Could California Enact Global Policy—by Ballot Initiative?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Right now, California’s critics dismiss the state’s efforts at fighting climate change by saying that one state can’t make global policy.

That talking point is getting dated. Because ballot initiatives may be going global.

I’m serving as co-president this week of the 2019 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, which is taking place in Taichung, Taiwan. And one big topic of conversation is about the possibility of creating worldwide ballot initiatives.

Proposals are still being developed—one I heard would build the initiaitves around the United Nations—but the logic is straightforward. Global problems, from climate to nuclear proliferation to poverty, require global solutions. But the world’s structures for solving global problems aren’t democratic, and global treaties often impose the views of elites and anti-democratic leaders on the world. 

If you want global policymaking and laws that have the legitimacy to really change thing, you need some sort of worldwide initiative and referendum process.

This is a big step forward, but global direct democracy is not new. It’s become increasingly common, as direct democracy spreads to more than 100 countries, to run similar initiatives in multiple countries. We’ve seen such global efforts on environmental issues, LGBT rights (for and against), and even some political reforms. And Europe has a transnational initiative process, though it’s merely for setting the agenda in the European Union, not having voters directly enact law.

On a global level, direct democracy makes more sense than representative democracy. It can be hard to translate the many traditions of political parties and people across borders. But ballot measures are laws or constitutional amendments that can be translated into many languages. And unlike politicians, initiatives don’t have a nationality.

Indeed, direct democracy is not always national—it’s more common at the state and local government level. And state and local governments around the world are cooperating more than ever to solve global problems. The idea of a global direct democracy is an idea whose time may soon be coming. 

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.