws and the people control de constitution, not the elected representatives or the corporatist representatives.

In representative and corporatist democracy, the people elect representatives but have no power to decide anything.

Corporatist government is even worse than representative government because it takes mainly into account the will of people considered (by corporatists) to represent the will of voters. Corporatism ignores the concerns of workers beyond work issues, but workers are citizens also, and have other concerns too.

Employer organizations are even less representative, because they only represent a small portion of the population.

Corporatism also leaves out any voter who does not belong to a union or does not have a business.

Of the three legs of corporatist government, only government can be considered to represent ordinary citizens, but there is a problem; it does not do it well.

The problem is that in representative democracies, once the people vote, they have no say on the issues government negotiates with the representatives of unions, business, and other pressure groups

In representative and corporatist democracies, if the elected representatives decide they want to listen to ordinary citizens, they may hold open hearings.

Only a few citizens will participate in such hearings, but even if most wanted to take part, it would impossible for them to do so; if they did, the hearings will go on forever.

The result is that, even if government wants to know how the average citizen feels about an issue, in corporatist and representative democracy it can’t, because most citizens can not be heard.

There really is only one way for governments to really know what the people want; have the people vote on the issues.

But that in itself is not enough if, for example, the government has the power to ignore the results of such votes. That is the case with the plebiscites on the European Constitution and even with many referendums, such as “Brexit”.

But even if the results of what people decide are binding for government, it is not enough. It is not enough because the government still decides when and on what date to hold referendums.

This is where direct democracy comes in; the people vote to decide issues, the people also decide what issues are important and must go to a referendum. Only in such a system can we be sure laws and government decisions reflect the will of the majority of the voters.

It is interesting to note that political parties, even in countries who practice corporatist democracy, like Germany and the Scandinavians, are now saying that corporatist “democracy” does not adequately represent the broad interests of citizens. I agree with them.

Unfortunately, most political parties in representative democracies do not support direct democracy either; they believe they represent the interests of voters better than the voters themselves.

To change things, you can push for your country to follow the time-tested Swiss model of direct democracy.

In Switzerland, it does not matter if there are elements of corporatist democracy or representative democracy. It does not matter because the people decide. It does not matter what the politicians want to agree to in the back rooms with union and business representatives, with the representatives of other parties, or with the representatives of other pressure groups.

The best thing about direct democracy is that the power to change the laws, to stop laws politicians propose, to change the constitution, is directly in the hands of the people. This means that as the needs, values, and priorities of the people change, so do the laws and policies of the country, and the constitution too.

Now is the time to bring direct democracy to our countries.

 

  

The Vietnam War, the Algerian War, perhaps the next war; clear examples of the flaws of representative democracy

The US did not lose the war in Vietnam; the US lost the war in Vietnam because going into that war started a civil war in the US. The same thing happened to France in Algeria.

When the enemy poses an immediate threat to a representative democracy, such as for example, Germany and Japan did  just before WW II, it is relatively easy to unite the people in a representative democracy and go to war.

The problem comes up when the enemy does not threaten a representative democracy directly. In that situation, the politicians may decide to go to war because they feel “it is the right thing to do”, “because leaders are elected to make such decisions” and so on. But they decide without really knowing if the country is ready for war, or if the majority support or oppose the war. They proved that with the Vietnam War and with the Algerian War.

In representative democracies the executive and legislative do not really practice “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. What they practice is, in the best of cases, what the leadership believes is government for the people.

Unfortunately, sometimes, the elected leadership does not even do that; they practice government for themselves, to get re-elected and to help the lobbies and pressure groups who “support” the politicians, in exchange for friendly legislation and other gestures. It is no wonder so many people in representative democracies do not trust politicians.

It is absurd than in a democracy the elected representatives can make huge decisions without the explicit support of the majority of the people.

As a result we have wars like the Vietnam War splitting the US, the Algerian War which splitted France, and other wars. Those wars were decided by the politicians without the explicit approval of citizens. That is why the US and France had to give up fighting, but they did it a bit late, after tens of thousands of Americans and Frenchmen died.

If there had been binding referendums in the US and in France, the people would have decided to go or not to go to war. The losers would have accepted their defeat because it would have been a democratic defeat. Besides, the losers would also know they could continue working towards another referendum on the same issue, perhaps they will would next time, such is democracy.

It is important to understand that decisions made by leaders elected democratically are not democratic decisions, they are autarchic decisions, and that is the Achilles Heel of representative democracy. It leads to bad decisions, not just with respect to war; it also affects the education system, health care, investments in infrastructure and the military, etc. Autarchic decisions do not benefit from the extensive formal and informal debates and different inputs that are at play in referendums.

Direct democracy is truly “government by the people” because the people decide on issues, they don’t just vote. In a direct democracy the elected representatives no longer have the final say war and many other issues.

Some people oppose direct democracy because they fear voters could make “emotional” decisions, (they mean “irrational” decisions), that  demagogues could deceive them, etc. The facts show otherwise.

The only two experiences humanity has had with direct democracy; that of the Ancient Greek city-states, and now Switzerland, demonstrate the opposite; there was no more rational government in Antiquity than the direct democracy of the Greek city-states.; no government by oligarchs, priests or kings even came close. Switzerland also shows now how the Swiss voters make, time after time, better decisions, more rational decisions, than the elected politicians in direct democracies.

Anyhow, in representative democracies, the people can also make emotional and irrational decisions when they vote. Several factors favour that; it is impossible to judge how those we elect will behave. Therefore, is it rational to give someone the power to decide on our behalf before even knowing what the issue is?, it makes no sense.

Another problem in representative democracies is that voters are not responsible, and do not feel responsible, for the decisions politicians make. This means that it is easier to vote for whoever promises the most. In direct democracy, politicians can not promise much because they can not do much, they don’t have the power.

History also shows the leaders of representative democracies make irrational decisions too.

In a direct democracy voters are forced to be rational because voters know they are responsible for the effects of their decisions; this makes voters extremely careful and prudent. Perhaps that is why Switzerland is a neutral country. The Swiss have been showing prudence for decades, the Greeks showed it much earlier.

Some people say direct democracy is “too slow”; Switzerland has not been slower than representative democracies in facing the current pandemic. It is just one example. The executive, even the legislative bodies, can also be given special powers by the people to act in emergencies.

It is true that when the people decide, some decisions take more time, but this improves the quality of the decisions and, also very important in a democracy, the social acceptance of decisions. In a direct democracy, decisions often take longer because there is more analysis and deliberation which lead to better decisions.

So, if you want your country to be less divided, with more trust in the politicians, and make better decisions, you should consider doing whatever you can to turn your country into a direct democracy.

Victor Lopez

 

The entrenchment of the political, economic, and social elites is a problem, even in the “healthiest” representative democracies

Representative democracies cannot prevent the entrenchment of what has become a political class, a sort of elected oligarchy. Representative democracy can not prevent either that lobbies and pressure groups gain too much power through the elected representatives.

For many, the Scandinavian democracies of Denmark, Sweden, are the most stable and better run representative democracies.

Unfortunately, in the Scandinavian countries, like in all other representative democracies, the only realistic way to aspire to hold public office, and particularly high office, is to join one of the established political parties.

This makes it very difficult to renew the thinking of decision-makers; all future decision-makers have to go through “The System”. “The System” conditions them to perpetuate the status quo.

Just look at this; the current Prime Minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, has spent practically all her professional life as a politician. She was in a trade union for one year. At 24 they elected her to the Folketing, the Danish Parliament. That was in 2001, she has been a politician ever since.

Take Sweden. Its Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, is 63 years old. After he finished his mandatory military service, he became a welder, presumably in his 20s. Soon he became a trade unionist and at 49 he rose to chairman of the second-largest trade union in Sweden. He has also been a member of the Social Democrat Party of Sweden since the age of 13! In 2012 he became the leader of the Social Democrats and in 2014 Prime Minister.

In Norway, the Prime Minister is Erna Solberg. She is a conservative professional politician since the age of 18.

You get the picture.

How can such people, who are establishment creatures, govern in tune with the people? They can not; they are trapped in their ideologies, in the system, by the system, and by all those pressure groups and lobbies around the system. It is impossible for such people to govern in tune with the people.

In most other countries, the situation is no better; it is worse.

Disenchantment with the political establishment is growing, even in Scandinavia.

In countries where representative democracy has already deteriorated, we see the disenchantment of millions growing; Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US represent millions of disenchanted people.

The problem will not go away, no matter how much the establishment pretends nothing is happening. As history shows, the establishment will be caught by surprise when society explodes in anger.

This brings us to the logical way to renew democracy; direct democracy.

The only country where the Ancient Greeks would recognize their democracy is Switzerland. The Greeks had direct democracy, not representative democracy. It is time to catch up after 2,600 years.

While the Swiss people have not deepened democracy to the level of the Ancient Greeks, they have done something which is necessary to have real democracy; they gave themselves the power to decide issues, not just the power to elect representatives.

The elected Swiss politicians used to have the power of politicians in representative democracies, now they only have the power to propose; the people can stop any decision or law the politicians propose.

But they even go further in Switzerland; the Swiss people also propose laws and change the constitution. Swiss politicians can not change the constitution, only the people can.

Still, they go further; the Swiss Supreme Court can not examine laws to decide if they comply with the Swiss Constitution. In this way, they keep the Supreme Court out of politics. They also prevent the High Court “legislate”, as the US Supreme Court does.

In several other representative democracies the situation is not too different from the US.

Furthermore, the Swiss High Court can not overturn the results of any decision by the people.

By the way, the Swiss Executive has to comply with the decisions made by the people.

The Scandinavian peoples can not do anything of what the Swiss people can. Fortunately, perhaps for cultural reasons, their governments have not yet “gone too far” from the people, although the distancing is growing.

The Swiss system is not a secret, but the political establishments of representative democracies are not interested in weakening their power; the various pressure groups and lobbies that can influence the elected decision-makers are not interested in direct democracy either. Therefore, you hear little about Swiss direct democracy. The little you hear is mostly critical, the reason is obvious…

If we do not put our foot down, as the Swiss did, representative democracy will continue to deteriorate. As a result, the distrust of politicians will grow. There is already talk in some countries of the “advantages” of dictatorship by a political party or by an individual “saviour”.

If the distrust is high enough and a serious economic or health crisis arrives, representative democracy could die at the hands of a totalitarian group or individual. We could also do something intelligent like the Swiss did; use the pandemic to pressure the elected politicians and bring direct democracy to our countries.

 

Representative democracy has run its course

The heading of today’s blog has nothing to do with “right”, “left”, “progressive” or “conservative”, it is about the power of the people, no matter who governs.

Today in the US, most Republican voters believe the presidential election has been stolen by the Democrats and their allies. Most Democrats feel that it has not.

No democracy can be stable and function in that situation.

The root problem is that elections, in the US and, to a lesser extent in other representative democracies, are too important for the politicians. This is because politicians have too much power. Citizens are becoming aware that politicians do not really govern for the people; they govern for themselves, for their big money supporters, for pressure groups and allies, often they do not govern for those who voted them in.

Sure, there are limits to power in a representative democracy. For example, the power of the US President is checked, somewhat, by the Legislature.

In the Legislature, the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate check each other’s power. There are areas where the President can act unilaterally. The US Supreme Court can also “legislate” with its decisions. The politicians “check and balance” the Supreme Court because they appoint the judges.

There are “checks and balances” (highly politicized) among the three powers, but the people can not check and balance any of the three, or the power of the three together. The people can not limit their power, stop their decisions, or propose to their fellow citizens’ laws or changes to the constitution, but the Swiss can.

But that power did not come to the Swiss from Heaven; over one century ago, the Swiss people took to the streets and said: “enough!”, and they stripped politicians and Supreme Court Judges of much of their power. They did it in an orderly, peaceful manner, but they did it.

The Swiss people, for decades, have now been the final decision-makers on anything of importance nationally, at the canton (state-province) level, and also locally. Swiss judges can not overturn decisions by the people, nor can they make law by deciding politically charged cases.

Another benefit of direct democracy is that the people can, but normally do not, challenge or protest proposed laws and decisions by the politicians. This happens because the politicians in Switzerland know that if they make a decision, or pass a law, that is not in tune with the will of the people, the people will reverse their decision, and even propose a new law, a new decision, etc.

The Swiss Supreme Court judges have very limited powers too. For example, they are forbidden by the Swiss Constitution to evaluate the “constitutionality” of any law.

The Swiss Supreme Court can not overturn the results of a referendum either by saying, for example, that what the people approved is not constitutional.

The interesting and surprising thing about Swiss Supreme Court Judges is that they are members of political parties, and need party support to get elected or re-elected. On paper, that sounds worse than the US.

Most Swiss may agree that is not right, but the power of the Court is so severely limited that it is not a serious issue, so far.

We should also keep in mind that, because Swiss politicians know they have to govern for the people, the four major political parties, representing 70% to 80% of the voters, govern in a multi-party coalition. They have been doing it for decades. No doubt such  cooperative governance is also reflected in the Swiss Supreme Court.

Issues decided in the US by the Supreme Court, in Switzerland are decided by the people, and nobody can take a decision by the people to the Swiss Supreme Court.

In Switzerland; the people, democratically, deliberately, rationally,  decide practically anything; if gay marriage will be legal, if marihuana will be decriminalized, if there will be a minimum wage, if health care will be universal, if the air force will get more planes, or if Swiss companies will be liable for the violation of human rights laws and environmental laws outside Switzerland, etc. The politicians and the judges do not decide any of that.

When the people have more power than the politicians and the Supreme Court Judges, there are also fewer incentives for pressure groups to influence politicians and also to push for this or that judge. This helps keep politics less polarized.

Another good thing is that in a direct democracy, the people have the power to make sure the electoral process has credibility, that the people of all parties trust the results of elections and referendums The current situation in the US is unimaginable in today’s Switzerland. No wonder the Swiss are the nation that most trusts its institutions.

What is happening in the US now is highly publicized for many reasons, but in all representative democracies, politicians and judges have excessive power. It is time for the people to have more formal and real power than them, much more.

I believe the US can not straighten itself out without direct democracy. To me, it is obvious representative democracy carries within the poison that will weaken and even kill it. The poison is too little power for the people and too much power for the politicians and other institutions. This allows those in power to make decisions that do not consider the concerns of the people; that is not democracy.

As time passes, the politicians also use their excessive power to accumulate more power; that is why government grows. In the US, it does not matter if the Republicans or the Democrats govern. The same phenomenon happens in the rest of representative democracies.

If you want less politicization, if you want to make sure politicians carry out the will of the people, not just promise to carry it out, if you want democracy in your country to be “by the people”, if you want it to be really stable; direct democracy is the leap forward, we need to take.

Does the Pandemic threaten democracy? That could be the best thing to happen to democracy since 1867 !

“How a Zurich epidemic helped to birth Swiss direct democracy”

This article was published on May 1st, 2020 by  Swissinfo.ch

I reproduce the article because it is an example of how to turn a pandemic into a great opportunity; not to threaten democracy, but to advance democracy. The citizens of Switzerland did it, so can the rest of us.

Far from threatening democracy, what the citizens did is push democracy wider and deeper. It is time for representative democracies to evolve into direct democracies and catch up, perhaps surpass, the Swiss.

Read the article and think about it and how the current virus pandemic in your country can be turned into an extraordinary opportunity.

It is interesting to note how the crisis turned Zurich’s representative democracy into a direct democracy, but it is just as interesting that the people of other Swiss cantons (similar to states or provinces in other federal states), became inspired and all turned their cantons and the Swiss Federal Government into direct democracies.

Before that date, Switzerland already had some elements of direct democracy, but the pandemic pushed it to a much higher level.

I ask you to read the article carefully. After I read it, I had the eerie feeling of reading about today’s health crisis. I also felt inspired to act, I hope you do too. The Swiss took to the streets, peacefully, repeatedly, and the representative politicians yielded.

This is the article:

“In the summer of 1867, cholera spread through Zurich. By the time it had been stamped out, in the autumn, the canton was about to create “the most democratic political system in the world”.

After the first case was recorded in July 1867, the disease spread quickly, especially in the poorer and dirtier districts of the city, writes Swiss medical historian Flurin Condrau. 

Health authorities, still in their infancy at the time, took the familiar steps: the quarantining of infected houses, a strict separation of the healthy from the unhealthy. Citizens, meanwhile, viewed their efforts with distrust, and as the death-rate rose, they began also to be infected by an eerie atmosphere, as the Winterthur Landbote reported:

“If you haven’t been to Zurich in the past few weeks, you can’t really imagine what it’s like, both in the streets and in your mind […] The impact of the fearful epidemic and the pressure of sudden loneliness lie heavy on the population, and those who have lived in this situation for weeks cannot avoid taking on such a dim impression.” (September 28, 1867)

And despite calls by the authorities for solidarity and community, “many members of the wealthier classes saw things quite differently, fleeing the city”, Condrau writes.

Then, by the end of October, it was over: 481 people had died, and the disease had not spread beyond the city, let alone canton or country.

Success? Not for the authorities at least. The event proved to be the catalyst for the overthrow of the liberal regime – epitomised by the omnipotent figure of entrepreneur Alfred Escher – that had governed Zurich for decades. In its place, citizens demanded more democracy: first in Zurich, where a new constitution was approved in 1869 (surviving until 2005), then across much of the country, as other cantons became inspired.

In 1874, the right to referendum was incorporated into the national constitution as a control instrument for parliamentary laws; the right to constitutional initiatives by the people was added in 1891.

Societal stress test

As always, the difficult historical question is to what extent did the event directly lead to political change, or to what extent were pre-existing tensions just waiting for a spark.

Condrau, from the University of Zurich, says that in 1867 “conditions were just right” for a shift. He places the disease as part of a trio of decisive trends in 1860s Zurich, the others being an economic downturn and the burgeoning democratic movement, which was already beginning to question the elitist political order.

Social, economic, and political issues are all liable to impact each other at the best of times, Condrau tells swissinfo.ch. But a crisis – in this case an epidemic – is a “stress test” for society, suddenly revealing where weaknesses and inequalities lie, and calling into question old values and rules that appear unable to provide answers.

New movements can then capitalize. In this case, because cholera disproportionately hit working class areas, the population naturally viewed it not just as a health crisis but a social crisis; the democratic movement “immediately” linked it to its political reform efforts, and was successful in drumming up support and signatures for constitutional reform.

Behind the facade

Andreas Gross, a former Swiss parliamentarian and historian, describes the epidemic as a “social indicator”. With the poor clearly more affected, the crisis revealed the lie at the heart of the Zurich authorities’ discourse: the city was not the booming metropolis of wealth and well-being they had claimed it was.

Gross quotes another Winterthur Landbote report, from October 23, 1867:

“Cholera has led to deeper insights into the people’s lives […] it was discovered that many of our fellow citizens are positioned in such a way that, with the best will in the world, it is impossible for them to eat properly […] Is the worker really there to make every effort to only partially acquire his life’s needs and be dependent on charity for the rest? Do you have no idea that such conditions must have a depressing and unnerving effect on the sense of honour and morality of the worker?”

While the macroeconomic situation was booming, there were gaps below. The liberals under Escher had pumped money into infrastructure and industry, but this was done from the top-down and the spoils were not shared equally, Gross says.

“They neglected the people, they didn’t care about their needs, and they didn’t create a fair tax system. They cared only about the upper middle class. Cholera lifted the lid on the real needs of the people, and on how many of them were still stuck in misery.”

Global challenge

The even more difficult question is how to apply such lessons to today’s crisis. For Gross and Condrau, the overall impact of Covid-19 is not fully clear. The narrative and shape of such epidemics are only seen once you get out of their eye.

From a democratic perspective, however, Gross does offer one prediction: the suspension of signature-collecting and popular votes in Switzerland is not likely to damage the system in the long run, he says.

“People are much more aware and sensitive of their political rights today than in the past,” he says. They are wary of giving up their democratic freedoms for too long, as in Switzerland after the Second World War:

+ Ending the WW2 state of emergency in Switzerland in 1949

As for the “hidden problems” such crises can reveal, we may find groups – homeless or asylum seekers, for example – whose vulnerability is exposed, Gross says. We may also learn the more intangible lesson of the effects that such a lockdown will have “on the soul”.

But overall, he reckons that while the 1867 epidemic acted as an eye-opener to inequality and misery in Zurich, the Covid-19 crisis might do the same on the international level: “in countries like India, Bangladesh, Ecuador or the Congo, millions could die, people who would have survived had they lived in Europe – this is a scandal which a humane society cannot take responsibility for,” he says.

Condrau also reckons the good shape of the Swiss health system and economy means the country has a better chance than most of coming through the current stress test without profound cracks appearing.

He agrees that the big impact will be seen elsewhere. Just as the 1867 crisis revealed a sub-par public health system in Zurich, many countries are now discovering that their hospitals are not ready for large-scale epidemics. On top of this, nations with weaker economies to begin with – he mentions Spain and Italy – will be pushed to the limit.

Beyond cities or countries altogether, he sees the main lesson from the 2020 pandemic as being – in contrast to 1867 – the “global dimension”. We are seeing that this “cannot be dealt with nationally, and so the role of international organizations like the World Health Organization and European Union are seeing their importance rise”.

After years of neglecting such bodies, we will again realize the importance of international cooperation, Condrau says. That is, if such institutions survive the stress test themselves.

I believe it is a great article. I would only add that the current pandemic can and will also have a huge impact in stable Western Representative democracies. This is so because in these democracies the people have sufficient freedom and rights to act, much like the Swiss people had in the 1860s in Zurich and the rest of Switzerland.

We have to take the opportunity of the current pandemic to push democracy forward. It is not a matter of ideology, it is necessary to improve democracy by giving ourselves, the people, the power the constitutions of most representative democracies say we have: “government by the people”.

Term limits can not fix the loss of trust in politicians in the United States or in any representative democracy. Part II.

Perhaps the title of this post should be: “term limits can not fix representative democracy”; loss of trust is the result of representative democracy, because representative democracy carries within the “virus” that weakens, and may even kill it. The “virus” is forever growing power for politicians, and forever diminishing freedom and power for the people.

Yesterday I looked at term limits for legislators and their effect on state debt and employment levels; I do not believe they have any effect. Today, I look at the 36 US States with term limits for their governors, to see how they influence public debt and unemployment. I take the data also from Ballotpedia. Term limits for Governors

Here is the data; you decide.

Debt $       % Unemp.

Alabama                    2 consecutive term limit        1,787            5.8

Alaska                        2 consecutive term limit        8,068          5.9

Arizona                      2 consecutive term limit        1,937            8.0

Arkansas                   2 lifetime term limit                 1,580            6.2

California                  2 lifetime term limit                 3,825            9.3

Colorado                    2 consecutive term limit     2,905         6.4

Connecticut             No term limits                        10,877            6.1

Delaware                   2 lifetime term limit              4,651            5.6

Florida                        2 consecutive term limit     1,311             6.5

Georgia                      2 consecutive term limit     1,216            4.5

Hawaii                         2 consecutive term limit    6,835         14.3

Idaho                          No term limits                           1,845            5.5

Illinois                         No term limits                         4,883            6.8

Indiana                      8 out of 12 year limit             3,238            5.0

Iowa                            No term limits                          1,934            3.6

Kansas                      2 consecutive term limit     2,590            5.3

Kentucky                 2 consecutive term limit     3,201            7.4

Louisiana                 2 consecutive term limit    3,895            9.4

Maine                         2 consecutive term limit   3,530            5.4

Maryland                  2 consecutive term limit   4,607            7.8

Massachusetts     No term limits                        11,043            7.4

Michigan                  2 lifetime term limit              3,331            5.5

Minnesota               No term limits                          2,870            4.6

Mississippi              2 lifetime term limit              2,499             7.4

Missouri                   2 lifetime term limit              2,986           4.6

Montana                  8 out of 16 year limit            2,572            4.9

Nebraska                 2 consecutive term limit     1,032            3.0

Nevada                     2 lifetime term limit                1,035         12.0

New Hampshire   2 consecutive term limit     5,644          4.2

New Jersey             2 consecutive term limit    7,371            8.2

New Mexico           2 consecutive term limit    3,366          8.1

New York                 No term limits                          7,162          9.6

North Carolina       2 consecutive term limit   1,537          6.3

North Dakota         No term limits                        3,788         4.8

Ohio                            2 consecutive term limit  2,851          5.6

Oklahoma                2 lifetime term limit             2,138         6.1

Oregon                      8 out of 12 year limit           2,943        6.9

Pennsylvania          2 consecutive term limit   3,706       7.3

Rhode Island          2 consecutive term limit   8,457       7.0

South Carolina       2 consecutive term limit   3,022      4.2

South Dakota          2 consecutive term limit  3,907      3.6

Tennessee                2 consecutive term limit     888       7.4

Texas                          No term limits                          1,729      6.9

Utah                            No term limits                          2,271       4.1

Vermont                    No term limits                          5,577     3.2

Virginia                      No consecutive terms          3,226    5.3

Washington            No term limits                           4,287    6.0

West Virginia         2 consecutive term limit     4,244     6.4

Wisconsin                No term limits                          3,974     5.7

Wyoming                  8 out of 16 year limit              1,357    5.5

I am no statistician; perhaps you can find a positive relationship between term limits, low debt and low unemployment, but it looks like the results are all over the place.

But there is much interest in term limits in the US.

Termlimits.com advocates term limits at all levels of government. They believe term limits will fix many of the ills of US Governance. I do not agree. I believe term limits are irrelevant to fix the root problem of US democracy.

The Heritage Foundation also wanted term limits in 1994; “Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean up Congress”.

By 2009 the Foundation had become less enthusiastic: “Confronting Unlimited Government: Lessons from the Term Limits Movement”. I quote: “Term limits promote progressive ambition and careerism to a greater degree than existed before legislators were term-limited”.

Another important organization, The Brookings Institution, wrote in 2018: “Seventy-four percent of likely voters are in favour of congressional term limits” I paraphrase what the Institution says:

  1. Term limits will take power away from voters because it will severely limit the choices voters have. This argument makes little sense; to say that because a politician can not run again, the choices of the voter is “severely limited”, is absurd; there are plenty of people ready to run for office. This is not surprising considering how often we learn how many politicians in the US Congress become rich during their terms in office.

It makes as much sense to say that when a politician can not run again for office it makes it possible to bring to Congress people with new and better ideas.

2. Severely will decrease congressional skill to draft legislation. This argument sounds like a joke to me. Politicians in Congress rely on staff, external independent experts, and lobbyists to draft legislation.

3. Term limits will limit incentives for members of Congress to learn, because the knowledge on specific issues will not be of use to the politician who knows his or her life in Congress will finish soon.

This is absurd; you would think politicians, like everybody else, want to do a good job when they are doing it, and they feel they have to learn for “right now”.

To say that a politician may not be interested in learning, because the knowledge will not help him or her in the future, is an insult.

Seventy-four percent of voters in the US believe term limits are good. I think they are good too, but term limits will not increase trust in politicians, or provide for better government.

The Brookings Institution puts forward a few more arguments which to me they sound like rationalisations.

I agree with the Institution on one point; term limits are not the solution. But I believe term limits are better than nothing, to help prevent the entrenchment of politicians.

Unfortunately, term limits do not address the root problem in US politics at all levels, which to different degrees, is the root problem in all other representative democracies.

The root problem in representative democracies is that politicians have all the executive power and the voters have only the power to elect the politicians.

In representative democracies functioning relatively well (not over one or two dozen in the World), the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary check each other’s power but, together, they have all the power, the people have no power to directly decide any issue. That is why direct democracy is necessary; to check the power of Executive, Legislative and Judiciary by giving the people more power.

Once the people have direct control of the decisions of the Executive and the Legislative, and once the Judiciary can not prevail over the people on the “constitutionality” of laws, then the US and all other representative democracies will recover the trust of the people in politicians.

Direct democracy makes elections and politicians less important because the final decision-making power is in the hands of the people. Lobbies also become less important, because they know that influencing politicians does not count for much when the politicians no longer have the final word on anything.

Let us not waste our energy on term limits, let us bring direct democracy. With direct democracy, term limits do not matter. With or without them, politicians have no choice but govern in tune with the voters and THAT will bring back trust; it is pretty basic.

 

 

Term Limits can not fix the loss of trust in politicians in the US, or in any representative democracy. Part I

Many Americans, frustrated or disillusioned with how the US Government functions, are asking for term limits for their elected representatives and judges, just like there are term limits for the President of the United States.

There are several organisations fighting for term limits. There are also many established institutions opposing term limits. I suppose most elected politicians are not keen on term limits and that aspiring politicians are.

The term limits movement in the US has failed at the Federal level, but it has had some success at the state level. Because of that, I was curious about the impact of term limits on some important indicators of government performance.

I am focusing on the US for several reasons; it is a country most of the world knows about, the term limits movement is quite active and, in many ways, what happens in the US, good or bad, and for good or bad, is a reference for many other societies.

Let us look at the information we have.

States with term limits for the legislators in the United States. I took this data were from Ballotpedia

As of 2018, 15 US states had term limits for their House (H) and the Senate (S), (the lower and upper chambers).

Alabama                    No term limits

Alaska                        No term limits

Arizona                      H: 4 terms (8 years) S: 4 terms (8 years)

Arkansas                   16 year cumulative total, in either or both

California                  12 year cumulative total, in either or both

Colorado                    H: 4 terms (8 years) S: 2 terms (8 years)

Connecticut              No term limits

Delaware                   No term limits

Florida                        H: 4 terms (8 years) S: 2 terms (8 years)

Georgia                      No term limits

Hawaii                        No term limits

Idaho                          No term limits

Illinois                        No term limits

Indiana                      No term limits

Iowa                            No term limits

Kansas                      No term limits

Kentucky                  No term limits

Louisiana                  H: 3 terms (12 years) S: 3 terms (12 years)

Maine                         No term limits

Maryland                  No term limits

Massachusetts     H: 4 terms (8 years) S: 4 terms (8 years)

Michigan                   H: 3 terms (6 years) S: 2 terms (8 years)

Minnesota                No term limits

Mississippi               No term limits

Missouri                    H: 4 terms (8 years) S: 2 terms (8 years)

Montana                   H: 4 terms (8 years) S: 2 terms (8 years)

Nebraska                 S: 2 terms (8 years)

Nevada                     H: 6 terms (12 years) S: 3 terms (12 years)

New Hampshire   No term limits

New Jersey            No term limits

New Mexico           No term limits

New York                 No term limits

North Carolina       No term limits

North Dakota         No term limits

Ohio                           H: 4 terms (8 years) S: 2 terms (8 years)

Oklahoma               12 year cumulative total, in either or both

Oregon                     No term limits

Pennsylvania         No term limits

Rhode Island          No term limits

South Carolina       No term limits

South Dakota          H: 4 terms (8 years) S: 4 terms (8 years)

Tennessee                No term limits

Texas                           No term limits

Utah                             No term limits

Vermont                    No term limits

Virginia                      No term limits

Washington            No term limits

West Virginia         No term limits

Wisconsin               No term limits

Wyoming                 No term limits

Let us now look at the public debt per person of individual states, to see if it looks like term limits promote responsible public expenditures.

I took the data from worldpopulationreview.com

State                               Debt PP         Does it have term limits for legislators?

  1. Massachusetts      $11,043           Yes
  2. Connecticut             $10,877          No
  3. Rhode Island           $8,457             No
  4. Alaska                         $8,068            No
  5. New Jersey               $7,371              No
  6. New York                   $7,162              No
  7. Hawaii                         $6,835             No
  8. New Hampshire     $5,644             No
  9. Vermont                     $5,577             No
  10. Illinois                          $4,883             No
  11. Delaware                   $4,641              No
  12. Maryland                   $4,607              No
  13. Washington             $4,287               No
  14. West Virginia          $4,244               No
  15. Wisconsin                $3,974               No
  16. South Dakota         $3,907               Yes
  17. Louisiana                  $3,895               Yes
  18. California                  $3,825               Yes
  19. North Dakota         $3,788                No
  20. Pennsylvania          $3,706                No
  21. Maine                         $3,530                No
  22. New Mexico            $3,366               No
  23. Michigan                   $3,331                Yes
  24. Indiana                       $3,238               No
  25. Virginia                      $3,226                No
  26. Kentucky                  $3,201                No
  27. South Carolina      $3,022                No
  28. Missouri                   $2,986                Yes
  29. Oregon                     $2,943                No
  30. Colorado                 $2,905                Yes
  31. Minnesota              $2,870                No
  32. Ohio                           $2,851                Yes
  33. Kansas                     $2,590                No
  34. Montana                   $2,572               Yes
  35. Mississippi             $2,499                No
  36. Utah                          $2,271                  No
  37. Oklahoma              $2,138                  Yes
  38. Arizona                    $1,937                  Yes
  39. Iowa                          $1,934                  No
  40. Idaho                        $1,845                  No
  41. Alabama                 $1,787                  No
  42. Texas                        $1,729                  No
  43. Arkansas                $1,580                 Yes
  44. North Carolina     $1,537                 No
  45. Wyoming               $1,357                 No
  46. Florida                     $1,311                  Yes
  47. Georgia                   $1,216                  No
  48. Nevada                   $1,035                 Yes
  49. Nebraska               $1,032                 Yes
  50. Tennessee            $888                    No

 You can draw your own conclusions, but I am not sure that term limits make a significant difference, at least in the control of public debt.

Massachusetts has not benefited from term limits, but perhaps the next 15 states would have performed better if they had term limits. As I continue down the list, I see many states with no term limits outperforming many with term limits.

My impression is that term limits may help, but are not decisive to control public debt.

Let us look at public approval of the legislature to see if term limits make a difference.

There is an interesting Master thesis by John W Downs III Scholarworks at Indiana University.

The thesis investigated if there is a correlation between term limits for legislators of US states and the public approval ratings of legislators. The conclusion of the thesis is that there is a correlation.

But I am not sure public approval is a meaningful indicator of sound management. I say that because in representative democracies, where one important goal of politicians is to get re-elected, (even states with term limits allow between 1 and 5 re-elections), politicians have learned to please voters to get re-elected.

When the politician can not run again for the same position, he or she will run for another one; as far as I know, no state bans politicians to run again for another position. This means that always politicians have a powerful motivation to please voters for the short term.

If politicians leave politics after their last term in office, the political parties have the same incentive as before to please voters, so that the new candidate “re-elects” the party.

I was also curious about unemployment rates and term limits. I wanted to see if term limits promote better government, perhaps it would show lower unemployment figures for states with term limits.

Here are the unemployment rates of US states as of October 2020. I took the data from the US Government; https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm

State                                         Rate                Term Limits (Legislatures)

  1. Nebraska                              3.0                   Yes
  2. Vermont                                3.2                    No
  3. Iowa                                         3.6                   No
  4. South Dakota                     3.6                   Yes
  5. Utah                                        4.1                     No
  6. New Hampshire                4.2                    No
  7. South Carolina                   4.2                    No
  8. Georgia                                 4.5                     No
  9. Minnesota                            4.6                    No
  10. Missouri                                4.6                    Yes
  11. North Dakota                     4.8                     No
  12. Montana                               4.9                     Yes
  13. Indiana                                   5.0                    No
  14. Kansas                                   5.3                     No
  15. Virginia                                  5.3                     No
  16. Maine                                     5.4                     Yes
  17. Idaho                                      5.5                     No
  18. Michigan                              5.5                     Yes
  19. Wyoming                             5.5                     No
  20. Delaware                             5.6                     No
  21. Ohio                                       5.6                     Yes
  22. Wisconsin                           5.7                     No
  23. Alabama                              5.8                     No
  24. Alaska                                   5.9                     No
  25. Washington                       6.0                     No
  26. Connecticut                       6.1                      No
  27. Oklahoma                           6.1                      Yes
  28. Arkansas                             6.2                     Yes
  29. North Carolina                  6.3                     No
  30. Colorado                              6.4                    Yes
  31. West Virginia                     6.4                    No
  32. Florida                                   6.5                    Yes
  33. Illinois                                    6.8                     No
  34. Oregon                                  6.9                     No
  35. Texas                                      6.9                     No
  36. Rhode Island                      7.0                     No
  37. Pennsylvania                      7.3                     No
  38. Kentucky                              7.4                     No
  39. Massachusetts                 7.4                     No
  40. Mississippi                           7.4                    No
  41. Tennessee                           7.4                    No
  42. Maryland                              7.8                     No
  43. Arizona                                  8.0                    Yes
  44. New Mexico                        8.1                     No
  45. New Jersey                          8.2                    No
  46. California                              9.3                    Yes
  47. Louisiana                              9.4                    Yes
  48. New York                              9.6                    No
  49. Nevada                                 12.0                   Yes
  50. Hawaii                                   14.3                   No

I am not a statistician, an economist, a sociologist, a meteorologist, a soils expert, etc., all rolled into one, to know if  unemployment figures have anything to do with term limits or with something else, but it seems term limits are not a decisive factor to determine unemployment levels.

My next blog I will look at term limits for governors.

I will also try to show that the root problem in the US, and other representative democracies, is not the lack of term limits, it is the limits by representative democracy on the power of voters.

 

Direct democracy, youth unemployment and  more

I never thought direct democracy and youth employment could be related, but perhaps they are; Switzerland, the only direct democracy the World has at the local, cantonal (state or province in federal countries) and national level, the lowest youth unemployment rate in the World.

Switzerland has lower youth unemployment rates than any other country, not just among democracies, but also all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes; those who claim total economic and political control of the population by the state is good for everything.

The figures come from this site.

It is interesting that the country where citizens have more political and economic rights than anywhere else in the World, again shows better management than the rest.

I only list democracies because, even if totalitarian societies had lower unemployment rates than Switzerland, which they don’t, losing human dignity is too high a price to pay.

Youth unemployment:

Sweden 23.6 %
France 20.7
Ireland 20.2
Belgium 18.3
Canada 17.4
Australia 15.6
Finland 14.3
United Kingdom 14.1
Norway 13.1
New Zealand 12.6
Taiwan 12.39
Denmark 12.3
United States 11.5
Iceland 10.5
Netherlands 10.1
Austria 8.6
South Korea 8.4
Germany 6
Japan 4.7
Switzerland 3.3

So, there you have it. Even the next best countries; Japan, Germany and South Korea have approximately 30%, 80% and 254% higher youth unemployment rates than Switzerland.

We can attribute the figures for Japan and South Korea to “cultural differences”, but what about Germany ? Another European country sharing language and much culture with the more than 60% Swiss Germans.

For some reason, Switzerland is more efficient than Germany, and not just for youth employment. Switzerland’s merit is even more remarkable because almost 40% of the Swiss are French or Italian speakers. While both are European cultures, they are different between themselves and also from the Swiss Germans.  This shows a multicultural society can be a high performance one.

How does Switzerland do it?

My suspicion is that Switzerland’s low youth unemployment rate has something to do with the common-sense, responsible approach Swiss-Germans, Swiss-French, Swiss-Italians and Swiss-Romansh have to issues.

The Swiss say that direct democracy fosters the development of more responsible citizens. This explanation makes sense; we all know that most people in any country behave responsibly when they are responsible for the effects of their actions.

Direct democracy makes the Swiss citizen responsible for the effects of the results of referendums. In a country where the citizens decide, some people would expect that “populist policies” (of the right and the left) would drive referendums. Things like; “free healthcare for all”, “free education”, free this and free that, but is not like that, it is the opposite.

Others even say that direct democracy can easily turn into “the tyranny of the majority”, presumably incited by demagogues.

Swiss voters do not go for any that. They further from falling into that than any representative democracy.

One powerful reason for their high sense of responsibility is that they know they have to handle the effects of what they vote in referendums. Just like homebuyers in any country behave responsibly when it comes to paying their mortgages.

But another more interesting reason explaining why there are no demagogical promises, by the Left or the Right in Switzerland, could be that Swiss politicians do not have the power to make the grandiose promises that politicians in representative democracies make.

In representative democracies, citizens are only responsible at voting time, the rest of the time the voters have no power, the elected politicians have all the power, therefore, the voters are not responsible and do not feel responsible for what happens to their country.

When a person has no power to decide, how can she or he feel responsible for whatever happens in his town, state, province or country?

But in Switzerland, when it comes to youth unemployment, the voters are responsible too. They are because they have the power to act. They have the power to bring about referendums to decide on education, on employment policies, as they have on everything else.

Swiss voters know they are responsible because they have the power to force the government; the executive, and the legislative, to do what is necessary for youth unemployment. They can also force the executive and the legislative to stop doing what they are doing, or to stop others.

Low youth unemployment is just another symptom of responsible management of the country.

Switzerland is not so different culturally from the countries around it, but the Swiss struck gold when the citizens of Zurich pushed for direct democracy, and got it, after a cholera epidemic killed 481 people by October 1967. From Zurich, direct democracy spread to the rest of Switzerland, not unlike the virus did, and the current virus is doing.

Perhaps the cholera was a blessing in disguise for the Swiss.

Do we not have enough dead by the current virus in our countries to demand direct democracy too?

Direct democracy is not just about having citizens with more rights and more power, it is about that because it produces better social, political, and economic policies.

Low youth unemployment is another reason to foster the development of voter self-responsibility by bringing to our countries direct democracy.

Direct democracy is the opposite of mob rule; have no fear

Let me deal with the statement many “experts” living in representative democracies make; “direct democracy can lead to mob rule”.

There is no basis at all for that; no facts show that. We only have one direct democracy in the World; Switzerland. No country is further away from mob rule than Switzerland.

The facts on the ground, not the speculations by experts, show direct democracy not only is not “mob rule”, it protects citizens from mob rule, and from “elite” rule.

By the way, Ancient Greek Democracy, which was a full direct democracy, not a representative democracy, had no mob rule either.

Amazingly, in human history, we only had two real democracies; representative democracy is not real democracy, it resembles more an elected, often entrenched, oligarchy. That is why trust in government is dropping in countries with representative democracy, not so in Switzerland.

Direct democracy is about the people deciding specific issues, taking most of the decision-making power off the hands of politicians. This also has the wonderful effect of removing partisan politics from decision-making; it cools down politics.

When Swiss voters go to the polls, they decide based on how the issue affects them, not based on their political “religion” or party; do we need to raise the taxes we pay to build a new school? Does the Air Force need new jets? Should Swiss-owned companies be responsible for violations of human rights and environmental laws in their operations in foreign countries? Should all Swiss receive a universal basic income? Should Switzerland join the EU? Should we change the constitution of the canton (state or province)? Should we change the federal constitution? Etc.

Swiss voters carefully consider economic and social costs and benefits, just like they do when they decide to buy a house for their families, they do it because they are responsible. People in your country do not go now screaming mob-like to the bank for a mortgage; they will do the same when voting in a referendum to decide any issue. They are not crazy, nothing to do with mob rule.

Every year, the Swiss decide several issues calmly, orderly. But it does not just happen because the Swiss are a calm, orderly bunch; they have in place the proper procedures.

For example, to help voters, every eligible Swiss voter receives from the government(s) an information package on the referendum. The package includes the position and reasoning of those sponsoring the referendum, the position or alternative proposal by the government, and the position of the political parties who support or oppose the referendum.

The voters also have plenty of time to watch and listen to debates, presentations, etc.

Those practices make it possible for any voter interested in the issue to vote competently, rationally, not like a mob at all. Many vote by a secure mail system to save time, no mob there either.

Because the process is open and transparent, the losers do not find it difficult to accept the results, and everyone moves on. Of course, it helps that the losers know they can call another referendum. Perhaps they will wait until the public mood changes, or work hard to change the mood of the public.

Reality shows the opposite of what the “experts” say; direct democracy has nothing to do with mob rule. Do not believe them, inform yourself.

Read on: This is an interesting post in Quora about direct democracy; click here