Subjunctive TV: Making Social Networks Concrete

A few weeks ago I offered some notions toward considering alternatives to the government structures which are now in place. Here are some more thoughts on this topic. These thoughts are meant to supply suggestions for the following two problems with the current system. First of all, there is a feeling of disconnect between the ordinary citizen and government. Our actions and intentions are not communicated merely by voting and other methods of getting our opinions heard. We rightly feel that there is little to no connection between us our connection and influence on government is basically nothing. This leads to people being disillusioned, to resent taxation, anger at government waste, spending, and allocations of funds. A second problem that exists is that governments while sufficient to handle 19th century complexities are less able to effectively deal with the information asymmetries built in to top/down hierarchical structures. Finally government agencies are a faction of government which has grown extensively in the past few decades and are extra-Constitutional. There are no checks and balances in place to regulate their expanse of powers. 

Facebook and other social networking sites give an example of how social networks can arise and sustain themselves. I haven’t spent much time on facebook but current political groups and PACs are using these media to organize and spread their message. This media fits well with the political environment. Why? It is because this sort of social network can effectively be used to connect people with ideas which they support. Furthermore this sort of network can connect the individual in a tighter fashion to the group. Ideas and messages from individuals are visible. The invisibility problem is not present in this sort of system. 

The missing step here is the institutionalization of such networks, the giving them teeth. Replace the congressional budgetary process with the network. In this suggestion government agencies would be required to form network, open up and sell the the public the necessity for their existence. Contributions (taxes) which go into a central budget pool would be replaced with personal contributions allocated to those agencies via network. This would force (many) of those agencies to open their process to the network in order to generate interest and participation (and therefore contributions) to effect their goals. 

To restate and make this more concrete. Government agencies would not get funding from Congressional allocation of Presidential budgets, but from individuals opting to contribute to that via network. Taxes (the amount contributed) may be set but on a regular basis the allocation of your taxes would be self-directed “friending” government agencies and individuals. There are at least two salutary effects from this arrangement. Agencies would in turn be need to open up and convince people that their work is worthy of said funds. At the same time, government agencies wishing to spend public funds would be forced to sell their ideas instead of putting their practices into action by fiat.


Subjunctive TV: Considering Modern Government

Recalling my last Subjunctive TV post, based on the notion borrowed from Douglass Hofstadter’s Achilles/Tortoise dialog wherein a TV was imagined where sports replays included “what if” features. These features began with standard, “What if they had run the ball instead of passed” and devolved eventually to more outlandish suggestions like, “How would that play have gone if 13 was not a prime number.” In that vein, for a short time anyhow, longer if it catches some interest, I’m going to try more “Subjunctive TV” speculative posts. 

James Madison and a few of his friends (and some likely not-friends) gathered in the late 18th century and penned a Constitution based on the modern theories of man and government at the time. A few years have passed since then and just a few things have changed in the world since that time. So the premise shift offered for today’s viewing and consideration is what sort of government might our founders suggested if:

  1. There is a non-trivial body of work on the mathematics of voting. We have the means to tally votes in ways that are judged superior in better reflecting what people want than simple plurality.
  2. Modern communications internet, phones, and so on exist. High speed efficient communication between large number of people assisted by automation exists and is adaptable to new purposes. 

We’ve had our current Constitution for just over 200 years. Some things went really well. Their back of the envelope estimations of power and principle and how to balance that was darn good. Yet people are increasingly of the feeling that government is too distant and too remote. It is very powerful but their input is irrelevant. The separation of the people in power from the problems they try to address and the complexity of those same problems is an increasingly obvious flaw. In the past, I’ve pointed out that the skill set required to be successful in the election process are almost completely disconnected and fail to test the requirements of the jobs for which the elected official is to fill. 

I would suggest that if Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness was the end of government … then we might be able do design a government depending on and using different ways of getting peoples input and suggestions, finding solutions, and insuring freedoms in ways that, for example, don’t require taxation with so little representation. Could Facebook (of all things) and Open source software collaboration offer any models toward a completely new way of viewing government or …

How might the Constitutional Convention have played out if it was held today by technologically savvy politically astute men. How would a convention staffed by people like a Wozniak/Madison, Hamilton/Knuth offer for the nation?