11.9.09

Direct Democracy...NOT!

If your group size is larger than you can count on two hands, you do NOT wanna mess with direct democracy.  That's where everyone is eligible to participate in group decision making and gets equal voting power.  What's going to happen is Interested Parties—people with a direct stake in the issue at hand, as well as various cranks and activists—will do all the talking.  Everyone else—the Disinterested Parties—will get bored and leave, if they bothered to show up to the meeting at all.  So the final vote will be determined by whichever Interested Party showed up in larger numbers, or dragged more friends along.  The only hope of getting a decision that reflects the Will of the Group is if enough Disinterested Parties care enough to grit their teeth and pay attention to the argumentation of the Interested Parties.  This is essentially unpaid jury duty and represents an inherent conflict between the interests of the Group and the interests of the Disinterested, if you catch my drift.  An incentive problem.  If you don't believe me, go visit a New England town meeting.  Bring lots of reading material.

Direct democracy is good system if you want to put one of your group members to death.  That's how the classical Greeks used it—not only against annoying a-holes like Socrates, but also against various battle-losing generals.  "Next order of business, who do we put to death this week?"  That keeps everybody Interested.  Not many people are going to skip that meeting.

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What if we let the Disinterested Parties pool their resources and pay somebody to sit through the agonizingly slow presentations of the Interested Parties and then vote.  We might call that unfortunate-but-now-slightly-richer person a Representative.  We might be on to something, but it's going to need a lot of work.

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