A while back, I described the fundamental problem with the political process: the systems comprising our society are designed, through laws, by a bunch of lawyers without expert knowledge in either the domains of interest or principles of design. For example, the education system is largely designed by the education act, which is written and voted on by people who are not experts in education or in design. How can this problem be addressed?
Whether your country has a parliamentary democracy, Jeffersonian democracy, or any other system in which people elect lawmakers who control social structure through laws, your system of government is fundamentally broken. It’s time the legislative system was fixed. It’s time for Democracy 2.0.
Step 1: Qualified Decision Makers
In proposing a new system of government, I’m going to assume that decisions should be made by the people most qualified to make them. For instance, since you are the only expert in your happiness, what you do tonight (go to the movies, stay home and read, go for a walk, etc.) should be your choice. By the same reasoning, whether a country participates in a war should be decided by the military and foreign policy experts who know the most about the war in consultation with the economists, sociologists and psychologists best equipped to evaluate the potential effects at home.
While countries need a head of state (president, prime minister, etc.) for symbolic purposes, unless the head of state happens to be a qualified expert in any particular field, he or she would not be making many decisions. And you can forget about veto power.
Step 2: Accountability.
All people must be accountable for their actions. No exceptions. This has two implications:
1. If experts are continually wrong, they cease being experts and are no longer asked to participate in decision making. You cause an economic crisis, you no longer have input into economic policy.
2. As a participant in the design of public policy, if you lie to the people or intentionally make a self-serving and public-screwing decision, you go to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Those who abuse their power lose their power, and their freedom, and should think themselves lucky they’re not burned at the stake by the people they’ve screwed.
Step 3: Design, not dialogue
Ideally, in existing democracies, policy is result of a dialectic process in which the interests and values of all the stakeholders involved in a decision are balanced. When government debates intervening to save a failing business (like a financial institution, for example…) it weighs the interests of the business, its shareholders, it employees, it’s partners and it’s debtors against the interests of the public, special interest groups and government itself. This is bullshit. There is only one stakeholder: the people. Government exists to serve and protect the people. All other interests are irrelevant.
Instead of this inane balancing act, lawmaking must be viewed as a design process.
Step 4: Treat Laws like Software
When we start thinking of laws as socio-technical artifacts, like software, the enormous clusterfuck that is the legislative process comes into focus. First, there is the idiotic idea that laws should change slowly. If the world changes fast and the law changes slowly, laws quickly become out of sync and obsolete (see copyright legislation). Instead, the law has to quickly adapt to changing conditions, which means iterating rapidly. Put simply, all major laws should be revised every year by standing committees responsible for designing them. Second, there seems to be this other idea that laws should be intentionally vague. This is idi-fucking-otic. Intentionally leaving the law ambiguous to satisfy people with opposing value systems and maintain slack for judges is precisely what creates all the wrangling and theatrical shapeshifting that impedes all rational action in courtrooms. If the people trying to make a law don’t agree on anything, they are either the wrong people or there is insufficient evidence on which to base the law. If judges need ambiguity to apply the law, it means the law was poorly designed in the first place. Other ideas from software that should apply to law include:
- Revision Control – You can then see who changed what and hold them accountable.
- Unit Testing – the design of a law isn’t done until you know how to measure its performance.
- Requirements Engineering – Laws need clear goals and requirements so that judges can justifiably act against the letter of the law to achieve the goals and requirements of the law, thus eliminating loopholes. This is far more sensible than making vague laws for lawyers can argue about until the end of time.
- Formal Modeling – To further remove ambiguity and the need for interpretation, we can represent laws as formal models with well-defined semantics.
- Constant User Feedback – the legal system needs and efficient mechanism by which lawyers, judges and regular people can point out flaws, limitations and deficiencies of existing laws, and have these incorporated into future iterations.
Step 5: Treat the Legal Landscape like the Writing of Star Trek
One of the troubles with Star Trek is that so many Star Trek TV shows, movies, books, cartoons, etc. have been made that the history, characters and technology has become inconsistent. Thus, after a fan consumes a certain amount of Trek media, things seem to go frustratingly haywire: the characters act out of character, prequels violate statements in sequels and for some reason everyone forgot how to turn the deflector dish into that big-jesus deus-ex-machina-canon they used to blow up the Borg last week the moment that episode ended.
The same thing happens in law: laws contradict each other, work to opposite purposes and generally create a conceptual minefield of loopholes, exceptions, conventions and other bullshit that gets in the way of fairness, justice and punishing evil motherfuckers. To prevent this, someone or some group must be in charge of maintaining legal consistency. Where two laws are inconsistent, the design committees of both laws must be brought together to resolve the conflict. Resolving each such conflict removes the need for adjudication and interpretation by judges. If the entire legal framework could be represented as formal models, each new iteration of a law could be automatically tested against the existing legal framework for consistency.
Step 6: Focus on Parsimony
One of the best points of Moore’s Utopia is that the law must be kept simple enough and short enough for everyone in the society to read and understand. Put another way, the societal value and fairness of laws drop dramatically when the laws of a country become so numerous that no one can know any of them. While I agree that allowing the defense from ignorance to count would undermine all laws (since everyone would just claim they didn’t know what they did was illegal at the beginning of every trial), the quid pro quo for this is that the law must be simple enough that everyone can know what is illegal. Therefore, the law must be dramatically simplified from its current Escher-esque clusterfuck. The value of any given clause must be weighed against the cost of increasing the complexity of the law.
Step 7: Unfuck the Political and Judicial Systems
Unfortunately, the legislative system is tightly coupled to the political and judicial systems, which are also horribly bullshitified. Therefore, the solutions I propose to the problems with legislation depend on different but equally revolutionary changes to the political and judicial systems. Stay tuned, I’ll be back with more of the War on Bullshit revolutionary manifesto in the New Year.