Today just 19% of Americans say they trust government. Only one in ten Americans approve of Congress — the lowest level in American history.
Is American democracy failing?
Research suggests the public may be right in their skepticism of government. A recent Princeton study of 1,779 policy issues found American public opinion had little eventual impact on government decisions.
“Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.” 1
The researchers conclude that in the United States “the majority does not rule” and that “when a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose.”
While the will of the average voter is almost irrelevant to policy, economic elites and special interest groups do have a clear impact on whether a proposed bill becomes law.
With Super PACs and dark money on track to break the $828 million spending record from the previous election cycle, these trends seem unlikely to change.
Designing Democracy 2.0
Is there a better way? Our representative democracy has a small number of powerful delegates we elect every 2–6 years. For lobbyists and wealthy donors seeking power, these politicians are an attractive target.
Buying government, or regulatory capture, is common in many representative democracies. However, there are alternative forms of democratic government that do not share this inherent weakness.
Direct democracy sidesteps government corruption by allowing every citizen to vote on every issue. A wider and more diffuse base of power is harder to control. Unfortunately, direct democracy doesn’t scale — no one is knowledgeable enough to vote on every issue, so the quality of government suffers.
Liquid democracy blends the two approaches. Each voter can vote directly or give their vote to a trusted delegate, just like Congressional representatives. However, the voter can take back their vote at any time, or appoint a new delegate.
As John Gilmore famously said, “the internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it.” Liquid democracy does the same with ineffective government.
What emerges is a political network where power flows upwards from the grassroots and “routes around” corruption quickly and adaptively.
The power to take back your vote creates accountability beyond elections, forcing politicians to fulfill promises even after entering office. Liquid delegates must respect their voters wishes because their political power can be taken back any time.
The Internet Party
A liquid democracy is exciting because it creates massive government accountability without requiring amendments to the Constitution. In fact, it builds directly on the system as it exists.
Imagine walking into your polling booth in November with a simple app. The app identifies the liquid candidates on the ballot — candidates who have signed a contract to be bound by your liquid democracy. If they win, they enter office and begin voting according to the will of the app.
Over time, more and more “remote control” liquid politicians could transform the American political process from the inside out. If this strange digital beast is a new political party, we could call it the Internet Party, Flux Party, Network Party, Pirate Party, etc.
We’re throwing a bunch of actual parties in San Francisco to build awareness for liquid democracy, and to try out the software together.
If you’d like to join, leave a comment below or join the email newsletter at thedap.org