Monthly Archives: September 2015

Democracy reloaded – radical reform of our broken governments

Bolivian students in one a Democracy in Practice project administer a lottery to select their student government representatives

Bolivian students in a Democracy in Practice project administer a lottery to select their student government representatives

I’ve spent enough time beefing about our failed government systems – now it’s time to go on the offensive with some positive proposals.

Below is my reworked list of the 10 things I’d do to fix our dysfunctional representative democracies.

So it’s not perfect? What’s yours then?

“10 Steps to heal our broken democracies”

1. Recognising the problem

Representative democracy is broken on its most basic measure – it fails to represent citizens’ wishes. We need radically better alternatives.

2. Setting the bar high

Democracy campaigners should champion the ideals embedded in the original Greek term demokratia. That means the power to govern lies with all citizens.

3. Talking about better democracy

We need media who are fiercely loyal to citizens’ interests and no one else’s. Journalists must understand the systemic failures underlying day-to-day political stories.

4. Democracy as a global issue

Real democracy cannot exist only at nation-state levels – issues like climate change and financial crises extend to the whole planet.

5. Democracy innovations

Even though the perfect democracy doesn’t yet exist and maybe never will we need multiple experiments to explore how best citizens can govern themselves.

6. Making democratic excellence everyday

Excellent governance involves learnable skills. We need an all-of-life learning programme, at home, in schools, in workplaces, in our communities and at all levels up to global.

7. Sharing best practices

We need journalism and social media to share stories about democracy experiments that work and how to do them elsewhere.

8. Taking a look at ourselves

Most people have entrenched ideas about democracy. We need to examine our own prejudices to see just how truly “democratic” we are so that we can all become better democrats.

9. Democracy as a universal right

Democracy champions should respect all people’s different religions, spiritual practices or ethical and moral codes. They should avoid dogmatism and help others renounce fanaticism.

10. Establishing democracy measures

Some representative democracies are better than others but none is good. We need measures to compare different versions so as to identify priority areas for reform.

@PatrickChalmers 23 September 2015                                                                          CC licence image

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Ten Steps to Improve Our Governance Systems

A Landsgemeinde (in 2009) of the Canton of Glarus, an example of direct democracy in Switzerland. CC BY-SA 3.0

A Landsgemeinde (in 2009) of the Canton of Glarus, an example of direct democracy in Switzerland. CC BY-SA 3.0

I was asked this week by Harald Schendera, an editor, web designer, and internet marketer, what were my 10 Steps to Improve Our Governance Systems. He put the question out of personal interest and also to help me clarify what I’m trying to do in re-designing my various web presences.

I was intrigued. No one had ever asked that before. So I decided to write up an answer.

A quick web search turned up this piece –  a very useful, if US-focused, list of 10 ways to democratize the economy by Gar Alperovitz and Keane Bhatt. I didn’t want to rip off their thought-provoking ideas, which include more use of participatory budgets, so I put it aside to draw up my own. The difference between the various search results I found and what I had in mind is that I’m trying to imagine a process that encompasses the local everywhere to the global, passing via nation statehood on the way.

The following is what I came up with. The order’s maybe a bit out of whack, but some of the essentials are there. Though the list will probably be a perpetual work in progress, it’s a start. What do you think?

1. To detail and make clear to as wide a possible public the problems of our current governance systems, prinicipally at nation-state level but also at higher and lower levels.

2. To promote a basic governance credo inspired by demokratia – from the original Greek notion of “demos” and “kratos” – the Greek words for “people” and “power” respectively.

“Democracy” would therefore mean something more like real power in the hands of a majority of the people living in any particular geographic area of government. “Representative democracy” – which drastically reduces the ambitions of Ancient Greece’s demokratia – has proved predictably liable to capture by narrow, self-interested parties.

3. To nurture, and join, independent media operations that understand the problems of our current governance systems and champion the cause of reform and root-and-branch innovation.

4. To encourage, and take part in, multiple experiments with governance mechanisms that go beyond representative democracy’s periodic elections, political parties and party candidates.

5. To document the experimentation processes, both for research purposes and to spread information about results, including the context of why they are happening, what they’re finding, how they might apply elsewhere.

6. To encourage people to learn about, engage with and become active in the scrutiny and holding to account of their local governance systems, the lowest level of government to which they are exposed.

7. To develop governance innovation toolkits, describing the range of possible governance innovations available and “how to” manuals of applying them locally, and making them free to use and share.

8. To encourage people to consider their own preconceived ideas about “democracy”, not just what it means and where it came from but also to consider just how “democratic” they are as individuals (a vote for me, but not my neighbour)

9. To encourage the use of, and to adopt oneself, inclusive language and thinking, the notion that any solution to the current problems in our governance systems must ultimately take a whole-planet approach. That approach would take into account not only every human on the planet, and future generations, but also all the animals, plants and the biosphere itself.

10. To be open to the respective religions, spiritual practices, or lack of the same, in all other people on the planet. At the same time, to be clear about the fundamental goals of mutual respect for, and non-violence towards, all other people. While violent self defence might be legitimate in certain circumstances, a well-functioning governance system would include mechanisms, and potentially societal penalties, to prevent its misuse.

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What might Corbyn and his cohorts do on degrowth?

Jeremy Corbyn Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

Jeremy Corbyn Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty wrote an insightful piece about Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory today, adding his usual depth to current events.

It prompted me to chip into the comments thread.

Great work – I invariably finish reading Aditya Chakrabortty’s pieces with a broader, deeper perspective than when I began – I’m grateful for that.

What interests me in addition to the above is the extent to which the debate about economic degrowth can get some much-needed traction.

It’s encouraging that Jeremy Corbyn has already included references to the terrible state of the global environment in his speeches, before and since winning the Labour leadership. His is also very good at joining the dots between issues that are usually treated in silos, bereft of any connection to their causes or consequences.

Will he and his entourage be open enough to make the link between our societies’ political obsession with economic growth and the state of our planet?

Degrowth has become a major preoccupation of mine, drawing together many different elements of our societal dysfunction. Part of my exploration has involved talking and exchanging emails with a social ecological economics professor – Professor Clive Spash – looking for a way to promote the issue of degrowth more effectlvely.

This is an area I intend to report more about, linking it together with Fraudcast News-style thoughts about retooling our failed democracies with the help of revitalised media.

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