Pirate Parties and the Free Market of Ideas

During a procrastination fueled Wikipedia binge, I stumbled upon a page on the mainly European phenomena of the Pirate Party. Pirate Parties are political parties based on a movement started in Sweden when some activists created a semi-satirical anti-copyright political party. Pirate Parties are varied in their approaches, but they tend to value direct democracy, government transparency, and digital/technological freedoms. Pirate Parties often attract younger, more technologically savvy voters, who most likely feel fed up with the political system and ready to vote for Parties which are less traditional in nature. Pirate parties have been waning in significance due to the lack of cohesion inherent in a movement supported by younger voters and alternative voters, and rooted in satire. However, this is not to say that Pirate Parties are going away completely with Czechia’s (the Czech Republic) Pirate Party quickly becoming one of the major players in Czech politics.

In this day and age, it is especially interesting and relevant to look at Pirate Parties’ focus on direct democracy and technological solutions. In the past it was hard for direct democracy to function, with voters directly influencing policy and governmental action through mostly referendums, and only the very wealthy or very motivated actually connecting with representatives. What Pirate Parties advocate, such as the German “Piraten Partei”, is the use of digital communication between elected representatives and party members through the use of digital forums and other tools of the digital age. Compared with town halls and referendums which may require people to leave work early or find transportation to a certain location, the opportunity cost of using a digital forum can be relatively low.

Some direct “e-democracy” advocates point to another place where a model could taken to suit democratic participation, is internet voting on sites like, reddit, twitter, facebook, etc. Why I think this is exciting for more than just political scientists (especially for economists), is that internet voting is fairly good at turning self-interested/direct actions into positive outcomes. A good example of this is reddit: on reddit, millions of users will all vote on different posts boosting some and deflating others, ultimately leading to the best/most entertaining/most interesting posts,photos etc., making it the frontpage of reddit available for consumption by all users. In this way the site acts to turn the self-intersted action of voting on cat memes, into beneficial outcomes, much like a free market turns self-interested/direct action into aggregate gain. In this way, this ‘free market of ideas,’ could allow for middleground between current representative systems of democracy and direct democracy, with individual agents (voters) taking actions that would lead to policies that were more acceptable to the majority of citizens, then just a plurality of motivated activists. While it is a way away from reality (at least in the U.S.), it is definitely a movement to watch.


About Brennan

Brennan is a fourth year economics major at the University of Puget Sound.

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