November 25th, 2014
06:26 PM ET

The changing nature of representative democracy

Jorge Soto is a Mexico-based entrepreneur. This is the seventh in a series of articles from the World Economic Forum on the key challenges facing the world in 2015 as part of their Outlook on the Global Agenda. The views expressed are his own.

Since the global economy crashed in 2008, there has been an erosion of trust in political institutions and processes. Citizens now place more faith in companies than in their own leaders, and even then they don’t particularly trust the private sector, with the latest Edelman Trust Barometer showing global trust in business at 58 percent, while trust in government has sunk to 44 percent. As a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, this is an issue that resonates with those of my demographic: the world’s youth.

In the last two years, citizen protest has dominated the headlines in many countries around the globe. Greece and Spain have seen unrest in the aftermath of the Eurozone crisis. Ukrainians occupied central Kiev. Few nations from North Africa to the Middle East remain unaffected by the fallout from the Arab Spring, as citizens of the digital age grow ever more confident to mobilize in the face of a democratic deficit. Hong Kong is the latest place to experience large-scale protest.

Indeed, the Survey on the Global Agenda showed that in Latin America, the region I’m from, this trend has a much greater significance than in any other region. This was exemplified in Brazil, which in summer 2014 saw upheaval as people protested against income disparity and public spending on the World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.

The mechanisms are in place for systems to be more democratic than they have ever been, yet there is a fundamental disconnect between citizens around the world and the elected officials that supposedly represent them. Thanks to the internet, the public can identify people with the same values and fears, exchange ideas, and build relationships faster than ever before. Our governments are simply not part of that conversation: we have 19th century institutions with 20th century mindsets, attempting to communicate with 21st century citizens. Our governments are elected, dissolved and re-elected only to pursue short-term agendas, yet the cycles that innovate and build trust with voters require long-term investment. It’s little wonder that people see the system as broken.

I think it’s clear that the old way of doing politics will definitely change, yet representative democracy itself will not – nor should it. As powerful as the online world may be, a social media-like structure for democracy, where everybody shares and discusses their opinions at once, would simply lead to anarchy.

Instead, representative democracy needs to modernize itself and actively involve citizens in decision-making processes. Rather than seeing themselves as “pure” problem solvers, governments should position themselves as the bodies that articulate the issues faced by society, and then strive to create the right environment for private enterprise and academia to find the solutions, providing the necessary data, policies and funding to support these stakeholders. If our elected representatives were to do this, they would restore the public trust and challenge the sense that little of consequence has actually changed in that time.

As a starting point, our governments must treat people as individuals and communicate with them through the most appropriate means. Social media is not a panacea for this and, when used by traditional institutions such as the state, there tends to be a disparity between the messages that are circulated and events that are actually occurring at a local level. Even so, technology has the potential to ensure people feel truly represented. All sorts of democratic processes can be enhanced with technology: voting online, e-petitions, and surveys via smartphones are just three examples.

Above all else, our leaders must use technology – and their broader expertise – to really understand their citizens’ incentives, fears and motivations, and then communicate clearly how considered policies will address these factors. When governments stop being the center of everything, and the people perceive that they have become the problem solvers, which is when things will change. What we are seeing is not the death of democracy; rather, representative democracy must adapt to our times.

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soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. George patton

    Democracy, what democracy? The M.I.C. runs this country theses days, not the people!!

    November 25, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      Spoken like a true Muslim. Muslims always wonder "Democracy, what democracy?" They don't have the concept of democracy.

      November 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  2. Ferhat Balkan

    "Citizens now place more faith in companies than in their own leaders"..... I hate to break it to you Fareed, but the "leaders" serve the companies, not the people. So in essence, neither the companies nor the politicians serve the people.

    November 25, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      The companies our leaders serve the most is by far the military industries which produce killing machines in which our leaders are receiving kickbacks, Ferhat.

      November 25, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Reply
    • jasc92

      this article was not written by Fareed, but by Jorge Soto. read the disclaimer.

      November 27, 2014 at 9:49 am | Reply
  3. chri§§y

    This citizen doesnt place faith in either one!

    November 25, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Reply
    • Philip

      *fathers of Medicine and Democracy, rather.

      November 25, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  4. chri§§y

    EXACTLY @ George patton! Making them all, untrustworthy!

    November 25, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  5. Philip

    The nature of democracy is ancient Greece. Stop pretending as if the nature if democracy is somehow different now. Democracy has changed. It's nature has not. Democracy is still based on an openly gay society addicted to drugs prescribed by physicians just as the world's first democracy was. Ancient Greeks. The fathers if both Machine AND Democracy at the same time. Like an old lady winning bingo.

    November 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Unfortunately, I have never seen you propose an alternative government; one that would not demolish the rights of others whose behavior you may disapprove of.

      November 26, 2014 at 9:41 am | Reply
  6. Philip

    The fed is in charge, btw.

    November 25, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  7. chri§§y

    Or an old man, thinking hes winning an arguement? Lmao

    November 25, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  8. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

    One inevitable problem in democracies is that a people usually gets no better leaders than that people's average IQ allows to win an election.
    As a result, many nations' citizens would fare better if colonized by a nation with a better gene pool and better education. However, colonization is ultimately immoral, so many nations must tolerate conditions such as contaminated drinking water.

    November 26, 2014 at 7:33 am | Reply
    • banasy©

      Sadly, many of those nations fare worse after the superior gene pool have gotten all the resources they wanted out of those nations and withdrew their superiority.

      It is hard to concentrate on education if religious adherents are blowing up the schools...

      November 26, 2014 at 9:47 am | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

        @ banasy, real or false:
        You know that you are about 50% correct, as sometimes the culture bearing imperialists leave because they have what they came to get, while at other times they are forced, as in, "yes, you will just walk out of ______." Those situations make terrific flick scripts, as the formula film of the little guy who just keeps coming atcha sells tickets and popcorn.

        November 26, 2014 at 6:50 pm |
      • banasy©

        Perception of reality is in the eye of the beholder, is it not?

        Superior gene pools make for good dictators.

        November 26, 2014 at 9:21 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

        @ banasy,
        While individuals' perceptions of reality can differ, reality itself is, within reasonable limits of relativity, unchanging and real.
        A psychotic person in anyway asylum may think that he is sitting atop the spire of the Empire State Building because His Voices told him that, but, in reality, he is confined to a padded cell somewhere in New Jersey.
        Cue @ Philip to expound on Thorazine.

        November 27, 2014 at 7:23 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

        Similarly, a male teenager living in a suburban house near that asylum may, while playing an electronic keyboard "by ear" and with all his heart, soul, and natural talent, believe his SSRI-addicted mother's compliment that he is a better pianist than Vladimir Horowitz because the electronic keyboard is louder that Horowitz's Steinway, CD 186.

        November 27, 2014 at 7:36 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

        ERRATUM CAUSED BY COMPUTER SPELLING PROGRAM
        "...an asylum," not "...anyway asylum."

        November 27, 2014 at 7:48 am |
      • banasy©

        I would have to say that louder ≠ better, irregardless what the madding crowd of one may yammer.

        November 27, 2014 at 8:18 pm |
  9. Timmy Suckle

    Here's democracy for you:

    I kissed my way up to CEO at a health insurance company. Now I take over $1,000,000 of your health care dollars for NO VALUE ADDED to your health care. And that’s just me. Now think about how many other CEOs, VPs, Directors, Managers, etc. are at my company alone. Now multiply that by thousands of others at hundreds of other health insurance companies. From 10 to 25% of your health care dollars go towards administration that adds NO VALUE to your health care. But my company’s PAC dollars will continue to fool you little people into thinking that a single payer system will be bad. Little people like you are so easy to fool. Little people also don’t realize that a single payer system is the ONLY system that would allow little people (as an entire country) to negotiate better health care prices. Little people don’t realize that the Medical Cartels already know that. And that is the reason why the Medical Cartels spend so much PAC money from the hospitals and doctors lobbying against a single payer system. Some little people say that a single payer system would cost you little people more. But if that were true, then wouldn’t the hospitals and doctors WANT that extra money? Yes they would. So why do the Medical Cartels lobby against a single payer system? It’s because the Medical Cartels know it would allow little people to negotiate better health care prices. And that’s what the Medical Cartels are afraid of. Period.
    But us big wigs at insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacy companies don’t ever need to worry about health care no matter what it costs. We get our health care paid for one way or another by you little people. And we get the little people that work at our companies to contribute to our PACs. And us big wigs say it’s to protect the little peoples’ jobs. But in reality it would be in the little peoples’ best interest to NOT contribute to the PAC. Again, little people are so easily fooled. I won’t ever have to worry about losing my job with so many little people being brain washed by the Medical Cartels’ PAC money. Not only that, the Medical Cartels’ PAC money is used to elect so many republicans that will never allow a single payer system. Republicans have always fought against any meaningful health care reform. But that’s what our Medical Cartels’ PACs pay them for. Politicians can be bought so easily.
    Pretty soon the only people that will be able to afford health care is us big wigs. And that’s the way it should be. We don’t want you little people using up the resources when we need them. And once again, I thank you little people for capping my SS tax at the $117,000 level. Now I only pay 1.17% SS tax and you little people pay 6.2%. Also, thank you for extending my tax breaks. I’m using the extra money on my vacation houses.

    November 26, 2014 at 11:21 am | Reply
  10. It's just an opinion

    Social systems have been stuck in a hole. The thinking is the complicated route to defraud can't happen in a democracy. Guess we better rethink that illusion.

    November 26, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

      Some folks will always cheat others, in any system.
      Democracy is the best form of government yet devised.
      Perfection died on the cross.

      November 26, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Reply
      • It's just an opinion

        Sorry the perfection idea doesn't fit. Every great teacher has not taught perfection. And Democracy thought three branches of government would prevent corruption. Nope.

        November 26, 2014 at 11:38 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

        "Democracy thought?"
        How did democracy think?

        November 27, 2014 at 3:38 pm |
      • Roman troop

        Joey. Do you think Roman troops really took the time to add cross beams to their trusty old torture stakes? Now why would they do that.

        November 27, 2014 at 8:08 pm |
  11. bobcat2u

    'Twas the night of Thanksgiving,
    but I just couldn't sleep...
    I tried counting backwards,
    I tried counting sheep.
    The leftovers beckoned...the dark meat and white,
    but I fought the temptation with all of my might.
    Tossing and turning with anticipation,
    the thought of a snack became infatuation.
    So, I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door
    and gazed at the fridge, full of goodies galore.
    I gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes,
    stuffing with gravy, green beans and tomatoes.
    I felt myself swelling so plump and so round,
    till all of a sudden, I rose off the ground.
    I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky
    with a mouthful of pudding and a handful of pie
    But, I managed to yell as I soared past the trees...
    Happy eating to all - pass the cranberries, please.

    (comments about the obesity epidemic in America will follow shortly, I'm sure. If not, I'll truly be surprised.)

    November 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Reply
    • Jodie Aberdeen

      Are you talking about that drunk wifi nut guy? He's got some...................issues.

      November 27, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Reply
      • bobcat2u

        "Some" issues ? If those issues were of books, he'd be able to create a library.

        November 27, 2014 at 4:11 pm |
      • banasy©

        I wouldn't work there.

        November 27, 2014 at 8:20 pm |
  12. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

    Happy Thanksgiving @ bobcat2u and to everybody else.
    Joey

    November 27, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Reply
    • bobcat2u

      Happy Thanksgiving to you as well, my friend. Hope this finds you well.

      November 27, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Happy Thanksgiving, JIF.

      November 27, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  13. Philip

    Democracy has not changed. Those representing it have.

    November 27, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Reply
    • Roman troop

      Yes. Those representing democracy used to be some hard working and physically fit peoples. Now over half of them are fat and lazy. The crux of democracy they are.

      November 27, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  14. Roman troop

    That is not a Jewish "Wailing Wall".
    That is part of an old Roman outpost built where the Jew temple once stood. Really.

    November 27, 2014 at 8:12 pm | Reply
  15. Philip

    Brb. Going to check if Bill Clinton ever humped that wall as vigorously as he did fat chicks.

    November 27, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  16. Turkey People

    Ben Franklin, an overly obese adulterer , wanted the wild turkey to be your national bird. Not the banks eagle. And for obvious reasons.

    November 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Reply
  17. Turkey People

    Yup. Big Willie humped that wall too. Freaking weird man.

    November 27, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  18. chri§§y

    Lol well he isnt alone, is he, even weirder man? I dont know how any one person can survive with that much negativity? Damn.

    November 27, 2014 at 9:04 pm | Reply

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