Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Electronic Democracy

In 1979, Norman Spinrad wrote about an electronic democracy[1] that allowed every citizen of a world to be directly involved in their own government. At the time, this was a fantastic futuristic vision, a conceit to make a story work. One of the founding ideas of representative government is the impracticality of actually having everybody directly involved; so, we must allow a class of professionals to take care of governance full-time on our behalf. This works so long as the representatives can be trusted to act in the interests of those they represent. That is incredibly difficult to ensure, but as long as the inconvenience of direct democracy outweighs the combined inconveniences of either keeping politicians honest or dealing with the fact that they're not, we just do the best we can. Since 1776, the US has gotten worse at it (non-monotonically, but with a net downward trend), but there was never much we could ever do about it. That is no longer the case; Spinrad's electronic democracy could really exist in our world. The internet makes it easy for the public to remain informed on what's going on in their nation and its government. And while they can't all keep track of all of it, some millions of people can spend some small amount of their time on any particular aspect of the government's working; there is, collectively a lot more effort available to be used than all of the full-time government employees put together can provide themselves. We have the tools to address the problem of accountability. If we care, we can ensure our representatives do their jobs right.

Inspired by http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120120/14472117492/mpaa-directly-publicly-threatens-politicians-who-arent-corrupt-enough-to-stay-bought.shtml

[1] http://www.amazon.com/World-Between-Norman-Spinrad/dp/0553258931/