In order for democracy to be a positive force in a society, it must expand beyond a simple ritual of voting for representatives.
The nature of democracy is such that it can only be a force for good if it is practiced. And it must be practiced across the entire space that is set up by the social field in order for its goals to be fulfilled. For the sake of clarification, it can be said that if democracy is to have any goal it must be both autonomy and equality of power. Autonomy and equality of power are interrelated to the degree that self-law or self-determination requires a direct end to hierarchy that an equality of power would provide. A hierarchy is an inequality of power that is also a divergence of ownership and participation. Those who have control are those who are considered owners, while there is those who are controlled and who participate in the structure of power. The separation of those who own and those who participate precedes a more technical class formation in an economy. The left has a much longer record of critiquing class formation, but it should be understood that class formation is a specific mode of hierarchy that goes beyond economics. Objective class formation is the imposition of hierarchy upon humans and it develops into a ubiquitous acceptance as something natural. Subjective class formation, on the other hand, is the conscious act of group organizing with the goal of apparent resistance that brings the artificial nature of hierarchy to the foreground. The movement from objective class formation to subjective class formation is autonomy.
Hierarchy and autonomy are thus set as a dichotomy of how power is organized. The way power is organized in turn affects how freedom is expressed, especially in a collective context. Society is this collective context where various political, cultural, and economic spheres are articulated. In this scenario, hierarchy is a vertical system of centralization and stratification into superior and inferior positions. Hierarchy can become ubiquitous through transcendent structures, appearing as natural and eternal in the lives of people and how they function through life. Autonomy disrupts a hierarchy because it is a horizontal system of decentralization and distribution of power. Those who participate in their autonomy are self-aware since it is apparent through immanent structures that it is a conscious act of freedom and empowerment. Autonomy has a specific and direct relationship with truth, since hierarchy will tend to alienate individuals from the way meaning is constructed in society. Through the vertical system of a hierarchy, people are given a prepackaged body of knowledge and expected to accept this knowledge as absolute truth. Autonomy is a specific resistance to any transcendent structure of meaning, and is a structural rupture of alienated knowledge for the sake of truth. Truth is discovered through hands-on exploration and the creation of immanent structures of meaning. This direct discovery of truth is an important factor to how autonomy is self-determination. And democracy is the best method for any collective to achieve autonomy.
A working definition of the nature of democracy, that makes use of the idea of equality of power, can be inspired by the work of Spinoza and his rejection of the social contract theory. The social contract theory stipulates that before a government is established, humans lived in a state of nature where there was both total freedom as well as total insecurity. Of course, the establishment of political systems never occurred in this way in reality, there was no conscious or deliberate transition from a state of nature to a social contract, and the positing of a state of nature is more of a logical presupposition than an actual fact. In other words, in cases where there is no state or official government there is some sort of tribal society where relationships between humans are coordinated. Spinoza rejected the social contract theory for the specific reason that the social contract must be an absolute state in order to exist. The movement from the absolute freedom of the state of nature to the partial freedom of the social contract contradicts the idea of democracy as a collective protection of the freedom that could exist outside of the absolute state. In contrast, Spinoza proposed that with the formation of democracy there is a movement from a partial situation of individual power in the state of nature to an absolute situation of power in the social contract. In the original idea of social contract theory, individuals give up part of their freedom for the sake of security within a state. This is an alienation of freedom through a sovereign position of authority and the law that supports such authority. This sovereign position could be an individual ruler, a body of officials, or a founding document. In any case, the power to make decisions is transferred to this sovereign position of authority in exchange for physical protection or retention of some basic rights by the people.
However, democracy is the expression of the multitude through an equality of both power and freedom. When the form of the social contract is a democracy, it breaks apart the alienation of freedom that would normally occur. The sovereign position of authority demands a unity where there is absolute equivalence between individuals, but the multitude is the many that has absolute difference within it. The multitude is how individuals interact with each other outside of the state, and is much more diverse than the uniform nature of the identity of the people within a state. What distinguishes democracy from other forms that could arise in the social contract, and is the point of contention for Spinoza, is the fact that a multitude enters into a democracy rather than isolated individuals in a state of nature. The multitude is a collective of unique individuals, and their unique nature does not disappear when they enter into a democracy. In fact, these unique natures are protected through the equality of power shared by all participants. The equality of power is also an equality of freedom. This equality of freedom is the expression of the multitude, and the multitude is an aggregate of unique desires. Democracy goes in a completely opposite direction than what is expected of the social contract as it is theorized by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. The purpose of a social contract is regulation to some degree, which is a limit of choices. The purpose of democracy is the constitution of a political space where there is the creation of more choices than one would find outside of democracy. That aspect is its inherent value, and why its expansion beyond mere politics is necessary.
With autonomy and the equality of power working together, one can see participation and subsequent ownership through that participation. Participation in this sense can be defined as both production and use of things within a society. When democracy is expanded beyond a strict political sphere, participation becomes an important characteristic. The ability to create as well as consume must be the foundation of a decentralized ownership, as well as a way to avoid the differential relationships that can be perpetuated by hierarchy. Since equality can only occur within a collective, there is always the danger of unequal relationships disrupting the internal equality of power and imperil the external autonomy that the collective in question could exercise. Individual autonomy can also be threatened by differential relationships since hierarchy needs the ruled group to be dependent upon the rulers. When one looks at democracy in other areas of the social field, one will see the translation of autonomy and equality of power into ownership through this participation.
Economic democracy can mean both a democratic business organization and a democratic process of production. When building new democratic institutions within a larger sphere of capitalism, the cooperative model allows for workers to have control over their own economic destiny. Each worker is an owner of the enterprise in question, sharing in risks and benefits, and profits are equally distributed among them. A small part of the profits are set aside for collective benefits such as a health plan or pension plan, similar to a social safety net in a larger government that does not require a centralization of the state or a bureaucracy. Considering that the corporation is able to use large amounts of money and resources so that a few can have both economic and political power over large groups of people, the cooperative is the best alternative to corporations. The cooperative model as economic democracy can at times be more proactive than political democracy in terms of an equal sharing of power. In a cooperative, workers are not considered as just another production cost alienated from the products of their labor. This concrete cancellation of alienation in the workplace is the expression of autonomy in the workplace. The cooperative is an active way to oppose how the corporate form can establish an economic hierarchy that in reality usurps political claims of legal equality.
Another form of economic democracy, that exists beyond the workplace, is that ofpeer production. With the decline of manufacturing in the United States, there arises the need for a concerted effort to rebuild production that provides jobs to workers and goods to consumers. However, due to the unsustainable model of factory mass production, a new model must be adopted in order to revive manufacturing while maintaining a community-based economy. Internally a business can be organized as a cooperative in order to be democratic, but in its external relationship with the overall economy there is also a need for decentralization in order to be democratic as well. In many cases, large-scale factories can not even come back to the nation due to the destabilizing effects of globalization. The industrial stage of production resulted in a more centralized economy through factories and corporations that are difficult to emulate as well as lacking in long-term positive attributes. New forms of production must be developed that are also decentralized in order to address these flaws of industrialization. The process of peer production where communities have access to industrial tools that can construct goods in community workshops or residential workshops can be that alternative in a democratic sense. Not only would the decentralization of the tools of production lead to the equality of power in communities, but the making use of open source blueprints and plans distributed through the Internet would revitalize the commons as a major factor in economic democracy. Peer production makes use of the commons as well as flexible tools and technology in local voluntary associations or as individuals. Peer production as the economic adaptability and empowerment through consumer-owned tools and equipment would be a convergence of production and consumption that avoids the alienation that occurs with corporate ownership and distribution systems. It is a prevention of hierarchy within productive forces and eliminates the need for internalizing large transaction costs. Finally, peer production allows for each individual to be a primary producer and consumer in self-sufficiency as well as create local small firms as the main collective business structure. It works hand-in-hand with the cooperative model to create an environment of autonomy in the economic sphere.
Energy democracy can be linked to economic democracy, but the specific method ofnet-metering fulfills democracy without the use of the economic sphere. The production and use of energy is constantly being effected by external economic forces, to the degree that the ability to supply energy becomes more and more expensive. High energy costs can be addressed by a community net-metering program, but it can go beyond that by reasserting autonomy in the making process. Net-metering would allow homeowners to install solar panels and small wind turbines while still being connected to the city grid. A revolving loan program could be established to help homeowners with the initial installation costs. Besides benefiting from a renewable energy source, any surplus energy would go back into the grid and be shared by other residents. The homeowners who generate a surplus can receive a retail credit that can be used to pay off existing energy bills, installation costs, or be used to buy local goods and services. In turn, everyone in the community would see a gradual decrease in energy bills due to the sharing of the generated surplus. The technical mechanism for net-metering is fairly simple and straightforward, but it allows an opportunity for people to be both producer and consumer of a common good that is shared by the community. In any type of democracy, the participants are the ones who create ideas, laws, or decisions that benefit themselves and the entire collective. For net-metering one will see a production of energy, but the structure is democratic in that it is an autonomous way to produce energy that does not need a market to distribute the energy that is produced. The method of net-metering insures against any kind of hierarchy in the energy process.
Democracy in terms of money and currency systems is a transformation of how money is organized and what it does. Democratic money can have the following traits. It is the pattern made from the various flows that exist in the social field while also being a type of language in the economic sphere. Democratic money therefore consists of a general background and a particular expression. Just as a language has general principles or parameters while also having particular speech acts that are constructed by the people who use them, so too does a democratic form of currency have the potential to allow participants to make various monetary systems for their own needs. One needs only to be literate in order to make use of the alphabet of money and to form words and statements of value. Money democracy requires multiple forms of currency, since one monetary system forces individuals to work with a system they did not create. One monetary system is only a representation of value under a transcendent containment. On the other hand, many immanent systems allows a communication of value that is controlled by the people who create and use it. Money can be either an imposed structure or a free action. A structure by its nature will limit action through one value, and is an external control with a lack of social relationships. Money that can be a free action will be the change of structures through many values, and a subsequent internal control that promotes the formation of social relationships. Individuals or communities can either passively use money or actively participate in money. Use of money implies a lack of ownership, only one value in a vertical system based on scarcity, which in turn perpetuates an inequality of power. However, the participation in democratic money expands ownership through many values in a horizontal system, and this participation in value is based on abundance that will create a space for the equality of power. The current undemocratic monetary systems promote centralization, scarcity, and external control. Democratic monetary systems can lead to decentralization, abundance, and internal control. Democracy in the development of money can be a tool for individual and collective empowerment.
Tax democracy is similar to energy democracy in that it is slightly removed from economic democracy but can intersect with it in some ways. It can be agreed by many that the old paradigm has been either to raise or lower taxes, ignoring the effects of different kinds of tax systems. On a national level, those with lower incomes pay a higher percentage in taxes due to the fact that property and sales taxes shift the tax burden downward to those who would have the most trouble paying taxes and making ends meet. The lower 20% of income earners pay 12% while the upper 5% of income earners pay 7%. Sales taxes and property taxes disenfranchise the poor and are an inaccurate way to generate revenue from value on the local level. Both taxes should be repealed and replaced by residents of communities. The people of specific communities have the democratic right to offer tax alternatives through public forums, and then to vote on a new tax system through a public election from among multiple options placed on the ballot through petitions. The new tax system would be considered the most fair and efficient by taxpayers because they had the ability to decide on it. It would be a tax system that would not debilitate household budgets but be able to pay for needed public services and infrastructure. This process of taxpayer empowerment, through tax democracy, can help the people of various communities realize that they are co-owners of their respective city or village. This investment in their community must be clearly controlled and observed by residents in order to demonstrate the clear cause and effect of a tax system within a local economy. Regardless of what new tax system is eventually approved by voters, participatory budgeting can complement it. Participatory budgeting is when residents of a community have direct input into how the city budget is shaped. It can come in many forms, but the best process would be one where taxpayers would be given a form that would allow them to choose where they would want 30% of their individual tax payment to go in the city budget. This idea originally began in the late 1990’s in regards to the national income tax, but this can be applied locally in a very effective manner. Once again, the reason why these ideas are considered a tax democracy is that there is full participation where policy that affects the people are decided upon directly by those people. The result is autonomy in that each community determines their own tax systems, and also equality of power because each voter has an equal say in how the new tax system is formed and how part of the budget is shaped.
The expansion of democracy beyond limited avenues of voting is a positive step because ultimately it is an expansion of individual and collective freedom. Democracy in all cases within society acts as the vanishing mediator between individual existence and collective existence. A democratic process insures an equality of power, an open space for freedom, and a more accurate communication of value between human participants. Democracy as a method can spread like a virus, but its effects are the fulfillment of human desire in a society.