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Showing posts from June, 2017

The Human Scale of Democracy: Trust and Responsibility

By this point you'll have noticed a common theme throughout these posts: namely that democracy is so much more than what happens at the voting booth or in representative assemblies. In today's world, deliberative, locally centred, decision-making practices are overlooked at best, and ignored or abused at worst. A narrow conception of democracy concentrates power in the hands of "experts", reduces our political complexity to the anonymous expression of our desires through voting, and segregates decisions from citizens. Isolated attempts to engage community members, such as public hearings, obviate the best parts of democracy (as outlined in this previous post).

So how do we begin building and modelling better approaches?

Trust and responsibility are two places to start. Trust is the deeper, more personal, version of accountability. Responsibility is an intended characteristic of political citizenship. The idea is that if we take responsibility for participating activel…

Why public hearings are terrible

It's a typical public hearing, and over a dozen speakers have arrived to speak for or against the proposed development. When called, each speaker heads up to the microphone and passionately relays their personal perspective on why the new development should, or should not, be permitted.

At the end of the hearing none of the speakers has changed their mind, and very few have learned anything new. Council makes their decision. Those who are aligned with the vote rejoice, while those opposed to the decision lament and decry the process as well as the decision.

A democratic exercise? Certainly doesn't feel like one. Public hearings are notorious for leaving council members exhausted, members of the public frustrated, and decisions that seldom seem connected to the proceedings themselves. This format and mechanism are partially products of our focus on democracy as accountability and equality of voice. At a public hearing, any resident can register to speak, and views are expressed…

If only democracy was good for GDP

Perhaps, if democratic practices boosted GDP growth, we'd invest more time in understanding and
refining the practices themselves. Alas, this is not the case.

Democratic institutions are decidedly ineffective, inefficient, and, from an economic growth mindset, not helpful. 
For proof, look no further than the response from some business communities in the face of uncertain election results, hung parliaments, minority governments, proportional representation, or calls for democratic reforms. The business community laments the instability and uncertainty that could slow economic investment, such as here in BC, and in response to requests for democratic reforms in Hong Kong,

The thing is, although this narrative is true, it is only true if economic growth is understood in conventional terms. From the standpoint of short term growth in GDP, or the unsustainable economic rents that drive profits to a shrinking number of people, authentic democracy is an outright disaster. Far better t…

Running for office: no experience necessary

There are moments when I hear people question the qualifications and experience of those who are running for, or hold, positions in office. Shouldn't there be some minimum, established, standard or criteria for holding a public position of power? Some minimum level of education?

The short answer is no. If we start looking to impose minimum standards or benchmarks other than: 1) residency, 2) adulthood* we've missed the whole point of democracy, and a critical part of what democracy means. A fundamental democratic principle is equality of voice, or equality of voting. Every person has decision-making power. This principle is based on the concept that not a single one of us is more qualified, or has any right, to impose decision-making or power over others, any more than they also have a right to impose decision-making or power over us.

By contrast, in other spheres of life, we want trained experts to hold some degree of decision-making power. For example, Doctors should probabl…