Friday, October 03, 2008

rebooting democracy - "Professional Politicians Beware!"

As I continue to read "rebooting america: Ideas for Redesigning American Democracy for the Internet Age" I keep finding even more interesting ideas. The next one comes from the essay "Professional Politicans Beware!" by Aaron Swartz

This essay presents the idea of participatory politics or ParPolity. Aaron's idea is that we should have nested councils at each level of government and each council should have about 50 members. So you would get together with 50 of your neighbors and talk about the issues. Then you would elect one representative to go to the next level where that person would meet with 50 other neighborhood representatives and so on. I love the idea of direct, face-to-face interaction with policy makers. 

Here's how Aaron describes it:

"So, to begin with, let us imagine a council of you and your 40 closest neighbors—perhaps the other people in your apartment building or on your block. You get together every so often to discuss the issues that concern you and your neighborhood. And you may vote to set policy for the area which the council covers.

But your council has another function: it selects one of its own to send as a representative to the next council up. There the process repeats itself: the representative from your block and its 40 closest neighbors meet every so often to discuss the political issues that concern the area. And, of course, your representative reports back to the group, gets your recommendations on difficult questions, and takes suggestions for issues to raise at the next area council meeting.

By the power of exponents, just five levels of councils, each consisting of only fifty people, is enough to cover over three hundred million people. But—and this is the truly clever bit—at the area council the whole process repeats itself. Just as each block council nominates a representative to the area council, each area council nominates a representative to the city council, and each city council to the state council, each state council to the national council, and so on.

Shalom discusses a number of further details—provisions for voting, recalls, and delegation—but it’s the idea of nesting that’s key. Under such a system, there are only four representatives who stand between you and the people setting national policy, each of whom is forced to account to their constituents in regular, small face-to-face meetings. Politicians in such a system could not be elected through empty appeals to mass emotions. Instead, they would have to sit down, face-to-face, with a council of their peers and persuade them that they are best suited to represent their interests and positions."


Alison Wonderland said...

It's a great idea but I wonder about it's feasibility. In the information age it is certainly easier than ever to be involved but there's a political apathy pervasive in America and I think we take some comfort from the distance between ourselves and our policy makers. It's not a good thing but I think it's a true thing.

beanjah said...

unfortunately, everything that sounds like it would be better than our current system involves participation. participation requires motivation and, as you noted, there is not a lot of that to go around. but there is also a widespread feeling of political impotence. if people felt like their involvement in government made more of a difference, they would get involved.

why do you think we take comfort in maintaining distance between ourselves and policy makers?