Open Future NZ

How do we make better political decisions?

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There's no easy way to make political progress. To be successful the thinking of both politicians and the voting population needs to be adaptive. That would be easier if the political process encouraged a wide range of ideas into an ongoing public discussion. Too often the purpose of politics is to shut down that discussion so that the present group holding power can act without hindrance.

External LinkMost of our institutions have built in expectations against change. Sometimes the creed or constitution of the organization states plainly that certain convictions are unchangeable. That's a dangerous position to hold in a rapidly changing world. The old fashioned concept of left and right political stances is still strong. In most countries of the world the "right" takes to itself the idea that it is the "natural" governing party. Land, wealth and political power tend to run in families. This group is very adept in maintaining their wealth and influence through political power. LocalfileThey see no reason to change.

Too much of the world is still ruled by principles that are 1000 years old. The right of the "Big Man" to exercise undisputed control over the community is accepted. When that right is disputed violence and bloodshed "resolves" the problem. In more ordered communities arrest and detention might be seen as "sending the message". Modern communities have found better ways to choose leaders and to decide when and how to change leaders without open conflict. Voting has been an accepted process used for several hundred years. But the process of voting itself is not enough. We need to ask, who can vote and who can stand for election? Most countries that call themselves "democracies" have constraints about who registered voters can be. There is even more restriction on who can and cannot be a candidate. Finally the rules about how people are elected are almost always established to exclude third parties and minority group opinions.

Participatory Democracy: External LinkA democracy that encourages strong active engagement of the population has two distinct advantages. One, it enlarges the pool of ideas that are discussed with political purposes in mind. Two, it makes it important for candidates to find out what people are really thinking and saying. Together, these characteristics make a dialogue of change possible.

Money is Power: Money is both a tool and a weapon. Monetary debt is a weapon pointed at you, if you owe money you can't pay on time. Money is a tool if you buy consumables or invest in assets. The rich buy political power. That gives them tax advantages, access to inside information, government subsidies and ineffective regulation of their activities. I believe such undesirable feeding at public trough is legal corruption (Sometimes it's even openly done.) . This could be changed if the people elected were truly representative of the population.

In most countries, the political right, representing landowners, business and holders of wealth are a relatively united group. Even if that's not so, they understand the importance of looking united. In contrast, groups usually associated with the political left, trade unionists, indigenous peoples, social justice advocates and environmentalists for instance tend to be full of interesting and progressive ideas but among themselves can agree on very little. They are together often numerically stronger than the right, but they have divided purposes and are apparently "weak". Money has the power to bind people together.

Non-discriminatory Law: In principle the law should favour neither the powerful or the powerless. But the law is written by the powerful to protect their own interests. If you look at the alienation of indigenous people from their land in any country you'll recognize the process. Land or rights can be stolen by a government by means that appear to be "legal". That's been a common practice in colonial countries across the world, and it's still causing problems in Africa and South America.

Proportional Representation: Democracies based on "winner takes all" voting systems, default to two party systems and exclude the full range of political ideas developing in that society. Groups that are numerically strong, but divided because they lack a strong uniting idea, or because they follow several different local leaders, might be excluded from government indefinitely. In New Zealand, Maori, 12% of the population, have been traditionally shut out or the process. Groups seeking social justice or environmental awareness, at least another 10% of the population, are similarly divided. It was impossible under a "winner takes all" process for these people to win representation in the house. External LinkProportional representation changes who gets elected and allows the minority voices into the decision making process. That changes the nature of the debate, enlarging the possible choices.


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