The amazing adventures of Doug Hughes

I’ve had a thought niggling at the back of my mind for a while now.  I feel like our current form of government in the US is badly broken.  I have an idea that, for lack of a better term, could be described as an alternative system of governance.  Perhaps this sounds crazy, and maybe it is, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to throw it out to the world and see what people thought about it.

This idea comes from my own personal perspective on the US government, how it functions, it’s shortcomings, and where it seems to get things right.  There’s a good chance that my opinion and perspective lays well outside of the mainstream.  I should also state for the record that I truly admire and respect how my country has led the world towards greater freedom and I think there’s room for improvement.

My thesis for this article is that representative democracy is failing US citizens.

How do I see representative government failing us?  Here are some of the ways I personally see the government failing us:

  • There is too much money in politics.  A few rich people can, with relative ease, swing an election in their favor and buy favors from politicians.
  • Representatives are not consistently well informed about the issues on which they are voting.
  • Lobbyists have undue and unproportional influence over politicians.
  • Representatives cannot fairly represent all of their constituants.  In particular, those who voted for the “other person” are under represented.
  • The political parties gain unfair advantages by gerrymandering and otherwise manipulating the system.
  • Two parties – or any number of political parties – can not effectively represent the full range of political opinions held by citizens.
  • We are stuck with a two-party political system with few realistic alternate parties to choose from.
  • The government does not trust its citizens and spies on them.
  • The government is not completely transparent and keeps secrets that it does not need to.
  • We have a complex and unfair tax system.

Many citizens do not trust government to make decisions or implement programs effectively or efficiently.  I can’t speak for citizens of other countries, but I suspect that many of them also feel similarly about their government.

So, what can be done about this?

The classic answer to this question is that we could get involved and try harder to elect people (or ourselves) who will beter represent us in government with the hope that it brings about positive change.  I believe that almost all (if not all) politicians enter politics for this reason.  I don’t think many people enter public service just for the power and privilege.  However, it’s impossible for an individual to represent any more than their own opinions.  Elections are simply a tool by which the citizenry, as much as possible, try to select the least offensive candidate from a very small pool of options.  And, the longer a person holds a position of power and influence, the harder it is for them to not to be corrupted.

Additionally, citizens of non-democratically elected governments have even fewer options to change their system of government.  This is one of the primary reasons the US government has worked so tirelessly over the decades to try to bring democracy to the whole world.  Unfortunately, this effort has had mixed results.  Many countries resent the arrogance of the US and its citizens, others are outright hostile to us.

So, again, what can be done about this?

When life in the colonies became unbearable, our US forefathers declared independence from England.  The Declaration of Independence states that a government’s power comes from its people and that it’s primary role is to protect its people’s inalienable rights.  Furthermore, it says that if a government should fail its responsibilities that the people have a right to abolish that government and establish a new one.

To be clear, I am not at all proposing that the US or any other country or people should abolish their government.  However, perhaps it’s time to consider experimenting with new forms of government and new forms of countries?

Historically, countries have been united by the land they are founded on.  Countries have clearly defined borders  in the physical world.  All people within these borders must obey the laws of that country.  But, the modern age has, through invention of the internet, world wide communication networks, telephones, overnight mail delivery, easy and inexpensive travel, and many other modern conveniences, opened us up to an alternative which may not have been feasible in the past.

What if a country’s jurisdiction were not based upon its physical location on this planet, but merely on a social contract among its citizens?  What if all citizens of this new form of country were beholden to following its laws, no matter where they were physically located?  Furthermore, what if every citizen of this country had an equal say in the laws that are formed?

I would like to paint for you a hypothetical form of government:

Imagine, if you would, that a population of people decided to come together and use modern tools such as the internet to establish a new, virtual, country.  This new country would not have any physical borders and would not have a claim to any physical territory.

This new virtual country would establish its own government.  The structure of the government and its laws would be defined in a set of legal documents.  The very first draft of these documents would define the basic underlying structure and function of the new government.  For example, it would define the following:

  • How is the government structured?
  • What is the definition of citizenship and how do people become citizens?
  • What rights do citizens have?
  • What rights does the government have?
  • and much more…

These documents would be entered into a distributed version tracking system, thereby constituting the government.  The most recent “trunk” version of these documents would be law.  This new government would coexist with, but always be secondary to, the whatever the local government is in the physical world.

Any citizen of this new virtual country would be permitted to make their own personal copies of these legal documents and to revise them as they see fit.  If the citizen so wished, they could submit revisions of these documents back to the government for consideration.

Durring the consideration period, all citizens of the country would be encouraged to review and debate the proposed changes and to cast a vote on whether the changes should be approved or rejected.  If approved, the changes would be applied and the laws of the country would be changed.

Anyone in the world who wished to do so would be permitted to become a citizen of this new virtual country and would be able to gain the benefits of citizenship.  Citizens of this new country would essentially have dual citizenship in their physical country as well as in this new virtual country.  All citizen of this new country would be obliged to follow the laws enacted by this new country, so long as they don’t conflict with the laws of the physical country where the person is located, or risk losing their citizenship.

So, what we’ve established is a country that is directly under the rule of its people.  Changes to government and law can be proposed by and voted on by any citizen.  This country’s laws are always secondary to the laws of the country where the person physically is located.  Citizens of this new country must always obey the laws for their physical country as well as the laws of their virtual country.  When in conflict, local laws will always supersede.

I imagine that eventually, this new virtual government might levy taxes, establish a judicial system, establish its own currency, and provide services to its citizens including health care, social safety nets, roads, and anything else that its citizens wish to have their government do.  Of course, this all depends on what laws the citizens of the country enact and how well they collectively manage it.

I even envision a future where corporations and businesses could be formed within the framework of this government.  These businesses would likely exist in parallel with businesses in the physical world.  But, these businesses would be beholden to the laws of the new country.  This might be useful, for example, if this new government does offer health care for its citizens.  Perhaps only medical providers who are citizens and who have also registered their business entity with the new government would be eligible to provide services paid for by this government.  And, when this happens, they are now beholden to the laws of these people.

Furthermore, if the people do form their own currency, and banks are formed to hold this currency, or perhaps banks in the physical world decide to accept deposits in this currency, then they may need to follow the laws of this country.

Instead of having a prison system to punish criminals, perhaps we have an excommunication system where the convicted criminal loses their citizenship and associated benefits for a period of time?  For less serious crimes perhaps the government would collect fines?

I also imagine that the citizens of this country may work to define subsets of the over-arching virtual country.  This could be considered states or provinces or counties or cities or whatever.  Each of these subsets would define their own rules and may in fact actually be tied to physical boundaries in the real world.  Citizens of the over-arching virtual country would be beholden to local variations of laws, though the none of these laws could override the base laws of the country.

This would be similar to how the united states is divided into states, counties, cities, etc, each with their own laws, none of which supersede it’s parent government.

Perhaps some day in the far, far, distant future some physical countries may elect to dissolve their governments and to live exclusively under this new form of government?  It could happen!

I personally feel like the overall structure of our world-wide society is beginning to change.  While technology creates new efficiencies and new jobs, it also seeks to save labor and eliminate jobs.  Labor and the ability to earn money is the foundation of our world economy.  In the very long run, as technology evolves, I believe almost automation will replace almost all workers and dramatically transform the nature of our economy.

How will society cope with these drastic, foundational, changes to the world and economy?  If history is any guide, it will be through violence, war, and suffering.  Perhaps this hypothetical form of government I am proposing could somehow be used to mitigate the impact of this?  Perhaps the people of this virtual country can come together to find new ways of structuring our society and our social contracts to protect its citizens?

What do you think?

Comments on: "Representative Democracy is Failing Us? What Can We Do?" (4)

  1. George DeMarse said:

    Your proposed system is pretty strange. It sounds too much like California which “votes on everything” through the initiative and referendum. As a result, it is dysfunctional. Too many chiefs, not enough indians so to speak.

    The better model would be a technocratic one. Because the subfields of government are so technical today (macro/micro economics, labor policy, foreign policy, etc) we need experts with backgrounds in each. We are not getting that from politicians today. We are getting “rigid ideology,” such as “government is bad,” “government is good,” “capitalism is good,” capitalism is bad,” bickering back and forth with no substantive knowledge on any of these topics.

    The voters are just as bad. They vote for someone “just like me” based on their individaul circumstances; not what is best for the majority or the country.

    So we need technocrats to run government who are experts in many different technical sub-fields to implement policies that are “best” for the country based on facts, not political ideology. Neither will they be held accountable to lobbyists or powerful interests. In fact, when technocrats act, the big interests might not even like it!

    How do we get these experts? We already have them, the professional civil service work forces now already in place who are not “political appointees.”

    Technocracy without the politicians! That’s what we need.


    • George, I realize my reply to your message is nearly two months delayed. I wanted to thank you for your feedback first off. Perhaps you’re right about the “votes on everything” bit. But part of the problem we have with our current democratic system (at least in the USA) is that we often only have two or three individuals to choose from to represent us across all issues. You can never find one person who exactly matches your specific ideals on any given topic. For example, I might be a social liberal who doesn’t support abortion rights, or a financial conservative who does. In addition to that, our democratic system makes these politicians employees who don’t wish to lose their jobs and gives them inordinate influence. Since they need money to campaign to keep their jobs and since they have a product to see (their legislative and governmental access), this opens the door too much to corruption. Too often I feel that representatives are only really representing their wealthy backers and not the constituents.

      So, perhaps a variation on my idea isn’t to have everyone vote on everything, but to give people the option to. Perhaps they can also assign proxies for specific votes. So, if there is a vote that deals with technical or science topics and I agree with, say Neil Degras Tyson or someone else, I could make them my proxy. Whichever way they vote I vote automatically. This is closer to your technocratic model and I suspect would be a better option for most citizens. But, if I know something about a given topic and have a firm opinion on it, I should be able to cast my own vote to try to steer the legislation the way I think it should go.

      Interestingly, from all the recent election coverage I remember hearing a news story about voters actually not voting in their own best interests, but more altruistically. As an example, my son was homeschooled for the last two years. However, I can guarantee you I would have voted for any tax increases to help fund education, even though I wouldn’t necessarily benefit from them. I’d do so because I think it’s essentially our social responsibility and in the best interest of the country as a whole to insure everyone gets a superb education.

      It’s been a pretty long time since I wrote this article, but one of the more odd-ball related ideas I had was to actually write law in code, not in legalese/English. Programming is slowing becoming important as a new form of literacy. What if the entire laws of a government were codified as actual software code? Laws would have to be exactingly specific. There would not be gray areas open to interpretation. I imagine a programatic interface where data is fed in and specific actions are taken based on that data. So, let’s say there’s a property dispute between two parties. There would essentially be a “function” for this. Data about the situation is fed into the function based on the required parameters and a judgement is returned.

      Yes, I realize the above is rather a naive and simple example, but imagine if the entire government and all laws were implemented in this way and the “source code” and the data that the government would operate on (citizenry, criminal records, development projects, etc, etc) were all open source and open access. First off, changes to laws could be proposed by simply making a revision to the source code and submitting it for approval by the populous. There would be no gray areas, only bugs. Intent could be defined via other libraries called Unit Tests (I know this is technical, sorry). And, if countries were to overthrow their government (like Syria for example) they might elect to simply implement this open source government or create their own custom flavor of it.

      This would open up the possibility of someday having a corruption-free, possibly world-wide government (or hierarchy of governments like global > country > state > county > city > etc) focused on world good. On the other hand, it might provide an entirely new way for the majority to stick it to the minority.

      I suspect that one of these years I might sit down and start writing this government system just to see what the heck happens.

      Anyhow, thanks for the reply. I really appreciate the feedback. Feel free to give more criticisms (and insults too, if you so fancy). I’m also happy to explain some of the more software-technical topics if you’re interested in a better explanation.


  2. Doug,

    I stumbled on your blog at a time when disturbing events in US politics have heightened interest in your topic.

    Many of your observations have been mine also for years. However, I disagree with the notion that most politicians enter representative government for altruistic reasons. There is now much evidence that psychopaths are drawn to politics. See Professor Robert Hare’s work on psychopathy, e.g. 1% of all people are psychopaths, 20% of the prison population are psychopaths. As far as I am aware, no formal study has been made of psychopathy in politics, but Hare’s PCL-R test conducted informally reveals most politicians as psychopaths. This is an incredibly dangerous situation.

    There is an alternative approach to government that would ensure the populace had ultimate control. Government by expert administration within guidelines reflecting societal rather than vested interest could be subject to a strong Ombudsman system, so that any actions by the ‘expert government’ could be vetoed by the people.

    There are many other alternatives, but there does not seem to be much study of the subject. Perhaps its time has come.


    • Sorry for the long delay in approving your post. I just saw it a moment ago. I totally agree with what you wrote. I’m having less and less faith in our current models. I do think that something that more closely mirrors the open source world could be very good. In fact, there’s no reason to throw out existing govts, just add a new, virtual, one on top of it. A sort of global, borderless, optional government. Those who apply and become citizens agree to pay taxes, taxes are used to support government operations and services. Services might include things like retirement, basic income, health, etc. Manage all laws the same way that OSS manages it. IE: people work together on new bills (IE features). Then the collective vote it up or down, abstain, or grant their vote to a trusted proxy. You still need an executive branch and probably a judicial branch, but not a traditional president. You could effectively wipe out the failing and unnecessary layer of representatives between the people and the government itself. I’m probably delusional, but I am hearing more and more about this concept.


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