Can We Fix Democracy?

Marla: Hi Everyone. Rand says there's a way we all could easily fix democracy in the next year! I'm curious- aren't you? Is it even possible that someone sees something wonderful the rest of us are missing? Can a new form of communication on a website be a new foundation for politics that'll fix most or all of the problems we have? That's what we're here to discover.

Can you tell me what it is, in a few sentences, Rand?

Rand: If it could be communicated in a few sentences, wouldn't we have thought of it already?

Okay. But if it's possible, there must be a summary.

You're right- but you wouldn't get it. It's pretty simple, but we have cultural myths that keep it well hidden. A few sentences won't get it through those myths. In fact, I've published summaries- they don't communicate.

So what can we do?

Let's talk about some of the cultural myths - sort of pull the curtains of myth away from it first.

Ok, fair enough.


Is your representative accountable?

Is your representative, your member of Congress, accountable to you?

Not really. Well, she does hold Town Hall meetings.

I've attended some of those over the phone- she never got to my question. She tries really hard to be accountable, reading letters, answering them, even putting emails in a database so she can follow-up with news if something happens on the subject they asked about. She's probably the most accountable representative in Congress today, but even she's not very accountable. When I think of all those letters I didn't write, and all the answers I didn't get...

She's accountable in elections!

Is she? She's theoretically fireable, but she's liked, so it would be hugely expensive for someone to run against her. And she's well-known- incumbents have a huge advantage.

But still, she's accountable.

The biggest part of accountability is being answerable. That's why some people say the press is the main deliverer of accountability. But that only happens in a scandal. She sends us messages before the election, but she's simply not very accountable. No politican is- they can't be.

So where's accountability?

One can't be accountable alone. It's not something one can just do. Accounability only occurs in a relationship. Does that make sense? If you're my representative, you can't just be accountable. You need to be accountable TO ME.

Sure. As a politician, I should be accountable to you. But how would that work in politics?

We'll look. The relationship has clearly defined roles and actions. In business, the employee is accountable to the employer. Let's look at what each person does in the relationship. Then we'll see what's needed for politics.


But, money!

Why does this matter? Money completely corrupts politics! We need to overturn Citizens United before we fix anything.

That's not really going to help. We've had campaign finance laws since the 1970's and things have gotten worse. Campaigns want money, just like lots of people want drugs. We made drugs illegal and have all sorts of police to catch smugglers, but the drug war barely even lessens drug use.

So what will help? How do we stop money from buying elections? Or how do we win the drug war?

Portugal is winning the drug war. They saw that despite the drug war being hugely expensive, drug use was going up. So they actually listened to doctors. They took all the money they spent on the drug war and used it instead for rehab programs and mental health programs and social services and job training programs. They saw drug usage plummet.

So what you're saying is that it doesn't work to try to shut off the supply, we need to lessen the demand. But campaigns need money. Statistics tell us the campaign that spends the most almost always wins.

The second is true today. That's what we need to change. Let's look at the need for money. As a politician running for office. What do you need money for?

For my campaign- staff, mailings, brochures, a webiste, consultants, offices...

Yes, but look at what all those things are for. Campaigns spend almost all the money on one thing- communication. As a candidate, you need to reach voters. Even the jobs of the staff and consultants you hire are to reach people and coordinate all the efforts to reach people as well as to pay for the ads. Plus you spend money on polls to know what people want. Campaigns need money to reach people.

Right, I need money. How is accountability going to stop this?

Remember- we said that accountability happens in a relationship. And a relationship can only exist if there's communication. And the communication in a relationship is much more efficient. Today, politicians send messages at great cost to people who mostly ignore them. We're going to change that.

So if you are in a relationship of accountability with voters, you don't need to buy any other communication. I estimate for your campaign, it'll be at least 5x cheaper in the beginning, and later on, 10-50 times cheaper.


What about Corruption?

But still, won't all that money corrupt me?

What do you want to go into politics for?

To serve people. To improve things. To make a difference.

Most politicians say that. Just like you. But you go to Washington and you don't really know what voters want. You research and think you know and do things, but you can't report back. No one's listening unless you make big, headline news. And the whole system is broken so you can't really get anything done. It's frustrating. It's very tempting to get cynical, figure you can't change it and agree to take a piece for yourself.

You're spending 3-5 hours every day asking big corporations for donations. Fully half of members of Congress and their senior staffs retire to work for a lobbying firm or a company they regulated.

How will PeopleCount.org change that?

Imagine now you're a politician using PeopleCount. You're not guessing what people want. You're in communication with them. And you don't need money, so you can safely ignore lobbyists. You can even report that to people.

Once we have PeopleCount, there are a lot of things Americans actually want, almost unanimously. You and other members of Congress who are accountable to voters will pull for those things. Other voters will hear about it and insist on accountability, too. Congress will start doing its job. You'll actually be serving people and getting satisfaction from that.

Not only will the temptations go down, but you won't need to be fundraising. You'll be willing to tighten the rules to limit lobbying and avoid conflicts of interest. Those are things voters are nearly unanimous about.

Okay. So right now, as a politician, I don't know what people want and I need money. I can't do much in office, so I might as well retire rich.

Right. Now, you're out of touch with the people, so you can't serve them and are tempted.

But with PeopleCount, I'm serving people, reporting to them and getting stuff done. I get satisfaction from my job. In fact, I'll promise to limit conflicts of interest at the outset, to get elected.

Wonderful!

Okay, that makes sense. We just add accountability, and everything changes. But you still haven't said what accountability is.


What is accountability

Okay, let's get into that. Remember in the beginning, we saw that America thinks accountability is delivered by media and elections. But now we see it's in a relationship, with defined avenues of communication.

Okay. But that's really fuzzy.

So let's pin it down. We have real accountability in business, so let's look at that. In business, I, the employer, hire you to do a job. I tell you what I want- I guide you. And I have expectations of what you will do. We might even set up goals and deadlines. You make promises. And then every day, or week, or month you report to me. And I judge you.

And you can fire me too, right? That's something the people can't do.

True, but think about it. Sure, as an employee, you worry you can be fired at any moment. Imagine you can just be fired in two years. Meanwhile, you're given direction and you're reporting on what you're getting done and you're being judged. Are you going to slack off?

I guess not. I'm being judged all the time. (Thinks...)

Well, maybe. Incumbents have a huge advantage in elections.

Stay with me now. Imagine we have PeopleCount, this accountability system for politics. Challengers will be using it, too. So you're reporting and being judged. So are they. And it's pretty inexpensive, so you'll probably have several people competing with you, not just one.

So I'll be judged and so will my competitors, on the important issues every month. Yeah, that'll really ramp up the competition. So my advantage of being in office will go away?

No, not if you serve the people well, unless someone really magnificent comes along. But that's okay. You're going there to make a difference and serve people. If someone is judged better at that same system, that won't be so bad. At least it's not some incometent extremist windbag who just wants to make people mad.

Right now, a lot of people who speak well and have huge egos become politicians because it's so much show and bluster. They WANT to become career politicians. In fact, a lot of good people don't run because though they'd be good in office, they don't want to do all the bluster. But with PeopleCount, winners will be based more on ideas and performance. Not completely of course, but more so.

Yeah, I can see that. I've talked to some politicians and running for office is a huge hassle.

Okay, you, the people, guide me and have expectations. I make promises and then report to you on them. And you judge me. And that's real accountability.


What is PeopleCount

But you haven't really said what PeopleCount is- how do we get this relationship. As a politician, what do I do?

I'll tell you in just a moment. But as I do, listen for two different things. First, listen for the communication that delivers accountability. Second, a few hundred thousand of us voters are very different than a single boss. Listen for the communication among us that lets us, together, be the boss.

Okay- listen for accountability and how the voters are the boss, together. Right- that's what's so different about having running for office- trying to report to all those voters.

Right. So we, the voters, need to guide you, the politician. So we vote online on issues, on a website, or on our phones. You see what what we want.

Okay. But how do you all be the boss together?

We also see what we want, the result of the vote. Right now, 3/4 of voters want term limits. Personally, I don't- I want accountability. But term limits are fine, too. This is about what America wants.

For years, 3/4 of voters have wanted term limits. But for years, Congress has safely done nothing.

Ms Politician: Tell me- If you had PeopleCount, and you saw that 3/4 of us want term limits, what would you do?

I'd push for term limits. Partly because 75% of you want them. But also because you expect them- you know that 75% of you want them, across the country.

Yep. That's one way people can be the boss together. We, the people will see how we all vote on issues in our district and our state, so we'll know what you, our representative, and our senators should be doing. Plus, we'll see what voters in the whole country want, so we'll have a sense of how likely it'll be to pass. We'll have specific expectations.

That reminds me of the movie Antz. They always had the power, but until they all realized what they wanted and realized they could work together, they were powerless. Okay, let's have term limits.

(Glows.)

But you might actually think about it first- you want to be clever. You're competing with challengers. You'd ask the experts and learn the history. Back in 1995, when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that term limits for Congress were illegal, 23 states had already imposed term limits on their members of Congress. That Supreme Court decision stopped them.

So maybe we should just change the constitution to allow states to impose term limits on their own members.

Also, in the 1994 elections, Republican controlled Congress. But they couldn't agree on the length of term limits. Four bills were defeated and one passed, but not by enough of a majority for a constitutional amendment.

Alright...

So what if Congress passed a constitutional amendment that said two things. First, it says that Congress has the ability to impose, lift or change term limits on itself. Secondly, states have the right to impose stricter term limits on their own representatives and senators.

Oh, I see. We wouldn't impose term limits at the beginning, just make it easier for Congress or a state to do it. We make the constitutional amendment easier to pass. Would people go for that?

Great question. So this option would then appear on the website. We, the people, would vote on it and again, see the results. You don't have to do what we say, but you just want to be able to know what we want to know how best to proceed.

So does it matter what I think?

Absolutely. As a voter, I can also check a box that says I want to get monthly reports from you on this issue. These are short reports, just saying what you did and what's next. And in that report, you you could say that you recommend this solution, and why.

Reporting and being judged for your reports is the biggest part of accountability. Plus, you're our representative, our leader in a sense. This will allow you to reach us and lead on the issues we feel are important.

So how will you judge me?

You submit the report and we grade it. We'll grade each report. And our instructions will be to grade you on how well you're representing the district- not how much we agree with your position. Just like today, you get to do what you think is best. But unlike today, you're accountable to us for it.

So if I want a great grade, I'll do great things... So I could say that I recommend this amendment.
1- to make it easier to pass the amendment.
2- to make it easier for Congress to change it later on, if it doesn't work out.
3- I'd promise to propose a bill as soon as it passes, to impose term limits. Although I might say maybe we should hold off. If PeopleCount really adds competition, it might not be needed.

That's great. I like that. I'll give that an A. That's very different from now. My extremely accountable representative never says anything about term limits. And I don't get to grade her silence.

This is the sort of thinking we want from Congress. Get things done and improve the system. Compromise and do what the people want. We don't have to get the strictest changes passed. Conservatives hate big changes. So let's make laws reflect what most people want, not just what 51% want.

Right. And I don't really care about term limits either. I just want to serve. You know what, this would make my job as a politician much easier. I don't have to stake out positions and be accused of flip-flopping if something better comes along or if people don't want it. I can just promise to pull together good analysis and do what people want.

That's perfect. That's one of the problems today- all these opinionated members of Congress with weird philosophies and huge egos running for office instead of smart people, problem solvers, people with good judgement. With PeopleCount, good people can run for office much more easily and really serve the people.

Wow... And if one of my challengers has a good idea, I'll want jump on it instead of fighting it. If I don't support something the people want, it'll be obvious.

Yes. Today we have only a few reporters following Congress and they don't get much air time unless it's big news. With PeopleCount, dedicated challengers will keep Congress honest.

Okay, so by voting on issues, you'll guide me. By seeing the results, you'll have expectations. Then I submit short reports and you grade them. And you grade challengers as well.

But will people read the reports? Lots of people don't want to read.

Some will, but these don't have to be just written reports. You can submit a written report, an audio report, plus a video. People can get it when it's convenient for them and in the form you prefer.

So when I'm running as a challenger, people will see my videos.

Yes. And you'll be reporting to people for a year or more before the election. So for very little money, you get to be known, criticise the job the incumbent is doing, and form a relationship with voters.

You know, in the beginning, as a challenger, I'd love to be your first customer. I'd promise to be the first representative who's truly accountable.

Right. The very first day you take office, you'll already have a relationship of accountability with voters.

Wow. This sounds great. Thanks so much. That gives me a lot to think about. This could really work.

There's much more. This system pulls everything toward accountability to the people. Democracy assumes some things that aren't really true. This gives us a foundation for democracy that helps make it work.

Perhaps we can talk again. I'm excited.


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