Wikipedian Democracy

In many ways every democracy operates, or rather hopes to operate, like Wikipedia. Give a large pool of users the right to edit and maintain an article, and eventually, when this pool of editors is large enough, you sit back and hope there are more rational users than not. In somewhat of a parallel, every democracy hopes that when a large enough pool of opinion is given the right to shape a government, rationality, or some semblance of thereof, will survive. Between these parallels, however, there are some fundamental differences in assumptions which go a long way in explaining why Wikipedia mostly works and why some democracies don’t.

The most important of differences would be on how much more efficiently Wikipedia is structured than the typical democracy. Wikipedia manages, in a way, to put quality filters on the pool of users that edit an article. These filters are not necessarily established by force, instead they are intrinsic to the system by the virtue of the users having an interest in the subject material of the article they edit, and therefore giving them a better probability of making an informed edit. How often do you find someone almost singularly interested music, making a page edits on free market theory? And how often do you find a classical economist making a page edit on death metal? It isn’t any good if they do and this is what works for Wikipedia; that the article’s editors, by and large, have a better chance in making a “good” edit rather than a “bad” edit. As simple as this might sound, the same cannot be said about democracies. For instance, someone who couldn’t care less about the economy will be forced into making an economic policy decision merely because he wants to “edit” the religion “section” of the government.

A potential solution to this would be to unbundle the services of democratic governments. By having to elect a single person, and the bundled cabinet that comes along, we effectively have to make multiple choices on multiple issues with a single vote. Unbundle the single vote and instead give people the choice to, in effect, elect the cabinet. Elections campaigns for different positions will gain the depth they so desperately need and will attract the right target audience that will be in a better position to make the right choice. The traditional head of the government position is then reduced to what it actually is, a position to facilitate coordination between several branches; a much needed reduction that will help us make a clearer choice.

There are of course several arguments against such a system. Among the most valid being, the potential increase in the size of the government. And at more fundamental level, if such a system, torn by traditional partisan divide, would lend itself to efficient coordination. Wikipedia says it works, but we won’t really know unless we try.


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