When direct democracy is proposed there are two questions that invariably come up: can we trust the people to make the right decisions and will the decisions made only reflect the self interest of those voting?
There is a growing body of research that shows that we can trust people to make the right decisions, however, this is because we are referring to the 'collective' decisions produced by a large and diverse group of citizens. Research shows that groups can make remarkably good choices. Indeed, the decisions groups make often tend to be better than the decisions of so called 'experts.'
In the excellent book 'The Wisdom of the Crowds' by James Surowieki, it is shown that groups need to possess three key criteria in order to come up with the best decisions: diversity, independence, and a particular kind of decentralization. If groups possess these three criteria, then they will make the best choices when faced with political problems.
This goes against the prevailing belief in society that some people are more qualified than others to make policy decisions. However, there is a growing literature that suggests the decisions of these experts is, often, no better than that of the general public. For example, Wharton professor of business J. Scott Armstrong has conducted numerous studies on the performance of experts in a variety of fields only to conclude that he could find 'no...important advantage for expertise.' What research shows is that the right types of groups – and this includes having experts within those groups – are quite simply better at making the right decisions to various problems.
There is a general assumption in society that people act selfishly. However, recent studies in a range of different disciplines show that the majority of people do not act selfishly.
Research shows that about one quarter of the population will normally behave selfishly, but most of us will try and behave in an unselfish way. A problem arises when the majority of us perceive that the selfish are getting the upper hand, and we then tend to give up the fight a little, allow our own standards to drop and a slow downward spiral begins. Some would suggest that the low standards of behaviour and greed we sometimes see in business, politics and the media contribute greatly to downward pressures on standards.
The reverse is also true. If we see high standards being set, and respected, valued and attained, they become something we aspire to. We raise our personal standards and the downward spiral reverses, standards rise, and what is encouraging is that this rise is in standards effects the behaviour of those who tend to act selfishly. It is one thing to act selfishly, it is quite another to be seen to act selfishly in a world where high standards are expected. Peer pressure forces people with that tendency to revise their own standards and conform to the behaviour of those around them.
One of the most important aspects of direct democracy is the power that it gives to the 'silent majority'. We would argue that we are not a 'silent majority', we are a 'silenced majority'. The political system we have does not allow us a real say in how our country develops. Our political system has always been vulnerable to domination and undue influence by special interest groups and in the past this has caused immense damage to our country. We need to break away from that and allow the people of Wales to decide how our country is run. If we are to solve the problems we face we have to change the way politics works, we have to have a political system that reflects the concerns and values of the people of Wales. A political party plans for the next Prime Ministers question time, the next vote, the next by-election, the next general election. It is true that we spend a lot of our time planning what we are going to do at the weekend, but we also think about twenty five year mortgages, pension schemes, our children's and grand children's future, and it is that sort of thinking we need to integrate into our political system.