What would happen if we allowed everybody a direct and equal say in how our country is run? What would our policies and priorities be?
The concept of direct democracy looks great in theory. We could get rid of a lot of political red tape and get solutions to all the big issues such as global warming and immigration policies based on what most of the population wants. Wouldn’t we?
Nicholas Gruen is not so sure.
Gruen is a policy economist, entrepreneur, and commentator on our economy, society, and innovation. Earlier this year, Gruen was invited by Florence Guild to speak at one of their Melbourne events as part of the speaker series narrative, ‘The Antidisciplinary Future’. The narrative explores how we can look outside traditional disciplines to create new pathways into the future. Gruen’s talk focused on democracy and how it can be restructured to better cater to the world it now needs to serve.
While a previous speaker, Adam A Jacoby, presented the MiVote platform as a way for people to vote directly on specific issues, Gruen argued that relying solely on public opinion or ‘vox pop democracy’ to shape policies will make things worse, not better. If the public is not fully informed on every issue, they are going to pick the ones that are relevant to them. So, the issues that get the most attention in the media or that get people charged up emotionally are the ones that will get pushed to the foreground. However, this would be at the expense of other areas like international relations or economic policies which the public are less likely to be informed about.
Gruen does give us a plausible alternative democratic model, though. His concept draws inspiration from the ‘election by lot’ approach used in ancient Athens. This system was similar to the jury selection process today. People were selected at random to represent a group of citizens and to cast votes on their behalf.
Today, we do have citizen’s juries selected this way to advise the government on certain issues, but they don’t have a say in the outcome. What if we could take this concept further and have a new parliamentary house called the Citizen’s Chamber that sat above the current House of Representatives and possible above the Senate?
Gruen believes this would create a safeguard lacking in the current system. If the majority of the Citizen’s Chamber disagreed with the lower houses it would identify an area where the people’s opinion differed from that of its representatives. To resolve this, the system could force a secret ballot or a joint sitting until all houses reached a consensus.
What do you think? Could this be a way to ensure our democracy works effectively for everyone?
To learn more about Gruen’s views on democracy and his ‘Citizen’s Chamber’ model tune into episode 3 of our podcast series. You can also keep up to date with conversations with other thought leaders by subscribing to our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.