I’m from the UK, and if you are following the news, you may know that following a vote (referendum) to stay or leave the EU, we are soon about to Leave, unless there is a new vote, or its overturned in some other way.

I spent years really disliking the EU as an institution, although I have nothing against Europe or Europeans. It boggled my mind that the EU was run so badly, with a legislature and an executive in different cities, and a parliament that actually MOVED regularly to maximise its own inefficiency. The accountability of MEPs for expenses was laughable, their pay was tax-free (wtf?) and there were numerous examples of corruption, stupidity, and unfairness. I found the whole institution to be an embarrassment.

When the Brexit campaign started up, I found myself persuaded by the economic arguments for remaining. I was a ‘reluctant remain voter’, and voted to stay in. I thought it best to stay, and fight for a reformed EU.

Since then, there has been widespread coverage of the issues, and a lot of news about it, and I’ve read extensively. I am now a fairly passionate remainer, almost entirely for Economic reasons. I understand (and could argue convincingly) the argument for leaving, but firmly believe it would be a bad idea. I could talk for quite a while on the topic.

But here is where it all goes badly wrong…

To be totally honest, I am not informed, educated, or impartial enough to make this decision. I have my own prejudices to be aware of, as someone who is economically not concerned by either skilled or unskilled immigration. I do not fear for my job. Where I live, immigration is practically zero, and unemployment is incredibly low. This part of the UK is barely affected either way. Also if brexit resulted in higher food prices, I could afford it. If the £/$ tanked, I’d actually be BETTER off, as I’m paid in dollars. I have a skewed POV.

Add to this my incredible ignorance on the topic:

I could not (from memory) tell you if immigration went up or down last year, or what that level was. I have no idea if there is more (or less) skilled vs unskilled immigration, or what the unemployment rate is in those industries that attracted those immigrants. I cannot immediately tell you the rate of net tax/welfare contribution from immigrants vs residents, or vs EU/non-EU immigrants. I cannot state with any accuracy the rate of crime in areas more or less affected by immigration.

I did a degree in economics, but I cannot state for sure whether the UK needs more, or less immigration right now, or what effect this will have on interest rates, unemployment, wages or house prices. I cannot make any informed predictions about how any of those values will change over the next decade or two, or how they compare with the equivalent rates in any other comparable economies.

Additionally, I have no real grasp of how leaving the EU will affect UK law, whether it be corporate law, health and safety legislation, monopoly and competition law, tax rates, libel, criminal law or the rights of minorities. I do not know for sure what laws in the UK are dependent on, or bypass / overrule or are overruled by EU legislation, or how than can/will change in either the remain or brexit situation.

From a business POV I have a fairly strong understanding of how brexit would affect the UK games industry at my level, or the UK car industry (through my research for my latest game). I have zero idea the effect on fisheries (which could be hugely beneficial), medical (or other) research, education (esp universities), the financial sector or manufacturing.

In other words.. I have no fucking clue whatsoever about what the impact will be of Brexit or the impact of remain. Unless you can speak with experience, accuracy, and from memory on all of the above topics (and many more), to be honest, you have absolutely no fucking clue either. None of us do. I’m a game developer, full time (more than full time…) I don’t have time to research all of this stuff in the detail required to truly make an informed decision.

I am going with my gut feeling when I GUESS that remain is best, and so are you, regardless if you are pro or anti brexit. Unless you are a full time researcher, academic or civil servant working in a multi-discipline committee that looks into this stuff, you are as clueless about the real details as me.

And yet we vote.

How can this work?

By all means give me a vote on broad priorities, based on gut feeling and general emotion. I am a liberal kind of guy, who favours LGBT rights, personal freedom, equal pay, right-to-choose and so on. I am also an economic freedom guy, who is pro-business, generally small(ish) state, progressive but reasonable taxation, etc. I am an environmentalist.

But ask me to make finer-grained decisions on the technical policy making? ha! no! I have no idea. Like many of you, I *think* i know how to do it, and have great fun making and playing award-winning video games about this very topic! But i’m increasingly worried that I cannot be relied upon to make informed, sensible decisions about intensely complicated political or economic issues like Brexit.

If playing Democracy teaches you anything other than ‘compromise is often good’, it should teach you that ‘holy crap this stuff is complex, and very hard to predict’. Why are we trusting mere voters to make this sort of decision? I am arrogant enough to consider myself educated, informed, interested, analytical, and a good person. I don’t trust ME to have opinions on this, let alone someone whom none of those words apply to.

And it will get worse. Climate change, and our response to it, is not a ‘gut feeling’ issue. Its hugely complex. Should we allow GM food and support nuclear power? How should we legislate to protect our privacy in an internet-of-things age? what can we do to prevent automation creating vast inequality? how do we legislate 3D-printed guns? how do we defend society from malicious use of drones? how do we balance security vs freedom in air travel? and the big insane ones like ‘what do we do when true AI is created’? and ‘what if nanotech makes the current economic system collapse’ or ‘should we ban human cloning’? What do we do if antibiotics stop working (possible) or quantum computing renders cryptography obsolete overnight? These issues are HUGE.

Imagine the shitstorm if we actually make contact with alien life? How the fuck will we handle decisions in a situation like that?

They say Democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all of the others. I reckon we need to make sure that when we talk about democracy we don’t get lured into thinking direct democracy and referendums are as good as representative democracy. I don’t think direct democracy works now, and I think its only going to get way way worse…

The really scary thing to me is that everybody THINKS they are informed enough. None of us are. This is dangerous.

10 Responses to “Maybe democracy as a system, cannot work any more”

  1. Dan Hulton says:

    I know we all love to get down on democracy when times are tough, but all the other governmental systems have the same problem (ignorance), just with fewer people potentially in a position to do anything about overriding bad decisions.

    I think the next big political improvement will be some way of protecting democracy from populism (though I don’t know what that will be), not from a reversion away from the rule of the people.

  2. Meh Meh says:

    You voted for economic reasons, it’s a very complicated aspect of it. I voted to keep our sovereignty, which isn’t complicated. I want us to decide our own laws, for better or worse.

    So yes, I should be allowed to vote on the issue, regardless of what the experts say about the economic effects (and they could be right or wrong, like you say). There are things more important than a having a possibly slightly better economy.

    The experts can vote away their say in our laws being made. I won’t vote away their say.

    Other countries having any vote at all (let alone all the different countries involved, diluting our own vote even further) in our country’s laws is just wrong, and stupid, and we have to move away from that. We can all work together, by choice, not force.

    (And yes, I would support Scottish independence, or any country’s independence. If they choose to vote to stay with us that’s their right. As is it our right to choose whether or not we want to be apart of an even larger union.)

    Democracy is needed because even the experts can be blind. Looking down on people who you disagree with as stupid, ill-informed, etc. is not going to solve anything. There are idiots in all groups.

  3. anthony says:

    Representative democracy did nothing when the majority didn’t want to go to war with Iraq.
    Representative Democracy didn’t protect Wales from massive economic harm; that left it the most poverty stricken region in Europe

    Democracy fails when it is scaled up; evidence shows that smaller nations react better to shifting conditions, and generally have better standard of living than the big nations. The UK is too big to govern; 60 Million + people are too diverse and varied.

    When it does work is when it is as local as possible; and the population is as homogeneous as possible; not in terms of race etc… but in community and social norms. Direct or representative work perfectly in nations less than 5 million.

    Beyond that, you need a federated nation, that has almost autonomy in all decisions… The United States does this more or less; Germany does it quite good too… The EU does not allow this; too many top down rules.

    • Miquel says:

      > Germany does it quite good too… The EU does not allow this; too many top down rules.

      I think that the EU system is pretty much a carbon copy from the German federal system, with the difference that the ultimate decision making is made by a “Comission”, rather than a “Cabinet”, that only answers to the assembly of member states prime ministers and presidents. That I think is a big issue with how the EU is run.

      This, and I think history will agree with me, ludicrous system stems from the reluctance to give up sovereignty, or rather, the “appearance” of sovereignty. The nation states of the EU which are in the Euro gave up a basic tool that makes sovereignty be real, beyond the colourful paraphernalia that national flags are.

      As the Brexit slow motion disaster is showing, we live in deeply interconnected societies, where one part trying to assert its “sovereignty” is analogous to your right arm deciding that the old alliance that bound it together to the rest of the body limits is potential. In consequence, it then takes steps to sever itself from the organs and other body parts. After all, in a distant past, tissues were just loosely “integrated” coalitions of living beings that cooperated or coexisted so to surf into a local maximum of “fitness”. It should be possible to undo that integration in a neat and painless way, right?

      The cells of that arm may come to regret very soon they newly asserted “sovereignty”, as they find that the old ways they remember do not longer work any more (e.g. there’s no British Empire and the “cousins” will want to drive a bargain as hard as the one they were given back in 1973).

  4. Arowx says:

    It’s another layer of bureaucracy, but in theory it should be a shared layer so can provide systems, funds and features above and beyond what one nation on their own could afford e.g. Science/Technology R&D.

    However the issue you don’t hear about is how dependent we are on the EU, ever since WW2 we have know that the UK cannot feed it’s population without external food supplies. As part of the EU we can get food from many other nations without paying any tariffs or taxes.

    Our just in time systems also could suffer if new tariffs or bureaucracy were added and delays were caused or costs prices were to fluctuate.

    We need in depth analysis of the food import situation and what could happen in a worst case scenario as being concerned about a few thousand migrants is a drop in the ocean when you can’t put food on the table and the stores are bare due to some border/tariff/brexit mess up.

  5. Hello says:

    You are a customer in a marketplace of voting for a very large system called the UK government. You shouldn’t feel responsible for voting ‘properly’ as if you were the government, but actually vote in accordance of your personal needs and desires.

    By voting your personal needs, you in a way inform the system with the information of what you need, which gets summed in with everyone else’s needs. That aggregation of votes leads to all of those needs being described, and in a system of conflicting desires we go with the majority.

    If an environment change starts changing the needs of people bit by bit, people will inform the system with their votes until that environment change flips who is in charge, or the party / representatives recognizing that change in the public opinion, changes their behavior.

    Most of the day to day legislation and government running is unknown to you. Democracy only changes the executives and the board of directors, not the vast amount of staff that are making a lot of decisions and research themselves.

  6. Tadhg says:

    Yep. And this is why you need experts and to listen to them and act accordingly. It’s increasingly apparent that attitudes to expertise really defines all these issues, about whether the world is simply too complicated and the reaction should be to embrace or reject that complexity. Personally I tend to favor technocratic embraces of expertise largely because I think the other side is rife with personality politics and vainglorious incompetence.

    • Guntha says:

      By the way, does someone know why technocracy is often referred to as a bad thing? Because to me, it only means “ruling by the people who know what they are doing” (even though, of course, they can’t know everything).

      • cliffski says:

        Generally its because the technocrats are not diverse. They are often academics (so pro public sector) often relatively wealthy, and can be drawn disproportionately from certain genders or races, which opens things up to persecution of minorities.

  7. Nivas Govindarajan says:

    I’ve said this many times, but the Brexit vote wasn’t a failure of democracy per se. The failure was that it was a major decision that changed international relations and trade agreements that lasted for decades. If you’re going to go for referendums, issues this important should require a supermajority rather than a simple majority. A simple majority is good enough for small issues, but that’s all.