Jessica
Picture by sgrunden on Pixabay

Vignette 5: Direct democracy

"Do you want to vote next month?"

"Yes Mo, you know I do."

"Why?"

"Because the health centre matters to me. Because we need the funds, because we are not catching cases early enough to do good preventative interventions."

"And to be eligible to vote you must?"

"Complete the democracy training," Jessica rolled her eyes.

"And so you need to do what?"

"Put down this game controller and pay attention to you?"

"Yes, exactly. And that is an example of an argument that appeals to what?" There was a smile in Mo's voice.

"Umm. Reason and emotion?" Jessica chuckled and threw the controller across to the far end of the sofa. "Okay you win. But let's go to the park for the lesson. I think better outside."

Jessica pulled on her scarf and jacket. She opened the door to the apartment and Mo floated past her into the corridor.

"Race you up the stairs", Jessica called slamming the door and setting off towards the stairwell. Jessica knew that she couldn't beat Mo, but it amused her to try. Their apartment was on the sixth floor, only four below the park so she could just make it up, running all the way. Mo on the other hand simply floated into the middle of the stairwell and with a little whir, went straight up.

"Not fair," Jessica laughed as the small blue and green globe met her at the top of the stairs.

She got into her stride on the outermost path around the park. Mo settled on her left shoulder.

"OK teacher. Argument and evidence. What's next?"

"Here are the sample questions. 'You see two news stories both reporting that another city district has secured funds for themselves, bypassing normal processes. On your Truthbook feed the same information is reported. Also on Truthbook, the district denies it. Do you have any evidence that this has happened?’"

"Hmmm. No. I mean some of the news feeds are more reliable than others, but that's not evidence."

"So, which of the following would count as evidence? One, your mother says it's true. Two, the city website shows the transaction in the budget. Three, the transaction is recorded in the blockchain-verified public accounts with no corresponding approval record."

"I guess it's three. The website information could be fudged."

"Correct."

"Although I'd trust my mother. She checks everything." Jessica thought for a moment. "And you, of course, if your update hashes were all valid."

"Good. Next question. ‘You have to vote on a local budget distribution. The choice is upgrading the paths in the district green space to improve the surface and widen them, or putting more buses on the least-served local routes. What information do you need to make your choice?’"

"The paths in the green space are more important to me. I mean, I want people out and exercising. It’s the best thing for their health.”

“But do you have enough information to decide that’s the best way to spend this budget, now? What else might you want to consider?”

“Um, OK. What is the situation with the buses? How bad is the service and how many people are affected?”

“Well the bus service on some routes is down to one bus an hour which is way below the average of every 20 minutes. There are about 200 000 people on those routes.”

“And how much of the district is that?”

“Thirty-two percent of residents.”

Jessica thought for a bit. “So, can’t they just walk?”

“We have interviews with some of the people affected. Do you want to hear them?”

“Hmmm”, Jessica thought for a moment. “No, that will take a lot of time. Is there a summary?”

“Yes, there is. The residents say that walking is fine for those who are younger and healthy. But most of the people affected are older, in their hundreds, and getting around is more difficult. Not having buses has meant more social isolation, skipping medical appointments and even poor nutrition. Younger people find the poor service makes it hard to get to places in a hurry. It doesn’t happen often, but when it’s an emergency, that’s a problem.” 

“Hmmm, yes. I can see that the buses are a priority. Some of the walking paths are a bit crowded, but we can probably deal with that for a few years still.” Jessica stopped, looking out over the city for a few seconds. Then she turned back to Mo.

“I can see that voting is going to be hard. You really have to think about things.”