Archive for August, 2010

Consciousness and Democracy

August 27, 2010

Many philosophers believe that consciousness is an illusion
an idea of something that decides on everything and everyone.
I would say consciousness is very limited, but it is no illusion.


Our consciousness is an emergent property that can not be reduced to a lower level. Compare with a digital photograph consisting of one million pixels. If we enlarge the photo so that we can see the individual pixels, then we don’t see what the whole picture depicts.
Similarly, consciousness is a pattern in the brain as a whole.


Consciousness is the overall activity of billions of nerve cells that cooperate. The process is slow and can only handle small amounts of information, but it performs an important function: It can prevent us from doing bad things. Consciousness is like a referendum for nerve cells in the brain.

Our single minds are very limited. Fortunately, the brain knows it, so it rewards cooperation. Cooperation with other people starts the brain’s rewarding system, we thrive when we do things together.

A man can be an expert in something very distinct, but he cannot be an expert in the general area of decision-making. Democracy is based on the recognition that we make better decisions together than the best a man can make by himself.

Why a failure?

August 22, 2010

Archives seigneuriales, 1507, Archives de l'Etat de Neuchâtel verso de la bulle (AS-B6.16)

When I started blogging, I was very pessimistic about Demoex’s chances to go forward in the election on 19 September 2010, so I named the blog “a failure“.  The unexpected interest and support from the world outside Vallentuna has successively increased, so now I hope that we were just a little early on stage. Electronic direct democracy might end up as a success.

Two Invisible Hands

August 20, 2010

A famous theory in economics is “the Invisible Hand” by Adam Smith. Smith said that if people follow their own interests it leads to efficient use of society’s resources. Despite the “human comprehension is so limited” said Smith, the individual can serve other people’s needs well beyond the scope of his intellectual capacity.

The best for everyone is that individuals seek their own best, he reasoned, because the market is a dynamic system that strives for balance. Smith’s theory assumes that the free market creates a balance in resource allocation. It may be so, but it also seeks to expand. There are strong fluctuations in the global economy because the capital movements are self-reinforcing. The global market players have different strengths. When a strong player invests in a market the expectations rise and a lot of investors follow. A stock market crash is preceded by an unsustainable expansion. In a share bubble the factors that create balance – independence and diversity– are gone.

Adam Smith’s theory of the Invisible Hand does not count factors outside the economic system. The theory excludes natural resources like wild animals and plants. I think we should assume that they also want a place to live, eat and reproduce. They cannot express their interest in the market, because they have no money to shop for.  Evolution has favored animals and plants that specialize in different things. Different species will find different niches in nature, which means that they do not compete for the same resources. If you can talk about the Invisible Hand’s principle in Biology, it has led to diversity and richness of species.

We are also a kind of animal, but we are not specialized in the same way. We compete with almost all other species and we spread ourselves at their expense. The Invisible Hand in the economy has changed the balance in the ecosystem by single-mindedly focusing on human expansion and growth.


Dynamical systems strive for equilibrium. Equilibrium means that the system’s elements are in balance and that no part dominates too much over the others. But the expansive financial forces are now stronger than the political forces that should decide the rules of the market.

A market needs ground rules. We must distinguish between making the rules and following the rules. Making rules is a matter of policy, playing by the rules is a task for the market. We need a clear division of roles between policy and market, between the creating of rules and playing by them.

In collective decision-making, we could also adopt Adam Smith´s principle. It would be interesting to see what the invisible hand’s principle could achieve in politics. Today we have much more influence as consumers than as citizens. The individual take economical decisions every day, but political decisions only on Election days.

If another “Invisible Hand” shows up in politics, we would have two invisible hands: One hand that creates rules and another that plays – one hand that takes and one that gives. I assume it would lead to a better balance.

Trying to think Independently

August 19, 2010

Marrakesh market (3456497977)

Why do we think independently? As the world looks like now we have nothing to win from it. Adjustment is the zeitgeist. We have to adjust ourselves to the huge World Economy. The free market moves things to the right place for the right price. Everyone can benefit from market adjustment, so why think independently?

Although the market in some respects is fantastic, it does not solve all needs. At the market, we are free to choose, but maybe we want to do something more important in life than just buy or sell things. What do we do then? Thinking about it is difficult because we drown in marketing information that suppresses our freedom of thought. If we want something that isn’t for sale we need to think independently.

Politics is about decision-making. After the Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, it is clear that our global political system has almost no control. The World Economy rules despite that no one affects more than a fraction of the free market. How can it work so much better than politics? What does the free market system have that the political system lacks?

The market distributes information through consumer choice, and we are free to choose. Every time we buy something, it can be considered a small vote. All voting together gives the market the information it needs to adjust. The free market is decentralized. People’s limited sets of information overlap sufficiently to transfer data to those who need it.

The political system differs from the free market, due to the ambition to direct and control. Competing in politics differs from competing in the market. In market competition, all actors are involved in decentralized decision-making. In political competition, only the winner is involved in centralized decision-making. It can be compared with a controlled market system.

Two failures

August 18, 2010

I am actually concerned about two failures, in the foundation due to the same thing. First, society’s great failure to reverse environmental degradation, which was evident during the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. Second, a small experiment in democracy failed Vallentuna, a regular municipality in Sweden. Both of these failures are due to hierarchies. Hierarchies mean that power is concentrated on a few people and none of them serves to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of the whole.

The solution is cooperation. Unfortunately, it is difficult to work within the existing political system, because those in power see it as their task to get their own way. The desire to take control makes the politicians work against each other. Ever since man began to cultivate the land there have been competitive hierarchies among individuals, groups, parties, nations, and unions, instead of cooperation. Competition between ideas is important for society, but the hierarchical system harms this competition because people discourage the free flow of information in order to defend their own interests.


What is the least we can do to change the political system to reward cooperation? It is important that the change is as small as possible because it is extremely difficult to change the hierarchy. It is almost impossible to change a stable and functioning society because change creates insecurity. So my question is: What is the smallest change we would need to do to create better political systems around the world? And my view is that it can be done by creating “Trojan horses” to invade the system of direct democracy and let the citizens in decision-making. If we do that at all political levels, we will get a free political market that can balance the free economic market.

Democracy Tourism

August 14, 2010

Vallentuna is not a great tourist destination, but suddenly I stood at the train station and received a democracy tourist! Erdem Ovacik is from Turkey, he is deeply engaged in rational decision-making, and he came to learn more about Demoex, our democracy experiment.


After a day in Vallentuna he had done the analysis: You have great potential, if you will only get a thousand participants you will automatically be taken seriously in politics. He made an inspiring blog post about it.

An interesting way to increase participation as Erdem suggested is to use an information market. It would be no problem for us to reward those who are active by allowing them access to the premium lot. Prices need not be so large, it is enough that it pays to be active. After the elections of 19 September, it is time to change rules and start to get more users – provided that Demoex still remains in the local parliament.

Combat the Iron Law

August 10, 2010

The Iron Law of Oligarchy is a political theory developed in 1911 by Robert Michels. Oligarchy means that power is concentrated in a few people and Michels’ theory says that any organization – even democratic – is developing in this direction. The theory can be summarized that an organization requires a great organization, which means that many decisions are to be made every day, and because decisions cannot be made effective by many, so the power will be concentrated in a few individuals at the top of the hierarchy.

Oligarchies arise because democratic decision-making is difficult and time-consuming. “The most formidable argument against the sovereignty of the masses is (…) derived from the mechanical and technical impossibility of its realization”, said Michels. Meetings are the traditional form of communication to make decisions in an organization. A physical meeting works best if all the participants can see and hear each other without problems. It limits the size of the group. Between 5-11 people is an appropriate number of delegates. Not by coincidence, the decision-making groups tend to be just as many. Our laws and regulations are written for a society where decisions are made in physical meetings, which is one of the main reasons why the oligarchies take form.


If the meeting is the most appropriate forum for decision-making, don’t we have to accept the emergence of oligarchies? Rather efficient and state-controlled organizations in the community than democratic and inefficient most seems to mean. But a physical meeting is perhaps not the best way to decide. American journalist James Surowiecki lists in the book The Wisdom of Crowds some characteristics that a group should have to make wise decisions: Participants should preferably be different from each other, they should think independently and the decisions must be important to them. Physical meetings may counteract these properties and instead lead to the emergence of groupthink. We tend to imitate each other if we meet frequently. We wear similar clothes, sit in the same way, use the same words, and what is worse: We also think and act the same way. This leads to the neglect of counter-arguments and thus taking bad decisions. Groupthink makes the Iron Law of Oligarchy into something more serious than just a problem of democracy.

But also for democratic reasons we should combat oligarchies in the political system. Technological developments have made it possible for people to debate and vote together without meeting. ICT (Information and Communication Technology) allows for broader cooperation with more participants. Decisions no longer need to be taken solely on physical meetings. We can develop democratic cooperation with the aid of ICT that could supplement the system of representative democracy and lead to better decision-making. Policy decisions could be decentralized to a greater extent. The information needed to make a good decision is often held by the people affected by the decision. Decentralization means that the decision should be taken by those affected. If citizens can participate and decide on matters of fact, their interests will determine what they engage in.

The free market works in many respects better than politics. The market has spontaneous communication that the political system lacks. Every time we buy something, it is comparable to a small vote. All small voting together provides market information needed for players to adjust to each other. This information affects both production and price formation. All players on the market contribute, but no one controls the whole. Decentralization is the market’s strength, the ability to organize itself into a system that is not centrally managed. People’s limited information fields overlap sufficiently to allow data to reach those in need.

Switzerland has a political system where institutions for direct and representative democracy interact. Recent studies show that the system leads to more efficient management, a lower tax rate, and fewer evaders because of better mutual trust. But even the Swiss democratic system has flaws. In a referendum last year, the Swiss voted to ban minarets, although five percent of the inhabitants are Muslims. The result is likely due to only 12 percent of Muslims in the country being Swiss nationals and the remaining 88 percent had no right to vote.

The Swiss Minaret Ban underlines how important it is that every citizen can participate in the democratic process. It also demonstrates the importance of decentralization – that political decisions should primarily be taken by those most affected. The Iron Law of Oligarchy explains why direct democracy has been practically impossible for organizational reasons, but it is possible that the problem can be solved by using ICT. Let’s try!