Rationalized and Extended Democracy


The aim of this book is quite ambitious: we outline the REDemo Project (Rationalized and Extended Democracy), offering a possible solution to a complex problem, i.e. a better use that democratic societies can make of science (in the broadest sense) and expertise in realizing constitutionalized goals and objectives, without creating an oligarchy: on the contrary, while relying on the useful competence of public scientists, the collective has control of the political/policy processes from beginning to end. Democracies suffer from intrinsic defects: their institutional design is inadequate to achieve the ethical-political aims as avowed in constitutions. The method of representation, almost entirely entrusted to bodies elected on a traditional party basis, has serious shortcomings: 1) Due to a deep-rooted mindset and behaviour, laws and government outcomes are often more dictated by evident but unconfessed electoral interests of individual politicians and parties than directed to the realization of their declared programmes. Consent-hunting encourages demagoguery and cronyism; 2) The confrontational majority-opposition mechanism is detrimental, implies dubious arrangements (logrolling) and distortions (pork-barrelling). The balance of powers is weak and inefficient; 3) The influence of lobbies on policy decisions is disproportionate, especially when economic powerhouses can legally bankroll candidates and parties. The weight of private money distorts democratic dynamics; 4) Often the laws show clear limits in terms of competence, but the available expertise is ignored or misused; 5) Politicians normally have a short-term view and fail to keep pace with changes in society – let alone anticipate them: party-politics is often late; 6) The self-referencing of legislative-executive powers allows the use of public funds for personal gains: too often, corruption is not sufficiently fought; 7) Conflicts of interest are endemic. In order to contain or correct such flaws, we propose a new framework, Rationalized and Extended Democracy (REDemo), to be implemented, in each country where the redesign is embraced, through two institutional changes that are needed as a meta-reform. 1. Rationalization: On the legislative side, groups of experts, elected by universal suffrage through lists of volunteer candidates prepared in universities and other public science bodies, composed of researchers and academics who declare their availability, form a branch of organisms (Scientific Assemblies) which are parallel to the existing party-political branch (Chambers and regional-local Councils), both at state and infra-state level. The members of scientific legislatures, on temporary leave from research and teaching, serve under a maximum of two medium-term mandates on an expiry and rotation basis with similarly specialised colleagues: they are legal scholars, political analysts, economists, sociologists, land/urban planners, industry/infrastructure designers, biotechnologists, agronomists, ecologists, educationists, specialists on public health, on cultural heritage, etc. Each expert candidate sets out her programme by drafting a list with specific and clearly identified objectives, linked to her skills, with mandatory reference to relevant articles of the national Constitution or Bill of Rights; mid-term and end-of-term reports, to be widely and publicly discussed, are issued by each elected expert (this provision becomes mandatory also for party politicians). The party-political arm and the scientific arm of the legislature formulate draft laws independently and pre-approve them on a majority basis within their own assemblies; then those proposals are put to the vote of the corresponding other wing, which may make amendments; once approved by both actors, the law comes into force, after civil society organisations have had time to propose possible changes. Should it prove impossible for the two divisions of the legislature to reach agreement on a bill, a decision-promoting referendum must be held. As for the executive side, in the national and local governments, experts designated by the scientific assemblies share the positions with traditional politicians; individuals to be appointed as ministers/secretaries are examined by evaluative commissions, composed of both politicians and experts who are competent to assess the sectoral skills of a candidate. 2. Extension: Broadening of the institutions of direct democracy and reinforcement of the electorate as decision-maker of last resort. Citizens, societal organisations, and stakeholders, beyond deliberating on officeholders’ periodical reports, can: independently formulate law proposals and submit them to the two legislative branches; indicate changes to the draft laws; call affirmative or repealing referenda; be called on to vote on bills if the two legislative actors cannot agree. In the current system, the evidence-based and science-informed contributions of public scientists, as partial or debatable as they might be, if and when requested by decision-makers are filtered at the convenience of party politics, and therefore often manipulated or ignored; if assemblies of elected experts become an intrinsic part of the legislative and executive structure, the theoretically shaky and barely effective ‘Science speaks to power’ paradigm is superseded, and society can much better exploit high-level expertise in public choices and policy decisions. Since the scientific assemblies are elected by the community, they retain full democratic legitimacy. More: the limited and slow ability of the current law- and decision-making structure of democracies to cope with urgent problems justifies the authorization of the REDemo reform with its improved timely and constructive achievement of constitutionalized ends. The proposed apparatus is not a technocracy or a Platonist elite government: scientific assemblies are elected, and do not replace political-party bodies; nor are they insulated from the influence and will of the citizenry – just the opposite. The constant dialogue and exchange with the traditional legislative arm and with civil society enriches the dynamics of collective action in its pursuit of constitutional goals. The reform can usefully counter the above-listed flaws of democratic institutions: 1) Candidates to the scientific assemblies are less prone to demagoguery and electoral concerns because, being ‘on loan’ to politics, they do not need to go vote-hunting: specific mechanisms are put in place to restrain opportunistic appeals to voters. The main dedication for elected experts can be the implementation of their programmes; 2) In the scientific assemblies, while decision by consensus is encouraged, resolutions will be taken on a majority basis: but there should not be factions which are systematically required to oppose and denigrate each other. The compulsion to negotiate opaque compromises (logrolling) and allocate resources for particularistic, electoral ends (pork-barrelling) is contained. An effective balance of powers is applied, inside the legislative-executive sphere itself; 3) A low ceiling is put on the financing and electoral expenses of candidates, both traditional and scientific, and the latter use only limited public funds. Candidates and elected experts have no need to struggle for financial contributions: therefore, the influence of economic lobbies over them is reduced; 4) Experts offer top-level competence in various fields in which collective choices are to be taken: yet, voters will decide among the proposed policy platforms; 5) The workings of scientific assemblies are likely to adopt a long-term vision; 6) The oversight of experts and the greater weight of civil society should result in better management of public spending and a reduction in waste and privileges. Corruption may be more effectively countered; 7) Conflicts of interest are minimised: experts who are involved in commercial businesses cannot be members of the scientific assemblies or of governments. The fruitful introduction of public scientists into the core of the democratic legislative-executive structure may be welcomed by society: in these times of disenchantment with political institutions, extensive surveys prove that the majority of the population in many countries keep a persistent trust in experts and their positive role. Last but not least: public research is paid for with taxpayers’ money; not exploiting that richness in collective action means underusing precious resources. Democracies need a quantum leap.