Thursday, February 9, 2012

Swiss-style Direct Democracy

Ask the people directly?  Why not?
There seems to be a lot of talk these days in western democracies about "taking back" government from the politicians (who have indebted us all - our generation and the next couple as well), and putting it directly in the hands of the populace.  "Direct democracy" is not new, of course, it has been around since ancient Athens, and was recently expressed rather drastically by the people of Iceland who decided they had been sold a bill of (sliced and diced worthless mortgage-backed) goods by fast-talking London and Wall Street hucksters.  The country was effectively bankrupted in 2008.  Instead of re-negotiating their debt with the same "banksters", Icelanders threw out their government, repudiated the debt altogether, took their international economic and political lumps - and are rebuilding their economy from scratch under a new referendum-written constitution.  (Greece, are you listening?)  The former leader of the country has been charged with selling out the nation and is awaiting trial.  Switzerland is, however, probably the best known example of a functioning direct democracy.  Wikipedia:  "In Switzerland, single majorities are sufficient at the town, city, and canton (province) level, but at the national level, double majorities are required on constitutional matters.  The intent of the double majorities is simply to ensure any citizen-made law's legitimacy.  Double majorities are, first, the approval by a majority of those voting, and second, approval by a majority of cantons in which a majority of those voting approve the ballot measure.  A citizen-proposed law (i.e. initiative) cannot be passed in Switzerland at the national level if a majority of the people approve but a majority of the cantons disapprove.  For referendums or propositions in general terms (like the principle of a general revision of the Constitution), the majority of those voting is enough (Swiss constitution, 2005).  In 1890, when the provisions for Swiss national citizen law-making were being debated by civil society and government, the Swiss adopted the idea of double majorities from the United States Congress, in which House votes were to represent the people and Senate votes were to represent the states.  According to its supporters, this "legitimacy-rich" approach to national citizen lawmaking has been very successful."  The question that immediately comes to my mind is, "if it works so well for the Swiss, and was inspired by the U.S. system, why are the Americans in such a dysfunctional legislative gridlock lately?  The answer, of course, is that there is a layer of dogmatic, ear-marking, pork-barrelling, lobbyist-infested politicians between the people and the legislation, ie. it is an indirect democracy.  But for how long, I wonder?  In today's super-connected, wireless, televised world, direct democracy should be easier to deliver than ever before.  Oh, that's right ... I forgot about those poor lobbyists!