A real measure of democracy

We need a way to measure the level of democracy of each territory. And especially when it changes, we need a may to measure whether the new law or regime takes us closer or further away.

First, the simplest objections:

  • This already exists. There are organisations that measure democracy globally, but what they mostly measure is people’s opinions of democracy is their country, which is not at all the same thing. We need an objective, not a subjective measure
  • It’s hard to define the criteria that define a democracy. There are a few points which are debatable alright. In the end this measure will become the first rigorous definition of democracy. Once that first step is done, anbody can fork this and change some of the criteria to make an improved version
  • It’s debatable whether all of the things specified here are desirable. Certainly there are many people who don’t believe in them, but those people don’t believe in a pure democracy. Whether pure democracy is a desirable thing is an important debate. To have that debate, we first want an accurate measure of what is is.

A pure, or ‘direct’ democracy, does not exist anywhere today. It is a theoretical ideal, like a competitive economy, or a meritocracy, or equality-of-opportunity. But democracy at least is easy to specify: “It is a government which is totally subservient to the population. It acts according to the will of the majority. The actions of the democractic government are the same as would be taken by a well-designed multiple-round referendum.”

That was my own definition. There are other definitions, mostly because there are multiple meanings of the word democracy. For some people it is "territories with the word ‘democratic’ in them, or “places where the government is made of elected representatives”, or “places which are free and economically open”, or “states which are political allies of my state”. Those are vague definitions so they are not much use in objective discussions.

To show what it would look like, I’ll build an example section.

  1. Are all political offices elected?
  2. Are some people above the law, and will remain so for life?
  3. Are electoral districts drawn by a body independent from politics?
  4. Can residents lose the right to vote, for example by being imprisoned?
  5. Can any resident initiate a referendum?
  6. Is the constitution mutable only by referendum?
  7. Is there a written constitution at all?
  8. Is there a mechanism by which all of the people holding power be removed from power before their term ends (except for judges)?
  9. Is there a secret ballot?

The number of ‘yes’ answers is important. But some questions are more important than others. The above questions are a sample of the more important ones near the top. The questions near the bottom will be more like 10. “is there a government” 11. are there elections? 12. is succession chosen by people outside the family of the office holder?

Nearly every territory will get yes answers to q9-11. They more measure whether it is the opposite of democracy. The places that fail will be monarchies or dictatorships etc.

Very few will answer yes to q1-8. Only Switzerland (AFAIK) will pass q5. So with only one state that can pass it, q5 is therefore the most important question.

So it becomes a ranking on two levels. The questions are ranked by importance, according to how many territories can answer yes to them. Then the territories are ranked in order, according to the lowest question it answers no to.

For example the UK is often called a democracy, because it ranks highly in surveys of people’s perception of democracy. It has extraordinarily effective propoganda. But objectively it is much less democratic than its neighbours. It fails questions 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 9. And 7 and 9 are very weak tests, that indicate a very weak democracy.

So this is a concrete measure, not of people’s perception of democracy in their regions, but of real democracy. The word will no longer just be a political throwaway, but have real meaning. This tool will inform our debates and influence policy.

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