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Democracy (a Political Issue)


Introduction

In a pure democracy, everyone would have an equal say in government. Each and every one of us could have our opinions heard and our votes counted. This sounds like a good and admirable goal, but what we mostly seem to have today, and where we seem to be continuing to head, is a government where only the rich and the powerful have any real say. It would seem that we need to find a way to ensure that everyone can be heard and can have their votes counted, but there are some much bigger issues that must be addressed first.

Knowledge

In ancient times, people lived in small independent groups. The group’s government might have consisted of a tribal leader, a group of elders or the entire tribe. There were probably some laws passed down from generation to generation, which helped to protect the tribal members from each other and to define some of their duties and responsibilities.

Most members of the tribe probably knew what they had to do and did it, so there would have been few decisions that the government would have really needed to make on a daily basis. When decisions were needed, they usually concerned simple local matters or disputes. Most people would have known or could easily have learned about the issues that were involved, and probably could have easily come up with an informed opinion on the matter.

Today, thousands of bills are introduced at the national, state and local level every year. In addition, various government agencies are constantly issuing new regulations. Just to be able to read all these bills and regulations, someone might need to devote all their time and energy on a full time basis.

Given the often complex and technical nature of these bills and regulations, someone would also need to have advanced degrees in law, politics, economics, medicine, engineering, science, and many other subjects to truly understand them all. Obviously, this would be too much for the average citizen. In fact, it is very unlikely that many, if any, of our representatives are able to read everything in every bill that they vote on, let alone understand everything in them.

In many elections, propositions are placed on the ballot where we can all vote directly for or against them. In many cases these propositions are poorly worded or deal with complex financial issues dealing with things such as bonds or levies. Although there are many people who will read and try to understand these propositions, most people will only hear about them via the sound bites that come from special interest groups. These sound bites are generally designed to prey upon public fears or hopes by playing up just the best or worst aspect of a proposition, or in some cases by misrepresenting what the proposition will do. Often, it is the people on the side that spends the most money that gets their message out and sways the outcome of the vote.

As we can see, our world has become far too complex for most of us to get more involved in our government than in just a cursory way. Our only hope is that our representatives will be able to understand and to deal with these complexities and will make sure that our laws and regulations work to the benefit of all of us. Unfortunately, it is impossible for any one representative to know enough about all the things that he or she must deal with. In addition, a lot of our representatives’ time is taken up with things like learning about and dealing with getting elected and reelected, which would include such things as campaigning, fundraising and schmoozing. This can leave them with little time to do the actual work that they were elected to do.

The first thing that needs to be done is to take back control of the campaign process. Candidates will often spend a lot of time fundraising, since money can buy more ad time, which usually leads to more votes, but also can give big donors undue influence. The way around this is to have an electoral process that pays for everything and that ensures all qualified candidates have an equal opportunity to speak to and with the voters. This will help to refocus candidates' time away from fundraising and towards speaking about the issues.

Another thing that needs to be done is to expand the role of professionals who can assist with the creation of the bills and regulations for which they have the appropriate knowledge and skills. It is true that many of our representatives come from legal, medical, engineering and other professions, so they may have the needed understanding in their area of expertise, but they cannot be experts in all areas. The best thing for our representatives to do is to solicit and to evaluate advice from the appropriate professionals, who should be independent and not part of some special interest group.

These professionals might work for the government on a full time or contract basis, but would need to be free from partisan politics and conflicts of interest, and would need to be able to look at all sides of a problem or issue objectively. They should also be able to submit problems or proposed legislative solutions through our representatives for consideration.

If needed, a group of the appropriately skilled professionals would be formed to work on the issues. It would be the responsibility of this group to analyze the issues, come up with some solutions, provide a clear description of the issues, and the possible solutions and consequences, and write or help write the needed bill or regulation. I have a number of ideas about how this could work, which I will address later.

Another thing that needs to be done is to reduce the number and complexity of our bills and regulations. To accomplish this, we need to create laws and regulations that keep things simple and flexible enough that they do not need to be repeatedly changed. For instance, streamlining our tax codes would go a long way towards this goal. Again, I have a number of ideas about what we can do, which I will address later, mainly in the section on Economics.

Majority Rule

In our democratic society, most citizens of the appropriate age get to vote for their representatives and for or against various proposals. Whoever or whatever gets the most votes will win. This is called majority rule. In addition, our representatives propose and vote on bills. In this case, the outcome is determined by a majority of our representatives voting for or against the bill.

When our laws are passed by the majority, it is more likely that the majority of the population will be happier with the results than if we were ruled by some totalitarian government that might pass laws that only a minority of the population agreed with. Even so, there are a number of problems with majority rule.

First off, our representatives may not always vote the way the majority of us would have wanted. Instead, they may base their vote on what they want, on what their political party wants, or on what some special interest group or big campaign donor wants. There does not seem to be an easy fix for this problem. There have been many attempts at campaign reform, special interest group regulation, and ethics improvement, but the underlying issues have not been addressed. To ensure that our representatives truly represent us, we will need to make some major changes in the electoral process and the way we pass our laws. I have a number of ideas about what we can do, which I will address later.

Next, even when we do have majority rule, we can still leave the minority out of the political process and unhappy about the way things are going. We can see this most clearly when we are in the minority. The best place for the majority of Americans to see this is in how they would be treated as citizens of some other countries. For instance, in many countries where they are in the minority, Christians suffer persecution and lack many rights given to the country’s other citizens.

We can also see many good examples in our own country. Take any issue where the population is fairly evenly divided between strongly opposing ideas about what should be done. For instance, take gun control. Any time there is any legislation passed that toughens or weakens gun control laws, those people on one side of the issue or the other will be unhappy.

It would be nice if every piece of legislation that we passed could make everyone happy, but it would seem unlikely that we could make everyone happy every time. On the other hand, there is a way to make the vast majority of people happy, or at least okay, with how things work. The key to doing this lies in allowing people to have the most freedom possible when it comes to deciding how they live their own lives.

The limit to how much freedom we have should be set just before the point where our actions would do real harm to other people, to other living things, or to our environment. Things that would not harm others should be legal. Things that would always harm others should be illegal. Those things that could go either way, depending on the circumstances, should be regulated so that the harmful aspects are controlled or eliminated. We need to make it clear that someone doing something that others may not like or approve of is not in and of itself causing anyone real harm, and if no actual harm would be done, then it should be legal.

Let’s start with a fairly simple example dealing with free speech. For instance, many people, including me, do not like it when people use vulgar or obscene language. Although we may cringe or get angry when we hear it, by itself, it does not cause us any real harm unless we let it, so we should not make it illegal. Of course, no one should be forced to listen to it, so we should always have the right to avoid it by blocking it when we can, keeping those who use it out of our homes, and by patronizing businesses that keep it out.

What if someone verbally threatens to harm someone, his or her family, friends or belongings, or any other person or thing? In this case, it would be reasonable to expect that a threat would cause someone to be worried or stressed out by it, which is causing them psychological harm, so this form of speech should be illegal. That is, anyone making a threat could be arrested and held accountable in a similar fashion as if they had tried to carry out the threat.

As a further example, let’s take a look at gambling. Many people find it fun to place an occasional wager. Even if some people think it is bad or sinful to gamble, that should not be enough to make it illegal. On the other hand, there are a number of bad things that can come from gambling, but they can be controlled. For instance, we would not want someone to gamble away the rent money, This could get their family thrown out on the street, would deprive the landlord of his or her income, and place a burden on society when we try to help out the family. Therefore, controls would need to be put in place to limit a person’s gambling to the discretionary funds that their family has approved of for the purpose of gambling.

In order to protect everyone’s rights, including anyone who is in the minority on some issue, we need to make changes that prevent the majority from unduly imposing or forcing their beliefs on everyone. The best way to handle this is to change our constitution so that this principle is clearly spelled out, and so that our courts could then ensure that it is upheld. I have a number of ideas about what we can do, which I will address when I talk about each appropriate issue.

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Government - How to make our Government work better.

Last Updated:
Sunday, November 26, 2017
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