What follows is an sneak peek exerpt from my upcoming book which addresses the subtle art of true democracy. Democracy is another word for "decentralization of power" and group consensus building. Enjoy!
We live in a time of extreme political division and every day the apparent polarization grows. For over 50 years the approval rating of the United States congress has averaged less than 30%, meaning a super majority does not approve of how things are. Aside from a brief moment after the September eleventh attacks, approval has never been above 50%. I suspect that, retrospectively, after the emotional distress wore off, the actions taken by congress during that time are largely disapproved of.
It seems to me that a legitimate government would trend toward a 70% approval rating or more. The question becomes why has it been so bad for so long and what can we do about it? How did we get where we are? If we are going to consider something new, we must first understand the problems with the status quo so that we do not repeat the same mistakes.
Presumed Purpose of Government
The preamble of the United States constitution declares the supposed purpose of the United States government:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
- Preamble of the United States Constitution
Many people will argue that this constitution represents what we have all agreed to and therefore should define the purpose and limits of government. This appeal to the status quo is an attractive fallacy because it relieves one of the responsibility for justifying the constitution. For those who favor the theoretical limits the constitution places on government the idea of redefining the basis of our government is terrifying because there is a legitimate fear that a constitution drafted by modern politicians would decimate the rights they believe the existing constitution protects. On this point I agree, modern politicians cannot be trusted to have the philosophical integrity to draft a new constitution.
The mere fact that many people fear a new constitutional convention is evidence that they believe their values are not held by the masses or that the politicians they elect are irredeemably corrupt. If politicians are irredeemably corrupt, then the governance structure defined by the constitution is the structure that enabled corrupt people to gain the reigns of government. If instead the politicians actually represent the people, then the constitution is a minority opinion imposing itself on a majority. Either way those who resist building a new consensus aim to impose a tyranny of the status quo.
Lysander Spooner observed “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain - that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.”
Given a long-term average 30% approval rating, the conclusion is obvious, our constitution and the system of government it has established has failed. Entire books have been written documenting the failure of the United States constitution in achieving its stated purpose. If we were to wipe the slate clean, erase all laws, and unwind all existing government organizations and start afresh with just the constitution, how would things go? Would we not end up right where we are right now and in record time?
Given this situation it is clear the constitution must go and with it our entire structure of government. The government no longer represents and serves the people, if it ever really did. But why did it fail? What should we replace it with? How will we agree?
The Political Party Folly
The failure of our system was predicted in the farewell address of the very first president of the United States, George Washington.
“In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.
However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
- George Washington
I think it is clear from observing modern politics that Washington was right. The country has been divided in a winner-takes-all system. We don’t have a body of independent congressmen making personal judgments, we have a system whereby most congressmen are beholden to a political party and unable or unwilling to exercise independent discernment.
The 2020 presidential race has devolved into “orange man bad” vs “orange man good”. It has become a race between dumb and dumber and between bad and worse. It could hardly be claimed that the choices presented to the people represent the most studied, thoughtful, honest, rational, impartial, and well-spoken people in the country. Given the false choices something is obviously fundamentally broken.
A political party represents a parallel “private” government comprised of individuals colluding to gain control of the constitutional government. Such collusion undermines the separation of powers intended by the framers of the Constitution.
One of the lessons easily observed within the cryptocurrency space is that people are tribal to the core and these tribes can form around anything you can place a label on. At a certain point everything devolves into “us” and “them”. Anyone attempting to bridge the divide is suspected of disloyalty to both tribes (parties). Please pray for me; whether you believe in God or not, those who attempt to bring peace need all the protection they can get.
Politicians naturally end up more loyal to the tribe that put them in power than to the country. This is true whether they are conscious of it or not. A single tribe places people across all branches of government and the semi-autonomous bureaucracies. The effect is that the political tribes undermine the intended checks and balances put into place by the founders to protect the liberties of the people.
This is another thing we learn from governance in cryptocurrency communities: there is no such thing as a closed system. People will coordinate outside of the blockchain governance process to take control of the blockchain governance structures. They will create fake accounts, vote with other people’s tokens, and collude to redistribute money from the community purse. Regardless the spirit of the laws (computer code) a community creates, people will attempt to exploit holes in the algorithmic letter of the law for private gain.
Game theory is a branch of mathematics that analyze strategies for dealing with competitive situations such as governance. Mechanism design leverages game theory to design systems that produce the desired emergent outcome. This book is derived in part from my experience applying and testing mechanism design in global blockchain communities. A good design must not assume a closed system free from outside cooperation. You cannot “outlaw” political parties, you must design a system that makes them impossible to form in the first place.
Let's take a moment and consider some of the irrational consequences of the party system. The vice president use to be the runner up in an election. Could you imagine a Trump/Hillary ticket? Since the party system polarizes the population the implied archetypical outcome would be either Lucifer/Christ or Christ/Lucifer and every couple of years it would switch. Because this was intolerable we now have a system where the president/vice president run as a team.
But why should we limit the team to the president and vice president? Why not replace the whole government with the loyal lapdogs of the winning party? Do the people really intend to put a president in charge of a disloyal bureaucracy? The common belief is that this creates “checks and balances” and forces the two parties to compromise. One has to wonder how can Lucifer and Christ compromise? How can “good” compromise with “evil”? If they do compromise is it for the benefit of us humans or just the “Divine Spiritual Beings” (aka the ruling class)? If the people elect Christ, should Lucifers lackeys do the best to undermine him? Should Lucifer be put in charge of heaven or Christ in charge of hell?
With the party system, the power of any independent politician is nullified. In extreme cases a large number of the unelected governmental positions can work against a widely popular president. If you are not aligned with one of the two primary parties you will lack the political support necessary to effect change.
Given a two party system, all deliberation and negotiation occurs between the leadership of the parties and not in larger body of representatives. This leadership is often behind the scenes and unelected. The parties easily agree on things that reinforce the two party system; therefore, over time outside parties have an increasingly difficult time even getting on the ballot or in the debates.
In recent years people have learned that to have a chance in the elections they must wear a red or blue jersey and then work the private governance system defined by each party. Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders both had tremendous initial success by using the parties internal processes in an attempt to gain the party nomination. In both cases the powers behind the red and blue parties changed the rules and otherwise “cheated” them out of the opportunity to be the party’s nominee. While these are the most visible examples of how each party controls its internal governance, there are countless smaller examples of both parties turning against “outsiders”.
Stated another way, our country didn’t consciously choose to be governed by the party primary processes anymore than Bitcoin chose to centralize control in mining pools. The centralization of Bitcoin mining into pools is a logical inevitability given the game theory involved in Bitcoin’s incentive structures. Satoshi didn’t intend for this outcome any more than the framers of the Constitution intended it to devolve into political parties. The major parties evolved and then passed rules to keep themselves protected. A cynical person might come to the conclusion that the primary processes were created to give the illusion that “the people” are in charge of the parties. Because the parties are considered private organizations there is very little accountability regarding internal party politics and elections. Most alternative parties don’t even hold primaries and implement their own process for selecting nominees.
Whether you are cynical or not regarding the legitimacy of the primary nominee selection processes, both major parties implement selection processes which this book will demonstrate are structurally unable to truly represent the will of the party members, let alone the citizens of the United States.
The rules that do exist in some states focus on ensuring that you can only vote in a single primary. Voters must choose to be on red team or blue team. If the red and blue teams were really interested in the country and voters were really interested in the country, then voters should be able to vote in both primaries. By picking a tribe the voter is no longer able to fully represent the countries interest, instead he is at least partially aligning with one tribe against another.
An episode of The Simpsons captured the absurdity of our situation. Homer discovers that both presidential candidates are really space aliens. He crashes a UFO into the capital building and then unmasks the aliens on live TV. Everyone in the audience gasps! Then the aliens taunt the people, “Yes, it’s true, we are aliens. But what are you gonna do about it? … It’s a two party system…, You have to vote for one of us.” After a maniacal alien laugh, someone from the audience speaks up and says “I’m gonna vote for a third party!”. The other alien responds, “Go ahead…. throw your vote away!”. The election proceeds and the people are enslaved to an alien tyranny. In the end Homer says to Marge, “don’t blame me, I voted for the other alien.”
The single biggest thing that any system of government must retain is the ability of the people to effect change. John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”. Unfortunately, our two-party system combined with a number of other factors has created a system that makes change almost impossible.
Here are some of the factors that make this so:
- Gerrymandering, organizes districts so that one party wins every district removing any influence minority parties might have.
- Non Democratic Party Governance Structures
- Media controls the discussion of who is eligible for the masses to consider and what information the masses have available
- Incumbent advantage
- Campaign finance that favors celebrities and big spenders
- Controlled Debates
- Focus on people and not policy
- Vote counting corruption (See Provably Honest Online Elections are Possible )
We would have to be insane to keep doing the same things and expecting a different results. Its time to implement a new process that considers everyone in the country without bias to the status quo powers that be and without corruption of party insiders.
If you are interested in hearing how I propose we solve these problems you should subscribe to my mailing list to be the first to know when my book is available. In the mean time checkout the following posts: