Why We Need Amateurs to Run Our Democracy

The American democracy increasingly rests in the hands of professional politicians and special interest lobbies. In the age of the citizen scientist, we need a renaissance of the citizen citizen. 

What's the Latest Development?

In our era of big data, we celebrate the citizen scientist as someone who harnesses amateur tools to contribute to a professional field, but what about the citizen citizen? Our democracy has become too controlled by professional politicians and special interest groups, says Eric Liu, a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. "When self-government is dominated by professionals representing various interests, a vicious cycle of citizen detachment ensues," said Liu. "Regular people come to treat civic problems as something outside themselves, something done to them, rather than something they have a hand in making and could have a hand in unmaking."

What's the Big Idea?

How can we restore the democratic element to our democracy? First, says Liu, we must admit that the American consumer muscle is grotesquely large and its citizen muscle has atrophied. Voting as consumers means politicians sell us self-interest at the expense of communities: "lower taxes, more spending, special rules for every subgroup". Next, governments should take a lesson from inspirational grants like the X Prize that tap our collective smarts, focusing on what needs done and letting citizens decide how to do it. Finally, more platforms are needed where citizen citizens can actively serve. We have Teach for America, so how about Code, Write, Design and Build for America?

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

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