The futility of modern democracy

A guest post by Matt Greer

There’s an astonishing array of options for organising societies at both a national and global level. Detailed solutions have been fleshed out over the past few decades, although not within the domain of politics. That’s because politics today revolves around 3-4 year election cycles which overwhelmingly encourage short term thinking and a reluctance to deviate from the status quo.

Individuals focus on earning a pay check week to week, corporations focus on meeting profit targets quarter to quarter, and politicians focus on getting elected every 3-4 years. Nowhere have we provisioned for long term thinking. This is perhaps the most important global issue we face today.

With a rapidly growing population and emerging technological threats, this does not bode well for our grandchildren or their grandchildren. It’s already digging us into holes that may soon be too deep to get out of. With our current understanding of biology, psychology, and social dynamics, the modern approach to democracy is horribly primitive. It’s rooted in maladaptive political structures more so than any supportable evidence.

If we put all the viable options for organising societies on a scale of 1-10 (1 being radical “left” and 10 being radical “right”), every country today would land firmly between 4 and 6 on that scale. New Zealand – with our stable political climate – hugs level 5 pretty closely regardless of who wins the elections.

This perpetual centrism is necessitated by the 3-4 year partisan election system used by almost all major democracies worldwide. To veer any significant distance from the centre – only to have to re-do all that work in 3 years’ time if a different party gets voted in – would be wasteful and destructive for that nation.

That doesn’t mean a centrist approach is best though. It means the 3-4 year partisan election cycle is a reactive, short-sighted, and ineffective implementation of democracy. A number of centrist fundamentals – such as the requirement for perpetual growth of the money supply (which exists in every nation on Earth) – directly contradict many of the things we value.

Imagine you have a powerful telescope and view another species on another planet. You watch their evolution and see the big picture unfolding: thousands of years playing a survival of the fittest game, much like us. You fast forward to the last few decades and see they’ve been working harder and longer, even though annual surveys continually show just over 10% of them actually enjoy their jobs, again, much like us.

They’ve now developed technology that could produce a largely automated abundance of resources for everyone, reducing work time and increasing leisure time substantially, with countless other benefits as a by-product. Within an efficiently designed political, social, and economic framework, their technology could support a radical transformation to the way they make decisions, utilise discoveries, interact with one another, preserve their environment, accelerate progress, and live their lives.

Remarkably though, they aren’t even discussing fundamental changes to their systems. Each individual plods along for 50 years – their entire adult lives – doing jobs they don’t enjoy, earning their pay checks, and going home at night to consume a poisonous liquid that distracts them from their dreary work-dominated lives. Then once every 3 years they vote for either the red or blue team. This is the only say they have regarding their future.

The blue team wants to spend 2% less on healthcare but reduce taxes by 2%. The red team wants to do the opposite. Every 3 years they sway a little from one direction to the other, never questioning this incredibly narrow band of options they bounce between. They all just nod and continue on their way, seemingly oblivious to the opportunities presented to them by their collective technological discoveries. You step back from the telescope and think, wow, is this species stupid or what?

Of course, we are that species. We all need to take responsibility for understanding the situation we exist in. That doesn’t mean understanding what the red or blue team are going to give you over the next 3 years because in the big picture, nothing’s going to change.

Maybe instead of voting for the red or blue leader once every few years we should work back from what we value. From my experience, here in NZ we value things like preservation of the environment, more time for personal and creative pursuits, more time for family and friends, less time working, and generally improving the well-being of all citizens. In fact, those values may well be universal.

Whether you agree with those values specifically is tangential to the point though. The point is core values are relatively stable and we can use shared underlying ones to design a social world that specifically caters to the things we actually want and need as human beings. Unfortunately, we can’t achieve it today because the current 3-4 year election cycle is inherently resistant to fundamental change and overwhelmingly invested in short term patchwork at the expense of long term strategies. It paralyses the social progress our technological capabilities could enable.

Is our dedication to earning pay checks and making profits delivering the things we value? How many of you do jobs that directly produce the stuff we use and enjoy every day? And for those who don’t, is your time and energy helping to create a social world we can all be proud of?

If we want different answers we need to change the process. The act of placing votes for leaders of parties every 3-4 years is counterproductive to realising a common long term vision that engages and inspires us.

The average NZ voter turnout in the 20th century was 88%. Our population was highly engaged and their participation reflected that. In the 17 years of this century, average voter turnout has dropped to 77% and appears to be on a slippery slope. This data – along with an abundance of other research – suggests more people are realising the current system is broken beyond repair.

History teaches us that major civic upheaval is never proactively instituted by existing governments. It happens when enough people become disillusioned and demand something changes. Every vote you place is a vote in support of a broken system. So long as participation rates remain high our faux democracy has legitimacy. Only if it drops suitably low will conditions become ripe for revolution. Not placing a vote may well be the strongest vote you can make this election.

The poplar narrative today says “voting is your chance to have your say and if you don’t vote you can’t complain”. Ironically, the act of voting today really says “I’m happy to nod and go along with this out-dated and short-sighted system that will almost certainly lead to very bad outcomes in the long run, regardless of who I vote for”.

Matt is author of the book Our Future Is Free: Exploring A World Without Money

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  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  August 21, 2017

    this out-dated and short-sighted system that will almost certainly lead to very bad outcomes in the long run, regardless of who I vote for

    This seems to be an extravagant claim entirely unsupported by evidence.

    • Blazer

       /  August 21, 2017

      the evidence is empirical and clear…..a system predicated on endless growth and the influences on it are governed by short term imperatives.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  August 22, 2017

        Fatuous, as are those who ticked it. Nothing wrong with growth and no evidence short term goals of the order of a few years produce worse outcomes than long term goals ignoring short term would. Neither is the evidence long term goals are ignored by the majority of voters or politicians. They are certainly given plenty of lip service.

  2. “Maybe instead of voting for the red or blue leader once every few years we should work back from what we value. From my experience, here in NZ we value things like preservation of the environment, more time for personal and creative pursuits, more time for family and friends, less time working, and generally improving the well-being of all citizens. In fact, those values may well be universal.”

    I tick blue and the aspects listed above are those I hold dear. I have friends who tick red and green and they too feel the same. Fundamentally we differ only in the manner in which we believe these can be delivered best and by which politicians.

    .Addressing the “working back” aspect of the above. “Less time working, more time for family and friends”. I was taught that you came out of the blocks galloping, trying to be in the money position as early as possible. I was taught that if I did that early on I’d have plenty in the tank to enjoy the prizes for my efforts. Barring disaster, it’s tracking well enough.

    I’ve had a good deal of help and love extended to me on my journey and I’d like to think I’ve reciprocated and spread the generosity. I love my community, friends and family and we’ve all got a pretty good symbiosis going on.

    At the risk of sounding like Trump, can I say that this country is unbelievably good. We’ve weathered some serious storms, we have sub 5% unemployment, a resurgent economy. We punch well above our weight, we’re inclusive and we offer choice in education and equal opportunities for all. It’s poor parenting, poor choices and blaming others that limits individuals. Have we got everyting right all the time? No, of course not. Can the Red Team do it better? No, I don’t believe so. They have no fleshed out policy and can only talk “working groups” when in Govt and taxing anything that moves. Their eerie fairy “Vision” is not enough for me I prefer well costed, thoughtfully considered and conservative options and I’m not prepared to hand that over to mad old Winston, a girl in polka dots having visions and their mates the fraud apologists – the Greens.

    Tick blue here.

    • Blazer

       /  August 21, 2017

      nice to know you had a ‘leg up’ or two along the way.Luck is a big thing in life.Your post showed some promise until you reverted to unfortunate ..type…’mad old Winston, a girl in polka dots having visions and their mates the fraud apologists – the Greens’.

      • Do you not think Winston even a tad mad?

        • Blazer

           /  August 21, 2017

          not at all…very sharp man.

          • PDB

             /  August 21, 2017

            Winston is mad – take a policy of his like raising minimum wage to $20 (funded by tax breaks to businesses thus indirectly paid for by the taxpayer) and see what happens.

            Especially the knock-on effects on small business, the productivity/work satisfaction of those currently earning $20 or slightly more, those people either wanting to join the workforce/unskilled/have less than desirable work histories, unemployment rate, tax rates, and costs of goods/services to consumers.

            • Blazer

               /  August 21, 2017

              there are plenty of studies that show the benefit of wage increases to the lowest wage have very advantageous flow on effects.Works way better than a tax cut for the…wealthy.

            • PDB

               /  August 21, 2017

              Nonsense – it only has an effect where the minimum wage was already well below average. New Zealand is totally different with one of the highest minimum wages in the world and Winston is wanting to increase it by around 25% for no other reason than to win votes – totally nuts, especially as businesses won’t be picking up this increase, taxpayers would.

              Again your hypocrisy stands out – if this was National suggesting this you’d be critical of govt heavily subsidising businesses.

  3. Gezza

     /  August 21, 2017

    Not voting isn’t the answer & won’t achieve the revolution desired. The Parties worldwide that make, cost, & sells the case for this utopian, perfect society so well that they simply must be elected will only achieve it through the voting of their citizens, imo. It can never be enforced by an individual, nor, probably, by circumstances.

  4. PDB

     /  August 21, 2017

    What a crock this guest post is.

    Unfortunately a lot of people don’t get to have their ‘dream job’ and instead are paid money to do work that they wouldn’t do if they had the choice.

    If everybody had a choice this type of work (often in areas crucial for people to have decent living standards and quality of life) wouldn’t get done and the poster’s ‘NZ dream’ of “preservation of the environment, more time for personal and creative pursuits, more time for family and friends, less time working, and generally improving the well-being of all citizens.” doesn’t happen.

    Cause and effect is real, this poster is living in some sort of alternate universe.

    • Blazer

       /  August 21, 2017

      yet he understands,inequality,privelege and purpose in life.We can’t all be board members recieving large sums for sitting on our arses a few times a year.I liked the revelation the other day, about Boag arriving to see a newly elected National P.M with 3 pages of names for board appointments.

  5. Brown

     /  August 21, 2017

    Democracy only works when people rationally consider the overall effects of decisions but in the west today its all about me having stuff and not caring about how that comes about. For that reason democracy falls apart fairly quickly once socialism takes hold and the productive are punished to support the useless. I like the dream of the US founding fathers but that has now been relabeled as democracy (which it probably was not). Humanity has staggered along from crisis to crisis for thousands of years and we are deluded to think we have matured to a degree that we are now exempt from upheavals.

  6. sorethumb

     /  August 21, 2017

    I like the evolutionary psychologists take on things
    The human mind evolved for conditions that are, in many ways, very different from modern conditions. The modern world has such evolutionarily unnatural features as Taco Bell, Cosmopolitan magazine, cocaine, and socially defined groups that number into the millions. Modern politics often revolves around such large-scale social groups. One reason that modern politics often leads to epic failure is the fact that under ancestral conditions, political situations never addressed issues that pertained to more than 150 or so at a time.