Representative democracy allowed for a more efficient division of labour than direct democracy and is the way most of today's associations, companies, municipalities, regions, and states are governed today. What are the advantages and disadvantages of representative democracy?
Why did representative democracies emerge?
Representative democracies emerged on a larger scale in post-industrialisation countries. The new jobs that emerged required more skilled workers who were physically and mentally fit and could not be replaced anyway. As production became more knowledge-intensive, those in power became dependent on more and more key people to maintain power. This increased the ability of workers to make demands on employers and the state and to push through broad welfare reforms that benefited the working class. Read more about power and the history of democracy here.
Advantages of representative democracy
Representative democracy means division of labour and specialisation in the democracy system, but with intermediaries. It has the following advantages:
- Enables greater specialisation, it does not require everyone to know everything about every issue to be decided on.
- More efficient, takes less time and energy than direct democracy.
Disadvantages of representative democracy
- Accountability cannot be enforced as effectively as in direct democracy. If a representative does something stupid or turns out to vote completely differently than they promised, the representative's decision-making power cannot be withdrawn for four years.
- Personal issues often become more important than knowledge, skills and issues. Voters tend to vote for representatives they like in person. The representative often advocates a whole package with which voters do not always agree. It also means that people's skills are not used effectively, with the right contacts, style of dress and networks often rewarded more than the right skills.
- Representatives often negotiate and compromise in several stages so that the original will of the people is eroded. As a result, the decisions that are ultimately taken are not optimal and well weighted towards the interests and preferences of the people. Opportunities for democratic influence are reduced compared to direct-democratic decisions.
- Those who do not have the time or resources to vote, be seen and heard are less influential and disadvantaged.
Representative democracies no longer succeed in delivering increased prosperity to the vast majority. The reason is that broad welfare reforms that redistribute money and power from the top to the bottom no longer pay off for those in power.
In the past, welfare reforms increased people's productive capacity and generated more tax revenue and votes. But after a majority of people have reached a high enough threshold of well-being to work effectively, it has not paid to invest more in general welfare. Rather, it has paid to let a wealthy elite get away so that economic gaps have begun to widen again. It has shifted power from the people to the elite.
What can we do together to reverse this trend? How can we increase the level of democracy in human groups and societies? The 2014 democracy inquiry analysed direct and representative democracy and concluded that direct democracy is not feasible on a large scale in Sweden. But the inquiry never analysed other types of digital democracy that combine the best of direct and representative democracy. Could this be the future?
CREATING A BETTER DEMOCRACY
We can create a democracy where everyone's interests and voices are heard, counted and given their due.