Nothing serves us better to demonstrate the inadequacies of our capitalist democracies than the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the most powerful nation on Earth. His unsuitability for the job, any job above that of an unskilled laborer, is abundantly clear from what he says and how he says it, yet he was elected in a free and fair process.
Nothing serves us better to demonstrate the inadequacies of our capitalist democracies than the corralling of 90% of a nation’s money into the coffers of 1% of the population. The function of currency is to facilitate trade in goods and services yet it is openly used to distort the media services, and corrupt politicians, judges and law enforcement agencies.
The fact these two failings of democracy were foretold by the Greek philosophers 2,500 years ago has done nothing to prevent the bloody evolution of nations under the rule of monarchs, dictators, and religious leaders of various hues, from becoming our history. We have reached this point with first, second, and third world nations administered variously by democracies and dictatorships only to find the most advanced in terms of military might and highest living standards has, at its masthead, an incompetent who abjures science and holds his electorate in complete disregard.
The temptation to look back to see what went wrong, is strong, but let’s resist. Let’s look forward; let’s see how we can put the obviously wrong to rights and make the world a better place. Two words come to mind: sortition and assets. The first, sortition, to prevent misrule; the second, assets, to prevent misappropriations.
Simply defined sortition is the choosing of officials by lot. Rather than have our officials elected through the ballot box, engendering the circus that is the media feast in which false promises and corrupt practices thrive, we draw straws. Using a process similar to that of the British and American jury selection, a diverse group of people are notified of their impending duty to serve in the administration of the nation. The larger the group the greater the diversity; the greater the diversity, it has been established, the greater the intelligence. In her paper “Democratic Reason: the Mechanisms of Collective Intelligence in Politics,” Hélène Landemore, Assistant Professor at Yale, pulls together a collection of works on the subject of democracy and the benefits of collective reason. Following the arguments presented by other worthies from Aristotle’s Rhetoric, to Scot Page’s How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, it appears that Intelligent Diversity has proved to be a far better way to solve problems than the collective intelligence of experts. Collectively experts bring little value over that of the one because experts are similar – they are similarly educated and similarly experienced and are, in effect, more of the same. A group drawn by lot on the other hand can be as dissimilar as sheep shearers to cardinals. Each member brings a differing perspective thus collectively forming a wider view. It is this wide view – this diverse intelligence – that best serves to make the wisest decisions.
A nation’s assets are in the land it encompasses and the people who live there. The value of the land increases with infrastructure, water management, and the extraction of minerals, while the value of the people increases with education and the maintenance of good health. Its currency is used to facilitate the exchange of goods and services the products of which, along with foreign reserves, add to the nation’s wealth.
Should any of a nation’s assets fall into disuse it becomes a poorer place. For this reason we must keep our roads and ports, and our health and education, in good repair. Failure to repair our roads results in potholes, slowing the traffic, allowing other nations to overtake us. Failure to maintain good health and improving education slows our mobility of labour, allowing other nations to take over the markets. Money, too, must remain in good use to lubricate the processes upon which the nation thrives. Should the money seep away from general circulation the machine slows, much as an engine overheats and slows when there’s an oil leak, and keeps slowing while the money decreases until it seizes solid, making it very difficult to restart. Recent austerity policies adopted by some administration to limit the loss of oil merely overheats the little that remains. Engines, like national economies, require a very precise level of lubricant: too much it spills into the wrong places; too little it dries the bearings and slows the wheels.
The management of currency then is vital to the health of the nation. It has to be circulating. It serves no purpose locked in empty buildings or unused land or vaults or under mattresses. Money has to be out there, working, or it is of no value to the nation. It perhaps needs to be remembered that money belongs to the nation that created it. It is not for the sole use of an individual or an institution or a company that accumulated it: it belongs to the nation to be used by that nation. Money not in use must therefore be brought back into use to prevent overheating.
A better way to govern then is to harness the intelligence of cognizant diversity to manage a nations assets to ensure they remain in use. Sortition goes a long way towards achieving diversity by the selection of groups to decide policy. This works only if the groups are informed by experts, much as a jury is presented with information by advocates in the courtroom. A group drawn by lots presented with the pros and cons of various economic policies are less likely to decide to adopt austerity in the face of a shrinking economy than a political party seeking re-election. Similarly a group encompassing a wide range of ages and incomes is more likely to adopt a health program for the common good than that of ministers subjected to the overtures of drug company lobbyists.
The management of money revolves around taxation so policies adopted here have profound effects on all aspects of life within a nation. Modern thinking is moving away from taxing income, which inhibits spending, seeking instead to tax assets, which discourages all forms of hoarding. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century advocates such policies but the chances of a ballot box dependent government adopting such radical changes seem slim. A group drawn by lot on the other hand would have no such inhibitions when presented with all we have learned in 300 years of the ever changing backdrop of our economies.
The actual management of government departments must of course remain in the hands of those best suited to the job. In Donald Trump we have a mind blowing example of the result of poor selection from the ballot box. Democracy, that is government of the people by the people, ought to be better served by the majority vote than it is but, term limits, media manipulation, and money, all distort the process. Let’s by all means choose from volunteers those best suited to administer government but let them be chosen by juries isolated from external influences. Government can then continue, much as it does now, by well informed civil servants, overseen by an executive best suited for the job, doing the daily work but in a manner dictated by policy determined by intelligent diversity.