Is Hive Democracy an Improvement?

Finland and Iceland are experimenting with hive democracy (my term for crowdsourcing ideas for legislation). I suppose it’s fine as far as it goes. It seems like the practice gives people more ‘voice.’ But it doesn’t do that much for ‘exit.’ Consider these schemes…

Here’s a sliver of a piece on Finland‘s experiment:

This year, Finland has taken two huge steps to make crowdsourced laws a reality. First, its constitution last March was modified to allow every citizen proposal that collects a mere 50,000 signatures to get voted on by Parliament. In response, a non-profit group of Helsinki entrepreneurs started a website called Open Ministry to allow people of voting age to propose initiatives online. The website uses APIs from banks and mobile operators to confirm identities. Recently, the Finnish Parliament approved the platform after verifying that the electronic identification process is secure.

Here’s another on Iceland:

Two thirds of Icelanders have voted in favour of adopting a crowdsourced constitution to replace the country’s existing document.

The crowdsourced constitution arose as part of the country’s restructuring efforts in response to the political and economic repercussions of the financial crisis. It’s the result of 25 of the country’s citizens translating suggestions made through social media by their fellow Icelanders into a workable draft document delivered in July 2011.

We can sense an evolution happening, but the real pro-social changes are still missing. Digitally decentralizing the means of centralizing authority is not likely to help countries avert large-scale catastrophes, much less avoid illiberal policies. If these new social technologies helped divide these countries into even smaller self-governing jurisdictions (like the Swiss canton system) — or they helped people get away from territorial chauvinism altogether — then we’d really have an interesting advance. But again, adding ‘voice’ without greater opportunities to exit a system is just swarm statism.

The devil, I suppose, is in the details. It would be nice to use your iPad to get a pothole fixed. But I’m not wild about the idea of a digital hive fashioning a single-payer healthcare system for me and my family.

In any case, I doubt hive democracy in-and-of itself is going to be a massive improvement over the status quo. I get the feeling the Finland and Iceland experiments are largely what most of the “peer progressives” have in mind when they talk about political reform. (We’ll talk more about that in a separate column.) Real social progress will involve more voice and more exit.

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