Sunday, 25 November 2007

Qualified to Vote?

Today we already have a qualification to vote - you have to be aged 18 or over. What if there were another qualification, perhaps one based on intellect, logic, values or compassion? Perhaps everyone would sit an exam on it?... at any age. Maybe it would be like a test of Britishness? Maybe those adults that fail the test must nominate someone else to vote on their behalf?
This isn't something I would like to see in Interactive Democracy because it may create a disenfranchised underclass. The type of test also biases the system and if votes are transferred to others, the door is opened to corruption.

Authority and Democracy

Voting for a leader is voting for someone to have authority over us; perhaps someone cleverer, more experienced, more capable and better able to make decisions. Yet many of us have clear and often opposite views to our leaders, who are also apt to disagree amongst themselves.

It may be that our need to be lead by capable people is more a fear of other members of our society, who oppose our sacrosanct views and values... lets call them idiots (these people have as many rights and as much democratic authority as ourselves). After all, we can aspire to become that sensible authority figure in parliament and the self evident fallacy of the views of those other citizens (idiots) precludes them from sharing the same success.

Put another way: We may prefer the current model of Parliamentary Democracy to Interactive Democracy because we would rather have decisions made for us than share equal power with the idiots in our society!
However, this argument ignores the prospect that a well explained argument can win over the stupidest and most dogmatic of our fellow idiots.

Wise Men

In November 2007 a number of the most senior (retired) servicemen in the country launched a broadside against the government, critical of the paucity of funding for the armed services that are stretched by wars on two fronts. Wouldn't it be shameful to lose the depth of expertise of these honoured men from political life?

If the House of Lords were "demolished", it does not mean that this expertise would be lost. These ex-generals could just as easily make their point through the media. I'm sure many papers would appreciate a column written by such illustrious figures and I imagine that most journalists would like to interview them. Similarly, any other ex-politician, senior clergyman or police Superintendent could use the media to make their point, made all the more powerful by acting in unison with each other.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Data Leaks and Identity Fraud

25 million personal records lost by the government! Identity fraud on the increase! It's enough to make anyone want to return to good old paper systems, but I hope this will provoke an altogether more useful question: "How do we ensure the security of computerised records?".

The answer isn't rocket science. In fact it's implemented in many, perhaps most, systems: the software is written to prevent unauthorised access, unauthorised copying and it is encrypted. Lets hope that the government learns from these mistakes and ensures the systems are in place to stop data loss from happening again.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Super Crunchers

This is the title of Ian Ayres new book, which looks at the ability of statistics and experimentation to improve decision making and explains the significance of regression analysis, randomisation and controls. It has a whole chapter on Government, which makes interesting reading.

Experiments in social science, conducted by academics, can be a driver of new ideas in Interactive Democracy but should also be part of the parliamentary tool kit for gathering information on any policy that may be put to a public vote. Getting these skills into parliament and the media is important if we are to improve democracy.

The New York Times blog on "Super Crunchers".
Ian Ayres is a Yale Law School professor and Forbes columnist.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Too Lazy to Vote?

I would imagine that some of the population are too lazy or uninterested to vote on most issues. This may benefit democracy as those who take the trouble to contribute are, by definition, more conscientious (whether you agree with their opinions or not).

Media Moguls

One concern for democracy is a too powerful and biased press. I suspect that this is less problematic than it once was, as our news comes from increasingly diverse sources: print, terrestrial TV, radio, satellite TV (including foreign channels) and the Internet. Indeed, it is now far easier for anyone with a connection to discover blogs on virtually any subject and to access raw data on many aspects of society and government.
Perhaps the next media mogul is Google, but it doesn't have a monopoly - there are still a number of good search engines out there and they only cover one information channel making them a little less controlling than the press Barons of old.

Newspaper readership figures can be found here.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Making Sense of the World

Robin Lustig has been studying politics for decades as a student and journalist. Over the years he has made a number of programmes about democracy. His blog is available here and is well worth a read.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Stupidest Person in the Country

In Interactive Democracy the stupidest person in the country has the same voting power as the brightest person in the country! Is this bad?

This unfortunate individual should have the same human rights and be treated with the same decency as anyone else. If they possess a little IQ it does not mean that they don't have emotional intelligence, sound morals or unique experiences from which to draw in reaching a decision.

And, should their vote be considered somewhat random, you may think of it as the noise on the signal of the national intent. Noise that is likely balanced by a random vote in the opposite direction, leaving the winning argument to emerge, clearly.

"IQ minim" is perhaps more likely to be swayed by strong persuaders and it is the role of effective political leadership, the media savvy and eloquent, to win him/her over. There will always be a role for intelligent leadership. The danger, as in any election, is manipulation of their vote by close associates.

The ideas engine (or ePetition) provides an opportunity for good solutions to emerge, allowing society to capitalise on the intelligence of the brightest. This is an area where "IQ minim" is unlikely to shine, unless their situation sparks ideas in others.

You Be The Judge

In our justice system the Judge guides the Jury within the legal framework. In Interactive Democracy it would be sensible to give Parliament the responsibility of overseeing the ID process, making sure that enough time is given to debate, that the correct information is presented, that the process isn't subverted in some way and that it is in the national interest.

12 Peers

One point of view in politics is that referenda have no place in democracy, perhaps because the public can't be trusted to reach a sensible decision on complicated issues? This seems to me to run contrary to our whole justice system - "12 good men and true".

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Too Much Government

In "What is your Dangerous Idea?" Matt Ridley discusses the notion that successful societies rely on personal and economic freedoms for improvement and that historically "strong central government led to parasitic, tax fed officialdom, a stifling of innovation, relative economic decline, and usually war."

Interactive Democracy decentralises democracy, offering new opportunities for innovation, freedom and collective responsibility.

Matt Ridley is a science writer and founding chairman of the International Centre for Life. He is the author of "Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code".