“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”-Steve Jobs
Note: Am breaking up my last post in this series on the design of democracy into two installments.
My contention is that our political troubles (the surfeit of worthy candidates, the corruption in the system) are direct products of the current design of our electoral system -of the nuts and bolts of the process -of the mechanisms that guide how it works.*
The system is biased towards unworthy candidates. The system engenders power brokerage and corruption. The system itself frustrates the desires of the electorate.
I've already discussed the power of the positive feedback gain, the barriers to entry, the effects of a large electorate, and how our current process of selecting and electing political leaders can be modeled as a market failure (oligopsony) or a signal processing failure.
Let me offer one more way to think the problem (one more way to view the problems of the existing system), before I go on to a possible design solution.
Think about the elections as a User Interface (UI) -by which the citizen, as a user, participates in the democratic process.
Now tell me, who in their right mind would design a UI like this?
Crazy, eh? Can you imagine any software application or online business surviving with this kind of an interface? You would lose the user by the first three selections. Plus, the plethora of categories and options literally cheapens the choice of the user and spreads thin the user's judgment and discernment.
Now this is just a dummy form but I think it represents what the user encounters not only at the voting booth but throughout the electoral process.
The UI offers choices but really no credible information about the choices at the point of selection. We expect the user to make sense of all the choices. One might argue that that is the primary task of citizenship: to make an informed choice -but the UI inherently frustrates any possibility of full informed choice.
The problem is four-fold: 1) we ask the user to make too many choices from too many options; 2) we don't provide clear criteria for the selection; 3) the user likely has very little direct information (first hand experience) about the options presented; and, 4) there is delayed feedback on the effect of the choices (if there is any feedback at all).
To design an effective system, you would need to address three key criteria:
- limiting the choices the system demands from the user
- providing direct information and criteria to the user about the choices
- insuring direct feedback to the user on the effect of the choices
- select good leaders
- prevents corruption (or suspicion thereof)
Echoing the previous explorations, the new system should also: 1) reduce the barriers to entry; 2) preserve the value of each vote while negating the effect of a large electorate; 3) remove the power of the intermediaries and aggregators; 4) break up the oligopsony; and finally, 5) eliminate the noise in the system.
(Stay with me. I end this series with: 7.2 - A New Design for Democracy)
* If by any chance you confuse this with the unicameral-vs-bicameral, or the presidential-vs-parliamentary debate, read my very first post on this series.