The UK debate on democracy, political and constitutional reform is multifaceted, and long-standing. Some strands of it, such as the reform of the House of Lords, have been going on for years. The discussion is driven by actors from various reaches of society and state, including parliament, academic institutions, think tanks, and civil society, by actors departing from different starting points, with different perspectives, and interests.
Contributors to the debate publish books, essays, assessments, commentaries, and opinion pieces. They organize conference, talks, party initiatives for more voter engagement, and parliamentary hearings on the issues. Following the Scottish vote on independence many participants in the debate presently push for a Constitutional Convention. Writers and activists increasingly use the new media. They write blogs (like this one), sometimes there are replies, but even two weeks later the author of a blog might not even be aware of it.
The problem is, while some of the participants in the debate even suggest that the UK urgently needs a completely “new system of politics for the 21st century”, so far there is no dish, no comprehensive result, no product.[i]
The reason for the failure to generate a product of the highest quality conceivable appears to be that the talks are not structured. They are not managed effectively and efficiently in a joint effort. After years of debate there still is no joint perception even on the need for a new Constitution, no joint goals have been defined, consequently no joint diagnosis of the parameters affecting these goals has been carried out, and, as a result, no systems and processes have been designed to ensure that the goals connected with a new Constitution are achieved.
What has to happen?
Greatest urgency:People have to realize that setting up a new Constitution is a matter of the greatest urgency. There is no time anymore for activities which are not driven by the goal to generate a comprehensive result definitely fulfilling its purposes. The Citizens expect the political system to deliver. They are becoming impatient as the increasing support for protest parties shows. Any effort on the issue must be designed in such a way that it contributes without doubt to generating the very best Constitution and political system for the UK as soon as possible.
Clear goal – clear deadline: People convinced of the need for a new Constitution must set themselves a clear goal and feasible deadline, such as drafting a new Constitution for the UK of the highest quality conceivable within a maximum of two years’ time (to suggest a concrete, potential goal).
Joining of efforts necessary: People must realize that setting up a new Constitution and improved political system in a nation of 60 million people with many different concerns, views, and expectations is a gigantic, highly complex project which requires immense manpower and millions of pounds in financial resources. Individual persons, research institutes, or charities cannot accomplish the project in an adequate fashion by themselves. They need to join efforts and resources to generate a Constitution of the quality required.
No adequate product without the very best problem solving and project management skills: People must realise that generating a new Constitution and overhauling the entire political system (while certainly maintaining what is good) is a highly complex task requiring the very best problem solving and project management skills. If people taking the initiative and wanting to drive the project forward lack these specific qualifications, the project is likely not to generate a product of the quality the Nation urgently requires.
A “Peoples’ Commission on the UK Constitution”: To move the project forward the people concerned with issues of political and constitutional reform should, therefore, as soon as possible set up a joint working group, an independent “Peoples’ Commission on the UK Constitution” equipped with the necessary skills for managing the project. Parliament and its Political and Constitutional Reform Committee should help to set up this Commission, politicians should provide support and advice to its work where required. Since the work of politicians and the systems and processes within which they work will be under review, the politicians themselves, however, will not be able to lead the review process. The Commission must work directly on behalf of UK society and largely independently of the present political establishment.
The key success factors for the project, as partly already indicated, appear to be:
Independence: The Commission must operate independently from the present political system and only be responsible to the people.
Best methods: The Commission must identify and be equipped with the best problems solving and project management know-how available.
Best know-how: The Commission must solicit the best know-how available in the country and in the world to identify and recommend the most effective policy making systems and procedures, beginning with the assessment of and with recommendations on the voting system. It must operate in a completely open fashion and use “crowd-sourcing” as a means to identify the very best know-how available, right from the beginning of its work, in principle even already on the issue of what the best methods for tackling the task are.
Creating joint perspectives: To generate the required support for the project in society the Commission must start by creating a joint perspective on the need for a new Constitution and on the various goals to be pursued by its review.
Involvement of the people: Considering the increasing discontent of the people, it must be highlighted that the review of the UK Constitution and the work of the Commission provides people with a novel and far-reaching means to get involved in shaping and controlling their political system. They can take ownership of it. Involving the public thoroughly in shaping “their democratic policy making system” will reintroduce vitality into the democracy of the country and offers a valve for channelling discontent and potentially disruptive action into constructive contribution.
Resources: Since the people are the highest sovereign in the nation and shaping their policy making system in the best way conceivable ultimately is their own concern and project, they basically must pay for the work of the Commission. Conveying this thought and the relevance of the project to the wider public is likely to take some time, however. The government and individual sponsors should, therefore, finance the work of the Commission to begin with (without compromising its independence in any way). Endowing the project with the necessary funds from public resources appears appropriate even in times of tight budgets, since the work of the Commission provides the foundations for maintaining the nation and the world in a sound state. Cost-benefit considerations will highlight that perhaps no other investment into the future is of greater relevance. Mechanisms offering the public the possibility to contribute required resources to the operation should, however, also be set-up from the beginning. Failure by Parliament (and/or Government) to establish the Commission on behalf of the people would risk contributing to the destabilisation of society, to the destruction of the world, and could well cause grave harm to the nation and its people.
Long-term citizen control: In order to equip people with a long term means to take ownership of their democratic policy making system and of controlling its performance, it is necessary to establish a permanent “Citizen Control Association” (independently of the progress or result of the review process). The tasks of the Association will be to ensure that the policy making system operates as effectively as only possible, to review policy making structures and processes from time to time, and ultimately, that new constitutional regulations and procedures are implemented and adhered to, once they have been decreed. A model of the proposed long-term system of citizen control over policy making can be found at http://optimizingdemocracy.org/the-model/
Education: Once the new Constitution has been designed and officially put into operation people need to be educated on how it operates and which means it offers for engaging with policy making in the nation. All in all citizen education needs to be stepped up to highlight the relevance of civic engagement in protecting freedom and human rights.
Why a new Constitution? – Discontent, Underperformance, Creating a Coherent and Sound Society
Back to the fundamental question, whether the UK actually needs a new Constitution and a new, refurbished democratic policy making system. Some readers may still have doubts whether the proposed procedure is necessary at all.
In my view a new Constitution appears urgently necessary for three key reasons:
To assuage the discontent of the population with present democratic policy making by opening up new ways for citizens to engage constructively in the policy making process. Creating such a possibility for citizens involvement in policy making will contribute to ensuring the long term social stability of the country.
A second purpose of the review process is to ensure the very best performance of the policy making system, so that it is capable to deal with the highly critical challenges of our time. The present policy making system contains severe systemic deficits compromising its performance. In 2012, as a crucial example, Parliamentarians diagnosed that the strategy making capacity of government, a central element of government policy making, is greatly defective, a factor, which in their view “has led to mistakes which are becoming evident in such areas as the Strategic Defence and Security Review (carrier policy), energy (electricity generation and renewables) and climate change…”. [ii] It will, in other words, affect the quality of policy making of government in most areas.In 2013 Anthony King and Ivor Crewe from the universities of Essex and Oxford published an in the meantime probably well-known book with the title “Blunders of our Governments”, a book which illustrates the consequences of such deficits in “real-life”. The book describes in detail how British governments since Margaret Thatcher have squandered billions of pounds on major projects and not achieved distinct policy aims. King and Crewe also suggest that the present government is by no means better qualified than the previous ones. The fact that all governments of the present and recent past commit such blunders correlates with the observation on the lacking strategy making capacity of government y the Parliamentarians and highlights the systemic nature of the deficit. Designing processes to eliminate this and other potential shortcomings in the policy making system would be of the greatest relevance for the economic and political stability of the Nation and for the well-being of its citizens.
A new Constitution finally appears to be required as the foundation to re-build a coherent, sound, and strong society capable to protect well-being, freedom, and human rights in a time of ongoing globalization and technological change. Over the last decades Western democratic societies including the UK have turned into highly multicultural societies. Due to this development and to more liberal views on life in western nations in general the cohesion of society around shared values has greatly declined. Protecting well-being, freedom and human dignity in a thoroughly changing world as ours at the beginning of the 21st century will, however, demand great energy and ample resources, factors which only a society can muster in which citizens co-operate for the maintenance of these goals. Formulating the fundamental principles guiding society in a new Constitution will help building a society of the strength and resilience required to deal with the challenges of our time and the future. This is an aspect emanating already in the debate, but which, just like the other elements of writing a new Constitution, must be led to a defined result.
A final word on “muddling-through”. Frequently one hears in the debate that the political culture in the UK would be bent on “muddling-through”, rather than on establishing purpose-made, effective processes for generating high quality results. Whether one believes this proposition to be true or not, given the increasing discontent with the present policy making system, the risks for the social and political stability of the Nation, the extraordinary challenges for humanity at the beginning of the 21st century, in any case by no means there appears to be any more scope for muddling through. We are obliged to preserve the Nation and the world in a good state for future generations. Given the complexity and urgency of the threats and challenges in the world of today, aiming for establishing the most effective and efficient policy making system conceivable appears to be the only permitted way forward.
[ii] House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge?, Twenty Fourth Report of Session 2010–12
The concern of the article must be appreciated. Functioning democracies are of crucial relevance for the establishment and maintenance of well-being and freedom, for social stability and peace, and in fact for the maintenance of the earth. The Economist article raises many valid issues on the state of our democracies and suggests solutions to a wide variety of deficits.
Unfortunately, the contribution which the article can make to reviving established democracies or to help establish flourishing democracies in crises countries appears very limited due to three deficits: First, the recommendations seem too general in parts, what does “nurturing democracy” the final recommendation in the article, mean precisely for example? What exactly is necessary? Second, the issues the article raises and its proposals are rather randomly selected, they lack a key, a structure. We suggest that in order to strengthen democracy we have to identify the drivers behind the health of democracy and address them systematically.
Third, the essential major deficit, which so many articles on democracy share: The article fails to specify who exactly must take its suggestions on board, who precisely is to examine them and to take concrete action. Words, thoughts, and ideas do not cure our democracies. Making democracy work takes concrete action, by those who are concerned about democracy, by the writers on democracy, and in fact, since democracy is government “by” the people, by all of us. If we are concerned about the state of our democracies, we need to establish an infrastructure responsible to evaluate and implement the required measures to make democracy work. Anybody who has suggestions on how to strengthen democracy must realize that making suggestions does not make much sense without the infrastructure in place to process these proposals.
So maybe we can induce the Economist to perhaps even spearhead concrete action to save and strengthen democracy around the world? If we are serious about making our democracies effective and saving our world, we all must think beyond our traditional frame of mind and activity. We must think and act as constituent and active elements of our democratic societies.
What is democracy?
If we are right with our suggestions on the deficits concerning the article by the Economist on democracy, what then might be a more suitable, concrete approach to making democracy work? The first fundamental, necessary step appears to be the establishment of a clearer joint understanding of what democracy is about.
We suggest that democracy is a form of organizing the peaceful and productive co-existence of people in a society. Concretely it is joint decision and policy making by the people on public issues in such a society in an extremely complex world for the well-being of present and future generations.
(If you suggest a different starting point and a different approach, let us know.)
Fundamental Building Blocks and Action Required
On the basis of this understanding of democracy, we suggest that the following fundamental building blocks and actions are necessary to establish functioning democracies.
1. “Peaceful and productive co-existence “ – Only absolutely necessary rules to be implemented
The foundation for a democracy is the readiness for peaceful and productive co-existence of human beings in a society. In order to ensure that such fruitful co-existence is possible, certain rules are necessary.
According to the psychologist Maslow self-realization, however, is one of the highest aims of all human beings. To minimize the reduction of individual freedom by rules and regulations, only those rules should be put in place in society which are absolutely necessary for the peaceful and productive co-existence of people.
The fundamental rule required for such co-existence is the Categorical Imperative. It means in its basic form that the freedom of people ends where the freedom of other people begins. The Imperative may suffice as a framework for the rules required in a society.
One feature of the world, of Creation, is diversity. People naturally believe in different things. Trying to impose standards and rules derived from a specific conviction or religion on society as a whole limits the freedom of individuals and is counterproductive to peaceful and productive co-existence. (Only if nobody in a society objects to further rules than those necessary for the functioning of a society, can those be adopted. People who join a monastic community for example voluntarily agree to more stringent rules than those necessary for constructive co-existence.)
2. “By the people”
Democracy means that, we, the people govern the affairs of society ourselves. We as citizens in a democratic nation must realize that democracy cannot mean electing governments and letting them make decisions and policies on our behalf, without us as citizens ensuring they perform their tasks effectively and efficiently.
The privilege of freedom, which comes with democracy, demands that we ourselves are constantly involved ourselves in the process of governing the world. If we don’t use our freedom in controlling who governs us and how to govern the world, our freedom will be taken away from us. Uncontrolled power holders might destroy the world. We ourselves govern and are responsible for this world. We must make “our” democratic policy making systems work effectively, so they fulfil this responsibility for us.
3. “Joint” decision and policy making equally by all people
Even if democracy traditionally means that the majority decides, this cannot mean, as the Economist points out, that the majority dominates minorities and compromises their freedom and well-being beyond the limits and regulations which must apply evenly to all members of society. In a democracy everybody needs a fair and equal chance and should be involved in decision and policy making processes. Fairness is the minimum precondition to maintaining a stable society. The more the principle of fairness is superseded, however, by principles of co-operation and mutual support, the more productive will a society be. The better will the society of a nation or, in fact, global society fare.
4. “On public issues”
The Economist article suggests that the “key to a healthier state, in short, is a narrower state”. This appears to be an extreme attitude, as it is often also formulated by the Tea Party Movement in the United States (“starve the beast”).
We suggest that in order to maintain a democracy in a healthy state we rather must identify the “optimal” scope of the tasks of the state. Where a state does not support individual citizens for example who need support, society as a whole might suffer. The “optimal” interplay between joint and individual action will benefit society most.
In order to define such an optimal delineation between the tasks of the state and the obligations and rights of citizens we, the citizens of a democratic society, need an effective system to decide what precisely the tasks of the state and what the rights and obligations of citizens as private individuals should be. In most, if not all, democratic societies such an effective transparent system to delineate the tasks of the state and of private individuals will not yet exist.
5. “For the well-being of present and future generations”
The aim of our joint decision and policy making in a democracy must be the well-being of people, not only of present, but also of future generations. We are obliged to maintain our societies and our world in a good state for future generations as well. Our policy making processes must be geared to take this into account.
6. A complex world: The need to aim for the highest degree of effectiveness
From looking at the state of our world we derive which level of quality our joint policy making processes must have.
Our nations with millions or hundreds of millions of people -in the case of India and China more than a billion – and our world of seven billion people are extremely complex. Defeating poverty and hunger, creating jobs for millions of people, managing national and the global economies, protecting the entire world and human life, stopping the destruction of the world by global warming, creating and maintaining peace and co-operation are highly difficult tasks.
Making democracy work, keeping people satisfied with its performance, and fulfilling our responsibilities to future generations, requires from us to set up the most effective systems conceivable for joint decision and policy making on public matters.
7. Parameters required for setting up effective democratic policy making systems
We suggest that the citizens of a society and a nation require four key parameters to create such joint decision and policy making systems and processes of the highest levels of effectiveness:
7.1. Permanent Citizen Control
No systems works without effective control. Our present control systems, however, do not work. Parliament as the main control system for example, is too much intertwined with government in parliamentary democracies, as one reason.
No democratic policy making system works without the people themselves permanently checking what their elected leaders do. No democratic system will work effectively without a clear identification of faults and deficits and without an effective process to fix them in due time. As we highlighted already: Democracy is government by the people. Democracy will not work if the people themselves do not get engaged in permanently controlling, supervising, and, if necessary, re-shaping their democratic policy making system.
For such effective citizen control over our governments and policy making systems three further parameters are necessary:
In order to correct deficits of the present policy making system and to set-up the best democratic policy making system conceivable, we the people, the citizens of a democratic society, need the very best know-how available in our countries and in the world on these matters. We need to establish a suitable process or institution to assemble this know-how.
The Economist, just like all of us, might have beneficial thoughts and proposals on how to make democracy work better. Whether these ideas are truly the best options, is a different and important question. If we want to optimize our policy making systems, we need effective processes and systems to evaluate these suggestions. We also need to communicate with citizens regularly on the options to improve our policy making systems and on necessary steps to implement such improvements.
Establishing these processes takes resources. Citizens must join together to provide them.
Functioning democratic policy making systems are of fundamental relevance for the life of everybody living in democratic nations. They also are crucial for our task of preserving the world for future generations. We as citizens should not refrain from making the resources available necessary for providing our society with proper policy making foundations. Providing these resources will easily pay off by making all our policy making more effective and efficient.
If we as citizens, or an organization established by us, after a most thorough process of evaluation has identified a democratic policy making system or individual procedures, which it deems optimal, then this system or these procedures should generally be implemented. (Probably we should still verify in each case that the proposals are based on sound processes.)
Any proposals for improvement may, however, meet the objections and resistance of the existing government or individual segments of society in our country who benefit from the status-quo.
Overcoming such inertia against the implementation of a more effective policy making system may require the combined power of the citizens, of wider society as a whole. Generally, the more people support a Citizens’ Initiative for better democratic policy making, the easier will it be to implement required changes and the more effective the initiative can operate. A citizens’ organization for effective democracy which works on the basis of sound processes and which has thousands or hundreds of thousands of members cannot be ignored. (In a democracy basically everybody should get involved in making sure the policy making systems work effectively.)
8. Concrete Necessary Action
If these four parameters are required to generate the most effective democratic policy making system conceivable, the question is, how do we ensure that these parameters are in place?
8.1. Establishing a Citizens’ Know How Institute on Public Policy
On the issue of identifying the best processes for our democratic policy making system, we have to realize that our present process of discussing deficits and problem solutions randomly in the media or of researching policy making issues in hundreds of research institutes in a rather uncoordinated fashion is highly ineffective. While the destruction of our world goes on, while poverty rises and conflicts are not solved, our so far ineffective “solution generation” process wastes very precious time, often months or even years. Moreover, it very often does not generate good results at all. The task of identifying the best processes for an effective (and fair policy making system – something of the greatest relevance in the Ukraine at present) itself requires a suitable and highly effective infrastructure. It requires what we might call a “Citizens’ Know-How Institute on Public Policy”.
As the Economist rightly points out, democracy is in a dire state around the world. We urgently need to make it work. If the Economist is serious about achieving this goal, here is a first concrete necessary action to which the journal could contribute in a critical fashion or in which it could even adopt a leading role: The Economist could take and promote steps to establish the required Citizens’ Know-How Institute. Given its standing and its experience in public communication, an institution like the Economist would have substantial assets in making this first necessary project work.
9. Establishing A Citizens’ Control Institution over the Democratic Policy Making System
As we said, know-how is only one necessary element of what is more generally required to make democracy work: Permanent and effective control by citizens.
As we mentioned, the work of the Know-How Institute, identifying the optimal know-how and communicating with society and politicians on solutions for our policy making system costs funds. Furthermore, implementing the proposals against potentially obstinate governments or undemocratic interest groups might require the combined power and the joint support of the people on whose behalf the Know-How Institute works.
All these actions need to be put on a sound platform, for them to be effective. To organize these measures, citizens of democratic nations or those aspiring to set a functioning democracy up should join in an initiative, a Citizens’ Organization controlling and shaping their policy making system. Again, a democratic policy making system can only work effectively with effective control.
This is the second step to which the Economist could be contributing, if they want to make democracy work.
9.1. Education and Communication on Active Citizenship
What we have discussed here is simply rational: No systems works without effective control. In a democracy the stakeholders, the citizens themselves need to take an active role in exerting effective control, otherwise democracy will not work. In order to exert effective control, people need optimal know-how, they need to pool resources, and they need to join their individual power in an organization controlling the policy making system on their behalf.
We could imagine the organization to operate in a fashion similar to a referee in a sports match. It is an organization supervising the politicians and parties as players in a democracy. (The difference is that the control organization also sets the rules for the players on the field. The organization should not be a party itself, because a game requires someone setting the rules and supervising it.)
At present, the crucial role of the citizens in controlling their democratic policy making systems, the necessary parameters for effective citizen control and making democracy work, the interdependence between freedom, citizen engagement, and the outcome of the policy making system are not generally understood in society. A key reason is a lack of suitable citizenship education in our schools and a lack of exchange and communication on these matters later in life. Democracies around the world, also established democracies, are in a critical state. To make democracy work we need to establish a new culture of democratic citizenship.
The third necessary action, the Economist could be contributing to, is to foster the creation of such a culture. The Economist could contribute to establishing a more effective citizenship education system at our schools, and also a system to communicate and educate people later in life on the need and the possibilities for their involvement as citizens.
Concrete effects of the proposed concept
At this point we can mention only two effects the proposed concept will have.
It probably has been known for decades or centuries, or perhaps since the inception of democracy that democracy does not necessarily generate leadership of the quality required to govern a country and the world. In his 2013 book “The Future” Al Gore repeatedly points out that we need better political leadership and steering to solve the urgent problems of our world such as global warming, increasing unemployment, hunger etc. If even Chinese observers, as the Economist writes, rightly formulate that democracy allows “certain sweet- talking politicians to mislead the people”, the question for us, the citizens in democracy, is why we do not finally take action to cure this deficit. Why do we not establish ways and means to ensure that our politicians have the required qualification profile and qualities to lead our societies in this complex world?
If we create a Citizens’ Control Institution over the policy making system, we would actually have an effective process to take this issue on. A Citizens’ Control organization – or its Know-How Institute – could actually identify the necessary leadership qualifications our politicians must have. It could discuss with universities, what they need to teach politicians, so they contribute adequately to the qualification of the politicians in a society.
Even if we were to take such measures to ensure the qualification of politicians, we still should not depend on the random and – by nature – limited qualifications of politicians (they are human beings like everybody else). We must establish effective systems and processes to ensure that in spite of the human shortcomings of our politicians also our overall policy making systems work as effectively as possible.
An Opportunity for Constructive Citizen Engagement
A second benefit of the proposed system is that it offers a path for constructive engagement with democracy to all those who are dissatisfied with the performance of democratic political system.
In many democracies people demonstrate against their politicians and governments. Discontentment partly leads to conflict, destruction, and loss of life. In some western democracies politicians think about forcing citizens, who are disenfranchised with their political systems, to vote.
Protest and destruction do not make a democratic system more effective. Voting or even forcing people to vote will not improve the performance of the political system either.
Improving a democratic system takes constructive steps as we sketched them. Setting up a new effective democratic policy making system or improving the performance of an existing system requires, as we suggested, know-how, resources, and power.
A Concrete Initiative by All Concerned Citizens and Institutions Required
To summarize: We need effective democracies to maintain our societies and our world in a good state. Generating such effective democracies requires setting up a know-how institute and effective citizen control.
While, as we said, the Economist has probably a lot of assets to its credit which could help to make the necessary projects work, it is of course not only the Economist who should get involved in kick-starting these processes.
Everybody in society, people and institutions concerned about the state of our world and the state of our democracies must join in.
Of course, only those persons and institutions can get involved in a “Citizens’ Initiative for Better Democracy” who want to serve the Common Good, the well-being of all. Only if the organization truly pursues this goal will it generate trust and the support by wider society it requires. Only then will it be able to work as an effective citizen control system over the democratic policy making systems of a country.
The London School of Economics (LSE) has initiated a highly important project for the well-being of society in the UK, now and in the future, a project to design a new UK constitution. The project should be of great relevance for all democracies in the world, since they also suffer from to a larger or smaller degree ineffective policy making systems.
We suggest that the success of the project, ultimately success in ensuring the highest quality of democratic policy making conceivable in the UK, will depend on two key aspects:
The work of creating an effective constitution must itself be structured in the most effective way possible.
Establishing a new policy making system is only the first step. It must be followed up by establishing a permanent effective civil society control system over the democratic policy making system.
Our society and our world of seven billion people are in a dire state. In the UK like in other western countries poverty is on the increase, there is high youth unemployment. We talk about a “Lost Generation” and a “Broken Society”. At the same time, we, as part of humanity as a whole, are overexploiting the resources of our world, we are polluting it. With allowing climate change we are actually even contributing to the destruction of the world, the home of future generations.
Ineffective Policy Making Systems, also in the UK
Our democratic policy making systems do not seem able to cope with these enormously complex problems.While governments cannot even agree on a strategy to limit global warming at 2ᵒ Celsius, scientists are already suggesting that this limit is far too lenient and that we cannot allow any further increase in global temperatures whatsoever. Governments are far too slow in picking this information up. They allow humanity to run towards the precipice of destroying the world without suggesting a comprehensive strategy to stop climate change. Governments including the UK government also allow biogenetics to change the nature of human and animal life without empowering society to control the developments. The UK government like other governments does not stop wealth and income gaps from widening and society to disintegrate, so that observers warn about a continuous decay of society into social instability and chaos[i]. The rise of new and extreme parties and the protest movements in different European countries illustrate the consequences of increasing discontent of society with economic developments. Studies suggest that unemployment and deprivation was a main cause also for the UK riots in 2011.
Reasons for the Ineffectiveness of Our Policy Making Systems
What are the reasons for the incapability of the democratic system also in the UK to deal with the challenges of our time?
Inherent Structural Deficits in the Way We Have Set Up Democracy
First of all deficits in the performance of the UK democracy, as of other democracies as well, appear to be caused by inherent structural deficits in the way we have structured democracy. The key problem is that governments must expect that policies perceived as uncomfortable or a burden by wider society will topple them. They will avoid any necessary but painful measures as long as only possible, even if such delays might seriously damage a society or lead to the destruction of the world, the prospect in the case of global warming. If we want democracy to truly work for the long-term benefits of a society we must establish control mechanisms which disable this inherent destructive mechanism in democracy.
Lack of Leadership?
Political observers like Al Gore and Eric Schmidt from Google put the failure of our systems to manage our modern world to a large extent down to a lack of national and international political leadership. Such lack of leadership will indeed be one cause for the ineffectiveness of our democracies. To some degree it may be connected with the inherent problems discussed above in the way we design democracy. Even great leaders are at least to some degree subject to these mechanisms.
But one reason for a lack of leadership may also be that a society simply gets the leadership it “deserves” or which it establishes. In probably no democracy effective systems are in place to select leaders of the quality society requires, also not in the UK. If we are honest, we realise that we elect our leaders based on an impression of their personality only, rather than on the basis of a clearly defined qualification profile.
Beyond these considerations on the qualities and qualifications to be required from our leaders, a society must recognize that running a nation and the world in the 21st century is an enormously complex task. No single person can have comprehensive and perfect knowledge and capacities to fulfil such a vast responsibility by him- or herself. Rather than hoping for the appearance of a super-hero, a super-leader who solves all of its problems, a society, therefore, needs to have a system in place which ensures that its democratic policy making system works properly.
No Effective Control System
One fundamental problem in our democracies is that we do not have such an effective system in place, a process which fulfils the task of “making our policy making system function effectively”. The main political control system we rely upon is parliamentary control. But the system does not work well, partly not at all.
“Parliamentary control of government expenditure is a myth” and “if it is not a constitutional myth, it is close to one,” stated two parliamentary committees at the beginning of the 1980s and about twenty years later, shortly before the year 2000.[ii] In the year 2000, still a young MP, the present Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey, published a paper on budget scrutiny by parliament in which he fully subscribed to these observations. “In practice, MPs do little more than rubber stamp the Executive’s budget”, Davey himself formulated, putting the ineffectiveness of parliament in examining government expenditures down to a lack of time, resources, and staff support. As further aspects he mentions the lack of expertise of MPs “on entering parliament”, and their lack of independence. They would be aiming for “promotion up the greasy role of party preferment”.[iii]
We can be certain that these deficits will compromise all other control functions of parliament as well, for example the tasks of making sure that policy making in areas such as climate change, international development, or in government control over the finance system are effective.
Within Government: Even Core Policy Making Processes Not Working
As a result of lacking effective control, even fundamental policy making processes in the UK government have not been working properly, for years or possibly decades of policy making. The deficits happen to be discovered by more or less random processes.
In a 2012 inquiry into strategy making in British government the parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) suggested to the Minister of State from the Cabinet Office witnessing on the matter that some observers might consider the strategic aims formulated by the British government at the time “motherhood and apple pie”, i.e. far to general and meaningless. In its final report the Committee concluded:
“We have little confidence that Government policies are informed by a clear, coherent strategic approach, itself informed by a coherent assessment of the public’s aspirations and their perceptions of the national interest. The Cabinet and its committees are made accountable for decisions, but there remains a critical unfulfilled role at the centre of Government in coordinating and reconciling priorities, to ensure that long-term and short-term goals are coherent across departments. Policy decisions are made for short-term reasons, little reflecting the longer-term interests of the nation. This has led to mistakes which are becoming evident in such areas as the Strategic Defence and Security Review (carrier policy), energy (electricity generation and renewables) and climate change…[iv] (We have underlined the most important passages.)
The statement is very clear: A lack of strategic capacity is responsible for the failure of government in many critical areas for society and the globe, including actually the existential issue of Climate Change. Which processes are in place to correct any deficits discovered such as this one, would be a further question to investigate. The author of this article sent a proposal for an improved strategy making system to the Cabinet Office, but never received a reply.
If two core processes in our democratic policy making system such as parliamentary control and strategy making are not working effectively, this is similar to the heart and lung in the human body not working properly. As a consequence the entire policy making system cannot produce the required policies. Due to faulty management and co-ordination at the top of government many other processes in the management of public policy will be ineffective and inefficient as well. It is by no means surprising for example that Sir Philipp Green conducting a review of the government procurement system on behalf of the British government in 2010 stated that government waste was “shocking”. He found that government was squandering billions through lack of management and co-ordination in procurement. After the financial crisis, which cost society many more billions, the fact was revealed that the tripartite control system over the financial sector shared by Treasury, Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority never was designed in an effective fashion.
Deficits like these lead to the waste of public resources in many areas, to the loss of opportunities to create employment or to foster the well-being of society in other respects. Their accumulated effects can contribute to the destabilization of society of which observers warn.
The Need for the Most Effective Democratic Policy Making Systems Conceivable
We might contend against these thoughts that human action will never be “perfect”.
Yet, as we will also agree, a government clearly should have a professional strategy making system in place, and it should also not be wasting billions on procurement. The problems which a nation like the UK and our world of seven billion people are facing are so urgent and so complex that we in fact need the very best tools, we need policy making systems of the highest quality to stand a chance to manage these problems adequately and to preserve society and the world in a healthy state for future generations.
Settling for less than the best tools in managing our public policy issues, settling for less than the best policy making systems could be damaging still to ourselves and would be negligent towards our children and grandchildren, towards future generations who are entitled to receive the world in a good state. The critical question, therefore, is: Are we doing everything to make sure our policy systems are working as optimally as they can?
A “Refurbished” UK Constitution: A First Necessary Step in the Right Direction
If we subscribe to the need for “optimal democratic policy making systems” we recognize that the endeavour to build a new constitution initiated by the London School of Economics is exactly the right step in the required direction. The initiative appears absolutely necessary to ensure the long-term soundness of society and to contribute to the health of the globe.
But for the initiative to lead to success we must take two aspects into consideration: The initiative must be structured in an effective manner to lead to the best policy making system conceivable for the UK, and second, as we shall discuss in more detail below, it is actually only the first of two steps required. We must not only put a highly effective system in place, we also must check and control on an ongoing basis that it in fact operates with the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency. For a manufacturing company there is no use in only building a highly sophisticated machine. One must also make sure that qualified personnel and adequate resources are in place for the effective operation of the machine and one also must consistently check its performance. If the well-being of sixty million people and the state of the world are at stake, we finally must constantly check for further options arising over time to enhance the effectiveness of our policy making system. The future of a society and of the world may depend on such checks.
Presently the UK constitutional system is a “collection of traditions” which developed over centuries and happen to be combined in a democratic policy making process. One element highlighting the historic background of the present system is the separation of control over government into Parliament and House of Lords without it being really clear what the difference in function between these two houses is. The distinction between the “Lords” and the “Commons” does not make sense anymore in a world built on the paradigm of equality.
Understandably arguments are even being put forward to dissolve the House of Lords altogether. From a systemic perspective this would appear to make sense. A practical guideline in establishing an effective policy making system would be to have one functioning control system over it rather than two systems which do not function adequately (for example in ensuring that government strategy making is effective as discussed above). Last not least two control systems generally cost more than one and in the time of scarce and thoroughly needed public resources no waste can be afforded. Any potential savings by eliminating a redundant control system may be offset, however, by the recognition that the creation of an effective control system will require that we step up the resources we provide for our control system. As mentioned above, parliament presently suffers from a lack of resources as one factor compromising its effectiveness.
To be somewhat provocative one could argue that all in all the present UK constitutional system is like an English vintage car. One might cherish the system and its traditions, but in its present state it is not adequate anymore for the complex policy challenges of our time. In fact most democratic systems in the world suffer from similar or even worse deficits than the UK system. Not only the UK constitutional system needs to be overhauled urgently to match the demands of the world of the 21st century, the policy making systems in most democratic countries do. If the UK manages to set up a highly effective process in designing a tailor-made constitution capable to address the challenges of our time, then this will hopefully have a pollinating effect on other countries as well. Last not least the well-being of the UK society depends also on the long term economic, social, and political stability in other countries, especially of its neighbours in Europe, and also on the effective functioning of their political systems.
Some Principles for Building the Most Effective UK Constitution Conceivable
If we want to build the most effective UK constitution conceivable we probably have to follow a number of principles:
Even if it might sound trivial, it will be worthwhile calling a fundamental requirement to mind, the need to identify and apply a structured approach to building a constitution and a democratic policy making system. We must think exactly about what we want to achieve, we must identify the parameters of relevance to our aims, and ensure that they are in place.
Preserving What Works, Improving What Is Faulty
Many people fear that a process which designs a new Constitution on a drawing board might end up throwing practices over board which have proven their worth over long periods of time. Such concerns appear justified to a certain extent. Agreeing on and installing processes which work for a society of millions of people must be an extremely difficult process. Still, we need the courage to identify deficits in our policy making system which might be critical for the long term stability of society and for the maintenance of the world.
Only Regulate The Fundamental Principles For A Society
It will probably be a well-established principle in constitutional law to incorporate only a minimum of regulations in a constitution, regulations which are necessary as the foundation for the functioning of society, of the political system, and the well-being of all. Some of those principles will generally be those concerning the dignity of human life, unalienable rights such individual freedom and equity before the law, the Categorical Imperative, the responsibility towards future generations, the role of the state vs. the role of the individual perhaps, and possibly the fundamental principles on the split of powers and responsibility between regional, communal, and the national government. Other issues of a more changing and contemporary nature should probably be addressed in specific laws to be discussed in detail by society. Where the exact dividing line should be, will have to be discussed in more detail. The general aim should indeed be to create a long-term foundation for a stable society.
Identifying Optimal Methods In Building Effective Systems
A key element of a structured and effective approach to building a new constitution must be to identify the best methods for the very process of building a constitution and effective policy making systems. An architect won’t be able to build a state of the art house, if he or she does not understand the best methods of constructing it. We won’t be able to build an effective constitution, if we do not check which methods might be available, helpful, or even necessary in building an effective constitution. I suggest that one of the methods to be applied should be Systems Thinking. But there may well be other useful methods and approaches as well.
Clear Goal Identification
As the first step in our concrete work on the project we will have to agree on and specify exactly what we want to and must achieve. Given the complexity of the situation and the urgency of the problems we are facing, I suggest we should define as our goal “to build the most effective UK democratic policy making system conceivable, effective both in terms of maximizing the common good and in terms of maintaining society and the globe in a good and healthy state for future generations”. It is necessary for us to discuss and to agree on the “right” goal, whatever this may be, so we do not waste resources by straying in different directions or do not risk missing the point of our endeavours all together.
Identifying Parameters Which Affect The Process of Building An Optimal Constitution Itself
Having defined our goal we must check which parameters affect the process of getting there. The key parameters to succeed in the process of building an effective constitution will be: Know-how and resources. We need the optimal know-how to build an optimal constitution. We need a highly effective system and the necessary resources to be able to identify the best know-how.
Another parameter for relevance in building an effective policy making system is independence, no influence by any select interest group in society can be allowed. To safeguard independence the resources for building a new policy making system must be provided by wider society or by clearly “neutral” donors who do not pursue an agenda deviating from the common good.
Crowd-sourcing as practiced in this LSE project on the British Constitution is a key element in establishing the best know-how on methods in building a constitution. It is also important in optimizing the solution for individual issues, such as the question, what the best voting system is or the best control system over government.
In resorting to crow-sourcing we must, however, take into consideration that – as a general guideline – we will only then create the best constitution conceivable, if we collect and assess all know-how available in a society and in the world on a constitutional issue. Our crowd-sourcing process must be designed in such a way that anybody in a society who has relevant know-how has a chance to get involved and to make a contribution. To secure the very best know-how on a constitutional issue the process of crowd-sourcing must be complemented by an effective process to scout all information available in a country and in the world on this particular matter.
Understanding A Constitution As A System Of Systems
One precondition for optimizing our democratic policy making system is that we understand the policy making system as a “system-of systems”. Each of the subsystems in the democratic policy making system needs to be optimized to ensure the entire system indeed works best.
Among other sub-systems of our overall policy making system we need an effective system to define exactly what the “common good” for our society is, what the role of the state in achieving it is, we need an effective system to identify risks and chances for the common good, a system to determine the priorities the policy system must set, and a system for optimal strategy making on each issue.
The policy system will not work effectively, if any of these sub-systems do not work correctly. The slacker the performance of each sub-system, the worse will the overall policy making system work, the more resources will it waste. A failure of the sub-system for strategy making system will affect the performance of the entire policy making system as we saw. We need to know how to build effective systems for all individual functions and system elements.
No Effective Policy Making System without Permanent Effective Control
If we understand policy making as a system of systems, we become aware that the project Constitution UK initiated by the LSE acts in fact as a system to build an effective British constitution, a system “created by parts of and working on behalf of society”.
But as we said we must not only establish a first class policy making system, we also must consistently check and evaluate whether it fulfils our expectations. We must make sure that it performs with the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency, we must make sure that the people we elect to operate the system are qualified and play by the rules, and we must make sure that the system has sufficient resources to fulfil its tasks effectively. We also must always check whether there are new and better methods arising to ensure our policy system generates the best possible results.
To achieve these goals society must set up a permanent, effective control system over its democratic policy making system. The future of our society and of the world depends on the existence of such an effective citizen control system in the UK and best in all democratic nations.
How To Set-Up An Effective Control System Over The Policy Making System?
Basically in a democracy every citizen has equal rights and equal obligations. If democracy is government by the people, as one element of the well-known statement by Abraham Lincoln, then this theoretically must mean that all members of society should work together in establishing an effective control system over the policy making system. Such effective control requires know-how, resources, and power. All citizens in a society should join to make sure these parameters are in place. In order to establish effective citizen control over the policy making system in practice, citizens need to join in a control institution “outside” of the democratic policy making system to exert control “over” it.
The graph published in the description of our model illustrates how such a system must ideally work:
Talking about such citizen control over the policy making system we realize, however, that in the end there is no clear dividing line between society and its policy making system. Just like parliament is part of the policy making system, a citizen control system “over” the policy making system can as well be considered to be a part of the policy making system in a wider sense. The policy system and society are closely intertwined. With controlling its policy making system, society is part of it.
Ultimately no system works without effective control by its stakeholders. Democratic society must engage in its policy making system.
Since a democratic policy making system can only work effectively with an effective citizen control institution checking and ensuring its performance, such an element must be incorporated in a constitution as a necessary part of the policy making process. Describing the function and responsibility of society in the policy making process in the constitution is crucial for the effectiveness of the democratic policy making system.
Even if for functional reasons such a civil society control organisation is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of a policy making system, it may not be possible to establish such a control organization carried by the entire population of a nation. This issue needs to be investigated further. Even if democracy is considered to be government by the people, i.e. by all people, human nature, limited capacities, more immediate needs, and limited inclination to engage in the life of a nation and the state of the world might speak against the entire population of a nation getting involved in such an organisation. Whether it is possible or not may depend on the quality of citizenship education in a nation and on the way one organises the institution.
In any case initially at least these people in a society who feel responsible and have the time and capacities to contribute to the future of a nation and of the world must join. They must establish such a necessary control organisation. To start with, the organisation could simply be created as a public policy institute carried by as many citizens as possible. Over time the institution would have to strive to gather more and more support in the wider population. One aim of the organisation must be to foster better citizenship education in society, so that citizens understand their personal responsibility and critical role in making the democratic policy system work.
Of course the proposal for the establishment of a citizen control institution will raise the question, how citizens control in turn control this new, “theirown” control organisation over the policy making system. This is in fact a difficult issue in itself, which cannot be discussed in all detail at this point. The design of an optimal solution for this matter should probably be the subject of a crowd-sourcing and research project in itself.
We can, however, already state that citizens will have more effective control over their own control organisation than over government, if they have the authority to cancel their membership and financial subscriptions, should they not be content with the performance of the control organisation. Citizens don’t have such control leverage over government. They must pay their taxes whether they are content with the performance of government or not.
Maybe creating the “perfectly working” control institution is ultimately not possible. There is, with all likelihood, no switch with which we can control the quality of policy making unequivocally.
But society may simply have to understand that having a lever to move a large boulder, even if it is a bad one, is better than not having one at all. Having a control organisation over the policy making system is better than no control organisation. The constant challenge will be to make this control organisation, the control “system” as effective as only possible.
Having such a control organisation certainly has one crucial benefit for society: Since many policy areas are of relevance, partly of crucial importance for the quality of life of citizens, they basically have to control the quality of government policy making in all of these areas. This is not possible for individual citizens, however.
With establishing a control organisation, citizens have someone to control the quality of government policy making in all policy areas on their behalf. Rather than having to control the work of government in many complex policy areas of critical relevance, they themselves must only control one action, the work of the lever, of their control organisation. If we manage to structure the lever in a clear and simple fashion, controlling its work by society will be comparatively simple.
But of course, if this citizens’ organisation recommends a measure to make government more effective, for example a new effective strategy making process in government, the organisation still may need the support of wider civil society, so that the politicians actually implement the required improvements. At present, even if research institutes or consultants may make sensible proposals for improving policy making processes, the government often neglect these proposals or refuses implementing them, especially if proposals might not enhance or even weaken its chances for re-election. But simply a broad membership in the control organisation will give citizens a substantial influence on the quality of policy making.
In his introduction to the project “Constitution UK” Professor Conor Gearty from LSE provocatively states that “the status quo is no longer an option”…we “surely can do better than a bunch of medieval barons managed to pull off in Runnymede in June 1215”.[v]
One must consent. Given the complex challenges and the partly existential risks for the UK and the world existing in the world of today we indeed urgently need a tailor-made democratic policy making system geared for maximum effectiveness and, in as much as only possible, capable to handle these challenges. If we were to make one amendment to the present constitutional system only, it would have to be a fundamental one serving this goal: the introduction of an effective permanent control system by society over the policy making system.
[i] So for example the British-American historian Tony Judt, Ill fares the land, Allen Lane, London, 2010
[ii] Quotes in: Edward Davey, “Making MPs work for our money: reforming Parliament’s Role in Budget scrutiny”, Centre for Reform Paper No. 19, centre for Reform, London, 2000
[iv] House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge?, Twenty Fourth Report of Session 2010–12
Volume I: Report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence, p.3
Imagine, 5 young people, a couple of parents, and two childrens’ organizations in the US – Kids vs Global Warming and the Wild Earth Guardians – are suing the mighty U.S. government. The case is of the utmost relevance to all of us, all citizens of the world, wherever we might live. And actually, it should be brought forward against all governments on earth, if only to raise awareness of the issue: The young people want to force the U.S. government to immediately implement policies which stop the destruction of the earth from global warming. More concretely they demand policies which reduce annual CO2 emissions, so the world is maintained at current temperatures.
Defendants in the case are various top members of the U.S. government including the secretaries for the interior, for energy, and defense, and the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Amazingly and probably for legal reasons, the President himself has not been charged, even if in the eyes of society the head of state of a nation certainly is the main person responsible for government policy making.
In the first round of litigation the case was dismissed by a court in Washington D.C. The plaintiffs filed for appeal of the decision in the U.S. court of appeals in June 2013. At present the case is gaining more and more support by experts and organizations within the U.S. Key scientific advisers for the plaintiffs are a team of scientists around the reputable U.S. climatologist James Hansen including the economist Jeffrey Sachs. The team puts severe considerations forward suggesting that the current climate goal pursued by the international community, the aim to limit the temperature rise at 2ᵒC, more than twice the amount of global warming already incurred over the last 100 years, is far too dangerous and irresponsible. All in all, the situation is even far more critical than these numbers suggest, since it is by no means certain that our international governments will even achieve the more lenient target set by them.
So how should we judge the case against the U.S. government?
Increasing public perception on the facts of global warming
First of all we have to highly welcome the litigation, because it generates publicity for this issue of the highest relevance to all of us and of even existential importance for future generations.
Many, if not most of us, have not realized it yet or still have doubts, but all evidence, generated by the probably largest and most comprehensive research effort the world has ever jointly undertaken, confirms: Our behavior, billions of people around the globe relentlessly burning fossil fuels, is, with all likelihood, causing the destruction of the earth. A report written by more than 250 scientists from 39 countries around the world which took into consideration more than 50000 publications and commentaries from scientists all around the world confirmed those risks in September 2013. Our behavior threatens to increase global temperatures by about 5ᵒC by the end of the century, it is in the process of changing weather patterns and living conditions all over the world, it is causing desertification, and floods, as well as the rise of the sea level in the world, which could well increase by 20 meters over the coming centuries or millenia. If we allow this to happen, the sea will flood large parts of the earth, land and urban agglomerations, directly affecting the life of a large share of the global population and indirectly the entire global population. Finally the warming caused by us threatens to extinguish up to 50% of all species on the earth already by the end of this century, which, because of the interdependence of all life on earth, must have gravely deleterious impacts on the quality of human life on earth as well.
If we still do not believe that this is the case, we are not entitled to rely on random newspaper publications to inform us. If some of the most acknowledged scientists in the world tell us that we are causing the destruction of the earth and that urgent action is necessary to protect it, we must take such a statement extremely seriously. We are obliged to our children and to future generations to examine it ourselves and to establish for ourselves, what the truth is. We are responsible to demand a clarification from our governments. Their proposition that the information “is available” is not good enough. They must present the information in a manner understandable by all people. They must ensure that people know what is happening, just as they ensure that drivers know the traffic rules.
One prime disadvantage of the case brought forward in the U.S. is that it is in fact only brought forward in the U.S. Even if the U.S. are a major contributor to CO2 pollution of the atmosphere, they are by no means the only ones. All people and countries on earth need to co-operate in stopping global warming and the destruction of the earth. Organizations working to stop global warming in any nation should consider following the example of the young people who are suing the U.S. government, so that necessary actions are not delayed in any country.
The effectiveness of the litigation
While the litigation, while raising public awareness, and moving the policy issue to the top of our agenda are steps of prime relevance to protect the earth against the risks of global warming, we should be aware that the litigation will not in itself achieve that effective policies are put into place. Whatever the outcome of the litigation will be, we still need effective policy making systems to design and to implement the best policies we can only conceive.
One fundamental problem, which the case seems to suffer from and which delays an adequate outcome, is that the issue is being squeezed into a set of legal concepts partly deriving from Roman and medieval times. Yet never before in the history of mankind has the earth been at stake. Old legal concepts, it appears, cannot do justice to such an existential issue of a new kind and of completely new dimensions. Allowing a solution to be slowed down by a discussion of all kinds of legal aspects, such as whether dealing with the atmosphere as a public trust domain is a case of state or federal law, appears to even be inadequate given that allegedly the fate of the earth is at stake and delaying suitable measures to protect it will make saving the earth more and more difficult.
Does it exist, our obligation to protect the earth?
Since the whole issue is novel and of unprecedented character we should perhaps use common sense to guide our decision making on the case, rather than relying on pre-cast historic legal concepts. If we think in problem solving-oriented, constructive terms, the prime question to answer is likely to be: Are we obliged to protect the earth for future generations or not? Even if a court should decide that such an obligation exists for reasons of the law, the success of a national and global program to stop global warming will depend on whether the wider public also subscribes to the duty to protect the earth.
In conversations many people, even if they might have grown up children and become grandparents in a few years, give in to the perception that it could well already be too late to take co-ordinated action, that the support for any program would probably not be wide enough and that, looking at the history of the earth, it might rather be a normal process for a species like man to become extinct. In accepting these as “unalterable developments” they ignore that the destruction of the earth will be a long disastrous process for the nine billion people forecast to live on the globe in the near future. To convince wider society that we indeed must protect the earth and that as a consequence a substantial change in our style of living is necessary, will require outstanding leadership, even if the outcome of the litigation should confirm such an obligation.
A next question to answer will be, which priority policies to stop global warming must have in relation to all other policy issues. The answer to be suggested by common sense will with all likelihood be: The highest priority, since maintaining the earth is the pre-condition for any life and activities on earth. All other policy issues, even those of maintaining jobs and providing good health care are of adjunct, secondary importance compared to protecting the earth, it cannot be the other way around. That is what our governments do not seem to realize and this is one reason why this court case is so relevant. (The scientists supporting the case highlight that efforts to stop global warming will not necessarily hamper economic development, but is actually likely to create jobs. Stopping emissions will protect the health of human beings.)
As the judge dismissing the case in the first instance points out, however, and rightly so: Courts cannot decide what the best action in a specific policy issue such as global warming is. What a court could possibly do is to enforce that governments follow a certain “governance code” in policy making, prescriptions on best-practice processes and procedures in policy making. But then such a code would have to exist and it would have to contain a set of regulations suited to lead to effective policy making.
Even if researchers like James Hansen are convinced that certain steps are urgently necessary to stop global warming, they will concede that a government must adhere to certain procedural standards: Government must examine and confirm the nature, the magnitude, and the urgency of the problem, it must – to start with – establish a consensus on the obligation to preserve the globe in the nation, it must identify the very best strategy against global warming – one which as a secondary condition does not stop the functioning of our economies and societies. Government also must have or establish the capacity to implement these strategies as effectively and efficiently as only possible.
In the end, the plaintiffs can at best expect that the Court of Appeal decides that there exist justified grave concerns that the world is at risk from global warming and that it orders the government to assess the matter and to take the necessary steps to protect the earth as soon as possible. The scientists cannot presume or demand that the government and its responsible agency comes to the same results as they did. But if they have worked correctly and if the government establishes the best decision and policy making capacities, then the result should be the same, at least roughly.
The parameters deciding on the success of the initiative
What is necessary then to ensure that government policy making is “as effective and efficient” as only conceivable in the fight against global warming and that it arrives at the best policies in the shortest time frame possible?
We suggest the first overall precondition for arriving at optimal measures against the threat of global warming are optimal decision and policy making processes in the overall policy making system.
The establishment and implementation of processes of such prime quality depends on:
The optimal qualification of policy makers
The motivation of policy makers to exclusively serve the common good or public well-being (or: the exclusive focus of policy makers on the common good)
The power of policy makers to implement policies serving the common good.
The quality of control over the policy making processes by the stakeholders, by wider society.
The resources available for policy making (design and implementation).
As we said these observations will be of the highest relevance for the parties suing for an injunction to make the government design and implement the policies required to stop the destruction of the earth: Only if the mentioned parameters are in place will the government have the necessary qualities to cope with global warming effectively. The stakeholders interested in protecting the earth including the persons bringing the court case against the US government forward must ensure that the policy making bodies have those qualities. Otherwise their endeavors will not generate the required success.
Qualification of politicians and strategy making competencies
One central aspect on which we, as citizens, are just too lenient is that our governments and politicians may simply lack the required qualification and strategy making competencies to manage a complex policy issue like global warming appropriately.
The following statement from an official report by UK parliamentarians examining the strategy making capacity of the British government in the year 2012 articulates those crucial deficits lucidly and even with express reference to climate change (we have underlined the most critical passages) :
“We have little confidence that Government policies are informed by a clear, coherent strategic approach, itself informed by a coherent assessment of the public’s aspirations and their perceptions of the national interest. The Cabinet and its committees are made accountable for decisions, but there remains a critical unfulfilled role at the centre of Government in coordinating and reconciling priorities, to ensure that long-term and short-term goals are coherent across departments. Policy decisions are made for short-term reasons, little reflecting the longer-term interests of the nation. This has led to mistakes which are becoming evident in such areas as the Strategic Defence and Security Review (carrier policy), energy (electricity generation and renewables) and climate change…”
The statement could well have been written by parliamentarians in any democratic nation, simply because fundamental processes and structures are similar in all democracies and lead to comparable outcomes. The fact that we, as citizens, accept deficits in the quality of policy making processes like these and the lack of qualification of the people establishing those processes is one cause which could lead to the destruction of the earth.
Motivation, Focus, and Power
The “motivation”, the exclusive “focus” of people involved in the policy making process on the common good is of equal relevance for effective policy making against global warming and in other policy areas. What prevents politicians in democracies from directing their actions to the well-being of wider society may be the desire for maintenance of power, the looking-out for votes and voter reaction, and as a consequence the concentration on more noticeable issues of more immediate relevance to society. Also career considerations or personal interests will distract politicians from focusing on the common good and, of course, corruption and nepotism are detrimental issues in many democracies, diluting or even destroying the effectiveness of policy making for the common good.
Furthermore politicians must not only have the capacity and the motivation to work for the common good, but also the power to implement optimal policies. Everybody behind the litigation will be aware that there are gigantic and even understandable global corporate interests against stopping the burning of fossil fuels. Those interests will do everything possible to prevent policy makers pursuing what must be their primary goal in the interests of this and future generations, the protection of the earth, so future generations can live on it. As odd as it may sound, government may even have to examine possibilities for compensating investors in fossil fuels, to bring them to support policies to protect the earth. Those investors might claim to have invested “in good faith”.
The decisive role of control by citizens
The support of the courts will in any case not be sufficient to overcome such inertia or outright resistance against policies to protect the earth. As Lincoln states, ultimately democracy is government also by the citizens. In order to ensure that our policy makers focus on the common good and have the power to implement measures serving the common good, wider society must both control and support its politicians, it must endow the power of wider society on them so politicians can withstand the pressure of select interest groups.
We as members of society cannot rely on our representatives in parliament to exert effective control over our policy makers on our behalf. One key statement in the report on the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was: “In short, it took a catastrophe to attract congressional attention.”What this statement means is that also our parliamentarians do not have an effective process to identify risks for the well-being of society and to ensure government policy making is effective.
The persons and organizations behind the court case on global warming do not only want to win the court case, ultimately they want to ensure the best measures are taken by the government to stop global warming in the shortest time frame possible. They will only arrive at this goal, if they themselves exert constant and effective control over the entire policy making process required to protect the earth and if they rally as much support as possible behind their case.
Procuring the necessary resources for effective policy making
Governments finally often fail in their policy making because they do not have the resources necessary for effective policy making.
As the report of the commission inquiring the causes for the Deep Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf found out, this was the case for the government agency supposed to control deep sea oil drilling and one reason why the disaster happened. The report states: “But over time, (the agency) increasingly fell short in its ability to oversee the offshore oil industry. The agency’s resources did not keep pace with industry expansion into deeper waters and industry’s related reliance on more demanding technologies.“ 
Many people in the U.S. aim to reduce the role of the state by “starving the beast”. This is the wrong approach, if we want to preserve public wellbeing, as the Deepwater Horizon case demonstrates.
In a time when technologies in many areas advance and have more and more decisive effects on our environment and lives, in a world of now seven billion people with ever more complex policy issues it is essential that our policy systems have the resources to fulfill their tasks. Rather than reducing the funds we provide to our public policy systems we may have to enhance them. The people driving the court case and generally anybody interested in stopping global warming must aim to ensure that government has the resources and the capacities necessary to design and implement the required policies to stop the destruction of the earth.
Other existential threats to the well-being of future generations
As necessary and valuable as efforts like the court case against the U.S. government on the issue of global warming are, the problem is: They neglect that other issues of “existential” character threaten the well-being of this and future generations as well. This will be of particular relevance also for organizations aiming to protect the rights and the future of children such as the plaintiffs in the court case, Kids vs Global Warming and Wild Earth Guardians.
In his book “The Future”, published in the beginning of 2013, Al Gore presents a substantial discussion of a number of present critical threats to humanity. One of them appears to be at least of the same magnitude as global warming: With the help of biogenetics and largely unnoticed from the wider public we, humanity, are actually in the process of changing life on earth as we know it, human and animal life. Biogenetics will enable us to extinguish many hereditary genetic diseases. At the same time biogenetics will soon allow us to create designer-babies, whose traits parents or, perhaps at some point in time, society will select. We might turn to throwing away millions of embryos with genetic defects. At the same time we are also changing the life of other creatures: Does humanity really need goats which produce spider silk? Are we going to be able to control the new technologies and their effects? Aren’t we going to create chaos, if we interfere into even the design of life?
As Al Gore points out, society across the globe does not discuss these questions of existential relevance, we lack adequate leadership by our political leaders and we don’t steer. In our terms: We lack effective policy making systems.
A further threat to humanity is the increasing surveillance by governments and corporations. On the internet, “I read and I am being read”, formulates the editor of a leading German newspaper. More and more observers see us approaching the scenarios of “Brave New World” and of “1984”, the scenarios described by Huxley and Orwell in which human beings have no freedom whatsoever, in which they are subjects controlled, manipulated, and perhaps even bred by their governments.
A next problem is that advancing technology such as robotisation and 3D-printing combined with the global transferability of production via the internet threatens to cause the loss of more and more jobs also in industrialized countries and even already in newly developed countries like China.
Not only Al Gore highlights the growing imbalances in wealth, income distribution, and the outright poverty also in the West as a result of these developments as well as the ensuing risks to peace and social stability. In 2009, twenty years after the Berlin wall came down and in the light of the increasing disparities between the rich and the poor in the world, Mikhail Gorbachev already demanded that we need to redefine global democratic capitalism, if we want to avoid social destabilization, conflicts, and terrorism. The renowned British-American historian Tony Judt warns that the increasing economic and social imbalances would cause collapse and brutality in our societies resembling the break-down of societies before WW II. In his 2010 book ”Time for Outrage” (“Indignez-vous” in the original French title) and at already 93 years of age, Stephane Hessel, a WWII concentration camp prisoner, French resistance fighter and former diplomat also expressed his distress with the new extreme discrepancies between the poor and rich and the resulting threats for peace and democracy. In the light of the failure of the leaders in governments and society to cope with these issues he called on the young people of the earth to take charge of the creation of just and social democracies.
Another concern for our earth is that we are already severely over-exploiting the resources of our planet with a population of seven billion estimated to approach nine billion by the middle of the century. Al Gore mentions that even such basic critical resources as water and topsoil, necessary for securing food for the global population, are getting sparse and increasingly become a cause for migration and conflicts, problems which will be exacerbated manifold, if we do not stop global warming. We are also polluting our globe, allowing for example that carpets of plastic garbage the size of parts of Europe are already covering our oceans. Fragments of this garbage even threaten to enter the human food chain
While all of these developments are going on, global power is “in the balance” as Al Gore emphasizes. There presently is no clear leadership structure in the world anymore. Generally, nation states are more and more powerless against large global corporations. Furthermore their influence is diluted by ethnic allegiances of people exceeding the boundaries of nations.
The need for policy making systems of the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency
Fighting against global warming probably must have the highest priority among all the urgent policy concerns humanity is facing at present. But if we want to maintain the globe, humanity, and our societies in a sound and healthy state for future generations, if we want to maintain peace and well-being in the world, we have to address all the issues threatening the globe and humanity effectively at the same time. Directing energy exclusively to global warming appears as if we wanted to plug one large hole of a leaking barrel, while water comes running out of six or more other big holes. Keeping the water in the barrel requires a comprehensive and highly coordinated effort.
It is obvious that we cannot address all the pressing issues in the world of today by first having to go to court on each issue. The process takes too much time and, as the scientist Hansen points out, comes also too late: Had our governments initiated reductions of CO2 emissions already in 2005 decreases of only 3.5% per annum would have been necessary to maintain global temperatures at present levels, now we need to reduce CO2 emissions already by 6% per annum. If we wait until 2020 a reduction of 15% per annum will be necessary. What this would mean for our economies we can perhaps grasp, if we imagine we personally would suddenly have to put aside regularly 15% rather than 3.5% of our monthly income for some expense which we did not anticipate at all.
Wasting time can “cost the earth”, the stability of our nations, and millions of human lives. Instead of society having to engage in a court case against their governments possibly over various competing policy issues, so they take long overdue action, our policy making systems need to be so effective that they take the necessary steps by themselves for each policy issue at the earliest opportunity. We as citizens must find ways and means to ascertain that our governments operate so effectively.
An initiative for optimizing the policy making system in the U.S.
All in all our world and humanity of now seven billion people appears to enter a new age with technological possibilities and opportunities, with systemic challenges and threats of a new dimension of interdependence and complexity –while many old problems such a large scale poverty and hunger also persist.
A new age, a new situation requires from us to rethink our conceptions and patterns of behavior. Our only chance to tackle the various existential problems threatening humanity simultaneously at the present time is by reviewing the capacities of our policy making systems and by ensuring that they perform at the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency possible.
So far most of us living in democracies have taken this advantage for granted. So far we have relied on our governments to handle public policy for us. What the many failures of our governments show us, is that we cannot afford to be so indifferent about government policy making anymore.
Our ancestors fought with their lives for freedom and democracy. We, the citizens of, democratic countries must realize again that living in a democracy is a privilege and an obligation and that we personally, not our governments, are responsible for maintaining the earth. We personally are responsible to ensure that the way we manage our society and our world is effective. We as citizens are responsible to establish effective governments and policy making systems.
To ensure that our governments cope effectively with the challenges and threats of our time, we as citizens need to be effective ourselves. We need to create a strong joint citizens’ initiative to ensure the effectiveness of our policy making system across the board. In the U.S. such an initiative might be called “Optimizing Democracy USA”. Of course, similar organizations are required in all democratic nations. Their task is to make sure that our policy systems are equipped with the parameters necessary for their effectiveness.
Let us come back to the court case against the U.S. government. If we realize, that in a democracy, we the people are ourselves responsible for governing the world, it follows that it is ultimately us, ourselves, who should be sued, not our governments, if we fail to protect the earth. Our politicians think, are trained, and operate within the confines of the political system we (or our ancestors) have established. If the policy making system doesn’t generate the results we require, we are obliged to look for ways to make it able to cope with the challenges and threats of our time.
Global warming and the other policy issues mentioned are of the greatest urgency. If we want to guarantee the well-being of and protect the earth for future generations, we cannot delay our efforts in making our governments and policy making systems as effective as required.
James Hansen, Pushker Kharecha, Makiko Sato, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Frank Ackerman, David J. Beerling, Paul J. Hearty, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Shi-Ling Hsu, Camille Parmesan, Johan Rockstrom, Eelco J. Rohling, Jeffrey Sachs, Pete Smith, Konrad Steffen, Lise Van Susteren, Karina von Schuckmann, James C. Zachos, Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature, PLOS ONE | http://www.plosone.org 1 December 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 12 | e81648
 Christina Figueres, Head of the IPCC, formulated at the end of the international Climate Conference in Warsaw in November 2013: “The conference has brought us closer …to an agreement in 2015. It does not put us on track for a 2 degree world.” cf. UNFCCC closing press briefing Saturday 23 November at http://unfccc.int/meetings/warsaw_nov_2013/meeting/7649.php.
It is furthermore disconcerting that scientists put the probability of achieving the temperature limit of 2ᵒC with the current strategy of limiting the total CO2 content in the atmosphere to 1000 Billion tons at somewhere between 66 and 100%. (cf. IPCC WGI AR5 SPM p. 20). In other words it is even by no means certain that the temperature target would be achieved with the current strategy, even if the international community were to ultimately comply with it. The current strategy could well lead to even higher temperatures than an increase of 2ᵒC. A more conservative approach as suggested by Hansen appears justified for a number of critical aspects.
 By the end of this century The IPCC expects a maximum sea level increase of .82 m (top of the “likely range” in the worst case scenario), at, however, increasing rates of sea levels rise. (IPCC, WG1 AR5, SMP. p 20, p. 25, p.35). The IPCC writes: “There is high confidence that sustained warming greater than some threshold would lead to the near-complete loss of the Greenland ice shield over a millennium or more, causing a global mean sea level rise of up to 7 m”. The IPCC also states there is high confidence that sea levels in the Pliocene with temperatures between 2ᵒC to 3.5ᵒC higher than pre-industrial levels did not exceed 20m above present.(WG1 5AR, Fin.Draft, Techn. Summary p. 12). Hansen et alii state that in the Eemian, when temperatures were about 2ᵒC higher than in the Holocene, the age of mankind, sea levels were about 9 meters higher, in the Pliocene, with temperatures about 3ᵒC warmer, sea levels were about 15-25 meters higher than today. As Hansen points out, the problem is less to assess which sea levels ultimately correlate with which temperature, but rather at which speed sea levels adapt to higher temperatures. He writes that some researchers suggest a multi-meter sea level rise could already occur this century. (Hansen at alii, p. 6).
 According to joint research by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) China emitted 29% of the global CO2 emissions in 2012 (fossil fuel and cement production)m the U.S. 15%, the EU 27 11%, India 6%, the Russian Federation 5%, and Japan 4%. (Source: Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report, p.8). The largest contributors to CO2 emissions per capita are: Luxembourg 21. 75 tons/cap, Australia, 18.77, Kazakhstan 16.44, the U.S. 16.36, EU(15) 7.49, China 7.09 (Source European Emission Database EDGAR http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=CO2ts_pc1990-2012&sort=des9
 United States District Court For The Court of Columbia, Memorandum Opinion, Case 1:11-cv-02235-RLW Document 172 Filed 05/31/12, p.3
 The fact that a court case is necessary to increase the attention of the government to a matter of existential relevance for the earth like global warming and to point out that a present policy might destroy the earth, appears to indicate that such an effective governance code does not exist.
 House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge?,Twenty Fourth Report of Session 2010–12, Volume I: Report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence, p.3
 Deep Water The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, Report to the President, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, January 2011, p. 289
In a comment on the website I suggest that “Slow Democracy”, focusing mainly on better deliberation, appears to be an element of what needs to happen, i.e. optimizing democratic decision making processes in a comprehensive fashion, not only at community but also at national and international levels.
On one hand the terminology one uses might not be that important. On the other hand it describes a program. What we as civil society appear to need is policy making of the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency, efficiency not only in terms of money but also in terms of time used to come to the best policy strategies. With respect to global warming for example we all, the citizens in every nation around the world, need the very best policy making strategies as soon as possible.
So if we need the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency in policy making, and if terms contain a program, then it appears useful to call a spade a spade and join forces behind what we need to achieve, the optimization of all our democratic policy making processes. Joining forces behind what we want to achieve is necessary to get to results.
Here my complete comment on the article:
Very exciting to read about the various constructive ways in which citizens got involved in decision making at the community level in Portsmouth NH.
I would like to pitch the concept of “Optimizing Democracy”, however, against the concept of “Slow Democracy” presented in the article. I suggest that “Slow Democracy” with its focus on better identification of the issues at stake and better deliberation is a necessary element of what we urgently need to do: take comprehensive measures to generally ”optimize democratic policy making” at all political levels.
The well-being of our children and of future generations anywhere in the world, also in Portsmouth NH, does not only depend on their education, the policy issue discussed as an example in the article. The well-being of our children and of future generations is also immediately and very severely threatened by a number of existential global developments which need to be managed as effectively as only possible at national and international policy making levels. They are issues such as global warming, the changing of the quality of human life by biogenetics, the potential loss of freedom by constant surveillance from corporations and governments, potentially increasing unemployment also in the middle classes through robotization, and a destabilization of our entire economic and social systems all over the world by these developments.
If citizens in the US as well as in any other country on earth care about the well-being of their children and grandchildren, it is of the greatest importance that they take the game up one significant level: Efforts in improving policy making as they paid off at the community level in Portsmouth must be implemented for national policy making as well. Taking such measures is also of the highest degree of urgency as data on global warming for example prove. Not only with respect to local issues, also with respect to the big problems threatening to affect the well-being of people everywhere in the world, citizens must get involved and improve, or best – given the existential nature of some threats – optimize policy making systems and processes. Only the very best policy making procedures and systems will be able to handle those challenges.
I suggest that in order to organize the “optimization” of national policy making, citizens in the U.S. need to form an organization which we might call: “Optimizing Democracy USA”. In the UK it could be called “Optimizing Democracy UK”. Any democratic country urgently requires such a citizens’ organisation looking after the quality of policy making in their nations. Since the set-up of our democratic policy making systems is rather ineffective in many ways, these citizen organisations in each country need to co-operate in solving the existential threats for all citizens in the world.
The article on slow democracy desperately calls for leaders with “clarity, wisdom, and courage.” The question is: Where do we get these leaders from? In a democracy it is the very own responsibility of citizens to identify which precise qualifications leaders must have. Citizens must then train and select their leaders so the persons in charge have the required qualities to manage the public affairs both at community or national level adequately. The future of a society and of the world depends on the quality of leaders it trains and selects.
What we see in Egypt is a tragedy so far, especially for the people, since they continue to suffer, and also for the world, which urgently requires more stability and to see countries succeed on their way to democratization, peace, and enhanced well-being for society. How can Egypt achieve building a sound democracy “in a second round” since the beginning of the Arab spring? Here a proposal for a sequence of required steps:
1. Defining Joint Goals, Creating a Joint Vision
The first step in building a strong and healthy society and democracy must be forming a joint vision of what the people of a society want to achieve.
The overarching goal for the Egyptian people should be building a balanced society in which everyone gets a chance to live a decent life and has the freedom to do what they like to do – as long as it does not harm any other person.
Present power holders should work with randomly selected activists and thinkers from society on defining goals and a joint vision and communicate with society on these goals in order to build a joined agreed platform.
2. Clarifying the Principles of a Functioning Democracy
The present government must communicate with the people on the rational and philosophical principles which are necessary as a foundation for a functioning democracy. The general guideline must be the Categorical Imperative by Kant, which states that everybody must act in a fashion with which everybody else in society must be able to agree. The common guideline that the freedom of one person ends where the freedom of the other person begins applies as well. Restrictions on and oppression of other peoples’ opinions and lifestyles, in as far as they don’t violate necessary rules and regulations, cannot lead to a functioning and strong democracy.
The government should discuss and communicate these issues clearly with all people in the Egyptian society. It must ensure that everybody in society understands why following certain fundamental principles is necessary in building a healthy democratic society.
Government must especially clarify with the entire population of Egypt which role religion can have in a democratic society.
Religion has much to offer to humanity. Many people look for deeper answers which they do not find in societies which are mainly focused on worldly pleasures and rewards.
But religion must also understand that ultimately there is no proof for religious beliefs and that God, if we believe He exists, in fact has created human beings to be different, at least on the outset. He placed people in different cultures and religious environments; He gave people different minds and the freedom to think and to choose the way they would like to live.
Religions must understand that they cannot force other people in a society or the world to live under their chosen principles. People who believe in a God must accept and even love other human beings as God has created them. If religious people want to have influence on the way a society lives, they can only do this by example and by gentle and caring persuasion.
As the German philosopher Lessing wrote in his play “Nathan the Wise”, the religion is the best religion which accumulates the greatest number of friends over time. Killing or oppressing other people created by God does not make sense. Making friends must be the goal of a religion, appreciating the diversity of creation, not coercion or aggression.
For Egypt the fact that people have been created to be different in thinking and culture means religious values cannot be used in any manner which restrains the values and freedom of other people. Democracy must allow religious freedom for everybody including atheism. Generally only those standards can be enshrined in a constitution which are necessary for the functioning of a society (unless all people were to agree voluntarily on stricter standards, something, which is unlikely to happen).
4. Employment and Income
A political system must aim to help people to fulfill their needs as specified for example in the pyramid of needs by the American psychologist Maslow. To fulfill their prime needs such as the need for food, shelter, and safety people need jobs and income.
To create jobs and income is one of the first tasks of a government. But government cannot do it alone. Creating jobs and income depends on the combined intelligence, endeavors, and on the co-operation of all people and institutions in a society. Jobs and income also depend of course on the natural resources a country offers.
The government must formulate reasonable goals with respects to jobs and income. It must explain to its people on which factors the creation of jobs and income depend, so expectations are realistic and people know what to do generally in order to earn an income.
In tough times all public resources, must be pooled and directed to the common aim of creating jobs and a stable society. Efforts must be rewarded, but any siphoning off of resources cannot be allowed. Building a sound and healthy democracy must be considered a joint, but voluntary effort by all.
Creating jobs and income in a difficult global economic environment requires excellent policy making strategies and capacities. One sector which Egypt should be focusing on is tourism. But tourism requires stability, making people feel safe and comfortable. As pointed out above, religious activists who try to disturb peace in the country sin against the diversity of God’s creation. In turn, a society which expects peaceful and constructive behavior by all its citizens must be just. It must allow everybody to live freely and support people where it can in making a decent living.
5. The Conditions for Effectiveness and Efficiency in Democratic Policy Making
All in all building a strong and healthy democracy first of all requires all people committing to work together to achieve this aim.
They must then put the parameters in place which are necessary to make democracy effective. More specifically they must ensure that:
1. Their democratic policy making system uses the best systems and processes for policy making, systems and processes which serve the well-being of all people.
2. All politicians have a certain minimum set of qualifications
3. Politicians apply the best practices defined under point 1 (so there is no scope for corruption, nepotism).
4. The institutions (including government) which lead the country have the required resources to do their jobs as effectively as possible (if resources are limited government must focus on a reduced number of key tasks)
6. The Need for Effective Citizen Control
Finally people must realize that their democratic policy system is unlikely to ever be really effective without citizens themselves controlling the policy making system effectively. Citizens must establish an effective control system over policy making, an effective citizens’ association controlling the operations of the democratic system on their behalf (like a referee controlling a football match).
Effective control requires know-how, power, resources, and communication. To establish the best democratic policy making system people need the best know-how. They must establish a know-how system which informs the citizens what the best systems and processes in democratic policy making are. Citizens must join to accumulate the necessary power to ensure the best practices identified are in fact applied. All citizens should contribute a small amount to establish a citizens’ control system in order to ensure everybody has a voice and that the control organization truly represents all members of society. The control organization needs these funds to be able to work effectively.
7. The Implementation
People must recognize that this process is necessary to get to a satisfactory solution. Building effective citizen control, however, and building effective governing processes and systems takes a while.
The focus must, therefore, to start with be on:
• Establishing the joint will in society to work for a sound and strong society and democracy.
• Committing to and securing peace in the country.
• Getting back to work to create the necessary income, products and service for fulfilling the fundamental needs of people.
A first concrete goal must be to establish peace and to make visitors feel welcome so tourism is revived as a source of income for the people in Egypt (not easy due to economic difficulties in many countries).
The government must also as soon as possible set out a step by step schedule for the process of building a sound society and an effective democracy. It must schedule
• the steps for building a healthy, independent constructive citizen control organization over the policy making system (even if this initiative must in principle come from the people the government should recognize the need for such an organization and support its establishment. The organization offers a way to citizens for their constructive participation in policy making).
• the steps for building a healthy government and administration.
• Government also must specify goals and the necessary steps for creating jobs and employment.
The government must constantly communicate with people on this process. It must ensure that all people in society understand and support the necessary principles and steps for building a functioning democracy. It must communicate on achievements, on things to do next, on difficulties.
Through the way it acts and communicates the government must be perceived as honest, trustworthy, competent and reliable.
9. The Responsibility of the People
Ultimately the people must understand that they themselves are responsible for building an effective and sound democratic system. Establishing effective control and know-how organizations is crucial.
Protests will not generate a sustainable and effective solution for Egypt and its people. Establishing a functioning democracy requires constructive and effective work. Protest, therefore, must change to constructive action of the highest caliber. (If governments do not respond to such constructive work, protests might be necessary again.)
People of all reaches of society must cooperate in establishing an effective control organization over the democratic policy making system.
The proposed process allows the people of Egypt to work together in a constructive way on the task of establishing a fair and effective democratic policy making system. It gives the people control over the system.
Since the proposed process combines establishing the best know-how with effective citizen control, it must lead to the best democratic policy making system conceivable for Egypt and its people, a system which will be able to handle public resources in the most effective way possible, which will be able to design the best policies to generate employment and income in the country, and ensure that the well-being of the people can be enhanced in as much as possible.
Finally establishing a sound democracy on the basis of the proposed process will allow the people of Egypt to cooperate with the people of all nations in solving the urgent problems our globe is facing and in maintaining the globe in a good state for future generations, something which the international community will certainly welcome very highly.
Brazil has been seeing huge protests for more than two weeks now against many issues – mostly against a lack of transparency, corruption, and ineffectiveness in government.
How can these protests lead to a concrete, lasting improvement in the quality of government?
The model described in this blog provides a solution:
To govern a country like Brazil, to reduce poverty and corruption, and to solve the many other policy issues as effectively and efficiently as possible with only limited resources, “best practices” in policy making are necessary.
What are the best practices in policy making? Hard to say. To establish best practices in policy making Brazil like any other democratic country needs an effective organization working on behalf of the citizens which identifies what best practices in all aspects of governing a nation are. The citizens themselves must set up the organization, so they do not depend on “anybody else”, i.e. for example the politicians, to tell them what best practices supposedly are. The citizens themselves must identify them, so they can be sure they get the best solutions.
Second, the people must ensure that those best practices are actually applied in policy making, concretely that structures and processes in the policy making system are as effective as possible, serve the common good, and do not leave room for inefficiency. One system which the people must optimize is the system for corruption control.
To implement those two steps the citizens must join and create two organizations:
1. A citizens’ organization, lets call it “Optimizing Democracy Brazil” which initiates the necessary actions.
2. A “Citizens’ Public Policy Know-how Institute” which informs the citizens about the best processes and systems in policy making necessary to make their democratic policy making system effective.
The writer Ignácio de Loyola Brandão is very pessimistic about the outcome of the demonstrations. He expects the protests to ebb off after a while and Brazil to return to its “normality” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24 June 2013).
If people want to see a concrete improvement in how they are governed they must establish a joint initiative taking the necessary, constructive measures towards achieving this goal. They must identify the best practices in policy making and work together to make sure they are applied.
Brazil is an example for what needs to happen in all democratic nations to optimize their democratic policy making systems.
“Send in the clowns”, titled The Economist after the recent parliamentary elections in Italy when the party of the comedian Beppe Grillo won 25% of the total votes and the party of Silvio Berlusconi 30%.
Of course the views of clowns on developments in society and politics can be refreshing and stimulating. Yet the professional qualification as a clown is unlikely to be a suitable qualification to steer our countries with tens or hundreds of millions of people in the time of globalization. It must be doubted that clowns will have the capacities to create jobs for millions of people, the most pressing issues in many European states at this point in time or perhaps to even select people with the required qualifications for this job. Since the US have had at least two world renowned actors as top nation or state leaders we must of course also ask under which conditions actors can be suitable heads of government. Are intelligence, integrity, and honesty, criteria which clowns and actors might fulfill, sufficient as qualifications to lead our nations and the globe?
“Whether policy making oriented towards the needs of the majority of people is successful, depends ultimately on the capacities and the character of the leading persons in politics”, writes the German law Professor Hans Peter Bull in a recent article on democracy in a paper. But which qualifications do our politicians require precisely for their tasks? And how do we make sure that our politicians in fact possess these qualifications?
One perspective on the tasks of our politicians is that they are responsible for public funds of hundreds of billions of Euros or Pounds or other currency equivalents, or in the case of the USA even for a few trillion of USD, and at the same time for organizations which employ hundreds of thousands or even up to 2-3 million of public employees, the numbers quoted in some analyses for France, Germany, and Italy for example. In comparison the largest private corporation in the world, the US retailer Walmart has revenues in the area of 400 billion USD and about 2.2 million employees, the tenth largest private corporation in terms of employees, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, has about 500 000 employees and revenues of about 240 billion USD (2011 numbers).
As the comparison illustrates, our politicians operate organizations which are at least as large as the largest private corporations in the world. Our politicians must make sure that the gigantic organizations they lead are structured and perform optimally and that they generate a maximum of benefits to the public out of the sizeable amounts of tax money or other public funds they require for their work. The work of our politicians contains a significant, if not a dominant element of management responsibility.
Against this view one might contend that the Civil Service has its own management which “supports” the politicians in their leadership jobs. That view would mean the tail is wagging the dog. We rather elect our heads of government as the key persons we look to in running our states as effectively as only possible and to “sort out things” in the public sphere for us, when they have gone wrong. Our heads of government must lead, not only in policy design, but also in policy implementation.
What are the tasks of our politicians, especially of our Heads of Government, in more detail? They must identify the public concerns of the people and any risks for the well-being of society from economic, technological, environmental or other developments. They must identify which issues are more critical than others, jobs, infrastructure, defense and global stability, health, education, welfare programs, or the exploration of space, a difficult task since many of those aspects are interdependent. More education might generate more jobs and more production, more tax income, and allow for better infrastructure and social services, but more education without simultaneous other measures to create jobs might be a waste of funds. Politicians need the methodical skills to analyze and assess these complex interdependencies. Having set adequate priorities they must raise and assign public funds to these issues. Finally they must design and implement strategies, they must establish the effective organizations mentioned above and effective control mechanisms, and they must co-ordinate the work of public institutions at various regional levels in a country.
Also the look at these individual tasks tells us that policy making is to a large degree a management task. As polls have shown, citizens in fact primarily expect from their politicians effectiveness and efficiency in delivering public policy. Implicitly also citizens attribute the highest importance to the practical management skills of their politicians rather than to “soft” skills, such as presentation and communication.
Of course many other qualities are of importance for the work of politicians such as intelligence, integrity, depth of thinking, openness and creativity, modesty, the capacity to communicate simple manners in a comprehensible fashion, negotiating skills, and finally a certain understanding of political processes. We should specify and weigh all these skills and qualifications in job descriptions for politicians just like in job descriptions for any other job. It is astounding that every accountant, nurse, or engineer must fulfill specific job requirements. Only our politicians don’t, even if the well-being of our entire societies and the state of the world depends on these qualifications. It is amazing that so far we mostly vote for politicians, because they can present their ideas in charismatic and convincing style, not because they fulfill a “hard” qualification profile. If democracy is ineffective it seems to be to a large degree our own fault, since we do not specify the qualifications our politicians need and do not ensure they comply with those requirements.
Many observers make proposals on how to ensure the qualification of politicians for their jobs. In an article for the web-journal opendemocracy Takis S Pappas from Greece suggested in 2011 for example an open list electoral system which would allow voters to choose among individual political candidates rather than on the basis of their party affiliation. Using such an open procedure or a traditional party list we could make it a precondition that anybody wanting to work as the Head of Government or head of any government department must fulfill a minimum qualification catalogue before they are even allowed to stand for election. We could select the five candidates which fit our objective qualification criteria best, then have them present their views thoroughly on TV and elect the best one of these five candidates.
Governing our countries and the world is an extremely complex task, whichever procedures for electing the best candidates we might select. We should in any case, therefore, never rely on a single person to have the required or even optimal knowledge for this task. In addition to making sure that our politicians have certain minimal qualifications we will still need an effective know-how system on how to run a country optimally, an institution which our politicians can draw upon in decision and strategy making and in setting up effective public organizations. Furthermore, as pointed out in other parts of this blog, we as citizens and highest sovereign in democratic states need a control system to make sure that the head of government, the ministers, and the public organizations in fact apply the state of the art know-how in governing the country for the benefit of all citizens, do not risk the state through incompetent policy making or work for their own interests.
What happened with the proposal made by Takis S Pappas in 2011 on the open-list system for elections? Has anybody examined it? Has it been accepted, rejected, or refined and implemented? Where are the results of our thinking about how to improve democracy? What the example shows is that our democratic nations most urgently need an effective organization to discuss and evaluate proposals like the one made by Pappas or made here on the qualifications of politicians, so we get to the best concrete concepts as soon as possible.
The sand glass for our task to make our democratic policy systems effective appears to be running. The social and political stability in many democratic countries is at stake, people even get frustrated with democracy itself, while it is the only form of government which guarantees their freedom. To maintain stable and equitable societies, to maintain the globe in a good state we must improve the performance of our democratic policy making systems, and that as soon as possible. One step for which we, as citizens, are responsible is making sure that our politicians are qualified for their tasks.
How can Italy get a stable and effective democratic policy making system, now and in the future, a policy making system able to handle the challenges of the 21st century? In Italy, like in any other democratic country, the citizens themselves are ultimately responsible for the fate of their country. They themselves must fix any problems with their policy making system.
For decades the Italian people have been hoping for a strong man or a better party to establish stable and effective governments only to be disappointed over and over again. Now the situation is getting urgent. Due to the financial crisis and probably also due to the process of globalization industrial production in the country has fallen by 25% since 2008. Unemployment continues to be high, especially among young people.
Many people in Italy now recognize the need for a radical restructuring of the existing political institutions. But this issue is not being moved forward effectively. Citizens continue to elect politicians and to hope for the political system to fix itself. This cannot work. Politicians have their own agenda. And they may not know how to establish the most effective policy system conceivable. Citizens themselves need to take action.
What needs to happen?
People in Italy, like in any other democratic country, need to change their perception about their role as citizens in a democracy. In a democracy the people are the highest sovereign in the state. They govern themselves. The policy system is their tool for managing their public affairs. The people need to realize that they cannot hope for a politician or party to repair the democratic policy system on their behalf. The citizens in a democratic society must ensure that the system works, they themselves.
In the light of the complexity of the problems of our globalized world of now seven billion people only the best policy making system will suffice to solve the problems of the country. In Italy, like in other democratic nations, citizens, therefore, must aim to optimize the performance of their political system.
To take concrete action citizens must establish an initiative which identifies the best options for making their democratic policy making system effective and which ensures that those concepts are implemented.
Only with the best objective and independent know-how available in Italy and the globe can the citizens be sure to arrive at a democratic policy making system of the highest quality conceivable. The initiative must set up a know-how system which is completely open, invites contributions from anybody who may have to say something on the matter, and identifies the know-how of the required level of quality.
Citizens must realize that making their policy making effective on the long run does not only take isolated one time action, but constant effective citizen control. They should establish the initiative with a view to turning it into a permanent element in the political life of the country and of the constitution, a “Citizens Association for the Optimization of Democracy”. The association will be responsible to persistently monitor the performance of the policy making system and to identify possibilities to further improve its performance.
The qualification of politicians working on behalf of society in policy making is perhaps the most crucial element necessary for the policy system to be able to cope with the problems of our globalised world. The best qualification is of relevance in any function and at any level of the policy making system, especially at leadership level. Specific subject matter qualifications for making the economy competitive and to create millions of jobs are also of the highest importance. The association must make sure that those qualifications are “in place” to ensure that the system is as effective as only possible. One key effect of the objective qualification and performance standards, which the citizens’ association will aim to generate, will be a considerable reduction, perhaps even the nearly complete eradication, of widespread corruption and nepotism presently existing in the policy making system.
For the time being the politicians elected by the Italian people must fulfill their responsibilities for the country and the citizens and form a joint government. But the factors affecting the performance of Italian governments must be analyzed as soon as possible, so the necessary performance level can be established for the policy making system. Only an overhaul of the political system in the sketched fashion can make the country strong enough to handle the challenges which the country is facing.
Democracy is government by the people, as one element of the definition formulated by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. The citizens of a democratic country govern themselves. They must make sure their tool for governing the country, their democratic policy making system, works optimally, in Italy like in any other democratic country.
In aiming to optimize democratic policy making we need to realize that our rationality as human beings is not perfect, our training and our professional experience are limited to specific areas. These observations are also valid for our leaders. Also a randomly composed group of people will often not have the perfect solution for a problem. They might assess the situation wrong, miss out on one or the other relevant aspect, they might forget one or the other element in designing problem solutions, which leads to their ineffectiveness or even failure.
Management Science has developed problem structuring methods which guide our thinking and help us to make sure our problem solutions are adequate and effective in a given situation.
The approach we suggest in this blog to use for “optimizing our democratic policy making systems” is based on Systems Thinking.
Below I include a description of the method contained in an article I wrote with the title: “Enhancing the effectiveness of international development – a systems approach”, published in Development in Practice, Routledge, 04/2010. The reader will find details on the two books quoted in the text under the “Library” tag in the blog.
Systems Thinking, in particular the Contingency Theory or the “functional approach” within Systems Thinking, understands “systems of purposeful human interaction”, be it in business or public policy, to operate in a way similar to systems in biology, such as the human body. According to Systems Thinking the elements or sub-systems, which systems in business or public policy need to contain in order to function effectively, are determined by the purpose the systems want to achieve. Key sub-systems for the functioning of the overall systems are communication and control.
Systems and their sub-systems are interdependent and organized in hierarchies; people in companies for example are parts of workgroups, which are part of departments, the departments being part of the company, and the company itself being part of a wider social system (Ulrich and Probst 1991).
Reflecting these concepts, Ulrich and Probst (1991) propose a methodology for problem-solving and building effective systems, for management in both the private and public sectors, which includes the following main steps (slightly adapted from the concept of the authors):
1. Goal review and definition.
2. Compilation of all parameters affecting the defined goal or goals.
3. Observation of how the system and its elements behave without interference.
4. Clarification of the possibilities for intervention.
5. Determination of strategies for problem solving which address all parameters of relevance.
7. Evaluation of resulting situation and restart of process, if required.
They emphasise that getting the goals of a system right is of the highest relevance for the effectiveness of a system. In order to enhance the quality of the analysis, the authors recommend bringing in specialists from various disciplines to jointly analyse the relevant parameters for achieving these goals.
Systems are, however, not only the organizations and processes created to fulfil certain aims. Checkland points out that systems, viewed in a wider perspective, also comprise the “actors”, those system elements who “operate” a system, the “customers” of a process (who may be “beneficiaries” or “victims”), and the “process owners” (those with the power to stop it, in the words of Checkland; in this paper we understand the “owners” also as those who initiate and drive a process) (Checkland 2001).
The sections on how to optimize democratic policy making in this blog and the proposal for the sequence of steps required for optimizing our democratic policy making system will be based on these concepts.
They help us to define what kind of system democratic policy making is. Since systems “of social interaction” are defined by their goals, we suggest understanding policy making as a “system to manage public policy issues in such a manner that well-being of society as a whole is maximised”. But as we see already this proposal implies many questions which need to be discussed and clarified in society, such as the questions, how we define “public policy issues” or which role the well-being of minorities plays with respect to the general goal of maximizing the well-being of society. One advantage of the proposed process is that it forces us to identify and address each relevant question and issue in a systematic manner.
A key suggestion made in the approach is to involve people with different perspectives in the design of a problem solution. We suggest that at least some should have training in management and problem solving methodologies. As we point out in another section of this blog, our chances to arrive at the best systems and processes for optimizing the performance of the democratic policy making systems are the higher, the more perspectives we include.
A question of relevance in optimizing democracy is of course the critical issue raised by Checkland, who the “process owners” are, a question of particular relevance in the United States for example, where big money plays a major role in determining the outcome of elections and all too often perhaps also policy decisions.
The challenge is to find a solution geared to optimizing democracy in which wider civil society determines the precise goals and operations of the policy making system. The solution we suggest in this blog is a citizens’ initiative or association to “set the operational standards” for the policy making system.