Weekend Musing: Direct Democracy and Voters

Guest blogger Steven Spadijer, of Australian National University, continues with Part Two of his series on Direct Democracy. Part One is available here.

In today’s post I’ll examine the role direct democracy has on informing the people. That is, what impact does direct democracy have on the average voter competence? Does the information-rich environment make people better informed citizen, because they have been bestowed the duty to decide heavy policy decisions?

Authors Benz and Stutzer (see references at bottom) provide evidence in favour of the conjecture that citizens in states with direct democratic institutions are better informed than citizens in purely representative states. The paper is interesting because it is one of the very few that deals with the effects of direct democratic institutions in a cross-country setting.

Some European states used referendums to pass the Maastricht Treaty, others did not. According to Eurobarometer data, citizens in countries with a referendum were indeed better informed both objectively and subjectively. In the first case the data shows that countries which held referendums on EU matters scored considerably better on 10 general questions about the EU than did inhabitants of countries where no referendum.

They also looked at to what degree direct democracy in Switzerland is practiced at cantonal level, and compared this with the answers from Swiss citizens on three questions about general Swiss politics. Here too, the Swiss who lived in cantons with greater direct democracy had considerably more knowledge than the Swiss living in cantons with more representative systems. In both cases, the impact was just as large as between members of political parties and non-party members, or difference in monthly incomes.

The US literature also reveals the positive endogenous effects of direct democracy:

  • — Smith and Tolbert find that when given the opportunity to participate directly in policy decisions via the initiative process, voters are generally more likely to hold more favourable opinions of state government.
  • — They also find, based on aggregate-level voter age population data, that ballot measures increase turnout in low-information midterm elections.
  • —Donovan and Smith found that independent voters, relative to partisan voters, exhibited greater awareness of midterm elections due to ballot measures (i.e. they were more likely to vote), suggesting that without the presence of salient ballot measures some episodic independent voters would not have voted in midterm elections.

But are the stinking masses incapable of understanding policy, a common argument promoted by those with a paternalist bebt? Are they stupid and easily manipulated? In the US in particular, what does the literature say?

  • — Lupia examined voting patterns on five complicated California insurance propositions in 1988 that were prima facie hard to distinguish. Based on exit surveys, Lupia classified voters into “informed” and “uninformed” groups based on whether they could correctly answer questions about the substance of the measures. He found that uninformed voters could emulate the voting patterns of informed voters simply by knowing the positions interest groups such as Ralph Nader and the insurance industry had taken on the measures.
  • — Kahn showed that voting patterns on 18 California environmental initiatives closely reflected underlying economic interests—voters who stood to suffer an economic loss from a measure tended to oppose it.
  • — Donovan found that voters “appear able to figure out what they are for and against in ways that make sense in terms of their underlying values and interests. Failing that, others appear to use a strategy of voting no when information is lacking or when worries about general state conditions are greatest. Just as legislators do, these voters make choices purposefully, using available information”
  • — Bowler and Donovan also argue the effects of citizen exposure to direct democracy on internal and external political efficacy rival the effects of a formal education.
  • — McNeal finds that exposure to initiative stimulates campaign contributions from interest groups, dramatically enhances political knowledge and increases the probability of voting with each ballot initiative additional initiative on the ballot increasing the turnout by one percent.

So the “people are stupid” mantra seems rather…err…stupid. Furthermore, one may encounter polities where experts are themselves not well informed. In this instance, there are two possible scenarios.

In the first, no one in the polity is sufficiently well informed. In such a case, letting the voters choose policy by direct democracy rather than leaving it to the legislature causes no loss in competence.

In the second scenario, some elites are knowledgeable, but voters are not. This scenario can only occur in a “closed society”, where the channels of communication are centrally controlled, or in a society where effective channels of communication do not exist. In such a situation, letting voters make policy by direct democracy can do considerable damage.

European and North American states, however, are not closed societies. Nor is Australia. We have access to modern forms of communication and competitive political environments. All voices are heard from career politicians’, Professors/academics, family members, Church leaders over the course of months. Parliament can even propose a counterproposal and issue several recommendations on how to vote. Sometimes there are even multiple choice referenda, often practiced in Zurich and Berne.

Thus, if someone in a direct democracy debate has the opportunity to expose the weakness of the opposing side while the competitive nature of politics provides a strong incentive to do so publicly. In sum, if there are people who are willing to inform voters and if voters can use environmental factors such as institutions to better understand the motives of the people they listen to, then voters can cast the same votes they would have cast if more informed, or as Bruno Frey puts it:

The voters…do not need to have detailed knowledge of the issues, but rather of the main questions at stake. These, however, are not of a technical nature, but involve basic decisions / value judgements, which a voter is as qualified to make as a politician. Indeed, it is…not clear why the citizens are trusted to be able to choose between parties and politicians in elections, but not between issues in referendums. If anything, the former choice seems to be the more difficult one, because electors must form expectations about actions in the future by politicians over a range of issues.


But what about the California bogey where corporations and special interests are said to “hijack” the process? It should be observed that here in Australia if constitutionally entrenched and corporations hijacked the process, the people can always run an initiative to stop them from spending unlimited amounts.. In California this is not the case thanks to “judicial review” which treats corporations as “people” as these legal examples show:

  • The courts invalidated Proposition 9, a direct citizen statute approved by 69.8 percent of Californian voters, restricting the ability of lobbyists to make gifts and political contributions and requiring them to disclose their transactions expenditures in ballot campaigns and election campaigns. It violated the right to freedom of association and free speech.
  • The courts, citing the right to free speech, invalidated Proposition 73 in 1988 , which was approved by 58 percent of voters, limiting annual political contributions to a candidate for public office to 1000 dollars from each person, 2500 dollars from each political committee, and 5000 dollars from a political party; and limited gifts to elected officials to 1000 dollars from each single source per year.
  • Proposition 73, in 1996, approved by 61.27 percent of voters which capped campaign contributions per candidate to 100 dollars for districts of less than 100 000 people, 250 dollars for larger districts and 500 dollars for state-wide elections; committees of small contributors can contribute twice the limit.

It speaks volumes of a constitutional system where one man can veto and disfranchise millions of voters at a stroke of a pen.

In any event, the above should not be surprising to the commentators of this blog. As one commentator put it last week:

Implementing direct democracy should be easy with the technology we now possess. It is even possible that every single decision on spending or law enactment be directly made by the electorate.

Thus, in addition to the economic arguments in favour of direct democracy, there is a civic Republican argument too, or as Thomas Jefferson put it:

[T]he remedy for an ignorant citizenry is not to take control from them, but to inform their discretion by education. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…The are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. After all it is my principle that the will of the majority should prevail

Direct Democracy does just that. This is for me perhaps the strongest argument of all. For if we take popular sovereignty seriously, we will be forced to educate ourselves, and each other.

Matthias Benz and Alois Stutzer, ‘Are Voters Better Informed When They Have a Larger Say in Politics?’
Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan, ‘Democracy, Institutions and Attitudes About Citizen Influence on Government’
Caroline J. Tolbert and Daniel A. Smith, ‘The Educative Effects of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout’, ‘Direct Democracy, Public Opinion, and Candidate Choice’
Arthur Lupia, ‘Shortcuts versus Encyclopedias: Information and Voting Behavior in California Insurance Reform Elections’
Bruno Frey, ‘Democracy by Competition: Referenda and Federalism in Switzerland’
Matthew E. Kahn, and John G. Matsusaka, ‘Demand for Environmental Goods: Evidence from Voting Patterns on California Initiatives’


  1. Thankyou for another thoughtful article.

    I have been musing about how to enact change in Australia towards direct/open democracy for many years, and so it was great to see your recent pieces on the subject. I am not a politician (I’m an engineer), but I have an strong interest in politics because of it’s importance in shaping the present and future of a country and I’m alarmed at how disconnected and broken the current system has become.

    After a lot of thinking it occurs to me that there are ways we can bring a large measure of direct and open democracy to Australia without having to make any significant changes to the plumbing/structure of the current Australian political system.

    It’s not that I don’t think we can’t improve the current Australian political system plumbing and structure (far from it!), but the engineer in me sees a way to get open and direct democracy results “now” without having to make drastic changes. I see a way to enact more immediate and dramatic positive impact and, by fortunate coincidence, make it easier (if the idea catches on) for the plumbing to be improved down the track.

    Although not entirely accurate, a simple way to describe the essence of the system I’ve been working on in my mind is a kind of “jury duty” for politics. In this system, from the electorate a statistically significant sample of people are randomly selected (the “jury”). The “jury” is reconstituted regularly. The “jury” calls the shots. The elected representative’s role in Parliament is limited to relaying the will of the “jury” to the Parliament. The elected representative’s role then is greatly reduced to … ahem… precisely representing the majority will of the “jury” (and hence the electorate)… a return to the true meaning of the term “elected representative”.

    That is the essence of the system I’m thinking of. Naturally there is “more to it”. There are possibly other roles for the elected representative and his team that would probably enhance the system, such as:
    * The elected representative and his team to provide information for the jury and wider electorate, such as:
    * Translating proposed bills into easily understood language to assist them to decide whether or not they should be approved.
    * Researching pros and cons, background information etc., to better inform the “jury” and electorate about the implications of proposed bills etc.

    I’m also thinking that the elected representative can run an “open book” office, where all documents and accounts are readily publicly available – as are any meetings the elected representative may have (for example, with lobbyists from industry, however this system basically eliminates the power of lobbyists anyway).

    As to how to get such an elected representative voted in to office… call me simple-minded but a 3 year plan of pounding the pavement and knocking on basically every door in the electorate occurs to me as potentially effective (and hard work!).

    Naturally, this system essentially eliminates the direct power of lobbyists and sends to it’s long overdue death the essentially treasonous “party” system.

    In some ways this may even be superior to direct democracy – because statistics shows us that appropriately sized random samples can provide very accurate information about the “population” without having to quiz every single member of that population. In other words, it could be more efficient than direct democracy and effectively just as accurate.

    Steven, you are obviously quite widely read on this subject (much more than I), so I would appreciate any constructive comment you would offer (particularly from a “devils advocate” perspective – I’d love to hear why what I propose cannot work). Hell, for all I know the idea has already been proposed elsewhere.

    Take care,


    • Steven Spadijer

      I agree. The only thing I would add is that the people should be allowed to be free to choose which system of government they want – you do this by asking them, rather than assuming they have given your there “implicit consent”. In your system the jury has their preferences heard.

      We can compare this to other regimes:

      If one lives in China the final preferences (i.e. final say) are those of the Party seniors. An individual might join the Party and spend years working his or her way up through the echelons in the hope of one day reaching that rank and having his or her preferences reflected in policy.

      If one lives in Britain and Australia the relevant preferences are those of the Cabinet members (rubber-stamped by parliamentary backbenchers who are themselves bribed with the promise of future Cabinet appointment if they do as they’re told), and Cabinet is itself chosen from a duopoly of political parties every few years. As in China, an individual might join one of the parties and spend years working his or her way up through the echelons in the hope of one day reaching Cabinet rank.

      If one lives in the United States the relevant preferences are those of the members of the party duopoly who are elected to Congress, overlaid by the veto of a judicial oligarchy of elite lawyers appointed for a life term to the bench of the Supreme Court.

      If one lives in Switzerland, Bavaria or Liechtenstein, the relevant preferences are those of party members, often drawn from a range of parties under proportional representation, overlaid by the preferences of the people themselves on any matter attracting enough support to be put to a referendum.

      Which system is the “best” one? That is a matter of individual preference. But when engineering a “logical” constitution then all options should be considered (monarchy, DD, representative government, jury) i.e. the aggregation of all individual citizens preferences so no option may be privileged a priori over any other option. Chances are there would be a mixture of these – and the jury proposal might very well be trialed on a local level to see “how it goes”!

      I curiously tend to find that the biggest support for DD – is not in academic where everyone hates it (“you cannot let the great unwashed have an opinion!”) – but by people who actually engage in real life: financial traders, engineers, software developers, mathematicians, economists (generally – they usually give voters the benefit of the doubt i.e. they are ‘rational’), tradies, brickies angry at the state, business people and the like. Fortunately, as 3d1k points out, “voters appear to make reasoned choices regardless of their ability to answer our knowledge questions or their knowledge of shortcuts regarding a ballot measure”. This is good to know (but I like to believe we Australians are somewhat brighter than the average American!).

      • Thanks very much Stephen.

        Over the next few years I will be further refining the concept and may even try to implement it myself.

        I have little desire to be in politics, but I can’t get this idea out of my head, and so I’m starting to think that it’s something I’m being asked to take a shot at.

        My expectations of major reform from “within” are extremely low and opinions of the electorate about the state of the political system aren’t exactly rising, so I think the potential for a good reception by the electorate to such a system will only continue to grow as time passes.


    • Steven Spadijer


      It occurred to me the whole notion of a “representative” makes no sense due to the principal-agent problem. A trivial exercise to show that there is no demonstrable relationship between voters’ preferences and the actions of political agents. Consider the following simple example:

      – candidate or Party A supports policies X and Y;

      – candidate or Party B supports policies not-X and not-Y; and

      – a voter (perhaps most voters) prefer policies X and not-Y.

      There is no way a voter with such preferences can have them reflected in any vote for a “representative”. In practice, the range of policies is much larger than this: fiscal policy/taxation, education, monetary policy, defence, business regulation, law and order, the environment, immigration, family law, etc, etc. A vote for a supposed “representative” simply cannot transmit the necessary information regarding principals’ preferences on such a large range of options.

      The idea that political agents can represent the wishes of all voters is an absurdity of paternalist philosophy. Imagine arriving in court one morning to find that your barrister was there to “represent” not only you, but your opponent, and the state, and anyone else claiming an interest in your suit!

      Political agents who pretend to “represent” everyone in fact represent no-one but themselves – either their personal preferences, or what is needed to retain party pre-selection or seat.

      The same problem might exist with the jury – although the Condorcet jury theorem offers a justification for direct democracy. The Condorcet jury theorem holds that the larger the voting group, the greater the enhancement of group competence above average individual voter competence by majority voting. However, if policy disagreements arise from different information rather than merely different underlying preferences, and if each person receives an informative signal about the “right” course of action, aggregating the opinions of a million voters can be highly given “right” answers if right is defined by their own underlying preference.

      Note the theorem presupposes that average individual competence is higher than fifty percent and that there is a self-evidentially “right” or “wrong” answer: as argued above, the whole point of democracy is that there is not self-evidentially “right” or “wrong” answer, but mere preferences on these matters which are formed in light of robust debate.

      • Steven Spadijer

        Ps And by “the same problem might exist with the jury” I mean we are elevating the preferences of the jury above everyone else. Hence, I am suspicious of forever delegating power to any body, where I myself am not part of that body.

        Or as Rousseau puts it: the English people were “mistaken” when they believed themselves to be free. They were free “only during the election of the members of Parliament. Once they are elected, the populace is enslaved; it is nothing”.

        • Many thanks again, Steven.

          “It occurred to me the whole notion of a “representative” makes no sense due to the principal-agent problem.”
          … I agree that this is true of the current way the “elected representatives” behave. But it doesn’t have to be this way – it is the way they choose to behave (which, I believe, is bordering on treason).

          Under the “jury” system I’ve been working on, the elected representative enters into a contract with their electorate (even putting up a bond if necessary to obtain sufficient trust from the electorate) – a contract to transmit the will of the majority of the electorate to the Parliament. To be clear, I would (for example) vote in Parliament in favour of capital punishment if that was the will of the electorate (as measured through the randomly selected “jury”) regardless of my personal preference on the matter.

          PS – I haven’t done the maths, but I’m thinking a jury size of somewhere between 30 and 100 is the kind of size I’m thinking of. I hope by using the word jury you haven’t assumed I was talking about 10 or 12 people.

          “Ps And by “the same problem might exist with the jury” I mean we are elevating the preferences of the jury above everyone else. Hence, I am suspicious of forever delegating power to any body, where I myself am not part of that body.”

          This is perhaps a potential perceived problem by members of the electorate if they aren’t sufficiently informed about the way the jury system works or do not possess a sufficient knowledge of statistics. It is true that stats are routinely abused, but that doesn’t change the fact that the majority position of a population on a specific issue can be determined very accurately by random sampling. Secondly, every member of the electorate eventually gets their “turn” on the jury.

          At any rate, I’m not married to the jury idea. If we tried it and the electorate wanted to go to 100% direct democracy, I’d go with that.

    • Your suggestion resembles to some degree the halway house called, I think, “participative democracy”, in which a random sample of people from each party is physically convened to deliberate on a topic and be informed about it by experts–while everyone else tunes in via tv or the Internet. Their final vote may be binding, depending on the rules.
      This has been trialled in Australia, China, and the USA, amongst others, with considerable success.
      What is clear is that universal literacy and modern communications have made possible improved forms of governance.
      What is equally clear is that entrenched interests are horrified by the very idea.

      • Interesting! Thanks.

        “What is clear is that universal literacy and modern communications have made possible improved forms of governance.”
        — to that I say, absolutely!

        “What is equally clear is that entrenched interests are horrified by the very idea.”
        — aint that the truth!

        What I like about my idea is that it doesn’t require having to butt heads with entrenched interests to change the system. It works within the frameworks of the existing system and offers direct democracy (or something very close to it) to the people, which (if it gains popularity) creates a fantastic platform for changing the underlying frameworks down the track to enable even greater direct democracy.

  2. In their study ‘The Dilemma of Direct Democracy’ Burnett, Garrett and McCubbins (March 2010) find:

    “Contrary to two of our hypotheses, however, we find no support for the expectation that better informed voters, whether armed with certain factual knowledge or deploying well publicized voting cues, are more likely to make reasoned decisions than those who are, by our measure, uninformed. In other words, voters appear to make reasoned choices regardless of their ability to answer our knowledge questions or their knowledge of shortcuts regarding a ballot measure. We argue that existing theories of voting behavior may be inadequate for understanding voting on ballot measures…”

    In reference to Lupia’s findings:

    “Lupia’s analysis – and subsequent research on direct democracy – assumes, but never tests, how uninformed individuals will vote vis-à-vis informed voters. Surprisingly, we discover that knowledge does not matter, and, in this instance, knowledge is not power.”

    The may be a paper you wish to reference to in future articles. As you probably already know it was prepared for the Lowenstein Festschrift (2010). A range of related articles are available. Although I am preaching to the converted I am sure.



    The Benz Stutzer paper (December 2002) concedes indications ‘that citizens in referenda countries are on average better informed’ are at the ‘border of statistical significance’. There is a struggle to explain three non-referenda countries being included in the top eight distribution (ie ‘better informed’). The authors also concede that countries that performed better had participated more recently in referenda from which questions were devised – allowing for a fading over time of ‘knowledge’ (or perhaps a fading of memory). ‘For the variable “referendum”, the marginal effect amounts to 1.7%, i.e. citizens in referenda countries are 1.7% more likely to be better informed by one index point than otherwise similar citizens in non-referenda countries’. To use an Aussie colloquialism – Whoopty Doo!

    So we may or may not become better informed citizens when participating in direct democracy. Even those they may be better informed are not guaranteed to make better decisions than the less well informed. There is the ‘defensive no’ – where voters vote against proposals viewed as complex (even when having a reasonable understanding of the issue) – ‘voters whose stated policy preferences would otherwise suggest they would favor the “no” position cast their ballots with less error than do people who favor the “yes” position’. Not as simple and straightforward as some would have it…

    Perhaps in this instance as the authors of The Dilemma of Direct Democracy write “knowledge is not power”.

    • Steven Spadijer

      3d1k for once I agree! I thank you for bringing these articles to my attention as bolster the points I made.

      In relation ‘The Dilemma of Direct Democracy’ this is a good paper – it goes far beyond what I am claiming, by arguing you do not necessarily need to be informed in order to make a ‘reasoned’ decision. If proves some voters have attitudes and perspectives on an issue (a “vibe” or nuance) and as such “voters appear to make reasoned choices regardless of their ability to answer our knowledge questions or their knowledge of shortcuts regarding a ballot measure”. The important word here is “reasoned” – which is what DD is about – that the preferences of certain individuals (no matter how much they claim they may commune regularly with the Almighty) are not self-evidentially superior to those of others. Some may do not unlimited corporate expenditure because of the “vibe” (and prima facie implications) it gives away. Others may not like high taxes due to the “vibe” (and deadweight losses) it gives away. And so on. Politicians’ vote like this en masse (often with cues from party leadership and some metaphysical claim). This does not prove voters are “dumb” (as argued in my piece), but rather what Frey says “The voters…do not need to have detailed knowledge of the issues [which is what Lupcia and others were doing], but rather of the main questions at stake”. They make reasoned (basic?) decisions just like politicians’. In relation to the Lupcia article, I actually see their findings consistent with his, at least insofar as being able to answer PRECISE questions does not mean they do not have a reasoned opinion (as just noted). So the fact they are “uninformed” would not be fatal.

      In relation to Benz Stutzer paper, I am actually not surprised ‘countries’ (rather than Swiss cantons) which held referendums are on the outer engages of statistical significance (although with the strange of it still being statically significant). Referendums are VERY VERY rare in most countries, so given it is not part of political culture (I mean the UK has only had 2 referendums in the last few decades) – so the brain is not working. In these countries the people do not need to think for themselves, and rarely do so. And given the issue of memory (they asked questions later on), I am surprised it is 1.7% (but the MARGINAL effect is still there). Nevertheless, in the case of Switzerland, where referendums ARE a part of their culture, then we see that this effect of information is far more pronounced, despite controlling for a range of variables.

      In relation to preferences and voting errors, this may be because the way people think. You can be a Christian and support stem cells (because it wishes ‘good’ onto other people). You can be atheists and believe that there should be religious schools because you also believe in freedom of association. And so forth. It does not account for conflicting preferences. Others might support a propositions generally, but be uncomfortable with certain implications. Indeed, it is “not as simple and straightforward as some would have it..”

      There are other papers/books you overlook:

      http://apr.sagepub.com/content/33/2/283.short (analyzing the impact of ballot initiative use on voter turnout from 1980 through 2002 using voter eligible population (VEP) turnout rates. Cross-sectional time-series analysis reveals that (a) ballot initiatives increase turnout in midterm as well as presidential elections and (b) the turnout effect in midterm and especially presidential elections is considerably larger than previously thought. On average, turnout in presidential elections increases by 0.70% with each initiative on the ballot, whereas turnout in midterm elections increases by 1.7%, all else equal)

      Daniel. A Smith and Caroline Tolbert, ‘The Effect of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout in the American States’ (2001) 29 American Politics Research 625-48 (The disparity in turnout rates between initiative and noninitiative states has been increasing over time, estimated at 7% to 9% higher in midterm and 3% to 4.5% higher in presidential elections in the 1990s)

      And others finding more evidence of knowledge, turnout, interest and a positive attitude toward state institutions:

      Caroline J. Tolbert and Ramona S. McNeal. ‘Enhancing Civic Engagement: The Effect of Direct Democracy on Political Participation and Knowledge’ State Politics & Policy Quarterly 3.1 (2003): 23-41

      Regina P. Branton, ‘Examining Individual-Level Voting Behaviour on State Ballot Propositions’ (2003) 56 Political Research Quarterly 367-377 (the results indicate that individual-level party identification is consistently related to voting behavior across each of the various types of ballot propositions. Implicitly the results suggest that voters are able to pick up partisan “cues” when they cast their votes in ballot elections)

      Todd Donovan, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Daniel A. Smith. “Political Engagement, Mobilization, and Direct Democracy” Public Opinion Quarterly 73.1 (2009): 98-118.

      Caroline J. Tolbert, Daniel C. Bowen, and Todd Donovan. “Initiative Campaigns: Direct Democracy and Voter Mobilization” American politics research 37.1 (2009): 165-192.

      Todd Donovan, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Daniel A.` Smith. “Priming Presidential Votes by Direct Democracy” Journal of Politics 70.4 (2008): 1217-1231.

      Daniel A. Smith, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Daniel C. Bowen. “The Educative Effects of Direct Democracy: A Research Primer for Legal Scholars” University of Colorado Law Review 78.4 (2007).

      Daniel A. Smith and Caroline J. Tolbert. “The Instrumental and Educative Effects of Ballot Measures: Research on Direct Democracy in the American States” State Politics and Policy Quarterly 7.4 (2007): 417-446.

      Caroline J. Tolbert and Daniel A. Smith. “Representation and Direct Democracy in the United States” Representation: Journal of Representative Democracy 42.1 (2006): 25-44.

      Caroline J. Tolbert and Daniel A. Smith. “The Educative Effects of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout” American Politics Research 33.2 (2005): 283-309.

      Daniel A. Smith and Caroline J. Tolbert. “The Instrumental and Educative Effects of Ballot Measures: Research on Direct Democracy in the American States” State Politics and Policy Quarterly 7.4 (2007): 417-446.

      Again, many thanks for that list.

    • Steven Spadijer

      Because you might have an different interpretation of the facts. Belief come through experience and real-life, or simply metaphysics that is not at all empirical (i.e. “values”). I might look at a glass and say it is half empty. Others might regard it as half full. They might question the criteria or approach used. It is not self-evident, which is precisely why we have disagreement.

      Take these “facts” on corruption: http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/12/corruption-and-development

      It could just be that no such thing exists. If there is no agreed absolute frame of reference, then any conclusions are as relative as the perceptions of corruption. As one commentator observed, any number of interpretations become possible from these “facts”:

      1. there is an underlying absolute corruption which reduces economic development; and/or

      2. people in more developed countries have typically spent longer in school and have been more thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that their own glorious nation is honest; and/or

      3. people in more developed countries are getting what they want, so they don’t worry about corruption; and/or

      4. the people surveyed in more developed countries are themselves engaged in – and benefit from – legal forms of corruption but don’t like to admit it, even to themselves; and/or

      5. etc, etc, etc . . .

      It’s all Fun with Statistics. But one may use it to draw any conclusions one wishes

      Of course, the problem with the “backfire effect” is that it would suggest people never change their mind. This, of course, is non-sense: voters do change their mind over time (be it gay rights, animal rights, corporations or what not).

      The possibility of “backfire effect” becomes particularly pronounced in legislatures due to party politics and group mentality. Most voters have no “strategic” view on a lot of issues – most voters support gay marriage or are indifferent. Politicians’, by contrast, have marginal electorates to consider and will polarize into groups when dealing with an issue.

  3. Thanks for the post Steven and MB.

    I’d vote for it if were ever put to the nation, but I look to what’s happening here, the EU, US, etc., and can’t ever see it happening. Rather than giving the population more say it’s visible that the opposite is happening. The politicians have a good gig while in office, and much better one after, so why would they allow change. It’s probably just human nature to never let go of the power once you have it.

  4. Steven thank you once again and thanks to the other contributors to this discussion. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the links and references to other papers.

    I hope MB will continue to attract guests like Steven and cover topics that are, perhaps, peripheral to the major themes of this blog.

  5. What an excellent article, thanks.

    Unfortunately we will have to rely on politicians to change the law to give us DD. (Unless someones thinking of getting MB to arrange a quick coup!!). They will not give up their power so we are consigned to continue with our rotten political system.
    Unless of course we could get enough DD independents into the senate to hold the balance of power. However I think that our ‘3 amigos’ now in parliament in canberra have made the election of an independent into parliament very difficult for many elections to come. Pity.

    • Steven Spadijer

      I am of the legal opinion, post-1986, that he Australian Constitution can be amended by a very small petition which would force a compulsory referendum to be held.

      The argument is very simple: as the Australian people (not the UK Parliament) are now the Sovereign, then the people bind the constitution, the constitution does not bind the people. The Sovereign must invoke, enforce and alter the constitution when it there may be a belief its agent (the government) becomes faulty – why would anyone appeal to Parliament for subverting the constitution when it is the Parliament that is the problem? By appealing to the people all legal problems are got over.

      One may reply: s128 which says the Constitution can “only” be amended via that procedure should be read as relating to the power government, not the people, to alter the Constitution – it limits the power of the Cth to ignore and alter the constitution without the people. Accordingly, the counterargument raises the question: Why would citizens (the ultimate authority of power) holding grievances against their representatives, turn to their representatives in hopes of offering a viable or acceptable solution? By this argument, to believe s128 is the only way to amend the Constitution is to believe the citizens have no other choice but to turn to their problem for the solution – a seemingly preposterous notion when viewed from this perspective, especially if the fact the Australian people is whom all Sovereign power resides.

      • Steven, I was interested to read your comment.
        I am not a lawyer and certainly do not know much about our constituion but do have an interest in politics since before my teens. I am interested to read yr views about a small petition but assume this must go to parliament, as our ‘representative’ to put into action. If its sent to the GG he/she will only send it on to the PM who could ignore it, unless someone has enough money to go to the high court.
        Even then the DD referendum question will be decided on by the government.

        If there was a small petition, how small could it be and to whom would it be presented?

        To go off topic slightly, but still on our disfunctional governing system, I do think this business about a republic referendum is a waste of time when we have so much wrong with our current system. For example, our MPs are ignoring the fact that the senate is supposed to be the ‘states house’ and not one where a political party has the final say. There is one glaring problem that needs to be addressed.

        • Steven Spadijer

          I totally agree with you! The Republic (as currently constructed – which, btw, has nothing Republican about it: when was the last time you heard a Republican mention “we, the people”?) is misconceived, misdirected and governed by elites (aligned with the views of 3d1k!). Rather than discussing making the people The Sovereign, they want someone to replace Liz. They could easily get two-thirds of the public if they support Swiss-style democracy. I keep telling them this, and have conceded as much (as noted, academia is not too big on DD).

          As for the petition, yes, it would go to the Crown and then to the PM, and if they fail to comply with this natural law right, then the courts would issue a mandamus (often lower courts will be issuing it) in the event the Parliament ignores the procedure the court explicitly sets out (for example, a court may give the legislature room to set the minimum number of signatures required, or time to prepare which would be specified in the judgement). Alternatively, the judicial opinion finding this right would set out the way it would operate – with an ‘automatic’ trigger being the rejection of the petition. It then goes straight to the people of course, Parliament would at least the very least create a committee and might propose a counter-proposal).

          There is no judicial activism here: if the people do not like it, they can easily repeal their right to DD via a simple petition!

          Of course, this is a working argument, but does raise the interesting observation above: Why would citizens (the ultimate authority of power and the source from which the constitution is derived) holding grievances against their representatives, turn to their representatives in hopes of offering a viable or acceptable solution (especially in relation to breaches of the constitution)?

          At the very least, it raises some uncomfortable questions.

  6. For some time I’ve also had thoughts similar to Clarky. A random sample of people can accurately express the will of the people, and it is efficient to have a random sample of people spend significant time on issues to come to considered decisions. It is not efficient to have everybody spend a large amount of time on issues.

    What we currently have is a lying competition every three years, and the best liars get to run the government. While this is better than letting the most brutal power hungry buggers take over (liars aren’t necessarily completely evil), I don’t think it is the best way to do things.

    I would have parliament randomly selected. I wouldn’t change them all every three years, but let them choose some members every so often to be replaced with randomly selected members of the public. Good ones would be able continue, counter productive ones would be rejected, but parliament would be an accurate representation of the will of the people, rather than the will of people who can win elections.

    Such a parliament would behave differently from one made up of politicians, it would likely seek out experts who can give clear and understandable explanations of issues before deciding on things, rather than trying to decide what might go well over in the news. They would act far more responsibly and humbly than any bunch of politicians. Politicians need to look like they mostly know what they are doing even though they mostly don’t know, randomly selected people can seek advice all the time, and give their attention to making what they think is the right decision in light of that advice.

    • Good to hear other people are thinking along these lines.

      Randomly selected parliamentarians… now that’s something I hadn’t thought of! That will be interesting to think about.

  7. A practical question of scale: i have participated in Town Meetings in Massachusetts, which are serious, functional, long-lived, and effective examples of DD. Switzerland is an exemplar of direct democracy on a larger scale. Australia can realistically contemplate DD because of its modest population size and uniformly high literacy.
    The USA? Not so much. Large, heterogeneous, unevenly educated, and class-riven.

    Gigantic China? Multiply America’s obstacles by 5; 10?
    Yet China has trialled participative democracy on a small scale with encouraging results.

    It currently employs an approach once-removed from ours: indirect democracy for the oversight legislative body, and active recruitment along with rigorous testing of highly qualified young people interested in government careers.

    It works for them: 30 years of unbroken progress and an 86% trust and approval rating (Edelman, Pew) from the people.

    It seems that it’s not so much the system as the preconditions (honesty?) and the unfettered competence of the legislators.

    • Steven Spadijer

      Actually, China – particularly in the cities (which some argue is just one big property boom waiting to burst – Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, anyone?) – does have town hall style meetings.

      Next week we will look at the role of federalism – the “size” argument presupposes that everything that is important should be centralized. DD decentralizes decision making (thus making matters manageable – education, roads, infrastructure etc would be administered locally) and if a country has an election for Congress/Federal Parliament, I do not see why while I am the polling booth I cannot cast a vote while there. This become more pronounced with technology.

      As such, the “size” argument makes a number of unrealistic assumptions – that things will not be decentralized; that one cannot concurrently vote on an issue while voting for an MP and so forth.

  8. Steven,
    Putting aside the dry academic and referenced styled debate I look to the picture you are trying to paint and find myself conflicted.

    On the one hand I have participated in group processing and strongly support it. Town hall styled meetings is and have been a part of being human and the way we organise ourselves. Aboriginals have been using it effectively for thousands of years. Process Orient Psychology and others have been rekindling it since the 90’s. So I support you in your endeavours on DD. I also really appreciate your desire to educate.
    Where I disagree with you is your almost fundamentalist view that DD, by itself is the answer. Without check and balances like agreed social and cultural boundaries; just laws and freedom of information DD governance can and will go wild. Examples of this are the crowd controllers behind the Arab spring, getup and the hacker group anonymous. Because there are amongst us people with the ability and training to control crowds I can never support DD as the main form of governance.

    • Steven Spadijer

      Dear Tom,

      “Without check and balances like agreed social and cultural boundaries”

      In the previous post (and its comments), we discussed federalism as one such check: double majorities (which there is in Switzerland and s128 in Australia); states/regions which vote ‘no’ would not be bound by a nationwide vote and so forth. So robust federalism is that check. Not violating jus cogens would be another example.

      “just laws and freedom of information DD governance can and will go wild”

      As noted, nothing goes “wild”: signatures to be gathered take a few months; Parliament – which has several months (sometimes years) can draft a counter-proposal or meld a few proposals into one (as alluded to in the text). There are even multiple choice referendums. 3% of all laws are enacted via DD in Switzerland; 97% by Parliament. It’s biggest effect is its indirect effect (making Parliament more responsive to the people), not its direct effects. Inn the US 99% of laws are still enacted by legislatures. So you are not supporting DD as the main form of governance as it serves as a gun behind the door! It is a reserve power that is invoked if need be when representatives become mis-representative. Thus, you can cheerfully support DD – no worries!

      “just laws and freedom of information DD governance can and will go wild”

      You are describing a revolution, NOT DD – which involves calm, reasoned debate. The people have a voice in a DD (Bavaria, Uruguay [more stable LA state!], Switzerland). In your scenario (the Arab spring), they never had it to begin with.

    • Steven Spadijer

      Ps “Where I disagree with you is your almost fundamentalist view that DD, by itself is the answer”

      I never said DD * BY ITSELF * was the “answer”:

      1) I speak of counter-proposals and multiple choice referendum (to give citizens more choice) – so indirect initiatives at the minimum;
      2) limitations on initiatives which violate jus cogens;
      3) robust federalism and double majorities;
      4) I spoke of the need for competition, rival opinions, alternative views i.e. “modern forms of communication and competitive political environments” [rather than largely one-sided arguments people in the AS were exposed to].
      5) I also note “if voters can use environmental factors such as institutions to better understand the motives of the people they listen to, then voters can cast the same votes they would have cast if more informed” – in those papers they talk of sunshine laws, sunset laws, transparent campaign finance laws, limits and regulations, Parliamentary recommendations and so forth. Voters in the US use the initiative to do just that (often invalidated by the courts, though!) i.e to control what you describe as “crowd controllers behind the Arab spring, getup” – alas, not campaign finance laws occurred during the Arab spring!

      So at no point did I claim DD is the “answer”. But I do view DD as a mechanism which would produce check and balance on current decision making processes. The institutional variant matters – I prefer the Bavarian, Swiss, Liechtenstein, Washington, Massachusetts approach (so called indirect initiative), rather than the direct initiative.

      • Steven Spadijer

        PPS By “answer” I mean “only answer” – it has to be supplemented by the issues discussed above. But a lot of the issues discussed above would come through DD.

    • Learner, my view is loosely aligned to yours – particularly opposition to the view by those enamoured of DD that it is THE answer. It is not. No system is perfect, a panacea for all perceived ills.
      The paper I linked to above (which SS agrees is a ‘good’ paper) debunks a couple of key ‘benefits’ cited by proponents of DD. What I liked about the paper was the willingness to concede a debunking of an accepted hypothesis and recognition that the previously generally accepted ‘truths’ in regard to DD are not set in stone. Is the academic rigour applied at UCLA Berkeley School of Law superior to that of other institutions? Lack of rigour is the perennial problem with academic papers from the non-sciences. Opinion is all too often molded into ‘fact’ with questionable ‘evidential support and analysis’ (to quote someone famous…!!).

      As it happened I returned home late last night, flopped down in front of the box – imagine my surprise to see the topic under discussion: Is California the First Failed State? (Bloomberg Intelligence Squared debate). My interest immediately piqued, having read here recently that California was one of the most successful states, thanks in large part to DD! What ensued was a litany of failings and much mention made of the FAILURE of DD, not just the failure but direct blame for Cal’s perilous financial state laid at the foot of the DD initiative Proposition 13 (limits property tax and ensures all other taxes can only be passed by a majority of two thirds, essentially government cannot raise sufficient taxes to fund programs). Another Proposition requires a prescribed proportion of expenditure on education – stymied by Prop13 and so on. Discussion revealed that some DD initiatives ran to an excess of 15,000 words, the syntax of which was near impossible to understand (even for the lawyers).

      Further, it was claimed that DD was largely removed from the ‘average public’ and had morphed into a very large concern the realm of semi-private ‘legislators’, large and very well funded. The Economist’s representative was clearly disillusioned with the DD process (in the previous post SS referred to The Economist as The Paternalist, as apparently is my thinking, that of a paternalist mind!).

      Anyways, the motion was carried: the debate audience voted at the end, agreeing the California was indeed the first failed state. Time to rejig the DD hype in regard to California. More research required.

      DD is simply a system like all others, as prone to manipulation and failure and even the occasional success as others. It is not a cure-all. It does not guarantee economic prosperity as claimed. I would well imagine should it be adopted in Australia we would follow the Californian experience, eventually DD would become the realm of the self-appointed semi-legislators funded by powerful interests.

      The system we have currently, although flawed in part, is not so bad after all. Rent-seekers and vested interests do lobby to maintain their positions but I’d rather this system than some purported DD nirvana where it is pretended this does not occur, until it is so entrenched (via complex initiative legislative requirements, bureaucratic, logistical and funding) as to be impossible to remove.

      • Sorry, 3D1K – your assertions are incorrect and aren’t of DD but of judicial review.

        Before we get to that, the paper you cite debunked certain interpretations of DD (how voters reason) but still made the alternative point voters can still make REASONED judgement even by being poorly informed (i.e. not answering the complex questions asked, but using nuance and prima facie implications). That is more radical then what I am saying. Anyways, that was a US study – keeping in mind the unique institutional variations of the US:

        1) a hyper-partisan legislature which infects people from all walks of life;

        2) unlimited concentration of resources in corporations, despite repetitive attempts via DD to limit this (as courts strike these laws down);

        3) the fact many low-income Mexican’s now want to move to California – so California is a victim of its own prosperity (and there is NOTHING the people of California can do it about it: an attempt in the 1995 to cut welfare benefits to illegal’s – which cost the state billions upon billions of dollars – was ruled unconstitutional).

        Now, the “Failed State” debate is very old. Indeed, I agree: California is a failed state, not because it is a democracy, but precisely because it has NO democracy. In short, as we will see, you attack the symptom rather than the cause:

        Firstly, Proposition 13 was a response to Serrano v Priest – where the Supreme Court invalidated the states’ entire property tax system, holding that local taxes going into funding local schools was unconstitutional (voters twice UPHELD this perfectly sensible arrangement). So the natural option was to centralize expenditure: we got a 2% cap on taxes (as prior to Prop 13 any increase in taxes would go directly into local infrastructure). The courts severed that connection and the legislative counterproposal had similar problems in any event: http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/files/49ST0535.pdf

        Secondly, 3d1k claims Proposition 13 (which limits property tax and ensures all other taxes can only be passed by a majority of two thirds) has meant the “government cannot raise sufficient taxes to fund programs”. Not true. The property tax is largely a LOCAL tax, not a state government tax. The major source of revenue for the STATE (including California AND other states) is the income, tobacco and sales tax: http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~matsusak/Papers/Matsusaka_BOS_2010.pdf and there are no limitation on these. Matsusaka notes “Property and inheritance taxes are relatively minor sources of revenue for state governments” and notes the effect of Proposition 13 was “not large, as it turns out”.

        Thirdly, Proposition 38 (the education initiative you refer to) is money that would have been spent anyways: school buses, desks, teachers and the like are axiomatic to state government expenditure and in any event, education on average took up 40 percent of the state budget even before Proposition 38. Matsusaka concludes “only about 2-3 percent is dedicated to programs that would not otherwise be funded by the legislature”.

        Fourthly, as dealt with in this article, ANY attempt to deal with corporations CANNOT occur as the Supreme Court treats “corporations” as “people”. Here is all the case law in case you are not satisfied with the examples in the article above:

        Fair Political Practices Commission v. Superior Court, 25 Cal. 3d 33, 599 P.2d 46, 157 Cal. Rptr. 855 (1979) (INVALIDATING Proposition 9, a direct citizen statute approved by 69.8 percent of Californian voters, restricting the ability of lobbyists to make gifts and political contributions and requiring them to disclose their transactions expenditures in ballot initiative campaigns and election campaigns);

        Chamberlain v. Missouri Elections Commission, 540 S.W.2d 876 (Mo. 1976) (INVALIDATING Proposition 1, a direct citizen statute approved by 77.4 percent of voters, as it violated rights to freedom of expression and privacy because the initiative mandated expenditure limitations, disclosure requirements and penalty provisions);

        Service Employees Int’l Union et al. v. Fair Political Practices Commission, 955 F.2d 1312 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 112 S.Ct. 3056 (1992) (INVALIDATING Proposition 73, a 1988 direct citizen statute, approved by 58 percent of Californian voters, which limits annual political contributions to a candidate for public office to 1000 dollars from each person, 2500 dollars from each political committee, and 5000 dollars from a political party; permits stricter local limits; limits gifts and honoraria to elected officials to 1000 dollars from each single source per year; prohibits transfer of funds between candidates or their controlled committees; prohibits sending newsletters or other mass mailings, as defined, at public expense and prohibits public officials using and candidates accepting public funds for purpose of seeking elective office);

        Vannatta v. Keisling, 899 F. Supp. 488 (D. Ore. 1995) (INVALIDATING Measure 6, a 1994 Oregon direct citizen statute, approved by 53.1 percent of voters which stipulates that candidates may use only contributions from district residents, and not outer state finance contributions);

        Vannatta v. Keisling, 931 P.2d 770 (1997) (INVALIDATING Measure 9, a 1994 Oregon direct citizen statute, approved by 72.4 percent of voters which limits contributions per person to 100 dollars for legislative candidates 500 dollars for state-wide candidates);

        Carver v. Nixon 72 F.3d 633 (8th Cir. 1995) (INVALIDATING Proposition A, a 1994 Missouri direct constitutional amendment, approved by 74 percent of voters limiting campaign contributions to persons or committees by persons or committees per election cycle to 100 and 200 dollars depending on the population of the political district and to 300 dollars for statewide candidates whilst requiring disclosure by contributors);

        Russell v. Burris, 978 F.Supp. 1211 (E.D. Ark. 1997) affirmed in part, revised in part, 146 F.3d 563 (8th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 119 S. Ct. 1040 (INVALIDATING Measure 1, a 1996 Arkansas direct citizen statute approved by 74 percent of voters, which reduced the 1000 dollar contribution limit to 100 dollars per election from any person to a candidate for any non-statewide candidate and to 300 dollars for statewide candidates);

        California Prolife Council Political Action Committee v. Scully, 989 F. Supp. 1282, 1292 (E.D. Ca. 1998); 164 F.3d 1189 (9th Cir. 1999) (INVALIDATING Proposition 73, a 1996 Californian direct citizen statute, approved by 61.27 percent of voters which capped campaign contributions per candidate to 100 dollars for districts of less than 100 000 people, 250 dollars for larger districts and 500 dollars for state-wide elections; committees of small contributors can contribute twice the limit);

        Colorado Right to Life Committee v. Buckley, United States District Court, District of Colorado, Case No. 96-S-2844 (INVALIDATING Amendment 15, a 1996 Coloradoan direct constitutional amendment, approved by 66 percent of voters, which required candidates who did not agree to voluntary limits on campaign spending to have to indicate the same in their ads, and have that information next to their names on ballots);

        Montana Chamber of Commerce v. Argenbright, 226 F.3d 1049 (9th Cir. 2000) (INVALIDATING Initiative 125, a 1996 Montanan direct citizen statute, approved by 61.27 percent of voters, which prohibits contributions from corporations to initiative committees; the initiative also would set a voluntary spending limit for ballot issue committees of 150 000 dollars per year allowing them to advertise no more than that limit);

        Sizemore v. Keisling 98C-16691; CA A1036866; 164 Or App 80, 990 P2d 351 (1999) (INVALIDATING Measure 62, a 1998 Oregon direct constitutional amendment, approved by 67.52 percent of voters, which requires campaign finance disclosures; regulates signature gathering; guarantees contribution methods);

        Sampson v. Buescher, 625 F.3d 1247 (10th Cir. 2010) (INVALIDATING Amendment 27, a direct constitutional amendment approved by 67.9 percent of Coloradan voters, requiring full disclosure requirements and limiting campaign contributions for initiatives to 200 dollars per election for legislative candidates and 500 dollars per election for statewide candidates and imposing fines for late applications of disclosure guidelines);

        McComish (Arizona Free Enterprise Club) v. Bennett, 564 U.S. TBA (2011) (INVALIDATING 5 to 4 Arizonan Clean Elections Act, a 1998 direct citizen statute approved by 51.2 percent of voters, which provided public funding for legislative and statewide candidates who qualify and agree to forgo private fundraising—the Act had matching funds provision, which funds participating candidates dollar for dollar against nonparticipants, up to a limit of 2 million dollars, including funds in CIR campaigns).

        See also Citizens For Responsible Government State PAC v. Buckley, 60 F.Supp. 1066 (1999) (INVALIDATING a Coloradan statute limiting legislative and statewide candidate contribution to 100 dollar and 500 dollars respectively);

        National Black Police Association v. DC Board Education, 924 F.Supp 270, 281 (D.D.C 1996) (INVALIDATING a Washington DC regulation of 50 to 100 dollar limits on contributions to city council and mayoral candidates).

        Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414 (1988) (INVALIDATING legislation prohibiting initiative sponsors from paying circulators to distribute CIR petitions to deregulate the motor industry—paid petition circulators are protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendment);

        McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995) (distribution of campaign material in a referendum which does not disclose the association, identity or affiliation of the persons distributing the adverts or posters is protected by a constitutional right to anonymous free speech).

        Sorry, 3d1k, but a country where 1 man can override millions of voters is not a “DD” – as there’s nothing the American people can do about it! Although on the issue of “special interests” and use of the internet here is a proposal to deal with it (it’s called the internet – naturally, allowing for a gestation period etc):


        Fifthly, your 15 000 words includes legislative REFERRALS, which take up most of the wording and the reason most proposals need to be detailed, vague and ambiguous is so that courts do not strike them down. For a comprehensive rebuttal of these myths see: http://www.iandrinstitute.org/Studies.htm
        (cf. if Constitution has been over-amended, the fault is not in the initiative process. Since
        1912, there have been 33 initiated amendments (from the people) and 60 referred amendments (from the legislature) added. In other words, nearly two-thirds of the amendments originated in the Legislature)

        Oh and the reason a lot of Californian’s put things in their constitutions rather than in statute – that’s because the latter can be invalidated by the courts via the state constitution 🙂 So why bother doing a direct citizen statute?

        Sixthly, the government introduces many new regulations on DD – filing costs, geographical requirements etc – all of which INCREASES the cost of DD. It is over-regulated by the government.

        Seventhly, California has the “direct initiative” (which California had prior to 1966, when the legislature got rid of it via a legislative referral) – as I have stressed a few times I support the indirect initiative as practiced in Bavaria, Hamburg, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Washington state and Massachusetts. If the issue comes to Australia, you will have to critique the SPECIFIC proposal being made. California would be largely irrelevant (btw, in New Zealand – which also has DD, albeit very high threshold to use and which si “non-binding” – they cap corporate and interest group usage of the process – no more than $30 000 – or somewhere around that – can be spent 🙂 )

        Eighthly, citing California is like me citing Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Greece (or most of the EU for that matter), the Deep South, all of Africa, the US Federal Government and saying, wow, what a failure all these regions under representative government are! So yes, The Economist seems to have missed the point that Europe probably won’t be in the mess it is now if the people were asked whether they wanted to be part of the EU – which they manifestly did not! So much for the claim “it does not guarantee economic prosperity as claimed”! (anyways, the articles I cited before show DD COMPARATIVELY “matters” for economic growth, not that it “guarantees” it). Indeed, I can look at Bavaria (budget surplus), Switzerland (projected budget surplus), Lichtenstein (budget surplus), Hamburg (budget surplus), or the other US states (projected budget surplus in North Dakota and South Dakota, the first states to introduce DD with unemployment at 3.4%) and come to the opposite conclusion – DD’s are doing very, very well indeed! Although I suspect California’s problem has more to do with real estate speculation. Indeed, looking at the data for ALL 26 states, DD states performed better fiscally than those without DD:


        Ninthly, as noted in the article, Australia is unlikely to follow the California experience because “here in Australia if [we] constitutionally entrenched [DD] and corporations hijacked the process, the people can always run an initiative to stop them from spending unlimited amounts. In California this is not the case thanks to judicial review which treats corporations as people”. And even if we have “self-appointed semi-legislators funded by powerful interests” who is to say the people will are to go along with their schemes (only 32% of initiatives pass – mostly animal rights, government transparency and environment reserves). Indeed, it remains far from self-evident why Australia would follow the US, rather than countries without robust judicial review like Switzerland, Bavaria, New Zealand (minus its severe limitations which makes the system unusable), Liechtenstein or Uruguay.

        Tenthly, 3d1k concedes the system has “flaws” and writes “those enamoured of DD that it is THE answer. It is not. No system is perfect, a panacea for all perceived ills”. My burden isn’t to prove DD is perfect. It’s not.* My burden is to prove that it’s better than anything else and I think that’s an easy thing to do. If there are rent-seekers (last time I checked German business hated it because it killed rent-seekers as do American businesses – especially the insurance industry who gave the Speaker of the House a Napkin to give them unlimited fees!), then the rent-seekers must justify why the REST of us should endorse their projects: will it create more jobs? Higher GDP per capita? Quality of life? And so forth. Equally, support for DD isn’t just about rent-seekers. It’s about crumbling infrastructure; uncompetitive tax base and the collapse of manufacturing as such. These decentralizing elements of DD are invaluable. And see also William Niskanen, who argues “Initiatives can protect majorities against the coalitions of special interests that often dominate legislatures”

        Finally, if California DD is so bad as you claim we should be expecting people to forever get rid of it and not only that we shouldn’t be seeing hoards of people flocking toward California!


        * otherwise, I’d win EVERY time, which manifestly no one does – unless of course I declared myself a dictator, whereby I’d be unlikely to share power with the people.

        • PS – to clarify:

          On point (5), that was referring to Colorado, not California but I suspect in that figure there might be legislative referrals. Colorado seems to be chugging along quite nicely, as are a number of DD states (where judicial oligarchy in those circuit courts tends to be somewhat subdued).

          On point (6),over-regulation increases the cost, which means only more affluent interest groups (which may be from the left or the right) can use it (such as requirement petitions be placed in remote areas in the middle of no where). Government intervention is indeed a problem.

          • Sorry SS, forgot to add a couple of points.

            1. The issue of cost, logistics, capacity etc to the ‘ordinary joe’ is genuine – leaving DD as open to hijacking (perhaps more so) as other systems. Power has a price. Only some can afford to pay.

            2. “Equally, support for DD isn’t just about rent-seekers. It’s about crumbling infrastructure; uncompetitive tax base and the collapse of manufacturing as such”

            Oi. Are you mates with Mr Holes? I almost totally fail to see how dd can improve any of the above. Initiatives requiring the enhancement of infrastructure automatically exhaust funds appropriated to other functions. How would dd enhance a competitive tax base, given most individuals’ preference is for tax minimisation simultaneous with demands for further infrastructure investment; and how dd can deal with manufacturing decline: fanciful. Manufacturing has been in decline in Australia for decades – how do you propose dd effectively resolve the problem?

            Can dd offer genuine solutions to real problems?


          • Steven Spadijer

            Ps DD helps the ‘ordinary joe’ by letting them have a DIRECT voice and stop politicians’ for believing they are any better than the ‘average joe’. In short, it stops politicians’ screwing the people over.

        • Hey SS, I reckon you’ve earned your keep. Incredibly detailed responses. Thanks for the endeavour.

          I reiterate, on the perceived failings of DD in California, I a only the messenger (as qualified in my response to Clarky below). As I said initially, the position of The Economist representative was one of disillusion and frustration.

          I agree the paper is more radical – it is an overturning of previously accepted ‘knowledge’ and it will be of interest to those concerned how it is ‘reinterpreted’ into conventional and supportive literature on dd – hence no doubt their title ‘The Dilemma of Direct Democracy”. It is indeed a dilemma when commandments of any philosophy are proven wrong. Kudos to the authors for publishing their findings and recommending the need for continued reflective analysis (and revision if required).

          From my limited analysis, your review of proposition 13 may require further investigation. For example, you say California’s problems in part stem from real estate speculation (certainly took place) but further analysis of the effects of Prop 13 will demonstrate that this initiative resulted in higher property prices than otherwise would be expected.

          Much of the rest of your comprehensive response is out of the range of a mere mining minion. Jeesh, I’ve not even utilised resources other than my own to source this response.

          Finally, to prove that DD is better than any other system is a big call. Given that in global terms its utilisation is so limited (and varied) simply compounds the hurdles of persuasion.

          You have taken on a Herculean task. I wish you well but advise as Cassandra…


          • Steven Spadijer

            1. DD will often be held concurrently with local, state or federal elections. Given people gotta go out and vote, they may as well enact policy while they are there (often on a few issues – 1 to 4). On that note, DD comes with compulsory voting (Uruguay, one Swiss canton) and optional voting (Germany, US, Switzerland). So the costs and logistics (btw I think its 80 cents per person in Switzerland) would become part of the system people will get use to it and in all countries voters like DD (hey, if I’m at the polling booth I may as well have a direct say rather than an indirect say via “representatives” – so its unsurprising voter turnout in the latter countries increase with an initiative on the ballot – and holding it concurrently reduces cost). The mere fact special interests put issues on a ballot is not “bad” – depends who uses it – animal rights activists, environmentalists, gay rights, Christian rights, free speech, unions. DD provides leadership above politics as everyone both wins and loses under it.

            2. Most taxation would be decentralized. To take California as an example – prior to the judicial system invalidating the entire property tax system, Californian’s loved HIGHER taxes PROVIDED they went into funding LOCAL infrastructure (particularly schools). They twice – by over 66% – ratified this perfectly sensible arrangement: better schools meant higher property values. They were happy to pay higher taxes as it increased their quality of life. There was a DIRECT connection between the tax and spend. There is no empirical evidence that voters want tax minimisation (it is about split even), but there IS overwhelming evidence (cited in this post and the previous one) that it leads to decentralization and thus competition between jurisdictions (which creates its own revenue as businesses set up etc).

            3. At the very LEAST what DD would do is set the agenda: the unions want special tax subsidies and tax exemption for manufacturing. The Australian Business Council wants lower taxes and similar schemes. So all they have to do is collect signatures (2% would be ideal threshold required). It adds a little bit imagination and diversity to decision making. So that is the MINIMUM of what it could achieve and indeed they are doing this in California atm to boost manufacturing: http://ballotpedia.com/wiki/index.php/California_2012_ballot_propositions (whatever one thinks of California – the 8th largest economy in the world – it is damn innovative and full of people to help it). Furthermore, DD promotes competitive federalism (i.e. the states COMPETING with each other with the “best” tax rate) – I think the federalism aspects of DD are important. Who is going to enforce the federal structure in a constitution? The Federal Parliament? No. The Courts? No. The States? Too weak. The people? YES! (and they have, constantly rejecting s128 attempts to centralize power in Canberra). Note I am assuming federalism is good – but more on that next week!

            [Btw, I might be Hercules but you are starting to remind me a bit of Voltaire. That is, you sound conveniently Panglossian:
            “Yes, I hear what you say, but it’s politically impossible. Just accept that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and stop complaining.”]

            Dw, 3d1k, you’ll end up loving DD.

            On Prop 13, you have to explain why on a few years earlier (1968, 1972) 67% of Californian voters rejected a limit on property taxes, then suddenly a few year later 66% approved a cap (Prop 13). Serrano explains that. And yes, Prop 13 is weird –it provides little incentive to build new houses (notwithstanding they had a building boom!) and real estate speculation in Cali goes back since 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, Great Depression – it is quite cyclical.

            Furthermore, if you regard the current Euro debacle as “bad”, and given I have evidence referendums HALTED entry into such a union, then one has to accept – at least in this instance – it was poorly designed and the people saw that. If people regard the carbon tax (as designed) as “bad” (and I mean the SPECIFIC details), then a referendum would have halted it. And so on. All DD is provides an add-on, a layer. I shall now quote the Founding Fathers of Australia, who were inspired by the Swiss constitution:

            “[Referendums] are necessary not only for the protection of the federal system, but in order to secure
            maturity of thought in the consideration and settlement of proposals leading to organic changes. These safeguards have been provided, not in order to prevent or indefinitely resist change in any direction, but in order to prevent change being made in haste or by stealth, to encourage public discussion and to delay change until there is strong evidence that it is desirable, irresistible and inevitable”.

      • I agree that no system is perfect. I support DD in general but have no illusions that it might be even close to perfect.

        In my view the financial situation in California and the attendant history is far too complex… it is a very long stretch to lay even the majority of blame of the Cali financial debacle at the feet of DD.

        “The system we have currently, although flawed in part, is not so bad after all. Rent-seekers and vested interests do lobby to maintain their positions but I’d rather this system than some purported DD nirvana where it is pretended this does not occur, until it is so entrenched (via complex initiative legislative requirements, bureaucratic, logistical and funding) as to be impossible to remove.”
        … isn’t the “the system we have currently” the system simply defined as “representative democracy”? Under representative democracy as I understand it, is intended to bring to parliament the majority views of each electorate. The main difference between RD and DD is that RD involves an intermediary and trust is placed in that intermediary to accurately transmit the will of the electorate. I fear that this is NOT what you are referring to by “the system we have currently”. I fear that by “the system we have currently” you are referring to the highly distorted version of the idealised representative democracy, where the electorates majority position is barely represented at all.

        I also sense a fear that you think the electorate generally too stupid to control their political system too directly. I hope I have misread you, but at any rate my response is firstly that the currently political system has played no small part in disconnecting electors from the political system and secondly that if under DD the country goes down the toilet due to bad decisions then at least the countrymen have no one to blame but themselves. Self determination (or extermination) is a fundamental right and a key requirement for sustainable development of a nation.



        • Firstly, in regard to the failings of DD in the Californian experience – I am only the messenger, based on my late (very) night possibly under the influence interpretation of the Bloomberg Intelligence Squared debate. Switched the box on and frankly would have gone straight to bed had I not heard reference to ‘direct democracy’. Fate. And the influence of SS!

          Representative democracy is the system, flaws and all, I am referring to. Mostly it works. Occasionally fails. The carbon tax being a rather current example.

          On the question of general stupidity. It exists. Stupidity (as perceived by any individual) is not a reason to deny voting rights (apart from diagnostic incapacity). I am a long term believer in the power of the Fourth Estate – when exercised with precision, skepticism and wisdom. A competent media plays a most important role in society, assessing, questioning, debating, revealing a range of issues in an impartial way.

          Unfortunately, this is now the exception rather than the rule. The Fourth Estate is in danger of abrogating all respect if it continues the path of infortainment. It must maintain an essential role as investigator (or devils advocate) in successful democratic societies.

          The system works. Sort of. Not too bad. Perhaps in need of a little refining. A more excellent media capable of assessing and analysing without bias would be a great start.


          • 3d1k,
            Firstly, yes – that is the problem. You are the messenger. You merely cite, without producing an arguments. Fortunately, I have now corrected your errors and omissions (or more specially, the errors Andreas Kluth).

            Secondly, I doubt the CT would ever have occurred with DD. In fact, at best, they would have had a scheme that did not imperil our manufacturing sector (and indeed, DD comes in not when representative democracy is working, but when it is not – that 1 to 3% of laws that are enacted by DD – often when representative government fails). I know many people involved with the CT and mining tax – most of them DD supporters.

            Thirdly, agreed on the fourth estate and you only need to look at the current Parliament to know you do not need to be any better than the average voter to have an opinion!
            Fourthly, I agree it works ok “Sort of. Not too bad. Perhaps in need of a little refining” – and DD adds to that redefining directly (when pollies really DO get it ‘wrong’ – however defined) and indirectly (by making them more responsive to the people).

            Fifthly, on the Fourth Estate – agreed with your views. Alas, they have no incentive like they do in Switzerland, or Germany, or Liechtenstein, or the US to do so as there is no competition (DD causes people to search out different sources of information). The quality of argument and debate would be better once we have to look at issues and policies, rather than personalities (so called “representative government”).

          • I would say that the distorted version of RD that you say is currently “sort of” working is merely democracy with a power-elite and partisan decision making layered (heavily) over the top. In most cases the elected rep transmits the will of his electorate only by accident when it happens to pass through his personal filter and then his party’s filter unchanged.

            This is a long way from the true meaning of “democracy”. Worse, it is regularly painted by the elites in power (because it suits their interests) as much more democratic then it actually is.

            Anyway, I couldn’t agree more about our pathetic Fourth Estate in Australia. A better functioning Fourth Estate would keep RD a lot more honest. No doubt about it. I’ll say no more about this point because I’ll get depressed very quickly.



  9. Direct democracy doesn’t overcome rational ignorance or the primacy of money in political campaigns. Convened-sample suffrage overcomes both. So does sortition (choosing legislators by lot), except that sortition lacks a mechanism for recognizing talent. Convened-sample suffrage is to representative democracy as sortition is to direct democracy.

    • Steven Spadijer

      A few observations:

      1) What is self-evidentially “wrong” with money? I like to be informed and, yes, that involves money – be it from Georgeists, animal rights activists, the tea party, Communists, socialists, or any other group that might enlighten me toward their proposals. The issue is not money per se, the issue is equality in resources, which can be regulated (and IS regulated by the people, but in the case of the US always invalidated by the courts – see above 🙂 ) Each team – here is a million dollars. Persuade me (or even better, here, use DD to create your own city state and apply your theories to it – I like to be empirical ).

      2) The sortition notion does not explain why the preferences of the people in that lot can be a priori privileged to the preferences of anyone outside that lot – and who is to define “ignorant”? Who defines “talent”? By what self-evident, universally agreed upon criteria allow us to define the concepts?

      Ps You might want to look at DD in Oregon – Henry George’s single tax props up in Switzerland and Oregon from time to time – and sometimes manages to get little under 40% – which is better than representative government (and actually got more than 50% in some French-speaking cantons).

      • (1) Whether this is self-evident is for others to judge, but… What’s wrong with money in political campaigns? Two things. (i) Democracy is supposed to mean one person = one vote, not one dollar = one vote. (ii) To assign political legitimacy to the distribution of dollars is to assume that the rules governing that distribution up to now have been just – which is more than likely to be a point of dispute in the campaign! There is no way to enforce equal funding of “teams”, because the boundary between campaigning and general advertising will always be blurry. But there are ways to bypass the influence of funding.

        (2) Those selected are not a priori privileged, because all have an equal chance of being selected. The selected sample is only meant to be representative in the statistical sense. Re ignorance and talent, I do not claim that to eliminate rational ignorance is to eliminate all ignorance, or that representative democracy is necessarily successful in recognizing talent, whatever that is. I only claim that to eliminate rational ignorance is to eliminate a major cause of ignorance, and that sortition necessarily fails to recognize talent.

        I wonder what support Henry George’s proposal would get if the campaign were not biased by the superior spending power of the landed/financial classes.

        • Steven Spadijer

          Dear Gavin,

          Indeed, let others judge, but let us not pretend (in both your case and my case) we are advocating anything but our personal preferences. But simply spending money does not deny the notion of “one person, one vote”: a person (certainly, thanks to compulsory voting!) can go to a polling booth and they cast a vote. The person earning $3 million is given equal weight to the person earning $65 000, or $35 000 per year. Furthermore, “one” can argue about what is and is not just. So “the issue is not money per se, the issue is equality in resources, which can be regulated” – how much can be spent, what can be spent and so on. The rest is left to the creativity of the people and the quality of arguments. In any event, it assumes people can’t see through bullshit – certainly, in Switzerland they have found the opposite effect – the more people spend the more people are put off by the initiative proposal! And, of course re: Henry George – it is easier to bribe 150 legislators than it is 11 million people – so no surprise the biggest supporters of DD were Georgeists!

          Secondly, they are a priori privileged as it does not explain why on specific policy issues the preferences of randomly selected people should be given greater weight than anyone else – why are their preferences better than those of anyone? Why not just have a straw poll? What about those who WANT and DESIRE to be chosen? What about those not chosen? What if people who are chosen live in the city rather than the country? What if they lack all the information to decide or make a viable decision? Why exclude 98% of the electorate? One if there is an Alpha Male? Some of these plague any system, not just DD. But there mere presence (or absence) does not explain why the preference of these individuals should be given greater weight than the preferences of others. It remains far from self-evident why these preferences should be given greater weight than anyone else (indeed, there could be disagreement with the final policy output – what if their final preferences come out with something diametrically opposed to the group of people working at Prosper?)

          Anyways, I should clarify what I mean by a priori privileging:

          No system of government is self-evidentially superior to any other (some favour constitutional monarchy with representative government; others direct democracy with constitutional monarchy; other favour a lottery; others dictatorship; others absolute monarchy; others rule by judges), which leads to the question of how a set of individuals may go about choosing a form of government, or – more precisely – an “aggregation device” (the mechanism by which they aggregate conflicting preferences) without an agreed device with which to aggregate their preferences.

          Paradoxically, it is precisely because no one preference is a priori correct that we may determine a “logical” means of choosing.

          It may be observed that, for an arbitrary set of individuals choosing an aggregation device:

          a) there is no known principle by which to identify individuals whose preferences are to be privileged a priori over those of others in the set. (Although many people believe that their own preferences ought to be privileged, such a belief is itself a matter of preference which invites the recursive problem of how to aggregate it with those of other people who believe that their own preferences are the ones to be privileged); and

          b) the only means of aggregating preferences without privileging some of them is to privilege none of them.

          We could say that non-privileging devices are the eigenfunctions for preference aggregation in the absence of (logically indefensible) a priori privileging: they are the only solutions which do not require the doing of something that is logically impossible to do (i.e. identifying a priori privileged individuals).

          What do such devices look like? We can identify some necessary characteristics:

          a) the votes for and against any option must be weighted equally (to avoid privileging some individuals by giving their votes greater weight);

          b) the options to be voted upon must not be pre- or post-vetted by some privileged group (to prevent a privileged group vetoing viable options); and

          c) the order in which options are eliminated must not be controllable by a privileged group (which in turn requires an indefinite-pass system, because any definite-pass system either could be manipulated in the final pass by those who control the order of elimination, or would collapse into a de facto lottery – which would privilege a priori those who prefer the choice to be made by lottery over those who do not).

          We can see that these conditions describe an initiative-and-referendum system: the eigenfunction is itself one of the possible systems of government.

          What form of government might such a device choose? It’s not for me to say. God hasn’t granted me a Monopoly on Wisdom in this matter. It might very well choose to prohibit or restrict initiative-and-referendum. It might choose a dictator, or a oligarchy, or a (so-called) “representative” system. It might choose a lottery. More plausibly it might choose some hybrid combining elements of each of these.

          But what we do know as a matter of historical record is that:

          a) in most jurisdictions people have never been permitted to choose their preferred form of government in such a process (i.e. in which the options have not been pre-vetted by self-serving politicians organised into powerful parties – like in the 1890 Convention Debates – determined at all costs to maintain their collective monopoly on power by preferring “responsible government”);

          b) where people have been permitted to choose (most famously in Switzerland, but to a limited extent in Liechtenstein, Uruguay, the US and German Lander) they have almost invariably chosen to adopt the initiative-and-referendum process as an ongoing part of their government; and

          c) where people enjoy the right of initiative-and-referendum, they do not vote to abolish it, even though it is a straightforward exercise to call a referendum for that purpose.

          That is not to suggest that such an outcome is the “right” or “best” one. That is all a matter of individual preference. It is, however, the outcome that arises in the absence of logically indefensible a priori privileging.

          [And aor the record, those who do engage in a priori privileging I refer to Paternalists i.e. they know what is right and what is best for the rest of us and as such, their preferences are the sole source of Wisdom and Authority].

          • In view of the frequent references to Georgism, I’m not sure whether I am accused of advocating my personal preference concerning policy, or my personal preference concerning the process by which policy is made, or both. In any case, I have noticed that people with both preferences tend to think their preferred policies would have a better chance of being adopted under their preferred processes. There is no reason to doubt their sincerity on that point. They would also claim that the reason for the “better chance” is not that their preferred policies are biased, but rather that they remove an existing bias. That claim may or may not be true, and they may or may not honestly believe it.

            Processes involving random selection do not a priori privilege anyone before the selection is made. Does the policy-making power thereafter given to the selected few depend on their preferences being better than those of other people? It depends on what we mean by “preferences”. If we mean the preferences that they hold before the policy-making process begins, the answer is no. If we mean their preferences as influenced by the policy-making process, the answer is yes — not because the selected people are claimed to be better than others (they are not), but because the process is claimed to be better than others and is feasible only if it is performed with a small sample of the people.

            It is not sufficient that the “people” (all of them, or a sample of them) be able to see through BS. It is also necessary that the truth be put before them. Equal funding for alternative viewpoints does not solve that problem unless one of the funded viewpoints is the truth.

            When all of the people can vote, the person earning $3M does not have more votes than the one earning $35k. But the one earning $3M has more capacity to influence other people’s votes. Equal funding for alternative viewpoints does not solve that problem if the funding limits can be circumvented — as they almost certainly can — by campaigns that fall outside the definition subject to the limits.

            Why not a straw poll? Because the participants in a straw poll, unlike the participants in sortition or convened-sample suffrage, don’t get to cross-examine the protagonists.

            It is worth noting that under the Australian Constitution, convened-sample suffrage could not be introduced at the Federal level without prior approval by direct democracy. Of course I regard it as unfortunate that a referendum on this question cannot be citizen-initiated. If that is a once-removed case of my preferred policy (on process) influencing my preferred process (for adoption of a process), so be it.

          • Steven Spadijer


            1. I tend to find people who prefer one system over another do so because they believe it leads to better outcomes.

            2. Still does not tell us why the lottery is not a priori privileged: was it put to all the people and voted on was it? You got more votes than absolute monarchy, or lottery? [At this point, I make the distinction between DD as a matter of preference, and democracy as a matter of a priori logic, as discussed above]. Through your eloquence you might very well persuade the people to vote for your proposal, or test pilot it somewhere – like the UK government test pilots novel schemes in Scotland.

            3. I’d like to see empirical evidence of voters being influenced in a way corporations can control them [as noted, in Switzerland and Germany the empirical data points the other way]

            4. Why are process and outcome mutually exclusive? If the process resulted in the massive murder of all people’s of a specified race [oh, say, like a randomly conducted jury at the height of WWII], should we accept the result?

            5. Not sure why cross-examination is fatal.

            6. We can debate “truth” all day long (philosophers have been doing it for centuries!)

            7. Yes, s128 is required. On that note: why can’t DD be a logical extension of s128?

          • Re “Briefly”:

            1. Agreed. And they would claim, and perhaps even believe, that the reason for the better outcome is the removal of bias.

            2. A change from the present system to a lottery system would indeed have to be put before all the people and voted on.

            3. In America, people who can’t afford health insurance vote against public funding for health care.

            4. Process and outcome are not mutually exclusive: every process is the outcome of some earlier process. So the reasons for any particular bad outcome are likely to be deep. From my advocacy of convened-sample suffrage, you may infer that I have more faith in a process in which it doesn’t cost an exorbitant amount of money to be heard.

            5. The point is that a decision-making body, chosen by lot in order to avoid bias, must be in control of the decision-making process – because if some other body is in control, that body is a priori privileged.

            6. The point is that the decision-making process must be such that the truth — whatever it is — cannot be a priori excluded from consideration.

            7. DD can be a logical extension of s.128, and with the same shortcoming: that the proponents of change have to prove their case, while the opponents of change only need to cause confusion. The decision-making process needs to have a sufficient attention span to overcome confusion. And if the necessary attention span is to be feasible, it probably needs to be exercised by a small sample of the electorate rather than the whole electorate.


          • Americans are “special” (although I’d like more empirical data on some of your claims). Anyways, all they have to do is cause confusion and rightly so (although I do observe referendums of a state level are frequently approved):

            “[Referendums] are necessary not only for the protection of the federal system, but in order to secure maturity of thought in the consideration and settlement of proposals leading to organic changes. These safeguards have been provided, not in order to prevent or indefinitely resist change in any direction, but in order to prevent change being made in haste or by stealth, to encourage public discussion and to delay change until there is strong evidence that it is desirable, irresistible and inevitable”

            Any proposal has to be all three, not just one.

  10. Apropos a recent debate on school funding, private vs government, a debate in which no-one I recall mentioned my own personal bugbear, ie the curriculum……….

    In my dreams, there would be enough able teachers of year 9 and 10 aged youngsters to teach and lead discussion of the above topic (I do not at all doubt the capacity of this age-group to pick up the issues and learn how to debate them).

    Wonderful wonderful post, so much to learn and consider. Thank You very much
    Mr. Spadijer