Do you think we would be better off governed by an average Joe who has IQ 100 and no college education or rather someone smart, educated and accomplished? If you think it is a no-brainer and the second choice is better than you should continue reading, because democracy today means it is the first one who rules.
Everyone knows that democracy emerged as the “rule of people” in ancient Greece and we often refer to this ancient ideal. But less people realize that an average Joe (or average Giorgos if you want) did not rule over ancient Greece. Voting power was reserved only for free citizens, but not for women, foreigner or slaves. In ancient Rome the voting power was also differentiated even amongst free men – the number of votes was proportional to the size of army they supported (an equivalent of today’s tax). In ancient democracies, it was in fact only a small fraction of population that ruled and it was the most educated class. Democracy was a rule of elite for more than two thousand years before the voting power was extended to everyone in the last two centuries.
Everyone having an equal vote sounds nice at first, but it practically means that the average person rules and people like Bush get elected presidents. With the exception of about 5 countries, an average person does not have university education. Average person does not understand macroeconomics or the long term implications of political decisions. That is why we face financial crises, systematically destroy our environment and desperately needed but unpopular reforms are not completed.
Most educated people admit our democracy is not ideal and enlightened dictatorship is the most efficient form government. We can see it for example on Singapore where an autocratic ruler managed to turn a poor fishing village into the most developed Asian city in 40 years. But “enlightened” is the key word and we also know how power spoils people. We rather tolerate the inefficiencies of today’s democracy than risking the terror of another Hitler, Stalin, Hussein or Mubarak. Fortunately, dictator is not our only alternative to average Joe.
How about a return to ancient democracy with modern elements where people rule based on their capabilities and contributions using a transparent and trusted government? Imagine a system where every citizen gets one vote per completed degree of education and extra points based on the amount of tax paid. This would prevent power gathering in one person and rule of an average Joe. It would shift the power effectively to the top quartile or decile of our society, similar to ancient democracies.
All people are equal and should have equal opportunities regardless of gender, race or origin. That does not mean they all have the same capabilities to run a country. To foster equality of opportunities in the new system, we could focus social benefits on developing and educating children. We should make conditions so that every child can study and thus earn more voting power based on their potential and irrespective of their social background. I can also imagine any adult can earn an extra vote upon passing a special “political literacy” course that covers political history, macroeconomics, sustainability and other topics important for ruling a country.
Is it fair that today someone lazy who does not want to work and lives off social benefits decides about public spending in the same way that a hard working person does? The state is a service that taxpayers are paying so that we are all better off than living in an anarchy. It is only fair that those who contribute more to the state (i.e. pay more tax) are entitled to decide more how their money is being spent. Thus the extra votes for tax paid.
Politicians are supposed to represent interests of their voters so that democratic voters don’t need to vote for every single government decision. In reality, politicians rarely deliver what they promise. The new system would promote increased transparency and accountability of politics. All parliament voting should be transparent, recorded and compared by NGOs to election program. Voters could easily validate how their opinion aligns with actual votes performed by various politicians on key decisions.
Finally, politicians way too often misuse their power to own benefit. Our society has the most severe punishments reserved for murderers and politicians rarely get harsh penalties. Murderers are often psychologically instable and do not carefully weigh the penalties before killing a person. On the other hand, politicians usually make very concise and calculated decisions to misuse their power. If our goal is to incentivize rightful behavior rather than revenge crimes, we should institutionalize the harshest punishments for political crimes.
In today’s complex world no single person is capable enough to rule a country, but neither is the average person. We saw how much better China prospered since it put its leadership into the hands of elite than when it was ruled by Mao Zedong. Mao was a brilliant general, but had no talent for economic or cultural development. We can also see that 40 years ago China and India had the same GDP per capita and now China has three times more than India, which is the biggest modern democracy. The system proposed above takes the best of the systems we know, but unlike China it fully honors personal freedoms.
I realize this is revolutionary idea that will initially get dismissed even by many well educated people. It is not ideal, it is just better than what we have. Please criticize it as much as you can, but constructively. Propose a better alternative or a tweak. For it can’t be the average Joe or a single person to come up with a better political system. It can only be the collaboration of elite.