Futurology blog: what’s the next trend that’ll disrupt our world, financially, socially or just pointlessly?

Monday, 22 September 2008

Open source democracy, anyone?

So now we know that uncontrolled capitalism ends in tears. And you can be sure that leaders of less democratic countries like China, Iran and Venezuela will offer the opinion that it’s really Western-style liberal democracy that’s to blame, and really, the State has to control every walk of life to protect citizens from regular mass financial suicide.

And let’s be honest, democracy as it’s been practised lately hasn’t really worked. While it’s left the economy alone to boom out of control, we’ve somehow ended up with more and more state control of everything else anyway.

There’ll be a lot of pressure now to extend state control: firstly to the economy, and then to everything else too, particularly immigration, imports and protection of resources.

But the opposite is also quite feasible. A move towards an even more democratic system, made possible via the internet.

In the UK we’ve already seen a prototype version with the rise of e-petitions, whereby if enough people support a proposal, the government is forced to respond. So far it’s killed off the notion of government being allowed to satellite-track our car journeys, but Jeremy Clarkson still hasn’t emerged as a serious contender to Gordon Brown’s premiership, and we haven’t introduced cannabis laws in a “simular mannor” to Amsterdam.

But the basic idea is wonderful. Members of parliament are a waste of time and money: they simply follow their leaders like hungry dogs. When a bill of real importance comes up for voting, most of them have no better understanding of its implications than the man in the street and just vote as they’re told, if they bother to vote at all. In the UK, the upper house is often the only voice of reason, and they’re not even democratically constituted.

With e-democracy, e-mocracy, or wikiocracy, or whatever it might be called, everyone gets to vote on everything. Of course, to prevent a situation where only an organized elite bothers to vote, there would need to be economic incentives to vote – units in a national savings scheme would be sufficient. (And if that doesn’t particularly incentivise the rich, so much the better. They have far too much incentive to fund our politicians at the moment.)

Bills could be proposed by anyone, and others could second them or propose amendments wiki fashion. Perhaps a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote isn’t sufficient: one version of a bill might be worth a ‘7 out of 10’ and another only worth a ‘5’. People could comment on the bills online, just as they comment on news stories and washing machines at the moment, and others could rate the value of their comments. After all, it’s nothing we’re not doing already on hundreds of different websites.

There would also have to be security safeguards to stop other people from hijacking your vote, or from exposing how you voted. Some would say that’s impossible: but the fact is that real e-security is an absolute priority right now anyway to prevent Russian gangsters from destroying what’s left of our economy.

The fact that so many people still aren’t connected to the internet isn’t a big problem either: people could phone or text in their votes once the security problem is licked.

Then we could dissolve parliament, except for an upper house of some kind to act as a counterbalance in the event of some mass media-driven hysteria leading us to ban alcohol or something, and see how real democracy works.

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