Category Archives: Sociocracy in Civic Life

Using sociocracy in civic life may be the  optimal place to begin implementation. While democracy is espoused in public life, it is often not practiced. The use of majority rule promotes competition rather than cooperation. “How do we create a society that values freedom and in which each person has equal opportunity?” The principles and methods of sociocracy could make this happen most effectively.

Strong Towns and a Way Forward

…a good example of how sociocracy consultants and advocates can work within an organization to incorporate sociocratic principles and practices using the language and current objectives of the organization.

What prompted me to write today was the discovery of Strong Towns, a non-profit organization devoted to local civic development.  In despair over the state of American governance, I was clicking through the far too many news sources I read every morning and saw a link to a story in Strong Towns. The organization’s methods for building strong towns are distinctively sociocratic, entirely practical, and nicely framed. No unfamiliar names or distracting variations accepted practices.

The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

As sociocracy teaches, the methods for creating financially strong and resilient organizations are reliable and tangible means of measurement. Accurate measurements provide the feedback necessary for correcting or modifying decisions and processes.

A Failure of Democracy

Why was this so attractive to me this morning? Because I find mind-numbing the continuing drama of being unable to stop Donald Trump. By the summer of 2018, the shock that he was (sort of) elected has worn off. Unfortunately, it has been replaced with feelings of helplessness. Though Trump confirms several times a day that he is both incompetent and dangerous, this narcissistic oligarch is still in control.

Reading How Democracies Die by  Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt was helpful in understanding how Trump was the result of decades of the weakening of self-governance in all parts of our society. It revealed the process by which democracies find themselves in dictatorships and enumerated the conditions that create dictators. But Levitsky and Ziblatt didn’t have suggestions for stopping him.

Why hasn’t someone escorted Trump out of the White House into a waiting motorcade with a military escort heading for Mar a Lago never to return?

Our inability to correct the results of a manipulated election says something profound about the system of checks and balances between the branches of government. Each branch is a power-over hierarchy, a static linear top-down structure that fails completely when leadership is weak. Trump has repeatedly appointed inappropriate leaders, and then made them weaker by over-ruling them. He has been able to wreak havoc with no logical or predictable agenda.

Would Sociocracy Help?

Of course, the fundamental practices of self-organization,  the controls of consent, and feedback systems in sociocratic governance would create stronger governance, but where to start? Overthrowing a badly functioning democratic system and installing a sociocratic system would only be a very long-term answer. Teaching sociocratic principles to 326+ million people in America and developing sociocratic governance structures in 89,000+ local governments is a staggering task.

To prevent an oligarch from being elected or manipulating an election and appearing to win, what should we do? What should our mission be? Sociocracy itself is a method with principles and practices, but it doesn’t posit a strong mission. It doesn’t give us a sign that says start here. Take this approach.Strong Towns Logo

Strong Towns

What prompted me to write this post today was an organization I discovered while clicking through the far too many news sources I read every morning: Strong Towns. Their mission is practical: to build financially sustainable communities.

The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

The Strong Towns’ Approach

Strong Towns‘ method for doing this has distinctively sociocratic characteristics.

A Strong Towns approach:

  • Relies on small, incremental investments (little bets) instead of large, transformative projects,
  • Emphasizes resiliency of result over the efficiency of execution,
  • Is designed to adapt to feedback,
  • Is inspired by bottom-up action (chaotic but smart) and not top-down systems (orderly but dumb),
  • Seeks to conduct as much of life as possible at a personal scale, and
  • Is obsessive about accounting for its revenues, expenses, assets and long-term liabilities (do the math).

All of these are good sociocratic practices: incremental changes starting from where we are, emphasis on results, attention to feedback, bottom-up action, a personal scale, and strong measurements.

Strong Towns’ Principles

Strong Towns is based on principles gleaned from scientifically conducted research. This provides a strong basis to guide and against which to measure their work process.

As advocates for a strong America, we know the following to be true:

  • Strong cities, towns, and neighborhoods cannot happen without strong citizens (people who care).
  • Local government is a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place.
  • Financial solvency is a prerequisite for long-term prosperity.
  • Land is the base resource from which community prosperity is built and sustained. It must not be squandered.
  • A transportation system is a means of creating prosperity in a community, not an end unto itself.
  • Job creation and economic growth are the results of a healthy local economy, not substitutes for one.

Finding Strong Towns gave me enough hope and inspiration to begin writing again after a long break. I’m not suggesting that Strong Towns is sociocratic or that they have had any contact with sociocracy. Sociocracy is based on scientifically researched principles that are universally applicable in human organizations and Strong Towns has obviously found and applied the same ones. It is a good example of how sociocracy consultants and advocates can work within an organization to incorporate sociocratic principles and practices using the language and current objectives of the organization.

It’s a sign pointing forward—the best kind.

Sociocracy’s Achilles Heel

The Achilles Heel of sociocracy is its dependence on the willingness of people to act. How can a sociocracy be any stronger than a democracy or even a monarchy if people are not willing to stand up and say, “I object” and then take action to implement better options?

Trump, Trumpism, and Trumpist

In the winter, I promised to write more about Donald Trump as a democratic leader (already a difficult leap) and how things would differ in a government based on the Sociocratic Circle Method (SCM) of organization. A series of compare-and-contrast analyses that would illustrate the ways in which a sociocratic democracy would prevent or disable a Trumpist government.

The  24/7 television news channels have been and still are a daily deluge of perfect case studies:

  • spiteful decisions made with no regard for advisability or even workability,
  • denial of factual information,
  • disregard for advice,
  • refusal to even consider statistical analyses,
  • repeated proclamations of demonstrably untrue boasts,
  • rushing to implement policies before anyone can study their social or economic impact, and
  • preference for executive orders over a democratic process.

I could have written all day, every day for the last 10 months and not covered a fraction of these actions and decisions. Instead I have a pile of un-finished posts. Some had only a few lines before I was discouraged by my own arguments.

Ultimately, I realized all the examples came down to the same weakness. A weakness that  would be as true of sociocracy as it is of democracy.

The Achilles Heel of Freedom

The Achilles heel of a free society and a free government  is  its dependence on self-organization—the ability of citizens to act with power and make good decisions.

A free government cannot be legislated. It can’t be awarded to a society after it and its allies win a war. Laws only work if someone makes them work. This requires respect for the values of a free society.

A decade ago, one of the arguments for sociocracy  was that it was value free,  “an empty tool.” It could be used with any political philosophy, by any business venture, or in any society no matter its religious tradition. Sociocracy didn’t bring with it a bias toward any ideology. It wasn’t Christian or Marxist or Free Trade. What this value-free argument neglected to notice is that sociocracy stems from deep fundamental values that are not shared by all societies: freedom and equality.* That all people are to be respected as being of equal value and have the freedom to control their own lives. That’s why the great feedback loops that permeate sociocratic organizations ensure that any person can correct the wheel by raising an objection to a decision that doesn’t adhere to these values.

A government is nothing without the governed. Each part in a system has to have a role, or it isn’t a part of the system. Without the support of citizens,  a free government will move toward entropy and ultimately dissolution. In entropy where there is no self-organization; the  lack of a dictator becomes a liability.

Effective Objections and Consent

All the violations of good governance in Trumpism are like veneer on rotting wood. Evaluating the veneer may lead to improvement in the next layer of veneer, but the wood beneath will still be rotting. Rotting wood has no ability to act—to do its job in supporting the feeding of the tree and producing foliage.

The fundamental concern in the most unlikely election of Trump to the presidency is not the values and behavior that Trumpism condones. The most frightening and revealing fact is that so many stepped back from stopping it. Effectively, they consented when they didn’t object. They not only let it happen, they found incredible justifications for doing so. The choice to respect a political party affiliation is not a sound argument.

Why a Sociocracy Wouldn’t  Help

Every compare-and-contrast example I found to illustrate what would be different in a sociocratic government was also an example of why it could be just the same.

A sociocratic governance system is based on self-organization—the expectation of effective leadership and action on the part of all its members. That isn’t encouraged in our present political system. Money dominates as  a factor in getting elected and requires  loyalty to party and donors before ideas.

Would sociocratic elections conducted between colleagues be different? Only if the colleagues are willing to object as well as consent and make logical arguments in support of their decision.

Strong followers produce strong leaders. The meanings of “strong” include intensity, power, and the ability to engage in sound reasoning on the basis of  convincing evidence.

Pointing out fallacies, untruths, and destructive behavior are not corrective objections. They do nothing to challenge or change the system that allows the offenses. Doing one’s best even in the face of daily omnipotent and counter productive actions has the effect of consent.  Action brings hard choices and uncertainty. Lack of action has equally hard choices and more certain consequences.

Trump as President Isn’t a Fault of Democracy

Donald Trump is not a symptom of what is wrong with democracy. For those who believe democracy is synonymous with majority vote, I note that he isn’t the result of a majority vote. He lost the election by millions of votes. He was a puppet who won on a technicality cleverly created by a foreign government using US citizens as conspirators to disrupt the election process. The principals  didn’t take action to stop it. The failure to act is being revealed daily in the investigation into what actually did happen during the 2017 election. Both causes, manipulation and failure to act, were years in the making.

A strong democracy could have avoided Trumpism. It would have taken an equally strong sociocracy to avoid the same result. There is no promise that sociocratic governments would be inherently stronger. In both it depends on who is willing to commit to action — to consent as an actively supportive action, not passive acquiesence; and objections as a corrective actions, not vetoes.

Disruption, Distraction, and Disrespect

Trumpism feeds on disruption, distraction, and disrespect. It’s only purpose is to defeat whatever system is in place. Aside from the self-aggrandizing quest for more money by Trump and his wealthy supporters, many of those advocating for Trumpism in the Midwest and South believe that anything is better than what we have. If we can get rid of the current system, a new system that is fair to us will be allowed to emerge.

Does anything better ever just emerge?

No, it is created with action. Neither democrats nor sociocrats can guarantee that people will act in their own best interests, or even understand what they are.

 

I allow myself one rant: I am baffled by journalists who are still trying to attribute  Machiavellian intelligence and strategic planning to a pathological narcissist with an instinct for self-preservation who acts entirely on his own obsessive concern with winning by destroying people who “aren’t nice” to him. It is a pointless effort to hope that somewhere in Trumpism there is an intelligent plan, however subversive. It reflects the human need to find order, especially when it doesn’t obviously exist.

*The word equivalence is preferred over equal in sociocratic circles because it is more  likely to be interpreted as “equal but not identical.” The equality in sociocratic organizations is related to equality in one’s sphere of responsibility and decision-making authority. It clearly says that having equivalence as a citizen doesn’t mean I can walk into the White House sit down with the National Defense Council and raise objections. I prefer equal because the word is more familiar and I think people know that it means equal respect under the law and equal consideration in one’s social and economic life. Equal, but not identical. And free to self-determine, free of standardization.

 

Using Majority Vote to Create Autocracies

The state of American politics under Donald Trump and his privy Councillor Stephen “Steve” Bannon is a perfect example of using majority vote to create autocracies. Majority vote lends itself to being  divisive. The decisions are always made with yes or no answers. A bill is voted up or down. There are no other options. And once a group is divided into yes’s and no’s, people begin to manipulate others to form a majority so they can win.

Decisions by majority vote allow  and enable manipulation of outcomes with no reference to the quality of the decision. Majority vote has no required test of truth.

Once won, the fact of winning becomes validation. The test of truth is only winning.

The Bizarre Election  of Donald Trump

The nation-wide depression that followed Trump’s election was palpable in public and private spaces. The shock has resulted in a long winter, even though we have had little snow and temperatures in the 70’s sometimes.

 

Arial view of the Women's March on Washington

 

The malaise and despair lifted temporarily with the images of demonstrations against Trump around the world. The ones around the world in small towns as well as large, were very helpful. The resistance continues with pink hats as its rallying symbol. And there are three more national marches on Washington planned for April and May for climate change, science, and immigration.

I’ve knitted 19 hats for the PussyHat Project and have orders for 4 more. When a woman ordered 25 miniature PussyHat pins on very short notice as gifts for her trip to China, several knitters stepped up and met the three-day deadline. I’ve almost finished a Brain Hat for the March for Science on Earth Day on April 22nd. Knitting groups are beginning all over the nation and pink yarn is frequently sold out online as well as in shops. Some of the brain hats have pink ears.  My Brain Hat wearer objects to pink brains. She’s a scientist.

Between trying to find pink yarn and knitting and watching Perry Mason reruns, I’ve been trying to think of something to follow my post pointing out the similarities between Trump and Hitler.

Unfortunately, the similarity to Hitler continues, not only in his rhetoric but in his outrageous and lawful edicts. All information on government websites that contradicts his views have been summarily withdrawn, including statistics on things like climate and banned school lunch ingredients.

The fear of Trumps autocratic proclamations returns as his election promises are implemented with previously unknown speed.  The ignorant race in where experts fear to go.

How did we get here?

In fact, Donald Trump did not win the popular vote. Hillary Clinton won that by almost 3 million votes. But in our presidential elections we have what was meant to be a protection against the manipulations of ringmasters, more accurately bullshitters (vulgar but accurate). Even in office, in front of the whole world, Trump continues to rant the characteristic bullshitter’s  brand of nonsense, lies, and exaggerations. He repeats them over and over.

It is traditionally the ringmaster’s job to use hyperbole whenever possible while introducing the acts to enhance the expectations of the audience. Declarations of the “biggest,” “most dangerous,” “amazing,” “spectacular,” and similar expressions are common. [As in bigly common.)

There are many newspapers and websites now tracking Trump’s falsehoods and “alternative facts” as one of his advisors, Kellyanne Conway, calls them. One of the most comprehensive is Politifact.

Majority Vote and Sociocracy

Sociocratic principles allow any group of decision-makers to use majority vote if all its members consent to do so. Consent as a decision-making method requires that the deciders be able and willing to sit together to work out a solution that works for everyone, not just the majority. Obviously this is not possible in national elections, or even local elections.

The United States had a population of approximately 2.5 million In 1789. Though most could read and write, many eligible voters had no formal education, spoke different languages, and had just escaped autocratic monarchies. Did the people have the capacity to elect good leaders?

Communications from one state to the other was still slow and unreliable.  Would the voters have enough information to accurately judge one candidate against another?

Majority vote was untested  in national elections. The framers knew they were on shaky ground. What protection did the nation have if this didn’t work?

It All Began With a Rational Process

The Constitutional Convention, representatives from each of the 13 states feared the election of a huckster or ringmaster who could charm but never lead. To prevent this, they created a system of electors from each state who would convene as an Electoral College to actually make the final decision in the election of the President. Similar to colleagues in a university, electors would debate the merits of the presidential candidates and cast votes according to the debate as well as their state’s popular vote. They were not required to follow the popular vote but to make a decision based on the deliberations of the Electoral College.

This is markedly similar to a sociocratic circle process and was no doubt influenced by the strong Quaker presence in Philadelphia where the Convention was held.

After discussion and debate, during which the views and votes of each state would be presented, Electors would cast votes that represented the best interests of the people who elected them and of the country. Electors were never meant to simply reflect the number of votes cast for the winning candidate in their state. They were not meant to be a rubber stamp. They were supposed to be a corrective force, when necessary,  or a double confirmation.

Unfortunately, the electors no longer meet as a college to debate and decide. They simply phone in their votes. In many states they are elected by state law to vote for the majority candidate, but not in all. Majority vote, not reasoning, rules the process.

Hillary Clinton would have been elected if less than 4% of the electors had voted for her instead of Donald Trump. Obviously, it didn’t happen.

After the election, the unprecedented caustic and oppositional tone of the election was unleashed on electors. Electors were heavily lobbied, threatened, and offered favors. Trump promised a visit to Mar-a-Lago, his 20-acre majestic estate and exclusive golf club in Palm Beach.

Pennsylvania elector Ash Khare said, “I received over 70,000 emails. I received over 5,000 letters. I received over 500 phone calls at all times of day and night.”  NPR

Some electors followed the party line because they were afraid of rabid Trump supporters. Others because they truly believed Trump would be a new and corrective force in American politics. They wanted to shake things up. But most followed what they considered to be the law.

How Majority Vote Influenced the Election

Another factor beside state law and party politics influenced the election. Electors are chosen from geographic  jurisdictions drawn by local political parties. The dominant political party in a geographic area heavily influences that process. The majority draws the jurisdictions to favor themselves, thus jurisdictions are drawn with a bias. They are used to create artificial majorities.

That is how Trump was elected president and lost the popular vote. Trump courted his own ideological base and electors. It was the focus on electors, not “the people,” that resulted in his election.

If the Electors had accurately reflected the actual vote, Hillary Clinton would have won the election and America would have what many authorities have said would be the most qualified president in over 100 years.

Our endorsement is rooted in respect for her intellect, experience and courage. — New York Times

Majority Vote Compounds Itself

Majority vote creates a hierarchy of power with each level fed by the majority at the lower level. The power of the majority is compounded as the majority vote creates another majority at a higher level. The ultimate level claims the  power of the majority as validation for their decisions.  As Trump states frequently, “I won. I’m the president. I decide. If I do it, it’s legal.” He really believes that.

This is how majority vote can be used to create an autocracy. We’ve been using majority vote for centuries now, and usually the majority has some restrains. It has elected good presidents and some of questionable ability. Some with just wrong-headed views.

Allegiance to a political party has come to dominant the ability to be elected, and re-elected. Party affiliation is now more determinative of government decisions than information or wisdom. Parties are built using majority vote with the narrowness of the views of the majority increasing with elections at each level. Trump is a Republican because affiliating with that party was his best chance of winning.

A person like Trump feels no need to convince or even cajole all the people. He has claimed the majority as equal to the whole so  that’s all he thinks he  needs to do. He may learn differently but so far the prospect doesn’t look hopeful. He has too much autocratic control.

Another Hitler? The World Watches in Horror

Another Hitler? Adolf Hitler with Trump's Orange HairHow could an ignorant,  racist, misogynist, isolationist, tax-evading, sex abuser, and financial fraud with orange hair and no respect for factual information be nominated by a major party to become the American President?  Is he another Hitler?

I’ve been thanked for my efforts at trying to help international readers understand the American election. I wish I had something   reassuring to say about Donald Trump. Admittedly it is not much solace, but most Americans, even those planning to vote for Trump, are wondering the same thing.

The only solace for the sociocratic readers of this blog, is that in a sociocratic government those with no information or ability would not be directly electing a president. The decision would more likely be made in the Senate. And they senate would be accountable for their decision.

Trump. Another Hitler?

The forces that contributed to the rise of Trump have eery similarities to those of Hitler. The massive details of military and political analysis of Hitler’s reign overshadow the social forces that allowed it to happen. Like Trump, Hitler was a product of the people and his ability to attract and manipulate the disaffected and angry.

A unique picture of the social life in Berlin in 1933, Hitler’s first year in office, is Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.  It is based on the letters of a party-girl and aspiring writer who was the daughter of the American Ambassador to Germany that year. William Dodd was a University of Chicago historian appointed by Roosevelt to one of the least desired diplomatic posts. With nothing better to do, his daughter Martha, went along and unknown to her father became a Nazi agent.

 In the Garden of Beasts is chilling. Without the distracting  details of Hitler’s amassing of troops and the building of a bureaucracy to execute his plans, a narrative based on Martha’s letter reveals more clearly the social conditions that allowed Hitler to take power. The classes that could have acted were  essentially dismissive of the shrimp with the shrill voice. The paid him no mind.

Elegant and lavish parties continued, now with Nazi officers in attendance. Martha considered it “interesting” when she  was asked to meet Hitler as a  potential lover.  Like other world leaders,  the American government refused to listen to Dodd’s warnings that Germany under Hitler was more dangerous than they wanted to believe. They preferred to stay willfully ignorant.

That world leaders fear a Trump presidency is not the strength that Trump seems to believe it is.  Even Putin, who was reported to be looking forward to manipulating Trump, has stopped efforts to discredit Hillary Clinton so Trump could win the election. Even Putin is now afraid of Trump’s erratic behavior. Trump says yes and acts no. He ignores national security briefings.

Neither Were Taken Seriously

Like Trump with his orange hair, Hitler was viewed as a joke with his comical moustache. Neither were considered to be possible of success. The Republican party that voted to make Trump their nominee did not contest his ability to be president or whether he agreed with their conservative views. They didn’t try to stop him  by joining in support of one of his competitors. They expected Trump to fail. And who expected Hitler to succeed?

Once nominated, party leaders did nothing to persuade Trump to withdraw.  As a result their party is in shambles from conflict and despair. The many Republicans running for re-election fear defeat in his wake. And everyone with any sense is afraid.

Like Trump, Hitler had no respect or interest in factual information. He gave  bombastic speeches in which he said whatever would mobilize his crowds.

Violence Against Minorities

Like Hitler, Trump uses violence to intimidate protesters and threaten minorities. He encourages angry people who want any excuse to be physically and verbally abusive to be violent and even criminal. “I will pay for your lawyers.” Hitler  gave soldiers and mobs the right to beat up anyone on the street who failed to say “Heil Hitler” and salute when troops, or even one soldier passed by.

Hitler targeted minorities as the source of impurities in the true German race. The Jews were 1% of the population. Other religious minorities were even smaller. Nazi soldiers freely patronized gay clubs in Berlin but then gays were also sent to the camps. The minorities were isolated socially in the traditionally Catholic country so they were  easily blamed for everything wrong with society—despite their low numbers. Trump accuses minorities of being responsible for the rising crime rates, even though crime rates are declining. He wants to export all the illegal immigrants with no definition of illegal or realistic plans for doing so.

Hitler said the German race had become polluted by minorities. He fostered fantasies of the greatness of the once pure Germany and vowed to return it. Trump promises to “Make America Great Again.” And his voters see themselves in the middle of that greatness.

Isolation and Narrow Advice

Like Trump, Hitler  was also isolated from the advice and influence of anyone except his chosen few—those who supported him without question. He could turn in an instant on anyone who expressed criticism of him. Trump turns on those who don’t like him.

All Trump’s advisors come out of or are associated with the same  extreme right organization. And every month the number has become smaller and smaller  as they resign in frustration or embarrassment.

 A Dangerous Protest Vote

The support of Trump is a protest vote and very personal. His supporters blame the government for every economic and social ill. They believe nothing could be worse than what they have. They just want something different. Trump is as different as anyone could find.

The wealth in America is still upside down. The top 1% earns 25 times more than the other 99%.  Every economic analyst says Trump’s economic policies will make it worse and increasing the national debt as well. His supporters don’t take this seriously. They have been promised change for decades by people who were supposed to have good economic policies and they are still living too close to subsistence.

America has a strong economy and jobs are increasing by ~150,000 a month. Wages are beginning to rise again.  But the people listening to Trump and vowing to vote for him aren’t experiencing it. Or if they are, they don’t trust it.

Trump voters don’t believe that Trump is exploiting them to serve his own narcissistic needs. They want him to shake things up. They want change. Instead of change, he will more likely cause economic gridlock and public riots.

The content of Hitler’s speeches was ignored. With Trump they say, “Yes, he said that but he doesn’t mean it.” And they laugh.

False Explanations, False Promises

Trump supporters want new promises. Trump uses false causes to give them false promises that are too easily believed. Some political analysts say that people wake up in the ballot booth and become more realistic. And that many of the people who support Trump don’t vote anyway.

Let’s hope.

Carbon Neutral: How to Clean Up Your Patch

Ashton Hayes Village Hall
Ashton Hayes Village Hall. Photo by Jonathan Thacker.

In the last ten years, the village of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire, England with a population of 936+ has taken on climate change by becoming carbon neutral. So far it has reduced its carbon emissions by 24%. To accomplish this, it adopted apolitical, voluntary self-governance—and combined it with a bit of fun.

“We just think everyone should try to clean up their patch. And rather than going out and shouting about it, we just do it.” Rosemary Dossett is talking about climate change.

One of their  secrets was not asking for help from the government or having sit-ins to make the government pay attention. The people of Ashton Hayes took charge and began meeting together to combat climate change on their own. Moment to moment. Day to day. One home at a time. Voluntarily. No regulations. And with a light-hearted view of the end of the world.

Self Governance, No Politics

In January 2006, when their representative in Parliament came to their first public meeting, he was told he could not make a speech. “This is not about you tonight, this is about us, and you can listen to what we’ve got to say for a change.”

650 people attended the first carbon neutral meeting. Only 400 could fit inside. The others waited outside for a second presentation.
650 people attended the first carbon neutral meeting. Only 400 could fit inside. The others waited outside for a second presentation.

No politician has ever been allowed to address the Ashton Hayes group. As the villagers said, involving the government would introduce party politics and divide the group along ideological lines. This a rather negative comment on government but exactly right. A government based entirely on “the majority decides” develops strong sub-alliances to amass enough votes to become the majority. This leads to vote-trading that has little or nothing to do with purposes. Ashton Hayes avoided this by identifying their purpose clearly as going carbon neutral and focusing their attention on that, not whose approach would win.

Ashton Hayes’ Carbon Neutral Actions

Carbon neutral is a  precise measurement, and Ashton Hayes associated its accomplishment with specific measurable actions:

  • Urge people to cut down on their energy requirements,
  • Install solar panels at commercial, community and residential areas,
  • Set up wind turbines behind the public buildings,
  • Ask local authorities to link schools, railway stations and communities via footpaths,
  • Encourage biking and walking,
  • Avoid pre-packed vegetables, instead focused more on growing them,
  • Raise the community spirit among the masses,
  • Install an electricity-led sustainable biodiesel CHP boiler in the school.
  • Replace coal-fired central heating with a combination of oil and wood,
  • Use solar power to supply top-up heat,
  • Use reclaimed materials where practicable, e.g., doors, sanitary ware/ furniture and feature items,
  • Reduce heat loss,
  • Convert main cars to LPG,
  • Recycle gray water,
  • Gather wood locally from fallen trees, and,
  •  Utilize excess soil from drainage to raise gardens
Ashton Hayes Welcome Sign
Ashton Hayes Welcome Sign

Roy Alexander, a physical geologist and professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Chester is supporting the effort. He teaches sustainability for Community and Business and consults with communities on carbon emissions reduction. A surprising 650 people, two-thirds of the village population showed up to the first meeting. And 99.4% of the population is now participating. At whatever level of participation each resident is achieving, these are stunning figures. Could you get two-thirds of your community to attend a meeting on climate change?

Apolitical, Voluntary, and Having a Bit of Fun

A former journalist Garry Charnock, who has lived in the village for decades began the effort after hearing a lecture on climate change at the annual literary gathering, Hay Festival in Wales. With a background in civil engineering and hydrology, he decided to try to get Ashton Hayes to become Britain’s first carbon-neutral village. “But even if we don’t, let’s try to have a little fun.”

There is  no finger-pointing or guilt tripping. And no doomsday scenarios that would be overwhelming and trigger avoidance. The village  focuses on understanding what could be with simple habit changes and better technology.

“Some of the changes are so easy, just put on a sweater instead of turning on the heat.” And plant trees to soak up carbon dioxide.

Some have converted cottages into energy-efficient homes with triple glazed windows, photovoltaic cells on the roof, and geothermal heat pumps. Underground cisterns collect rainwater that is used for toilets and watering the gardens. The whole village is now punctuated with wind turbines and solar panels.

But their greatest success from the sociocratic point of view is assuming that self-governance can work, being practical and non-judgmental,  and being inclusive. Accomplishing their goals. And becoming an example for small towns that are now flocking to Ashton  Hayes to find out how they did it.

Sources

Ashton Hayes Carbon Neutral logo

The full story of Ashton Hayes’ progress is chronicled on the Ashton Hayes Going Carbon Neutral including data sheets, videos, behavior surveys, etc.

English Village Becomes Climate Leader by Quietly Cleaning Up Its Own Patch by Tatiana Schlossberg. Posted online 21 August 2016. 

The Wikipedia article, Ashton Hayes, includes links to many related websites and more information on the village.

Donald Trump, Bullshit Artist, and Sociocracy

Could sociocracy have corrected democracy to prevent the election of Donald Trump, bullshit artist and astoundingly unqualified candidate, as the Republican nominee for President of the United States?
Donald Trump
Americans abroad are pelted with questions about Donald Trump. Is he real? How did he get nominated in a democratic process? Is he evidence of the US abandoning support for equality and freedom around the world? If not, why did 13,681,972 people vote for him?

As the result of a democratic process, the Donald Trump nomination has negative consequences far greater than in the United States. People around the world are fearful and in horror.

Was the process really democratic?

Compared to the democratic process in other countries and in history, yes it was. Despite allegations of “the establishment” trying to control the election, in fact, the establishment would have done a better job if they had. In the Republican Party’s nominating process, each person’s vote was respected equally in every state. Except in the few small populations that use a caucus process, each person was allowed to vote privately, without intimidation. Each candidate was allowed to present their case without fear of reprisal. Each voter had the same access to the same information as other voters.

From a field of 12 candidates who received enough votes to be considered formal contenders, the voters overwhelmingly elected the least qualified to be president. He is also the person most likely to cause harm not only to the internal governance If the US but to its relationships with every other country in the world.

Could this have happened with even a partial adherence to sociocratic principles? We would like to think not, but how?

Transparency, Inclusiveness, and Accountability

The principles of sociocracy are based on the values of transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability. They require decisions to be made with the consent of all they affect, not just the majority. In a national election, of course, consent would be an unrealistic expectation. No one has the amount of time it would take to resolve a national election by that standard. In general, a majority rule is not the best decision-making method, but it is the one that everyone consented to use. Perhaps it is the only possible one in an election involving hundreds of thousands of participants.

Sociocracy requires the organization of decision-makers into decision-making groups, or circles,  that self-organize to produce a decision. Balanced authority linking these circles, for example, between the local Republican parties and the national Republican Party. Neither can dominate the other.

All these conditions were met in this election and to a greater extent than in previous elections of this size. Approximately 42% of the US population of 320 million people are Republicans and could have voted. Registration, although not as transparent as it could be, was open to all Republicans.

There was open discussion between Republicans and Democrats about the pros and cons of each candidate and opportunities for each candidate to respond. Candidates were essentially given equal time in the media. Both candidates and voters could find a forum for expressing their ideas.  Local and national newspapers allowed comments from anyone who wanted to post them. The local talk radio stations and even the national cable television station MSNBC invited all viewers to send them comments. Local libraries have public computers and technical help so everyone has access to online forums.

What was missing?

The organization of the Republican party is not based on groups of people who discuss and deliberate together. Some do, but an individual voter is not required or even expected to discuss the candidates or the issues with others before voting. Voters are not expected to inform themselves.

A major deficit in the election was leadership from experts. In a misguided attempt to allow the election to go forward democratically, the leadership was not forceful enough in noting Trump’s lack of qualifications. In some instances, it was the result of intimidation by Trump’s power. Despite his poor business practices, he is wealthy and contributes to many election campaigns. He also awards favors to those who like him, such as free visits to his many magnificent hotels and golf courses. These include his Mir-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, which is members only and those members with a Trump Card receive  special privileges.

However, the lack of personal intervention by Republican leaders could have been offset by a job description. In sociocratic elections, adopting a job description is the first step. Voters are expected to measure their nominee against the requirements of the job and to defend their choice on that basis.

With no job description, the election process was lacking a rational measurement. How do you judge the appropriateness of a candidate without a clear statement of the office’s responsibilities and expectations? The lack of a job description was largely what made Donald Trump possible. The only surprise is that a Trump hasn’t happened sooner.

Donald Trump, Bullshit Artist

This week the highly respected Indian American journalist  Fareed Zukaria discussed Donald Trump in his weekly column in the Washington Post, “The Unbearable Stench of Trump’s BS” and on his weekly television program on CNN, “Trump as a Bullshit Artist” (a video is also posted).

Photo of Fareed ZakariaZakaria was asked to explain why Donald Trump could say something that had been proven false and then excuse it with “a caustic tweet and an indignant interview.” Zakaria’s response was because he is a “bullshit artist.” Zakaria referred to the work of American philosopher Harry Frankfurt, “On Bullshit”:

Harry Frankfurt, an eminent moral philosopher and former professor at Princeton, wrote a brilliant essay in 1986 called “On Bullshit.”  In the essay, Frankfurt distinguishes crucially between lies and BS: “Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point. . . . In order to invent a lie at all, [the teller of a lie] must think he knows what is true.”

But someone engaging in BS, Frankfurt says, “is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all . . . except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says.” Frankfurt writes that the BS-er’s “focus is panoramic rather than particular” and that he has “more spacious opportunities for improvisation, color, and imaginative play. This is less a matter of craft than of art. Hence the familiar notion of the ‘bullshit artist.’ ”

Zakaria describes how Trump has done this all his life.

He boasts — and boasts and boasts — about his business, his buildings, his books, his wives. Much of it is a concoction of hyperbole and falsehoods. And when he’s found out, he’s like that guy we have all met at a bar who makes wild claims but when confronted with the truth, quickly responds, “I knew that!”

Cartoon of a circus barkerTrump also never takes it back. He moves to the next boast. In the bar, at a wedding, dinners, and parties, this is fun. This is the guy at the center of the show. His performance before thousands of people at his campaign events is that of circus barker, a man performing to entice his audience to vote for my show. Vote for me. I’ll make life perfect. Like you’ve never experienced before.

Is Trump a Two-Headed Monster?

People who have been friends of Trump’s for many years say they like him and that he is a good guy. He’s fun, he’s generous, he’s fair. In private, he never behaves as if believes the same views he expresses in his campaign speeches. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked why she went to Trump’s daughter’s wedding  with 500 friends and family members, she responded, “Because he’s fun.”

The wedding  invitation and Clinton’s positive response were before Trump became the Republican nominee and Clinton’s fierce critic. Their daughters are also friends.

This is typical of other responses by his (former) friends. They have also found him to be kind and personable. They are astounded by his pronouncements from the podium to ban Muslims, protect gun rights, ignore international treaties, and write-off our national debt. They say that just isn’t the Donald they know.

Is he a two-headed monster, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? No the theory of the bullshitter says. He performs to his audience. Journalists embedded with his campaign say he has an uncanny ability to read the audience and craft his message to the moment. There are not two people, or three or six.

Like a lie that would require fine distinctions and precise observance between the characteristics of his different personalities and  positions.  It would require rationality.

Not irrationality, but an art

Trump’s speeches aren’t rational. They make no sense. He double talks. He spouts imaginary data. Even contradicts himself from one speech or  interview to the next. That is the art of performance. He seduces his audience not to believe, but to be entertained so they will attend his parties. And sign on to less than realistic business deals and to trust him even though his record of success is questionable at best.

In Trump’s view, our government is a circus and its leaders as clowns.  As all BS-ers do,  he is creating the circus and the clowns. Like the Music Man, he is promising to fix it. As if the Circus Barker in a small circus can become a great leader in international politics and create a lush economy. He thinks his bullshit will work the way it always has. Only now, ten weeks before the election have leaders have started to speak out and he has crossed so many lines of decency, that his poll numbers are beginning to drop.

Journalists and opposing candidates have been frustrated at not being able to pin Trump down with the truth. They can’t because truth is not his concern. To lie, you have to know the truth. He doesn’t care about the truth.  Fareed  quotes the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt again when he  says:

Liars and truth-tellers are both acutely aware of facts and truths. They are just choosing to play on opposite sides of the same game to serve their own ends. The BS artist, however, has lost all connection with reality. He pays no attention to the truth. “By virtue of this,” Frankfurt writes, “bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.” … Standard rules of fact, truth, and reality have disappeared in this campaign.

Have you noticed how uninteresting Trump’s rallies have become since he has dropped the circus barker’s showmanship? He has tried to adopt a more conventional speech-making style while saying the same things. He is a candidate, no longer a circus barker, and is no longer entertaining.

Harry Frankfurt’s article “On Bullshit” was published as a book of the same title in 2005. A copy of the article in PDF: Frankfurt On Bullshit

Wikipedia’s entry on the Results of the Republican Party Presidential Primaries includes a detailed analysis of the process that nominated Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States. The results are given state by state, candidate by candidate.

 

Structural Issues in Government

NoParkingIn my neighborhood we have a large email list designed for neighbor to neighbor conversation and requests for help. A frequent request is a phone number for help with city services. The current problem is needing the city to enforce parking regulations when a life may be at risk because a driveway is blocked. The lack of response from city governments reveals structural issues that as in other bureaucracies will be hard to fix.

The person whose driveway is often blocked is referred by 911 to the parking violations department. Parking violations treats it like an expired meter. They ticket when they ticket. No response to a potentially critical issue. They aren’t designed for that. Their only recourse is to place  the complaint  at the bottom of a long list of towing tasks.  Days later when the tow truck shows up, the car is no longer there. The next day another is in its place.

In the moment, the severely asthmatic won’t reach the emergency room without an expensive ambulance ride and the added anxiety of waiting.

A blocked driveway is different from an expired parking meter or a car parked too close to a corner. The existing policy means the workers are bound to fail. Unless they violate the policy.

Structural Issues in Government

The lack of response is the result of a structural issue, not a personal or department failure in a specific instance. Since a representative of a council member’s office has now intervened to solve the problem, that is probably how it will appear inside the department. Easier to blame one person or team of people than to address policy.

If the city had an appropriate policy, this would be classified as a life or death risk, not a parking violation. It would receive a response designed to avoid emergencies. With permission, the parking  department might also make recommendations to the homeowner for making the driveway appear to be more obviously active, not like an unused alley. Parking people are on the street every day and know the characteristics of places where cars park illegally as well as legally. I wonder if the street and design department talks to the parking violations department? The Meter Maids?

The need is for a clear definition of the problem and a change in policy and practice. As in most bureaucracies, a policy decision like this can only be made at the top levels by a commissioner or even the city council. A single potentially dangerous parked car, however, in a city of parked cars can’t compete with a failing educational system or a city-wide epidemic. Correcting parking policies isn’t a priority. It can take years to change them.

Policy Decisions at Appropriate Levels

In a dynamically organized government based on the principles of sociocracy, the structure would allow a policy to be developed and implemented by the responsible department. Within the larger policies governing the city, the people responsible for safe parking would decide how they will accomplish their purpose.

Many governments follow the practice of defining objectives, measuring effects, and evaluating performance. But this is often done at an abstract level. Numbers, often collated with the statistics from other departments, seem unrelated to day-to-day operations. In response to numbers, changes are made by those several levels removed from those governed by them. Instead of corrections in policy and  structural issues, evaluations often result in personnel changes or reorganizations. Morale falls and new problems emerge.

In dynamic governance, the organization would:

  1. recognize a blocked driveway as a distinct policy issue not covered in the parking violations policy, and
  2. allow policy to be determined by the department.  They directly experience the problem and can most quickly and effectively address it.

In addition to being more effective, correcting structural issues avoids all the unnecessary sturm und drang and time wasted in trying to apply ineffective policies.

Are Policy Decisions at the Level of Parking Enforcement Possible?

I know your first objection will be that the parking meter people and the tow truck drivers are not equipped to make policy decisions. And they are not in charge of their own budget. But I think we need to give it a try because;

  1. These people know more about parking and parking problems than any of us. We only know our own parking problems.
  2. They are our neighbors and are as smart as we are. Inattention and playing dumb is one way to get complaining citizens off your back when there is nothing they can do.
  3. They might not know how to phrase a policy in formal government language — which is probably a good thing— but they know which words work in parking. That’s all they need to know.
  4. Dynamic governance also requires continuing education for everyone (5% of budget) so they can learn about practices in other cities and how city planning effects parking.

When a department’s numbers come out dramatically better in the next review, it will get the budget it needs and be trusted to spend it wisely. But more probably, performance will be so much more effective and their workload brought under control, so more funds will be available within the existing budget.

A related issue is job satisfaction. While some people just want to show up for work and push a broom where they are directed to push it. Others are deeply involved with the issues of green cleaning and more effective service. Organizations, especially governments, often fail to recognize or use this energy.

Who the NRA Really Speaks For

Gun Control and Sociocracy

Photograph of Assault RiflesA shocking opinion piece appeared in the New York Times today, Who the NRA Really Speaks For, by Alan Berlow who writes on gun control and death penalty issues for The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, New York Times Magazine, and other major publications. Perhaps you are better informed but I’m not a close reader of gun control laws and this piece set me back a bit.

Berlow explains how ineffective gun laws are and how the NRA protects gun traffickers

How could gun control be so bad? And what would fix it? Or even improve it and curb the lobbying force of the?

And how does this connect with Sociocracy?

One word: transparency.

Transparency in Gun Control

Secrecy is the first precondition to abuse. In order to abuse the public trust or a child, the abuser first ensures secrecy. Criminals use subterfuge, false reporting, blackmail, promises, and threats to hide their crimes. And that is what the National Rifle Association (NRA) has supported by lobbying to keep the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and to limit its budget.

Readers have asked why I listed the characteristics of Sociocracy as transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability. Why not inclusiveness first, or accountability first? Initially I listed them alphabetically as the order easiest to remember: accountability, inclusiveness, and transparency. But transparency is necessary to  inclusiveness and accountability. Inclusiveness isn’t compatible with secrecy. Neither is accountability. If you have transparency, inclusiveness and accountability can be established.

The NRA has not only lobbied against gun control but aided gun trafficking by lobbying against transparency. The stand against gun control is a stand that protects not the legal rights of gun owners as the NRA claims but the criminal actions of gun traffickers.

No Records, No Transparency, No Enforcement

Before the age of computers, and today’s vast digital records and instantaneous data reporting, FBI Director Herbert Hoover tracked his enemies list with handwritten and typed index cards. He was able to keep better tabs on crime than the ATF is able to track gun sales, particularly sales of military-grade submachine guns and assault rifles.

There are no centralized or  digital records of gun sales.

To repeat, in an age when Safeway knows exactly how many cans of Del Monte Sweet Peas in 8.5, 15, and 29 oz cans it has sold in the last fifteen minutes, the ATF has not a clue how many guns white supremacy groups have purchased in the last year. Nor how many submachine guns your teenaged neighbor has in his closet.

The ATF knows that multiple purchases are an indicator of trafficking, and that traffickers can evade the law by making a single purchase from five, 10 or 20 different gun stores. So why doesn’t the ATF crosscheck those purchases? Because Congress, under pressure from the NRA, prevents the federal government from keeping a centralized database that could instantly identify multiple sales. Gun sale records are instead inconveniently “archived” by the nation’s gun dealers at 60,000 separate locations — the stores or residences of the nation’s federally licensed gun dealers, with no requirement for digital records.

Gun dealers are not even required to keep inventory lists.

Why the lack of curiosity among gun dealers? Well, gun dealers must report lost and stolen guns to the ATF. because large numbers of missing weapons are a red flag for trafficking. Without an inventory requirement, it’s easier to sell guns off the books.

Imagine for a moment  60,000 gun dealers across the 3,805,927 square miles of the United States? And mounds of paper records in all those places. If the Washington DC police force with 3,800 officers can’t control guns in the 68.3 square miles of Washington DC, how can the ATF control the entire United States with even fewer? The ATF is actually smaller that the DC police force, and the same size it was 40 years ago. And with alcohol, tobacco, and explosives under their jurisdiction, not all those agents are focused on gun control.

Perpetuating Ineffectiveness

According to Berlow, the NRA publicly loathes the ATF but lobbies hard to keep it because it doesn’t have a chance of being effective.

Since the NRA seems to loathe the ATF, one might think it would work to disband it or have its mission performed by an agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with its more polished and professional public image. But the NRA prefers the hobbled ATF  just as it is, and every year it helps ensure that Congress approves legislation banning the transfer of ATF operations to any other agency.

Firearms dealers subject to ATF regulation generally are inspected by  agents no more than once every five years. (Berlow, 2013)

The ATF is also under the Department of the Treasury which is designed for enforcing tax collections, not saving lives. It is concerned with prosecution, not prevention.

In a sociocratic government would it be better? It could be, but I doubt it. While it would take time to implement the standards of transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability, eventually there would at least be the aim of a more effective government.

For extra credit:

A list of Weapons Used In the US Armed Forces

An Overview of Gun Laws by Nation

For more on this topic, see the 2013 article by Alan Berlow published by the Center for Public Integrity, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists“Current gun debate may not help beleaguered ATF: Agency crippled by weak laws, paltry budgets and Congressional restrictions”. Accessed 7 October 2015.

Elections by Money

PilesOfMoneyOpt

The only way to stop elections by money, the spiral of overwhelming political campaign expenses, is to stop political campaigns. We elect people to do the work of governance, not to prove themselves experts at printing signs, inventing slogans and soundbites, and speaking at campaign financing dinners. Campaigns are a major distraction from quality leadership. They are undemocratic and produce undemocratic governments. Political campaigns are about the rich. What the rich want, what the rich will pay for, and what the rich get for their money.

Rich is relative, of course. In a local campaign a person doesn’t have to be as rich as a Mitt Romney, or even a Hillary Clinton. They just have to be richer than the other candidates or rubbing elbows with people richer than the people with whom other candidates rub elbows.

Bad Ecology, Socially and Environmentally

In the meantime, landscapes are littered and the sewer systems clogged with campaign signs and flyers. Campaign advisors and pollsters work to trick the public into thinking their candidate will cure whatever the voters need cured, and do it cheaper than it can be done. Television, radio, and newspapers get richer as campaign ads flood the market and provide guaranteed income for the media, a media which is increasingly owned by a small number of rich people. Candidates spend more time at super-expensive dinners that only the rich can afford than they spend talking to the people they supposedly represent.

A political campaign based on the quality of the candidate doesn’t exist and may never have. Quality campaigns do not guarantee the quality of the candidate and excellent candidates can run horrible campaigns. Who wants to elect a campaign?

None of this produces better governance.

The Role of Government

The role of government is to organize and manage our collective resources for the good of all. To establish codes of conduct that ensure fair play and safety for all. And to oversee the use and distribution of those resources and the enforcement of those codes of behavior fairly and equally for all.  To create a democracy.

Peer Elections

Tinkering with campaign financing is as distracting and unproductive as the need for financing campaigns. The need is the core issue. To create a deeper democracy, we need to eliminate the necessity for campaign financing.

Candidates should be elected by people who know their work and are in the best position to know how well they serve our collective interests. Peers should elect peers.

This would create a system in which people vote for people they know and not for people they don’t know. Sociocratic elections are the only democratic elections.

Who Stole the American Dream

Crushing Middle-Class  Prosperity

The American Dream is of obtaining middle-class prosperity and socio-economic mobility. Hedrick Smith analyzes how it was lost in America.

The American middle class in the 1960s was the largest and most prosperous in the world. Now, the disparity between top and bottom is huge. Even the wealthiest 5% are falling behind the super-rich 1% that controls 2/3 of the nation’s wealth—trillions of dollars. The remaining 99% earn the remaining 1/3. America has the largest income disparity in the world.

Who Stole the American Dream, in its analysis of the socio-economic interactions between society, the economy, businesses and government,  also provides an excellent foundation for analyzing how a sociocratic society could function to restore the American dream.

(I’m not being revolutionary or extreme here. Just suggesting that even an understanding of sociocratic principles and  practices  would have prevented these events. They would have helped individuals make better decisions.)

Who Stole the American Dream

In Who Stole the American Dream, Smith presents a history and analysis of the 2008 economic crisis and the political ineffectiveness of Congress in correcting the systems that caused it.

Hedrick Smith was a journalist at the New York Times when he shared a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the Pentagon Papers series. He won another Pulitzer for his international reporting on Russia from 1971-1974. He has written several books, including, Russia, that are both best-sellers and used in college and university courses. His Emmy Award-winning PBS series examined systemic economic and political problems in the United States.

The book is an eminently readable, though long— 426 pages of text and another 131 of pages of back matter: Acknowledgments ; a Timeline of Key Events, Trends, and Turning Points, 1948-2012; and Notes.

I usually don’t post recommendations until I’ve completed a book.  But for that reason they sometimes don’t get posted at all. By the end of the book, I’m ready to move on to the next book and often have so many notes and comments that I don’t have time to write them. The book sits by my computer for “later” when I have the time, which never comes.

And readers would probably be so filled up from reading my comments they wouldn’t want to read the book.  So this time, I’m recommending a book before I finish its 557 pages. (Yes, I read endnotes.)

Relationship to Sociocracy

It will be a long time before we have leaders who have even heard of the fundamental principles and practices of sociocracy but an understanding of them would not only have helped individuals make better decisions, but understand why they were better. Many other books on socio-economic realities and possibilities are valuable in understanding sociocracy, but this one is particularly valuable for its analysis of what created the losses of the middle class, the 2008 financial crisis, and the incredible disparity in incomes. The facts and figures are Smith’s and the sociocratic analysis is mine. I hope I have made the distinctions clear.

The Deception of Free Markets

In 1971, the theory of free markets began to take hold. Businesses and trade associations began heavily lobbying Congress for advantageous laws and regulations. The number of companies with lobbying offices in Washington DC grew from 175 in 1971 to 2,445 in 1981. In 2012, the number of business lobbyists outnumbered members of Congress 130 to 1. The markets were hardly free, they were heavily influenced by corporate interests.

By the late 1970s, corporate CEOs began taking stock options as compensation. Sales of businesses, which often leave the workers with no pensions and end job security became very profitable for CEOs as investors.

The new market economy led to deregulation, lower taxes, and free trade that was supposed to raise the quality of life for all. Instead, middle-class wages stagnated and the rich got richer. In 2012, 60 million people were considered upper class with incomes over $100,000 in 2012, but 90 million lived at or below the poverty line of $40,00 0 for a family of four. Three million people received 2/3 of the country’s income while 300 million received 1/3. For Princeton University economist Alan Krueger this is mind-boggling. And he is used to big numbers.

Our  political leaders are in constant conflict and polarized, unable to solve basic problems.  Thinking sociocratically, majority vote could be blamed for political jockeying for position and winning elections rather than focusing on governing the country. Smith’s analysis shows that business interests may be a greater force than majority vote because they exert the power of money. Sufficient money can produce almost anything it wants.

A People in Crisis

Congress is unable to govern because it is powerless, lost in a sea of opposing forces who are not interested in the welfare of the nation. There is no common aim as there was from World War II into the 1950s. A common aim is sociocracy’s foundation. It is the basis for decision-making. Instead we have a house divided, which shall fall in one way or another.

Smith quotes British historian Arnold Toynbee’s analysis that a crisis arises in a mature society when participants no longer feel a part of that society, no longer feel they matter.  The late head of the pubic advocacy group Common Cause John Gardner said the people are part of the problem when they become cynical and disaffected. In a sociocratic society neither of these things could be true. There would be greater transparency and more accountability.

In a reversal of the dictum that power corrupts, grass-roots organizer Ernie Cortes says, “Powerlessness also corrupts.” Smith’s analysis of the economic crisis of 2008 shows how the powerlessness of middle management and white-collar workers also led to corruption. They acted as if they were no longer participants in a social economy. They were themselves lost at sea and scavenging whatever they could get, along with their co-workers.

Know Your History in Order to Change It

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. This analysis will help to understand  what could be right in a sociocratic society and why. All the analysis is here. You just have to read between the lines and apply sociocratic principles and practices to understand how the crisis could have been prevented and how the American Dream can be restored.

Links to Amazon

Who Stole the American Dream? by Hedrick Smith (Hardcover, 2012)

Who Stole the American Dream? by Hendrick Smith (Softcover,

Preferential Voting and a Sociocratic Democracy

Bingo balls which represent what many people feel about voting. It doesn't matter what they think.
Bingo balls which represent how many people feel about voting. It doesn’t matter what they think.

Because our Council Member, Muriel Bowser, was elected mayor, Ward 4 in Washington DC is having an election to replace her. There are so many candidates, eight at last count?, that knowing who would be the best representative is very hard. My neighbors are speaking on behalf of almost all  of them. With so many votes splintered, unless some drop out in the remaining 3 days, there is likely to be a run-off election with no representation until it is resolved.

This is the perfect situation for using one of the several systems called  Preferential Voting.  The two that are most familiar are  Instant-Runoff and Range Voting. Preferential voting is gaining ground in many governments and other organizations globally. It is even discussed in the 10th revision of Robert’s Rules of Order as preferable to a plurality.

Why Is Preferential Voting Important to Sociocracy?

Because the primary form of decision-making in sociocracy is consent, meaning no objections. Consensus as a voting threshold is impractical in large diverse groups, in groups that do not share a common aim, or are not willing or able to sit together long enough to resolve  objections.

If sociocratic values, principles, and methods are to move into the public arena, alternative methods of decision-making will need to be adopted. Of the choices, I think Preferential Voting is the closest to a middle ground between consent and majority vote.

To insist on consent as a foundation for civic decisions, even to insist on consent to another system of voting, will certainly be self-defeating unless people change dramatically.

Instant Runoff

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)  is the most widely used form of preferential voting. With variations,  Instant Runoff is used globally for government elections, in political parties, the awarding of prizes and awards, etc. In India it is used by the parliament for the election of the president, in the Czech Republic to elect the leaders of the Green Party, in New Zealand to elect mayors,  and in the United Kingdom by the  Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to elect their leaders.

Instant Runoff Ballot

The Instant Runoff process:

A rather conventional ballot includes all the candidates names and the process is similar to runoff elections.

  1. All the candidates are ranked by each voter — 1st choice, 2nd choice, etc.
  2. The ballots are counted and the candidate with fewest 1st choice rankings is eliminated.
  3. The 2nd choice on the ballots for the eliminated candidate are counted and the votes added to the 1st choice of the other ballots.
  4. These rounds are repeated until one candidate has a specified majority of the #1 + #2 + #3, etc. rankings.

Instant Runoff avoids the expense and delay of runoffs in separate elections and also ensures that everyone’s vote counts. Otherwise, only the votes for the most popular candidate would count.

Instant Runoff voting is supported online by Fair Vote: The Center for Voting and Democracy,Instant Runoff,  Accurate Democracy, and many others.

Range Voting  or “Five Stars”

Range Voting is the newest system of Preferential Voting and many consider it the best in representing the preferences of the voters. In Range Voting, each voter uses a range of points, usually 5 or 10 to rate each candidate. This avoids a forced choice of yes/no or ranking candidates as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. A  voter can rate more than one candidate as deserving the highest number of points, or rate all of them as deserving the lowest. It isn’t either/or.

When more than one candidate is acceptable, this can be shown in range voting when it can’t in other voting systems.

Movies and restaurants are often rated with stars. More than one can be a 5-star or a 2-star. In Olympics-level ice skating, the range is 10 points allowing more subtle distinctions.

The process in  Range Voting:Range Voting Ballot

  1. Ballots include the names of all candidates and a specified method of marking the rating — circling stars or numbers, etc.
  2. Each voter rates each candidate individually according to their preference for each candidate.
  3. The points given to each candidate are added, and usually divided by the number of people voting.

Averaging the number of points awarded expresses the result  in the same range of points that were used in ratings. With a range of 1-10,  averaging the total will record the vote within the range of 1-10.

Range voting is advocated online by the election reform sites RangeVote.comThe Center for Election Science, and the Center for Range Voting. Guy Ottewell, who helped develop the system of approval voting, now endorses range voting.

Beyond Determining the Top Choice

Preference voting can do much more than determine the top choice. It can also:

  1. Show the level of support for each candidate in more nuanced terms than 1,2,3,4 or just 1 and none
  2. Allow a ballot to be counted no matter what the vote
  3. Elect a candidate that is the 2nd or 3rd choice of more people rather than the first choice of a few.

In range voting, for example, if 1000 people are voting and 400 vote for Mary as the first choice, that means 600 preferred someone else. If the second choice of many people was also Mary, Mary will be elected with a clear majority.

But if Mary was the first choice of 400 and she wasn’t even 2nd or 3rd on other ballots, she is less likely to be elected. If 600 people have voted for Nancy as their second choice, Nancy will win and in the end have more support because many of the people who voted for Mary as their first choice are likely to have voted fro Nancy as their second too.

Similarly in Range Voting, Mary might receive 5 stars from 400 voters but only 1 or 2 stars from 600. Mary is unlikely to win if Nancy also receives many 5 stars and many 3 and 4 stars.

A Sociocratic Democracy

The reason I like preference voting when consent isn’t possible is that it produces a decision as quickly as majority vote but it also represents the voters better. It can also eliminate the need to limit the number of political parties and candidates to ensure a clear majority. Perhaps most importantly, it gives those constituencies that are not in the majority a chance to influence an election.d

Range voting also gives more nuanced results — even when there are only two options. If a 5 star system is used for a choice between two options, and no one gives either of the candidates more than 2 or 3 stars, it indicates a weakness in that person’s ability to govern or the quality of their award.

In many democracies, particularly those over 100 years old, only a relatively small number vote. Often this is because eligible voters believe the candidates have been predetermined by the political parties or the establishment government. Or they know their candidate will never win even in an open election. Why bother?

In preference voting, something other than support for the majority can be recorded and even influence an election. Even if a voter doesn’t like any of the options, their preference will be recorded. When dissatisfaction or lukewarm support can be measured, the majority will no longer be the majority. Candidates and political parties will be more likely to pay attention, and new candidates may be encouraged to join in the next election.

Because it would include more voters and allow greater expression of objections, using Preferential Voting would bring us closer to a deeper democracy — a sociocratic democracy

Elizabeth Warren on the Social Contract

Elizabeth Warren, American Harvard Law School professor and United States Senator from Massachusetts
Elizabeth Warren, American Harvard Law School professor and United States Senator from Massachusetts

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. … You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Elizabeth Warren

Quoted in  Elizabeth Warren Meets the Ted Kennedy Myth by Tom KeanePolitico, 29 March 2015

Transparency International

How can people participate in decision-making if they don’t have access to information? Can those denied both education and knowledge  of governance in any form be held responsible when they elect corrupt leaders?

Transparency is fundamental to accountability and an inclusive society.

Reading an article in the New York Times this morning on the lives of two women in Angola, Two Women, Opposite Fortunes, I discovered Transparency International. Transparency International was started in 1993 by Peter Eigen, a former director of the Word Bank programs in East Africa, Its purpose is to expose corruption in government and to reverse the practice of accepting government corruption as inevitable.

It is an accepted fact that if you want to do business with many governments, you have to pay bribes. In order to help provide medical care to the poor, you have to look the other way when most of the funds go into the pocket of the rich—even in a catastrophic emergency like the earthquake in Haiti.

Transparency in Government

Transparency International develops a wide range of resources for understanding and resting corruption:

  • Tools including business principles for countering bribery, a business integrity toolkit, corruption fighters toolkit and integrity pacts.
  • Research on corruption, including a Corruption Perceptions Index, national assessments, anti corruption helpdesk, and a Bribe Payers Index.
  • Numerous publications, programs, and other activities

On the Index of Corruptions Perceptions Index of 2014, the United States ranks 17th with Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, and Norway perceived to be the least corrupt.

The Extent of Mind Boggling Corruption

It’s hard to understand how bad corruption is many countries. We are talking about corruption on the scale of billions of dollars, not a free trip to the Azores to study international progress in farming. Or the gift of a new mink coat. Or paying for your daughter’s wedding. Or the free cup of coffee offered to police officers.

With a Corruption Perceptions Index score of 19 with the lowest score being 100, Angola is an example of one of the most corrupt nations in the world. When the International Monetary Fund first studied Angola’s financial records for 2007-2010, $32 billion dollars was missing. Most of the $58 million allocated to renovate one hospital just vanished.

Angola’s life expectancy and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Income inequality in a country rich in diamond mines, oil, and other lucrative resources is extreme. After the decades long civil war ended in 2002, Angola adopted a nominally democratic government but lineages of kings still exist in some areas. The power is controlled by the president. According to an article in Forbes, the president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, is worth $3 billion in a country where 70% of the people live on $2 a day.

The Effects of Corruption

The effects of corruption run deep. For diamonds sold on the world market to create billionaires, the poor suffer deep deprivation. A very small percentage goes to education, healthcare, or economic development for the bottom 70%.

The majority does not rule in all democracies.

Only 54% of Angolan women are literate; 83% of men. In 1995, only 61% of children are even enrolled in school and many rural areas had no school buildings or teachers. Those children uneducated in 1995 are now adults. Democratic ideals expect them to determine how their country will  be governed.

How?

Sociocracy would be a start.

Recommended:

Movie poster for Living on One DollarLiving on $1 a Day. A 53-minute documentary in which four college students live for two months on $1 a day in rural Guatemala. This award-winning film has been called “A Must Watch” by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

The depth of such deprivation goes even beyond daily food. And daily food in some households is not sufficient to maintain normal activity. Available on Netflix and often shown my non-profit groups combating world hunger, economic development, and micro economies.

Guatemala is 115 on the Perceived Corruption Index with a score of 37 out of a perfect low corruption score of 100.

Whole Planet Foundation Review

The Living on One website

There is also a book (that I haven’t read) by the award-winning photographer Renée C. Byer and Thomas A. Nazario, founder and president of The Forgotten International.

People’s Rights Amendment

Today, the Court has enthroned corporations, permitting them not only all kinds of special economic rights but now, amazingly, moving to grant them the same political rights as the people.

United States Bill of Rights

Constitutional law expert,

The movement to reserve the rights ensured by the US Constitution to citizens and stop them from being awarded to corporations is rapidly gaining steam. The legal standing of corporations as people began in 1886, in the famous case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company in which the court based its arguments on the Constitution in denying Santa Clara County the right to right to tax property unfairly assessed for taxes. This decision was the beginning of a long string of decisions that accorded corporations as legal entities the same rights as persons. The problem is that corporations have no personal conscience. They are legal entities with no sensibilities. Their boards, executives, and managers can act on under shelter of the corporation with legal impunity. A corporation that controls a town and all the jobs in it, can close its factory with no personal sense of obligation or legal responsibility to the people it employs. It can destroy a town.

This was not always the case. When the corporate charter was established legally it had term limits. The corporation had to apply to the state in a given number of years in order to continue conducting business as a corporation. The State, acting on behalf of the people, could refuse to renew the charter of a company that was not acting in the best interests of a community and withdraw the special rights of corporations to protect their investors from personal responsibility. The investors could continue to operate as a business but they would be liable for their actions.

Today corporation can claim the people’s inalienable rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association, and all such other rights of the people. But there is no there there. Corporations a shifty giants with enormous power for which no one can be held accountable. They have more money and power than local governments.

The People’s Rights Amendment seeks to correct this. It reads as follows:

Section 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.

Section 2. The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

Section 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association and all such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.

To sign a petition supporting the People’s Rights Amendment to the US Constitution:

http://www.peoplesrightsamendment.org/

Advocating Sociocracy

Public Advocacy

By the late-nineteenth century it was clear that the democratic ideal on which the United States had been founded was not producing equal representation even for those allowed to vote. Nor was it providing a rational structure for social or economic leadership—at the local or national levels. Workplaces were autocratic, often brutally so.

The government was dominated by politicians who often had their own interests at heart or were ignorant of democratic values. Often only people who were loyal to party bosses were supported by political parties and anyone without that support was unlikely to be elected, or to stay in office.

At best, the democracy that promised citizens the ability to self-determine, to be free and equal, was ruled by the majority of voters only providing a different kind of autocratic domination for the minority. Since only men of European descent and of a certain status were allowed to vote, the flavor of an aristocracy prevailed in effect if not in practice.

And by the late nineteenth century, science was also beginning to lose its luster. The promises of proof and social improvements had not been realized. And leaders realized that science could be used for anti-social purposes as well as for the public good. It often focused on issues that had little to do with humanitarian concerns.

Frank Ward: Advocating Sociocracy

Lester Frank Ward in Yellowstone National Park with Fossil Tree Trunks, 1887American sociologist Lester Frank Ward was a vocal advocate of a sociocracy. He proposed a plan that was more likely to be implemented than Comte’s governance by scientists and was more vocal in arguing his points. He was highly critical of the government and the kind of person typically supported by the political parties.

In Ward’s sociocratic society, the government would be advised by an academy of scientists rather than the decision-making body as Comte had suggested. Ward advocated using the rugged individual as an ideal. Individuals who “pulled themselves “by their bootstraps.” If the government learned from and functioned as the highest performing individual did, it would be effective and productive. The individual “should be praised and even imitated.”

Ward himself was such a person. He worked as a clerk and attended college at night to earn degrees in botany and law. Eventually he became a paleontologist for the Federal Government. When he retired at age 65, he became a professor at Brown University. In 1903 he was elected the first president of the International  Institute of Sociology and in 1906, the first president of the  American Sociological Society. He published widely. It is in support and in criticism of his proposed sociocracy that the word first entered public consciousness.

Encouraging Self-Organization

Logo for Interaction Institute for Social ChangeIn a workshop I conducted last Sunday, one of the participants asked, “How do you encourage self-organization?” By some miracle, probably related to my being on every mailing list on anything related to sociocracy and governance, I received in my mailbox a link to an article on the  Interaction Institute for Social Change. You guessed it on  Tips for Encouraging Self-Organization by Curtis Ogden.

After some editing and additions, here are some ideas:

Encouraging Self Organization in the Environment

  • Create spaces where people from different social and work groups encounter each other in the course of the day.
  • Create open space and unscheduled time at home and the office.

In Meetings and Conversations

  • Expect engagement with decisions by asking open-ended questions.
  • Encourage people in finding their own answers
  • Ask “What should we do next?” and “What haven’t we done?” to encourage curiosity and questioning.
  • Reward innovation and risk-taking. Encourage making corrections and trying again.
  • Emphasize that we learn from mistakes. No mistakes, no  risk, no innovation.
  • Encourage people to focus on their strengths and collaborate with others who have different strengths.
  • Actively share information. Practice transparency.
  • Demonstrate self-organization in your own actions.

Most people are not encouraged to self-organize as children or adults. Most workplaces find self-organization disruptive. It’s hard to break the training of waiting for directions and not working outside them.  Changing takes both expectation, insistence, and support. Support alone won’t do it.

Outside Experts on the Board of Directors

Image from the Getty Museum of a Council of war from the 19th century.Residential communities customarily do not have board of directors members from outside the organization. Corporations normally do, but they may not be chosen by their ability to balance expertise. Non-profit organizations and independent schools often choose board members based on their ability to raise money or influence government or foundation decision-makers.

Balanced Expertise

Balanced expertise on the board of directors steers the organization from multiple perspectives. Balance can be achieved with experts on larger community issues, on financial and  legal requirements, and areas specifically related to the mission and aim of the organization. An independent school would have an expert in education, perhaps fundraising, perhaps child development, etc. A soup kitchen will benefit from experts in food service and preparation, nutrition, perhaps motivation, perhaps efficiency in service.

From Outside

Outside expert directors can bring advice and judgements that are not influenced by possible internal biases. And they contribute new information. They cross-pollinate with ideas and cautions learned from other organizations. Condo leaders to other condo leaders. An outside expert in housing would bring information from government agencies, architects, financial institutions, etc. They may be better able to identify possible risks to the organization.

Diversity of experience is as important as technical expertise. Outside experts also relax the organization. They can confirm that the organization is following best practices and any problems are, or are not, being experienced by other organizations,

On the Board

The importance of having experts on the board of directors is the synergy created by discussion. Most organizations have a lawyer on retainer, an accountant, an insurance broker, a banker, etc. When they are on the board, however, they respond to questions and issues together, not in isolation. The legal expert comments on the advice of the food service expert. Concerns by one expert about the effect of a decision on another expert’s area can be answered in the moment. The advice of one raises concerns for another that can be discussed and resolved. The concerns of one can be resolved by a solution from another.

Even though it may seem costly and time consuming in the end it saves time. Normally a board of Directors meets 3-4 times a year for 1-2 hours. For non-profit organizations, there may be no charge for this time. In businesses, these experts are often on retainers already. In the end the time saved by not having individual meetings or telephone calls. Saved time from having to repeat conversations or making costly mistakes pay for themselves. The increased value of having more informed advice is invaluable.

With Decision-Making Authority

It is important that boards are not advisory. Decision-making authority creates accountability. Decision-makers take decisions more seriously than advisors. Some fear that decision-making power will create a board-dominated organization. That the attempt to create a more democratic organization will be undermined by “outsiders” who impose negative opinions.

However, in a sociocratic system, boards make decisions within their specific domain. The domain of the board is long-term strategic planning, financial sustainability, assessing risk, and connections to the larger environment—its market or industry. The board can be asked to make a decision when another domain is unable to resolve it. Otherwise, the board should not micro-manage or make autocratic decisions except in emergencies.

As Part of a Whole System

An organization is a system with each part having a responsibility that is essential to the whole. The whole controls its parts. The board of directors is one part of a whole system, not the controller. The board has a different responsibility than the marketing department or the kitchen or the front desk but not more power.

Outside members on the Board of Directors strengthen the organization.

(In sociocracy, what most jurisdictions call a “Board of Directors” is called a “Top Circle” to emphasize that it functions according to the rules for a circle, not the traditional rules of a Board of Directors. When a Board with the traditional rights is required by law, it is formed within the Top Circle.)

In the early twentieth century, education was believed to be the best way to ensure a democratic society. Protecting a democratic society, even one controlled by the majority, requires an education policy that ensures access to the information and critical thinking skills sufficient to understand how to participate intelligently in local and national government and civic affairs. The freedom to choose is limited by the ability to understand.

Similarly, we need a democratic transportation policy. One that ensures equal access to essential services and opportunities.

Freedom and Equality Depend on Access

The need for a democratic  transportation policy is less obvious than a democratic education policy but not less fundamental. A means of transportation other than walking is necessary in order to work, receive medical care, be educated, and obtain goods and services at competitive prices. Economic and social viability depends on access.

The legacy of suburban design and the single family home is dependence on private cars. While this has provided greater freedoms than at any time in history, it also brought pollution, depletion of natural resources, and dependence on an expensive asset. The cost of owning a car — purchase, maintenance and repair, insurance, and gas — is often the second most expensive item in a household budget. Support of car use and storage is a also major cost for cities and states and thus an added burden for taxpayers. There are severe environmental costs as well. The construction of roads and parking lots has sealed fertile land under millions of square miles of concrete and asphalt disrupting the ecosystems that naturally cleaning our water and air. The costs are enormous and the negative effects pervasive.

The Effects of Undependable Public Transportation

While privately owned cars and other vehicles will remain necessary in some areas and everywhere for some purposes, to create and maintain a healthy environment for everyone, we need independence from private car use. Public transportation provides equal access at a much lower cost not only to work, education, and medical care but also to parks, beaches, sporting events, recreation centers, and family and friends on holidays.

Unless public transportation is available 24/7, it is not dependable. Many people work weekends and evenings, particularly those in the service industries. Children need access to museums and sports activities on weekends. To stop service during the night and limit service on weekends affects the use of public transportation at all times, not just on nights and weekends.

Using public transportation requires the same educational process as learning how to drive and understanding traffic regulations. Unless it used regularly it will remain unfamiliar and difficult to use, even when available. Undependable service reinforces the belief that public transportation inconvenient and thus only tolerable for commuting. Public transportation needs to become as convenient, habitual, and familiar as using a car or its use won’t replace cars and transportation will remain expensive.

Equal Access to Car Storage

Car storage is very likely the last topic you would expect to be discussed as an example of creating a more democratic society. It is an excellent example of the ways in which habitual thinking contributes to our social, economic, and environmental problems.

Just as personal cars being a major drain in a household budget, car storage is also a major drain in the economies of cities and towns. It almost doubles the width of streets and thus cost of building and maintaining them. Shopping centers have parking lots equal to the footprint of the buildings doubling their environmental impact by diverting water into sewer systems instead of the ground. It has been estimated that for every car on the road, we all maintain 5 storage spaces.

To maintain and restore our the land so it contributes to our health and food supply, we need to develop excellent shared transportation alternatives and reduce the need for car storage. We need trains of all sizes and capacities, buses, and shared car services like ZipcarGetAroundRelayRides, and Car2Go.

So why do cities like DC charge car-sharing programs like ZipCar more to store their cars than they charge for personal exclusive use?

In my neighborhood, a private car receives a permit to park 24/7 for $30 a year while car sharing cars may pay hundreds of dollars a month. In part, charging car sharing companies considerably more is evidence of our bias against businesses and our assumption that if someone is in business they are rich and should pay more. Aside from the fact that we don’t use the same logic when it comes to taxing individuals, charging a car sharing company more is short sighted because a shared car reduces costs associated with car storage.

Each shared car meets the personal transportation needs of dozens of people while also being more environmentally responsible. The cost of an on-street parking spot is moved along to the shared-car users requiring them to pay proportionately more for car storage than personal car owners do. Taxing shared cars at a higher rate than personal cars is certainly not fair or equal.

While the difference in car storage costs may be relatively small in the grand scheme of things, it is an example of the logic that undermines a democratic society and permeates our public transportation policies.

Is Voting Meaningless?

This post is not intended to discourage voting. It only addresses the fact that our votes are not as powerful as they are often portrayed by political parties.

The peer-to-peer election process is not about voting. It is designed to identify the best available person to do the job. Those with the most reliable information about the job and about the people qualified to do it are responsible for nominating and electing the best person. The preferred method of deciding on that person is consent by all those present but voting is also an option. Crucial is that the people who are electing the person have something at stake. Their own jobs will be on the line if the peer they chose doesn’t perform their job well enough for the whole electing body to perform well.

The Right to Vote Is Meaningless Without the Right to Nominate

Multiple lines of people waiting to vote.

In local, state, and national elections, the right to vote doesn’t mean voters will have good choices when voting. The authority to cast ballots doesn’t include the authority to nominate. Campaigns are so expensive that the political party system controls nominations. They often come down to the lowest common denominator because the better qualified people fail to gain popularity with one faction or another.

Political parties and well funded special interest groups control information. They cloud public opinion and determine first who is nominated and then who will “win.” Voting is irrelevant in this process except at the most mundane level. Which person has turned off the voters the least? Which is the least incompetent? Campaigns try their best to control that which further diverts the focus from qualifications to irrelevancy.

Too Many Voters Means No Meaningful Debate Over Qualifications

The information voters need to make a good decision is hidden in layers of bureaucracy and campaign spin. Since there is no forum in which hundreds of thousands of voters can sit together to debate the arguments. They must align themselves with political parties in hopes that the parties will surface the best people.

The political parties are filled with people who work for their own interests as party officials. Others for a particular party hopeful who is also their boss. Or a special interest group that the hopeful has promised to support, lavishly. Campaign workers take pride in being clever and getting their person elected at all costs because they win if their boss wins.

Voting Starts with a Job Description

The peer election process begins with a job description. When was the last time you participated in an election that started with a job description? As I was writing, I realized I’ve never seen a job description for an elected government office. How do we properly evaluate performance without a job description?

Presenting Arguments in a Forum Where They Can Be Tested

In a peer election nominations are judged not by the viewing audience or the party officials but the people who understand the job best. In a peer election, nominations are made, challenged, and defended. The election is determined on the quality of the evidence, not the quality of the campaign literature. The people in the room who are electing are the same people who know where the bodies are buried, and not buried.

Debate is about understanding and rebutting arguments. It requires skill and intelligence. What we call debates in the United States presidential elections are not debates. They are staged performances in which the candidates have spent hours learning to duck questions and make jabs at the other candidates. Studying their make-up and consulting with experts on wardrobe choices. In turn, we applaud their ability to make quick retorts and not stumble over their words.

Common Aims and Consent

Using consent decision-making requires a common aim. The job description provides that in part. If a body has been able to consent to a job description, they can then move toward the aims stated there when measuring candidates. Freed of the responsibility for financing their next campaign, peers are more likely to be faithful to the needs of the job.

Consent is not the only decision-making method to be used in peer elections. Preference voting is far preferable to majority vote and still avoids the issue of one person or persons not sharing the aims of others. Movement forward is important.

Successive Approximations

If consent can’t be achieved, voting by peers at least ensures that the voters will be more cognizant of reality than the great mass of voters who have little access to accurate information and can’t spend their lives trying to acquire it. Successive approximations is the most we can expect when attempting to adopt more rational practices.

By insisting that everyone has a vote, whether they understand the vote or not, we have made those votes meaningless.

What Is Power?

The purpose of leadership and decision-making structures in sociocracy is to build the maximum power for everyone. And to balance that power with harmony and fairness. It is the responsibility of each person in a sociocratic organization to develop their own power and to use it to optimize the work of the organization.

In physics, power is the rate at which work is performed or energy converted.

As people, we have personal power, the ability to accomplish tasks and achieve goals; power with, the ability to engage with others to accomplish tasks and achieve goals; and power over, the ability to control others to accomplish tasks and achieve goals. Without power none of us would be able to function in any area of our lives. The acquisition of power is necessary if we are to live as independent persons, as cooperative persons, and as leaders.

If we negate power or reject it, we have nothing. In government, businesses, organizations, and social groups the task is to develop and use power to improve and equalize our conditions of  living — not to pretend it doesn’t exist, except as a criminal activity.

Democracy holds the same values, but sociocracy has the methods and structures to make power work for the benefit of everyone equally.