It’s time to change the system!
“A democracy should aim at equality, but it can be ruined by a spirit of extreme equality, when each citizen would fain be on a level with those he has chosen to command. Where this is the case, virtue can no longer subsist in the republic. The people are desirous of exercising the functions of the Magistrates, who cease to be revered. The deliberations of the Senate are slighted; all respect is then laid aside for the Senators, and consequently for old age. If there is no more respect for old age, there will be none presently for parents; deference to husbands will be likewise thrown off and submission to masters. This license will soon become general; the people fall into this misfortune when those in whom they confide, desirous of concealing their corruption, endeavor to corrupt them. The people will divide the public money amongst themselves, and having added the administration of affairs to their indolence, will be for blending their poverty with the amusement of luxury.”
I find this citation from the famous French philosopher rather appropriate for this chapter. He seems to suggest that the old system of governance — aristocracy and monarchy — is no longer effective. Yet the democracy he experienced during his exile in England was not the final answer either. In this quote, he seems to prefer to stay with the old, known ways rather than engage in a new experiment in governance.
It’s a good thing our forbearers did not listen to Voltaire! Otherwise, the ideas generated from the American and French Revolutions would have never taught the world very important lessons about modern democracy. If our predecessors had feared these changes, much of the world would still be governed by aristocracies. We would have never moved on to something better.
This chapter contains some different ideas about democratic governance that many readers have not yet encountered. I ask them not to dismiss them too easily as Voltaire seems to have dismissed a maturing English democracy. If our goal is to have better governance, we have to be open to new ideas — especially ideas that are outside mainstream thinking.
The alternative is to accept the western democratic model as irreplaceable — the last and highest form of government that humanity can invent, and that we will cling to it despite all its shortcomings.
Instead, I propose a new system of governance, and I call it the Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG).
The foundation of the TDG is the neighborhood. Citizens who live in close proximity to each other form an electoral neighborhood. Unlike contemporary electoral districts of the western democratic model where most people do not know much about their elected representatives, these neighborhoods should have 25 to 250 people and constitute an environment in which citizens have the opportunity to form some kind of community.
Every year, the citizens in each neighborhood gather to elect their neighborhood representative. All citizens are eligible for election, and there are no nominations or campaigning. Before the voting, the citizens are reminded to vote for the individual in their neighborhood who best exemplifies good character and capacity for governance.
Voting is done by secret ballot, whereby each citizen writes in the name of the person of their choice. Votes are counted, and the individual with the most votes becomes the neighborhood representative for the next 12 months.
Duties of the Neighborhood Representative
The neighborhood representative conveys the ideas and concerns of the neighborhood to the higher tiers of government and also the ideas and concerns from the government back to the neighborhood. He or she can use formal meetings and one-on-one conversations to communicate with the neighbors.
Another responsibility of the neighborhood representative is working with other neighborhood representatives in the same district, representatives of higher tiers of government, civil authorities, and leaders of citizen groups to solve problems within the community.
The last responsibility of the neighborhood representative is electing the representative to the next tier of government, which is the district. This process is discussed in the next section.
The next tier of the TDG is called, for the purposes of this book, the “district.” Each district will consist of three to 20 neighborhoods. In the district, the neighborhood representatives will be working together to resolve various issues of governance within the district. As well as resolving the issues of governance, the representatives will be getting to know each other’s characters and how they perform in the field of governance.
The neighborhood representatives in each district gather to elect their district representative. Only neighborhood representatives are eligible to vote in this election. Similar to the elections of the neighborhood representatives, no nominations or campaigning are allowed and voting is based on good character and capacity for governance.
The individual with the most votes becomes the district representative for the next 12 months.
Elections of the neighborhood and district representatives should be staggered by six months which gives the neighborhood representatives the opportunity to work together and see how each representative performs in governance. This six-month period gives opportunity to wisely choose a high quality of district representative.
Duties of the District Representative
The duties of a district representative will be more involved in governance than the neighborhood representative. There will be more meetings with neighborhood representatives, higher levels of government, civil servants, and citizens’ groups to discuss and resolve the affairs of governance. Higher levels of government may assign specific duties to the district representatives; district representatives may assign specific duties to the neighborhood representatives. The district representatives will be an important conduit of communication between the higher levels of government to the neighborhoods.
A number of districts will constitute the electoral area for the next tier. Six months after the election of the district representatives, the district representatives will elect an individual for the next tier of governance. This term will also be for 12 months.
The TDG selects the representatives on a tier-by-tier basis. The citizens elect their neighborhood representative to constitute the first tier. The neighborhood representatives elect the district representative to constitute the second tier. The district representatives elect the representatives to the next tier. This process continues, tier-by-tier, until the final tier of government is elected. The number of tiers would depend on how each jurisdiction wants to govern itself.
Each tier provides an important communications link to the tier below and the tier above. Any citizen can provide a question, suggestion, insight, perspective, or idea which can then travel to the highest tiers, via the various representatives.
The ultimate responsibility, authority, and decision-making rests with the highest tier. However, this tier can delegate some of its responsibility to the lower tiers, or it may keep control of certain aspects of governance if it feels best. Likewise, intermediate tiers may delegate some of their control, which was granted to them from a higher level, to a lower level.
The diagram below gives a visual perspective of a five-tier TDG of a fictitious city of about 100,000 people:
Let’s explain the above diagram in a little more detail, starting at the bottom tier. First, the city is divided into 500 neighborhoods, with each neighborhood having about 200 residents. Each neighborhood elects one neighborhood representative. Second, 100 districts are created, each with about five adjoining neighborhoods. The neighborhood representatives elect the district representative. Third, 20 districts form one of five quadrants for this city. Four quadrants are delineated from the city center: northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast. The fifth quadrant comprises the 20,000 residents living near the downtown core. Fourth and last, the 20 quadrant representatives elect the highest tier of governance for this city. Seven citizens are called into the highest tier.
Sounds simple? Actually there are a lot of underlying dynamics behind this structure, which the next section describes further.
The TDG Election Process
Behind the rather simplistic explanation and example of how a TDG is constructed, there are some very powerful words that warrant a more thorough investigation. Let’s look a little closer.
All citizens in each neighborhood are eligible.
The TDG removes the barrier of party politics to enter public office. All citizens are, in effect, candidates for the job of neighborhood representative.
Good character and capacity and ability for governance.
Citizens vote for people with whom they are quite familiar: their neighbors. Neighbors usually have a good idea about which neighbors exhibit the good characteristics of honesty, reliability, compassion, tactfulness, and other virtues. Neighbors also know which neighbors are more community-minded, open to new ideas, and have collaborative skills. In essence, they make reasonably intelligent choices about the people they vote for.
There are no nominations . . .
Each citizen’s vote must not be influenced by what other citizens think. Each citizen should base his or her vote on what he or she has seen of his or her fellow neighbors. With this process, each neighbor is actually being analyzed from as many viewpoints as there are voting neighbors. The neighbors who come at the top of this list have indeed been scrutinized for their good character and capacity for governance from many different perspectives.
There are no nominations or campaigning.
People who know each other reasonably well have little need to rely on electioneering propaganda to select who is better for the position of governance. In fact, a citizen who engages in some self-promotion for the position should be seen as someone who wants the job a little too much — and not worthy of casting a vote towards.
Every year, citizens . . . elect their neighborhood representative.
The first purpose of annual elections is to hold the neighborhood representative accountable to his or her neighborhood. The citizens in a TDG always have a first-hand look at how well their neighborhood representative is doing his or her job. If the representative is not working out well, he or she can be replaced in the next election. The neighborhood is not burdened for a long period of time with an ineffective representative.
The second purpose for annual elections is to provide societies with a more continuous and yet a more revitalizing form of government. The elections in a mature TDG would probably see many of its competent incumbents being returned to office for many years, thus keeping most of its accrued knowledge, experience, and wisdom. But there would be enough new people regularly entering the field of governance as neighborhood representatives. Some of them will find their way up the tiers and generate new ideas and new enthusiasm. Thus every annual election in the TDG allows society to keep the best of the old blood yet add new blood to increase its vitality.
Voting is done by secret ballot.
In a TDG election, each voter must make his or her choice unencumbered by what other people may think of that choice. The secret ballot ensures that no citizen can be judged on the vote he or she has cast.
The opportunity to work together and see how each other performs in governance.
With the TDG, advancement is based on how well individuals have worked with their peers, not on creating marketing messages or making effective alliances to gain influence.
The Credibility of the TDG Representative
At any tier, the position of a TDG representative has great credibility. A neighborhood representative is someone who has gained the trust of people who know him or her reasonably well: his or her neighbors. People who meet a neighborhood representative for the first time can confidently assume that the he or she is someone of good character and has some capacity for governance. Likewise, a district representative gains his or her credibility from the trust and respect earned by working with fellow neighborhood representatives.
Those citizens who reach the highest levels of the TDG have actually passed informal, yet severe, character and competence tests several times. The higher the tier and the longer a citizen remains elected in the TDG, the more society-at-large can trust this individual to serve the society well.
In essence, the position of a TDG representative has credibility in itself, regardless of who holds the position. By knowing that the elected members of a TDG are credible people, the entire system of governance becomes very credible. Average citizens will be more inclined to accept and respect the decisions made by such a system even if the decisions seem, in the short term, to negatively affect the citizenry. With this credibility, governmental decisions become easier to implement, monitor, and change if needed.
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This excerpt from my book is about one-third of Chapter 3. The later sections describe options the early local TDGs can try out and how the TDG resolves all of the 12 limitations of western democracy. I have also tried to anticipate good questions and provide answers in my “Answers for the Critics” section. The rest of the chapter starts with this link.
Chapter 4 and 5 describe two new tools the early TDG must bring into the TDG culture. Chapter 6 describes how we move from HERE to THERE.