I have been monitoring the development of the new democracy movement in Europe.
And, more specifically, I have been closely following the debates between two of my favourite commentators, Thomas Fazi and Yanis Varoufakis.
However, it seems that another form of democracy has just been invented – one that comes in a bottle – liquid democracy!
Unfortunately, the Peter Smith “Funniest Story of the Month” competition for April already has a winner and therefore the following article cannot be a contender.
Maybe I am a little dim or perhaps I am just slow to identify a good idea when one appears. Probably a bit of both. Whatever.
Nevertheless, I cannot quite grasp what Carlo is on about.
See what you make of his democracy in a bottle……..oh sorry……..”liquid democracy”.
by Carlo von Loesch (13 April 2016)
Thomas Fazi’s critique of the “Democracy in Europe Movement 2025” satellites around the one big challenge that has been envisioned by political innovators, coming from grassroot, anarchic, socialist or just persistently democratic thinking ever since at least 1968, that only now is becoming realistic to address, the idea of a continental or even global assembly of humanity to work out policy together.
Large scale digital assemblies can work
The Internet was supposed to enhance democracy in unheard of ways, but the majority of the population experienced it for what it is technically best suited for: litigation, manipulation, populism and surveillance.
Only a few small pockets of political activism have pursued a suitable path of research into truly democracy-enhancing technologies, yet their results deserve to receive thorough consideration, rather than spending time on debates about how impossible it is to have a democratically meaningful discourse on a platform such as Facebook.
Liquid Democracy technology has drawn a considerable amount of attention, not only in political parties and institutions in Germany, Italy and the European Parliament, but also from scientists who have studied the use of LiquidFeedback (copy) in Germany’s Pirate Party and found it to actually achieve its goals, contrary to a lot of false information that circulated around 2012, given the large political implications in that time period [link leads to a document in German in need of translation, sorry].
A dream older than the French Revolution may now become a reality, thanks to a technology called the Internet — the Pirates have experienced an assembly of ten thousand participants and have reason to believe that even if only half a percent of Europe’s diverse population chose to participate in such an electronic parliament it would yield impressive results as it did for them, not only being a lot more representative than the current European Parliament, but also with stronger effects of collective intelligence and a significant resistance to lobby influence.
The art of getting it right
The Pirates also planned the creation of a “euroliquid“. A Europe-wide implementation of LiquidFeedback. It doesn’t really matter if the formal wrapper of such a parliament of citizens is a suitably constituted political party or takes on another form of organization, as long as it has the necessary structures to assert constructive digital work. So Mr Fazi also has good reason for his scepticism on achieving a supranational democracy, as the Pirates have found it to be indeed quite a challenge to implement successfully.
It’s not as easy as Yanis Varoufakis suggested in his opening speech at the Berlin launch event: should any “bad people” want to join the project, the manifesto would exercise its “gatekeeping function”. In real life “bad people” will subscribe to any manifesto, then simply not act accordingly. Therefore the manifesto can only be understood as a rule-set requiring a justice system within the project to judge upon “bad people” and expel them as needed. Even more complicated is dealing with difficult people who are acting iwith the best intentions. And the greatest problem of all is that mostly everyone acts less wisely than appropriate once they are communicating in text form over the Internet. A bad tweet can trigger shitstorms and plenty of bad press. Punishment is an ugly concept, and likely to arrive too late. To address all of these problems, the Italian Pirates are extending the democratic principle of a separation of powers as distinct from punishment dedicated to the prevention of deconstructive behaviours.
The appropriate role of minorities
It is presumably correct for Mr Fazi to say that a simple majority vote in an old-school European Parliament would be insufficient to guarantee minority rights. But in a digital parliament we can both influence the structure of the voice the participating individuals have and the modalities of debate and decision-making. This allows us to ensure that minorities will be seen and heard, but can only impede progress under certain circumstances when the collective chooses to let them, during the phase of the constitution of the system.
The asymmetries of Europe’s populations can therefore be modelled, addressing the worries of Sergio Fabbrini. This may sound vague, but that is appropriate as the process is indeed very flexible and getting the rules of the game right before it is started is vital for its success — political projects that try to make up the rules as they go, are likely to get tied up in the inability to do just that, once formal or informal power structures have solidified.
How much European government do we need?
The Commission may already be considered a form of European government, but shouldn’t we rather move the legislational power to a large scale digital parliament and decentralize governmental implementation by letting each national government take care of executive power, merely creating European exchange points for law enforcement coordination and such like? I think there is much to discuss here, given the perspective of having a parliamentary body that does not necessarily need to be looked after like a baby. Maintaining decentralized governance could strengthen the principle of separation of powers.
“Oligarchic capture” is avoidable
By consequence, why should we delegate an entire contentinent’s government to a so-called “Spitzenkandidat” figure? Individuals are always prone to influence and that phenomenon that Lorenzo Del Savio and Matteo Mameli precisely designate “oligarchic capture”. A digital assembly should not need delegation to powerful individuals to produce governance. It may, by virtue of its dynamic liquid delegations, temporarily empower a circle of experts on certain issues, but, as the scientific research referenced above showed, not to the point of enabling the kidnapping of decisional powers. I have reason to believe we have a chance of reducing the problem of “oligarchic capture” to a degree that it no longer plays a larger role than appropriate.
A digital parliament would probably render austerity obsolete
Thomas Fazi raises the interesting question of whether a more legitimate European Parliament wouldn’t still vote for austerity. Given the way our digital parliament dissects problems in-depth before going on to vote it would probably figure out in the process of analysis that austerity fuels a pointless race to the bottom of human decency when the system of capital and debt is fundamentally broken. OXFAM recently provided statistical evidence that with less and less individuals owning as much as the poorer half of the human population on Earth (85 in 2015 according to BBC’s “The Super-Rich And Us” documentary, 62 in 2016 according to OXFAM’s DAVOS report). We are thus living in the most unjust period of human history.
I think it is reasonable to presume that a large digital assembly, if properly set up, would come to the conclusion that the mechanisms of global capitalism need to be regulated, redistributing wealth from those few (who can’t even make reasonable use of it: scientists from Princeton discovered that wealth above $75,000 a year does not augment personal happiness) to the rest of us. The politics of austerity could as a logical consequence simply be considered obsolete.
A digital parliament would probably handle revolving doors
Concerning the potential for corruption caused by revolving doors, a digital parliament has no personal interests on the issue. It consists of dozens of thousands of citizen that are proposing policy from their home settees and can’t all be offered business careers in exchange for political favors. Such corruption methods only make sense when the decision-making power is in the hands of a corruptible few. Therefore such a large-scale citizen assembly would easily come up with appropriate regulation, like disallowing government leadership a return to a corporate career.
Redemocratize the post-democracy
“Post democracy” is a term employed wherever structural or technological advancements seem to render the proper constructs of democracy impossible to maintain. But there are in fact still possibilities for intervention through regulation, given a profound understanding of technology and the political courage to change the wrong course the digital economy has taken. Technological post-democracy is in my opinion a question of daring radical legislation as proposed by youbroketheinternet.org to stop technology from bypassing democratic constitutions.
Structural post-democracy instead is caused by having introduced multiple layers of abstraction from the population’s vote up to the level of actual governance. The political architecture of Europe has maximized the detachment of those who do the decision-making from the electorate. Yanis Varoufakis has described this process from his empirical experience quite vividly: the population currently elects governmental leadership figures for each country which then summon ministers which are then sent to Europe where in a small secretive club decisions are made, with plenty of potential for influence by the oligarchic forces. Later those ministers return to their home countries, stating that the resulting “compromise” was the best they could negotiate and that the details must remain secret out of respect for the interests of the other nations involved.
A supranational digital assembly could be the antidote to this effect of democratic detachment. With a large-scale digital parliament, the European population would decide upon the political issues itself, with only the amount of delegation that has empirically proven to be necessary to achieve the best results of collective competence and intelligence.
Considering the catastrophic current situation, such a change can only be an improvement, even if it were imperfect. My personal experience convinced me to be able to say that liquid democracy seems to be the least worse form of governance humankind has discovered, its imperfections being less dramatic than those of either direct or representative democracy. Now is the time to refine the method and enjoy the gains, in time before the planet turns ungovernable.
Redemocratize crucial parts of the administration
Given the ineffectiveness of the representative apparatus it is understandable that humanity has tried to extrapolate certain structures of apparent systemic importance out of the reach of bad politics. By now however we can assert that such an approach has failed, possibly leading to even worse results. I would dare to say, given the new paradigm of liquid democracy, para-democratic structures such as monetary funds and independently-controlled central banks may not be necessary at all.
[The English version of this article was first published on Carlo’s blog on March 28, 2016]