In the building of our societies, our will is represented by professional policy makers. Essentially, representative democracy is a compromise between direct democracy and oligarchy. Even though our governments are still hierarchical and governed top-to-bottom, we now elect those who rule and expect them to ensure minority representation, be knowledgeable of the societal issues, and work towards the interests of the nation. Yet, our reality differs.
Most politicians don’t come from middle-class families, but they are born in a rich and privileged environment. In fact, most come from political dynasties; bloodlines that were already involved in politics. Even when that’s not the case, a political office usually comes from a combination of an upper-middle-class family, work associates, influential college peers, and other social and religious communities which provide a network of resources that will ensure strong connections for election and a wealthy source for campaign fundraising. This encapsulating elite environment prevents their exposure to the circumstances and the trials of the ones living in poverty, or even those struggling to stay out of it. They cannot represent because they cannot comprehend.
It could be argued that this privileged upbringing separates them from ordinary people, and enhances their ability in decision making. Yet, although we think it’s true, political decision making is not a special skill. There are no universities that offer a degree in it, and there are no online courses. It is making choices, and to choose is to prefer. Indeed, I may not possess the required knowledge to fix the electrical circuit in my house, but I am able to choose an electrician to do it for me, based on the price and their endorsements; this is how representative democracy ought to be. However, that is not the case, as politicians further assign the legislative process to others. Staff members under their employment are responsible for bill drafting, usually experts from the private sector or academics, and once their ideas are on paper, lawyers write them into legislative language. These are the real legislators, overseen by the politicians that ensure a legislation which strikes a delicate balance between party interests, private interests, and improving public image. The truth is, bills can be written by anyone, but only members of the parliament can introduce them for consideration. Politicians are there to choose, although their choices are focused mostly on their elite circles, where they have the greatest potential to become wealthier.
Professionals seek profit. They hone their skills to be the most competent and therefore preferred to others, however that will never alter the fact that one cannot surpass millions. The biggest encyclopedia in the world, which made all the well-established, professional ones obsolete, is written entirely by volunteers. Random internet users certainly lack the combination of experience, expertise and expectations that professionals offer, but the latter never even touched the expandability, exposure and extensivity of Wikipedia. Through all this seeming randomness, a wonder has emerged, one that concentrated and increased human knowledge with no precedent in history. This is what humans achieve when they come together.
Nothing will prevent the lawyers and academics who draft legislation today, from proposing new ideas, providing feedback on people’s initiatives, or even drafting them in legislative language after an initiative is popular, with no need of intermediates. Faced with an issue, relevant university departments, experts or any citizen could create proposals with a plain and short description, providing multiple approaches towards a solution while analyzing the ramifications of each one of those. This is how research proposals are evaluated in universities by people even unrelated to the field; by giving a brief background, and explaining the problem and the proposed methodology to address it, in simple, evidence-backed and well-structured arguments.
This openness hinders corruption and vested interests, as every proposal would be exposed to an unregulated pool of critics, the people themselves. Moreover, if only a few parts of a proposal are useful, anyone would be able to amend and re-propose it. Once the best have been selected and cultivated, those lawyers could assist in drafting them in legislative language, and highlight possible conflicts with existing policies, as they do today. After a while, once the majority of the laws have been filtered by the people, required amendments could be simple and speedy.
In fact, by not operating thus, we are depriving ourselves of one of our greatest potentials, the “wisdom of the crowd”, a phenomenon which dictates that collective answers of a group are as good as or often better than the answers given by any of the individuals within that group. The minds of one, ten or even one-thousand individuals can never be as good as millions collaborating through a well-designed method. A tiny percentage of a group cannot effectively represent the entire group, especially when it has never experienced life as the rest and has the capacity to extract wealth and power. Nevertheless, in our modern partisan reality, politicians are grouped into political parties, and sadly those bring about additional problems as we will see in the next article. One cannot help but wonder if one day professional lawmakers will share the same fate as those encyclopedias.
– Georgios Mavropalias
Albert Bierstadt – The Shore of the Turquoise Sea