The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Thursday 1 August 2013

The Corruption of Democracy

The outlook for Western democracy is grim.  The latest set of figures for Transparency International show an increase in our perception of corruption in political institutions.  In the five large, Western, English-speaking nations1 the proportion of people responding that their parliament or legislature was “corrupt” or “extremely corrupt” ranged from 1 in 3 in New Zealand to almost 2 in 3 in the U.S.2

Political parties fared even worse.  46% of respondents in New Zealand felt that political parties were “corrupt” or “extremely corrupt.”  The other five nations ranged from Australia (58%), Canada (62%), the U.K. (66%) and the champion of democracy, the U.S. at (76%).  Those should be worrying statistics to any advocate of democracy.

When a political institution is seen as corrupt we perceive that those within it are acting in their own self-interest and not in the interests of the common good.  Transparency International also asked a question about self-interest.  It asked whether we felt that our governments were run by a few big entities in their own interest.  Again, the responses showed a great deal of distrust in our governments.3

Source: watchingfrogsboil (Flickr)
This finding is hardly surprising when we think of the amount of money poured into election campaigns.  In the 2010 U.K. election around $50 million was spent by the political parties; just under $2 per voter.  But even that pales against the amount spent by Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential election – $1.1 billion, approximately $8 per voter!

Corruption in politics attacks our sense of fairness.  So, how do we re-imagine our democracies so that we perceive politics as fair?

At present our democracies involve the election of a group of citizens who are then charged with making decisions on behalf of all of us.  Inevitably, those elected “representatives” are drawn from within the ranks of political parties, although there are those who claim to be “independent.”  But, if you poke an “independent” sufficiently we will usually find an individual on a personal crusade or with an already fixed agenda.

No matter whether corruption is real or only perceived as such,4 it is clear that Western democracy is in trouble.  How can politicians and political parties be trusted when there is a perception of corruption of significant proportion?

The stock response seems often to be a variant on the theme of “vote them out” and elect some more worthy candidate.  Unfortunately, this does not change the underlying issue.  As some wag has put it: “voting only encourages them.”

Re-Imagining Democracy

So, what’s the alternative?  Throw away democracy?  Au-contraire.  We must re-imagine democracy, re-think what fairness in a democracy would be like.  For, isn’t that what we would like our public decision-making to be?  Fair, unbiased and made in the collective good.

In some, small situations, our collective decision-making could be totally participatory.  All members of the community would be entitled to speak and take part in the decision-making.

However, most of our public decision-making needs to be made on behalf of larger communities, societies, nations and inter-nationally.  In these situations we need a representative system that is fair.

Now, here’s the leap.  What could be fairer than random selection?  A flip of a coin, a roll of a dice, a card cut from a deck, a name pulled from a hat?  “Ludicrous” I can hear from some, “unworkable” from others.  Yet, it has been done.  Not only has it been done, but random selection (otherwise known as sortition) was the means used in the birthplace of democracy (ancient Athens) to select political representatives.  Unfortunately, this was conveniently forgotten by the modern constructors of democracy.

The Athenians used sortition to select all their public decision-makers, reserving voting as a means of selecting their military leaders.

Sortition is fair, transparent, cost effective and overcomes self-interest.  Let’s give it a shot.

My next posting will provide some examples of sortition, including some very recent.

1. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States of America.
2. The percentages are: Australia (36%), Canada (47%), NZ (33%), UK (55%), US (61%)
3. Australia (53%), Canada (54%), NZ (44%), UK (59%), US (64%).
4. Just the day before posting this item the Australian media released the findings of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) into corruption charges against two state politicians.  ICAC found both to have undertaken corrupt dealings in their roles.

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