Are we really living in a democracy? | Joaquin Marcano | TEDxHECParis

Translator: Shiyuan Zhang
Reviewer: Zsófia Herczeg So let’s play a game. All you have to do
if you want to participate is raise your hand when prompted. So the game consists of voting if you want what’s inside
of box A or box B. So who wants box A? Raise your hand. All the way up, I see some hanging chads
here and there, okay. Now, what about box B? Great! So box B is the winner,
which is weird, right? You guys have absolutely no idea
of what’s inside of the box, yet you still voted for it. You could be voting
for a pile of snakes or something. You know what? Let’s try again. But this time, I’m going to tell you
and show you what’s inside of the box so you know what you’re voting for. So in box A, we have a bunch of mint, and in box B, we have chocolate. So let’s try this again. Who wants A? Raise your hands. Okay, and B? What about B? Yes, of course! (Laughter) So, B’s the winner. But what if I told you that you are not going
to get the chocolate? You know, you’re going to get
something quite different, something that kind of looks like it,
but it’s definitely not chocolate – if you know what I mean. Will you think that’s okay?
Will you think that’s fair? Well, of course not! But the fact is that B
wanted to win no matter what. So it lied. You know, let’s give this one more chance. Again, in box A, we have a bunch of mint, and in box B, this time, we have lollipops – now seriously. There’s a bunch of them here. So again, who wants A? What about B? Really, guys? You’re still voting for B? But I just told you it was a liar
prepared to do anything in order to win. Why do you keep voting for that box? By the way, I see some hands
that didn’t go up this time. What happened? Did you get tired of raising your hand? Bored of voting? Wait a second, doesn’t this ring a bell? Doesn’t this sound like
most of our democracies? You know, people vote
without knowing what’s inside, end up electing snakes. Politicians lie because people
keep voting for them? And more and more people
get tired of all of this and then just stop voting. Of course, it rings a bell. By the way, from those of you
who participated, who thinks I somehow
influenced your choice? But what if I told you that I did –
by choosing the candidates for you. I forced you to pick between A or B, and it could have been A, B, C or D,
it doesn’t matter, but if I choose a candidate,
I don’t really care who you vote for. If you make people pick between A or B, you can create the illusion, that people want either A or B. But probably they don’t. Don’t you feel that when you go
to the polling station, you face a bunch of candidates
that you don’t really like? You’re forced to pick
between the lesser of two evils? Well, now you know why. Your vote is supposed
to represent your will, the will of the people. It’s supposed to represent what you want. But does it? And this happens because some people
are choosing your candidates for you. And you might say, quite reasonably, that you don’t have time
to figure out who can be a candidate and what’s going to be their plan. And that’s true. But you do know
what your problems are. You do know what you want fixed. Couldn’t we just vote directly for the public policy that we think
might solve our problems? But wait a second, Isn’t that what representative
democracy is all about? I choose someone to represent me
and do that for me? Well, we’re going to have to look
at that more deeply. Two guys, two researchers
from Princeton, Gilens and Paige, they looked at more
than 20 years’ worth of data to answer this question: Does the government really
represent the people? And this is what they found. The bottom line represents
public support for an idea, and the other line represents
the probability of it becoming law. So I want you guys
to think of an idea, something that you hold dear, one idea that you wish
the government would turn into law. It can be about the economy,
immigration, religion, anything. Now, I’m going to show you how all of those different ideas
look like in this graph. They look like this: a straight line on 30%. So that means that if no one
likes the idea, it still has a 30% probability
of it becoming law. And if everyone likes the idea, it only has the same 30% probability
of it becoming law. It’s crazy! And I don’t know what that is,
but it’s certainly not democracy. But how could this happen? Well, it turns out that there is
another group of special interest, the very wealthy,
people with power and access, a group that we have come
to call “the elites.” They have their own line. And when these guys
want something to become law, they’re probably going to get it. And it goes the other way around too. If they really don’t want it,
it’s probably never going to happen, even if the rest of us do support it. The fact is that we the people
can only get what we want if it happens to be aligned
with what these other guys want. And the problem
is not with the elites per se or lying politicians, the problem is with this system
that is designed in a way to breed and reward this kind of behavior. Some argue that the only way
to fix this broken system is by not participating in it. But are they right? Disillusionment with politics
and lack of viable solutions has been around ever since the Greeks. And so people use that as an excuse
to not solve the problem, saying this is too difficult. But instead, it should be
a collective embarrassment. How is it possible that humanity
hasn’t been able to solve this problem since forever? Fifty years ago,
we put a man on the moon, and last year, we launched
an electric car into space, which is now orbiting the Sun, and the rocket came back down
and landed by itself. And you’re telling me we can’t figure something out
for the democracy? I think we’re not really trying. But why? Because of money, of course. In fact, the United States
spends 700 times more money on defense than what it does on electoral processes. And yes, of course, a missile costs way much more
than a paper ballot. But is that what elections are all about? Paper ballots? Elections are supposed
to capture the will of the people. And clearly, we’re not spending
enough to make sure of that. What about research
in order to do better things or using new technologies. I don’t mean making machines
that do the exact same thing as the paper ballot. I mean redesigning the whole system. I am not saying we should spend
less on defense, but maybe shift our priorities a little. Because spending that amount
of money in the military and not making sure
that your voices are being heard, it’s like buying a Ferrari
but not getting to drive it because you don’t have the keys. And this statistic is not something
unique to the United States. In Australia, for example,
it’s around 100 to 1; and in France, it’s 50 to 1. So it is not an isolated incident,
it is a worldwide epidemic. So, we all pay for elections
as taxpaying citizens, but we don’t demand a better value. And this is a huge problem because if we really want something
from our government, we’re not going get it
unless we solve this democracy first. If you want your government
to address the problems of climate change, social security, education, health care, you’re not going to get legislation
that addresses these problems if we don’t fix democracy first. We need to solve the issue in the backbone
of our democratic system – elections. But what can we do? Why don’t we start with proposing
some crazy alternatives? Like for example, what if under each candidate’s name, we had a list of the most common
promises they made. You know, what’s supposed to be
inside of the box? Like the chocolate. And you had to mark which of those reasons
made you choose that candidate. Wouldn’t it make sense for politicians
to actually know why you chose them and what you’re expecting them
to do once in power? And why voting boxes? Can we just pick something from here
and something from here and vote specifically on those things? We might create something unique,
like mint chocolate, for example. But what if you don’t know
what you like or what you want, but you have some sort of system
with a questionnaire about your needs that will tell you specifically how each policy is going
to affect your life? Yes, voting might take
a little bit longer, might take a while, but why does it need to happen
in only one day? If this is the backbone
of our democracies, why do we dedicate so little time for it? And you know, these ideas
might all seem crazy, but are they actually any crazier
than a system that says that no matter how many of us
do or don’t agree with the policy, it still has the same probability
of it becoming law? We need to start demanding
a better service from our governments and start believing in the possibility
of a better democracy, of a true democracy – a system that lives
by the values of speaking up, participating in this issue making
and being involved. The time has come
to raise awareness of this issue and start a worldwide
brainstorming session. That’s all I’m asking for. And I already gave you some ideas, so build up on them and start discussing
this issue with the people that you know, and share it with the people
that you don’t know. Use the power of your collective minds, thinking together about these solutions,
connecting with each other, leveraging on your differences. In other words, use the power of real democracy to come up with solutions
for this impostor that we have right now. Yes, because think about it: If more money is being spent
in the military than on elections, and only a few get
to influence decision-making no matter what the rest of us want, can we really call that a democracy? To me, that sounds
like dictatorship with extra steps. And if we’re not doing anything
about it, we’re a part of it. Solving this is not going to be easy, but we need each other
to value our differences and get together once and for all
to democratize democracy. Thank you very much. (Applause) (Cheering)

Maurice Vega

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