Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Our purpose is to consider whether current election processes produce the best-qualified candidates to serve in government, and, if not, how they can be made to do so. To cite Dr. Jane Junn in a 2003 lecture at The Teachers College at Columbia University:

  • "To properly address the problems of democracy, we must train the focus of our policy recommendations ... on the structures and institutions of government itself ..."
  • "... We must ask whether citizens are being presented with adequate resources to act, and how we might reenvision the incentives for political engagement to be more inclusive of all citizens."
  • "... we should continually strive to improve our democratic system of institutions and structures."
  • "But it must be a democracy that is enacted in a way that provides equal access and opportunities to participate."

The task is formidable.

While I may have an idea or two
The important views will come from you
Concepts devised in a single brain
Can oft by logic be split in twain

We seek productive participation with a touch of humor to help the flow of ideas. Posts should focus on the selection process and avoid discussion of specific political issues or candidates. Such topics are fraught with emotional triggers. Participants must not only post with courage and honesty, but also with courtesy and respect. Posts should make or counter a point. When one agrees with another poster, their contribution will be more effective if they add insight or logic supporting the point.

Participant's views are important. To insure that they are prominent, I will (upon request) add serious, thoughtful posters as additional authors on this blog. In that way, their posts will appear at the primary level instead of as (buried) comments.

Our discussion will be in English (the only language I know). Since English does not have a monopoly on great ideas, I will be happy to help non-English speakers with English phrasing to the extent of my ability and time.


Monday, March 29, 2010


Partisanship is natural for humans. We seek out and align ourselves with others who share our views. Through them, we hone our ideas and gain courage from the knowledge that we are not alone in our beliefs. Partisanship gives breadth, depth and volume to our voice. In and of itself, partisanship is not only inevitable, it is healthy.

On the other hand, partisans have a penchant for denigrating those who think differently, often without considering the salient parts of opposing points of view. They seek the power to impose their views on those who don't share them, while overlooking their own shortcomings. Communism and National Socialism showed these tendencies. Both had features that attracted broad public support throughout a national expanse and both degenerated into destructive forces because their partisans gained control of their governments.

The danger in Communism and National Socialism was not that they attracted partisan support; it was that the partisans gained control of government. In general, partisanship is healthy when it helps us give voice to our views. It is destructive when it achieves power. All ideologies, whether of the right or the left, differ from Communism and National Socialism only in the extent to which their partisans are able to impose their biases on the public.

Our first President was keenly aware of the dangers factionalism posed for our new nation. In his 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington said (in part):
"I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy....

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose; and there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume."

Partisanship is a vital part of society ... provided it is always a voice and never a power. The danger is not in partisanship, it is in allowing partisans to control government.

Our political infrastructure is controlled by the very factionalism Washington decried. If we are to, as Dr. Junn said, "... strive to improve our democratic system of institutions and structures." must we not examine the effect of the partisanship which controls our nation's politics?


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Comments On Political Parties (1)

"When I began this work I took for granted nothing but what could be observed as readily by others as by myself ..."
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762

Political parties are quasi-official institutions designed to acquire the reins of government. They sponsor candidates for public office by providing the resources needed to conduct a campaign for election. As a condition of their sponsorship, they require that the candidates support the party, thus giving the party ultimate control of the elected officials.

In the United States, our governmental system is defined by our Constitution, and nothing in our Constitution expresses or implies the need for political parties. They are an extra-Constitutional invention, devised to advance partisan interest. The problem of partisanship was well understood by the framers of our Constitution:
"When the Founders of the American Republic wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they did not envision a role for political parties in the governmental order. Indeed, they sought through various constitutional arrangements such as separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, and indirect election of the president by an electoral college to insulate the new republic from political parties and factions."

A "party system" developed in our nation because our early leaders used their standing to consolidate their power. Politicians in a position to do so institutionalized their advantage by forming political parties and creating rules to preserve them and aid their operation:
"The Democratic-Republicans and Federalists invented the modern political party -- with party names, voter loyalty, newspapers, state and local organizations, campaign managers, candidates, tickets, slogans, platforms, linkages across state lines, and patronage." (Wikipedia)

These features advance party interest at the expense of the public interest. They show how political parties are an embodiment of human nature; they put self-interest above all other considerations. They function precisely as a thoughtful person would expect them to function.

Political parties are grounded in partisanship. Partisanship is natural for humans. We seek out and align ourselves with others who share our views. Through them, we hone our ideas and gain courage from the knowledge that we are not alone in our beliefs. Partisanship gives breadth, depth and volume to our voice. In and of itself, partisanship is not only inevitable, it is healthy.

On the other hand, partisans have a penchant for denigrating those who think differently, often without considering the salient parts of opposing points of view. They seek the power to impose their views on those who don't share them, while overlooking their own shortcomings. Communism and National Socialism showed these tendencies. Both had features that attracted broad public support throughout a national expanse and both degenerated into destructive forces because their partisans gained control of their governments.

The danger in Communism and National Socialism was not that they attracted partisan support; it was that the partisans gained control of government. In general, partisanship is healthy when it helps us give voice to our views. It is destructive when it achieves power. All ideologies, whether of the right or the left, differ from Communism and National Socialism only in the extent to which their partisans are able to impose their biases on the public.

Partisanship is a vital part of society ... provided it is always a voice and never a power. The danger is not in partisanship, it is in allowing partisans to control government.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Comments On Political Parties (2)

The political parties that control all political activity in the United States are in no sense democratic. The American people do not elect those who control the parties. In fact, most Americans don't even know who they are. They are appointed by their party and serve at the party's pleasure. We, the people the parties are supposed to represent, have no control over who these people are, how long they serve, or the deals they make to raise the immense amounts of money they use to keep their party in power. They constitute a ruling elite above and beyond the reach of the American people.

When we allow those who control our political parties to usurp the power of governing our nation, it is foolish to imagine that we retain the power bestowed on us by our Constitution. It is a tragedy that so few of us recognize (or are willing to acknowledge) that we have relinquished our right to govern ourselves to unknown people who proclaim themselves our agents.

Corruption pervades our political system because the parties control the selection of candidates for public office. Candidates are not chosen for their integrity. Quite the contrary, they are chosen after they demonstrate their willingness and ability to dissemble, to obfuscate and to mislead the electorate. They are chosen when they prove they will renounce principle and sacrifice honor for the benefit of their party.

The result is a circular process that renounces virtue and is ruled by cynicism:

* Candidates for public office cannot mount a viable campaign without party sponsorship, so they obtain sponsorship by agreeing to the party's terms.

* The party, assured of the loyalty of its candidates, attracts donors because it can promise that its candidates will support the objectives set by the party, i.e., the goals of the donors.

* From the donors, the party obtains the resources it needs to attract appealing candidates and bind them to the party's will.

This cycle makes political parties conduits for corruption. Businesses, labor unions and other vested interests give immense amounts of money and logistical support to political parties to push their agenda and to secure the passage of laws that benefit the donors. The political parties meet their commitment to the donors by picking politicians who can be relied upon to enact the laws and implement the policies the donors' desire. The politicians so selected are the least principled of our citizens, but are the only choices available to the American people in our "free" elections.

None of this is a secret. The parties conduct their business with our knowledge and tacit approval. We know, full well, how they operate. We know about the "party bosses", "pork barrels", "party loyalty", "slush funds", "party whips", and the whole lexicon of political manipulation. Since we know these things exist and do not prevent them, we are party to the very corruption we decry.

Some believe we cannot remove corruption from our political systems because humans are corruptible. Why should we believe such a canard?

We are misled by the high visibility of deceit and corruption in our culture. The idea that it is inescapable leads to the self-defeating notion that trying to correct it is futile.

The reality is that the vast majority of humans are honorable, law-abiding people. They have to be, for society could not exist otherwise. By far, the greater percentage of our friends, our relatives, our co-workers and our neighbors are trustworthy people.

The reason our political leaders are corrupt is that party politics elevates unscrupulous people by design. It does so by heeding the notion attributed to B. F. Skinner: "The bad do bad because the bad is rewarded". Since the goal of a party is to advance its own interest, it rewards those who do so unfettered by the restraints of honor. Once these unprincipled people achieve leadership they infect our society because morality is a top-down phenomenon.

The idea that we can't remove corruption from our political systems because we are corruptible is nonsense. It is a myth. The problem is not the people; it is a political system that demands subservient politicians at the expense of integrity. The vast majority of our peers are honest, principled people. When we make probity a primary concern in our electoral process, the pervasiveness of dishonesty in our society will diminish.

Political parties appeal to emotion by applying the principles of behavioral science to manipulate the public. They mount, finance and staff campaigns designed to inflame the passions of the electorate.

Communication during election campaigns is one-way. There is no genuine attempt to consult the public interest and the serious issues are seldom those raised during a campaign. Surveys are conducted to find "hot buttons" which generate a desired response and professionals use the information to mold "messages" which the candidates and the parties feed the public in a flood of misinformation. It is a rabble-rousing technique.

Intelligent decisions require dialogue; assertions must be examined, not in the sterile environment of a televised debate, but in depth. The electorate must be able to examine candidates and discuss matters of public concern, and, with the knowledge so gained, make decisions. They have no opportunity to do so.

The U. S. Constitution separated the powers of government in such a way as to operate as checks upon each other. Separation of Powers is lauded as a cornerstone of our Constitution. I'm unaware of any substantive disagreement with this view of the intent of our Founders.

Political parties persistently attack the Separation of Powers. They use their immense resources to maximize their power by forcing our public officials to vote en bloc on crucial issues, making a mockery of the safeguards we rely on to protect our freedoms. When a single group of people with a common interest succeeds in controlling multiple branches of our government, it is ludicrous to imagine we have a system of checks and balances (as was vividly demonstrated by our recent experience with the baneful effects of single party dominance.)


Friday, March 26, 2010

Improving Our Political System


Political parties, in their omnivorous quest for power have, during my lifetime, gone a long way toward destroying the greatness of my homeland. Unrestrained, they will succeed.

It need not be so.

Those who seek good government need not tolerate the corruption of party politics. We do not need partisanship, which sets one person against another; we need independent representatives who will think for themselves and reach intelligent decisions on matters of public concern. In other words, to improve our government, we must change the way we select our representatives.

We have the technological ability to support a more democratic method; the big hurdle is to get people to acknowledge the problem. Many fall victim to the common malady of believing our press clippings. We've been told so many times through so many years that our political system is the best in the world, some of us can't admit it is a cesspool of corruption, funded by special interests that buy the laws we endure.

Most Americans assume political parties are legitimate centers of power under our Constitution. That is untrue. Nothing in our Constitution authorizes, institutes or enables political parties. The difficulty lies, not in our Constitution, but in our will. We must want to build a political system that puts public interest above partisanship, a method that responds to vested interests but is not controlled by them.

Political systems are always an embodiment of human nature. Until we learn to harness our own nature, we can improve neither our politics nor our society. There is no Constitutional bar to devising a more democratic process; the only impediment is ourselves. Since we can not divorce our political institutions from our own nature, we must make virtue a desirable attribute in those who seek political advancement. That may be difficult ... but it is not impossible.


Thursday, March 25, 2010


Our goal is to create a representative democracy which allows the entire electorate to participate in the election process, to the extent of their desire and ability. We want to eliminate all agencies and barriers which advance or retard an individual's pursuit of public office. We want to design a method that allows people to decide, for themselves, who are the best among them to act as their representatives in government.

Those who wrote the Constitution of the United States of America believed political parties to be self-serving groups that sowed dissent to advance their own interest. We've learned, from events in our own country and in others, the accuracy of that assessment. We've seen extreme cases of partisanship, like Communism and National Socialism, destroy their own nations in paroxysms of self-righteousness.

The danger in Communism and National Socialism was not that they attracted partisan support; it was that the partisans gained control of government. In general, partisanship is healthy when it helps us give voice to our views. It is destructive when it achieves power. All ideologies, whether of the right or the left, differ from Communism and National Socialism only in the extent to which their partisans are able to impose their biases on the public.

Even so, partisanship is a vital part of society. It is natural for humans to seek out and align themselves with others who share their views. Partisanship gives breadth, depth and volume to an individual's voice. In and of itself, partisanship is not only inevitable, it is healthy ... provided it is always a voice and never a power. The danger is not in partisanship, it is in allowing partisans to control government.

Our goal is to devise an electoral process which encourages the analysis and adoption of partisan ideas without endowing partisan groups with governmental power.

We want to change election from a ballyhooed carnival bathed in hyperbole and deceit to a sober, contemplative process.

We want to recognize that humans naturally pursue their own interest and design the election process in such a way that one's probity significantly affects their ability to achieve public office.

We want to create a political infrastructure where David Geffen's assertion that, "Everybody in politics lies ...", is no longer a valid political yardstick in our country.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Selecting Leaders, Foundation

To improve our nation's government and our society, we can no longer allow unknown politicians to select our political leaders. Instead, we must select our leaders from among ourselves. We must insure they are the best of our people rather than the worst. In other words, our leaders must be selected FROM the people rather than FOR the people.

Our method must be democratic (i.e., allow the entire electorate to participate), and egalitarian (i.e., give everyone an equal chance to participate). The Selecting Leaders sections describe a way to accomplish this while harnessing human nature by making probity a prime concern when evaluating potential representatiaves.

Although the process is continuous, I will describe it as having two phases. The human factors dominating the first phase will metamorphose into a different set of factors as the second phase develops. This metamorphosis is the "magic" of the process; it makes virtue a valuable quality for aspiring candidates.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Selecting Leaders, Method

  1. Divide the electorate into groups of three people.

  2. Assign a date and time by which each group must select one of the three to represent the other two.

  3. a. No participant may vote for himself.

    b. If a group is unable to select a representative in the
    specified time, the group is disqualified.

  4. Divide the participants so selected into groups of three.

  5. Repeat from step 2 until a target number of selections is reached.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Selecting Leaders, Discussion (1)

An Election Commission conducts the process. It names the participants of each group and supplies the groups with the text of pending ordinances and a synopsis of the budget appropriate to the group. In addition, on request, it makes the full budget available and supplies the text of any existing ordinances. This insures a careful examination of public matters and encourages a thorough discussion of partisan views on matters of public concern.

For convenience, we refer to each iteration as a "Level", such that Level 1 is the initial grouping of the entire electorate, Level 2 is the grouping of the selections made at Level 1, and so forth. The entire electorate participates at level 1 giving everyone an equal opportunity to advance to succeeding levels.
  • As the process advances through the levels, the amount of time the participants spend together increases. At level 1, groups may meet for a few minutes, over a back-yard fence, so-to-speak, but that would not be adequate at higher levels. As the levels advance, the participants need more time to evaluate those they are grouped with. They also need transportation and facilities for meeting and voting. These are mechanical details.

  • The public has a tendency to think of elections in terms of just a few offices: a congressional seat, a senate race, and so forth. There are, however, a large number of elected officials who fill township, county, state and federal offices. The structure outlined here provides qualified candidates for those offices, as follows:

    At a predefined level (determined by the number of offices to be filled), the two candidates not selected to advance to the next level move into a parallel process leading to selection for offices; first in the local, then the county, then the state, and, finally, the national governments.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Selecting Leaders, Discussion (2)

The initial phase of the process is dominated by participants with little interest in advancing to higher levels. They do not seek public office; they simply wish to pursue their private lives in peace. Thus, the most powerful human dynamic during the first phase (i.e., Level 1 and for some levels thereafter) is a desire by the majority of the participants to select someone who will represent them. The person so selected is more apt to be someone who is willing to take on the responsibility of going to the next level than someone who actively seeks elevation to the next level, but those who do actively seek elevation are not inhibited from doing so.

As the levels increase, the proportion of disinterested parties diminishes and we enter the second phase. Here, participants that advance are marked, more and more, by an inclination to seek further advancement. Thus, a powerful human trait is integrated into the system.

Those who actively seek selection must persuade their group that they are the best qualified to represent the other two. While that is easy at the lower levels, it becomes more difficult as the process moves forward and participants are matched with peers who also wish to be chosen.

Each participant must make a choice between the other two people in the group knowing that they must rely on that person's integrity to guide their future actions and decisions. Since they are unable to control the person selected, they must choose the person they believe most likely to conduct public business in the public interest.

However, they do not make their choices blindly. Elections are a periodic process. The majority of those seeking advancement will do so each time the process recurs. Some will be successful. They will achieve public office and their performance will be a matter of public record. When they participate in subsequent occurrences of the process, their peers can evaluate that record to help them decide the candidate's suitability for advancement. Furthermore, the names of advancing candidates are announced as each level completes. Members of the public with knowledge of unseemly acts by an advancing candidate can present details for consideration at the next level. Since, after the initial levels, the peers also seek advancement, they won't overlook inappropriate behavior.

Face-to-face meetings in three-person groups eliminate any possibility of voting machine fraud. Significantly, they also allow participants to observe the non-verbal clues humans emit during discourse and will tend to favor moderate attitudes over extremism. The dissimulation and obfuscation that are so effective in media-based politics will not work in a group of three people, each of whom has a vital interest in reaching the same goal as the miscreant. Thus, the advancement of participants will depend on their perceived integrity as well as the probity with which they fulfill their public obligations.

This is a distillation process, biased in favor of the most upright and capable of our citizens. It cannot guarantee that unprincipled individuals will never be selected ... such a goal would be unrealistic ... but it does insure that they are the exception rather than the rule.

The process is inherently bi-directional. Because each elected official sits atop a pyramid of known electors, questions on specific issues can easily be transmitted directly to and from the electors for the guidance or instruction of the official.

The cost of conducting an election by this method is free to the participants, except for the value of their time, and minimal to the government. Thus, it removes the greatest single cause of corruption in our current system ... the need for campaign funds.

I originally thought to buttress this presentation by citing two newspaper articles that discuss the (apparent) lack of interest in the election process among the majority of the electorate and the working of corruption in our system. I've decided that to do so would be superfluous.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Selecting Leaders, Illustration

This table provides a visual description of the Active Democracy (or Troika) method of selecting public officials. It uses the 2004 voting-eligible population of New Jersey reported by Dr. Michael McDonald, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.

At about the seventh level, unselected candidates may enter a secondary process for selection to positions in municipal, county, state and federal governments.


The idea presented here will be considered radical. It bears little chance of adoption because it protects no vested interest. The only way such a process will ever be adopted is if the concept can be made a topic of discussion, particularly among students interested in achieving a righteous government.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Election Process, Time Lapse

It is important to note that the method just described defines a process of selecting representatives. At present, our elections are events; they are a circus, with barkers and hucksters proving "There's a sucker born every minute." They are media stunts, selling packaged goods. The public can't inspect the packages, so they get damaged goods ... with no provision for return.

Here, we're discussing election as a process ... a process by which every candidate is carefully examined before being selected.

The election process will take several months. The Election Commission will set the starting and reporting dates for each level. Here, as well as I'm able to display tabular data, is a rough outline of the time lapses for an election cycle:


Note: Observant folks may spot a difference in the counts of electors selected from the table in the previous post. I made a digit transposition error in the level 1 division in the first post and have corrected it in this table. Mea culpa.

The Election Commission groups participants randomly. In addition, to the maximum extent practical, it also groups them geographically. The intent is that neighbors make their selections from among themselves. As the levels advance, this requirement recedes and participants are given more time to evaluate the others in their group.

Groups at the first two levels have 5 days to select one member to represent the other two. At levels 3 and 4, they have 12 days. At levels 5 and 6, they have 19 days. After that, each level has 26 days to make a selection.

I emphasize that the table is intended as an illustration, only. An actual implementation will require detailed knowledge of the public offices to be filled and may differ in several ways from the depiction above. The role of the Election Commission is to work out these details.

Starting at about the 5th level, I anticipate that the Election Commission will provide each group with meeting facilities, meals and such group activities as recreational outings. This insures the participants are exposed to each other in a relaxed atmosphere as well as in the more formal setting of detailed discussions.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Urbano (१)

Those who read the material on this blog should be aware that others demur. If we are to reach good decisions, their comments are as important as the assertions made in the postings. Unfortunately, their comments are buried in such a way that they are not readily available. I plan to bring some of them to this "upper" level to be sure they're available to all। For example, Urbano dela Cruz posted the following in response to
"Comments On Political Parties (1)":


"Ideology is significant for large groups of people. It is considered foolish in individuals. Among small groups of people, employment situations and social gatherings for example, those who maintain an ideological attitude are more apt to be shunned than heeded"

I'm not sure I quite agree with that statement. You'll have to show me more proof than inference. It might be said that ideologies -and the ideologically driven attract their own groups of followers.

"However high-minded the foundation of a party may be, those who achieve power by espousing its principles become cynical when they achieve power. One of the reasons is that most of the decisions they are called upon to make have nothing to do with the ideology they proclaim."

again, those is a value-judgement laden statements. you already judge that the cart comes before the horse (i.e. -espouse principles -to achieve power) and then judge the effect (become cynical) based on another judgement call ('the decisions..have nothing to do...")

You may very well be right in your analysis, but I would ask for more proof that that is how things operate. (I find it very perilous to begin ascribing motives.)

(end of Urbano's post)

I have, indeed, made value-judgements regarding our political existence. Had I not, I would not feel the system needs improvement. However, there IS a problem with having done so.

Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I shan't, in this case, try to prove the correctness of my opinions because I consider it a digression. The way I arrived at them is less important than the conclusion: Our political infrastructure is flawed and correcting it will require all our attention. Even so, Urbano has raised an important point. The reader must decide if my bias is so great as to invalidate my conclusion. (Note: If there is a specific question, for example, if Urbano considers the question of ideology in small groups important enough, I'll do my best to explain my view.)

In addition to this point, Urbano raised a number of questions about the troika/triad method of selecting representatives. I plan to examine those questions (and, hopefully, those raised by others) in subsequent posts.


Urbano (२)

The system ate my original post. This is a repost.

You may enjoy Urbano's unique analysis of political systems.

One of the questions Urbano dela Cruz asked had to do with corrupting (or gaming) the election system described earlier:

"can I game the system by having accomplices? -I can see how it would be possible to do that in the first, 2nd or even third iterations. then it become increasingly difficult as the chain progresses.

nevertheless, what if I can game the system at the start by getting two accomplices to pair up with a person I want to eliminate? they vote him out early in the game.

the counter game might turn into some sort of institutionalized swift-boating? finding collaborators whose job is to eliminate people at certain levels to make sure they do not move forward."

To take the last first, one person can guarantee that another member of the same group will not be selected by never voting for that person. I suspect that will be a common occurrence, particularly at the lowest levels. To plan to eliminate some specific person would be more difficult. The group makeups are random so targetting an individual would be, at best, complex.

I suppose someone could watch the group participant announcements (assuming the names are made public before the group makes a selection) and, if one had a particular animus for an individual, try to bribe one of the other two participants to guarantee that individual is not selected. That seems a bit extreme, just to prevent the advance of a single person, when those grouped with that person may very well reject the person, without prompting.

With regard to bribing one's way to the top, at first blush, it seems easy. In any group of participants, A, B, and C, A need only bribe one of the other two. If B accepts the bribe, B always votes for A, hamstringing C. If C happens to vote for B, B simply alienates C, driving C's vote to A.

Even so, I don't think the strategy can be pursued successfully, and certainly not widely. When A advances a level, the new group has two new participants D and E. D and E reached the level either by bribery or on their merits. In both cases, A has a problem.

If A propositions D and D is advancing by bribery, one may succeed in bribing the other, but only one of the two miscreants can survive.

If A propositions D and D advanced on merit, D has just achieved advancement on the strength of intellect, attitude about public concerns and the power of persuasion, and is filled with pride and confidence. Under those conditions, D is a poor target for A and is unlikely to risk taking an illegal payment and giving up an opportunity for continued advancement.

Obviously, I'm attributing "probable" actions to people I don't know, but these are not the only considerations.

I believe the pursuit of self-interest is pervasive in humans. However, those who focus solely on bribery ignore the breadth of the ways we gratify our self-interest. The giving and taking of bribes are among the least significant of these ... and they are concentrated among the losers in our society. The ways associated with our sense of our own worth are among the prime ways we pursue our self-interest.

Why do you investigate the possibilities for improving the democratic political process and share your views on the topic with others, on your blog? I'll bet the biggest reason is that you believe you are participating in a worthwhile endeavor. For my part, why do I work hard on the material I post here? I do it because I believe I'm encouraging examination of a serious problem in my beloved homeland. I'm working in the full knowledge that I'll never see the fruits of my efforts, but confident, nonetheless, that those fruits will come ... if I can persuade anyone that these ideas are worthy of contemplation and action ... or when someone more gifted than I approaches the problem in a more appealing way.

We ought not deny to others attitudes we find in ourselves. How much more powerful will these feelings be in the person who met with others, listened to their points of view, considered their concerns, discussed solutions and responded in such a manner as to warrant their own selection and advancement, and who wishes to continue advancing?

There is another, very powerful, consideration ...

Political parties act as intermediaries. They have fund raisers, people who solicit and accept the "donations" that influence the laws the party supports. The elected officials (at least the smarter ones) do not take bribes. The party takes the money and tells the official how to vote. If you eliminate the parties, all that's left is direct bribery ... and bribery is illegal. While many people will participate in immoral acts, illegal acts are not as popular.

There is an immense difference between approaching the fund raiser for a political party and negotiating a deal that gets you the laws you want ... and walking up to an individual who has been selected because he was perceived as a person of integrity ... and offering a bribe. Since the target of the bribe is, by the nature of his circumstances, alert to the probability that he will be approached, the briber will be running an enormous risk.

Again, I'm attributing "probable" actions to people I don't know, but I believe these ideas are worthy of thought. Please challenge them! If my view is weak or incorrect, the sooner I find out about it, the better.


Urbano (३)

The system ate my original post. This is a repost.

You may enjoy Urbano's unique analysis of political systems.

Urbano dela Cruz also asked several other questions:

Urbano: "how do you select the triads at each level?"

I anticipate that triad (group) selection will be done by computer. An Election Commission will maintain the voter rolls and process the data. In setting up the triads, the Commission must insure randomness at the initial level. After the initial assignments, randomness is natural because the triad selections will tend to be unpredictable.

One possible way of insuring randomness in the initial triad assignments is to maintain the rolls in an unordered fashion with new voters added to the bottom and deletions in place. In this case, the grouping would be a two-step process:

Step 1: A bottom-up grouping of the voters in sets of three.

Step 2: Repetitively applying a geographical-based algorithm to optimize the groups in terms of each voter's residence until an optimum point is reached; the point at which the greatest distance between two voters can not be reduced.

For subsequent levels, as each group reports its selection, the selection will be added to a "level-list" in the order in which they are received. The "level-list" will then be processed in the same way as the voter rolls.

This is one possibility. I'm sure professional data managers can come up with something better. Obviously, I'm assuming that such a geographical-based algorithm exists or can be constructed.

Urbano: "you require that a person can't vote for himself in a triad so there is the possibility of a three way tie each time. how do you resolve that?"

"If a group is unable to select a representative in the specified time, the group is disqualified."

This is, I think, an important feature. If none of the three is able to persuade the other two that they are worthy of selection, they are not suited for public office. (If they can not persuade two people of their value, would we want them representing us?)

Urbano: "what if the worthy ones lose interest early?"

Many worthy people shun public life. I don't think we can decide who is "worthy" and who is not, except by their willingness to make their presence felt on our society. If you don't mind a modest jest on a serious topic, judging by our present electoral process, the less worthy people are, the more interest they have in public office.

Your question invites two other observations:

1) The triad/troika process I've described completes in some number of months. Since it is progressive, I think those who advance will have a increasing interest rather than diminishing. That seems less onerous than the "campaign trail" which one must traverse to the end before finding out whether or not they have been rejected.

2) The process will require a law similar to that which allows military reservists to spend time on active duty without penalty at their place of employment. Those who advance can not be economically penalized for doing so.

Urbano: "will the process of self-selection defeat the intent? i.e. -the more determined ones will keep moving forward -with no accounting for actual abilities?"

Determination is one of the many traits successful candidates will require. I don't consider that a bad thing.

Their accountability will be severely tested. One may self-select, but one can not advance without convincing two other people, who (at the upper levels) have as much interest in advancing as they do, that they have the talents and abilities that make them the best choice of the three.


Urbano (४)

The system ate my original post. This is a repost.

You may enjoy Urbano's unique analysis of political systems.

Urbano: "I wasn't even thinking of bribery as the mechanism. Partisanship or idealogical commitment would be enough of a driver.

Say you have a group of 100 people all committed to (for argument's sake) an ultra right agenda and conversely a list of people that they know disagree with them and they would not at all want to see in any elective position.

You would task them with just two directives: get themselves selected in a triad -or, if they find themselves in a triad with a person in their "hit" list, they would simply vote against that person.

Say person A is one of the 100 and he encounters person B -one of the persons on the hit list and person C in a triad.

If person A cannot persuade person C to vote for him, then he must simply vote against person B. Since he can't vote for himself, and neither can B, C holds the deciding vote, but A can force either a 3 way tie: A, B, C or a win for C if B votes for C. Either way, he has eliminated B from moving forward."

I think you have described a reasonable possibility. To some extent, the risk is attenuated among larger groups. In the New Jersey example I used to describe the process, there would be 1,879,126 groups at the initial level. The chances that one of the radicals is matched with one of the targets is quite small.

If the radical group were large, say one of the major unions, for example, they could pose a definite threat. However, to do so they would have to instruct a lot of people. That would reduce the possibility of their conducting their attack in secret.

As we traverse the continuum of possibilities from small secret cabals to broadly supported ideologies, we move from a highly diluted threat toward the ideal where the ideology or partisan group succeeds because it represents a broadly shared concept.

In a smaller sample, say in a community of 25,000 where a group of radicals are determined that someone not be allowed to become Mayor (for example), the possibility you describe is more likely.

Even then, though, the initial level will have over 8,000 groups. Some of the radicals might very well persist several levels so they can carry out their assignment ... but, by that time, they'd be opposed to whoever the other two candidates are by the nature of the system. They wouldn't be concentrating on expelling the target as much as they'd be concentrating on expelling both of the other members of their group so they can carry their agenda forward.

I think its also worthy of note that people with such radical commitments might very well alienate others who don't share their views. In that case, the possibility of their advancing far enough to carry out their task would be small.

Is it possible that a radical and a target will be assigned to the same group. Yes, but the odds are against that happening before the system has an opportunity to weed out the bad actors.

Urbano: "Would you consider starting with groups of 5 instead of 3? This would prevent a single person from hijacking the process."

Absolutely! There is nothing proprietary in any part of this concept. It's merely a starting place. Like the auctioneer says, "It doesn't matter where we start ... it's where we end up that counts."

I used a group size of 3 because it seemed like the easiest way to describe the concept. If group sizes of 5, or 7, or 9 offer more advantages than disadvantages. I'd be pleased with the change.

Some time back, when I was discussing this topic with my younger brother, Jim, I tossed out the notion of increasing the group size from 3 to 5, as you suggest. Here is his reply (I'll put my objection to one of his points at the end of his description.):

"Regarding expanding groups from 3 to 5, it seems that this might increase the probability of inconclusive results (or no winner).

With groups of 3, following the rules you specify there on only 2 possible outcomes:

2 votes for one member,

1 vote for another member of the group.


1 vote for each member of the group.

Your thesis is based on the assertion that the member receiving 2 of the 3 votes (the maximum allowed in groups of three) will be the more likely to provide leadership with integrity.

With groups of 5, assuming similar rules as in the case of groups of 3 (i.e. you must vote for one member of the group but cannot vote for yourself) 6 outcomes are possible (no one can receive 5 votes since no one can vote for themselves).

4 votes for one member, 1 vote for another member of the group.

3 votes for one member, 1 vote for each of two other members of the group.

3 votes for one member, 2 votes for one other member of the group.

2 votes for one member and 1 vote each for three other members of the group.

2 votes for one member, 2 votes for another member and 1 vote for a third member of the group.

1 vote for each member of the group.

In groups of 5 then, if only the candidate who receives 4 votes is considered likely to have adequate integrity to provide leadership, then the statistical probability of groups of 5 reaching a satisfactory conclusion (not deadlocked) will be quite a bit lower (1/6) than in the case of 3 member groups where the statistical probability will be 1 out of 2 possible outcomes.

This analysis is strictly mathematical and does not consider variables such as "human nature" or small group dynamics. Consideration of these variables will skew the distribution of results but is unlikely to render productive outcomes for groups of 5 more probable than for groups of 3."

My only objection to Jimmy's analysis is that I see no reason to stipulate that a candidate must receive 4 votes. A person who attracts 3 of the 5 votes will be fine. I don't even think it will be a problem in a particularly contentious group, where the "winner" only gets two votes.

On that basis, the top four of the six possible outcomes would produce winners. At first blush, groups of five seems like a more attractive alternative than groups of three. As you say, it lowers the possibility of one person preventing the selection of a "target" individual.

Urbano: "However, people form groups and groups form agendas.

In this section, you refer to the work of Robert Cialdini. I can't comment intelligently on that because I'm not familiar with his work. At the risk of putting my foot in my mouth, I think each individual will come into the triad with a clean slate as far as the group is concerned.

Effectively, they all start with a clean slate. If they have a commitment to a concept or ideal that predates the life of the triad, we can expect them to be loyal to that concept or idea ... but that's not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, that's the purpose of the process: It gives participants a chance to espouse their ideas as well as they're able. If they make their points with such force that they convince the two other people in their triad that they are worthy of representing them, they get a chance to try again at a higher level.

In and of itself, partisanship is not only inevitable, it is healthy. Our goal is to build a political system that responds to vested interests but is not controlled by them. The expression of ideas in the triads is a step in that direction.


Devilish Details

They say the devil is in the details. Here are an introductory few, with comments. The comments are intended, not as answers, but as spurs for thought. Critical analysis will produce a sounder result:

Face-to-Face Meetings
A central feature of Active Democracy is that participants are required to physically meet with other members of their group. This detail offers benefits and imposes penalties:

Among the good things:
a) It allows participants to experience the non-verbal clues people emit when they communicate.

b) It encourages the discussion, dynamically, of current local, national and international events in an unstructured format. Such discussions tend to reveal the natural reactions of the participants.

c) It encourages spontaneity when discussing the more formal material supplied by the Election Commission ... things like pending ordinances and the budget.

d) It removes any possibility of ballot fraud.

On the downside:

a) It makes no provision for absentee voting. To accommodate potential absentees, it might be possible to add flexibility to group scheduling; i.e., let members who can not be present ask the other members of their group to accommodate them when setting up group meetings.

b) It demands time away from one's employment. This may require a law similar to that applying to jury duty and military service requiring employers to grant employees time to participate in the election process, without penalty.

c) It makes no provision for incomplete groups. Each level will have incomplete groups, those remaining after the participants at a given level have been grouped (one or two people may be left over) and those occurring because of the death or incapacity of a group member.

The Election Commission will use members of "broken" groups to complete other groups or form new groups, as appropriate. When all the groups have been set, any remaining participants not assigned to a group (possibly one or two people) advance to the next higher level, automatically. These one or two people must be the first assigned to a group at the next higher level.

When the system has matured (after multiple election cycles have transpired) those who achieve the first level of public office will tend to change from election to election while those who reach the upper levels of public office will tend to do so in subsequent elections because they reflect the popular preferences of their time while demonstrating the qualities we seek in our leaders.

However, the dynamic nature of the process, with random assignment to groups at each level, makes it unlikely that a person elected to a public office will be returned to the same office in successive elections. There are too many variables. Even so, a person who serves with integrity, intelligence and energy, is likely to be re-elected to some office.

Elected officials NOT returned to office
A person may rise to hold public office in one election and not reach that level again. Such people take time out of their lives for public service without career guarantees. That disrupts the individual's life unreasonably. Such people must be honored for their service, and, on a practical level, we must continue their salaries for some period (a year?) and support their transition to private life with something similar to the G. I. Bill of Rights ... advanced education, career training, small business loans, and so forth.

These are just a few of the details that must be considered. There are many more.



In a representative democracy, such as we are supposed to have in the United States, we elect people to be our representatives. We do not require them to have any special knowledge or training. We elect them because we believe they can assimilate the information necessary to make sound decisions in the best interests of the American people.

Since the laws passed by our Congress apply to all our citizens, we anticipate that all interested parties will present their arguments, for and against, pending legislation. We expect our representatives to weigh the information presented to them objectively and to enact laws that benefit our nation and reject laws that are harmful to the American people.

As an example, we do not expect our representatives to know the science underlying the threat of global warming. Instead, we expect citizens who have the knowledge to present their arguments to our Congress for consideration. The Houses of Congress schedule hearings to allow these presentations. Since the hearing rooms will not hold the three hundred million people who might be affected by a law, the interested parties designate agents, called lobbyists, to present their arguments for them.

That's the theory, and it's a good one, but it doesn't work quite like that.

I functioned in the role of lobbyist in the mid-1950s, lobbying against The Transportation Act of 1958 ... which passed, in part because the lobbyists for the large trucking firms (aka The American Trucking Association) had greater access to the Senators on the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee than those who opposed the legislation ... like me.

In those years, I still believed our representatives were worthy of our trust. Gradually, I came to realize that the problem is not lobbying, it is that lobbyists are allowed free access to our representatives. In addition to donating huge sums to political parties, lobbyists seek their goals by suborning public officials with "favors". They wine them, dine them, provide them with exotic vacations, hire members of their family, promise them future employment and, by more subterfuges than I can relate, guarantee their fortunes. Since he who pays the piper calls the tune, our representatives do what the lobbyists ask, not what's best for our nation. The free access lobbyists have to our representatives, when added to the commitments made by party fund-raisers, undermines a truly great system.

From time to time (quite frequently, actually), a Jack Abramoff shows up and we have a brief flurry of interest. New laws are proposed, considerable lip-service is paid to cleaning up the mess, toothless legislation is passed, and then the whole thing dies down ... until next time.

There is a solution ... but do we have the stomach to demand it?

Our elected representatives are in service for the length of their term ... just like members of our armed forces ... and like members of our armed forces, they should be kept at a government installation. When I went in the service, I reported to a military installation and that became my home. The arrangements for our elected officials should be similar.

The facilities at the installation should be as palatial as need be, with golf courses, marinas, and all forms of educational and entertainment facilities, but access to our representatives should be restricted. Those wishing to affect pending legislation should present their arguments, publicly, in the hearing rooms provided for the purpose ... and that should be the absolute limit of their interaction with our elected representatives.

In addition to designing a better way to select those who represent us in our government, we must prevent special interests from propagating the corruption that currently permeates our political system.


Electoral College

The original idea behind the Electoral College, set forth in Article II, Section 1 of the U. S. Constitution, was for the leaders of the states to select the most worthy person in the nation as president, without regard to the person's state of origin or political party. Then, even though our Constitution is thoroughly non-partisan, parties gained a foothold. To quote William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director, FEC Office of Election Administration, "The very people who had been condemning parties publicly had nevertheless been building them privately."

The advent of partisan politics led to a constitutional amendment which altered the Electoral College. To quote Kimberling again, "By making seemingly slight changes, the 12th Amendment fundamentally altered the design of the Electoral College and, in one stroke, accommodated political parties as a fact of life in American presidential elections."

Now, instead of recognizing the self-serving nature of partisan politics and the danger parties pose for our people, we lament the transformation of the Electoral College into a rubber stamp that give parties control of presidential elections. Even with the 12th Amendment, we need not yield this power to those who control our political parties. We must change the way we select those who represent us ... including the members of the Electoral College.


Groups of Five

Urbano dela Cruz suggested setting up groups of five instead of three as originally proposed. He feels increasing the group size from three to five will reduce the potential for organized groups to target selected candidates for defeat. This table shows the progress of such an arrangement, for comparison with the original table.


In this example, after groups were assigned at each level, any remaining participants were carried to the next level as described in Devilish Details.


Constraining Our Leaders

We all have an idea of goodness, but there is no objective measure of good. Each of us measures goodness in our own way. One person may think something good while another may think the same thing bad.

I started out believing people are naturally good, but drifted to a more neutral notion as I aged. Here's why:

Self-preservation is the first law of nature. Before humans reached the cave-man state they did what they had to do to survive. They existed like other animals. They killed for food and they killed those who threatened them. For them, killing was not a moral issue it was a matter of survival.

It is likely that these beings existed in herds, that they hunted and sheltered together, instinctively. If so, they might have lived like what we refer to as cave-men. However, those beings did not become "human" until they began to change their animalistic behavior. The ability to make such a change defines what we call humans.

Assuming cave-men lived in groups, it is reasonable to imagine that the most effective survivors of the group were the strongest members. We can also imagine that the strongest could and did take from the weakest. It is also likely the weaker took what they could from the stronger, even if it was only "leavings", to satisfy their needs.

But, need is relative. It depends on many factors. In the case of cave-men, it depended on the availability of food, an individual's size and/or appetite, the need to provide for mates and offspring, need to store reserves, and many other factors. It is not hard to imagine that, however primeval, different members of the group had different needs.

When these beings started to change their animalistic behavior, when they began to "think", there is a high likelihood that their thoughts related to their needs. At some point, those thoughts expanded to include opinions or judgments about the needs of other individuals in the group. The concepts of "good" and "bad" must have originated in this way.

At some point in the existence of cave-men, the weaker members of the community recognized that, since they did not have the strength to take from the stronger members by themselves, they needed the help of others if they were to survive. It would not have been difficult for the weaker members to recognize other members of the group who also suffered by their weakness. In some way, these weaker members combined to limit the domination of the stronger. That was the beginning of "civilization".

What is not stated, but must be recognized, is that the stronger members were members of the same group. They did not stand idly by and allow the weaker members to take from them. They participated in the formation of a solution. They used their strength to protect as much of what was "theirs" as they could. This laid the foundation for the concept of "ownership", and, by extension, the concept of "greed". Ownership was claimed by the strong and the attribution of greed was laid by the weak. This is the most important, but least acknowledged, aspect of the relationships which led to the origin and structure of civilization.

If this is a reasonable estimate of the origin of civilization, several things stand out:

1) Morality, or the concept of "good and bad", can not exist in the absence of intelligent thought. The squirrel, when he stores nuts for the winter, does not ask himself if he'd be wrong to store one more. If he finds another and feels the need for it, he takes it. For animals, there is no issue of good or bad, and the concept of "greed" does not exist. A moral sense is a mark of intelligence.

2) The driving force for the organization of society is the need to restrain the strongest members of the group. If the weaker members of the group do not feel threatened by the stronger, there is no need to organize.

3) The threat the weaker members of the original society felt had to result from deprivation of the resources needed for existence (probably food). If the stronger were perceived as taking more than they needed while the weaker suffered, that condition must have been characterized as "bad".

4) The mechanism society uses to restrict bad behavior is force. By definition, a weaker member can not control a stronger one. But, several weaker members, in unison, have enough power to control even the strongest. In this sense, civilization is a banding together of the members of a group to gain the strength needed to control members exhibiting "bad" behavior.

5) When discussing these relationships, we tend to use sophisticated terms to differentiate forms of undesirable behavior. Thus, we call the taking of more than one needs "greed". This tempts us to say civilization developed to limit greed. It is more likely the initial banding together mentioned above was to ensure the survival of the weaker members of the group rather than to penalize the stronger.

6) The role of civilization as a means of controlling excessive strength or power evolved over time. As the goods available for consumption expanded beyond rudimentary food, clothing and shelter, we see ample evidence that the more powerful acquired the surplus goods first. At the same time, they increased the sophistication of the ways they exercised their power to control what they considered "theirs". Reactively, the less powerful slowly developed ways to force broader distribution of the surplus goods. That process continues today.

Looked at this way, the concepts of good and bad can not exist for a single individual. They can only exist in terms of others. I was wrong to believe that humans are naturally good. At birth, they are neither. It's true some children are born with what is called a "bad" nature, but that is a judgment rendered by others. The infant, itself, has no concept of "good" or "bad".

For each of us, the idea of good and bad grows as we develop. Initially, we see those who gratify our wishes as good and those who deny us what we want as bad. But we soon realize good and bad are much more complex than that. We exist in a constant and ever-changing mixture of good and bad, starting with our parents who supply our needs (good) and control us (bad). The choices we make flow from our understanding of that mixture, influenced by our individual characteristics. The more powerful among us may consider actions good that are abhorrent to the less powerful, but they are neither good nor bad unless they affect others and their goodness or badness depend how they affect others.

That, it seems to me, is the essence of good and bad. It is also a fairly obvious statement of the human condition. While the foregoing was written in a search for the origin and nature of goodness, it painted a picture of the weaker members of the human race forcing civilized behavior on the stronger and the stronger members impeding the civilizing efforts of their weaker brethren as well as they could. I started out trying to derive a basis for believing that humans are naturally "good", a personal bias I wanted to justify. I failed. Instead, I found a basis for understanding why we can't trust our leaders.

But that seems to create a paradox: We must have leaders, and leaders, by their nature, must lead. We are properly taught from childhood to respect and revere our leaders. How can we square that with the notion that "we can't trust our leaders"? We can only do so when we recognize that there is a difference between "trust" and "blind trust". Even those who followed Alexander learned to put bounds on his ambition.

It has ever been so.


Persuasion is the art of causing someone to do something. It is a significant factor in politics.

In the past 200 years, elements of persuasion have been honed into the science of marketing, Those who reap the rewards of marketing use it to further their own interest, usually at the expense of those they persuade. One current manifestation is the marketing of politicians without regard for their character.

Our purpose here is to find ways to improve the quality of our political leaders. We seek to do that by harnessing our own natures to the election process. That requires that we consider the human characteristics likely to motivate the participants in the election process. We will do so by contemplating the likely attitudes of the people at the various levels of the Active Democracy process described earlier.

At the initial level, when the entire electorate meets for the first time to select one member of a their group to represent the other two, there will be three kinds of participants:

1) those who do not want to be selected,

2) those willing to be selected, and

3) those seeking selection.

In any group where all three participants do not want to be selected, the triad will not make a selection and all three participants will be eliminated.

Thus, among the groups that actually make a selection, the people who are selected will either be people who want to be selected or people who are willing to be selected. This is not to say that each person must be of one type or the other, but rather that each person is somewhere on the continuum from those willing to be selected to those wishing to be selected.

For simplicity, we will assume that the desire to be selected is equivalent to a desire for public office and that the people we mention as examples are at one end of the wish-willingness continuum or the other. The reality is infinitely more complex but the results will differ only in degree from what we learn by thinking about the kind of people who are at the hypothetical poles.

We must also note that the attitudes we've mentioned may not be static. Although a person seeking public office is unlikely to become a person willing to serve, a person willing to serve may well be transformed into a person seeking public office:

[If person-willing-to-serve (A) feels person-seeking-office (B) is not a good choice, (A) may seek to persuade the group that (A) or (C) is a better choice. Such an effort moves (A) closer to being a person-seeking-office because if A will not support B, the chance that A will be chosen increases.]

Based on this assessment, we can say that people who advance to the second level will have one of two characteristics: either they seek public office or they are willing to serve in public office. In other words, either they persuaded the other members to select them or they allowed the other members to select them. The difference is the extent to which they used persuasion to achieve selection.

In a pyramiding process of the type under discussion, it is reasonable to think that active seekers of public office will succeed more frequently than passive ones. Thus, after several iterations of the process, we can anticipate that each member of a triad will be a person seeking public office. Under such circumstances, the art of persuasion assumes mounting importance. Those making the selection want desirable qualities in the person they choose. Those seeking selection must persuade their peers they possess the qualities sought.

Whatever other qualities a person seeking office will have, we can assert with considerable confidence that two of them will be a desire for public office and persuasiveness. Our method of selecting public officials uses these traits; all three want the same thing and can only attain it by persuading the others to select them.

When persuasion occurs between two people, it takes place as a dialogue with one person attempting to persuade the other. In such events, both parties are free to participate in the process. The person to be persuaded can question the persuader as to specific points and present alternative points about the topic under discussion. In such circumstances, it is possible that the persuader will become the persuaded.

When persuasion involves multiple people, it occurs more as a monologue with one person attempting to persuade the others. The transition from dialogue to monologue accelerates as the number of people to be persuaded increases. The larger the number of people, the less free they are to participate in the process. As the number of people to be persuaded grows, the individuals among them are progressively less able to participate in the process. They can not question the persuader as to specific points or present alternative points about the topic under discussion. In such circumstances, it is unlikely that the persuader will become the persuaded.

Viewed in this light, we can say that when selecting public officials, a system that encourages dialogue is preferable to one which relies on a monologue. Discussion can best be encouraged by having fewer people in the "session of persuasion". Because of the need for a definitive decision, I believe the best group size to encourage active involvement by all participants is three.


Urbano's Design

We are searching for a better way to select the people who represent us in our government. A thoughtful person, writing as Urbano dela Cruz, has proposed an excellent method. He has all communities select members of the community to serve in a council. The council members select, from among themselves, those who advance to higher levels of government. The process looks something like this:

1) Communities select the members of a community council

2) Community council members appoint some of their members to a district council

3) (In urban areas)
District council members appoint some of their members to serve on a municipal council

Municipal council members appoint from their members:
  • A Mayor
  • A Vice Mayor
(In all areas, urban and rural)
District council members appoint some of their members to serve as provincial (or State) representatives

Provincial representatives appoint from their members:
  • A Governor
  • A Vice Governor
and appoint members to serve as congressional representatives

Congressional representative appoint from their members:
  • A President
  • A Vice President
  • Appropriate number of Senators
Those interested in the topic should read Urbano's presentation. He describes the shortcomings of the electoral process in the Philippines, problems analogous to those which plague U. S. politics, and then describes a design to correct those problems. You can find the design here.


Excessive Self-Interest

Thoughts devoted to improving the election process arise from dissatisfaction with the society fostered by our government. We want to select better representatives because we want to improve our lot. Reasoning our way through the causes and effects of our dissatisfaction is a complex and difficult task. Sometimes the search lets us view ourselves from an unfamiliar perspective.

For example, although I've never heard this view expressed by others, it seems a concept worth pondering:

"A society with no penalty for the excessive pursuit of self-interest is flawed".

When we think about the way societies develop, we should not be surprised that there are no such penalties. Those who lead the society are, by definition, those who pursue their self-interest most ardently. It would be unreasonable to expect such people to welcome restraints. Hence, the corollary:

"Penalizing the excessive pursuit of self-interest will not occur from the top down, it must flow from the bottom up."

History is replete with evidence that this is true, but we rarely think of societal problems from this perspective. When we do, we tend to act in a violent, explosive manner. We would be better served by focusing our attention on such glaring issues as the need to select better representatives before they inspire revolutionary fervor.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Is there value in deadlocks in the Active Democracy process?

An acquaintance asked about the wisdom of disqualifying groups that become deadlocked, i.e., triads that are unable to select one of their members to represent the other two in the time allotted for their decision. It seems to me the potential for, and need to resolve, deadlocks is one of the strong points of Active Democracy. I would welcome other points of view, to broaden my perspective.

I think disqualifying deadlocks is a strong point because those who wish to become leaders, must, virtually by definition, have strong egos. As they advance they will encounter others with as strong a wish to advance as themselves. This should produce some intellectually intense confrontations.

The ability to make a selection depends on the characteristics of the participants. Traits we may anticipate in people with strong egos are various levels of obstinacy, persuasiveness. susceptibility to reason and willingness to compromise. These are important qualities, but whether or not their holders will make good leaders (and good public servants) depends on the mix.

If, for example, all three participants are so obstinate they will not act to break a deadlock ... they would rather go down than yield ... would we consider them potentially good leaders? From another perspective, if none of the participants is able to persuade the others that selection is preferable to disqualification, isn't it improbable that they would be good public officials?

There are other aspects. For one thing, above some level, the candidates are assured a public office. Maybe not the office they'd like, but an office in which they can demonstrate their excellence so they can advance further in the next succeeding election cycle. Since disqualification takes them out of the mix entirely there will be an added incentive to make a selection.

In my opinion, candidates that allow themselves to be deadlocked are unlikely to do a good job of representing our interests in our government. Contrary views are welcome.


Ruling Class Danger

At various times, people have mentioned concerns about the Active Democracy concept (privately or in other forums) that should be examined. One such demur is:

"After 2-3 full cycles of the process, the turnover of individuals who consistently reach level 4 will diminish. There will then emerge a ruling class."

This concern arises because it happened with our two-party system. Party functionaries, who gave the party continuity, tended to acquire ever more power over the process. In the 200 years since the first establishment of political parties, these people have become a ruling class that now controls our parties ... and our nation.

The described concern is founded, in part, on the fact that the qualities required to advance in the Active Democracy process will tend to elevate the same type of people in each successive election, thus raising the specter that those people will, somehow, form a new cabal.

That is unlikely.

For one thing, the electorate is in a constant state of flux. People constantly enter and leave the electorate and people's desire to seek public office varies in intensity from complete disinterest to avid pursuit throughout their lives. These are not inconsequential matters. When coupled with the random selection of triad participants, they make the system dynamic at its lowest levels. That dynamism will propagate upward.

In such an atmosphere, the fact that the same type of people will advance in each successive election will tend to improve the system. When we select public officials using a process that favors the best of our people, and when the same kind of people are the ones most frequently advanced, people who seek office will copy them. Morality is a top-down phenomenon. We take our cues from those we wish to emulate.

In addition, given the dynamism of the method, I think it unlikely that those who reach level 4 will ever have a common view or objective. Quite the contrary. In the first place, the selection process is unlikely to group them in similar triads on a regular or dependable basis. Secondly, their prior experience will affect their selectability, favorably in some cases, unfavorably in others. Thirdly, they will have knowledge of the others that will affect how they relate to them. And, finally, at each level, two of three candidates will be eliminated. That will do more to break up "ruling class" aspirations than anything else.


Opting Out

The following is adapted from comments to me, privately or in other forums, expressing concerns about the Active Democracy concept. One comment was to the effect that ...
"... I have no desire for (public office). Accordingly, I would dissuade the citizens with whom I am pooled in the first round from voting for me."

"In the proposed system, I would be denied the right to consider/select any person other than the two selected for my triplet in the first round."

(In addition, this person thinks)
"This form of governance (Active Democracy) is known as an oligarchy not a democracy, despite the illusory trappings of democracy during the first round."

The essence of this comment is the wish to opt out at the lowest level and still influence selections at higher levels. Since others (duly elevated on their merits) make the selections at the higher levels, this person feels the process is oligarchical. (I dealt with oligarchy in the previous post and will not expand on that, right now)

Reaching public office is not the only reason for participating in the process. Participation is how we do our utmost to improve the quality of our elected representatives.

When one wishes to disenfranchise oneself by opting out of the process, the obvious penalty for doing so is the inability to influence the result. This is as true in political action as it is in any other form of endeavor. It is important to remember that authority and responsibility are inseparable. If one wants the authority to influence a result, one has the responsibility to participate in the process.

We are free to opt out whenever we choose, but, by doing so, we renounce our right to further influence the proceedings. If we are concerned about the selections made at higher levels, the process gives us an opportunity to make our presence felt. If we participate to the best of our ability and reach a point where our participation ends, we have done as much as our talent and disposition allow.


Citizenship Tax (1)

The adverse effects of the immense growth of corporate power over the past 150 years have been described elsewhere, including by Stephanie Blankenburg and Dan Plesch writing on the Open Democracy site. Less has been said about practical ways to curb that growth.

The central problem is that our society has no penalty for greed, and "a society with no penalty for greed is flawed."

Greed is an extension of the pursuit of self-interest. It is not an evil we can address objectively. If we are to inhibit it, we must do so indirectly. What I write here will describe a method of harnessing our natural pursuit of our own interest and changing it from a destructive force to a productive one,

Self-interest is part of self-preservation and "Self-preservation is the first law of nature". It applies to all organisms, living or corporate. The methods of self-preservation vary, and are generally applauded as "survival of the fittest". However, it can be shown that, carried to extremes, self-preservation is destructive of the preserved entity's environment. Beneficial though Darwinism may be in a purely theoretical sense, if our society is the environment being destroyed, we must do what we can to prevent it.

Societies restrain undesirable characteristics by a variety of forces. They initially deal with excesses by parental guidance, disapproval, peer pressure, appeal to conscience, excommunication and other non-physical methods. If these fail, it condemns the act by mandate and authorizes a force to control it. A central feature of the process is identification of the characteristic to be restrained.

These mechanisms work until a rogue is able to influence the forces society creates to control it. Since I'm discussing our tendency to pursue our own self-interest, I'll focus on the rogues who carry that pursuit to extremes.

By far, a rogues' most effective means of evading control is by influencing those who make the rules intended to control them, to render legislation ineffective or to divert its impact. Evidence of the abuses assault us daily. We constantly get fresh examples of the manipulation of our governing and regulatory bodies. Our subdued reaction to such events may be due to our recognition that they are simply additional evidence of our natural venality. In any case, we accept them without considering whether there is a way to make them less productive for their purveyors and less destructive for us.

While one may recognize the existence of rogues after they have achieved rogue stature, we have no mechanism for penalizing them or inhibiting their greed before it becomes intolerable. However much we are offended by what we perceive as greed, the basis of our complaint is always subjective.

Our traditional way of dealing with rogues in society requires that they be identified, so the lack of an objective measure, the inability to point a finger and say so-and-so is a rogue, seems to present an insoluble problem. That's not exactly true. We may not be able to point a finger at a specific target, but we can certainly recognize the characteristics rogues share and the circumstances under which they thrive.

One quality the most destructive rogues have in common is great size. This, too, seems to present a paradox: The achievement of great size springs from the best of human capabilities. Size is attained by talent and can't be criticised simply because it reaches some specific extent. It is the result of a natural pursuit of self-interest, which, over time, becomes synonymous with self-preservation.

Thus we have a conflict: Size is achieved through ability but the beneficial effect of the enterprise evaporates when growth is unfettered. As entities grow into rogues they believe their best interests are attained at the expense of the community rather than in harmony with it. As they grow, they target the wealth of communities, and suck it out, leaving an empty husk.

Our attempts to control cancerous growth fail because we try to outlaw identifiable evils. Such laws are easily subverted. The larger the enterprise, the greater the pool of talent available to devise the methods of subversion. The result is behemoths which have a vacuum cleaner effect, sucking up resources to the detriment of our communities and our citizens.

To summarize, we know that rogues exist and we know they are injurious to the humans among us. Yet, after carefully looking at the matter, we find that the entities we call rogues started out by being very good at what they do. If we had their pool of talent, we might evolve the same way ourselves.

Hence, the conflict: On the one hand, we seek excellence and applaud success. On the other, these conditions, unrestrained, breed rogues. How can we resolve this? How can we constrain the rogue while encouraging excellence and success?

The most direct way is to make excessive size a burden.

When we think about preventing excessive size, we run into the fact that some businesses must be large. Public utilities, for example, require a huge infrastructure and great gobs of capital. Hence, although rogues tend to have great size, great size may not identify a rogue. So, our solution to the problem must focus on unwarranted size. It must not injure large entities whose size is dictated by necessity.

Growth requires nutrients on which to feed. For corporate growth, the nutrients are the availability of physical and human resources and an environment conducive to growth. In the United States, the resources are a wealth of raw materials and human assets; the environment is provided by our government. The use, or exploitation, of these assets is what allows inordinate corporate growth.

Viewed in this light, we can see that growth flows from citizenship. If an entity is to grow, the society in which it functions must allow growth, so we can say that entities grow as a direct result of their citizenship.

We have seen that growth is, by definition, exploitive. This is not to say that exploitation is an evil. It only becomes an evil when it is excessive. Entities grow by exploiting the nutrients in its environment. That is precisely the goal our society seeks to attain. It can not be condemned simply because it exploits the environment. However, unrestrained exploitation results in excesses. If we are to control the excesses, we must have a means to discriminate between justifiable size and unwarranted growth.

Fortunately, we have a simple, readily available measuring stick. The best measure of size is the total revenue an entity receives in a specified period of time. (I use the term "revenue" to mean the annual gross receipts of an entity, without reserve or allowance, less amounts paid to external vendors in which the entity has no managerial, directorial or financial interest of any amount or kind.) We can say, objectively, that the more revenue an entity generates, the larger it is. This is not a subjective opinion, it is a verifiable fact.

Citizenship Tax (2)

To recap, we assert that

1) Growth is a quality we seek, applaud and reward.

2) Growth entails exploitation of the available resources.

3) At some indefinable point, an entity's growth, if unchecked, becomes a detriment to the society which spawned it.

4) The only guide we have to measure the extent to which an entity exploits our resources is its revenue.

Thus, it is appropriate to levy a progressive charge, based on revenue, for an entity's use of our resources. We can call this progressive charge "A Citizenship Tax".

The Citizenship Tax is a levy assessed on the revenue of an entity, cited in terms of annual receipts. The progressive nature of the tax requires a standard base. We will use the gross receipts (revenue) of the entity, annualized, to provide that base.

The Citizenship Tax does not concern itself with the source of an enterprise's revenue. The tax applies whether the revenue results from the operation of the entity or the sale of its assets. The only criteria is that the enterprise receive the revenue (or its equivalent, as in the case of a swap). If an entity has extensive assets in cash, real estate, equity, or in any other form, the Citizenship Tax does not concern itself with the value of those assets. However, when an asset is disposed of, in whatever manner or form, the value of the asset is part of the entity's revenue for the period.

The Citizenship Tax is not concerned with the profitability of the enterprise. It is a fee we levy for affording our citizens the right to use our resources. The charge is for the extent of the exploitation, not for the degree of success an entity has in doing so. Whether or not the enterprise is profitable does not change the amount of resources it exploits in its operation.

The Citizenship Tax is progressive. As revenue increases, the tax rate increases. As will be seen in the tax table below, the tax is insignificant for small entities. As an enterprise grows, its tax load increases, but the load only becomes burdensome for rogues.

Taxes are an expense of doing business. They increase the cost of doing business, and that cost is added to all other costs to determine the price of the enterprise's goods and services. In other words, taxes are always passed on to the consumer. When a rogue attains an unwarranted size by manipulating the rules in its own favor or dominating its competitors to the detriment of the public, The Citizenship Tax adds a cost to its operation.

The wonderful thing about The Citizenship Tax is that it is utterly and completely objective. It makes no judgment about the goodness or badness of the taxed entity. It simply charges all enterprises for their use of society's resources.

If, by the nature of its business, an enterprise must be large, it is not injured by The Citizenship Tax because all competing businesses must attain a similar size. However, when a rogue grows beyond an economically justifiable size, the tax acts to protect the public interest without additional regulation.

Corporate growth is good, and healthy, and desireable. We want to give our entrepreneurs the freedom to grow. That is the way they enrich our lives. The Citizenship Tax supports this goal because it is absolutely even-handed. It makes no judgment about the excesses of an enterprise. It is absolutely and totally objective in its application, and in its effect.

If an entity grows to a size that exceeds its value to the society, The Citizenship Tax acts as an umbrella, increasing the rogue's cost of operation and giving its competitors a cost advantage which prevents their suffocation. In fact, The Citizenship Tax would enhance the viability of competition, immeasurably.

Even at inception, The Citizenship Tax is gentle in its effect. Each entity can meet the tax in its own way. Some (like those which have subsumed suppliers or competitors) may elect to spin those entities off, to resize their operations to a smaller tax base. The option is theirs.

Brief Recap To This Point:
1) An entity exists in an environment and may be said to be a citizen of that environment.

2) The size of an entity is evidence of the extent to which that entity exploits the environment in which it exists.

3) Entities are dynamic and exist in a dynamic environment. (They expand and contract in response to internal pressures and the expansion and contraction of their environment)

4) I have postulated that excessive size is bad, but, because of the dynamic nature of the entities and their environment, it is not possible to make a judgment that a given size is good or bad. Stated another way, size is a method of description. In itself, it is neither good nor bad.

5) While I believe in free markets, I do not believe that self-interest, exercised without regard for the welfare of the environment which nurtures it, constitutes a free market. On the contrary, carried to its logical extreme, self-interest protects and extends itself by dominating its environment ... the antithesis of a free market.

7) The most readily available device we have for measuring the size of an entity is the total number of dollars it takes in by reason of its existence (i.e., its gross receipts)

8) Since size denotes the extent to which an entity exploits our resources, it is appropriate to levy a charge for that exploitation. Such a charge is the only practical way to to identify and restrain excessive size. The charge must accommodate the concept that size, per se, is not an evil.

The Citizenship Tax is levied on the absolute gross receipts of an entity, from all sources and for all amounts received in its name by entities it controls. (i.e., franchises). The tax is progressive. Assuming a base rate of 2%, 2% is added to the rate each time the receipts increase by one decimal position, thus:

Annual Gross Receipts
Tax Rate

The tax rate increases proportionally from one order of magnitude to the next (for example, going from $10 billion to $100 billion receipts).

An intended side effect of The Citizenship Tax is that it makes inflation unacceptable. The more roguish an enterprise is, the more "pricing power" it has. The evils of inflation are reserved for those at the lowest end of the economic ladder. Humans never have "pricing power".

The most striking thing about The Citizenship Tax is that it harnesses a human trait ... the pursuit of self-interest ... in a productive way.