The Blog of Curtis Chambers


with 5 comments

I just read an article about Apple spending $720,000 on lobbying the US government for patent reform and technology education.  While I completely agree with the causes Apple is lobbying for, I really dislike the fact that the only way to get anything done in our government is with large sums of money.  Isn’t the government supposed to serve the people and not the money?

I understand that it obviously isn’t possible to hear every single voice in the country, as there are only 100 members of the Senate and 435 members of the House of Representatives that collectively represent the interests of 300 million people.  However, we have the technology that could make it possible for this to happen.

Think about this:  Google serves up answers for 91 million queries per day.  Imagine some sort of human-powered oracle that answered any question you had in any language in less than a second.  Just thinking about a human-powered version of that boggles the mind, yet Google does it effortlessly every single day for the world.  This is the kind of solution we need to embrace for telling our governments what we want and helping to make political decisions.

We already have the right to vote on politicians and select propositions, but lobbying is how those propositions make it to the ballot.  Why do only the people with money get to decide what appears on those ballots?  It’s like we have this false sense of participation in our government because we get to vote on things, yet we didn’t get a say in what issues were worth voting on.

I understand that the United States is a republic and not a direct democracy, and that is why these things are the way they are.  It even makes sense that it is a republic because when the country was founded in the 18th century it was completely absurd to think that everyone’s voice could be a part of the process.  But now that we have the means to aggregate the collective opinions of the populace, should that system perhaps change?

Note that I’m not advocating ochlocracy or anything where the people just make all the decisions and self-govern.  I think James Madison had it right in Federalist Paper No. 10 when he said that government should protect its citizens from factions and that a direct democracy would value the opinions of the majority and sacrifice individual liberties.  What I’m proposing is just a solution that can aggregate the thoughts and opinions of the populace and make those opinions known to the politicians so that they can make more informed decisions.  What I want is to see headlines like “720,000 people support patent reform” as opposed to “$720,000 supports patent reform.”  Something like the Facebook Causes application but on a more global and accessible level.

Written by Curtis Chambers

September 3, 2007 at 1:37 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I love this idea – some sort of web forum where anyone with a computer could post a desire or concern to the powers that be. Perhaps a given cause wouldn’t show up as “popular” until it received 10,000 supporters or something.
    There could be a ticker tape listing the most popular concerns or needs of ‘the people.’ If lobbyists wanted to keep plying in the governmental sand box, they could help the causes of the popular needs of the people by spreading the word.

    Great idea.


    October 11, 2007 at 10:50 am

  2. Yeah, I’d totally be down to build something like this but I feel like it needs some sort of cooperation with the government to make sure that people’s voices are heard. Have any ideas about how that could be accomplished?


    October 11, 2007 at 2:31 pm

  3. Here’s why this wouldn’t work:
    1) Consider the percentage of Americans who vote.
    2) Consider the percentage of Americans with regular access to a computer to be used during leisure time.
    3) Consider the demographic of that group.

    Now, consider the job of a lobbyist. That person’s job is to bring an alternative viewpoint to a legislator OR to encourage others’ to do so. I, for example, have been a registered lobbyist. When that was the case, what I was doing was collecting petition signatures in favor of a rail tax proposal.

    ALAS! It’s the perfect example! I didn’t talk to a single legislator the entire time. What I did was go door to door and ask people if they thought they should vote on this tax proposal. If they did, they signed the petition. It would only go on the ballot if it received signatures from, say, 5 percent of the population of that town.

    So…What you’re actually talking about is online voting. You, Curtis, live in California–a state FAMOUS for taking initiatives to the voters (even if they’re illegal or unconstitutional). The process of getting each of these initiatives on the ballot is exactly what you’re talking about. You go, boy. Get away from that computer and start knocking on your neighbors’ doors.


    December 14, 2007 at 7:18 pm

  4. I see what your saying Amy, but I think the demographic of internet users is much larger than you think. This isn’t to say knocking on doors isn’t useful, but I think there are much better ways to canvas large amounts of people.
    if we look at what is happening currently in the age of the internet, we see that internet lobbying can be an extremely powerful tool. Look at what happened for example to Ron Paul last Nov 5th. Through internet donations, this guy, Kevin Lymon (sp?) who had never voted before mind you, organized a one day donation bonanza in which 4.2 million dollars was raised and then donated to Ron Paul. It’s true. I saw it on PBS.
    If that amount of money could be raised in one day, just think of what information could be obtained by the same method!


    December 16, 2007 at 12:57 pm

  5. From the Center for American Progress, October 6, 2005:

    The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund has just released a new study of the most comprehensive database focused on home computer and Internet use, “Are We Really a Nation Online? Ethnic and Racial Disparities in Access to Technology and Their Consequences.” The study was conducted by Dr. Robert Fairlie of the University of California at Santa Cruz. What Dr. Fairlie found was dramatically different than what NTIA reported last November, specifically:

    The digital divide is large and does not appear to be disappearing soon. Blacks and Latinos are much less likely to have access to home computers than are white, non-Latinos (50.6 and 48.7 percent compared to 74.6 percent). They are also less likely to have Internet access at home (40.5 and 38.1 percent compared to 67.3 percent).

    Slightly more than half of all black and Latino children have access to a home computer and approximately 40 percent have access to the Internet at home (compared to 85.5 and 77.4 percent of white, non-Latino children). Ethnic and racial disparities in home computer and Internet access rates are larger for children than for adults.

    Income differences are partly, but not entirely responsible for ethnic and racial disparities in computer and Internet access. Even among individuals with family incomes of at least $60,000, blacks and Latinos are substantially less likely to own a computer or have Internet access at home than are whites.


    December 17, 2007 at 7:13 am

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