Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"The Architecture of Democracy"

This is the title of a book I would like to read (not the American book of this name which already exists and appears to believe the eventual worldwide triumph of 'democracy' is assured).

The book I want to buy and read will be written in the paradigm of sociobiology. It will identify the chief reasons why small-scale and relatively informal governance models which work for tribes or kin-groups, c. 100 strong, don't scale.

Apart from the obvious requirements for hierarchy as the size of a community gets into the tens or hundreds of millions, I would expect a careful treatment of corruption, nepotism and bureaucratisation; the power of vested interests to capture parts of the state and government, the success of populist governments implementing policies which bring a state to ruin, and the abrogation of civilized norms when dealing with out-groups.

Democracy addresses these issues by a careful assignment of limited, but real, power to leadership teams which can be thrown out (almost always against their wills!) by the mass of citizens in a controlled and non-violent process.

Does it work? Not always: it didn't in Chile under Allende, when the policies adopted seemed to be wrecking the economy.

Lenin outlined the soviet model (soviets are elected councils), which on paper creates a form of state which is an organic expression of the self-activity of the masses. What could be more democratic, defined as a state-architecture which genuinely represents the barely-mediated interests of all?

In practice it didn't model the operational arm of Government, the bureaucracy, which in best public choice theory mode promptly took over and transformed the soviets into empty shells. I believe Lenin's architecture here was fundamentally flawed and the outcome inevitable. (Trotskyists disagree .. but comrades, it has actually never worked anywhere, has it?).

Democracy has many bugs but is it really the least bad of all possible architectures? I'm not convinced - we surely have the right conceptual tools now to design credible alternatives - but I still can't seem to find that book on Amazon ...

(Perhaps China will eventually get round to inventing it  *wry smile*).