Dilbert creator Scott Adams has been writing an interesting series of posts analyzing Donald Trump’s usage of persuasion techniques during his presidential campaign.
In one of his recent posts, he speculates that we could replace the office of the president with a triumvirate which operates on a weekly live TV show that would increase transparency and force the officials to “show their work” to justify how spending would work for proposed programs. He calls this idea “firing the government,” which he speculates would be popular due to currently low approval ratings of our elected leaders in Washington D.C.
Who Should We Fire?
While it’s an interesting thought, I’m not holding my breath for it to happen any time soon. To me, it is solving the wrong problem. Currently, Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 46% (according to recent polls). Compare that to George W. Bush’s final approval ratings, which were closer to 22%. Bill Clinton exited office around 58%. So I don’t think the presidential office is really the problem.
However, Congress’ approval rating is currently about 16%. In 2008 it was approximately 20%, and during the Clinton presidency it hovered around 50%. It’s Congress that the American people are dissatisfied with, not the office of the president. We need a figurehead to meet with other national leaders and represent us on the world stage. But do we need Congress?
We currently have a “representative democracy,” which is a democracy in which representatives are elected by constituent groups. Those representatives then vote on issues, hopefully in the best interest of their constituents. This is done primarily because it is impractical to hold a direct popular vote on every issue that requires deliberation. A government in which every issue is voted on directly by popular vote is known as a “direct” or “pure democracy.”
Taxation Without Representation
It’s not practical to hold a vote on every issue because, prior to the advent of the internet, doing so is unfeasibly expensive and time consuming. That was true 240 years ago when our country was founded, but is it still true today?
The problem with elected representatives is that they are individual human beings, who are succeptible to persuasion by monied special interest groups to vote against the best interests of the people who they were elected to represent. The current, historically low approval ratings of our congressional representatives (that includes both the House and the Senate) indicates that an overwhelming majority of the public does not feel that their elected representatives are actually acting in the best interests of the people who elected them.
Direct Democracy via Crowdsourcing
What if, instead of Mr. Adams’ proposed weekly televised presidential “office hours,” we had a weekly vote via the interent? There could be some kind of UserVoice style voting system whereby the most pressing and popular issues would be brought to a vote each week. Anyone who was a legally registered voter could then log in and vote via a web browser. People who don’t have access to the internet at home could vote in public libraries or other “polling places.”
We could get rid of congress altogether. Think of how much taxpayer money is spent just on payroll for our representatives in the house and senate. They all have six figure salaires, not to mention: aides, offices, health benefits, and retirement packages. Yet many of them don’t show up for votes (especially those who spend the majority of their terms campaigning for other offices), and when they do vote, oftentimes they are swayed by wealthy campaign donors to vote against the desires of their electors. This leads to voters feeling disenfranchised and participating even less, which means our democracy has failed them.
With a direct vote, that all goes away. We still need “checks and balances” of course, and the president would still have veto power over frivolous or impossible-to-implement bills, and the Supreme Court could still review the constitutionality of any bills that pass. But I think technology has progressed enough in the last century that we should seriously re-evaluate whether a direct democracy is actually as impractical now as it was 240 years ago.