Important differences in direct democracy between Switzerland and California.

The average Swiss has higher income per capita. Switzerland is cleaner, has less corruption, is more stable socially and politically, has universal and better health care and better social services, better education, far more affordable university education, better professional education, better infrastructure, far lower rates of social problems and crime, etc.

The Swiss are more competitive also. For example, let us look at exports in high tech: California exports 35 billion USD, Switzerland: 30 billion USD. Because California has 4.5 times more population than Switzerland, those numbers mean that Switzerland exports almost four times more high-technology products per person. It easy to be distracted by the few very large high-tech companies located in California.

Switzerland provides a better environment for workers and for business.

Another difference: in Switzerland each canton (state), each no bigger than California counties, has more autonomy than even the state of California has in the US.

Such autonomy may help Switzerland become more competitive. The cantons compete among themselves using taxes, quality of education, quality of health care, etc. This internal competition does not seem to exist within California.

Switzerland has something that could hurt her but it does not; it has four official cultures-languages, California does not. In most democracies, such difference creates trouble. We have the cases of the UK, Canada, Belgium, Spain, etc. I ignore non-democracies in this comparison because their lack of freedom makes it impossible to know how the people feel about any political or social issue.

Perhaps it is the way the Swiss manage diversity that has turned it into strength. In my opinion, diversity in itself is not good or bad.

If Switzerland and California practice direct democracy, why such large differences in favour of Switzerland?

Both societies have a long experience with direct democracy. California has direct democracy since 1911, Switzerland since 1848.

Direct democracy in California exists only at the state level and at the local level. Californians can not take part in direct democracy at the federal level because the US Federal Government is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. This is one major difference. For the Swiss, direct democracy is present at all levels.

However, in one respect California is ahead; California voters can recall politicians at the state level and local level, in Switzerland, voters can do so only in some cantons.

Perhaps it has helped the Swiss develop a deeper culture of direct democracy having initiatives and referendums at all levels of government.

I believe the US system of representative democracy at the national level weakens direct democracy at other levels. This could be because the federal government is the most important level of government. It is reasonable to think that if direct democracy is not used to decide the most important issues, it is because decisions by the citizens are not considered the best way to decide. Obviously, the Swiss disagree.

The way I see it, if a country does not have direct democracy at all levels, then it does not have direct democracy. This is like freedom; if you do not have freedom at the national level you do not have freedom at the local level.

Another difference is that in California voters go to the polls for initiatives and referendums at the same date they elect the state governor. In Switzerland votes on referendums and initiatives do not coincide with elections. Such separation probably prevents eclipsing initiatives and referendums.

Such bunching of votes also forces California voters to digest in a short period a lot of information. Because of this it is possible that California voters can not make as informed a decision on each issue.

In Switzerland, some referendums are mandatory also. There is no need to collect signatures. This means Swiss voters and Swiss politician are “trained” by the law to practice direct democracy.

Other factors are probably cultural and educational. For example, California has had explosive growth of the immigrant population for years.

Most of the immigrants come from countries with weak, corrupt democracies or, even worse, authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. Because of this background it will take years for new citizens to develop the sense of political self responsibility direct democracy requires. It is difficult to believe elections are not rigged in California if in your home country they are. It takes a while to assimilate the new practices, in the meantime you may, unconsciously and unwillingly, contribute to their deterioration.

For example, in many cultures, helping family is more important than respecting the law. When this happens, widespread corruption is the natural result. It is not matter of being good or bad as a person but of social values.

But it is important to know that Switzerland was decades ago a poor, underdeveloped country, far less developed at the time than the UK. Things have changed; today’s Switzerland surpasses the UK in practically all areas. In many ways Switzerland is the number one country in the World.

But they have problems too. In Switzerland, like in California, they often have paid signatures collectors. Some people, in Switzerland and in California, say that paid signature collectors have a vested interest in collecting signatures and corrupt the process.

There have been cases in both societies where signature collectors lie, or manipulate, what they say to citizens get them to sign for a non-mandatory referendum or initiative

Another difference is that to vote in Switzerland you have to be at least 18 years old. In California, voting starts at 16. It is possible younger voters find it more difficult to understand the responsibilities of voting in areas such as taxes, pensions, etc.

It is also possible that the educational system and the current values and traditions of the Swiss help prepare citizens better as voters to cast votes to decide on specific issues, not just to elect someone.

In California some people complain that most campaigns for initiatives and referendums are financed by groups with vested interests. Such interests may not coincide with the interests of the general public. They mention cases of big business and big unions. I have not heard of that in Switzerland. Perhaps the more intensive practice of direct democracy in Switzerland helps keep lobbies in check.

I will be grateful to know you point of view on these issues.

 

In direct democracy the people have the last word on international law

Democracy International is one example of an influential organization that trusts the people…, up to a point.

I quote from Democracy International:

“Democracy International advocates the implementation of binding direct democracy all over the world. Initiatives and referendums should be bound to international law as well as constitutional principles,”

Notice Democracy International states: “Initiatives and referendums should be bound to international law as well as constitutional principles.” No!, direct democracy is “the people decide”; no law is above them because the people make the laws or have the final say on all national and international laws that affect them, including the constitution.

I do not doubt Democracy International’s intentions are noble, but they show a fear of the people which undermines the credibility of Democracy International as a pro-direct democracy organisation.

In stable democratic societies, including all stable representative democracies, the people show good judgment, year after year, sometimes even century after century. Such people should no have to bow to any law or constitution written by elites, elected or not.

We also see how many international laws are developed by international bodies in which all sorts of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes have representatives.

It makes no sense to force such laws on any people, but specially in the people of democracies. In the case of direct democracies, such ideas are direct violations of direct democracy and can not be accepted. If international laws or the constitution are above the people, that is not direct democracy.

Because the only country today with a long history of direct democracy is Switzerland, lets us reflect on that and on what Democracy International states.

The Swiss have demonstrated they have better socio-political and economic judgment than any other people I can think of.

I can not believe Democracy International is telling us the Swiss can not decide in a referendum to reject an international law. They may decide to accept such law, even if they don’t like it, but they are the ones to decide.

Same goes for the comment about submitting to the constitution. “The results of initiatives and referendums must no contradict the constitution”. Democracy International should add: “As long as the people have the power to change the constitution by means of initiatives and referendums.

Direct democracy is, even more than representative democracy, “of the people, by the people, for the people”. This means that no international law or provision of the constitution can be above the will of the people, none.

I believe in direct democracy because in it the people have the last word, not their representatives.

In direct democracy the people can certainly make mistakes, but history shows that the only direct democracies the World has ever known; the Ancient Greek city-states and modern Switzerland, made fewer mistakes in respect for human life, justice, freedom, economic, cultural and social development.

History also shows representative democracies are guilty of far bigger mistakes than direct democracies. No need to say a word about non-democracies…

I believe direct democracy is only possible when people have achieved the level of social development it requires. Why some societies end up more able to practice direct democracy? I have no idea. Maybe it is luck, climate, a “cultural mutation”…

So, let us all support direct democracy. Let us trust the people. Let us accept that most people have common sense.

Even in totalitarian and authoritarian societies, most ordinary people show in their personal lives every day that they have tons common sense. All they need is to learn and practice more respect for the ideas and beliefs of others. Once they do that, representative democracy and direct democracy will work for them too.

To finish, I will give you a great example of transition to direct democracy. It is the nation of Taiwan. In Taiwan, the original Taiwanese and the Chinese people of Taiwan show how it can be done.

A few decades ago Taiwan was a dictatorship, today is a representative democracy in transition to direct democracy. Only Switzerland is more democratic. The Taiwan experiment is new, only time will tell if Taiwan will become as stable as Switzerland, but the facts are encouraging.

So, dear friends of Democracy International: you are doing a great job for democracy, just fine tune your words a bit.

 

When do we have full, real direct democracy in a country? Part II.

In the last post I wrote about full, real, direct democracy. We also saw how in Switzerland the Swiss people have more power than the politicians. This is a key aspect of direct democracy.

Swiss voters are not in the situation you and I are; they have more power than us, much more. They can prevent politicians from executing decisions if the decision does not have the support of most voters.

I envy the Swiss. I like their democracy even more than their chocolate, cheese or watches. I don’t know about you.

In our representative democracies it is very different, politicians can pass laws and make decisions that even most of us dislike. Sadly,  we can do nothing other than remember till the next election or take to the streets. But we know, our memory is brief. Our elected representatives know it also. They also know how to throw at us new goodies to help us forget.

Not only that, in representative democracy, elected politicians sometimes even do the opposite of what they promised, because there is no way to stop them, other than taking to the streets again.

Here is a good example of promise violation; the Republican President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, said during his election campaign: “Read my lips, no new taxes”, but once elected he signed a law that raised taxes.

In fairness to Mr. Bush, he did not want to raise taxes. He felt it was necessary because of changes in the economy and because the Democrats, who controlled Congress, forced him to.

The betrayal looks like it was not forgotten by voters; Mr. Bush was a one-term president.

In Switzerland voters would have stopped the law. Swiss voters would have overridden the President AND Congress.

The “Brexit” referendum is another example of lack of people power. In Switzerland the referendum would not have been called by Prime Minister Cameron. In Switzerland the law automatically, or the citizens, would have called for the referendum, and not on Mr. Cameron’s timing either.

Something almost humorous, but in my opinion worse, happened with other referendums in several European countries. Let us just take one; the Danish government held a referendum on the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty, a kind of EU Constitution.

The Danish people voted “no” to the treaty, but the government did not agree with the result, the government then held a second referendum on the same issue. This time the government liked the result.

In effect, the Danish government told the EU after the first vote, don’t worry, be happy, Denmark will approve the treaty because we will hold referendums until “the people get it right”. It is unbelievable this could happen in a country that in so many other respects is one of the best run societies in the World.

Other European countries did not even bother with referendums, they just ignored the people. We are not talking about banana republics here, these countries are serious democracies.

Such shenanigans undermine trust in governments, in politicians and in democracy itself.

Speaking of trust; another of the positive effects of direct democracy (if seriously executed) is that it generates more trust in government. For example, 82% of the Swiss trust their government. In the US the figure is 30%. In Japan it is 35%, just a little better. Even in countries like Canada, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands the figure is only about 60%.

But it is logical the Swiss trust their politicians, government and parliament. They do so because Swiss politicians can not do anything of importance if the voters do not back them up.

I am sure Swiss politicians also have learned to govern very aware of what they can and can not do. This also helps develop trust.

In Switzerland they have political parties, but their power is much less than in representative democracies. Because of that, politicians have learned to put forward measures that will be supported by the voters.

Furthermore, Swiss minority parties can initiate the process of collecting signatures to have a referendum. This also helps keep governing parties from approving unpopular measures.

A very interesting aspect of fully developed direct democracy is that it does not need professional politicians. Even Switzerland is not there yet. In full direct democracy ordinary citizens vote AND govern. They do so only once and for a short period. This helps prevent creating a political establishment.

Another effect of not having professional politicians; political parties are not necessary. They are not necessary because, in full direct democracy, people serving in government do not need the support of any organization to get elected.

An important benefit of direct democracy is that politics is centered more on issues, less on politics and politicians. This is quite noticeable in Switzerland.

To have direct democracy it is also essential that neither the government nor parliament have the power to decide what issues should go to referendum or when will the referendum take place.

This is very important because if governments, or  parliaments, can decide on what to have a referendum and when, you and I know politicians would be looking at polls; “let us wait”, etc. They would also do many things to make voters happy right up to voting day, to fool us once more.

Conclusion: we have direct democracy when the people have the power to control all significant decisions of the elected representatives.

This must happen at the national level and in the smallest village. Direct democracy requires a culture of direct democracy, at all levels of government.

Your input is always welcomed.

Victor Lopez

 

 

When do we have full, real direct democracy in a country? Part I.

We have it, if several facts are present. I say facts, not what the constitutions or laws say. Words, no matter how well written or how well they sound, are not facts, only facts are facts.

One fact of direct democracy is that citizens have the final say in all important issues. The people must also be able to decide what is important, not government.

The people must also the power to decide at all levels of government; national, regional, state, city, town and village.

It is essential that it be at all levels.

Only if people decide at all government levels do we have a culture of direct democracy. Without the culture of direct democracy, direct democracy can not function. This is no different in representative democracy. “It is the culture, stupid!”

We do not have direct democracy in the country if the people can; for example, force a referendum at the city level but not at the federal level, or the other way around.

Direct democracy is a way of thinking about public issues, a state of mind, a belief that citizens must “run the show”. If we have the culture, the mechanisms formalize it and they will work. If we do not have the culture, direct democracy will not work.

But the culture can be developed with the practice. Lo learn direct democracy you have to practice direct democracy. Like in any learning process, start small, with the simple stuff, and then advance. If we “bite more than we can chew” it will not work. We may then become frustrated and discouraged. Perhaps they will conclude “direct democracy does not work”.

But it is not so, direct democracy works if we develop the collective skills to make it work, just like it happens with representative democracy. You know of many countries where representative democracy does not work very well. Sometimes it even collapses into “revolutionary” authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, direct democracy is no different. In fact, for a short period, the Swiss almost lost direct democracy to representative democracy.

Ancient Greece direct democracy lasted for several centuries. Democratic Greece was head and shoulders above any other culture of the time, but then died. Direct democracy is no doubt the best system because it enables ordinary citizens to decide by themselves how to run society. But it is not a simple system.

Any important human achievement is not simple; science is difficult, classical music is difficult, research is difficult, great art is difficult, etc.

One important and positive aspect of direct democracy, is that the people do not need “visionaries”, “prophets”, “great leaders” and so on. The people develop the “vision” and decide by themselves. They do not need special people.

It is not a direct democracy either if it is the government who decides on what issues the people can vote, no matter how many times they vote. In direct democracy it is the law that establishes when the people vote and also the people decide when they want to decide.

But that is not enough. The process must be easy and straightforward. Even one single citizen must be able to initiate the process. Perhaps new technologies will make direct democracy even better.

But voting on issues is not enough. We do not have real, full, direct democracy if ordinary people do not run the public institutions also. If elected representatives run the public institutions that is not direct democracy, it is still representative democracy.

In full direct democracy ordinary citizens are selected by lot to serve in government. But there must be some form of screening such people. The screening is done by citizen assemblies which are representative of society. Membership in the citizen’s assemblies is also by lot.

The assembly does a careful screening of those who will serve. Such careful screening is more like the screening we do to select people for important positions in most democracies; most judges, official representatives, heads of public services, etc. For such jobs we do not normally rely on a political campaign. Perhaps we do this because political campaigns can be dominated by clever marketing and the “media circus” that prevent substantial evaluation of candidates.

You may be interested in knowing that in Switzerland, the national government is selected by parliament. It does no emerge as a result of a political campaign. But still is not selection by lot, followed by screening by the assembly.

In the assembly, membership is by lot but also representative of society. The assembly votes and decides who is fit to be president, minister, mayor, councilor, judge, prosecutor, police chief, etc.

The assembly could also vote on issues but it is more democratic that all citizens have the opportunity to decide on issues, except in the case of particular urgent situations, such as a catastrophe.

People also may step forward before the assembly as candidates. But random selection is also possible. Naturally, before a person can assume his or her responsibilities, the assembly, or another body where a cross section of citizens is represented, will screen those selected to serve.

This is necessary because it would be irrational to have anyone selected by lot to occupy a position that requires special judgment and/or technical expertise. All citizens are equal before the law but citizens do not have equal judgment or equal knowledge.

Just like it happens in any form of government, depending on the nature of the position, it will be necessary for that person to be assisted by technical experts.

One further difference between full direct democracy and representative democracy is that in full direct democracy there are no professional politicians.

What I mean is that the citizens serve for a fixed time and then return to their ordinary life. This is important because it prevents the creation of a political class.

A political class is not compatible with full direct democracy because if we have a political class then they are no longer ordinary citizens.

Such people can not help but have group and class interests.

Because politics is their job they will want to better their working conditions, salaries, pensions, etc. Because professional politicians make the laws it is easy to understand why politicians in representative democracies are often seen by ordinary citizens as privileged people.

Even the Swiss do not have full direct democracy. In Switzerland they have professional politicians. However, Swiss politicians are often part time politicians, even in the national government. Often they keep their regular jobs. This keeps them more in touch with “real life”.

The key difference between Swiss representative democracy and other representative democracies is that the Swiss people have the final say, and prevail over the politicians, if they so decide. In this regard the Swiss have essential elements of direct democracy.

In the next post I will complete this short discussion about real, full direct democracy and also how the Swiss show the way.

Would you like direct democracy in your country if you thought the people are ready for it?

 

Direct democracy is evolution without confrontation

In Switzerland voters reject nine out of ten national initiatives, but often it happens because governments come up with a compromise that satisfies the majority of voters.

Some people think; why do the Swiss bother collecting the 100 000 signatures required to put the proposal to a vote if they are likely to fail? Perhaps now these people will understand why the Swiss bother.

For example, the Swiss Green Party proposed to shut down any nuclear after 45 years in use. The party collected the required 100 000 signatures to put the initiative to a national vote.

Voters defeated the initiative, but something very important happened; the government had to come up with an alternative. It happened because of the increased awareness of the people on the issue. The initiative by the Green Party made voters very aware of the dangers of nuclear energy.

The government disagreed with the Green Party, but to increase the chances of defeating the initiative it had to propose an alternative, a compromise.

This is what it proposed: Instead of shutting down the nuclear plants after 45 years in operation, they would build no new nuclear plants. It also proposed to shut down existing stations once the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate considers they are no longer safe.

In this way, the losing initiative also won. The Green party, and all those who voted to support the 45 year limit, did not get their way, but they got that Switzerland will become nuclear free. Not a bad result for them.

The compromise satisfied people concerned that going non-nuclear too fast would make electricity more expensive for private citizens and for business.

Many people also feared that switching too fast to renewable sources of electricity would hurt Switzerland’s competitive position in the World. They thought this would threaten the standard of living of citizens, threaten jobs and prosperity.

Because initiatives cause changes, even if they lose the vote, the Swiss people do not lose enthusiasm for initiatives.

Without the mechanism of the initiative to challenge current laws on nuclear plants, it is unlikely the Swiss government would have proposed as a compromise to stop building nuclear plants.

Even if 9 out of 10 initiatives go down at the ballot box, 9 out of 10 Swiss voters also want to keep the right to use initiatives. They want direct democracy. They want it because it is a better tool to influence governments, to change laws and policies, than just relying on elected representatives and parliaments deciding by themselves.

For the Green Party, the referendum on nuclear power boosted its credibility in the eyes of voters in general, not just Green Party voters. This may help the party in the next election. This means small parties play a much bigger role in direct democracy than in representative democracy. This is good for democracy because it helps represent minority voters.

As I wrote before, one of the attractive aspects of direct democracy is that promotes governance in tune with the people. No longer the elected representatives, business, unions or other lobbies will decide, instead the people will.

Direct democracy forces governments, and also opposition parties, at all levels to seek popular support at any time between elections. This helps erase the feeling so many citizens have, of not feeling represented.

Launching an initiative and collecting 100 000 signatures also forces governments and lobbies to listen to the people. No longer deals out of the public eye will the norm.

You and your fellow citizens must have the right to tell your governments at the national, regional or local level: “Wait a minute, this issue is important to us, you can’t just go and decide without us, we are the ones who have to vote and decide”. There is no reason why you should not have that right.

The truth is that political decisions are too important to leave to the politicians alone.

Let us move!

 

Does direct democracy really work?

I found in Internet a very interesting study by  Simon Geissbühler, a respected researcher. I summarized it for you. You can read the full text in http://przeglad.amu.edu.pl/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/pp-2014-4-087.pdf.

Here and there I add my own comments.

First of all, the vast majority of Swiss citizens support direct democracy. Studies also tell us Swiss citizens show high support and trust in government, higher than in any representative democracy.

Direct democracy promotes political stability. Everyone knows Switzerland is probably the most stable country in the World, decade after decade.

It does it although it is a multicultural and multilingual country. It is a country with a German majority and French, Italian and Romansch minorities. There is no doubt Switzerland has far less ethno-cultural-language tensions than countries such as United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, the US, France or Italy.

As history shows it is also far more stable than many “unitary states” representative democracies like Germany, Austria, France or Italy.

Direct democracy in Switzerland has contributed to integrating different political, language, religious/confessional and cultural groups. Sure, the Swiss by popular referendum banned the construction of new minarets in mosques. This strikes many as intolerant. But in democracy, nobody is a higher moral authority than the people. If we do not accept that, then we are not democrats, no matter how much we wrap it in “moral” rationalizations.

Of course, in direct democracy, like in representative democracy, the people can make mistakes. The possible mistake of the minarets is a very small mistake in comparison with the mistakes representative democracies have made and are making with their minorities.

The historical evidence shows that, overall, direct democracy in Switzerland makes better decisions than any representative democracy in all areas, not just treatment of minorities.

Direct democracy puts politics in the hands of voters. Because of that, in direct democracy, the elites and the lobbies have less power. No need for violent demonstration in the streets against the elites because direct democracy controls de elites.

I have nothing against the elites of any political  or economic orientation, but their power must be kept in check for the sake of long term stability. The elites need stability more than anybody else. Representative democracy finds it harder to control the elites and the lobbies.

In direct democracy, small groups have more influence in the political agenda because they can initiate referendums.

Direct democracy also ensures reforms are long lasting because they have popular support.

Direct democracy is not the tyranny of the majority because direct democracy is centered on issues, not in party in ideology or overall rightist or leftist agendas. In direct democracy, sometimes the majority says “yes” to a reform opposed by conservatives, sometimes it says “yes” to one opposed by progressives.

Some say representative democracy can become “tyrannical”. This is not so,  On the contrary, in representative democracy an absolute majority government can ram through a very conservative, or very progressive, law or policy, without the direct support of the people, or even if the people oppose it. Such government can do so because it controls the legislature. In direct democracy the people can and stop unpopular laws and other measures passed by majority governments.

In direct democracy the power of the people acts also as a moderating force in governments and legislators. In direct democracy, a majority government has far less power than such government in representative democracy. This is so because the people have more power.

In direct democracy the people trust politicians more. Perhaps because politicians can not ignore the sentiments of voters once they have voted. That is not the case in representative democracy between elections.

One of the effects of ignoring voters between elections is low trust in politicians in most, not all, representative democracies. This also shows that, while direct democracy promotes more trust, trust in politicians is also possible in representative democracy. Like in many situations, “the devil is in the details of execution”.

Direct democracy in Switzerland demonstrates ordinary citizens can understand complex issues. So can people in representative democracies. I think that if we can file our taxes, understand our mortgages, master our jobs and the subjects we had to study at school and university, we can also can understand and vote on any issue, if it is explained to us. Direct democracy also pushes citizens to think harder and better to vote responsibly than representative democracy. It does so because in direct democracy people know they are responsible for the effects of their decisions. They can no longer blame the politicians.

Anyhow, politicians are not experts in most matters in which they vote. They have to rely on explanations by experts. You, the average voter can do that too.

It is not true that participation in direct democracy is low. It is low, around 40-50%, on EACH referendum, because issues may interest a significant minority, but not the majority. However, if we take into account overall voting in referendums over one year, 80% of Swiss voters do go and vote. This is very high participation, much higher than in elections in representative democracies.

Direct democracy is less susceptible to lobbies. This is so because it easier to influence politicians, in more or less private meetings, than it is to influence millions of voters in the open.

Perhaps for the same reason, direct democracy reduces the tendency of politicians to spend money to make their own political clientele happy. Studies have shown that in Swiss cantons where citizens have more direct democratic rights, public services for all tend to be better and taxes lower. It is no longer a matter of “I will bring high speed train to your city”, “I will make sure the government builds a new school for your kids”, etc. In direct democracy, the citizens decide that.

Direct democracy does not restrict social benefits to those who need them. Direct democracy promotes social benefits and also efficiency in their delivery. This is so because most voters recognize the poor and others in need must be helped, but they also recognize money can not be wasted, because they pay.

The average citizen recognizes some people must be helped because they need the help and also because poverty and marginalization is bad for all of society. There is no reason to fear direct democracy will reduce social benefits. Switzerland has an excellent system of social services and perhaps the best universal health system in the World, as well as one of the best educational systems.

The size of government in direct democracy is not smaller but it is more efficient because of citizen control.  Switzerland’s government, at all levels, is not smaller than in representative democracies. The difference is that in Switzerland what government does, and how much it does, is better controlled by voters.

So, there you have it! I hope this information to help you persuade others to support direct democracy and a better life for all, it helps me every day.

Cheers!

 

With direct democracy, politicians are closer to the citizens. Part II.

Direct democracy is much more than the citizens having the final say.

In the last post I wrote about how direct democracy lightens the load of elected politicians.

Elected politicians in Switzerland are also “representative”, but they are “less representative” because in a direct democracy the people represent themselves more because they vote in all key issues.

Every time there is a referendum in a Swiss village, town, city, canton or the nation, the people do not need an elected representative to vote “on their behalf”. It is unnecessary because the people themselves vote and decide.

In fact, in referendums, the elected representatives are just another voting citizen. Their vote carries the same weight as anybody else’s vote.

Political parties, in power or out of power, in a direct democracy also are kept humble by the system.

Let me illustrate this with an example.

Right now, some Swiss politicians are trying to pass a new law. The law would make tax deductible in Switzerland fines Swiss companies may receive in other countries.

A current example involves one of Switzerland’s most prestigious banks, Union Bank of Switzerland, better known as UBS.

The proposed law would allow the Bank to deduct a 5 billion dollar fine it has just received in a French court.

The interesting twist is that, while some Swiss politicians sponsor the law, other Swiss politicians oppose it and, even if they are in the minority in Parliament, they can stop the law by going outside parliament.

This is possible because in Switzerland, political parties can, just like any citizen, go to the people.  What they have to do is collect the signatures of 50 000 ordinary voters. This would force a referendum on the law.

If their position wins the referendum, the law is dead.

This tool makes it very difficult for governments in Switzerland to pass unpopular laws, even if governments have most votes in the assemblies of towns, cities or the national parliament.

One ordinary citizen could also stop the law. First, he or she has to set up a group capable of getting within 100 days, 50 000 signatures supporting their position. Afterwards, their position has to win the referendum.

That a minority party can also use the mechanism of referendums adds another mechanism of control of elected politicians.

This is real control by the citizens and minority parties. It is very different from the just verbal control sessions we see in representative democracy parliaments and assemblies.

Referendums triggered by the people make sense.

The explanation for direct democracy not being the norm in all established democracies is that representative politicians and lobbies do not want direct democracy.

Many elitists, who pose as lovers of democracy, but do not in fact, believe in democracy “by the people” do not want direct democracy either. Elitists do not trust the people, that is why they are elitists. These fools think they know better.

With direct democracy, democracy advanced a step further. The change is comparable to when the people decided to elect their representatives and replaced absolute kings, oligarchs, theocracy, dictatorships, etc.

Direct democracy gives more power to the owners of the country, its culture, its traditions; the ordinary citizens.

Direct democracy politicians are always in touch with the citizens because they have to. At any moment between election periods, citizens can enter into the picture and decide on any law or significant issue.

In the case of the law I am referring to, the politicians drafting the law, and also the politicians who are against it, have to take into account how the people feel about the issue right know, not just calculate the impact of the issue in the next election.

Things would be very different if the same issue of tax deductible fines arises in France, Germany, the US, UK, Canada, or any of established democracy. All that the politicians proposing a similar law would have to worry about is how to win in Parliament.

In representative democracy if Parliament, the Town Council, etc., passed the law there is not much the opposition or citizens can do stop it.

They will have to wait for the next election or, as it often happens, take to the streets to try to get governments to listen. We know such street actions can turn violent. Democracy is about reason and peaceful discussion, not violence.

In representative democracy, polls could show a majority of citizens oppose a new law. This majority could even be a clear majority. Unfortunately, in representative democracy there is no mechanism to stop the law if the law is supported by the majority of politicians in parliament.

This means that if you want to make sure that in your country, state, region, province, city, town or village, the citizens have the final say, that politicians can not pass new laws just like that, you have to do something.

You have to make direct democracy happen.

Representative politicians will not do bring direct democracy because they believe in representative democracy, the lobbies will not do it, and the establishment will not do it. All of these groups will have less power in direct democracy. Only you can push for the evolution towards direct democracy. If not now, when? if not you, who?

Your comments and criticisms always appreciated.

Victor

 

With direct democracy, politicians are closer to the citizens. Part I.

Direct democracy puts decision making in the hands of citizens. Because of that there is no need have long, heated debates in parliament.

Voters will hear all the arguments as part of the referendum process, no need to go on and on in parliament.

Because the citizens decide, elected representatives have to dedicate less time to the issues to “be right”. Instead, the people decide and hold themselves accountable; “… by the people…” as that famous sentence says.

Another effect of direct democracy is that representatives have a lighter workload and do not need as much staff to research uses, prepare for debates and appearances in the media, etc. Besides helping save time, direct democracy also saves money in this area.

It is also interesting that because people need to understand the issues in order to decide, the language used in referendum-related presentations is plain, to the point. “Legalese” and “jargonese” are less present.

There are more benefits.

Since politicians know the people have the final say on laws or policies, the behaviours of politicians, instead of antagonistic to “defeat” rivals, is more cooperative. “Let us produce laws most people will approve”, seems to be what elected representatives in direct democracy think.  Their horizon is not the next election but the next issue. It is the people who are responsible for the long-term horizon far beyond the next election.

In Switzerland they do not have such a thing as “majority government”, they govern in coalitions. You could say “the majority governs”.

Coalitions rest on cooperation. Cooperation means politicians work with the elected representatives of the other major parties to produce laws and decisions acceptable to the decision makers, to the people.

Cooperative work also requires far less time to decide than competitive, antagonistic work.  Decisions made in a cooperative spirit, are also superior to adversarial decisions. This is so because in cooperative decision-making the brainpower of all parties works more towards the common goal. 

Direct democracy also helps avoid another problem; we all see how difficult it is to tell in antagonistic parliaments if the debates are about the issues or about “being right” and getting positive media coverage. I often think parliament moderators should ask members: “does the honorable member want to be right or to solve the problem?”

Another positive effect of direct democracy is that it helps develop a culture of cooperation throughout society, in other areas beyond politics. This is not a small benefit.

Cooperation also helps efficiency because people do not waste time in arguments. This might explain why Switzerland has such high GDP per person; the Swiss are efficient, even more efficient than the famously efficient Germans.

Cooperation, which does not mean “saying yes” to the boss, also helps develop innovations requiring teamwork. Many are very surprised, I was too, when they learn Switzerland exports per person twice as much as Germany, and eight times more than the US, in high tech, high value added goods and services.

Because direct democracy politics requires less time of politicians, they have time to keep their regular jobs. This helps them stay aware of the issues that concern ordinary people. Full-time politicians live in a very different reality, remote from ordinary people, economically and psychologically.

Another effect of the lower workload of elected representatives in direct democracy is that parliament does not have to sit all year, like it does in representative democracies.

For example, both chambers of the Swiss national government sit only 4 times a year, each time for only three weeks. This means Swiss national (federal) politicians only have to be in the national capital 12 weeks in the whole year. The rest of the time they are in their districts and also doing their regular jobs as private citizens.

In the Swiss cantons, elected representatives are even in more close contact with citizens because the cantonal parliaments meet usually only for one day each month.

Since politicians in direct democracy stay closer to the lives of ordinary citizens, they draft laws and make decisions more in tune with what concerns the people. As a result, most citizens are more likely to support what elected representatives propose.

Isn’t it surprising that part-time direct democracy politicians, who have less decision making power than representative democracy politicians, and invest less time in politics, represent citizens better than full-time elected representatives in representative democracy?

The overall effect is that direct democracy gets closer to turn into facts the intentions of Lincoln’s famous sentence “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

In the next post I will continue with the discussion on how part-time direct democracy produces better politicians and better politics.

All your comments are appreciated.

 

Direct democracy; no riots

One key advantage of direct democracy; no riots.

If the United States had direct democracy things would be very different, and far less polarized. Trump would not be president, Black Lives Matter would not exist and the current riots would not take place.

With direct democracy, the US would evolve in a more cooperative, less convulsive, less confrontational way.

We only have one country in the World who practices direct democracy in a established, systematic manner, it is Switzerland.

In Switzerland they practice partial direct democracy because they still have elected politicians. But Swiss voters have direct power, real power, over their elected representatives. They exercise their power mostly via referendums.

With the results of referendums they force the politicians to manage and legislate in tune with the electorate. They do this at the local, state (canton) and national level.

But Swiss politicians and political parties are not in a state of playing cat and mouse with voters; they simply understand they have to work cooperatively with the voters and among themselves. As a result in Switzerland there is no opposition party because the opposition is in government too, always. Imagine that in the US and others representative democracies!

Swiss citizens have the power to  decide in the management of public affairs . This means that elites, lobbies and elected representatives can not set public policy like they do in the United States and other democracies. In the US policy and law making are far more removed from ordinary citizens.

If the US had direct democracy the current riots would not happen. They would not happen because direct democracy ensures governments are essentially sensitive to the concerns of ordinary citizens, not the interests of lobbies and “influencers”.

Direct democracy prevents turmoil because it keeps government in tune with majority and minority citizens.

In direct democracy, the citizens themselves can make changes that only elected representatives can make in representative democracies.

But it goes beyond; direct democracy voters can force elected representatives to make changes.

Voters can also stop changes that elected politicians may want to make.

In this way the government and the legislators continuously incorporate the will of the people in their decisions and actions.  By contrast, in representative democracy the will of the people counts during elections, not much between elections.

In direct democracy, people decide by means of referendums. Referendums may be mandatory by law or by the people. The power to call referendums is not in the hands of elected representatives.

Referendums take place also after serious and balanced debate of the issues. This reduces demagoguery, which in reality is the “art of seducing” voters without facts or data.

Referendums also “clear the air”. For example, if a majority of voters vote to legalize homosexual unions, those who voted against have no choice but to accept the decision. The people have decided.

Why have endless debates about gay marriage among politicians? Let the people decide.

Once the people have decided, what credibility would have those who lost if they riot?, not much.

Direct democracy also tones down “right” and “left” ideological positioning. In this way avoids polarization, a huge problem in the US now.

Polarization diminishes because direct democracy is about decisions on concrete issues, not about ideology.

Because of the excessive role of ideology we  see how “Right” and “Left” have become “faiths” who divide people into “believers” and “non-believers”. That is no good for any type of democracy.

Because of the “right-left” divide, many voters define themselves as being “conservative” or “progressive”. Once they do that it is hard for them to go against “their” beliefs and “their” party on most issues.

Another problem with excess ideology is that it also weakens voter’s ability to look at the facts in an open, pragmatic manner.

Some people say that direct democracy can become the “tyranny of the majority”.

That is not so. The people who say that are trapped in “left-right” thinking.

In direct democracy there is not a “right” or “left” majority. There are issues and the people decide.

In a referendum on a particular issue the majority may vote “left”, on another issue the majority may vote “right”. There is no permanent majority to become tyranny.

People who think in terms of the “tyranny of the majority”, do so because they see the “right-left” division as fixed as the law of gravity. It is not so. “Right-Left” exists only since the French Revolution.

“Right-Left” is a way of thinking about reality that direct democracy makes less important, even unnecessary.

Another problem is that, often the division between “right” and “left” is used to keep ordinary people divided and distracted from the real goals of the elites of the “right” and the “left”. Those goals are power and money, in one way or another. This is not a small problem in representative democracy.

The current riots would not happen in the US because direct democracy provides powerful ways for governments and legislators to have to listen to citizens. Representative democracy does not do that as effectively.

For example, with direct democracy at the local, state and national level, police officer selection and training in the US would be far better attuned to the community.

You would not have in police forces people like the obviously incompetent, possibly perturbed, white officer who killed the black man by pressing the man’s neck with the knee.

With direct democracy police unions and management would also work more cooperatively. If they did not, voters would change the laws and force them to.

Voters would also force politicians and police bosses to incorporate the union in the management team. This would also make unions more responsible and accountable, not just focused on “protecting their members”.

In the news they reported the white officer who killed the black man had complains because of his previous behaviour. I would like to know if the union contract made it impossible to fire or mandate deep retraining for such obviously unfit officer.

The more you know about direct democracy, the more sense it makes.

Why representative democracy is not “government FOR the people”

“FOR the people”. This is the third part of Lincoln’s famous words at Gettysburg.

Remember: “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

In the last two blogs we showed that representative democracy is not “government OF the people” and “government BY the people”.

Just in case this is the first time you visit: I do not question representative democracy.

Representative democracy is light-years ahead in human capital of any authoritarian or totalitarian regime.

All those regimes belong to a more primitive social state. Even if they are technologically advanced, they are humanely primitive.

The blog is about promoting direct democracy. Direct democracy is the next logical stage for established and stable representative democracies.

We do not have many such democracies.

This small group includes only the Northern European countries, Canada, the US (even with its never ending state of tension), Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and perhaps China (Taipei), South Korea and India. I might have left one or two out.

So, if representative democracy is not “OF the people” and “BY the people”, there is no way it can be FOR the people.

Credible opinion surveys show many people do not feel represented in representative democracies. Representative democracy is not FOR them. More than a few feel representative democracy is for the representatives themselves and the lobbies.

But you do not need the surveys to know that representative democracy is not for us. We know it from our personal experience, from others in our family, from our friends and from colleagues at work.

People to not have a high opinion of their elected representatives because of the behaviour of the representatives. That is the reason.

We all know how what people associate to the word “politician”, it is not pretty.

How can people hold politicians in high esteem?; they make promises they can’t or won’t keep, they lie, they manipulate, once elected they pass laws and make decisions, or look the other way, even when they know most people are against.

They do it because they make the rules and play the game. It is time citizens do that.

Politicians also lead far more privilege lives than most voters

As a result, their personal and collective priorities are very different from those of ordinary voters.

Too often they only put themselves in our places to fool us.

This is why so many people do not feel represented in “representative” democracy, and never will.

Elected politicians also often have to listen to the rich and the lobbies. Sometimes they have to because they need their money to run election and reelection campaigns. They also listen to  because those with the money can offer politicians very well paid jobs after they leave politics, if they are nice to those with the money while they “serve”.

In short, if the people do not govern it is logical that representative democracy not be FOR the people.

There are many other signs that representative democracy is in trouble because it has lost its way.

For example, many ordinary people look at those they elect as people with superior status. This makes no sense.

Makes no sense that we treat the people, who have the job of representing us because we gave it to them, and whose salary we pay, end up being treated as if they have superior status to us.

We refer to permanent government employees “civil servants”. Politicians should be called “elected civil servants”, it is good enough.

One first good step, only a first one, is to do what the Swiss do.

The Swiss, have and use, the power to approve or stop the laws the elected representatives make. At least we have to have that in all established and stable representative democracies.

A better step is that the people, directly govern.

Until we do that, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” are nice words, not facts.

To make then facts we have to DO things.

Thanks for your comments.

 

Victor Lopez