What are the preconditions for ensuring that our democratic policy making systems are as effective in serving the common good as they can only be?
As mentioned in the chapter “Method”, if we want to achieve the goal of “optimizing democracy”, Systems Thinking suggests it is necessary to identify all parameters affecting the achievement of this goal and to make sure these parameters are “in place.
For the following discussion the reader may want to refer to the graph: Factors Determining the Effectiveness of Democracy.
I. Five immediate key preconditions for effective democratic policy making in a nation
In total, we suggest, that five immediate key parameters determine the effectiveness of our democratic policy making systems
(1) The quality of control by the stakeholders, the citizens, over the policy making system.
(2) The quality of the policy making processes and systems used within the policy making system, as well as the quality of the processes and systems used to set up the policy making system.
(3) The qualification of the “people employed in the policy making system”, i.e. the qualification of the politicians.
(4) The motivation of the “people employed in the policy making system”, i.e. of the politicians. (It needs to be ensured by the citizens that only those politicians work in the policy making system who are prepared to exclusively work for the common good.)
(5) The adequacy of the public resources made available by the citizens to the policy making system so the system is able to “manage” public issues effectively.
II. The analysis of the requirements for effective democratic policy making leads to a number of conclusions of a perhaps unfamiliar nature:
1. A new major element in our political system required – The need for effective citizen control.
In order to ensure the effectiveness of our democratic policy making systems we first of all must understand that no system works without effective control by the stakeholder, no power plant, no corporation, and no policy making system.If our political systems do not deliver what we expect of them we, the citizens, who own them, must first of all check whether our present control systems work or not.
Looking at this issue, we notice that presently we, as citizens, do not have any effective control mechanisms over our democratic policy making systems. The two or three main mechanisms of control over our policy making systems, elections, parliament, and perhaps the press, do not ensure that our policy systems deal with all policy issues of relevance, nor do they make sure that our democratic policy systems handle those policy issues well. Due to the lack of effective citizen control politicians partly can ignore the interests of people and the politicians may actually not be qualified to design and deliver effective policies. If we want to ensure that our policy making systems work effectively, we, as citizens, must look for possibilities to control our policy making system as effectively as possible. Our suggestion is that citizens need to establish a new and more effective system of control over the policy making system in order to ensure that democracy is truly controlled by the people.
2. Why does the need for such a system arise now?
Some main goals pursued in the history of shaping democratic policy making structures were to secure a balance of power between major constitutional elements and to prevent dictatorship.
Now, our changing, complex, globalised world of seven billion people requires a further focus: We need to ensure effectiveness, so our systems can cope with unemployment and poverty, the global population increase, global warming and pollution and other urgent policy challenges in our countries and the globe. Ensuring effectiveness now requires establishing a new, more effective system of citizen control over our democratic policy making systems.
3. If we want to ensure a high quality of policy making we as citizens need to ensure that the “people working in policy making”, the politicians selected by us, have the required qualifications for the “job”.
So far, anybody wanting to become a politician, a minister, or even a head of state can “apply”, i.e. stand up for an election, without proving that they have a certain set of minimum required qualifications. In the UK studies in “PPE”, politics, philosophy and economics are considered a good preparation for the task of a politician which opens the door to top leadership positions in politics. Often a party career, appearance and rhetoric qualities are the key requirements for political leadership positions.
“Running” a nation of tens or hundreds of millions of people or a world of seven billion people is, however, also, or possibly even primarily, a gigantic management task. It includes the responsibility to put millions or even billions of public resources to optimal use for the well-being of people, a task of even more critical relevance in times of scarce public resources. This thought suggests that a party career or the understanding of philosophy and the history of politics cannot be a sufficient qualification criterion for a politician, especially not for the head of a nation. A critical skill which politicians rather need is the capacity to set up highly effective systems for policy design and delivery which make the most out of the available public funds. The well-being and stability of society depends on this capacity.
In any job people need to fulfill qualification criteria, so far not in politics, even if this work is of decisive relevance for the well-being of millions of people. We, as citizens, should specify a minimum qualification profile which people need to fulfill to enter politics, especially to take on leadership positions in politics. Since no individual person can, however, have all the necessary and up-to date knowledge on setting up effective policy making procedures and systems, we also need a know-how system to support politicians in this matter, the Know-how System II in the graph How to Optimize Democracy. The Citizens’ Control Organization needs to control the functioning of this know-how system and to make sure politicians follow the optimal democratic policy making procedures identified by it.
4. Motivation: Ensuring that politicians only work for the common good
Our policy making system can only work effectively in terms of maximizing well-being if the politicians work exclusively for the common good, beyond receiving an adequate compensation for their work. We need to exclude corruption and nepotism to make our policy making systems as effective as necessary.
How can we do this? Our know-how system should ultimately provide the best approaches on stopping corruption and nepotism. At this point we simply suggest that making sure that politician adhere to the best practices identified by our know-how system will exclude corruption in as much as possible. Any politician who does not adhere to a code of best practices cannot serve in a public position and must be removed from office.
On the other hand a principle in Prussia, renowned for the effectiveness of its public administration, supposedly was to pay its public officials comparatively good salaries so they did not need to resort to corruption. Also Lee Kuan Yew, former head of Singapore, voted for paying political leaders of the generations following him salaries comparable to earnings in the private sector in order to ensure the state could compete in attracting leaders of high caliber.
Having effective leadership systems in times of global change is of adamant importance for the well-being of our societies and our world, just as the effective functioning of the head is of adamant importance for a human being in difficult times. We as citizens must make sure that our leadership systems work effectively by equipping them with adequate funds. Being too restrictive on what we pay public officials will ultimately damage our societies themselves. We need to pay our politicians adequately, but also to make sure they perform well.
5. General suggestions to “minimize the state” should be viewed critically.
Given the need for highly effective policy making systems in our time of global change the suggestions by organizations such as the Tea Party in the United States to minimize the state should be viewed critically.
The citizen control organizations in each democratic country rather need to ensure that an effective system is in place which identifies precisely which tasks our policy systems need to address. We, as citizens have to provide our policy making system in turn with the required resource to deal effectively with these issues.
The more public resources are limited in a country, the more important is it to have an effective system in place to decide which ones are the most important functions of the state and to which the available public funds need to be assigned.
III. Preconditions for building effective joint citizen control
Establishing effective control by citizens over the democratic policy making system is the prime parameter of relevance for ensuring that our democratic systems work effectively. But what are the preconditions for establishing effective citizen control?
1. The readiness of all citizens to work together in building a sound society.
The readiness of citizens in working together is probably the most crucial precondition to building a sound society and an effective democratic system. Establishing that readiness in turn depends on qualified leadership both from within or from outside of the country.
Societies in many countries around the world today are “multicultural”. They consist of people of different ethnic or cultural backgrounds and religious affiliation. The first precondition to achieve the goal of “optimizing democracy” is for all people in a society from whichever background they may be to understand the value of sound and strong democratic nations in order to secure the well-being of present citizens and future generations in a changing world. One necessary means to contribute to a stable society is to contribute to the effectiveness of its democratic political system. People also need to understand the fundamental principles necessary for a functioning democracy especially that a democracy must be based on pragmatic worldly principles of coexistence and that religious principles leading to the oppression of other people cannot form the foundations of a democratic society.
Maintaining existing and establishing new functioning democracies in our societies appears to be a crucial responsibility in this world. If we don’t have functioning democracies anymore, who is to uphold freedom and human dignity?
2. No cynicism: Reviewing our own role in democracy.
Our attitude about politics today is often characterized by sarcasm. We assume politicians are all the same, act as they please, and that we do not have any influence on the political system. More generally we think that our duty as citizens is done with electing our politicians and that it is their duty to run our countries properly.
In order to optimize democracy we must understand that in a democracy it is ultimately us, the citizens, who govern ourselves. As Lincoln put it, “democracy is government by the people”, next to government “of and for” the people. Our freedom to govern and to determine our fate in a democracy comes with an obligation: Each of us, who enjoys the gift of freedom connected to living in a democracy, is responsible for our nations and for the globe, not the politicians.
We also must understand that from the perspective of citizens the democratic policy making system is nothing but a tool which citizens create jointly to run the public affairs of their multimillion people societies. The policy systems we have today were shaped by citizens before us, partly hundreds of years ago, and handed down to us. If these tools do not work or fulfill the demands of our modern multibillion people world anymore, we, the citizens of today are responsible to fix and to adapt our policy making systems, so they can fulfill their many purposes.
3. Recognizing that we presently do not have an effective institution to evaluate and implement new concepts for improving our democratic policy making system
Presently many people around the globe are not content with the performance of their democratic policy making systems. They perceive the need to make our democratic policy making systems more effective, they protest and make proposals on how to improve them. But those proposals do not lead forward to the urgently required results, since there is no effective institution to pick the proposals up from a scattered debate and to assess them.
If we want to get ahead in our urgent endeavors to establish more effective democratic policy making systems, we correspondingly need a highly effective institution to collect and to evaluate such proposals and to move the implementation of accepted proposals forward in a democratic fashion. This is one of the urgent tasks our citizens’ control organization must perform.
IV. Some other preconditions to achieving the goal of “optimizing democracy”:
1. Recognizing that new politicians or new parties will not necessarily deliver more effective politics.
One fault we as citizens of democratic nations constantly make is to hope and look for new leaders or new parties to solve our problems. In Europe populist parties have recently been gaining ground. We often fall for those candidates who make their promises in the most eloquent fashion.
But new parties or new leaders are also simply human beings. Even if new leaders may have impressive charisma, their know-how on how to run a nation or how to solve complex problems will normally be limited. Great leaders will acknowledge this. It is unlikely that new leaders or new parties can provide effective solutions to our problems all by themselves.
Instead of hoping for individuals or new parties to solve our problems, we rather need to aim to set up our policy making system in such a way that it delivers the results we want to achieve, independently of who is actually in office and their precise qualifications. Our system must produce the leaders and the quality of leadership which we require.
2. More citizen participation in democratic policy making does not necessarily mean more direct involvement in policy making.
Many people around the world who are not content with the work of our politicians presently request more say for the people in our policy making systems by more direct democracy.
But direct democracy is unlikely to be the key cure for our problems. Many important policy issues in the complex world of today will still have to be analyzed and decided upon by selected persons acting on our behalf with the expertise, time, and resources necessary to design effective solutions.
Rather than aiming for more direct democracy, our aim must be to make our entire democratic policy making system, both the indirect and the direct elements of it, work optimally.
Due to the continued importance of the indirect policy making system, more participation in democracy must also or perhaps primarily mean more involvement by citizens in making our indirect policy making system work effectively, rather than focusing on more direct democracy only.
To understand why some democratic states operate more effective systems than others we need to understand the interdependence between many factors mentioned here.
Our understanding of the functioning of democracy for example and our attitude on building a strong democratic state partly depends on a strong and focused educational system. The quality of our educational system in turn depends on the quality of our leadership and the public resources available. The quality of our leadership depends on our understanding of democracy and our educational system. The public resources available depend on the strength of our economy. The strength of our economy depends on natural resources perhaps, but also on the quality of our educational system and on the quality of our leadership.
Identifying and focusing on the most important of these interdependent variables is important to build effective societies or to prevent the decay and destabilization of an established democratic society. Given the reservations of many islamistic parties against democratic constitutions and the devastating conflicts resulting from such reservations one starting point in building sound democracies must surely be to convince religious people that democratic constitutions generally cannot be built on religious principles.
4. “No system may be strong enough” – an unacceptable stance with respect to the quality of policy making.
If a system does not deliver what we expect, then this may not necessarily be the fault of the system. Circumstances might just be too difficult. No system might be able to deliver what we want to achieve. Such a situation might lead us to re-think our goals and to look for more “realistic” ones.
One set of goals we cannot give up on, however, is maintaining our societies and our globe in a good state. It is not a matter of choice. We are obliged to do everything possible to maintain our nations and our world in a good and healthy state for the next generations.
“Doing everything possible” requires putting the best systems in place to maintain our nations and our globe in a good state. Given the complexity and the size of the challenges our societies and the globe are facing, we must aim to optimize our democratic policy making systems.
In a world in which discontent with the established democratic systems rises and in which the stability of established democracies is at stake, establishing an effective citizens’ control organization responsible for optimizing our democratic policy making systems is a matter of the highest urgency.