Edit I've created a talk titled "Democracy doesn't have to suck" that counters some of the common critiques of Democracy in general. It also explains Persistent Democracy in as concrete terms as possible. https://youtu.be/wOW6_DwA87c

Forum post: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/LfcxaHsDJacWayBFx/democracy-doesn-t-have-to-suck-draft

I'm also slowly working on a more "formal" description, which is in draft form here: https://persistentdemocracy.org/persistent-democracy-for-the-skeptical


Hello!

I've been working on the concept of Persistent Democracy, a framework for continuous democratic coordination that aims to be:

  • total: meaning it allows a group to make any decision
  • flexible: meaning it allows a group to structure their coordination in arbitrary ways and doesn't impose deadlines or irreversible commitments that are unnecessary
  • welfare optimal: it efficiently chooses the best possible option based on the democratic will (more on this in a second)

I think there's a very strong case improving democratic coordination is one of the highest impact things we could possibly do, since it acts as a force multiplier for other effort and provides a way to structurally solve problems instead of ad-hoc work.

I've written a short open source online book describing the main ideas and sharing a plan to validate and apply Persistent Democracy in the world. It's aimed at a general audience, so I've tried to explain things as intuitively as possible.

I'm looking for feedback from EA folks! The "main" chapters are all complete, but there are many optional "detail" chapters that are just work-in-progress drafts. I've decided I need to get feedback now instead of continuing to keep rationalizing more and more work before it's "ready".

Please be extremely honest! I'm especially looking for feedback on these questions:

  • Is the writing intuitive? Are any concepts difficult to grasp?
  • Does the concept seem robust and useful enough that it's worth experimenting with? Are there any serious problems I haven't addressed? Does the book make a compelling and persuasive argument?
  • For the philosophers/economists, does it seem plausible this system could be welfare optimal? I have inklings it could be, and have some extremely rough work-in-progress notes (you're basically trawling my brain) exploring a theory and proof sketches. This is the thing I've been continually iterating on without being confident enough to nail down, so guidance is appreciated. The proof sketches essentially rely on existing optimality proofs of things like Quadratic Voting and Harberger taxes and Pareto efficient markets to do all the heavy lifting, which is the only reason I feel at all confident the system could be welfare optimal. The notes also explore how this theory could interact with longtermism.

Thank you! I look forward to your thoughts!

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Is the writing intuitive? Are any concepts difficult to grasp?

The presentation of your website looks basically alright, but it seems your format is to start with the problem, go through a bit of a story, explain concepts of voting methods, and then wind up with the solution at the end. That works for some contexts but in a more academic or technical flavored setting, and what I find easier to work with, is to start with the thesis upfront and then unpack it with details lower down. The blogging/rhetorical style is understandable for the front page of the website, but when I click the link to the chapter Persistent Democracy, there at least I expect to immediately jump into a snappy description of what you are proposing. Something like:

"In Persistent Democracy, scheduled elections will be replaced by ______ where voters can _____. This will solve the problems of ______, _______, and ______, by ______ and _____. " Hope you get the idea.

As it stands, I'm a little unsure what you're proposing because on one hand you say it will enable direct democracy but on the other hand you talk about how politicians such as mayors might be elected with your system.

Does the concept seem robust and useful enough that it's worth experimenting with? Are there any serious problems I haven't addressed? Does the book make a compelling and persuasive argument?

I've only looked at a few parts of your website so far, so don't take this as an attack, but a description of my current views so that you can know the challenge of what you'd have to do to overcome my skepticism. I support representative democracy over direct democracy. I think that in some cases, bureaucratic experts should have a bit more power. I think America currently has on average too much public scrutiny of government projects. I am wary of political systems which too heavily reward participatory effort, because it can give too much power to a vocal and well-resourced minority, as we see with NIMBY groups opposing upzoning. I think that people who are very informed and engaged in politics are not necessarily better voters because their knowledge and passion usually comes alongside heightened bias and radicalism. I think that Congress works better when the public doesn't pay close attention to it. I think that recall elections, such as those I observe in my state of California, are a bad system. And at least some EAs who are plugged into politics largely agree with these points (indeed, several of the above citations come from EAs). Putting it all together, this is a less populist point of view which makes me skeptical about your approach.

You also should probably address the question of whether your voting system would be secure when it seems to require electronic voting. I gather that many informed people are very skeptical about the security of electronic voting. I see that you say something about the need to make safe software, but that aspiration won't be enough to convince election experts that such software actually will exist. And by the way, if you can describe the way to make provably correct, hacker-proof voting software, that alone is very impressive and should be presented somewhere else as a big idea in its own right, not just included as a component of this voting reform project. But, cards on the table, I am by default very skeptical of any claim that someone can make such foolproof software. In general, if your idea requires simultaneous breakthroughs or reforms at the same time, it all gets that much harder. Maybe there's a 30% chance of persuading people that your voting idea is theoretically desirable, and a 30% chance of the right software being available, well then the chance of success is only 9%. If you can sketch out governance reforms which don't simultaneously require a breakthrough in software development, they will be more plausible.

Hello! Just making sure you see the edit with this talk: https://youtu.be/wOW6_DwA87c

I wrote up some brief notes with the time I had today, the response post will be here when it's complete: https://persistentdemocracy.org/persistent-democracy-for-the-skeptical

Thank you for your feedback!

I have extremely detailed responses to all these points, and some are explored in the book, but you've helped me realize I need to surface and address the common objections much more quickly.

I also completely agree that the "problem oriented" framing is too clunky. I'll put together a more efficient overview post and get back to you!

I'll admit for context that I’m not personally convinced by your argument. I'm in the less but better camp on fixing democracy, not the more and often camp. More democracy, more often doesn't really fix the biggest issues with democracy as it stands (populism, low levels of policy understanding, desire satisfaction short-termism, politicians not having enough time to actually deliver policy agendas before the hounds are set on them for not delivering and they are subsequently voted out, niche powerful interest groups being overrepresented...)

That being said I think this is a really interesting direction to explore - and have a lot of respect for the significant amount of time it is clear you've invested into this project.

My biggest takeaway from your amended webpage (the one linked at the top) is that it still really needs a ‘This is what Persistent Democracy would mean in practice and this is how it would change your day-to-day life’ section right at the start. Your writing is incredibly rich in its exploration of PD in relation to specific causes you regard as important but I really needed an early grounding without having to skim through to understand it. Hard to effectively evaluate your arguments otherwise. Clear that you've understood your most likely critics and created clear distance between yourself and obvious contemporaries.

Would be interesting to see how this fits with the other big trend in the more and often camp of democracy fixing which is arguments for people’s assemblies and more direct referendums.

Hello! Just making sure you see the edit with this talk: https://youtu.be/wOW6_DwA87c

This feedback is very helpful! It's definitely become clear I've forgotten my opinion that "true democracy is an unambiguous good" isn't widely shared, and I need to better elucidate why I believe that's true. Similarly for concrete walkthroughs of how this would work.

Expect to hear from me when I have responses I'm happy with :)

Happy to help!

I don't think what we and others in the comments are disagreeing on boils down to a disagreement on ‘true democracy’ (not entirely clear what you mean by that) being an unambiguous good.

On my side, I'd say our disagreement is that you believe that more and continuous input = better democratic outcomes and experience for voters while I'm arguing that it is more important that the quality of engagement is good (informed, lots of reasoning time, only engaging at a level people can be realistically expected to understand with the end goal of appointing aligned experts to make most more complex decisions) vs quantity.

If you want to make the true democracy argument you’d need to go some way to prove that my conception of democracy, and the conceptions of democracy held by other competing theorists, are somehow less true to democracy.

You might be better off trying to argue that direct civic choice and personal input into decision making is the ‘good’ of democracy - so more of that is more good democracy.