Calling out and bringing down a failing system isn't enough; we have to start right now to build something better to replace it. #otf
The cornerstone of a better system will be a way to make decisions about improving the system without partisan freakouts.
That stuck in my mind when I was swimming tonight, so I started pondering how one might go about designing an information age democracy. My first thought was to go big: come up with a fractal decision-making structure designed to exploit the human brain architecture for tracking Dunbar’s Number (ND) of people, dividing the population into groups of size ND÷3 who designate a representative to deal with the next tier up, also of size ND÷3, and was thinking “yeah! Emergent properties! Swarm intelligence!” and then I did the math and figured out that even a city the size of Sunnyvale would need a couple of thousand people involved. So I decided that maybe I should be a little less ambitious.
My next thought was to find ways to aggregate votes in a way that doesn’t leave as much opportunity for them to be corrupted by lobbyists. I wanted something that would allow a busy person to be effectively making voting decisions they liked, without necessarily taking the time to study the issues. What I came up with was something I might call “proxy-enabled direct democracy”, or perhaps a “digital-proxy republic”:
- Any citizen eligible to vote can, if they wish, vote on every legislative issue coming up at any level: federal, state, county, district, city, whatever. Votes are held open for seven days unless the executive for the district declares an emergency, in which case the time can be shortened, but that automatically puts up an issue for recalling the executive. Votes are, by default, private.
- If a citizen does not wish to obsessively track every single legislative issue going on at every level that affects them, they can assign their vote to a proxy, whose votes are public; a proxy knows how many people have entrusted them with a vote, and can broadcast messages to them, but does not know who they are. The proxy assignment can be specified based on jurisdiction and tag, with tags assigned by members of the appropriate level of the judicial branch. (e.g.: civil liberties, environmental policy) As long as the vote is open, the assignment can be revoked.
- The proxy can be a person, organization, or algorithm. The most important algorithm is No, which automatically votes no on everything; all citizens are enrolled in No by default until they choose otherwise. It could also be something like “any time the ACLU and EFF agree, go with that”. And it could be “contact me via phone/email/whatever to resolve conflicts in my rules”.
- A proxy can in turn delegate to another proxy.
So this means that if you always like my choices on my election research posts, and I registered as a proxy, you could assign a vote to me and figure I was doing all the policy-analysis dirty work. Someone more skeptical might specify an algorithm like “any time slothman, palecur, and rhylar agree on something, go with that”, figuring that anything that got past our disparate viewpoints would be worthwhile (and while there might be a suspicious amount of support for ambitious space-launch megaprojects, they would have sane funding sources). Setting something like this up should be possible for non-technical people with modern voice-recognition technology, given what we’re seeing from Siri.
I think this might be a good replacement for the House of Representatives, though a Senate of elected humans might still be useful in its role as a “cooling saucer”, as long as there were constraints to free them from lobbyist influence.
There would be interesting voting blocs springing up; I expect alliances of megachurches with blanket proxies from their parishioners would be major players, for instance, and the traditional political parties would be setting themselves up as vote aggregators. There would be big advertising media blitzes while votes were open, trying to persuade people to shift their votes. The default of “no” rather than “abstain” would change the kind of work done in persuading voters; given current voter turnouts, it would likely bring government to a screeching halt until people felt enough pain that they got to the polls.
That’s the first pass. Critiques and suggestions are welcome.