As far as most historians are concerned, democracy, meaning rule of the people or people-power first appeared in Athens, Greece around 508 BC. Apparently, Athenian men decided that only the adult male citizens who owned land should be the ones to make the decisions for all of society. In terms of people being able to participate directly in the decision-making processes of society, this limited form of democracy was a step in the direction of pure or one-hundred percent democracy. However, because it only permitted eligible adult male citizens to participate, it was not actually a democracy of (all) the people of Athens, but a democracy of only eligible adult male citizens of Athens. Fast forward from the days of ancient Greece to modern-day democracy and you will find that, people now have even less opportunity to participate in democratic-systems than they did back then. Fortunately, with modern technology and a new understanding of democracy, we now have the opportunity to redesign democracy to its full potential, wherein all of the people have the opportunity to participate equally in the decisions-making processes of society.
Which Form of Democracy would you most Care to Participate in?
Imagine that you lived in a community of 100-people enclosed in an environment (like earth, but much smaller) with the most modern information communications technologies and enough resources to sustain all of you forever as long as you all cooperated to manage all of the resources wisely. How would you choose to participate in such a community; or more specifically, how would you as one of the 100% care to relate to the other 99% and how would you care to have them relate to you? Would you choose (A) to participate in a hierarchical-based system wherein one or a few live like kings and queens in control of most of the resources, making all of the most important decisions and all of the most important rules while the rest of the community spend their lives competing against one another to survive? Alternatively, would you choose (B) an equality based system wherein each member of the community is afforded an equal opportunity to participate in all of the decision making processes – within as many or as few as each one cared to participate? Take some time to think this about question and perhaps discuss it with your friends and classmates. Then, make your decisions as though your future and future of humanity depend on what you decide.
The Choices we make as Individuals define our Nations
If you chose (A) the hierarchical-based system wherein a few live like kings and queens in control of most of the resources, making all of the most important decisions and all of the most important rules while the rest of the community spend their lives competing against one another to survive, congratulations you are in luck. Because, on a much larger scale, you are just where you care to be in terms of modern-day democracy in the community of humanity in an environment called the biosphere on the planet called earth. However, if you chose (B) an equality based system wherein each member of the community is afforded an equal opportunity to participate in all of the decision making processes (within as many or as few as each one cares to participate), unfortunately, you are not so lucky, but that does not mean you have to accept the status quo.
The problem with today’s democracies is that, they do not provide all of the people with an opportunity to participate equally in the decision-making processes of society. Take for example representative democracy, wherein an extremely small minority of the population, usually of the wealthy class, make the rules and the laws for all of society. They decide which history books we study in school, how long we have to stay in school, when to go to war, who is allowed to travel and so on down to which chemicals are allowed in our food. Perhaps, in the days of horse travel and printed news, this form of democracy made sense; because people did not have the technology to access information and it was not possible to include all of the people's voices in all of the decision-making processes. Nowadays, however, we have the technology, which gives us the ability to provide all of the people with the opportunity to participate equally in the decision-making processes of our democracies. Question: Why, in today’s democracies, are the minority, the one-percent still making most of the important decisions for the majority of society?
A measure of Democracy as a measure of Equality
When it comes to the system of democracy, what really matters is the quality of the system, i.e., the degree to which it provides each member of the collective with the opportunity to participate equally in the decision-making processes of the group. Thus, we can say that, democracy is simply a collective expression of equality, wherein “equality” refers to the degree by which all members have the opportunity to participate equally in the decision-making processes of the collective. This does not mean all members are going to participate equally or that they are even able to participate equally. It means simply that, the degree to which a democracy functions at its potential is equal to the degree by which each member of the collective has the opportunity to participate equally in the decisions-making processes of the collective. Therefore, when it comes to measuring the quality of our democracies, the first question to ask is, how equal is each person’s opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes of the democracy.
What aspect of day-to-day living do you think limits the extent of people’s opportunity to participate equally in the democratic system? If you guessed money, then you guessed correctly. Why money? Because, like it or not, the money-system dominates and therefore defines all other systems such as the education system, legal system, transportation system, military system, government system and so on within humanity. Therefore, even though many believe that, our democratic systems of government are designed to be fair and give everyone an equal say, the reality is that, no system of government (as of yet) supersedes or overrules the power and control of money.
Grading our Democracies
Let us say there is a collective of one-hundred people, wherein ninety of them have equal opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes, while the other ten people (for whatever reason) have no opportunity to participate at all. Since ninety-percent of the people in that collective have equal opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes, we would give their democracy a grade of ninety-percent because it is functioning at ninety-percent of its potential. Obliviously, it would be very difficult to quantify every-single factor that determines and/or limits how much opportunity each person has to participate in the democratic process. However, it is very easy to quantify the extent of a person’s ability to participate in the democratic process, based on how much participation he or she can afford. For example, imagine there are two identical twins of the same physical strength and the same IQ who both want to participate in the democracy of their nation. One of them has millions of dollars to play with, while the other one has to work ten hours a day, six days a week just to pay the bills to support his or her family. Which one do you think is going to have more opportunity to participate in deciding the direction of the nation?
As the wealth of an individual is clearly the greatest factor that determines and/or limits his or her opportunity to participate in democracy, we can therefore, use the distribution of wealth (within a nation) to grade that nation’s democracy. The more a nation’s wealth/money is distributed equally, the higher or better its democracy will function, because people’s opportunities will be more equally aligned. Question: Which nation’s democracy would you give a higher grade, the one with more wealth inequality or the one with less wealth inequality?
Solutions for low functioning Democracies
In modern-day democracies, less than 1% of the people participate in the actual decision-making processes on a regular basis. This means that, if we were to assign a grade to the representative democracy of the USA, we would give it a failing grade of less than 1%. Just because we believe that our democracies represent most of the people does not mean that they do. Modern-day democracies are not of the people by the people. Instead, they are democracies of (less than) 1% by (less than) 1% enforced onto the other 99%. The inequality between those who have the most opportunity and those who have the least is directly related to the distribution of wealth – the money that determines or limits how much time and opportunity people have to participate in the decision-making processes of society. Therefore, the key to increasing participation in our democracies is to decrease wealth-inequality within societies. Does this mean that the wealth of nations should be redistributed more equally to all of the people? Perhaps, but this would require designing and implementing a new economic system. One such proposal worth investigating is the Living Income Guaranteed by the Equal Life Foundation.
In Conclusion: The problems of humanity are not going to be solved by themselves. If we, the 99% care to improve the quality of our democracies, we must work together peacefully from the ground up to build a new foundation based on the principle of equality in consideration of what is best for all.