Winston surmised: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.” If that is the case, why not try some new forms? Compare our plight to that of a bridge builder, who can only make bridges out of mud, straw, or gravel. The poor bridge builder complains: “Gravel is the worst thing for building bridges, except for all the other materials that have been tried.” Sure, they could resign themselves to building bridges out of gravel. Enough of it, and they can cross the clogged river. Or, they could devote their efforts to research and development, trying many kinds of materials and comparing the results. Then, at least, they might have better bridges. Same for democracy — if it’s so bad, why not experiment with alternatives?
Here is one alternative:
Try different things, and compare the results. Call this the ‘Scientific Method of Governance’. It is never fixed as one law; it constantly evolves, improving. Each new experiment enriches our understanding. This is radically different from a federal representative democracy.
In a democracy, people vote on a new law without knowing how well it will work! The passage of the law is left up to uninformed opinion. Democracy is uninformed by definition, because it doesn’t try things out first. Democracies normally don’t even bother to measure how well a law works after it has passed. The most popular opinion among all the uninformed must be best.
With a Scientific Method as constitution, a few methods of governance can be tried regionally and their results are compared. The best law, so far, becomes the provisional law. Yet, science doesn’t halt after the first result. Experiments continue regionally, in the hopes of discovering even better structures of government. Sure, some locales might chafe under the idiocy of one experiment, yet that is already the case for the entire populace of democracies. Democracies suffer from more misguided laws, permanently; meanwhile, regional experiments only hinder a few people, and only temporarily. The Scientific Method allows continuous improvement, based on real results.
Though, what kind of results are being measured? Who decides those? How?
When we go to the polls to vote, each of us brings a set of concerns. Those concerns are private, however. Some people vote for a candidate who issues racist dog-whistles, and they never need to make their reasons public. And, our elected representatives vote with private concerns, as well — their ‘ayes’ are cast out of regard for corporate lobbyists, without ever saying so.
What if we had public concerns? The metrics used for making decisions are posted, visible to all, and a law is passed if, during experimentation, it best met those concerns. Bigotry and kleptocracy could not hide. And, when those public concerns are evaluated, in each experiment of laws, the public would see which concerns were met and to what degree they were met. Bias grows in the shade, while public concerns illuminate the purpose of the law.
Those concerns are not found by a vote. If an important concern is only known by one person in the whole country, they may still post it to the public list. It lives alongside the other concerns as equals. Another concern, shared by all, occupies only one slot beside it. Once all concerns are listed, it is possible for people to declare the weight of their concerns. This weighting is the nearest people would come to democracy.
Each person would rank concerns, from first to last, or vouch their ranking to another person whom they trust. This ranked voting, along with vouching for another, was recently tried by Google with positive results. It has been branded ‘Liquid Democracy’, though it is just an amalgam of various methods familiar to any game theorist. The Scientific constitution differs from Google’s experiment in one crucial way: Googlers ranked their final choices, while this method ranks only the concerns, not the final laws.
So, when experiments in laws are compared and evaluated for each public concern, (weighted by that concern’s average rank) the public does not vote on which law passes. The public voted for their concerns, instead. The law that passes is whichever one best met ranked concerns. And, when a new experiment meets those concerns better, government policy switches to the new law without a vote. A Scientific constitution adapts as soon as adaptation is warranted.
A Market for Externalities
This is a concept I have detailed elsewhere, which dovetails with a Scientific constitution. Using a market for externalities, the majority of government services can be managed by the markets without the moral hazards of privatization.
The core concept behind a market for externalities is that the government is responsible for internalizing the costs and benefits that fail to be accounted for by the market.
Every action has costs and benefits. And, when you are the sole recipient of the benefits, a business can provide you with those benefits in return for a cost. However, if the business operates by polluting a river, for example, then there is a cost that is felt by people who were not involved in your business transaction. Those sufferers feel a negative externality — a cost that is not accounted for by that business. The business avoids paying the cost of the river’s victims.
Meanwhile, an inspiring teacher produces great benefit for all the children they teach, though they are never paid back by those children. The teacher provides a positive externality — a benefit that is not accounted for by the market. Government implicitly recognizes that its role is to internalize both positive and negative externalities: when a river is polluted, government steps in to regulate, fine, and prosecute; because education is so valuable to the entire economy, government taxes to pay for teachers. The same reasoning applies to health care, defense, infrastructure. Government is intended to overcome the limitations of the market.
So, a market for those externalities would supplant many of the daily functions of government. Government would still enforce regulations, collect taxes, mediate the passage of laws and international diplomacy. Yet, every service government provides would be the product of a business proposal. The market ‘votes’ for these proposals by investing in them; like a Kickstarter campaign, investors’ cash is only paid if the budget is met. The investors hope that the business activity will generate measurable benefits, which are rewarded by tax dollars. This is inverse to government contractors today, who win a contract, and then fail to deliver. These business proposals receive investor funds, first, and then must deliver to be reimbursed by the government. The business is awarded a fixed percentage of the valuation of benefits, which pays expenses and rewards investors.
If business is reimbursed by government tax dollars in proportion to the benefits they generate, then the market will move to generate society-wide benefits. For example, if your doctor improved your condition, or kept you healthy for longer, they would get paid. The price of keeping you healthy is paid out of their own pocket. Doctors in such circumstances would seek to take on patients who could be helped most by simple, cheap, preventative care. It would be the end of milking insurers for expensive procedures, years after the problems and warning signs arose.
The market chases high returns. Every dollar spent fighting TB is estimated to generate $43 of economic benefit, in those places still suffering from infection. If a tech company could turn $1 operating budget into $43 return, investors would clamor to own stock. The truly virtuous work is also incredibly valuable to the people it helps; if government measured and reimbursed businesses for that work, businesses would gladly take up virtue. We wouldn’t need to rely upon backward and languorous burearcracy — we would be served rapidly and efficaciously by businesses that are only paid by taxes if they actually help.