If you were going to modernize and redesign the constitution of the United States, what changes would you make?

You and I have two huge advantages over the Founders. We have the benefit of a few hundred years of track record to see what worked and what didn't, and we have the Internet. It's hard to imagine that Franklin, Jefferson, Madison and the rest would design the constitution the same way if they were starting now.

Our biggest political problem at the moment is that we have two powerful political parties, and two is a bad number for getting anything done. Every issue becomes an endless slap fight with no clear winner.

So what is the optimum number of decision-makers?

If you have only one decision-maker, you have a dictatorship. That would be terrific if your dictator happens to be awesome. But no one wants to take that sort of risk. Dictators are rarely awesome.

A many-party system, such as Israel, has its own set of problems. You don't want too many parties all pulling in different directions.

The ideal number of decision-makers for any sort of organization is three. When you have three votes on any issue, the result is always a decisive 2-1 or 3-0. Obviously that only works if the decision is a yes-no type. The worst case would be three parties with three different plans.

So how do you design a system that has the benefits of three decision-makers without the risk of getting three different plans for each issue?

My proposed constitutional change is to allow three - and only three - political parties, as follows:

1. Liberal Party

2. Conservative Party

3. Science Party

Each party - no matter how many members - would get one collective vote in Congress on each bill. All bills would be decided on a 2-1 or 3-0 vote. So you always get a result that looks decisive to the public. That's the first benefit.

Now let's say the Science Party is all about data and rational thought. The party would recruit scientists, engineers, and other quantitative types. The Science Party would be allowed to vote, as a block, on every bill, but they wouldn't be allowed to introduce their own legislation. That prevents a situation where there are three plans for the three parties and nothing but deadlock. The Science Party would only be allowed to vote for the liberal or the conservative plan. But the Science Party would have tremendous influence on those plans because the other parties would understand they have to get the Science Party vote to succeed.

With this arrangement, the Science Party is on the winning side of every vote.  The public would always have the benefit of knowing that the facts mattered. That doesn't mean the Science Party is always right. It just means the decisions are always informed by reason. Realistically, the Science Party would usually be settling for the lesser of evils.

The risk is that the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party would each try to get their moles elected in the Science Party. But if that were a huge risk, you would see it happening under other Democratic systems, and you don't. I think well-defined parties would do a good job of filtering out the pretenders.

The Science Party would need the power of abstaining in case the other parties produce two thoroughly unworkable plans. So you still have gridlock if you need it. But members of the Liberal and Conservative parties would have a hard time getting reelected if they kept disagreeing with the Science party. Challengers would use it as a hammer.

I would also tweak the constitution to make it illegal to combine different topics into one bill. That gets rid of the pork projects.

The Science Party would be charged with keeping the public informed via Internet. Unlike the other two parties, the Science Party would fully explain the counterpoint to every argument and lay out all of the data and reasoning behind each issue.

I would also make voting mandatory, and require that it be done by Internet, assuming proper safeguards could be put in place to avoid voter fraud.

If the Founders had the technology we have today, and they had a robust scientific and analytical community to draw on, as we do, I think they would have designed the Constitution to take advantage of those assets.

What do you think?

[Note: Going forward, I'll be pruning out any commenters who are taking over the comment section. You know who you are.]

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +69
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Oct 12, 2012
I believe in everything that chuck.milner said except heath insurance. I don't think it's bad idea to tell people to buy it so others don't have to do involuntary welfare in emergency rooms.

Do I get to be in science party?
Oct 12, 2012
Reading this reminded me of a few things.

Mentioning 3, and only 3 parties reminded me of Babylon 5, and an alien race who's government decisions was based off of 3 members of each of their 3 "parties", Religious, Military, and Labor. As the series runs, the Military and Religious branch make some choices that were not to the benefit of the society as a whole, so they adjusted it to 2 from Religious, 2 from Military, and 5 from Labor.

These sorts of things highlights a strength of the 200 year old document where amendments can change things as time changes the requirements.
I do not like the idea of being "locked in" to any party. In another 200 years, things can change a lot, will those political ideologies still be prevalent? Probably, it's human nature, but even that may change from implants, enhancements, androids, or certain apocalypses.

The other idea, of mandatory voting by internet. Definitely has some advantages, and can be worked around if each voter can submit a blank ballot if they are truly undecided, or apathetic.
But we should also pull the strengths from the current systems. Going to the polls has a social aspect, and people can talk to other people about the issues. (It's one thing to watch and listen to televised debates, another to talk about them with your peers.)
The other method of vote by mail has a huge informed decision advantage. Voters get their ballots weeks before it's due, so they can look them over, do their own research and mark them as they want at their own pace, rather than try to remember what they want on the spot, at a specific time and day.

Again though, as times change, the internet as we know it might not be around in 200 years. Maybe our implants will allow instantaneous communication with each other and a "Vote" would simply be to think about it while the chip is active. But that shouldn't mean people with outdated implants should not have a voice, or even those incompatible with implants should go unheard, after-all they are sentient too!
Oct 12, 2012
what is needed for the constitution is an aggressive mechanism to cope with 1) new things like technology 2) extremes.

noone thought at the time of the constitutions creation that they would need to worry about many of the extremes we have. gay marriage for example. that was unthinkable at the time. same with allowing grown men to have sex with 14 year old boys. yet we have citizens promoting this legislative agenda.

even today we need to pass some amendments to discriminate against groups/behavior before they get their foothold. yes we have ppl with no shame who have sex with animals. is there any constitutional reasoning to limit this? no. it needs an amendment before more ppl think its the thing to do. there is no constitutional basis to discriminate against chickenf'ers.

i challenge anyone to make a constitutional basis to discriminate against that behavior. It simply doesnt exist.

any law criminalizing this behavior is an arbitrary infliction of the majority's morals on the individual. we live in a secularized society that does not recognize sexual behavior as having any innate legal (im)morality. the only way to hedge against this is an amendment.

if not animal sex, is there anything we can say we wont tolerate? sex with animals is a victimless crime, in fact some might argue it pleases the animal. unbounded tolerance is a vice.

as for new tech, establishment has aggressively rewritten the fabric of liberty. now our private communication content can be monitored by ISPs. constitution screwed the pooch on coping with new.
Oct 12, 2012
Can we file this one in the "crazy thought experiment" drawer?

First of all, "We have the benefit of a few hundred years of track record to see what worked and what didn't", except that we can't even agree on whether you raise or lower taxes and government spending in order to improve the economy, despite track records from the results of both. So experience it worthless because one or both sides is willing to ignore history in favor of ideology.

Constitutionally mandated political parties are a scary thing, though. I'm pretty sure I've read that the founders didn't really favor or hope for any kind of party system. One arose because it's common for humans to organize themselves into groups, especially when asking others for votes or money.

Besides, science is easily co-opted by politics. One need look no further than the climate change debate to see that when science and politics come to blows, politics trumps science.
-7 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 12, 2012
I have to admit that after reading "If you were going to modernize and redesign the constitution of the United States, what changes would you make?" my first thought was

"fix the bloody 'right to bear arms' amendment".

The current wording is just lousy. Whoever wants to defend the US gets the right to join the army, can bear arms there and that's it.

(Yes, there are hunters, farmers and policemen too, just like doctors have access to narcotics or poisons and scientists to things like plutonium or viruses.)
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 12, 2012
Compulsory voting doesn't work. Why force people to vote when they can't be bothered to inform themselves about who they're voting for? That's a problem waiting to happen.
Oct 12, 2012

[If the Founders had the technology we have today, and they had a robust scientific and analytical community to draw on, as we do, I think they would have designed the Constitution to take advantage of those assets.

What do you think?]

Sorry, I missed that part of the post in my initial comment, so I will answer the question you actually asked now; no, I do not think the founders would have done anything remotely like you suggest for reasons essentially the same as have already been given here. Enshrine the position of a 'Science party' in the government and it becomes at least as dogmatic and separated from the peoples/republics interests as the parties we have now. The founders may have indeed made significant changes to the governments design but Im convinced they would have kept direct election of our most important decision makers intact.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 12, 2012
I don't think the number of parties is the problem.
It's the rule that in the current system you need a lot more than 50% of the votes to prevent filibusters.
This means there is a range of election results where the government can't do anything if the opposition doesn't play.

And of course the aggregation by the electors which distorts the results of the popular votes and allows gerrymandering.

Fix this and you'll have third parties too. Oh, and give people two votes, for a party and for the president. (Better: preferntial voting for president, proportional for the party)
-8 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 12, 2012
Well it's definitely an improvement over the current system. Although I'd be cautious about placing that much power in the hands of the Science Party (scientists can be as dogmatic as everyone else, at least in the short term -- see e.g. the Copenhagen interpretation). Maybe an additional protocol (such as optional blocking by the general public) would be helpful.

And I don't think I've been taking over the comments section; it's just that nobody has answers to my most elementary objections. Do you want debate or soundbyte? Many other blogs have several pages of back-and-forth in the comments. Liberal opponents seem to have no trouble holding their own ground; it's just conservatives that don't feel the need to defend their opinions. The sad truth is that they simply don't have answers because their opinions are neither well-throught-through or well-informed. Playing the troll card at the drop of a hat is convenient for someone who doesn't have much depth to his convictions.

I won't be posting here again. Enjoy the company of the Dunning-Kruger conservatives who entertain the strange idea that they're superior to the general population, yet resemble the Tea Party more than intellectuals.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 12, 2012
I agree with a couple other commenters. The science party holds most of the power in this arrangement. Monied interests would quickly corrupt members of the science party. They would become extremely skilled at presenting the data so that it would favor the their benefactors.

You have mentioned many times that modern issues are so complex we have to rely on trustworthy experts. Your science party would immediately cease to be trustworthy under this arrangement.

You might be able to mitigate this with some tweaks:

1) Science party representatives are appointed in equal numbers by the other two parties.
2) Science party representatives are well paid by the government and are prohibited from taking outside sources of income. Any investments must be held in a blind trust for the duration of their terms.

When you frame it this way the science party looks like a super-powered version of the current supreme court, with all the attendant problems. For this scheme to work the science party reps must be impartially chosen and shielded from outside influences. I think this is only possible in a fictional utopia.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 12, 2012
First, I think the framers did an amazingly good job, but we've screwed it up in the last century with courts who have let Congress legislate anything they want under the Interstate Commerce Clause. I suppose a tweak could rein this in.

Term limits for Congress and Supremes (maybe the Supremes should get 20 years, but now we're nominating younger people in order to pack the court for 40). It seems the worst pork-barrellers of both parties in Congress are those who've been around for decades.

No electoral college: use a popular vote so every voter counts. Right now, only voters in swing states even matter.

I'd need to research it more, but I think a coalition government would solve the 2-party problem. Your mandated 3-party plan is fraught with problems, the biggest of which would be a coalition would likely form so we'd effectively have single-party rule. The benefit of coalitions between many parties would be that various opinions could be differentiated. Libertarians could have a voice; tea partiers wouldn't have to join Republicans; greens, socialists, unions, and equality voters wouldn't have to be lumped together.

Lastly, but not least, I'd adopt some form of "loser pays" system in the courts, which should practically eliminate frivolous law suits (and all of the expensive settlements, product recalls, etc paid by the innocent to avoid them). We wouldn't have to go all the way (like the British system) to fix the problem; I bet it could be solved by simply giving judges discretion to say "this is frivolous; so you have to pay all of their expenses that you caused them to incur" only when they see fit.

But some of the things that frustrate us are intentional in the name of stability:
Getting bills through the Senate is supposed to be difficult; it takes three election cycles to turn the Senate over (only 1/3 elected each time); the permanence of the Supreme Court. These things prevent a charismatic leader from easily remaking the government and become a dictator. While imperfect, so far it's been the least bad government (but I worry that's changing).
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 12, 2012
Why do you think that scientists don't have conservative or liberal views?

As a counter-example, look at all the noise that economists make. Their views are rarely non-partisan. The Science party would reflect the overall liberal/conservative split of the larger population.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 12, 2012
In my experience, the most off-the-wall ideologues wrap their positions in the mantel of science. Remember "Dr." Andrew Wakefield? I do. He's the guy who convinced enough parents in my region of the link between autism and vaccines to threaten the "herd immunity" against diseases like Whooping Cough. I really never gave him much thought - until my fully vaccinated son contracted pertussis. The vaccine is not 100% effective - and so we need all parents to vaccinate their kids to protect everyone.

The problem with a "science" party is that most rational thinkers don't really think of themselves as "science-based." Idiots, however, typically do.
Oct 12, 2012
If Conservatives and Liberals get to keep their elephant and donkey mascots, I nominate bigfoot for the Science party. It would be a good metaphor for the inevitable contention between left and right-leaning Science party members.

Oct 12, 2012
I'm a Canadian that follows US politics out of interest. I've always thought it a bit fascinating that US voters stick so vehemently to a 2-party system - I remember Ross Perot's run as a third candidate (and Dana Carvey's impersonations) and Ralph Nader's popularity as a third candidate, but neither has seen any real success. Canada's always been a 3 party system (not that the 3rd party has ever won an election) and in the last 20 years the political landscape has shaken up quite a bit, so that now five parties participate in the nationally televised debates, and three parties outside the Liberals and Conservatives have held official opposition status (i.e. second place).

With 5 parties the debates are a bit of a free for all, but when it was only 3 the third party candidate almost always came across as the winner with undecided voters - he/she got to slam the two leading parties while they slammed each other, and come out almost unscathed. Not sure if the Science party would perform the same function, but it would be entertaining politics.
Oct 12, 2012
My revised constitution would specify a new budgeting process. Rather than have the House and the Senate do duplicative work of drafting budgets from scratch and then reconciling them, I would split the responsibilities.

The Senate would solely be responsible for setting the total buget number. That number would then be given to the House, who would be solely responsible for allocating percentages of that overall number to the different programs.

I believe that this small change would have huge ramifications. First, the politicians in the House (and their lobbyist friends) would not be able to simply add funding to a pet program without taking funding away from another one. Second, senators, who are supposed to be the elder statesmen anyway, would be completely on the hook for whether or not the budget balanced and would thus take it much more seriously.
Oct 12, 2012
Oh yeah, forgot, get rid of the electoral college. I want my vote for a 3rd party to count!
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 12, 2012
Sheldon Cooper for President
Oct 12, 2012
I think term limits are absolutely necessary. I also think that one bill = one topic is absolutely necessary. Both could be done as amendments. As for the science party I think that "science" is already corrupt. You have people who think that PHD in religious studies makes them a scientist. Worse yet, you have the stupid people who follow them.
Oct 12, 2012
Hey Scott, any chance you could define "Liberal" and "Conservative" clearly?

If I'm in favor of legal (regulated) abortions, and legal marijuana (and other drugs), but I don't want to pay for your health-care, or be required to buy health insurance, does that make me a Liberal or a Conservative?

If I give to charities to help the poor, but I'm against paying for welfare for people who don't want to work, am I Liberal or Conservative?

If I support Israel's right to exist, but I'm against foreign aid (to either Israel or Egypt) am I Liberal or Conservative?

[Sounds as if you make your decisions based on data, as best you know it. That puts you in the Science Party. -- Scott]

Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog