When the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, there was tremendous excitement that the democratic form of government had proven itself as the best form of government.

Today, though, in the United States and in democracies around the world there is widespread disillusionment with democracy. In virtually all developed democracies trust in government is low. Most people see their government as failing to serve the common good.

In the countries of the former Soviet Union, while they initially embraced democracy with enthusiasm, now there is pervasive disillusionment and, in some countries, a creeping reversion to authoritarianism.

Clearly there is fundamental problem with democracy today that needs to be addressed. The problem is not mysterious. Everywhere we see interest groups organizing and gaining disproportionate influence on government, marginalizing the people as a whole. And in democracies around the world, that is exactly how the people perceive it. 

What is needed are new means to give the people a clear and effective voice in government. The electoral process is not enough. The values and priorities of the people need to have a direct effect on the policymaking process itself.

Around the world there are people trying in various ways to give the people a greater voice in democracies. We feel that one of the most promising is the idea of doing in-depth surveys with a Citizen Cabinet—a representative sample of the people that would be first briefed on a current policy issue and then make their recommendations through a process that simulates the process that policymakers go through.

We have received a very positive response to the idea from members of both parties working on the Hill. They know as well as the rest of us, that the system is not working the way it should and they tell us that they think that giving the people a greater voice after they have been informed about the issues, could help make a real difference.

Polls from around the world show that, while people are frustrated with democracy, they still overwhelmingly embrace the democratic vision expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that the will of the people should be the basis for government. Let’s move forward with the effort to more effectively realize this vision.

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photo by Daniel Antal via flickr