Friday Feedback: Real Democracy

istock_000001483014xsmall.jpgFridays the LA Progressive features a comment that was particularly noteworthy. This week we are featuring a comment submitted by Joe Weinstein commenting on “Our Incredible Shrinking Democracy,” by Robert Reich.

Here’s Joe’s comment:

Reich has identified the problem, but his ’solution’ – though more radical than 99.9% of would-be ‘radical’ reformers – is too blinkered and will fail.

Like all other USA vocal ‘reform’ proposals, his too simply calls for cleaner selection of our political oligarchs. The only hope of real solution is to end the constitutionally mandated oligarchy altogether, and replace it with real democracy, the likes of which we’ve never truly had or have even taken the trouble to discuss.

Democracy gets ever less possible when there are ever more people being forced to delegate political power to the very same size small oligarchy. What’s been forcing this? Not hidden plutocrats (a la leftist dogma) nor leftists (a la rightist dogma) but the oligarchic provisions of the once-advanced but now hopelessly outdated US Federal Constitution and its copy-cat state constitutions.

In 1887, 100 years after the drafting of the constitution, Lord Acton (pithily and famously summarizing what was already known in ancient Athens) noted that ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

Precisely! The mechanism behind corruption – and indeed official dereliction of duty – problem is indeed the concentration of decision power: for 300 million Americans (including tens of millions of well-educated adult citizens ready to do their civic duty), just a few hundred in congress and high exec and judicial offices get to make all the decisions. Those few are the ordained gatekeepers over an extended time period, so of course it can be – and for some it is – worth big bucks to buy them.

This is the case no matter how ‘clean’ are the campaign funds to elect them. Crime and other behaviors result, as well known, from motive + means + opportunity. With decisions centralized in a few long-term power-holders, corrupters as well as the power-holders themselves have plenty of motive, and power-holders have repeated means and opportunities to extort or anyhow invite being corrupted.

The bigger our population and the better educated, the worse the discrepancy between all of us who could help decide – and the few who are given (by election or appointment) all the power to decide. We have far less democracy now in any one of our states or large cities than did the American colonies which in 1776 revolved against taxation without representation.

Real democracy would cure most or all of this. It would decentralize decision power.

For instance, instead of the same few hundred people, hundreds and thousands of different deliberative juries, comprising ordinary citizens recruited for manageable and limited time, would make federal decisions of law and policy – and ditto at state and local levels. And, for due precaution, yet other citizen juries would review each of the decisions, with power to affirm or veto.

Published by the LA Progressive on February 5, 2010
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