[EM] The structuring of power and the composition of norms by communicative assent

Kristofer Munsterhjelm km-elmet at broadpark.no
Tue Jan 13 03:41:02 PST 2009

Juho Laatu wrote:
> --- On Mon, 12/1/09, Michael Allan <mike at zelea.com> wrote:
>> Juho Laatu wrote:
>>> ... The topmost thoughts in my mind when thinking
>> about this
>>> approach is that 1) the principles are good and 2)
>> making the votes
>>> public limits the usability of the method.
>> Traditionally secret
>>> votes have been a building block of democracies. 
>> Public votes work
>>> somewhere but not everywhere.
>> (1). Re good principles.  I've heard it suggested that
>> modern
>> democracy is the political form that is best suited to
>> capitalism.^[1][2]  If we change it to something with a
>> firmer base in
>> principles - a more substansive democracy - will it
>> continue to be
>> friendly to business entrepreneurs?  If not, what will
>> happen?  Has
>> anyone explored that scenario?  (Any references?)
> I can imagine that in some cases also
> dictatorship can be the best option for
> capitalism (in the sense of "capital
> owners"). Democracy is however probably
> more stable in the long run and
> therefore better basis for a working
> market economy.
> Good principles may help market economy
> by allowing the citizens to see the
> state as "we", and thereby increasing
> overall trust in the system, and
> thereby enabling smoother (hassle
> free) operation of the markets.

There would have to be some degree of democracy so the dictatorship 
doesn't get lost in things that benefit only himself (and thus risk a 
revolt), but if you go by the strict definition of capitalism, there can 
also be too much democracy, I think. Since the labor market must remain 
a market, people can't be given enough influence that they form 
oligopolies of labor (that is, national unions). The other side of that 
coin, though, is that nor should producers be given enough influence 
that they can form oligopolies or monopolies either. In any case, 
dictators usually limit organization of labor before they limit 
organization of capital.

>> (2). Re public/private voting.  Maybe there are two
>> possibilities:
>>   i) Initial participation by a small group of public
>> "pioneers"
>>      gradually changes attitudes.  Open voting comes to be
>> accepted as
>>      a natural form of expression in the public sphere. 
>> Participation
>>      levels grow.  (There remains a core who will
>> not/cannot vote
>>      openly.  We can get empirical data on this.)
> I'm afraid there will be also a third
> category, people that do vote but that
> do not dare to vote as they feel.
> People may also vote since not voting
> could be interpreted as not supporting
> the mainstream opinions or as
> possibility of having some unwanted
> opinions.
> Examples of group pressure are working
> places where "all others" are believed
> to vote certain way. Also in homes it
> might be problematic for some members
> to have radically different opinions.

The general problem is that if there's a way of finding out what a 
certain person voted, or whether a certain person voted in a particular 
way, one can apply pressure to get that person to vote a desired way (to 
the one applying the pressure). That can be simple coercion, be it 
formal (in "democratic" countries that aren't fully democratic yet), 
semi-formal (mob bosses, or "vote this way or you're fired"), or 
informal (social pressure). The coercion is "do it my way or something 
bad happens" - it can also easily be changed into "do it my way and 
something good happens", as with vote buying.

Any sort of voter-reconfigurable proxy democracy has the kind of 
feedback that enables coercion or vote-buying. In order to verify that a 
certain voter "votes" a certain way, the candidate or party in question 
can tell the voter to connect to an allied proxy. The proxy can then 
determine whether or not the voter actually connected.

Now, there may seem to be a way around this by having the proxy be 
publicly available, so that voters that "subscribe to" a certain proxy 
just duplicate the proxy's suggestions when voting. Producing the 
required feedback becomes more difficult in that case, but it can still 
be done. For instance, if the conspirators assume law X has 
near-majority support, they can buy the votes of enough to get a 
majority, and then pay them if X does indeed pass; or they can try to 
corrupt a proxy instead, since the proxies' positions are publicly 

The problem reaches further. I think we can generalize that it's not 
only proxy democracies that has this problem. The problem itself is that 
of conflicting goals: in order that the public knows what their 
representatives are doing, the representatives' votes should be public. 
But the greater the proportion of the people become representatives, the 
more votes will be public, and so coercion and vote-buying becomes easier.

By that, one would assume that it'd be a problem in ordinary 
representative democracies as well, because the representatives' votes 
are known and thus one could use feedback there. I think the difference 
is that representatives stay in their position for some time, so any use 
of such tricks would also become known and would hurt the representative 
in the end. I guess it's also related to that there are few 
representatives compared to the people, so each can be checked more 

Ultimately, what we want is for the "representatives" to be effectively 
aligned with the wishes of the people, while not being disproportionally 
more aligned with the wishes of those who have more power. How to do 
that isn't obvious, since the mechanisms don't know about power.

>>  ii) A private voting facility (secret ballot) is grafted
>> onto the
>>      public medium.  Anyone who is content to participate
>> merely as a
>>      voter (not as a delegate, or legislative drafter,
>> etc.) may vote
>>      without disclosure.  So we could extend participation
>> to those
>>      who will not/cannot vote openly.  Results verification
>> (and maybe
>>      voter authentication) would be complicated by this,
>> but the
>>      overall function of the medium should be unaffected.
> There are some (although smaller)
> problems also in this case. If someone
> casts a secret ballot that may be
> interpreted as having something to
> hide. This may lead to pressure to
> cast a public vote (and that could be
> less sincere than the secret one). One
> approach would be to keep all the "low
> level" votes secret and publish only
> the "representative level" votes (it
> is however not easy to separate these
> two categories).

Perhaps each voter could vote twice - once in public and once in secret. 
The secret vote either says "defer to public", or something separate, in 
which case the secret vote overrules the public. But if so, what's the 
point of the public vote in the first place? I suppose it could be used 
to measure the degree of pressure people feel exist in the society - if 
all vote "defer to public" on their secret ballots, there's none at all, 
and if all vote something else on their secret ballots, there's quite a 
bit of it and many feel like they have something to hide. The only 
information given to the public from the secret ballots would be the 
number of "defer to public" versus (different opinion) ballots, and 
that's not enough to set up feedback with.

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