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Most of my ideas are half-baked. This one is barely warm. But it's fun to think about, so I thought I'd share.

Today's thought experiment is to imagine a form of government with no employees, no elected officials, and no leaders. Imagine there are no government-owned buildings or other physical government assets either. This imaginary government exists only as software running on servers spread across multiple commercial sites, plus a bill of rights based on the American model. I'll add one extra right: The right to affordable high-speed Internet access.

Society would agree on only three rules:

1.       New laws require a 51% majority.

2.       Changes to existing laws require a 67% majority (for stability).

3.       Votes are weighted based on test results.

That last rule means that voters must take an online test on any topic on the ballot before voting for it. A citizen's vote would be reduced in weight according to test scores. So if you scored only 50% on a test about the national budget, your vote on budget topics would be counted as one-half.

Your first reaction to the idea of a software based government is that it would leave too many essential services unattended. You'd have rampant crime, no one picking up trash, no business rules, no environmental standards, no schools, and so on. It would be chaos.

Or would it?

Nothing has ever surprised me more than the success of Wikipedia. Before Wikipedia, how many of us would have guessed that a crowd-maintained online encyclopedia would become a global treasure? Every instinct in my body says Wikipedia should have devolved into uselessness. I would have expected pranksters to spoil Wikipedia with false information, and I would have expected knowledgeable citizens to have better things to do with their time than donate it. I would have been very wrong.

The Wikipedia model makes me think a software-based government isn't 100% crazy. But for this system to work, one particular global trend needs to continue along its current path: Our desire for privacy has to keep shrinking. In the imaginary government-by-software, every citizen would have legal access to anyone else's medical, financial, employment, education or any other data. We're already seeing a rapid and voluntary disintegration of privacy. The only reason privacy exists at all is because it is often better than the alternatives. But once the alternatives to privacy become clearly superior, future generations will make rational choices to release on it. In general, every time we give up a little privacy we gain in other ways. When the benefits are large enough, privacy will seem a quaint relic from the past.

Once the public releases on its demand for privacy, crime will disappear fairly quickly. Private entities will have security cameras with facial recognition on every corner. The Internet will track the location of every automobile and every cell phone. In this future, cash will be banned in favor of electronic transactions, so the world will also know where you are by your purchases. And I wouldn't be surprised if someday we're all wearing location chips.

Ninety-nine percent of crime depends on being undetected long enough to escape. If you eliminate the possibility of being undetected, you eliminate most crime, and you eliminate the need for a police department. Don't worry that the bad guys have guns because everyone else will have one too. The bad guys will always be outgunned fifty-to-one. If someone tries to become a war lord, society can cancel their credit cards and starve them into compliance. With no privacy, no gun laws, and no untraceable cash, a life of crime will be a short one.

Ideally, an information-only government will be so healthy for the economy that potential criminals will simply get legitimate jobs.

Let's also assume that necessary functions such as education, the fire department, garbage removal, and environmental standards are all handled by organized volunteers or private companies. Everything will get done, but society will be free to attack any problem in any way it sees fit. Citizens won't be saddled with an antique government that was designed in pre-Internet times.

Homeland defense would be a big issue for a government made entirely of software. This imaginary government still needs a professional military run by generals. But the military could be subservient to the majority opinion in the country, just as it is now for all practical purposes. Generals could simply read the opinion poll data, add their own good judgment about timing, and act accordingly. There's no need for a civilian government to be in the middle, so long as the top generals can be fired by popular vote.

About halfway into writing this post I realized that the topic is too enormous for a blog. I'll just summarize by saying the existence of the Internet plus the trend toward less privacy might make it possible for citizens to self-organize without the need for a formal government. I don't predict it will happen, but the obstacles will be ones of psychology, fear of the unknown, and lack of imagination.



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+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
Based on this and some of Scott's other posts, I am convinced that he really wants "Anonymous" to run everything.

Oct 29, 2012
Scott, what do you suppose we will do when we have spent all our rare earth elements making flat screen TVs and fancy cell phones?

Where will our utopian future be when we can't make any of that stuff since we buried it all in a landfill?

I don't know that this is an eventuality, but I would be interested in your insights on the scenario.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
I'd be on board for this if A] It took a 90% vote to establish a new law, and a 11% vote to abolish an old law. Changes to laws would require abolition and re-ratification.

Any law that engenders serious opposition is probably a bad one...and by serious opposition I mean by one-in-ten voters.

The most salient feature of modern western civilization isn't democratic government [although that plays its part]. The Greeks invented democracy millenia ago, and were well aware of its flaws and problems. What gave us the modern age was the principle of _small, limited government_. Any system that keeps unnecessary government in check is greatly to be wished [by me, at least].
Oct 29, 2012
intelligence is the worst indicator of vote validity.

there are geniuses and idiots on all sides of an issue.

politics is about weighting abstract values like freedom/security/privacy/wealth/justice/idealism/pragmatism. those are emotional judgment calls. intelligence doesnt help with any of that, intelligence only purifies your policy choices to more closely match your value hierarchy.

the older i get the less valuable book intelligence appears. it was great when i was in high school and didnt have to study, but its usefulness basically stops there. far more important is study habits. far more important is emotional intelligence.

i think a personality test would be a better way of voting.
Would you rather A) starve to death as a free man B) go to prison for rest of life with free healthcare?
Would you rather A) be executed for crime you did not commit B) repeal death penalty?
Would you rather A) give me liberty or death B) pay high taxes on tea?

I never meet anyone who even has a hint of "Give me liberty or give me death". Noone is that idealistic anymore.

At one time I worked in a prison. I found it hilarious that my yearly salary was less than the cost of 1 inmate.

public policy opinions are not a matter of intelligence. The idea its intelligence based doesnt make me think you have a poor value system, just lower intelligence, which as it turns out, isnt as bad a thing as we thought.

I would draw a line at the mentally handicapped tho. ppl who cant formulate their own value hierarchies. (not from intelligence deficiency, but from value judgment deficiency). voters should be partakers of the human experience. i would argue the mentally handicapped do not partake in a meaningful way. (right/wrong/love/hate/guilt/malice/freedom/compulsion) What i always hear from handicapped siblings, is they are incapable of malice. IMO they arent sharing in what it means to be a fallible human.

although weighting by intelligence would be bad, weighting by "informed" might have SOME validity. atleast ppls subjective value judgments would be matching with reality based metrics.

Our form of govt is based on a certain idealism that only works with appropriately matched populace with specific attitudes. The fact its ever changing and evolving shows the govt construct does not match the attitudes of voters. we simply dont reflect the value hierarchy of the authors of constitution. americans dont care the POTUS started a war with libya without congressional approval.

the idea a person should fare in this life according to their own strength or genius is almost completely eroded. That's where we started, but the issue is so polluted that the starting line is completely obscured. What dominates the issue is equalizing everyone's starting line. Giving some a leg up and some a smack down. When someone does prosper we blame it on a possible trust fund or possible affirmative action.

we dont believe all men were created equal, nor do we believe in justice for all. we are far more interested in someone's demographics and past then treating them equally. casey anthony and OJ simpson come to mind.

we simply arent the people for whom the constitution was designed.

a system that matches our values would be great, but intelligence has almost NOTHING to do with that. being informed only a little. we dont need a lot of info to know if a policy furthers our attitudes. Obama wants to increase social spending. romney wants to focus on military spending. its not rocket science.

I think a better service to voters would be a test that lets them feel out their own value hierarchy. let them explore the ideals in clinical setting. there is no wrong answer if we dont have thought police.
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
I want to be the guy who writes the tests. They will then prove that anyone who doesn't share my views on any subject of controvery is too ignorant to be allowed to vote on it.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
Offtopic: As successful as Wikipedia is, their success needs to be interpreted correctly. You make it sound like we as citizens of earth have massively created this awesome encyclopedia together.

That's not what happened. What happened is scale. With an audience of hundreds of millions, you will always find 1-5 individuals passionate enough about a single topic to devote free time to sharing that knowledge. This means that almost nobody contributes to Wikipedia, and almost everybody leeches it. It only works because of scale. If you'd apply this model to government, you'd get an elitist society.

Frankly, an elitist dictatorship in my mind is the most efficient and effective form of government possible. If only that dictator is genuine, rational, fact-driven and non-evil. Possibly a saner model is to have a group of such people. An engineer's government so to speak. Sadly this form of government is subject to corruption and self interest, as history has proven time and time again.

If we could keep the above model in check, I'd much prefer it over mass democracy by uninformed people. Even if people were better informed, self interest and short term interests will always prevail. I consider myself fairly informed, but in my voting behavior I still chose the short term interests of my and family over the long term interests of the common good. Simply because I cant afford otherwise. This just shows that even informed people cannot be trusted.
Oct 29, 2012
"Votes are weighted based on test results."

Spoken like someone who is fed up with how the California voter initiative process really works. As a former resident of California, I totally relate. And support this idea.
Oct 29, 2012
There is one common element that exists in all mostly liberal societies. That is that there is no majority. That is, there is no one group of people making up more that half of the population that is homogeneous enough to all want the same things.

Instead there are several overlapping minority groups that are willing to help each other out so that things get done.

Imagine a town with several different industries and cultures. One day several of the towns glaziers come to the town council and complain about the state of the roads. They say that there are so many potholes it is impossible to transport window panes around town. The town pothole filler says that he would love to fix them all, but he needs more workers and supplies, and his budget is all tied up.

So there is a motion to increase the pothole repair budget by a certain amount. The glaziers, and their friends and family all vote for it, but for the rest of the town - it is just mean more taxes. Though this would be a very important law for a large number of people, and for the town economy as a whole, the direct benefit is limited to a minority. So in a civil society, there needs to be an alliance of interests that are not identical. So the glaziers have to convince enough people that supporting what they need, will translate into support for something that they need. So parties and coalistions are formed, and things get done.

Without formal and informal alliances, society cannot function.
Oct 29, 2012
This form of government would be a direct democracy. A lot of people forget that we do not live in a true democracy, we live in a republic not a democracy!! (A federal constitutional republic, to be exact -- thanks Wikipedia).

You do not want to live in a democracy. What if 51% of people decided that all cartoonists should be executed? It would be mob rule -- we need a representative system where there are checks and balances to create laws and codes that have both the interest of the majority AND lawmakers and executives can apply ethical judgement to make sure that these laws do not oppress the rights of the minority.
Oct 29, 2012
This might work for small communities of like-minded people but I doubt it will work in larger groups. To me that sounds like the perfect dictatorship, not of one dictator but by the uninformed masses or by the people who designed the software (or better, their bosses).

Lowering peoples voting rights sounds like a good idea, but that will be very difficult to implement. Only some of the informed people will vote in favor of that, the uninformed and the informed people in power will vote against that.

Today there is a scientific report that salt is unhealthy. New law is passed that no one is allowed to eat more than x grams of salt per day. And that will be enforced by the ever present cameras and my neighbors with their guns.

Tomorrow another scientific study comes out that salt is good against heart diseases and increases your life span. So another law is passed that it is mandatory to eat x grams of salt per day...

Food is just an example, but there are plenty of conflicting studies for food so it makes a good example. Television at some point was considered dangerous and would have been forbidden. Then Comics were dangerous. Today computer games are dangerous.

For the current powers-that-are in the US this would be of course a great model. No need anymore to bribe politicians (well, sponsor their election).

And I always laugh at people who say, privacy is overrated and no one who is innocent has to fear anything. They never ever set a positive example (in fact, they often defend their privacy with all legal methods available). I am still waiting for Mark Zuckerberg to open his life completely. Or for that matter, where are your medical and financial records Scott?

Note the resistance of Mitt Romney to be transparent about his financials. Not to mention that he has interest in companies producing voting machines.

On a different note. Joss Whedon also has endorsed Mitt.
Oct 29, 2012
I think I have a word to describe what you are talking about: infocracy. Actually that sounds pretty bad. datocracy maybe?

The one main issue here is that the access to information be univerally distributed. As with any inclusive system, there will be people who try to undermine that system in order to gain power. In a capitalist system, they can do this by blocking the flow of money, in liberal society they do this by blocking the course of justice. In this case an evil person would attempt to gain power by blocking people's access to information.

In this case criminal hackers would not be trying to steal information, rather they would be attempting to destroy it, hide it, change it, or otherwise prevent it from reaching the eyes of the people who need to see it.

Barring that, there would be an increasing tendency towards confusopolies (Scott's word I think), where people and organizations don't try to hide information, but to present it in the least useful way possible so that it might as well be hidden.

In anay case, I think that a more informed system would be better, but there are challenges to achieving that.
Oct 29, 2012
Which begs the age-old question: "Who watches the watchmen?"

If you want to be in power in this world, you need to be the one who writes the tests.
Oct 29, 2012
Instead of testing voters on every single issue, why not just test the politicians, and let the voters decide who is best qualified to lead based on the results?


1. Voters need to be highly knowledgeable about many complex political issues, or
2. Politicians need to be highly intelligent.

All that number 2 requires is that voters understand the importance of high intelligence.
Oct 29, 2012
So, a test affects how much your vote counts? Who determines what the "correct" answers are? If a carbon pollution tax for industry is on the ballot, do I have to lie and claim to believe that global warming is real and entirely caused by man in order to cast a effective vote against the carbon tax?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
Interesting idea - as always.

I like the idea of testing knowledge on a topic and reducing the value of votes by the uninformed. Of course - that raises the question of who gets to design the knowledge test. What about people who attend lousy schools who were never taught basic economic concepts. Should their vote count less that someone who received a decent education - because they live in a better zip code? Access to on-line courses would be a must - to even that out -but then you have the question of who designs them? If you can control the test and control the test prep - you control a great deal.

Also - while I'm not exactly a scholar of ancient Greece - my understanding is that direct democracy played a significant role in the defeat of Athens at the hands of the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War. Political infighting, combined with extreme public anger over inevitable missteps in war led to the execution of most of Athens top naval commanders in the middle of the war. Things did not go well for Athens after that. "The People" can be trusted with many things. Rational decision-making under pressure is not one of them.

Oct 29, 2012

Sorry, my wife's in surgery and I hammered that out on the phone withou proofing.
Oct 29, 2012

Oct 29, 2012
The soft underbelly of the society you descibe would be under constant attack, much like today's internet is. Google filters and email filters are so good, we forget that the majority of the net is mailcious. Now I'm not saying we should shoot the malware makers of the future, but they would be downvoted and economically sequestered by society.

Ok, here's the weird part. Openness and the desire to be upvoted will cause society to become more docile. It would be a mistake, however to let the Mike Tysons of the world die off. You can never be sure when that DNA will come in handy. One solution would be to send all the teststerone to Mars. Then if humanity was attacked by an alien race, we'd still have fighters. Maybe more likely we would eventually attacked by robots designed by robots of our own making. Nevertheless, if we fight like the lovable aliens in Galaxy Quest we' d be toast.
Oct 29, 2012
The censored part was "for life" end of paragraph, "messing" around (s version).
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
Who would set the tests that determine the weighting applied to votes?
Would you have a single weighting for all subjects or would you attempt determine weighting based on knowledge of health care issues, foreign policy, economics, law etc?
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