Units of Democracy

What is currency? Wealth? Power? Currency is at the heart of our value system. When people say they admire businessmen or powerful and wealthy people, what aspect do they admire. The common denominator is wealth, but what is wealth? An accumulation of currency, whether “earned” or simply obtained. Either method of acquisition, if the methods can even be said to have any real difference, are acceptable. Admired or not, wealth equates to power. Surely, there are alternative sources of power, but wealth is one of the only methods of transferable power. I have X amount of power, and by performing a transaction with you, I can pass a portion of X (y) to you. From that point forward, you have (y) power, and I retain X-(y) for myself. Other forms of power are not transferable in this manner. Personal charisma can be taught, but not readily transferred, and in teaching this form of power, the first party is not diminished. Physical power cannot be transferred, although weapons and materiale can, which are fetishes for physical power (in other words, firearms, clubs or simply clenched fists are not power, but they are means of communicating to others that one has and is perhaps willing to use physical power).

Wealth is universally understood and accepted, except in rare cases where societies have either not developed sufficiently to have a universally acknowledged indicator of wealth (such as currency, gold, beads, livestock, land or whatever performs a similar function). Wealth, such as modern currencies may also not be accepted universally within some subcultures, which may trade on a kind of currency all their own (reputation, piety, charisma, physical appearance, likes, followers, retweets, acclaim, votes, etc).

Wealth, as expressed in currency, is also fungible, although this trait may not be necessary to function as an expression of power. This is the most esoteric aspect of currency power, but it is an important one, and contributes to the currency’s acceptability. Fungible currencies, or currencies in which one unit is equal to one unit, regardless of the unit’s individual traits, are more readily acceptable by those wishing to use them. You can be confident that 1 dollar is worth 1 dollar, regardless of how that dollar was earned, the condition of the paper it’s printed on, or even if it physically exists. One dollar contained within a Venmo account is the equivalent of one paper dollar in my wallet. What counts is the quantity, not the quality of the dollars, and this is a universally acknowledged reality for those trading in dollars.

So our democracy seems imperiled because the universal metric for power (currency) is always in conflict with another universal metric for power (the vote). The law (our constitution) does not guarantee explicitly the right to vote, nor does it guarantee explicitly the right to accumulate and utilize wealth. Due process and the law may be used to deprive people of both their vote, and their property. Since neither of these methods for transferring power are stipulated in our founding documents, our entire history has been torrid melodrama, a roiling brawl between these two competing ideas. Which should we accept as being more powerful: votes or dollars?

Capital supremacist ideology views currency as the ultimate medium of wealth and power (not necessarily the ONLY medium of wealth and power). In truth, this theory provides many benefits to society. It allows a very fluid transfer of power between buyers and sellers. It provides a widely accepted metric for prestige and class. It provides a baseline metric of success for everything from multinational corporations and municipal governments to individuals. It allows for the accumulation of power through any number of behaviors, activities and traits, or through not activities at all. In other words, one might accumulate wealth (and therefore power) through inheritance, through hard work, through investment or through the exercise of other traits (such as personality or physical characteristics).

However, relying on currency as the only universally accepted medium of power is also problematic. Those without currency, would be without a universally accepted or transferable means of expressing power. They are left to exercise power only within subcultures, or perhaps unacceptable forms of power such as physical power (perhaps fear and intimidation, or violence). Currency as a medium of power also corrupts government. If we hold true (and as Americans who value democracy and republican forms of government we should) that elections should be won based on votes, and that each person is granted one and only one vote, and that government should be run on the basis of popular sovereignty, and that the authority of the government should be derived from the popular support of those governed as measured by the quantity of votes (as opposed to quality), then currency has no place in government. In reality though, we see clearly that a person with more monetary wealth has more power than a person with no wealth, even though it is only right and just that they should be equal in power.

So for purposes of self-governance it seems that one vote, one unit of democracy, one voice should be the universally accepted, fungible and transferable unit of power. One quantum of the people’s will, one element of human affirmation should be the currency upon which all public business is done.

Yet we have no equivalent of the Federal Reserve, no cabinet level agencies to regulate and control these units of democracy, these discrete elements of will and democracy. And perhaps we should not be so eager. Perhaps it is not right for the conflicted and tempted officials within government to regulate the means by which we make and unmake them (similarly, the last people we should entrust the redrawing of district maps are those elected officials who benefit from the outcome, but that is an argument for another time).

Another significant difference between the democratic currency and the monetary currency is the question of supply. The monetary currency is theoretically infinite, you can always have more dollars, or what those dollars can buy can theoretically always increase or decrease. Units of democracy are finite in the sense that there are only so many people in existence at any given time, during any given vote. But in another sense the democratic currency is also infinite because even though there are a finite number of votes than can be cast in each election, there are a theoretically infinite number of elections (or queries) that can be held over time. The paucity of elections makes votes extremely valuable, but only during the times when this currency is accepted (during elections). On the other hand, dollars are valuable all the time, because transactions (which are functionally similar to political elections) can be initiated at will, and only two parties are necessary for the transaction to occur. One person can speak for many dollars.

So, to increase the primacy of the vote in our government, we must make 1 element of democracy, as powerful and as versatile as 1 dollar. First, we could unfetter and deregulate the democratic currency market, make these units transferable at will. In such a scenario, I could convey my power to someone other than those named on the ballot. I could convey my 1 unit to a friend or some other trusted person, who would then have 2 units. This is very similar to theories of delegative democracy. Perhaps I would be able to withdraw it from him at any time, or perhaps only during certain designated times.

Second, we could increase substantially the number of transactions executed using units of democracy. Instead of simply electing representatives every so often to geographic districts, we convey unto our chosen representatives our units of will, and in every question that comes up for consideration, the most units wins. It’s not pure direct democracy, but certainly a bounded and MORE direct form of democracy, and one that might assuage the fears of those who see mob rule lurking behind shrub.

The constitution guarantees to us a “republican” form of government. Despite James Madison’s novel interpretations to the contrary, the terms republic and democracy, are not mutually exclusive. The United States has a form of government that is both a constitutional republic and a democracy. One need only read the constitution and the declaration of independence for evidence of this. A delegative democratic government trading on units of democracy, would most certainly be republican in nature, in that the authority of the government would derive its power from the people, and the government would still indirectly (but more closely) represent the will of the people.

A significant change in the constitution would be required, but maybe not revolutionary change. A Senate could be maintained to represent the geographic concerns of each state, while the House of Representatives could be reforged to more readily respond to the ideological will of the people. Small states would still wield equal power in the Senate with large states, while populous states would have their will more readily expressed in the house. Regardless, such an exchange in units of democracy would largely make irrelevant the single-seat first-past-the-post system of geographic representation (except where a bicameral legislature is maintained to explicitly preserve an aspect of that system). A state like Oklahoma would be a perfect trial ground for such an experiment. It would be a new set of rules, but could only improve the fortunes of our state, which is languishing near the bottom of every roll of honor.

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