I don##t live in Egypt but it is such an exciting event that I feel I just have to comment. Egypt is in the middle of one of the most important and exciting events in history. If you succeed in making a great democracy then people for generations to come will look to you with pride. If you fail it will be a very tragic moment in your history and the history of the world.
The great news for Egypt is that you are able to look at the democracies that have been around for ages. You can build on their success and, more importantly, you can learn what to avoid from their mistakes.
As an average person from one of these democracies I have two big suggestions for you. I believe these are the two biggest lessons you can learn from the problems older democracies have had.
Lesson 1: Grade the Press
This is the most important lesson you can learn. The whole foundation and even the whole idea of a democracy is built on having people called journalist. The duty of the journalist is to tell the news of the day to the public. It is the duty of a journalist to present the news in a very detailed and very unbiased manner. The journalist presents both sides of a story with great clarity. The public is then is allowed to discuss the news and the public then votes on what to do by electing leaders that agree with their point of view. In this manner the democratic society moves forward with the consent of the public. Unfortunately, the old democracies in our world have never been able to create a way for the journalist to do their job. Because of this the old democracies have very disruptive and unbalanced societies. I will explain what went wrong and how, hopefully, you can correct this problem. A very long time ago we had to decide how journalists were going to be employed. We knew we did not want the government to be in charge of the journalist because then whoever was running the government would make the journalist say whatever the government wanted to say. This would destroy the independence of journalist and probably lead the country to some kind of dictatorship very quickly. We finally decided to have advertising companies be in charge of the journalists. The idea was that the advertising company would sell ads along with the printed or broadcast news and that would pay for the journalist and the cost of delivering the news. We made one major mistake when we set this up: we left absolutely nothing in place to make sure the advertising business would do the job of being good journalist.
Here is the problem: If you had to describe an advertising company in a sentence it would be something like this: “Advertising companies are in the business of broadcasting and printing the maximum number of ads they can to the largest possible audience they can for the highest amount of money per ad they can get and they want to do all this at the lowest possible production expense.” Notice that there is nothing in that description about being a good journalist. I am sure you will also notice that the people that pay for ads pay the advertising company strictly by how many eyeballs and ears their ads get exposed to. So the advertising company has to try to get the widest possible exposure. If you think about it, the result of all this is that we wind up with a system where the people that deliver the news are paid to present the news in a way that is shocking and alarming because that is what gets the most eyeballs and ears. Presenting both sides of a story in the news is good journalism but very bad for business because it is not shocking.
The result is that the old democracies are left with a society of people that are always very angry, always agitated and always very poorly informed. There is a solution to this problem. The answer is actually fairly simple. We need to Grade the Press. Suppose a real journalist was in charge of delivering the news and they could do whatever they wanted to do. What would they do? Well, if they are a good journalist the first thing they would want to know is whether or not they are doing a good job of delivering the news. So the journalist in charge of delivering the news would ask the major political parties to grade them on a scale of 0 to 9 for how accurately they articulated their political party’s view in news stories and also to explain why they gave the grade they did. The journalist would then ask the historical society to do the same job of grading them for the historical accuracy of their news broadcast. The journalist would ask the association of physicists to grade them on how factually accurate the scientific information in the news is and finally they would ask the same from a panel of prominent people representing the business community. The real journalist would then boldly display these five grades every time they delivered the news and also prominently display a short, easy to remember, internet address that people can go to and to see why these grades were given. Then every month the poll is taken again. If the news was graded in this way the people that offered poor journalism would get very bad marks and not very many people would watch them which would cut down on their ad revenue. They may go out of business if they do not improve. Circulation would increase for the news programs that had a good journalism grade and the ad revenue would go way up. Since the ratings are updated monthly there is always the ability to improve your standing at the start of the next month. Please note that this would not prevent you from having “investigative journalism” or “news commentary” publications. In fact very conservative or very liberal news commentary shows would proudly display a lopsided political rating as a badge of honor.
Summary: The important thing to realize is that without this method of Grading the Press you will be stuck with having newspapers and TV shows that have their “journalists” deliver shocking stories every day which will keep the public in hysterical frenzy and this will prevent your country from ever having a rational democratic society. The most likely result of having a news media that is not graded is that you will eventually probably have some kind of dictatorship that gets voted into office and they will then kill the voice of all the people.
Lesson 2: LS and MS political parties
What kind of political parties do successful and stable societies have? First let’s define a word – socialism. Let’s say socialism is government ownership of things in your society. So the more your society is owned by the government the more socialistic you are.
If you look at the large successful democratic societies they generally have just two major parties. One party feels that from where we stand right now we should have more government ownership of society. Let’s call this the MS (More Socialism) party. The other party wants to go in the opposite direction or LS (Less Socialism) – having more independence and a more free market society. So in a healthy society you will have good impartial journalists and very articulate speakers for the MS and LS political parties. These parties make their case to the public and the pubic then votes which way they want they society to move.
What are the great dangers in forming political parties in a democracy? One danger is having too many political parties. Suppose you have 5 political parties and one party is the Dictatorship Party. Although very few people want the Dictatorship Party to win, if you have five parties the votes may be spread so thin that the real bad party takes over the government. In other words a large number of equally strong political parties generally create a very unstable government. Another danger is that a major political party becomes a religious party. You may then wind up trading a political dictatorship for a religious dictatorship. Both are horrible for the people because you wind up with one ruler telling everybody what to do. Most revolutions end with some kind of dictatorship. But the people of today are not the people of the past and this does not have to happen.
What an exciting time! I will end with a poem.
When time passes on and the memories are gone,
When the voice to be free is old as a tree,
When political mutations have reached their fruition,
When the people vote and the nation spoke,
When finally at last the die has been cast,
What will you have done, young Egypt, young son.