Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Balance of Powers

With all of the talk in the past week about Government 2.0 and Democracy 2.0, Tech President has posted an interesting item called "The Three Branches of We.Gov," which thinks about possible configurations that direct democracy could take. Unfortunately, it is grounded on the Tim O'Reilly rhetoric and may be too directed by the idea that "government should open up its information holdings and processes as much as possible and invite citizens in to build useful services on top of that." I would tend to argue that rethinking the balance between representative and direct democracy invites a much more radical challenge to the status quo, although few are engaged with this kind of a fundamental shift in the practices of governance. The writer acknowledges that "commercial or nonprofit service applications" currently embraced by the Obama administration may be less important than the "social and civic engagement hubs that are yet to come," but what about voting, redistricting, and the other ways that the very practices of representational government might change with the availability of computer applications.

Writer Micah Siffry engages with the commonly held truism that "the Internet is mostly good for the campaigning process and not very good for the governing process," which was recently restated in a recent editorial in the New York Times on "Democracy 2.0," but he argues that the jury is still out as Internet-based grassroots efforts are developing on different timelines. Of course, it is interesting to note in retrospect that the Virtualpolitik book was proposed as a book about governance rather than campaigning, at a time when few titles covered the rhetorics of e-government rather than the virtual campaign trail, so I think that that dichotomy might still be telling. The writer also concedes that the recent healthcare debate shows that "organized minorities have almost always mattered more than disorganized majorities, and there’s no question the internet is making it much easier to forge a rapid-response 'micro-mass' of angry voters aimed at Congress than ever before."

Finally, the writer argues for the importance of "real-time transparency." Unfortunately, there are a number of technical and legal obstacles to the idea of transparency in the public record, as the next item on this blog shows.

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