design of democracy (7.2):
a new design

Here, finally, is my last post in this study. (You can read the first 7 posts here.) This is a long one, so I hope you stay with me.

First, a choice. Would you rather:

a) Have the power to select who can be considered for leadership (i.e.-select who will be in the pool), or

b) Have the power to select leaders from a pool of choices someone else prepared.

In other words, would you rather accept the constraint of choosing our national leaders exclusively from a pool of candidates selected by political cliques with vested interests, or would you rather give up the prerogative of voting for the leaders directly if you could instead select who should be considered for that pool?

Let that question hang for a while. (You may answer the online poll now or if you prefer, later.)

My post will have 3 parts:
  1. The new design I am proposing
  2. The benefits of this new design
  3. The important change in paradigm

The new design

The design change I am proposing is in essence a mechanism shift. I propose that rather than electing leaders at the national (or even regional level), we should select leaders at the super local level (the barangay) and these leaders then become part of the pool of candidates from which the system selects municipal, provincial and national leaders.

The mechanism shift will reduce the size of v, reduce the cost of acquiring votes (c) and the barriers to entry, and eliminate the role of the middle-men when we only hold direct elections at the barangay level. (More of the benefits later.)

The illustration below shows the model (click image for larger version).

New Design of Democracy

Citizens in all barangays will select their 9 barangay councilors. The candidate who garners the most votes becomes the chairperson of the barangay. This super local elections affords direct contact and direct information to the voters about the candidates.

From there, the selection of the upper levels of government proceeds by 4 levels:
  1. Each barangay sends it's chairperson as their representative to a district council (which can be based on the existing congressional districts or adjusted to better distribute the population).

  2. Each district council (composing the chairpersons of all the barangays in the district) elects from among their ranks : the congressional representative, and then six (6) other representatives to represent the district in the city/town council.

    (The District Council also serves as the administrative body for that area.)

  3. Each city or town council elects, from among their ranks, the Mayor and the Vice Mayor. They also select six more individuals to represent the town or city in the provincial council. (If the district (level 2) is not in a town or city, their six reps move up directly to the provincial council.)

    Meanwhile, your congress representative joins the house of representatives, and the house, selects from among its ranks 26 individuals who will serve as either senators or the president and vice president.

  4. The provincial council will select from its ranks the Governor and Vice Governor of the province.

    There are two ways to approach the Level 4 at the national stage: A) The top vote getters in the 26 elected from the house automatically become president and vice-president or, B) the 26 meet and select the Prexy and the VP from among themselves.

Benefits of this design

As complicated as the system sounds, this design actually has built-in simplicity that reduces the need for external controls:

>>Simple vote counts

The design removes the complexity required from the electoral counting system by simply reducing the scale of the number of votes that must be counted to determine a winner. The largest electorate is the barangay. Ideally this should be no more than 3,000 voters. This electorate is so manageable that you could actually ask school children to do the electoral counts. (What a great way to teach citizenship!)

Because there is no need to aggregate the electoral results, you reduce the required vigilance. (No chance for wholesale cheating of at the various tabulations required by our current system.)

The next levels of the election (district, provincial, congressional) are so small - perhaps 300-400 voters that, again, the electoral count becomes ridiculously manageable. You could do a show of hands.

Each count at each level would take only hours. Even if you allow for travel times between the levels (to get the representatives together), the whole process should be finished in a week.

>>Low barriers to entry, no feedback loop

It reduces the barriers of entry as your barangay chairperson, indeed any one who runs for a barangay post, could potentially be elected to any municipal, provincial, congressional or even national post.

It also takes the power of money out of the system. You don't need to spend millions to get elected to the barangay level. And if you try to buy your neighbors, the electorate is small enough that another candidate (also a neighbor) could probably match your expenses.

The next level, with 300-400 voters is an even smaller pool. A system design that drives up the cost of each vote, further.

>>Easier choices, direct information

It simplifies the choice of the voter, they only have to vote for 9 people, all of whom are their neighbors.

There will be no need for sophisticated (and expensive) mass media campaigns. No room for image management. No fancy poster can override a bad reputation in your neighborhood. What would be required would be one-to-one communications. Word of mouth, the amount of trust your immediate neighbors have in you, will be the currency.

Can you imagine any of the more notorious national or local candidates actually getting elected by their neighbors? The abusive scions of the traditional politicians would never make the cut to office if any of the people who lived next to them had a say in the process. That breaks the generational positive feedback loop.

>>Distributes political power

The system also negates the role of the geographic distribution of wealth in our national politics and distributes representation based on the size of the economic class. The rich folk in La Vista or Forbes or Alabang would have to run against each other. The gated communities will have one or two representatives to the district council -with equal voting power with the representative from Payatas, or Culi-culi or any middle class community. Since there are more poor and middle class barangays, there will likely be more representatives from these classes.

(In the long run, this will force the dispersal of the power and wealth elite.)

>>Eliminates middle-men

Because the electoral counts are in such manageable sizes, there is no need for a huge electoral bureaucracy. And no chance for an electoral mafia to sell the aggregation of votes.

There is very little spinmeistering that can be done when you are dealing with physical neighbors. If barangays are limited to a population size of 2,500-3,000, that would mean that every voter is at most 2 degrees separated from the actual candidate. (You would know a person who personally knows the candidate). That reduces the signal to noise ratio -and cuts the distance between the candidate and the voter.

The national media will have no real role or influence whatsoever. How do you report on horse races in 72,000 barangays? There will be no room for media darlings. No currency for national name recall. (Would you vote for your actor neighbor? Rich actors would likely be living in wealthy neighborhoods where they'll have to compete with their "kapitbahay" bankers, lawyers and doctors.)

>>Atomizing, and preserving the power of the electorate

This system is counter-intuitive. Even if voters don't get to directly vote for the national leaders, the design actually preserves the power of each vote relative to another. The worth of each vote is 1/2,500 vs. the 1/50M that we have now.

You preserve the power of the voter in the barangay level. The driving force to get re-elected becomes your reputation among your direct neighbors who are close enough to see any conspicuous consumption borne of illegally accumulated wealth.

Fail the original 2,500 voters and they will deny you the chance of even getting to the district level the next time around. Large billboards claiming credit for pork barrel projects will not help if your barangay is dissatisfied with your performance.

I would prefer, in fact, that all the national, provincial and municipal officers keep their responsibilities as chairmen of their barangay. (Imagine the impact of announcing the entrance of "Juana de la Cruz, President of the Republic of the Philippines and Chairperson of Bgy. 2868 in Manila.")

A change in paradigm

The fundamental argument I have constructed in my previous 7 posts on this series on the design of democracy is that the problems that currently plague our democracy have their roots in the functional and mechanical arrangement of our electoral system -in the nuts and bolts of how we select candidates and how we vote.

You may, like Wily Priles, diagnose the problem as one a pool of inferior choices or, like Manolo, consider it a question of diminished leadership. My contention is that both are products of the same system dynamic. We cannot hope to resolve the current issues unless we rethink the actual design of the electoral system.

The more I consider it, the more I become convinced that our commitment to selecting national leaders through a national election -where one person gets one vote -is based on nothing else but romantic idealism.

There is no literature, no study, no scientific proof that argues that completely popular elections produce significantly better leadership.

Our collective myth is that would-be leaders who step up to the platform of candidacy, got there by their own merit, by exemplary and proven performance. We like to think that our democratic system encourages only the best of the best to stand for elections.

In truth, our leaders get elected mostly on the basis of name recall and largely on the power of the resources (monies, fame, networks) they bring to the campaign.

Meeting the criteria

This new design effectively breaks the positive feedback gain, eliminates the information asymmetry (and the market failure) and reduces the signal to noise ratio.

It returns the value of the individual vote - by reducing the size of v and brings the voter closer to the candidate.

In my last post in this series, I listed three key criteria that an effective electoral system needs to address. Does this design meet the criteria?
  1. Limiting the choices the system demands from the user

    Yes. Because the voter only chooses 9 people, all from whom they have only 2 degrees of separation.

  2. Providing direct information and criteria to the user about the choices

    Yes. The voter will have at worst, secondhand information -but it will not have come through a sophisticated media sieve.

  3. Insuring direct feedback to the user on the effect of the choices

    Yes. If the chairperson fails in his role as leader of the barangay (i.e. -addressing the needs of his neighborhood), then he will not get re-elected by his barangay even if he made it all the way to the presidency.

Some notes:

It took me a while to get to this final post. I tried to fully conceptualize how this new design would work at the fullest scale -and consequently got sidetracked with the possible logistical issues and the practicability of getting this system enacted. (We need to make sure that barangays are only 2,500-3,000 in size. Some of our current divisions allow for populations of 50,000 in a single barangay.)

Will this work? I don't know but check out how Switzerland selects its national leaders. One thing is sure, our current system isn't working and no new thought has been put into how it can be designed to be more effective. All the noise and fury is about the quality of our candidates or the corruption of our politics. No one has thought of the actual system.

Treat this idea then with Edward De Bono's PO. As a conversation starter and a point of departure for further exploration.

P.S. -I will create a pdf of all the posts in this series, as a simple handout/white paper that you can download, if you so wish.

Update --oops. Accidentally turned off the comments and links options.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

reposting this comment for koikaze, because I stupidly turned of the comments.

Koikaze says:

Good Evening, Urbano

(I couldn't find a "comment" clicker at the bottom of 7.2. Perhaps you didn't want any feedback. I hope that's not the case.)

When I think about each level of your design and visualize its dynamics, it doesn't seem complicated, at all. If I have any doubts about the viability of the concept, they lay in three areas.

The first stems from a lack of familiarity with barangays. Wouldn't it be necessary to require that a barangay councilor be a permanent resident of the barangay (with "permanent resident" defined in any reasonable way)? That would prevent the candidacy of "media darlings" or party-machine based candidates from other areas. I'm quite sure that's what you intend, but it may be a base that needs to be covered.

The second is the selection process at the lowest level. You mentioned that some barangays have as many as 50,000 people and recommend they be limited to about 3,000 people each. That seems a reasonable requirement, based on an estimated population of 91,077,287 distributed through about 41,995 barangays, an average of about 2,169 people per barangay.

My concern is that, even if your limit is attained, I'd find making a rational selection of one person (or even nine) out of 2,500 a formidable challenge. I (sort of) understand the two degrees of separation you mention but I'm still uneasy about the prospect.

Public participation in town meetings (and, I presume, barangays) is a complex matter. Several of the difficulties were mentioned in passing in a debate on "Deliberation" ... link:


Jane Mansbridge participated in the debate. I believe she studied town meetings in Vermont. She also refers to a study by F. Bryan (Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.) This brief quote from the debate gives a little insight into one aspect of the problem:

"To get anyone to a meeting who expects to be in a minority or not have the right words to explain himself or herself in a particular setting usually requires special effort, both to get members of those groups to the meeting and to increase the chance of being heard when they do attend."

There are several similar points touched on in the debate. To offset the negative aspects of such events, they mentioned making election day a holiday and setting up a congenial atmosphere for the participants. The point, I think, is that some very good people are not assertive so they tend to be preempted in large group settings.

The third and final area is whether you would consider providing the text of pending ordinances and some budgetary information to the citizens so they can investigate current issues intelligently?

I think you've come up with a excellent and workable political structure which is infinitely better than the hype-dominated election process we presently endure in the U. S., and apparently in the Philippines, as well. My three areas of concern are really quibbles, but you may deem them worthy of consideration.


cvj said...

Have you consciously patterned your model after that of the Chinese Communist party in the People's Republic of China?

Urbano dela Cruz said...


sorry for the delayed reply. this thing called a day job keeps getting in the way of blogging.

no, I didn't consciously pattern this after PROC's system. I was aware of the local electoral system (villages, towns and cities can elect their leaders) in China -and knew that their local party chairmen moved up successive councils till the national people's assembly.

One big difference: the local party rep is appointed by the higher party level. so not elected. and top down rather than bottom up.

Plus, the local party chairman has more power than the elected mayor (they can also be one and the same person).

Urbano dela Cruz said...


thanks so much for continuing to follow this thread.

To answer some of your concerns:

1) yes, you can only run in the barangay of your residence.

moreso, in my proposed system, no one runs for president, everyone runs for barangay council. so they must address super local issues in their campaign.

2) 2,500 - that's about the size of a standard neighborhood.

I know your own system proposes and exhaustive climb of 11 layers.

Though I didn't have the space to discuss it in this post, I based mine on Dunbar's number -and research that shows that humans are somehow hardwired to work best in groups of 150 or less.

So the prescribed barangay size would represent about 16-20 social groupings. So it would be easy to identify 8-9 leaders in the neighborhood.

I am not married to the number 9 though. I think we can manage barangays with a smaller council.

3) on access to information on ordinances or laws. of course that is a given for good government, but certainly outside the scope of my discussion. (as is what would be a realignment of budgetary processes)

Eugene said...

Your design is ignoring the fact that positions are divided into either executive or legislative functions. For example, the mayor (and its appointive departments--e.g., treasurer, engineering, sanitation, etc.) is executive in nature while the vice mayor is the "speaker of the house" of the city/municipal council that creates local ordinances--a legislative function.

These functions require different skill sets. It's not necessarily that if you're an excellent vice-mayor, then you'd be a top-notch mayor. (Of course, we Filipinos tend to ignore these distinctions and simply view any position as something that's up for grabs, no matter what the candidate's qualifications are.)

Urbano dela Cruz said...

good point Eugene. In theory, the positions do require different skills sets.

I doubt, however, if anyone has ever campaigned on "Good Legislator" -it's pretty much all about leadership. We can take a cross section of both legislative and executive incumbents and compare their resumes. My bet is that there will be plenty of crossover between executive roles and oversight roles.

(IMHO, good leaders are wholistic -they are consensus builders and executors.)

As it is, in ALL democracies, there is no rule that prevents lawmakers from leaving their queue and crossing over to the executive queue. (e.g. - congressmen and senators run for president; members of parliament form and run government cabinets.) -So it should be a universal bucket.

You do point to the need for professional management skills in the executive branch - and that's what career civil service is supposed to be about. In mature democracies like the UK, there is the political leader of the cabinet agency (the appointed minister -taken from parliament) and there are the senior career civil servants.

In any case, does our current system facilitate segregating and then selecting good lawmakers and good executives? I think not.

Eugene said...

Urbano, your points are well-taken. I guess, there should really be no distinction between functional positions.

Going back to your design. I'd say that it is quite ingenious. It provides simplicity and maximum accountability.

What do you think are the possible problems of this design (assuming, of course, that implementation is not too much of a problem)? What possible modes of cheating could crop up? It's almost essentially a multi-level parliamentary system. I would guess that some of the problems of the parliamentary system would affect this design to some extent.

I wonder also how the dynamics between candidates will work out as they advance up the ladder. I guess there will be large amounts of politicking done at each level. I can see someone like Jose de Venecia get to the top position in this kind of system unlike in our current system today, where he loses the popularity contest.

koikaze said...

Good Evening, Urbano

Thanks very much for the reference to Dunbar ... just one item in that huge encyclopedia of information I hadn't encountered before. I find the concept intuitively appealing. I'd be intimidated in a group of 2,500 people but would find 150 more approachable.

For the past couple of months, I've had the privilege of sitting in on a Introductory Political Science class at Rutgers. It was a bit larger than the optimum 150 and was essentially top-down, i.e., lectures. Twice a month there were breakout sessions with much smaller groups. I only attended one, but, in the sense of broad participation, it was much more productive. I've no doubt that, in terms of effectiveness, smaller is better.

The comparison with the Chinese government structure caught my attention ... another item in my store of ignorance. The significant point is the difference you mentioned ... you seek to elevate worthy people from among the electorate as opposed to the Chinese method of appointing local leaders. The top-down method assures control. Your bottom-up method promises freedom.

Along this line, you may find it interesting that the germ of the "Active Democracy" idea was planted in the 1950's when the Russians described one of their U. N. proposals as "troika". They explained that troika was a three-horse team, and they felt creating a group of three would be effective in resolving problems.

I thought it was a great notion ... but couldn't say so because, dammit, it was RUSSIAN, and everyone KNEW Russian ideas were, by definition, tainted, Communistic and subversive!!! So I kept my mouth shut and worked on the idea in my mind.

Eugene asked about how cheating might occur and wondered about the dynamics at play among those advancing to the higher levels. I'm sure there would be "politicking" among the candidates, but I don't think that's a bad thing ... provided none of them are controlled by outside interests.

Politics is the search for help to reach objectives. It requires an individual to persuade others that a point of view is worthy of support. A part of that process is building partisanship among peers. It's natural and healthy. It only goes awry when some of the individuals are beholden to external interests.

The participants in the United State Constitutional Convention in the 1780's held widely divergent views. There were grave differences between those from the northern states and those from the southern states. Because they were free to "politick", they compromised on some issues and sidestepped others. The result was a magnificent document. Unfortunately for us, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Hamilton, whether through ego or fear, ignored the advice of their leaders and saddled us with our original political parties. As a result, what was once The Noble Experiment has degenerated into a cesspool of corruption.

Since any concept devised by man can be corrupted by man, it is likely Urbano's method will be under attack from its inception. However, forwarned is forarmed. Steps can be taken to lessen the chance that the method will be tainted.

One is the very simple step used in the jury system in my state. When called for jury duty, we are lectured on the seriousness of our charge and the need for objectivity in our deliberations. Admittedly, the rewards of jury duty do not compare to the potential rewards of governmental corruption. Even so, indoctrination before election is one way to remind candidates of their obligations ... before they misstep. I'm sure thoughtful people can come up with other, better ideas.

The only mistake would be to assume that the method will be problem-free. Life ain't like that.

Finally, if I may make a few points about the triad method ...

1) 89% of the electorate are returned to their private lives after the second iteration, almost certainly without having left their community.

2) Those who continue are assured an office after (about) the fifth or sixth iteration. Thereafter, the rewards (in terms of office, prestige and probably compensation) increase with each success. Exhaustive? Perhaps. Challenging? Absolutely. Rewarding? I think so.

3) Our interest in politics varies throughout our lives. The triad method encourages and allows us to pursue our interest (to the extent of our ability) at whatever point(s) in our lives we choose to become active.

Thanks for allowing me to express my views.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

sorry for the delayed reply folks.


I will tackle that in two subsequent posts to this series. The system i am proposing can be self correcting.

There is a deeper logic to the mechanics in the system -and it involves the mismatch between Bell Curves (and Gaussian Distribution) vs. Power Laws (and Pareto Distribution).

(e.g. -our democratic aspirations are built on Gaussian assumptions while our politics operate on Pareto distributions.)


thanks for the long comment. I was beginning to worry about you since your posts in Active Democracy have been few and far between.

will reserve time to post a longer reply to your thoughts soon.


koikaze said...

Good Evening, UDC

My difficulty in posting about Active Democracy is that I think my views need to be challenged ... as you did so well.

I recognize and respect that you have many other commitments. I'm hoping other thoughtful people interested in improving our political infrastructure will critique the concept. I don't mind being wrong ... if my error can be demonstrated with reasonable clarity. That's how I learn. The difficulty is finding people willing to point out the errors.

I read that David Hume once wrote to a friend:

"I have often thought that the best way of composing a Dialogue, wou'd be for two Persons that are of different Opinions about any Question of Importance, to write alternately the different parts of the Discourse, & reply to each other."

I agree with Hume's sentiment. I need to encourage others to join the discussion. Incidentally, your comments about larger size groups got me thinking about the probable human interactions in small groups. I'm considering a brief post on what I think will be the characteristics of the people likely to advance.

I'm looking forward to the future posts you mentioned. It should be challenging; I'm (sort of) familiar with Bell Curves but I know nothing about Gaussian Distribution or Power Laws or Pareto distribution. I'm anxious to see how they apply to politics.


Taffd said...

Hello Urbano,
I've just happenned upon your blog via Fred's and have read through your 'Design for Democracy'.

Congratulations. Your work, like Fred's, is outstanding. There is a scientific term that escapes me for the moment but I've just seen an example of it.

That is, the simultaneous evolution of the same principle in two geographically distant places.

To an independant observer, your 'Design for Democracy' and Fred's 'Active Democracy' are virtually identical. The systems are the same - the numbers are different.

I've been in contact with Fred for some time now and he's been kind enough to post his articles at my website, www.myverdict.net.

The site has been asked to be the focal point for 'The Great Direct Democracy Experiment', an attempt to select a leader FROM the people using the 'Active Democracy' system. Should such a candidate be elected myverdict.net would then provide a platform for ongoing consultation between elected and electors.

I should add that the intention is for myverdict.net to be one tool for such use.

Individual communities would be entirely responsible for the implementaion of the system. myverdict.net has no aspiration to be the electoral commission for any community, merely, as I say, the focal point for discussion/debate.

People are being asked at this stage to register an interest in participating in this method of selecting leaders.

As your 'Design for Democracy' is substantially the same, I invite you to post any articles describing your system on the relevant pages of myverdict.net, either at the international site or the Philippine site and to join the ongoing discussions.

Best Regards

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