The need for institutions of governance

A group of people that need to interact with each other, whether it is small or large, needs ways by which they can all coordinate. For example, a society that has roads and vehicles needs to agree on a certain set of rules, such as whether vehicles should ride on the right or on the left side of the road. Without such rules, mayhem would ensue, causing major damage to life and property.

Presumably, the only way that these rules could be devised and then enforced is through institutions: an institution for legislating these rules (a parliament), an institution for catching and investigating people who violate them (police), an institution for judging violators (courts of law), and an institution that can take money from violators or even incarcerate them if needed (prison). In the example above, there is also need for an institution that issues driving licenses to people after verifying that they understand the rules and know how to safely operate vehicles without posing a danger to themselves or others (department of motor vehicles), and an institution for laying out roads and putting up traffic lights and traffic signs.

Obviously, it is not possible for all the millions of people in a society to directly participate in these institutions (there is no physical hall large enough to accommodate them, and not enough time to hear what each has to say). But someone needs to operate these institutions. The question is: who? And how are these institutions to be operated? Who decides that?

Contemporary representative democracy

Of all the forms of government that have been implemented thus far in the history of the world, the one that is closest to the principles of Povism is a representative democracy. In this system, citizens cast their votes in a free and fair election held once every few years for political parties to form the parliament of a country or state, or the city council of a city, and in some countries also for additional official roles such as a president, a prime minister, parliament members, judges, etc.

The representatives elected for positions of government are supposed to act in the best interests of the citizens. In theory, if they do not do a good job, the people can replace them in the next election with more trustworthy and competent representatives that will do a better job. Also in theory, the media is unbiased, is uncensored by the government, and gives accurate and comprehensive reports of the actions of government branches and officials, so that the citizens can be well-informed of what’s going on and make their election decisions based on this information.

The entire system is supposed to be operated according to the rule of law, based on laws that apply equally to all citizens including government officials, and a constitution that specifies the procedures by which the government should operate and that protect individual rights (to prevent a tyranny of the majority deciding to harm the rights of minorities).

Representative democracy is not good enough

A representative democracy is certainly better than a non-democratic government (such as absolute monarchy, dictatorship, and a totalitarian government), as it allows disputes to be resolved by discussions in the parliament rather than by force, and government officials may be scrutinized by the public eye, and replaced, if necessary, by peaceful elections rather than by a violent bloody revolution such as those that often occurred in prior government systems. Nevertheless, it is not good enough, as it suffers from several critical flaws.

The main problem results from a combination of factors:

  • Many people are egotists that think only about themselves and don’t care about advancing their own self-interests at the expense of the interests and rights of others. Many of those end up in positions of power in the government. This also causes a negative reinforcement loop: politicians get a bad name because of their corruption and political intrigues, so fewer worthy people of good conscience are interested in joining this kind of environment, or they are not willing to compromise their positive values in order to play the corrupt political game.
  • The elected representatives and other government functionaries have a lot of power to affect and control the life of citizen, e.g. by using the force of the police and by allocating public funds. Their egotism causes them to abuse their power and exploit it to advance their own self interests at the expense of the interests of most citizens. Worse, the government has a tendency to harm citizens through taxes that are too high, discrimination against some groups, injustice, violence, etc.
  • Only very wealthy people or those that are funded by very wealthy people and corporations have enough money to fund their elections campaign and get elected. Therefore no one in power represents the interests of the people who are not wealthy.
  • The systems that are supposed to oversee the government’s actions are too weak or are not independent. In particular, the judges in the supreme court that are supposed to oversee that the government acts according to the rule of law and the constitution are themselves appointed by the government, so there’s a conflict of interests. The media that is supposed to be independent and unbiased is funded by the wealthy forces that control the government, so it says only what its funders want it to say rather than the whole truth that the citizens would want to know about.

Consequently, what we really have in the current system is a government composed of people who advance only their own self-interests and the interests of their wealthy funders at the expense of the interests of most citizens. Occasionally, they do pass laws or carry out actions that are beneficial to the entire society, but only when this also serves the interests of the politically and economically powerful elite.

Politicians and governments make a lot of effort to pretend that they are acting for the benefit of the citizens. For example, they make a lot of promises to improve this and that, and encourage people to go and vote in the elections. They spread propaganda in schools to teach children that we all live in a democracy where people have the power to choose politicians to represent their interests. They do this because they want kids to grow up to be obedient citizens who willingly go to work and pay taxes, believing that the system is working for their benefit (this is much cheaper and more effective than using force to cause them to work, as was the case e.g. in the Soviet Union). But the truth is – regardless of which political party is in power, the most important decisions that affect millions of people are always done behind closed doors, only among the powerful people, without participation or knowledge of most citizens.

So what’s the solution?

No one has yet suggested a comprehensive enough solution to the above problems that was also empirically proven to actually work. What we still can do is:

  1. Become aware of the problems in the current system and their causes, and inform other people of these problems. If more people are aware of the problems, we might increase the chances that new and better ideas will be found.
  2. Outline principles and values according to which a better government system should operate.
  3. Suggest ideas for better systems of government, without dogmatically promoting them, i.e. we need to acknowledge that these are only suggestions and we cannot really know whether in practice they would improve the situation without actually trying them.
  4. We should experiment with new ideas in order to try and improve the situation, but we should also be humble and extremely cautious with our experiments, because history, especially of the 20th century, teaches us how some revolutionary experiments, which may have sounded like a very good idea on paper, turned out to create a nightmare of tyrannical totalitarian governments that pillaged, brutalized, and exterminated hundreds of millions of people (like fascism and communism).

Item 1 was covered in this post and in Videos about Problems of Government. Item 2 is covered in the post Principles of Good Government, and item 3 will be covered in Direct Democracy.

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