Individualism and the Coming form of Democracy

The United States of America has democratic institutions that have withstood the test of time.  At least this is true for the past 237 years.  However, the impacts of Internet and an expanding global telecommunications infrastructure and technology are difficult to predict.  And only now are we witnessing the effects of instantaneous public communications on political institutions. One can easily see a future where nations and non government organizations grapple to control regional and global communications to limit, manipulate, or direct the popular will of people. But for governments, limiting Internet will prove exceedingly difficult as global communications becomes inextricably integrated to economic well being.

The future will be one in which policies by any government will, more and more, become a decentralized decision-making process. In the United States, the Federal Government will lose considerable decision making power to people, foreign governments, and international bodies. Thus, decisions become micro and macro with a loss of power to the governmental structure in the middle.

The U.S. is a representative form of democracy. At the micro level, the dispersion or “de-massifying” of the media fueled by the Internet provides communication capabilities allowing for direct engagement between the governing and the governed.  It allows for the average person to be heard by millions and exert political pressure on the governing apparatus. Our current system of representative government is not particularly well suited to this form of direct democracy. In fact, by design the framers of the Constitution ensured decision-making processes were slow to make sure emotions of the moment did not drive national policy.  The speed of global communications will set in place a high level of friction between politicians and constitutes as the former tries to respond to the instantaneous demands of the latter.

At the macro level, foreign governments and international bodies are taking a greater role in national decision making.  This situation is true not only for war, but for environmental issues, political issues, legal decisions, economic and trade issues, business and investment practices, information technology standards, etc.  Even today, there is great international pressure against the independent action of nation states.  And yet the processes for transnational decision-making are, at best, immature.  The world continues to rely on diplomats, global, or quasi-global bodies based on “pre-digital age” organizational structure and processes.  There is no construct, process, model, or simulation that understands and integrates nation state values, global influences, and decision-making practices.  The result is that international treaties and agreements go through a time consuming and arduous process of negotiation, analysis, re-negotiation, analysis, recommendation, and approval.  This arcane process often outlasts the assignments of those subject matter experts supporting them.  All this exists in a time when the ability for people and governments to react to an issue is near instantaneous and on a global scale.

There are scenarios where the expanding public role in forming US domestic policies will also impact longstanding institutions such as the Electoral College.  For example, it is hard to imagine a future where the Electoral College remains as an institution.  The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote by citizens.  But the future is all about choice and third parties have not fared well in the Electoral College system.  For example Ross Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote nationwide in 1992 but did not win any Electoral votes.  The Electoral votes did not represent the will of the American people in the 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000 presidential elections.  Public opinion polls over the last half century have found the Electoral College to be extremely unpopular with more than 75% of people in favor of abolishing it and implementing a system that reflects popular votes.  If the global dispersion (de-massifying) of industry and media has taught us anything, it is that people want freedom of choice in consumer goods, economic and political systems.

So the question is “what will democracy look like in another 200 years”?  The planet is very moving towards regional and eventually one world governance; that much is sure.  But what is the path forward?  Historically, our species has not proved very adept at developing courses of action that benefit all, vice a select few: such as a nation, ethnic or religious group, or economic class.  In the future, the concept of governance itself will likely change.  It may be that the construct of democratic governance — as we know it — breaks down, reduced to the masses voting for specific global policies and governments reduced to administration and implementation.  In that case, millions of individuals and groups might bond together for a specific cause and then go their separate ways.  Alternatively, the industrialized nations could continue to respond to globalization with ever increasingly complex legislation and regulations to manage national, regional, and global events.  Democracies may vote them selves into de facto dictatorships; instituting economic and political paralysis due to overly burdensome legislation, regulations, agreements, etc.  Still another possibility is a global system of governance closer to the European Union model with functions limited to administering and implementing policies.

However the future unfolds, the population masses will increasingly make, shape, and guide the mechanisms of governance.  Overall, the concept of independently acting nation states will likely be reduced in favor of the power of collaborative efforts between individual (the masses), regional blocks, trade groups, governments, and non government organizations.

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