Pick our policies online, says Italian party

Ask the audience: Would you support or oppose these five fictitious suggestions?

The Five Star Movement may soon be in Italy’s government. The only problem: it has little idea what to do. So it is asking supporters to choose its policies. Is this the future of politics?

It is anti-tax, but also anti-austerity. It attacks over-consumption, but says people should have free internet access. It rails against globalisation, the EU, corruption and bureaucracy.

This is the Five Star Movement, an Italian group which has defied traditional divisions between left-wing and right-wing political parties since its founding in 2009. The movement has five broad goals, but few clear positions on specific issues.

Its flexible stance has become increasingly popular. In June its candidate was elected as Rome’s mayor. Now polls suggest it could win power nationally in a general election — which could take place early next year.

And next week Five Star will begin preparing in a novel way: it will crowdsource its policies on the internet. The movement’s founder, former comedian Beppe Grillo, has asked his millions of followers to explain what Five Star should do first and select its leaders.

‘From next week we will vote for the government programme online, followed by the government team,’ he wrote on his blog this week. Grillo says the movement stands for ‘bottom-up democracy’ and ‘shared democracy’.

In an era of anti-establishment insurgencies, direct democracy could become more popular. In Iceland, the Pirate party is expected to pass a new crowdsourced constitution when it forms a government. And in the UK Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, often presents questions from members of the public at his weekly exchange with the prime minister in PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) in Parliament.

Some even see these measures as part of the next stage of human evolution. French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said in 1922 that our species would enter the ‘noosphere’: a stage of development when we would increasingly depend on each other and share a collective consciousness.

Supporters argue this process has accelerated in the era of the internet, which breaks down cultural and geographic barriers and makes sharing information and ideas easier. So is crowdsourcing the future of politics?

Crowded out

‘Great idea!’ shout enthusiasts. New technology will increase participation and empower ordinary people to challenge their self-serving rulers. A range of complacent mainstream parties have brought petty ideological wrangles, financial crises, social strife and chaotic international relationships. Hurrah for an era of trusting the people.

This will demean politics, doubters warn. Parties always need discipline: hence Grillo has hypocritically punished dissenters. The mob’s ideas will be devoid of principles and lack coherence: for example, people will want lower taxes and higher spending. Politicians’ job is to provide leadership, not defer to the chaotic tyranny of the majority.

You Decide

  1. Would you take part in a political crowdsourcing exercise?
  2. Is the Five Star Movement’s idea a glimpse into the future of politics?

Activities

  1. Study the five questions in the graphic above this article. As a class, use crowdsourcing to come up with your own positions on them. Then discuss what you learned about the process.
  2. Write ten provocative political statements of your own. Then crowdsource opinions from at least 100 people in your local area, of different ages and from different backgrounds. Discuss your findings as a class.

Some People Say...

“The people do not know what is best for them.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I do not live in Italy — does this matter?
Five Star’s idea is just one of several ideas being suggested to give the people a greater say over the policies that affect them. And at a time when political certainties are being widely thrown out, an idea like this could be adopted in any country — including yours.
But I would not take part. And who cares how decisions are made?
Changing the way decisions are made could change what those decisions are — people will often disagree with those in power. People may feel more attended to, creating a better society. But on the other hand it may mean they wrongly ignore expert opinions. Either way, it has important implications for the society you live in and how well off you are — so it affects your happiness and that of those around you.

Word Watch

Parties
Five Star considers itself a movement, not a party.
2009
Five Star was founded amid anger at the global financial crash of 2008 and corruption in several areas of Italian life, including politics.
Goals
The movement’s stars stand for public water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, the right to internet access and environmentalism.
Flexible
Five Star has allied itself to other anti-establishment movements, but it is not explicitly from the nationalist right-wing or socialist left-wing.
Direct democracy
A process where decisions are taken directly by the people, not by those they elect.
Crowdsourced
A demographically representative sample of citizens spent a day listing the principles and values they wanted to see included. An assembly of 25 people from various professions then wrote several drafts of the constitution, with citizens feeding back via social media.
Forms
The Pirate party was asked to do so this weekend, after a strong showing in recent elections.
Punished
Grillo has threatened to withdraw the movement’s attachment to those who question his ideas.

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