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Is referendum a good way to take decisions

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Dai Cymru
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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by Dai Cymru » April 6th, 2019, 2:39 pm

Hi Felix, Arjen, Lucky R, Alias and any other subject of the Western World who has the decency and patience to conjecture a neurotic Welshman who has been forcibly awakened from his self induced political coma. I appreciate the fact that my example does not apply to the American political system. I reacted so passionately to this question because, here in Britain, it is not an academic question. Of course Americans don't hold national referendums on "specific issues like that" because this "issue" is not the product of any pre-existing species so it cannot be specified. It is a unique and unprecedented state of political affairs and not a mere "impasse". What have you got against the public making important political decisions? Your disdain for the general public could make you very popular in the European Union. This long running and highly complex case of social, political and economic affairs seems "ludicrous" to you because you lack the humility, appreciation and understanding that is required to come to terms with it.

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Felix
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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by Felix » April 7th, 2019, 5:57 pm

Arjen: "our modern day democracies have a lot in common with a meritocracy; at least the intent does."

You know what they say, "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

"We vote for those who we think are 'the best'."

From a very small selection of candidates we may know little about - perhaps just their public personas.

"while in Plato's republic, Socrates and Plato seem to pretend that 'the best' is completely objective."

Not completely objective, just that the qualifications for office should be more objective than not. We need a way to weed out the less desirable candidates who want the job for the wrong reasons: power, money, fame. We don't want them in our party because, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, we don't want to have the sort of club that would allow them as members. (Groucho said, "I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member")

Therefore, Plato suggested we draft the best candidates, as for military service. Don't know about that, it's too much like involuntary servitude, but it certainly doesn't help to reward them with lavish salaries and fringe benefits.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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LuckyR
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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by LuckyR » April 8th, 2019, 2:42 am

Felix wrote:
April 5th, 2019, 8:18 pm
LuckyR: "Thus why a meritocracy is the most efficient, though incredibly unpopular, form of "good" government."

How would that work? Has one ever existed in the real world?
The Qin and Han dynasties in ancient China as well as British rule in India. Some describe modern Singapore as a meritocracy.
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by aveenire » April 8th, 2019, 3:15 am

LuckyR wrote:
April 8th, 2019, 2:42 am
Felix wrote:
April 5th, 2019, 8:18 pm
LuckyR: "Thus why a meritocracy is the most efficient, though incredibly unpopular, form of "good" government."

How would that work? Has one ever existed in the real world?
The Qin and Han dynasties in ancient China as well as British rule in India. Some describe modern Singapore as a meritocracy.
:shock: this is the answer of the question. noble prize.

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CSE
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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by CSE » April 17th, 2019, 4:04 am

Thanks for all the comments!

I agree with @LuckyR that we could pursue the idea of a 2-phases referendum.
Most referendums will require application laws (even if they are clearly formulated), so we can say that any referendum that passes gives the government a certain time to write all application laws (or to negociate with other countries a new deal); then this result is voted on. This last vote can however not reverse the initial referndum (as the application laws may just be bad, but the strategic intent still good). So we could use a two layered question:

Code: Select all

Do you accept the application laws                                          [ ] Yes [ ] No
Do you request another application laws if the current proposal is rejected [ ] Yes [ ] No 
A yes to the first question is clear - it is confirmed and enter in force (the second question is void).
A no to both questions is clear - subject is dropped
A no to the first question and yes to the second gives a new delay to the government for another try (potentially again and again :shock: ).

Think this is complex? Well, trust the citizen - we have something similar (but a bit different, it is A, B and C is the preference if both A and B get a majority of yes) in Switzerland for cases where there is a popular initiative (law proposed by a group for popular vote) and a counter-project by the parliament (another law trying to solve the same issue).
I am not allowed to post a link, but you can search Wikipedia for "Doppeltes_Ja_mit_Stichfrage" (in German only) for an example of such a ballot.

What do you think? Is this a legitimate way to go?

On another topic, @Alias mentioned Meritocracy. I agree with @Felix that I do not really understand how it works. I disagree with @LuckyR that Singapore is one. Singapore is more a one-party system (using its power as governing body to keep opposition low, e.g. via diffamation laws and gerrymandering), but with very smart people that really try to use at best the competences, care for its citizens, and obtain fantastic results. I admire Singapore a lot, but do not think it is a full democracy nor a meritocracy in the sense that a competent person that does not bow to the main party probably has no chance for a political influential office (disclaimer: just lived there for few months, so actually not competent to judge, just impressions).

How would this meritocracy really work, and more important: how do we assure that they do what the citizen want?
Remember, the citizens may want something that is not "objectively" the best solution, as they may be competing objectives. Citizens in one country may want the maximal economic results, while others may target the minimal working times or the purity of their culture. None are wrong, they just have different objectives and the "meritocrats" - while they may be the best to find the best path to achieve the objectives - need to know what the people actually want.
Obviously meritocrats, as exceptional people, will not be themselves representative of the desire of the society at large...

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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by Steve3007 » April 30th, 2019, 11:00 am

Dai Cymru wrote:The results of the referendum itself make the decision, it is the duty of elected representatives to implement the will of the people.
I disagree. I think this is like saying it is the duty of a doctor to unthinkingly implement the will of the patient or the duty of an airline pilot to unthinkingly implement the will of the passengers. For sure, the doctor is guided by the wishes of the patient, but he/she uses his/her judgement as to what to actually do.

That is why they are "representatives", not merely blind, unthinking tools in our hands. We elect them for their judgement. If we don't like that judgement, we elect someone else. If we can't find someone who's judgement we trust then we stand for elected office ourselves. If we do that, then we find that we're obliged to spend a lot more time understanding the arguments for and against the various different political positions than we did when we were voting citizens who didn't seek to represent anybody.

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TheSageOfMainStreet
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The Constitution Is Democracy's Suicide Note

Post by TheSageOfMainStreet » May 2nd, 2019, 8:02 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
March 27th, 2019, 7:03 am
The famous 18th Century Conservative political thinker, Edmund Burke, opined:

"Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

I think this goes to the heart of a lot of what is wrong with the use of referenda, using a simple majority and a one-time vote, to make large political decisions with permanent consequences. That's why, in a representative democracy, we generally vote for people not issues, and it's why we get to vote again every few years. Obviously there are also many downsides to this, some obvious ones being that personalities and appearances can take on undue importance and there's a tendency for continual swings back and forth in policy where each government sets about undoing the actions of the previous one.

But I think the OP goes a long way in illustrating why these downsides of the election of representatives are not generally as bad as the downsides of government by plebiscite.

---

This is an interesting idea:
CSE wrote:But perhaps a law saying that any result less than 55% must be revoted after 3 months may be interesting.
It looks like, potentially, a reasonable compromise between requiring a 2/3 majority (which, as CSE points out, is a very high bar to clear) and not directly asking the people at all. It at least partially solves the problem that a single referendum is a snapshot of public opinion at one particular moment, swayed by various possibly dubious arguments and claims. If the vote is close (as it was for the Brexit referendum) this can result in massive, permanent decisions being made on something that is hardly any better than the toss of a coin.
The fact that most Americans despise politicians proves that, though they are afraid to admit it publicly, they despise the representative system, which establishes a political oligarchy that feels superior to the people who elect it. Electing is not voting; it is giving up your right to vote on the issues to a pre-owned political elitist.

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TheSageOfMainStreet
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Representation Is a Re-Presentation of Medieval Tyranny

Post by TheSageOfMainStreet » May 2nd, 2019, 8:15 pm

Mark1955 wrote:
March 29th, 2019, 1:56 pm
Steve3007 wrote:
March 27th, 2019, 7:03 am
The famous 18th Century Conservative political thinker, Edmund Burke, opined:

"Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion."
This is the biggest bit of self satisfied BS that any politician or political commentator has ever come out with. The patrician attitude that I the voter am just there to select between one of a few of the 'right sort of people' who will then run the country for me. It is how a lot of MPs think democracy works, which is why they are so upset about the Brexit vote; we the plebs got above ourselves and voted the wrong way. They are currently trying to 're-educate ' us. The only reason a lot of referendums is a bad idea is that it requires the political types to explain things to the ordinary people. The problem with this is that are rather a lot of 'emperor's new clothes' hanging around in politics that they would struggle to explain at all.

The people are a lot closer to the consequences of political decisions than are the isolated, sheltered, and smugly conceited know-it-all political elite.

Therefore, those who have to pay the most for bad decisions should be the ones who decide the issues most relevant to their daily experiences.

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TheSageOfMainStreet
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Liberalism Is a Delusion of Superiority Based Solely on Daddy's Money

Post by TheSageOfMainStreet » May 2nd, 2019, 8:36 pm

Felix wrote:
April 5th, 2019, 10:20 am
"I've heard that US ballots often carry referendum style questions during regular elections."
On the state level for noncomplex issues (generally having to do with how tax revenue is spent), yes, but not on the federal level.

"I don't regard the US electoral process an emulation-worthy example."
There are certainly flaws worth correcting, e.g., the electoral college system for presidential elections that allowed a totally unqualified individual (Trump) to be elected, when he lost the popular vote by at least 9 million votes.
If Americans had ever had the right to a national referendum on who else we would allow to vote, Trump would have won in a popular-vote landslide. For decades, aggressively anti-majority Liberals have been giving suffrage to their pet minorities. Contrary to their degenerate view of democracy, it is a basic right for a group to vote on new members; this insulting elitist system would only allow a club's ruling partnership to decide that.

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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by Mark1955 » May 7th, 2019, 2:30 pm

Re "Liberalism Is a Delusion of Superiority Based Solely on Daddy's Money".
I have never had daddy's money and I'm clearly far too liberal for a lot of people I know so I have to ask how you reach this conclusion.
If you think you know the answer you probably don't understand the question.

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Re: Liberalism Is a Delusion of Superiority Based Solely on Daddy's Money

Post by Mark1955 » May 7th, 2019, 2:34 pm

TheSageOfMainStreet wrote:
May 2nd, 2019, 8:36 pm
For decades, aggressively anti-majority Liberals have been giving suffrage to their pet minorities.
Would you mind explaining this in a bit more detail. My, admittedly limited, view of the US system is that all citizens get to vote, so in what way has the sufferaoge been expanded.
If you think you know the answer you probably don't understand the question.

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Felix
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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by Felix » May 7th, 2019, 6:16 pm

The one encouraging thing about the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election is that in those states where the voters were familiar with Donald Trump's background, e.g., New York and New Jersey, and knew from experience that he is a sleazy conman, he lost by a wide margin.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by Steve3007 » May 9th, 2019, 10:20 am

TheSageOfMainStreet wrote:The fact that most Americans despise politicians proves that, though they are afraid to admit it publicly, they despise the representative system...
I'm not American so my personal knowledge of what most Americans despise is limited.

I do observe indirectly that, globally, not just in one country, politicians usually tend to be despised. In my experience, almost everybody enjoys, at one time or another, to bond with people around the proverbial water-cooler by saying something along the lines of:

"Those useless windbags up there in [insert name of city/region containing the local seat of government] are a bunch of idiots aren't they? They couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery..."

The one thing that it's generally very easy for us all to agree on is when somebody else has, in our view, got it wrong.
...which establishes a political oligarchy that feels superior to the people who elect it. Electing is not voting; it is giving up your right to vote on the issues to a pre-owned political elitist.
One of the differences between people whose specialism (the thing they do for a living) is government and people whose specialism is something else (doctors, for example) is that we tend to think that the former group have no right to believe that they are better at that specialism than people who don't specialise in it. We think them arrogant to believe that. Historically, at least, we haven't tended to think that about doctors or other specialists. If a doctor claims to know more about medicine than a specialist in a different subject, we would historically have accepted that as a reasonable position to take. But that does appear to be changing. In some places at least, there appears to be a general rejection of specialist knowledge - the "so-called experts" - in a wide variety of fields.

Similar things have happened in the past. One of the most striking instances was under the Khmer Rouge, in Cambodia in the 1970's, where pretty much all forms of specialism apart from agricultural manual labour were deemed crimes punishable by death. In the modern incarnations of specialist knowledge rejection it will interesting to see how far we go.

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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by Felix » May 10th, 2019, 4:16 pm

Steve3007: "But that does appear to be changing. In some places at least, there appears to be a general rejection of specialist knowledge - the "so-called experts" - in a wide variety of fields."

Yes, we see this occurring with the increasing rise of authoritarian regimes in countries all over the world, as in the Khmer Rouge example you gave. The educated specialist (or generalist for that matter), be he scientist, lawyer, doctor, et. al., is the enemy of the tyrannical propagandist. They know that "the truth can set you free," so the truth must be suppressed.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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Re: Is referendum a good way to take decisions

Post by CSE » May 11th, 2019, 7:08 am

Steve3007 wrote:
April 30th, 2019, 11:00 am
Dai Cymru wrote:The results of the referendum itself make the decision, it is the duty of elected representatives to implement the will of the people.
I disagree. I think this is like saying it is the duty of a doctor to unthinkingly implement the will of the patient or the duty of an airline pilot to unthinkingly implement the will of the passengers. For sure, the doctor is guided by the wishes of the patient, but he/she uses his/her judgement as to what to actually do.

That is why they are "representatives", not merely blind, unthinking tools in our hands. We elect them for their judgement. If we don't like that judgement, we elect someone else. If we can't find someone who's judgement we trust then we stand for elected office ourselves. If we do that, then we find that we're obliged to spend a lot more time understanding the arguments for and against the various different political positions than we did when we were voting citizens who didn't seek to represent anybody.
This is the problem, right?
On one hand, we can elect only a handful of people, based on party and possible position in some debate or article - seldom but sometimes on a track record.
On the other hand, on most topic we tend to have strong opinions. Which may not be shared by our representatives.

Hence the nice element of referendum: the representative try to find the best possible compromise for a problem, as « professionals », and the optional referendum act as a Damocles sword to make sure the compromise is supported by a majority, and if not, another compromise must be found. Slow, but...
The right of initiative is different and possibly more dangerous as it can bypass the professionals.

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