Pithering in Portland (part 8)

May 10, 2008 § Leave a Comment

Last weekend I decided to have a day trip out to a state park in order to get some hiking done. I chose Silver Falls which is about an hour and a half south east of Portland.

silver falls

It has about ten falls, and there’s an 8 mile hike which conveniently takes you round them. Apparently a bunch of chaps built it for a dollar a day during the great depression.

fall1

As you can just make out, you can walk underneath some of the falls which is kind of interesting:

underneath

It was a very nice day, a beautful place.

smaller fall

I think the locals in Portland are spoilt for the natural countryside around them, as well as for having plenty of good restaurants.

fall3

A good day out!

Why not? Elections every year!

May 5, 2008 § Leave a Comment

Ok it sounds a little crazy at first. General elections every year? Surely then policies would be even more short term? People would get tired of voting? What about the cost of government context switching?

All valid questions. I’m not saying I have all the answers but I have a hunch that something this radical might work. UK and US politics as we know it is broken. Masses of people vote for specific parties for no better reason than because their family has always done so. Tune in to political debate programs and the politicians spend more time deriding each other’s ideas than extolling the virtues of their own. You can’t blame them, they have a simple conflict of interests. They have to balance being bold enough for an idea to actually work against ensuring it’s not too radical or risky as to provide ammunition for the opposition. They can’t rely on any trust from the other parties whatsoever. They become forced into watering down their policies.

We live in an age of having two monolithic parties. In the UK it’s Labour and Conservatives, in the US it’s the Democrats and Republicans. A modern politican has to have an allegiance to one of these parties, and must devote their efforts to making sure their party is in power as well as thinking about what may be good for the country; it’s another conflict of interests.

We all know there are problems. To list just a couple: the fact that the younger generations have turned away from politics, and the disturbing amount of money a party must generate in order to gain power. Worse still, after recent wars people have lost trust in government.

So how would elections every year help? Let me take on the most obvious concern with this approach – that policies would be even more short-sighted as to only last a year. I think this is the gut reaction, but in actuality I think the opposite would happen. I would imagine that politicians would worry less about the churn of political parties and focus more on policy. Why?

Four or five years represents a big block of time in which political parties can seek to align the country to their own vision. In short they become fully responsible for the running of the entire country after a term. In order to safeguard power for the next term they seek to take credit for what’s good about the country by removing the policies of preceding parties and delaying policies of their own before they’re safely back in control with a long road ahead of them.

Switch it on its head. What happens if every year there’s the threat of being removed from power? In fact now the threat is constant; it’s a part of life. It’d be impossible to spend even more time worring about it, and the public would demand they wouldn’t. Surely, since democratic elections are part of everyday life rather than defining moments every several years, the focus would natually switch to the policies themselves. There’s simply not enough bandwidth in the year for big parties to devote the relative time they currently do to get in power. Voters wouldn’t want them too anyway; there’s not enough capacity in their own daily lives to pay attention.

Indeed what would that mean for the big parties? I suspect there’s not quite so much the requirement for them if the average term were only a year. What sustains these political behemoths are the advertising campaigns, the conferences, the desire to win the ‘big elections’. If these things are substantially diminished, the parties themselves will probably start to fragment. We’d end up with smaller, more focus parties.

Thinking about it further, if there are more, smaller parties, then would they not be inclined less to attack each other with the ferocity that they do now? Each one would represent less of a big target. What we may see is more harmony between the parties with less of a devotion to ripping apart each other’s ideas, and more of an appetite for taking them on and extending them. Taking this vision even further, it can be imagined that politicians themselves would switch party more often, and essentially voters may stop focussing on parties altogether and instead on individual politicians with ideas.

Who knows? If the price of making a mistake is not as high as your entire party being kicked out of power for a term lasting years, politicians may be inclined to be bolder and to actually admit their mistakes when they happen. Other parties, not focussed so much on potential blood letting of a big partisan animal may be more accomodating.

What about the voters? Wouldn’t they get turned off voting every year? Well, if a huge number of people stop voting because they can’t maintain an interest in politics, rather than just tuning in every few years then maybe just let them. I know there’s a load of people out there that passionately believe everyone should vote, but come on, really should they? Watch the news and people give their reasons for voting that are ‘I’m voting X because my family has always done so’. ‘Party X matches my values’. Do we really trust the current parties to maintain their own values? In any case this sounds like a road to fundamentialism.

I think we’d be better off whereby the only people that vote are the people that are interested in the policy development of their country. I think yearly elections where anyone can still vote if they want to would safeguard this. If voting is not the rare, presitigious event that it is now and instead a way of life they I imagine we would have better quality voting.

Obviousley I’m being an idealist. We can though point to such a change on a much more micro scale. In software engineering which itself a complex field with many human problems, we’re seeing a change from the old way of doing things, where testing is done and user feedback sought after a lengthy development period to a new way where the ‘dials’ are turned right the way across and testing happens on a continuous basis with user-feedback captured in weekly iterations. When executed well it works. Unlike the old way where it didn’t.

I know there could be problems such as the context switching of governments changing every year. Firstly I’m not suggesting they do change every year, just that each year we have elections. Plus I would argue governments would benefit from being more dynamic, less static, more transient, more flexible. Their ideas should outlive them, not the other way round. There might be some issues with logistics, for the example the overhead of running the elections, but to help mitigate this we could switch to purely online elections. If such a system were feasible, the price of some people not being able to access the internet would be worth the gain of having an efficient low cost voting mechanism.

I used to be unsure about democracy seeing how it’s so broken in the world. But I don’t think it’s democracy that’s broken as it’s just a simple directive. Rather it’s the implementation.

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