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The TDG Essay

Posted 12/Apr/2023

In 2016, I was promoting Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG) on an internet forum called “Writerbeat.” This forum was a nice community with original articles creating 20 or more responses. I still maintain contact with some of these people even though Writerbeat is now defunct.

Because half the Writerbeat articles were on the popular topic of politics, it was a natural place to promote my alternative democracy. After flogging my website maybe too many times, I got some requests saying: “Dave, your book is too long. Can you shorten the concept?”

So, I transformed my 55,000-word book into a 4,500-word essay. I then posted that essay on Writerbeat, but the essay seemed to have no effect on people with whom I was building a great rapport. Unfortunately, I think the condensed version has too many holes that show why the TDG cannot work. The TDG just cannot be explained briefly.

In June 2019, I posted this essay on the Medium pub “Dialogue & Discourse.” I consider this article my most important work on Medium. It has been my best performing article with 1.1k reads and 148 fans. However, the Medium algorithms did not give me much of a break: most of this traction came from my many cross-postings.

This article got 65 great comments. I responded to each one. If nothing else, I got some additional practice explaining the TDG to people.

While many Medium contributors seem to recognize that something is very wrong with today’s democracy, they just cannot make the leap to investigate a new way. I believe I have engaged with at least 3,000 people on Medium about the TDG. That is a good focus group, and that focus group is saying: “Dave, you should spend your spare time and energy on other things.”

While I couldn’t move anyone forward into a new democracy, I’m sure I have flipped a few neurons. It’s not hard to imagine that — with a few more years of disappointing results from western democracy — some people in this focus group will start thinking: “Hmmm. Our current systems are incapable of reforming themselves. On Medium, there was this strange fellow from Canada with a different kind of democracy. I think I need to look that idea up.”

This pub is where to find much of my Medium work. My flagship essay needs to be here.

And here it is.

The essay is still light on the connections between the different parts of the TDG. You really should read the TDG book.

The Essay

My maternal grandfather was of the peasant class in Bukovina, Ukraine. After the tumult of World War I and the Russian Civil War, he experienced a change of governance in which he had no say. He saw the transition merely as one group of elites being replaced by another group of elites. As a young man, he envisioned more opportunity and freedom — and immigrated to Canada in 1922. When he gained his Canadian citizenship, he had the right to vote out governments that he and many other Canadians saw as ineffective.

In western democracies, periodic elections have been a great social engineering tool for citizens to express their anger when a government becomes out of touch with the people they govern. Hence, those who aspire to public office in western democracies must consider the needs and aspirations of a significant minority — if not a majority — of citizens to earn the legitimacy to govern. The rulers of Bukovina in the early 20th century were not subject to this social force.

For much of the 20th century, citizens in western democracies were thankful for their periodic elections. They needed only compare themselves to the parts of the world without this opportunity: they realized that their life was indeed better under western democracy. Because of this simple comparison, there was no desire or social force to change the system.

But something has changed in the past two decades. More and more citizens in western democracies are not happy with the results of their elections. Like my grandfather in Bukovina after WW1, they are seeing any political changes merely as one group of elites being replaced by another group of elites. The opportunity to replace ineffective governments is no longer there. This breeds more cynicism and more apathy. How long can this trend continue before the citizenry no longer gives legitimacy to elected governments? What is the future of western democracy?

In this essay, I will describe 12 limitations of western democracy, a replacement system of democratic governance that addresses those 12 limitations, a new culture for that replacement system, a new check-and-balance, a new relationship between government and the citizen, and a transition process from western democracy to this alternative system — called “Tiered Democratic Governance.”

Twelve Limitations of Western Democracy

Let’s imagine we are a mechanic for democracy. A customer (the citizenry) brings us his broken-down car (western democracy) to be fixed. Before we start the repair, we should ask the customer what is wrong. Very quickly, we are likely to get a long list. This is my list of things we need to fix.

1. Political Parties Belong to an Exclusive Club:

Being an active member of a political party requires time, energy, and fortitude to work within a semi-dysfunctional culture. Many citizens do not have these assets, and thereby leave political influence to those who do. This means many capable people will never be in government.

2. Political Parties are Not Think-Tanks:

Political parties like to tell the citizenry that they have some vision for their world. But the fact is that most of the effort generated within the party goes toward electioneering, not policy development.

3. Political Parties are not a Screening Process:

The internal party electoral processes have proven that people who are too controversial for governance can make it into governance. There is little screening at the party level to find the better people.

4. Political Parties are Mostly Marketing Machines:

Political parties are constantly marketing themselves as the best choice for governing. But being good at marketing is only marginally related to being good at governance.

5. Simplistic Explanations:

To reach the public through mass and social media, political parties have to simplify every issue. Many citizens are led to believe the solutions are also simple. Maybe the parties themselves believe the issues are simple. Good decisions are not likely to happen when the roots of complex problems are not appropriately understood.

6. Politics vs. Governance:

Good politicians are very busy people: long days, lots of traveling, lots of meetings. But a significant part of this effort is spent for the benefit of the party, not society.

7. Voters are Poor Judges:

Despite freedom of the press and freedom of speech, most voters know very little about the people who aspire to elected office. Voters are voting based on an image of those people. That image is created by the political party, opposing parties, and the media. It is hard to know the true person behind the image.

8. Failure to Plan for the Long Term:

Political parties can only look to the next election which means they only have a five-year outlook at best. So there is no long-term planning. Many societal issues will take decades to resolve.

9. Political Parties are Beholden to Those who Feed the Marketing Machine:

Donors of time and money to a political party sometimes want a less-than-altruistic reward for their commitment. If the reward is not somehow addressed, the party will have fewer resources to contest the next election, and electoral success is less assured. The political party must give some consideration to corruption.

10. Political Parties Cannot Deal with Internal Corruption:

Political parties highly value those members who can win elections. If a winner engages in too much corruption, the party is not likely to discipline that member — until it becomes public knowledge. And history has proven that a party can handle a few instances of corruption that make the public’s eye.

11. Adversarial Nature:

Members of political parties are required to constantly promote the virtues of their own parties and promote the flaws of the opposition — even if the other side has something positive to offer. This antagonism is inherent within the politician’s interaction with the public, the media, and even within his or her own party. In most other occupations, it’s hard to imagine much getting done with so such adversity.

12. Inability to Shape Society in a Positive Direction:

When citizens see politicians and political parties behaving inappropriately, their values are shaped in a negative way. This, in turn, affects the quality of people later elected to public office.

Popular Suggestions for Political Reform

The world already has many ideas to improve western democracy. For example, democratic advocates in Canada believe in replacing its Westminster-style parliament with a parliament based on proportional representation. This idea does not address any of the 12 limitations in any significant way. For example, if Canada ever moves to proportional representation, will Limitation #8 be fixed? Not really, because citizens of western countries with proportional representation believe their governments are also incapable of wise long-term planning.

In my opinion, most popular suggestions for improving democracy will result in very little change in governance outcome. It is almost as if the suggested changes are designed to placate the public but leave existing power structures in place.

The New System

If we are a mechanic and we see a car with 12 serious repairs, should we really try to repair that car? No — it is time for a new car! And knowing what we know about the old car, we should not buy a car with similar problems.

One common phrase in the 12 limitations is “political party”. It is logical that if we can remove the political parties from the democratic process, the limitations have a better chance of being fixed. So removing political parties is a very necessary part of this alternative system of governance which I have called the “Tiered Democratic Governance” (TDG). In this section, I will provide a brief explanation of how the TDG works.

The Neighborhood

The basic unit of the TDG is the neighborhood. Neighborhoods are geographical areas that contain 50 to 250 residents who have some reasonable opportunity to know one another. Boundaries for a neighborhood could be geographical, such as rivers or ridges; man-made, such as busy streets and non-residential areas; socioeconomic, such as certain demographics; and current political boundaries. Each neighborhood should have a common facility such as a community center or school where meetings can be held.

Once a year, the members of the neighborhood TDG elect one member to represent the neighborhood in the TDG. All members are eligible to vote — and to be voted for. There is no nomination or ballots with specific names. Voters write in the name of the person they best feel suited for the job of neighborhood representative.

The TDG should have a culture that abhors election campaigns, political parties, self-promotion, and denigration of another member. Any member employing these tactics to win should not be voted for. Rather, the members should look for someone who has proven good character and capacity as being worthy of his or her vote.

The term of a neighborhood representative is one year. If the representative is found to be ineffective, he or she can be replaced at the next election.

The District

Districts consist of three to 20 adjacent neighborhoods. The neighborhood representatives will meet occasionally to discuss affairs of the district and make decisions. In these meetings, the neighborhood representatives will learn about each other to figure out who is of good character and has capacity for governance.

Six months after the election of the neighborhood representatives, these representatives will vote one of themselves to be the district representative. Again, there is no campaigning, nomination, self-promotion, or denigration of other members.

Note that the general members in these neighborhoods do not vote for the district representative. The reason is that the general membership is not in a good position to know which of the neighborhood representatives are suitable for this higher position; most likely they might know only one person really well, so they really can’t make a wise comparison. The neighborhood representatives, who have been working amongst themselves, have a better understanding of who has a better character and capacity — and is worthy of advancement in the TDG.

This means the TDG is an indirect election. This does not, in any way, diminish the importance of voting at the neighborhood level for those neighborhood representatives play an important part at the district voting level. Each neighborhood needs to send one of its better members to a higher level for the TDG to work well.

Higher Tiers

Each TDG jurisdiction will evolve differently. Some jurisdictions may have just one tier; others may find six tiers works well for them. Calgary, Alberta will be designed differently than Atlanta, Georgia. Whatever form the TDG evolves to will be decided by the TDG members of those areas.

The Highest Tier

This is the ultimate decision-making authority of the TDG jurisdiction. It will devolve responsibilities to the lower tiers as it sees fit, making the TDG a unitary system of governance.

The members of the highest tier will have worked their way up by being effective at the lower levels and by earning the trust and respect of the representatives at these lower levels. There is no riding on the back of a temporarily popular political party to make into the highest tier.

As well, the members of the highest tier will see their position as one of service. Remember that they never asked for that position. Nor did they ferociously compete for it. They have earned it, based on their previous good service within their community and the TDG.

Comparing the TDG to the 12 Limitations

The TDG definitely has some new ideas about democracy. At this point, I challenge the reader to determine how the TDG, as explained so far, can address the 12 Limitations of Western Democracy.

The New Culture

Part of the new TDG culture has already been mentioned: voting is based on good character and capacity for governance and no electioneering. These cultural features will take time to develop and the early TDG builders will be responsible for teaching them to the members so that voting will become more effective at selecting the better people.

Another aspect of the TDG culture is making decisions with “consultation.”

While consultation has been so easily stated by people in many current leadership positions, the reality is that many of us have found our knowledge, wisdom, and experience not being utilized in many decision-making processes. Conversely, many of us have also — consciously or unconsciously — ignored or suppressed viewpoints that are a little contrary to our own. Clearly consultation is much more than a platitude.

To explain consultation, it may be helpful to explain what consultation is not. I have created a paradigm of decision-making processes that I have encountered in my life.

1. Power Based Decision Making

In a power decision-making process, one individual has the authority to decide and the subordinates are there to carry out the orders. Viewpoints that are contrary to the decision maker are not welcome. The decision maker has means to suppress contrary opinions.

2. Democratic Based Decision Making

In a democratic decision-making process, all members are free to speak — but no one is obligated to listen. Members with competing agendas use the formal and informal rules of democracy to get their way implemented. Often an idea moves forward not based on its merit, but how well its principal supporter works the democratic process to implement it.

3. Consultative Decision-Making

Consultation is combining the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of all participants into one mindset. It is like an adult moving into old age where he or she realizes that decisions made in youth were not very good. The reason is that the person did not have the knowledge, wisdom, and experience to make better decisions when he or she was 20 years old.

Consultation requires an acceptance that regardless of how much knowledge, wisdom, and experience we currently have, we could always use more. We get these extras by listening to other people. If they are listening to us, then we won’t have to live several lifetimes to expand our knowledge, wisdom, and experience to reach that level of understanding that is needed to make the effective decisions we really need to be making.

To briefly demonstrate consultation, if you are a person who enters a meeting with a certain agenda and leaves the meeting with the same agenda, you are probably operating with a power or democratic mindset. But if what other people say actually changes your mind, you are probably operating under a consultative mindset. You are ready to learn from other people — and your knowledge, wisdom, and experience can be combined with theirs.

Developing a culture of consultation is necessary for the TDG to work well. It will require TDG members to understand the difference between power, democracy, and consultation so that they can vote more wisely in TDG elections. Part of that good character and capacity for governance will be the ability to consult. Members with the better consultative skills should be moved up the TDG tiers.

The New Check-and-Balance

While the TDG will find great people to fill its elected bodies and give them the culture of consultation to make decisions, it still needs a check-and-balance. While the one-year term is important to ensure that people who shouldn’t be in government are not in government and the tiers keep not-so-effective people at the lower levels, perhaps the next most important check-and-balance is the TDG’s advisory board.