by Mike Gravel (U.S. Senate, 1969-81)
As a twenty-three year old Second Lieutenant, my first assignment in the Army was as a top-secret control officer for the Communications Intelligence Service in Germany, capable of classifying and declassifying government documents.
The popular Union General George McClellan, who as the Democratic candidate promised to end the Civil War by negotiating with the Confederacy, lost to Abraham Lincoln in 1864 because of the Union’s military successes in the field. Lincoln wanted to persist in fighting to total victory. The presidential election of 2012 may see a reversal of roles: a popular general could make a campaign issue of the winning the Afghan War, while an apparently timid President grapples with his promise to begin drawing down the troops by August 2011.
We live in the best of times and the worst of times.
In the last century we have seen progress that has matched all the progress made since the beginning of civilization. Science has opened vistas of unimagined possibilities. The human life span has doubled, and researchers now know more about the causes and treatments of many diseases than ever before. Expanding knowledge of the brain promises enhanced productivity during our senior years.
Advances in agriculture now guarantee the planet’s ability to adequately feed its inhabitants. Transportation and communications surpass the speed of sound. What took years of dangerous travel is now accomplished safely in hours and in seconds by holograms. We stand on the brink of addressing the age-old problem of human beings communicating with others through the conquest of time and language. Man travels in space and explores the galaxies. Our future is unlimited.
Yet, we face the worst of times. Science has now opened up to man the secrets of his own self destruction. The last century ushered in the atomic era, equipping the elements of society with the ability to destroy life on our planet in a single burst of insanity. Science and the economic growth it engenders have set the earth on a trajectory of its own destructive pollution. Any reversal will take greater governance skills than society has thus far demonstrated
A Brief History
Civil society advanced somewhat with the structure of nation-states in Europe at the end of the Thirty Years War. The next great advance in political governance occurred at the end of the Age of Enlightenment when the power of government was deemed to emanate from the sovereignty of the people and not the divine right of kings. This new wisdom pushed nation-states to establish representative governments. The structure of representative government transfers the sovereign legislative, executive and judicial powers of the people to representatives and government officials who exercise these powers on a day to day basis. Conveniently elites designed representative government to perpetuate their control of the economy and the polity.
Representative governments––what we call democracies––have become the typical form of governance the world over, except where left-over tyrannies still exist. Representative government has had success when nation-states have been lucky enough to have visionary leaders. But society cannot afford to rely on luck. The insanity of two world wars begs the question and the obvious need for global governance. The naïve intellectual concessions to a global government in creating the League of Nations at the end of the First World War was no match for the selfish realpolitik of the nation-state democracies who controlled world affairs between the world wars. After all, representative government as we experience it seems only to perpetuate the power and interests of elites––the rule of the many by the few.
The selfish greed of the leaders of the representative democracies vying to gain control the colonies of the vanquished and enrich themselves with reparations set the stage for the Second World War. A refurbished League, the United Nations, established primarily at the behest of President Roosevelt, the principle of national self-determination for colonial populations thereby greatly multiplying the number of nation-state members in the United Nations without advancing one iota the democratic design of these countries. Again the work of the elites.
Our Economic System
Our political and economic systems are inextricably intertwined; a discussion of the one necessitates discussing the other. Science gave birth to the industrial revolution and saw its growth in the watershed political awakening of the West. The economic systems of modern times, mercantilism and capitalism, were born of the industrial revolution that paralleled the growth of representative government. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776 condemned the excesses of mercantilism, the use of government power to advance private interests. This is essentially, what capitalism does today when it uses campaign contributions––a form of legal bribery––to influence elections that in turn cause government decisions to benefit special interests.
Socialism and communism were the theoretical response to the cruelty of unbridled capitalism. The tyranny of these two systems, far more oppressive than the original problem, guaranteed their failure. Additionally they lacked the built-in force for efficiency incited by competition and greed. Free market capitalism, the last economic system left standing, is compromised by mercantile influences on representative government to guarantee that the ownership of capital stays where it belongs in capitalism––with the elites.
The construct of capitalism requires that the profits of capital pay for the cost capital. If that construct is not realized, capital is not created. The societal question that then arises is: who owns the capital after it is paid for by its profits? The answer to that question determines the socioeconomic order of society or who is enriched by the ownership of capital. Who owns the capital goods after its profits have paid for them has always been a determination made by the government forces that controlled the polity. The elites and their minions be they monarchs, popes or tyrants exercised control throughout history.
With the advent of representative government, it became the mercantile and capitalist barons of industry, who in funding the careers of those who occupied the elected offices of government, thereafter determined who would own the capital (the means of production) after it was paid for by its profits. The government design of corporate industrial, financial and banking institutions established rules to guarantee that the initial owners of capital and its continued ownership would be dictated by and remain with the elites. These rules under our system of capitalism are what guarantee the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. Even with the success of an advancing society and the gains that have benefited all in the last century, still the disparity between the rich and poor continues to grow as does the injustice and the violence it breeds.
An Illustrative Example
Permit me to present an example of an alternative approach in determining the ownership of capital to clarify the discussion above. Remember the construct: the profits of capital must pay for the cost of capital. This example is applicable almost anywhere on earth and under any government. Its effects would reverse the trend of the existing capitalist economic system.
In South Korea and in America like most areas of the world wind is found in abundance. Rather than continue foreign oil dependency or continue bailing out banks and corporations that have abused their responsibilities, the government could set up a wind turbine loan program. The program would permit government to loan seven billion won or five million dollars interest-free to individuals to permit them to purchase and install wind turbines. These loans could be channeled through banks, who could only charge a service fee, to land owners who brings into an ownership arrangement of the wind turbine four landless individuals with modest net worths.
A law accompanying the wind turbine loan program would require that the local utility buy the electricity generated by the turbines at avoided costs. Two thirds of the income from the sale of electricity to the utility would be used to repay the government loan, thereby immediately mitigating any inflationary effects of the program. The other third of the income would be equally distributed to the owners of the wind turbine. The owners would not be able to sell or in any way encumber their interest in the turbine until the government loan is paid off, after which time it is their capital free and clear, and they can do with it as they please. The turbine’s electricity can also be used to produce hydrogen and stimulate a new fuel for Korea’s renowned automotive industry.
This example demonstrates how the power of government can be used to advantage the interest of the many rather than just the few as we customarily see under the present monopoly of representative government. Imagine how citizens acting as lawmakers could legislate such programs with the empowerment of the National Initiative I suggest below.
A treatment of capitalism would not be complete without understanding the role of organized labor in the construct of capital, the historic role the labor movement has played in societal governance and how labor’s leadership continues to stifle true empowerment of the laboring class.
Labor, resources and profits are the three elements of capital. When labor’s cost, whether operating on or organizing resources, is rewarded by the ownership of capital, we call it entrepreneurship. When labor is not included in ownership and is paid for like the cost of resources we consider it wages.
The history of labor, rather than pressing for the ownership of capital, has concentrated on increasing the amount paid for wages as a percentage of the total cost of capital, placing labor in competition with resources and profits. This competition has been violent and generated great social conflict. The force of government laws was used to organize resources into cartels easily controlled by corporate elites. Labor organized into associations of crafts and unions with the goal of increasing wages and improving working conditions.
Labor leaders sought political power through the organization of their voting majorities in elections. With electoral successes, labor refined its goals to include pensions and healthcare plans. Never, did labor leaders ever mount a serious campaign to secure capital ownership for working people. I know first hand since I tried while I was in government to convince the labor leaders that the only secure future for the laboring man was in capital ownership.
Labor leaders are focused on power: the power of dues paying members and the power in controlling the investments of pension and healthcare funds. Corporate elites accommodated the growth of these funds since it abetted labor strife, and more importantly denied the laboring class the leadership to assault the capital ownership monopoly managed by Wall Street.
Tying people’s economic wellbeing to wages has been a socioeconomic tragedy. In times of economic down turns wages became non existent. Of course, government programs, effectively lobbied for by the labor movement and liberals, provide a modest temporary safety net for the unemployed. The cost of this safety net is funded by taxes essentially paid for by wage earners.
The above is a simple analysis of a slice of the ever more complex global meltdown brought to us by the ruling elites and managed by their acolytes in government’s officialdom. To expect a viable solution from these same agents “of the people” in a representative government is less than naïve.
The structure of representative government maintains citizens in civic adolescence by denying them the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions. Citizens are unable to take responsibility for the results of their actions by being denied the right to vote directly on public policy issues.
Civic adolescence can be overcome the same way we overcome adolescence in our children by carefully giving them more and more responsibility as they grow and gain experience thereby preparing them to become mature adults. Because policy decisions in government are only made by our representatives, the present structure of representative government denies citizens the opportunity to take responsibility for public policies that affect their lives, gain experience and mature to civic adulthood. Over time civic adolescence erodes the faith people must have in their own sovereignty if democracy is to remain vibrant and strong.
The greatest damage to the polity by representative government is the civic adolescence it engenders in its constituents. The greatest good that can come from direct democracy is the civic maturity it will engender in people. The civic maturity citizens acquire in taking responsibility for their own self-governance, not only inures to the benefit of the polity, it also adds maturity to individual citizens in their personal, family, institutional and spiritual lives.
The Phenomena of Continuous Failure
Look around the world! No objective observer can judge that our system of representative government, designed two hundred fifty years ago and essentially unaltered since, is a match for our 21st Century scientific and technological demands. Representative government, even where it is fairly implemented, is an archaic system of an era long gone. Nevertheless, it continues to benefit the existing elites and in their myopic greed, they use their power to maintain it, even though ultimately it is not in their best long-term interests, being significant members of society.
The obvious failure of representative government is all around us. The real phenomena is that people fail to do anything about it. We continue to hope and believe that new political leaders and their promises will see wrongs righted and change come about. A French expression says it all: the more it changes, the more it remains the same. There is no question that society does advance, but is it more the result of individual genius and human enterprise than the archaic structure of representative government. Advances in the polity have come from the bottom up with grassroots movements forcing upon elites and governments changes like woman’s suffrage, civil service and many others that would never have been realized.
For the human race the issue is one of timing. Can representative government control the destructive malevolent powers holding weapons of mass destruction or the polluting economic forces unleashed by science and technology in the 21st Century, or will time run out before an alternate form of nation-state and global governance come into being? The authoritative Bulletin of Atomic Scientists titles its editorial columns 5 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT with good reason.
In the face of the obvious––so many failures in government––why is change so difficult to bring about in our democracies? The answer lies in understanding the three options that change offers to the elites who control society. Things can improve; they can stay the same; or they can get worse. Elites are obviously well off and therefore have no incentive to choose change. Of course that is not the case for those who are not well off. The key problem is that those who are prepared to risk change do not control the levers of government, and are thus unable to enact change. The elites not only control and influence government office holders they also control the military, corporate society and the avenues of communication. The culture is manipulated to condition the people to accept the status quo and to hope that election after election will bring change. In the meantime the worst happens: citizens become cynics and consciously or subconsciously lose faith in government and ultimately in democracy. They just don’t care anymore. Family, career and entertainment command their attention; civic responsibility is lost. A condition that suits the elites who control representative government just fine.
Is Change Possible?
Yes! If we are lucky. I do not know if the planet is beyond the tipping point. Nevertheless, we owe it to ourselves to update our system of governance to match the demands of science and technology in the 21st Century. Where will change in human governance come from? From within the polity. There are only two possible venues for change: the government or the people. Obviously, elites control government and are averse to change; besides government is where the problem exists. Therefore, the only possible venue for change is the people.
The thirteen American colonies enjoyed varying degrees of direct (town meetings) and representative democracy within an English empire refining its system of home-grown democratic representative government. It was colonial elites that instigated the revolution from England that fortunately for them was democratized to include the people by the writings of Thomas Paine.
These same elites formalized their republic with a written constitution in 1787 establishing a federal system to overcome individual state sovereignties. The American Constitution has been extensively copied, even though it failed to keep the vision of freedom and equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence eleven years earlier. It has been copied the world over because in reality it accommodated the elites of society in organizing their polities.
The next significant advance in human governance took place in Switzerland in 1848 at the close of a three year civil war, when in copying the American Constitution the Swiss brought their citizens into the operations of government as lawmakers in a partnership with their elected officials. No less a socio political luminary Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the Swiss experiment would fail because of its diverse languages, cultures, and religions. He was contradicted by time. Nevertheless, this Swiss structure of melding together the people and their representatives in government did maintain the peace for half a century before they actually began making laws.
People in Switzerland inaugurated the unusual phenomena, during the generation that straddled the 19th and 20th Centuries, where people in the United States and in Uruguay joined with the Swiss in making laws by initiative. The majority of citizens in these three constituencies began drafting and enacting public policies into law. And so began the great advance in human governance of the last century. Even though we only have one federal model, Switzerland, we do have hundreds of models at state and local levels of government providing citizens legislative experience for more than 100 years.
The Way Forward
Only recently has Switzerland overcome its insular shyness to realize that its government structure of direct and representative democracy is the most unique and successful system of national government in the world. As a result of this new awareness it now supports conferences on direct democracy and the Swiss community of Aarau subsidizes the Initiative and Referendum Institute of Europe in promoting direct democracy. The design of the Swiss initiative process though somewhat lengthy in processing issues is embedded in the political culture of its Cantons and obviously works very well for Switzerland. However, as a working model for other countries the Swiss design does not seem suitable in that the process is drawn out and seems incapable of responding quickly to 21st Century demands. After all, it was designed 160 years ago and evolved in a rural environment whereas most societies today are urban.
The Swiss process has a more serious impediment; it does not operate independent of representative government. The American initiative experience at the state and local levels of government confirms that representatives continually attempt to change the process to weaken the ability of citizens to legislate by initiative. Recent history in Switzerland does not seem to indicate that they have this problem. Nevertheless, to avoid a systemic threat, the design of a direct democracy legislative body must be totally independent of representative government, if the sovereign power of the people is to remain superior to that of the government and its representatives. In a legislative partnership of the people and their representatives, the people are the senior partners. This dilution of representative government’s power is why there is such opposition by the elites and those they control to the expansion of direct democracy.
Additionally, none of the existing operating models of direct democracy provide deliberative legislative procedures, a vital aspect of lawmaking and something that exists in all representative legislative bodies . The absence of procedures precludes the ability to capitalize on modern communications technology to facilitate the deliberative participation of citizens.
My long time interest in direct democracy has led me to analyze existing legislative practices, to compare procedures from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and to review studies with the goal of improving the direct democracy procedural system of legislating by initiative. The State of California has produced excellent studies but unfortunately none have been able to get beyond the overarching control of elites to become law. My work has led me to design an initiative process that establishes a constitutional basis for people to exercise initiative lawmaking at the federal level with a constitutional amendment that is enacted directly by the people without the normal participation of representative government. The amendment’s authority extends the people’s lawmaking power to every government jurisdiction of the federal government’s domain. The amendment is accompanied by a federal statute establishing legislative procedures so that citizens can deliberatively exercise their legislative responsibilities. It also establishes and defines the duties of a Trust, an agency to administer the people’s legislative procedures on their behalf.
In the United States the task of securing the roughly 60 million votes to enact the National Initiative seemed insurmountable. I therefore decided to run for president in the 2008 election in an effort to use the celebrity nature of my candidacy to bring attention to the National Initiative. It had the desired impact. In one day the National Initiative received more media attention than it had in the prior decade. Even so, the expenditure of hundreds of millions of campaign funds shifted the focus of my modestly funded message of empowering people to that of empowering a single politician, Barack Obama, who offered change within the comfortable and easily understood context of representative government. The identity politics of his election mesmerized the nation and to some degree the world with hope. The likelihood of stirring the American citizenry to enact the National Initiative seemed remote for the immediate future, as long as the Obama administration continues to offer such optimism.
A New Venue
During the month of June 2008 an event on the other side of the world caught my attention. Thousands of people took to the streets in candle-light protests against the South Korean government’s decision to approve the importation of American beef, which the people feared was contaminated by the mad cow disease. I sensed that the protest was a spontaneous outpouring of the people’s sovereign power, a form of political anger over the paternalistic arrogance of representative government. At the time it suggested the possibility of a new venue for the enactment of the National Initiative. However, I had no contacts in South Korea with whom to pursue the idea.
In October I attended a conference in Aarau, Switzerland sponsored by the Initiative and Referendum Institute of Europe. There, I met Professor Lee, Jung-Ok, who is Managing Director of the International Cooperation Department of the Korea Democracy Foundation. We had occasion to discuss at length the National Initiative process that I had developed for enactment in the United States. I pointed out that it could be made readily applicable to South Korea. She became convinced of that possibility and was able to secure an invitation from the Korea Democracy Foundation for me to visit Seoul in December 2008. My week long stay in South Korea, the research I did in preparation for the trip and the research subsequent to the trip now convinces me that South Korea is the likeliest venue in the world to bring about the enactment of a National Initiative model.
The Likeliest Venue
The central power of government is lawmaking. Citizens give that legislative power to politicians on election day under the present structure of representative government. Until they also reserve legislative power unto themselves, they will never be sovereign in their political constituencies or the masters of their society. Understanding this simple construct of political power is the key to political change.
The people of South Korea are the most likely community to understand this concept and act upon it, because they are politically disposed to question government authority. Altering policies by making laws directly is a natural and logical extension of the cruder process of forcing representatives to alter laws by street protests. This observation is not made lightly or for the purpose of flattering the Korean people. My remark is based on a judgment shaped by a long political life active in partisan affairs, holding party and state elective offices and the experience of serving a dozen years in the Senate, and running for the presidency of the United States. Years upon years of studying the failures of representative government first hand and theorizing various possible solutions and repeatedly attempting those solutions in the face of repeated failure has honed in me an acute judgment of what ingredients are needed in any constituency to bring about the enactment of the National Initiative.
Korean commitment to democracy is still fresh and vibrant. We see this in the candle-light protests where people are unafraid to disturb their daily lives to express strongly-held political views on policy issues and put themselves at risk to question authority. The freshness of their democracy and its revolutionary spirit stems from the fact that their constitutional experience is recent, dating from 1948. It took six constitutional revisions punctuated by violent protests against tyrants and the shedding of blood to secure the freedom they have. The final 1988 constitutional revision ushered in a representative democracy to be envied. Yet, realization of the people’s full sovereignty remains unfulfilled. That fact is repeatedly demonstrated by these spontaneous, peaceful protests, Korean citizens cry out for full legal empowerment––the ability to vote as real sovereigns directly on the policy issues that affect their lives––to vote as legislatively empowered lawmakers.
Korea is uniquely qualified for this global leadership role. It would certainly be a great surprise to both Americans and Koreans to know that the Republic of Korea’s Constitution is far superior to that of the American Constitution as an instrument of true democracy. The American Constitution has been amended twenty seven times and not once have these amendments been ratified by the people. Amendments to the Korean Constitution, on the other hand can be ratified only by the people.
The Korean Constitution in its first article acknowledges that: “The sovereignty of the Republic of Korea resides in the people, and all state authority emanates from the people.” By contrast the American Constitution does not clearly define the source of the government’s political power. The only reference to the source of political power, drafted by appointed delegates in Philadelphia and ratified by conventions of elected delegate-elites, is in the Preamble to the Constitution with the reference that the “We People…do ordain….” From that stems the fiction that representatives in government are the expression of the will of the people.
The Korean Constitution provides for a unicameral legislature and makes no concession to the undemocratic representation of geographic areas as in the U. S. Senate. Nor does it permit the federal election process to be controlled by state and local authorities (provinces) which is the practice in the United States, established in the Constitution to protect the institution of slavery. The practice continues to this day befuddling the American electoral process. Elections in Korea are conducted by a constitutionally mandated federal, non-partisan Election Management Committee. Having a referendum on the Korean National Initiative conducted by the Election Management Committee is a tremendous advantage over any American effort, which requires circumventing government in a political process taking several years, since it must be conducted by a non-profit, private organization. In South Korea the campaign to enact the National Initiative can concentrate on educating the people and when a majority of citizens are prepared to express their support for the National Initiative’s enactment through candle-light marches or public opinion polls, the Election Management Committee can then schedule an election date regardless of the opinions of those in the National Assembly or the President. This is no small advantage. It can save a great deal of money and shorten the process to enact the National Initiative by years.
As it concerns the campaign, South Korea enjoys another distinct advantage. It is one of the most Internet technology wired nations in the world. Communications and social networking will facilitate organizing and the overall campaign.
There are a number of areas in the world that have an element or two of the above advantages, but I know of no country that incorporates all of them. Therefore, I conclude and state publicly that South Korea is the likeliest political venue in the world to enact a National Initiative model, empowering its citizens to play a meaningful role in the operation of its government and offering to the peoples of the world a vision and model for real change.
A Korean National Initiative
The advantages of the Korean Constitution translate into an improved, shorter version of the American National Initiative, with the amendment and the act tailored to the political culture of Korea. The people’s legislative body created under the Korean National Initiative is called a Citizens Assembly meant to parallel the National Assembly, the legislative body of South Korea’s representative government. A Citizens Trust is created to administer the legislative procedures on behalf of the citizens as they perform their legislative responsibilities. This agency is similar in function to the one that serves the National Assembly. Its creation is vital if the Citizens Assembly is to be independent of representative government.
The election enacting the Korean National Initiative, conducted by the Election Management Committee rather than a private entity as required by the American model, adds considerable credibility to the process, substantially lowers the cost and shortens the time by years.
Another significant change from the American model also involves initiative elections once the Korean National Initiative is law. Since the Korean Constitution provides for a non-partisan Election Management Committee to conduct the elections of representative government, it obviously makes sense to capitalize on the efficiency of having the Election Management Committee’s responsibilities expanded to conduct all initiative elections and mandate that the Citizens Trust coordinate the schedule of initiatives ready for election with the Election Management Committee.
A Rendezvous With Destiny
The people of South Korea have a rendezvous with destiny not only because of the improvements they will make in their own system of governance but because the Korean model of direct democracy will become the modern day version of human governance for the peoples of all democracies to copy.
The Citizens Assembly of South Korea will be watched and its legislative enactments poured over and analyzed by scholars, students, and politicians the world over. The Korea Citizens Assembly will become the standard for a new paradigm of human governance in the 21st Century. Koreans will take their rightful place in the pantheon of history with the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Revolutionary American colonists and the Swiss with their contribution to the advancement of civilization’s human governance.
Mike Gravel will be speaking at Ball State U. and then go on the show FM Music Live, on 93.5 / 96.7 FM, which is broadcast live on http://www.FMMusicLive.com
The 6th Annual DemocracyFest will be held this summer, July 17-19, 2009 at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in Burlington, VT.
Senator Gravel will be speaking at 6pm on Saturday (July 18th).
Mike to attend the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City.
Here is a post in the Huffington Post: