The Syntropic Arc Project is a non-profit organization that aims to encourage and facilitate non-ideological, democratic transitions to healthier, more ecologically adaptive and innovatively designed societies. Although democracy offers the best hope for human survival, there are 10 critical issues in today’s democracies that we need to address. In each of them, special interests obstruct further progress. We make our position clear, and we will support others interested in democratically achieving the changes we suggest.

Ten Critical Issues in Modern Democracy

Wealthy special interests dominate government decision-making via their funding of political candidates and their parties. These common assumptions are supported by documentation available at The Center for Responsive Politics. They report, for example, that $1.6 billion dollars were spent on the 1996 federal elections, yet fewer than 1/4 of 1% of Americans donated as much as $200. Some contributors now give more than a half million dollars, and evidence supports the contention that large donations are frequently rewarded with legislation that favors the donors.

Proposed Solution? It is clear that we have to stop the financing of political campaigns by wealthy special interests. Public financing of (non-careerist) political campaigns is a necessary expense of democracy and the only logical answer to control of elections by special interests.

Independent Electoral Councils invested with real power to guarantee fair campaign and election procedures would help.

About half of all U.S. Senators are millionaires, and the vast majority of senators are white, male, incumbent lawyers. In the 1996 elections to the U.S. House of Representatives, incumbents had an overwhelming financial advantage, and they won overwhelmingly–despite the fact that polls showed that a majority of U.S. voters felt that congress was doing a poor job. In nearly 40% of the campaigns the winner outspent the loser by a factor of 10 to 1. The candidates who outspent their opponents won 90% of the time, and there are no limits to the number of times this phenomenon can repeat itself.

Career politicians argue that it takes experience to make things work, but veteran office-holders and lobbyists in Maine, the first state to apply term limits to both chambers of their state legislature, were surprised to discover that not only did the legislative process begin to move more smoothly, but also many of the newly elected were not interested in hearing pitches from professional lobbyists!

Proposed Solution: we can put an end to political careerism by making it illegal for a person to hold two elective terms in succession. This would stop the practice of careerists who spend more than half their time raising money for another campaign or another office while they’re already in office.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Feb. 13, 1997, Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, pointed out that “Only about 11% of the U.S. Congress and 22% of the state legislators are women.” She advocated a Voting Rights Act for Women that would guarantee women 50% of our elective positions. Several other nations have already moved in this direction.

Minority ethnic, racial, and other identity groups–and small political parties–in the United States have even less representation.

Most of the brand new democracies opt for some form of proportional representation modeled after those practiced in Western Europe. One way of measuring the effectiveness of different forms of representation is to count the percentage of eligible voters who help elect candidates of their choice. In the 1994 elections to the U.S. House of Representatives only about 22% of eligible voters helped with their votes to elect candidates. In contrast, over 75% of Germany’s eligible voters in their 1994 elections with their system of proportional representation helped to elect candidates. At the same time German voters had a far wider range of choice than the typical choice between two candidates provided U.S. Voters.

Proposed Solution: proportional representation for all minorities, small political parties, and both genders tends to bring more people into the political process and would result in dramatically improved decision-making by our legislative bodies. Proportional representation for at least one house in every bicameral legislature would satisfy minimal requirements for fair representation and would not require an amendment to the federal constitution.

“Preference score” voting methods (ways of voting whereby a person is able to rank preferred choices) also provide results that more accurately reflect the people’s choices.

In the United States, the mass media, which significantly influence public opinion on most issues by their control of the content and flow of information, are now largely owned and operated by ten huge corporations.

In his book, The Media Monopoly, Bagdikian reported on the increasing concentration of media ownership in fewer and fewer hands. “At the end of World War II…80 per cent of the daily newspapers in the United States were independently owned, but by 1989 the proportion was reversed, with 80 per cent owned by corporate chains.” By 1997 Bagdikian was reporting that large corporations had acquired a taste for owning and controlling not just one but all the available media–combining control of newspapers, radio, TV, books, and magazines–and in the future, perhaps, even the Internet. “Of the 1500 daily newspapers in the [U.S.], 99% are the only daily in their city. Of the 11,800 cable TV systems, all but a handful are monopolies in their cities.”

Proposal? If the FCC were to distribute licenses equally among the private for-profit, private non-profit, and public sectors, we will get more balanced and accurate news, more comprehensive reporting on real social issues, and more reports on comparative studies of proposed solutions.

The top four per cent of wage earners in the U.S. earn more than the entire lower half of the wage earning population, making the gap between rich and poor wider in the United States than in any other modern economy.

If the will of the people were behind it, and if our representatives worked primarily for all of us instead of the special interests, our economic and tax systems could easily be restructured to reduce the gap between rich and poor, and to alter the incentives to waste and to pollute.

Solution? The economy, which is already naturally divided into for private-profit, private-nonprofit, and public sectors could be restructured so that a nearly equal balance exists among the three sectors. If powerful special interests didn’t control legislative decision-making we could easily pass laws that would move us closer to Western European models that have produced the world’s highest standards of living. In some of their democracies more than a third of the economy consists of business done by consumer and producer cooperatives.

The essential goals are to make our economies sustainable, to significantly reduce the gap between rich and poor, and to democratize corporations and government bureaus.

Democratizing the bureaus of governments and of large corporations, of course, may result in the demise of bureaucracy.

Lobbying is one of the principal means by which special interests dominate in our capitals. The more than 80,000 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., many of them making $200 to $300 an hour, and over 600 lobbyists in a typical state capital like Des Moines, Iowa, demonstrate the amount of money that special interests are willing to spend–in addition to their campaign contributions–in order to purchase influence.

In addition, they finance call-ins and mass mailings in order to skew the apparently spontaneous expression of public sentiment.

Proposed Solution: we could prevent lobbyists from whispering in the ears of our representatives by requiring them to present their views only in organized public forums where a hundred voices can contend by the rules of fair debate. Clear and complete financial disclosures by lobbyists and by elected representatives should also be standard practice.

Our educational systems are vital to the nurturing of intelligent, thinking citizens who are accurately informed about the real issues that our societies face, yet U.S. schools are often in poor repair and our student test scores too frequently lag behind those of students in other industrialized societies–primarily because of campaigns by wealthy special interests to reduce taxes in a nation that already has one of the lowest tax rates in the modern world.

Proposed Solution: Heretofore, educational systems have focused on reproducing a world-system that is convenient for the special interests. If we are to move our democracies ahead, we will have to teach our students how to fine tune their abilities to detect the tactics of special interests as well as to prepare them for jobs that fit into sustainable economies. A sustainable economy, remember, is one that is in balance with the environment so that it can, theoretically at least, continue forever.

Adequate nutrition and health care are necessary for consistently clear thought about the complex issues of our times- as well as being human rights. Unfortunately, in 1994 forty million citizens in the U.S.–15% of the whole population–did not have any health insurance for the whole year, and millions more have to wait for weeks or months just to receive basic health care.

Proposal: Almost all other modern societies guarantee healthcare to all of their citizens. Universal health care, widespread immunizations, campaigns to prevent or treat such scourges as malnutrition, diarrheal disease in children, and AIDS are all markers of a strong and confident democracy that has moved beyond the power of special interests.

Every day 35,000 people die of starvation, 26,000 of them children. Every day there are over 220,000 more mouths to feed. Estimates of future population growth, food supplies, and the Earth’s carrying capacity vary widely. Some scientists argue that we’ve already exceeded the sustainable carrying capacity at present standards of material life. It is precisely because we don’t know the carrying capacity that we should slow our population growth and consumption, extend our research efforts, and proceed cautiously.

Proposed Solutions: A more scientific and less profit-oriented approach to caring for our environment–and deciding our planet’s carrying capacity at different standards of living–is necessary and will undoubtedly come about as the influence of special interests wanes in our legislatures.

A variety of birth control methods, women’s right to choose, available contraceptives, and education for both genders regarding sex and reproductive responsibilities can be effective ways to voluntarily achieve a better balance between population growth and the environment.

As mentioned at the UN Conference in Rio, no nation by itself can sustain the protection of the environment, prevent war, or secure the rights and well-being of its citizens. Each must work in cooperation and in just relationship with other nations. Unfortunately, most international organizations–including the UN–are anything but democratic and most are strongly influenced, through the hierarchies of their nation-state members, by wealthy and powerful special interests.

Proposed Solution: An extension of democratic process into all international organizations, especially the United Nations, and new international standards for labor, environmental protection, and health care will also be necessary to elevate democracy to the next step in its long evolution.