Sunday Sermon: The Republic – House by House


Political legitimacy is achieved by having a system of government in which the people agree to it, giving up a bit of their autonomy in order to gain the benefits of participating in the collective.

Walter Mosley could have been channeling the founding archons of Badgeria when he said:

My desire is to institutionalize those elements of our society which need not change in the near future – to make available to everyone their basic needs, otherwise leaving the world of profit to its own devices as long as the capitalist stays out of the realm of law and politics. Socializing basic food groups, basic housing, legal and medical services, will – I believe – keep the individual and the corporation on separate tracks. Today the government has heavy subsidies on corn, meat, soybeans, rice, beer, peanut butter, and sunflower oil – hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies. These subsidies are helpful to agribusiness, fast foods, and supermarkets. I just think that these subsidies would be better suited for the general population, supplying broccoli, beef, beans, and maybe whole wheat bread. Certain housing should be made universally available for 10% of the renter’s income, no matter what that income is. Certainly, those professions offering the greatest social benefits: lawyers and doctors should be provided, protected, and prescribed by the government. And political leaders must not – MUST NOT – accept money from individuals, corporations, or any group. Never, under no circumstances, under severe penalty of law. After all that, the capitalist can do what he or she wants, now that they are proscribed from the political arena, we can be sure that they cannot create laws to limit smaller fish capitalists from selling candy bars from cardboard boxes out in front of Whole Foods, nor can they limit the freedom and wealth of our fellow citizens by enacting laws that tilt the balance in their favor.

I suppose what I’m saying is that if we create a social infrastructure that assures that we will all have food and a safe and secure place to sleep, that our or day in court is equal, that our doctor is under no external pressure, then we have a chance to live and thrive. Then, the world we live in will have a modicum of security instead of what we have today, when almost everyone’s future is in doubt. I don’t mind wealth accruing in certain quarters, I don’t mind private property, I don’t want the government controlling my life and my sense of right and wrong. I don’t want to be told how I can express my heart’s desire. I need an education and a doctor to test my blood. I need a lawyer who works for me if I’m facing my day in court and I need an equal playing field in that courtroom. That said: human nature will never be communist. Bees are communists. Termites and wasps are communists. Migrating geese and schools of fish are, at least, socialist. [p&p]

One of the great problems in politics is to prevent political partisanship – the trading of long-term goals for short-term gains. With political partisanship comes a professional political class, and with professionalism comes money-ball. Badgeria tries to break that cycle in four ways:

  1. Direct democracy; you have to fool a majority of Badgerians most of the time
  2. An organizational division between the necessary capabilities of government
  3. A distributed governmental operations capability; government broken into separate chunks cannot easily metastasize into a monolith
  4. Capture of the political class into well-defined roles that cannot be aggrandized without the approval of the people

I will not make the effort to write up a constitution for Badgeria because I am not a good rules-lawyer. In most respects it would resemble the constitution of a typical constitutional democracy: there’s a bill of rights listing the core rights of the people: privacy, self-determination, privacy, freedom from surveillance, search, or arbitrary arrest, freedom to assemble, freedom to protest non-violently, freedom of speech, freedom to have a smart phone and network access, and the right to examine the actions of government. One constitutional right that Badgerians have, which most constitutional republics in the 21st century did not have is an absolute right to constitutional re-assessment – what this means is that, if a citizen feels that legislation infringes on constitutional rights, they can challenge it immediately at any time, and, further, if a law-maker is determined to have sponsored legislation that is determined to be unconstitutional the law-maker gets a free ride to the border. There is none of this nonsense like 21st Century Americans experienced, in which the government infringes wildly on a constitutional right (let’s say the 4th amendment right to be free from warrantless search) and then makes it impossible to challenge the infringement using procedural tricks.

The constitutional right to examine the actions of government has been interpreted by the supreme court as meaning that must be impossible for the government to act in secret against the will of the people, because the government must be an emergent property of the will of the people in a direct democracy. This is seen as a positive control: it is a good thing that the Badgerian government cannot plan military adventures in secret; a majority of the people would have to approve them. Every budget, every plan, every expense, every email, tweet, and hallway meeting are to be conducted openly. If a Badgerian politician were to discuss something behind closed doors with a lobbyist, they get a free ride to the border and the lobbyist accompanies them in the back seat so they can commiserate: political activities, since they represent actions taken on behalf of the public, cannot be hidden from the public. Does this mean that there is a lot of second-guessing in Badgerian politics? Perhaps, but the alternative has not worked better.

Direct Democracy

20th and 21st century pseudo-democracies justified their gerrymandering and oligarchical “electoral colleges” by claiming that it was hard to fairly collect all the citizen’s votes. Never mind that the technology for doing so was present by 1776, it was certainly present by 1990. The Badgerian government, when it was founded, licensed David Chaum’s public voting patents, which comprise a suite of techniques for collecting votes in a distributed, verifiable manner. These techniques were available by 1995, but the pseudo-democracies of the world preferred their sham “voting machines” and local district polling-places which were subject to voter intimidation and which were only open at certain times.

In Badgeria, when a matter comes up to the vote, there are established voting-periods depending on the type of the vote: if it’s a vote for an agency issue, the vote is held open for a week. If it’s a vote for political representatives, the voting period is a month. If it’s a vote for a constitutional amendment, the voting period is three months. For agency issues, a simple majority is enough to carry the vote. For political representatives, ranked-choice (instant runoff) voting is used. For constitutional amendments a 30% supermajority of citizens must vote for a motion in order to carry it.

Chaum’s voting system allows an individual to cast a ballot and verify that their ballot was counted in the total [chaum] which supports paper-based remote ballots as well as online balloting with automated totals. If a Badgerian wishes to vote, they request a ballot for that particular issue and are either given a single-use digital access to the ballot, or a paper ballot, depending on their preference. Most Badgerians have smart phones and BadgerNet access (as provided for by the constitution) but there are also public voting terminals in public libraries, train stations, branches of the post office, and branches of the H.R. Department. There are no districts, no gerrymandering, and if political parties wish to caucus and hold primaries to engage in slate-voting, it does not touch the voting system: candidates and issues are always simply listed by name. By the way, vote records (being computerized) are retained indefinitely; if some politician wishes to claim they voted a certain way on an issue (though in Badgeria, that has very little meaning, since there are no “representatives” in the process) it is easy enough for them to prove it.

States Rights

The United States of America and Britain both inherited a literally medieval notion that a commonwealth is built up of states, which have rights and representatives that supersede the rights and representation of the citizens of those regions. In the United States, states rights were a poorly-concealed means of maintaining racist policies, while in Britain it was a rather unsubtle means of allowing the medieval aristocracy to preserve its say in the political system. The founding archons of Badgeria recognized this structure for what it is: a hierarchy of boss-men that bears more resemblance to the payoff structure of an organized crime family, than a political system – the hierarchy does not exist to protect the citizens’ interests, it exists to allow all the members of the hierarchy to charge toll and peddle influence on everything that comes by. It’s a system for the corrupt, by the corrupt, optimized for corruption. More importantly, that entire infrastructure exists in order to interpose itself between the people and political power.

In Badgeria there are no states, no states’ representatives, and no districts, no different and incompatible voting systems in different jurisdictions, and no state laws that conflict with federal laws. All citizens’ votes are counted equally and where someone lives in Badgeria does not reduce or increase the value of their vote.

There are certainly good arguments for why some regions might benefit from region-centric management (e.g.: a large city might want a “mayor” or a region might want a “development council”) those sorts of entities are not precluded, by any means. They would be implemented as a project (projects will be explained in a bit) legislatively, and voted on by the people, or they wouldn’t happen. In other words, a city that wanted a “mayor” would probably be able to have one, if there was enough public support for having a “mayor” – but no town would automatically have a “mayor” or a “governor” inflicted upon them automatically. Again, the structure of town boss-men or regional boss-men is recognized by Badgerians as being a holdover from middle-ages feudalism. If the people decide that they need regional administrators and a national council of regional administrators, they have the means to erect one; if they don’t, they won’t.

The Three Houses

Another justification that is often tendered by pseudo-democracies is that direct democracy will somehow strain the poor little brains of the citizens (as if a body of representatives and lobbyists and gerrymandering somehow won’t!) – the Badgerian system is designed to address that problem, using a method of breaking the houses of government into chunks that have different focus.

One of the primary forms of corruption in 20th/21st century pseudo-democracies was the legislators’ tendency to promote legislation that they, or lobbyists thought was important. That’s how the United States, for example, wound up with embarrassing things like the Governor of North Carolina proposing bathroom-control legislation instead of anything that his constituents cared anything about.

In Badgeria, legislation is proposed by a separate judicial body that is responsible for assessing the needs of the public, meeting with and listening to the public (and doubtless lobbyists) and then framing that as a problem that might be tackled legislatively. The members of the Proposing House serve a 4-year term and are elected by a popular vote. Members may only serve one term in each of the houses of the government; a popular Badgerian politician thus has a maximum career-lifespan of 12 years. Politicians are paid a high salary to compensate for the fact that, while serving in elected office, they have very little privacy, either personal, financial, or otherwise (since their actions are political and fall under government openness). It is considered quite an honor to be elected to any of the houses of government, and some of the “best and brightest” study for a career in politics, hoping to retire young to a post-political career of punditry.

Let me use an example of a problem, as a means of illustrating the Badgerian legislative system:  rural broadband access.

just a picture of a gavel

A group of teachers write a letter (and encourage a letter-writing campaign) to the Proposing house, pointing out that the Badgerian state-run phone company, BadgerFone, has provided excellent fiber-based bandwidth for urban areas, but there are some parts of the country where, in spite of their “best intentions” telecommunications are pretty poor. An executive from BadgerFone, hearing of this, also writes a letter explaining that the rural zones are adequately served but there is a tendency for bandwidth hogging, etc. Perhaps a lobbyist from a telecommunications equipment supplier writes the Proposing House a letter helpfully suggesting they take a look at new Gluten-free Z-fiber, etc. All these letters and meetings go to the Proposing House and perhaps some of its members think, “They have a point, perhaps something should be done.” A member of the Proposing House that feels the issue is important then prepares a 3-50 page draft summary statement of the problem which is then logged into the administrative system (remember: everything is public!) and sent over to the Planning House.

The Planning House exists to propose implementations of solutions to problems that are identified by the Proposing House. Depending on what is going on, legislatively, the flow-through may vary, so the Planning House examines and sorts all the statements of problems that come in, and its members meet and discuss whether they feel they should be taken up. It is not guaranteed that the Planning House will take up any given statement of a problem; some may be effectively tabled by the Planning House deciding that nobody wishes to take them up. The structure of the Planning House is unusual; there is no central organizer and (in principle) no parties or ideological factions, however some of the members may have strong personal views about politics. For example, there might be a group of Planning House members who are considered “labor advocates” because they tend to take up issues that involve labor. There might be “budget hawks” or, whatever. As a new statement of a problem arrives in the in-box, one or more, or none of the members may express interest in taking it up.

In the event members take up a particular statement of a problem, they may round up allies and assistants and begin the process of drafting a legislative proposal for what the People of Badgeria should do about the problem. There are certain requirements for any legislative proposal to be considered, and to leave the Proposing House: first off, it must not be unconstitutional. There is an office in the Judiciary that is available to consult on proposed legislation, which will issue a warning in the event that it may be unconstitutional. This process exists mostly as a way of avoiding expensive constitutional challenges if legislation is proposed that has a high likelihood of being struck down.

The second parts of a proposal is a budget, a time-line, staffing requirements, which existing government agency (if there is one) is responsible for implementation, risk factors, and measurable success criteria. In some cases, a proposal might not have one or more of these items, but it’s generally seen as unusual if a plan comes out of the Planning House that has no actual implementation or success criteria. For example a constitutional amendment wouldn’t have success criteria or a budget; it’s a change to the law of the land and nobody need do anything about it, directly. Imagine there was a plan for a constitutional amendment saying “Allow LGBTQ marriage, and poly marriage, too” – that would not require much of a success criteria but it might require a nominal budget so that the marriage license forms be re-printed to include more space and a wider set of options, or whatever. The drafting process in the Planning House revolves around producing the best, most well thought-out and implementable proposal(s) for solving a problem.

So, our rural broadband statement of the problem goes into the Planning House and several members jump on it. One, a former academic who is a real “net head” immediately summons his staff to chambers and they begin drafting a plan for a government-sponsored rural broadband, paid for with a small tax on high-end smart-phone models. Meanwhile, another member of the Planning House, who is part of a loose coalition that is seen as corporatists, begin drafting a plan to use the cool new Gluten-Free Z-fiber to create a privatized entity to implement and manage it. Another member of the Planning House simply throws together a proposal saying that the government should direct BadgerFone to shut up and offer better broadband, and make it work within their business model, or else their budget requests and allocations need serious review, if you get my drift. Most of the rest of the Planning House members are busy with other issues, of course, and ignore the problem entirely unless someone asks for their input. Finally, after 3-4 months (since this is a big problem) the Planning House produces 3 candidate plans, which are quite different, for what might be done.

The candidate plans are logged into the legislative archives, along supporting documents, etc., and now Badgeria has a set of concrete set of proposals for the consideration of The People. Proposals are treated as a set – they are alternatives to eachother and need to be seen as such.

The Debating House is Badgeria’s answer to the canard that the people can’t be expected to understand legislation, or won’t be arsed to vote. The job of the Debating House is to speak for (and against) the propsals coming out of the Planning House. By the time a proposal comes out of the Planning House it must be brought before the people, which means that first it must be:

  1. Explained to them
  2. Explored and examined for unforseen consequences
  3. Shown to be valuable or not valuable, and why

When a set of proposals drop into the Debating House, the various members that are interested in promoting one proposal or another wrangle (that’s the political part) over who will publicly make the case for whichever one. In the rare instance that nobody is interested in speaking for a particular proposal, someone is assigned. Depending on the issue, the Debating House may decide to have a one-on-one debate (for something simple) or a full-blown three person debating team with multiple teams. Generally, for important issues, which touch upon established ideologies or constitutional matters, there is a lively argument over who gets to argue for which. Many of the members of the Debating House are former attorneys (it’s good practice) though sometimes there have been great actors or public intellectuals, comedians, and – once – even a popular mime.

Once the advocates are assigned for each proposal, they go to their chambers, summon their assistants, and prepare to debate the issue publicly. The advocates are expected to remember that, no matter how nice winning is, their role is primarily to explain and advocate, not simply to crush the opposition. After all, the Debating House is a collegial environment and one speakers’ opponent this week, may be on their team the next. Debating House members tend to gravitate toward topics they are particularly familiar or passionate about – some members establish a reputation for taking up populist proposals, others tend to be “liberal”, etc. A week before the debate, the advocates are allowed to meet with the press, in order to tease up press coverage so that The People are more likely to be interested enough to follow the debate.

The debates are formal parliamentary-style debates, held in The Great Hall of Debating, which is (naturally) open to the public. Citizens who wish to attend the debates live may enter requests for seats (or blocks of seats) in a lottery that is held for each topic as soon as the debate is scheduled. Most Badgerian school children attend the debates as a field trip during their civics classes. The legislature is proud of The Great Hall of Debating and its fantastic acoustics, comfortable seats and excellent cafeteria, as well as the quality of their videographers that record the event for public streaming (and archiving) and who also produce a “best of” precis. As usual, there are various youtubers who specialize in laboriously re-editing and deconstructing the debates, and for important issues, it’s fairly typical that a citizen will tune in to the nightly recap of We, The People to see what popular media talking-heads have to say about the debates.

The three plans for the rural broadband problem were fiercely debated, there being considerable advantages and disadvantages to the various proposals. The advocates all did their best; they were funny, passionate, illuminating, and – although one of them was particularly wonkish – they did their best. The media analysts tended to zoom in on sound-bites and zingers, but there were also mature analysts offering dispassionate summaries.

Then, it was up to The People.

Voting for the issue is open for a week, and the votes are tallied and presented automatically. Some voters are completely unexcited by certain topics, and ignore them. Some voters are completely unexcited by all topics and ignore all of them. In that sense, they’re in the same position as the voters of a 21st century pseudo-democracy: their opinion doesn’t matter. But that’s the worst case scenario. In Badgeria, everyone who wants their opinion to matter, has a way of making it count. The old canard that direct democracy doesn’t work because the electorate will get apathetic is only true for the electorate that are already apathetic because they have been disempowered.

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In the next section, things will get a bit more complicated. We will look at how Badgeria’s system of projects and continuing resolutions are used to assemble a distributed government. I’m afraid it will seem counter-intuitive to someone who used to a plutocratic government in which the government operates as a whole.

After that, we’re almost done – the only remaining thing to look at is the structure of the Badgerian military/civil defense/police system, The Hoplites, and how Badgeria deals with predatory politics from the outside world.

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Part 1 of this series is here [stderr]

born aristocrat

I greatly appreciate all the comments on Part 1; I worry that I’ve done a poor job, in spots, or explaining this stuff. The structure of Badgeria has been living inside my head for about 5 years, now, and it seems very clear and obvious to me, but I realize that pseudo-democratic capitalist plutocracies also have a compelling logic of their own – we grow up in a political system, a taxation regime, a system of economic exploitation and consumerism – it’s tempting to point at utopian ideas and dismiss them as impractical. But we need to (hopefully) remember that it’s the impracticality of the mice voting to bell the cat – it’s impractical because we’re not going to be allowed to explore other alternatives. In other words, when Winston Churchill says “democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried” he’s hiding the fact that he’s part of the system that helped constrain our options to Hobson’s choice.

Thanks for bearing with me; this is an interesting exercise (for me) and I hope it’s not painful for you.

Comments

  1. says

    dashdsrdash@#1:
    Marriage licenses? There were enough of the people who thought there should be marriage, apparently. So a package of legislation was written that defines marriage as having a shared responsibility for telling people if those jeans look good on them and other social rituals.

    The thing is that once enough of the people argue something ought to be a law, then proposals are drafted and voted up or down and enacted.

    I forgot a point (I will edit it into the main text) whenever a proposal comes to a vote, a default candidate “none of the above” is added. If “none of the above” wins a simple majority, all the proposals are scrapped and generally the first two houses will be reluctant to bring the issue up again for a while.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    There are no districts, no gerrymandering…

    Districts (or lack thereof) are the proverbial two-edged sword.

    In USAia, many (southern, in particular) cities went districtless for the specific intention of overwhelming minorities: civil-rights campaigners fought hard to set up districts so that “those people” on the east side of town could get at least one of their own on the city council.

    Of course, Badgeria, having presumably been founded after Teh Revolution, will have deported the discriminating-in-the-wrong-ways undesirables off to Weaselstan, where they become the concern of those aforementioned Hoplites manning crewing heroing! the border.

  3. Ketil Tveiten says

    How does Badgerian elections really work? It seems a bit unclear from the text. Say you need to elect the 100/150 persons in a House, what exactly is the process? Everyone in all of Badgeria who wants to run sign up, and the 100/150 with the most total votes get a seat? That process is not at all going to result in a distribution of opinion of elected persons that matches the distribution of opinion in the population, because celebrity candidates are going to soak up a lot of votes. Think like this: in a US-like system, everyone who likes Bernie Sanders is going to vote for the candidate in their district that Bernie endorses. In a European-like system (for the USians: parties have lists of candidates, seats are awarded in proportion to votes received with candidates selected from the list top-down), everyone who likes Bernie is going to vote for Bernie’s Party. Both of these systems gives Bernie a bunch of allies in parliament, roughly proportional to how many people like his politics. In Badgeria on the other hand, it seems like (absent a whole lot of campaigning on electoral technicalities, similar to how write-in campaigns work in the US) everyone who likes Bernie will vote for Bernie; now Bernie is alone.

    Also, because I’m a cynic, because humans suck, and because these things never work out the way they were intended to: it seems to me like the Proposing and Planning Houses is where all the real power lies, as they can effectively decide what gets voted on. A bit like the US system where the two big parties get to choose which corporate stooge the voters can vote for, it’s easy to see how these two Houses could be subverted. Or for that matter, whatever institution decides who gets a free ride to the border is going to need some serious safeguards. Who gets counted as a lobbyist for purposes of “politicians can’t talk to lobbyists about X, Y and Z”?

  4. says

    Today the government has heavy subsidies on corn, meat, soybeans, rice, beer, peanut butter, and sunflower oil

    Subsidies for beer! Ouch. I had no idea that’s happening. I knew about corn and soybeans, but beer… This really sucks.

    Back when I was living on a pretty tight budget, I calculated the cost per calorie for different foods. It turned out that getting 2000 calories from unhealthy food is significantly cheaper than getting the same amount of calories from food that’s actually good for you. This is completely backwards. If governments wish to subsidize food, they should be subsidizing healthy food.

    Chaum’s voting system allows an individual to cast a ballot and verify that their ballot was counted in the total [chaum] which supports paper-based remote ballots as well as online balloting with automated totals. If a Badgerian wishes to vote, they request a ballot for that particular issue and are either given a single-use digital access to the ballot, or a paper ballot, depending on their preference.

    If voters can check whether their vote was counted correctly, that certainly reduces the incentive for hackers to try to manipulate the software used for gathering votes. Once any fraud is detected, you just have to rerun the election. For fraud to be effective it must remain undetectable.

    There’s one more problem with voting electronically via your computer/smartphone though — vote purchases and coercion. In polling stations voters fill out their ballots behind a curtain. Thus your family members or bosses or people willing to purchase votes cannot see how you are voting. That makes coercion impossible. Sure, your despotic father can tell you to vote in a certain way, but there is no way for this father to actually check whether you voted the way he wanted you to vote. If you are voting from home via your computer/smartphone, then it’s a completely different matter. Anybody nearby can coerce you and actually look over your shoulder to ensure your obedience. Do you have any ideas how to solve this problem? Or are you simply ignoring it and hoping that coercion wouldn’t be widespread enough to actually influence the results?

    A group of teachers write a letter (and encourage a letter-writing campaign) to the Proposing house

    You need a simple and convenient way how Joe Average can submit a proposal for a new law. And I’d say that there are other better alternatives compared to writing letters. For example, consider this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ManaBalss.lv It’s a Latvian online petition platform. Anybody can submit a proposal for a new law. I once did that, my proposal was to legalize brothels. If you want some changes in the existing laws, you submit a proposal. In less than 500 words you have to clearly state what you want and give arguments why that’s a good idea. Then site administrators check your submission — they check whether it seems reasonable and constitutional, they also check and correct your spelling mistakes if there are any. Then a petition is posted on the website. In order to sign the petition, people have to log in their bank accounts (this is to ensure than one person cannot sign the same petition multiple times). After making my brothel petition I got a bit of free publicity, I gave two interviews for local radio and television stations. People also try to collect votes via social media (for example, by spamming their Twitter followers with requests to sign a petition). If a petition collects at least 10 000 signatures, it is sent to Latvian parliament. Elected politicians are obliged to at least consider the idea. They can turn it into a law or they can strike it down. So far some of the petitions that successfully collected the required 10 000 signatures have been turned into laws, so the track record isn’t totally grim. The drawback of this system is that politicians can strike down a proposal and that’s the end of it. For example, one of the petitions that collected enough signatures was about marihuana legalization. Members of the parliament struck it down instantly and they even claimed that people who signed the petition must have been childish drug addicts (of course they used the politician speak and said it more politely, but that’s what they meant).

    In Latvia there’s another way how people can submit law proposals. You have to make a fully written law proposal. Of course this means hiring a lawyer who can do this for you, after all Joe Average is no expert of legal writings. Then you collect 150 000 signatures (that’s 1/10th of all eligible voters in the country). Then the law proposal gets sent to the parliament. If parliament votes against it, then you get a national referendum. Of course this method in unobtainable for Joe Average, it costs a lot of money to collect so many signatures. Last time we got a referendum like this was quite a while ago, then the whole thing was organized and financed by one of the opposition parties, which didn’t get into the coalition government.

    Personally I find letters a really inefficient method for making law proposals. Writing a letter takes more time than signing a petition. It also forces people who are legally obliged to read all these letters to waste lots of time reading hundreds of similar letters. Letters also make it hard to keep statistics about how many people want what. It’s more efficient to make some online platform where people can submit law proposals and vote for other people’s proposals that they support.

    The debates are formal parliamentary-style debates, held in The Great Hall of Debating, which is (naturally) open to the public.

    Why should the 100 members of the Debating House be elected in the first place? Their only duty is to make speeches. I assume you want good quality debates. If so, then it’s better to simply hire experienced debaters.

    A quick glance at the people who currently get elected to political offices should be enough to realize that most of those who get elected are really bad debaters. Some of the elected people are celebrities — film stars, musicians and so on. Sure, they are used to being in front of cameras and they generally are good orators. They know how to speak and they sound great. But they don’t always know what to say. Back when everybody was talking about ACTA and general public got interested in the copyright question, I participated in a public debate about copyrights, where my opponents were two famous musicians. Sure, both of them spoke well and sounded good, but their arguments were miserable. And then there are the career politicians. A few of them are good debaters. Most of them aren’t. They are good with the politician speak (the art of talking for prolonged periods of time without actually saying anything important, and sometimes — anything at all). They routinely make logical fallacies. They focus on sounding good rather than making sound arguments.

    Instead of getting 100 of these elected clowns it would be better to just hire experienced debaters. Of course the job would be desirable, so plenty of people would be willing to apply. The best candidates could be chosen via a debate competition. Just make a series of debate tournaments. Anybody can participate. Winning debates gives you points and after a series of debate tournaments the best debaters are decided and they are the ones who get the job. Debates are adjudicated by people who themselves are experienced debaters. For each debate you have multiple (at least 4) adjudicators to ensure that nobody gives victory to their friends. Adjudicators are regularly rotated and replaced to ensure that they don’t have enough time to start making friends. Debates are adjudicated based on the content of the speeches (whether arguments were logical and well explained). By the way, those people who make it to the top in international debate tournaments (especially European or world championships) are all amazingly good. It’s a whole different level compared to the average politician. If public debates are important in Badgeria, you might as well hire people who are good at the job.

    And why not make debates open to the public in the sense that in addition to the 100 regular members of the Debating House also other people can apply to participate. If a person or a group submits and advertises a petition, why not let this person also speak in the big debate (assuming they are at least a decent public speaker, you don’t want the overall quality of the debates to get lowered)?

    For example Joe “trans-activist” Average creates and advocates a law proposal about banning gender segregated toilets. The big debate starts with a regular debater who introduces the proposed law (what would happen if the law was passed) and explains its benefits talking about equality and giving statistics. Then another regular debater makes a speech for the opposition. At the end of the debate Joe “trans-activist” Average is given a chance to make his speech. He talks about personal experience and tells how he contracted a urinary tract infection as a result of avoiding bathroom use. I have organized plenty of debates where activists debated together with pro debaters. Usually pro debaters made significantly better speeches, but I did conclude that occasionally it is valuable to give floor to people who are directly influenced by the proposed law. And you definitely want to let people who are listening the debate to ask questions. When public is allowed to get involved in the debate, they care about it a lot more.

    Many of the members of the Debating House are former attorneys (it’s good practice)

    Why having former attorneys should be a good practice? In a court you need an attorney who is familiar with the existing law; your attorney must make references to the law and quote it when necessary. None of that is necessary when debating policy proposals. You aren’t debating about what the law currently is, you are debating about what it ought to be. What matters for debating are public speaking skills and an ability to logically explain arguments. By the way, in my debate club out best debater had a degree in chemistry and his job was monitoring air pollution levels.

    paid for with a small tax on high-end smart-phone models

    I’m not sure whether I understood your proposed tax system correctly, but I see some problems here.

    There is no way the death tax will be sufficient to collect enough tax revenue. I see no way how the math could possibly add up. I’d guess the death tax will give you less than half of the necessary tax revenue. This means you will need a lot of other taxes.

    The way I understood it, whenever a new project gets voters’ support, a new tax is introduced. This means you will end up with literally thousands of taxes. You may end up with 27 different taxes on high end smartphones with the total amount of 33%, 6 different taxes on low end smartphones with the total amount of 9.5%, 19 different taxes on computers with the total amount of 21.2%. Thousands of taxes would be a pain for the Internal Revenue Service to manage. It would also be a pain for people working in an electronics shop trying to sell all those smartphones and computers. New taxes would be added regularly (and old ones would expire regularly). I’d say sellers won’t be happy about needing to print and replace price labels so often.

    If you want a sales tax, it makes more sense to just pick some percent and stick with it. For example, where I live we have a 21% sales tax for most stuff. Some items (for example, medicine, books, infants’ food) have a reduced rate of 12%. Other items (for example, a few very specific medical services) have a 0% sales tax. And starting with 2018 we will have a 5% sales tax for fresh fruits and vegetables (other food will retain the standard rate of 21%). This last one is done for experimentation purposes and lawmakers are interested in seeing whether this will work to motivate people eat healthier food.

    By the way, while we are discussing taxes, I’d suggest using taxes to influence human behavior. For example, you might want a tax on plastic shopping bags and bottled water in order to motivate people to carry a reusable fabric shopping bag and drink tap water. Such taxes can also be used to influence the behavior of manufacturers who are putting products on the shop shelves. For example, once sorted most trash could potentially be recycled. Unfortunately, currently lots of materials do not get recycled, because producing new material is cheaper than recycling the used ones. For example, government could put a tax on new plastic to ensure that manufacturers choose to use recycled plastic instead.

    it’s tempting to point at utopian ideas and dismiss them as impractical

    No, that’s not my problem with utopias. My problem (the reason I see proposed fictional utopias as impossible in real life) is because I consider people selfish, greedy, willing to abuse their privileges and willing to hurt the weak and unfortunate. Pretty much every proposed utopia requires that people simply behave nicely towards others, that they change their very nature and personalities. For example, your first part of this series featured a sentence: “Because the citizens of Badgeria are a collective, they are expected to understand that when they help their fellow citizens they are helping themselves by making a better, happier, safer collective.” When reading something like this my first thought is: how are you going to force people to understand it? After all, that’s not what people do naturally. Unless brainwashed (sorry: properly educated), they tend to be selfish and care about the society’s wellbeing less than about their own.

    One of the silliest utopias I have ever read about was in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, where a small group of people created their own small utopian city hidden inside a mountain range. A curious fact about this literary utopian community was that only people with specific personalities were allowed to live there. Majority of humans were not allowed to enter the city and live there, because they just had the wrong personality traits.

    If you want to create a utopia that could actually work in the real life, you cannot engineer it based on the assumption that all citizens will be selfless and willing to help each other. You have to take into consideration that majority of inhabitants of your utopia are going to be selfish, greedy and not particularly nice. That’s simply what majority of human personalities are like. The selfless people are quite rare. And you cannot give all the selfish people a free ride to the border, you cannot do what Ayn Rand did and say that only select few people with the right personalities will be allowed to live in your utopia.

    If you want me to see your utopia as realistic (possible to achieve in real life), you have to start with a premise that majority of citizens will be selfish. Now the question is — how do you force them to restrain their selfishness and care for others? For example, a law, which forbids people from having a political office for more than 4 years, is an example of such a restraint that forces people to limit their selfishness (even if a selfish politician wants to keep the office for life, they simply cannot do it). I want to see writers who are proposing their fictional utopias to show me these kinds of restraints that actually force people to cooperate and behave nicely. Only then will I see the fictional utopia as realistic.

    But we need to (hopefully) remember that it’s the impracticality of the mice voting to bell the cat – it’s impractical because we’re not going to be allowed to explore other alternatives. In other words, when Winston Churchill says “democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried” he’s hiding the fact that he’s part of the system that helped constrain our options to Hobson’s choice.

    Yes, I’m aware of this. Still, I think it’s worth exploring the alternatives. Who knows, maybe something interesting will happen someday. After all, several hundred years ago it must have seemed hopeless to force kings to give up their power. But that actually happened and the countries we have now are significantly better than what people had in the past.

    Thanks for bearing with me; this is an interesting exercise (for me) and I hope it’s not painful for you.

    I certainly find this interesting.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    And political leaders must not – MUST NOT – accept money from individuals, corporations, or any group. Never, under no circumstances, under severe penalty of law.

    So Walter Mosley believes that the only people who should run for office should be the independently wealthy? Anyone who isn’t a millionaire or billionaire need not apply? If you cut the ability to make political donations, that seems inevitable. Right now it’s tough for someone charismatic but poor to work their way up the ladder, but at least it’s not unheard of; cut out political donations and it’s off the table.

    DIRECT DEMOCRACY

    The problem with direct democracy can be summed up in one word: advertising. “Look at this sick child! And this other sick child! And oh, this one is very, very sick! If you don’t vote against Badger HR 157 that seeks to regulate hospitals, these poor children will get even sicker! You’d better vote right now!” And so on for every single bill that any moneyed group cares about. Companies will just take all the money that they currently use to attempt to buy politicians, and use it to attempt to buy the public instead. Ad rates will get to be so expensive that regular goods and services won’t even appear any more; every channel will be wall-to-wall political advertisements. And unfortunately, those advertisements will have a bigger impact than your Hall of Debates, because most people will go with the emotional sound bite version of legislation rather than trying to figure out the actual logic.

    I like representative democracy because I’m frankly pretty lazy — I don’t feel like taking the time to acquire a bunch of expertise in health care, or taxation, or stock market regulation, or whatever. If we had a representative democracy, I’d feel obligated to try to educate myself on at least a few of these issues, but I’d probably do a lousy job because these things are dead boring and I’d rather play video games. And the vast majority of my fellow citizens are like me. Most likely, we’d find somebody who sounded smarter than me and whom I trusted — Bernie Sanders, say — and I’d mostly vote the way he told me. In other words, political parties would sneak in through the back door.

  6. says

    brucegee1962@#6:
    So Walter Mosley believes that the only people who should run for office should be the independently wealthy? Anyone who isn’t a millionaire or billionaire need not apply? If you cut the ability to make political donations, that seems inevitable.

    I have to admit that electoral policy usually raises such a wave of hatred and disgust in me that I have trouble thinking about it.

    The idea would be that there is a certain amount of public electoral advertising available through the elections website, through staged debates in the Great Hall of Debating, and candidates otherwise are expected to run their campaigns with public funds. Campaign workers can donate labor (that’s a big deal in Badgeria, since people who are on the basic subsistence income could make campaigning as volunteers a full-time job) Otherwise it would look a bit like Iceland: public funds, auditable books, and get out the vote by kissing hands and shaking babies. [voters] In Badgeria the elections are run for the people, and the people understand that; a very dim view is taken of anyone who tries to boost their campaign by edging on the rules.

    Also, since there is no supreme leader position, there might be less pressure to cheat. Badgerian politics are deliberaly constructed not to be “winner takes all.”

    Someone wishing to run for one of the houses would register their intent to run, get the necessary number of nominating votes from other citizens (shaking hands and canvassing) at which point they would get access to the voting advertisement websites the government offers, and would get access to the campaign allotment money to spend. Campaigning would take a month, before the vote. Candidates that were found to be spending money to campaign before they got the public financing would not receive the public financing, would be closely audited, and might get a free ride to the border.

    Right now it’s tough for someone charismatic but poor to work their way up the ladder, but at least it’s not unheard of; cut out political donations and it’s off the table.

    I think you’re probably looking at this from an irretrievably North American pseudo-democratic perspective. Elections in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, etc, seem to work OK.

    The problem with direct democracy can be summed up in one word: advertising.

    That’s also a problem with pseudo-democracy. If we recognize “bullshit is a problem” in all political systems, we try to educate the people to resist bullshit. I don’t think that the complaint that direct democracy has the problems of other political systems invalidates direct democracy. It doesn’t make the problem worse and it might make the problem better. Additionally, since Badgeria does not have a supreme executive, one would have to advertising-canvas all the houses and all the people. In that sense, there could be advertising/propaganda campaigns aimed at broad swathes of the people, e.g.: “THE NEW LIBERTY PARTY, MAKE BADGERIA GREAT LIKE IT NEVER HAS BEEN YET!” but in a direct democracy, sure, if that fools enough of the people, then that’s the will of the people and that’s what we do.

    Ultimately a lot of complaints against direct democracy boil down to a US Founding Fathers-style “we know better than the people” which always seems to result in the people’s vote getting mooted. I know that some people will disagree with me, here, but I’m with Robert Paul Wolff on this idea: there is no “democracy” that is not a direct democracy. Everything else is a stealth autocracy or oligarchy. So I don’t see how to argue for one of those without implicitly throwing The People under the bus.

    Companies will just take all the money that they currently use to attempt to buy politicians, and use it to attempt to buy the public instead.

    Well, that’s an improvement, isn’t it?

    And unfortunately, those advertisements will have a bigger impact than your Hall of Debates, because most people will go with the emotional sound bite version of legislation rather than trying to figure out the actual logic.

    You’re basically making the same argument, there, that has been made many times, “the people will vote for the candidate with the best hair” etc. (Well, obviously not in 2016) But, so what? If The People are fooled, The People are fooled. It’s not like that doesn’t and cannot happen in other political systems as well. The nice thing about the Badgerian system is that it does not result in a political system wherein the people are always manipulated into a captive slate choice between “yuck!” and “fuck, no, kill me!”

    It’s rather hard, in 2018, to argue against direct democracy, when we have the orange pustule on Washington’s bum demonstrating conclusively that “representative” democracy is a sham and a half.

    I like representative democracy because I’m frankly pretty lazy — I don’t feel like taking the time to acquire a bunch of expertise in health care, or taxation, or stock market regulation, or whatever.

    Under the Badgerian system, lazy voters simply wouldn’t vote. That works out the same as under other systems. Or, perhaps, you only care about one issue – so you track that issue and vote your conscience on that issue. You don’t need to be educated or to care (but it would be nice) – other political systems don’t provide passion or education, either. What the Badgerian system allows is for someone who is educated and who does care to make a difference. And it offers education and support for those who want to learn. That’s a huge step in the right direction, I think. We can’t solve all the problems at once and some of them may just be the nature of the political beast – but it’s not hard to look at the pseudo-democracies that are shitting up the political landscape of Earth in 2018 and think “we can do better than that

  7. says

    PS to previous – it wouldn’t be hard for Badgeria to revoke the operating license of companies that play politics. After all, companies operate under license of The People and for the benefit of The People and if the company is spending money against the interest of the collective, it’s probably breaking some law.

    Also, with the break in inheritable wealth, two things may happen: first, there won’t be vast fortunes inherited by the kids of billionaires, who decide they have nothing better to do with their lives than to play politics. Because the Death Tax would recycle that money. Second, billionaires who decided to play politics would have their money and the rest of their lives to do so until they died. That probably somewhat limits the damage they could do.

    As I see it the most someone could do would be to hire great speechwriters, get plastic surgery, voice training, great marketing messaging, etc. and that’s about it. And then – what? The most they could do is get a seat in one of the houses, where they would be one voice among many, and they would have no power to directly affect change – they would still have to convince the voters. Again, that system is vastly superior to what we have now.

  8. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#5:
    It turned out that getting 2000 calories from unhealthy food is significantly cheaper than getting the same amount of calories from food that’s actually good for you. This is completely backwards. If governments wish to subsidize food, they should be subsidizing healthy food.

    Did you know that various food lobbies helped establish the US “food pyramid” and recommended nutrition. It has nothing to do with health – it’s about selling corn products (corn fat and corn sugar mostly) and meat and dairy.

    You need a simple and convenient way how Joe Average can submit a proposal for a new law. And I’d say that there are other better alternatives compared to writing letters. For example, consider this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ManaBalss.lv It’s a Latvian online petition platform

    Yes, I’m sure that different approaches would evolve. Some of them might even become part of government infrastructure, others might remain ad hoc.

    There is no way the death tax will be sufficient to collect enough tax revenue. I see no way how the math could possibly add up.

    Many people have asserted that, in the previous thread, and I have consistently pointed out that the Death tax means that the entire economy (less value bound up in corporations, which would presumably be taxed at some rate) gets turned over every generation. It makes no sense to me to say “There would not be enough money” when the size of the tax revenues equal the entire economy. It also makes no sense to say that in the face of the rather obvious fact that virtually every government does deficit spending. Please think about this a little harder.

    By the way, while we are discussing taxes, I’d suggest using taxes to influence human behavior. For example, you might want a tax on plastic shopping bags and bottled water in order to motivate people to carry a reusable fabric shopping bag and drink tap water.

    When I said “luxury tax” that’s implicit. Define ‘luxury’ and you’re “influencing human behavior.”
    However, I think you are too trapped in the paradigm of late/metastatic capitalism, where government has to use its economic power over the citizens to club them into doing the right thing. The Badgerian way is to identify what is the right thing and make it a subsidized or free feature of government.

    The late-stage capitalist approach of punitive tax regimes is a hack that capitalist-run governments came up with to allow rich people to do whatever they want, not to allow poor people to do whatever they must. Please think about that a bit more carefully.

  9. Dunc says

    I like representative democracy because I’m frankly pretty lazy — I don’t feel like taking the time to acquire a bunch of expertise in health care, or taxation, or stock market regulation, or whatever.

    What makes you think your representatives have any significant expertise in any of these subjects?

  10. says

    Dunc@#10:
    What makes you think your representatives have any significant expertise in any of these subjects?

    Generally, representatives are stable geniuses. The best!

  11. says

    Did you know that various food lobbies helped establish the US “food pyramid” and recommended nutrition. It has nothing to do with health – it’s about selling corn products (corn fat and corn sugar mostly) and meat and dairy.

    Yes, I knew that one. By the way, the nasty process how the food pyramid was made goes beyond lobbyists who wanted people to buy more of whichever food their employers were producing. There was also the problem with politicians who also wanted to curb the cost of the food stamp program: fruits and vegetables were expensive, it was much cheaper to feed poor people with grains and bread.

    A while ago I read “Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health” by Denise Minger. The book was mostly about the nasty process how the food pyramid got established. It was certainly an interesting read. I would probably recommend that book.

    I’m saying “probably”, because, whenever I read about nutrition science, I have no clue what to believe. It’s such a messy topic for various reasons:
    1) It is inherently hard to research. For example, let’s say a scientist wanted to find out whether a vegetarian diet is healthier. It seems simple — just find a group of vegetarians and a group of meat eaters and compare their health. Such studies generally show that vegetarians are healthier, but there’s a catch — on average vegetarians happen to be more health conscious, they exercise more, they eat less junk food. Lack of meat in their diets is not the only variable. Of course scientists can also find a group of volunteers and randomly assign them to specific diets. But there are also problems with this approach. And even if you find for certain that food X is good for you (or bad for you), how do you figure out, which is the responsible ingredient. And then you actually have to figure out the dosage after which the responsive ingredient starts showing any visible effects.
    2) People are different; a diet that works for one person may not work for others. This is especially visible with vegan diets. For example, some people can get enough A vitamin exclusively from plant sources while others cannot due to gene mutations that slash BCMO1 activity.
    3) There are lots of fraudsters out there, all of them willing to sell their miracle diets. Some fraudsters are obvious (“eat this and you will lose 10 pounds in a week”), others are not obvious at all.
    4) There are corporate interests and research studies are often funded by people who want to sell people specific food.
    5) Some people have specific agendas, for example, vegans and vegetarians may embrace their diet for ethical reasons, and, in order to convert others, they often lie about the health benefits.

    By now I have pretty much given up my attempts to learn more about the nutrition science. I’m not dedicated enough to really study the subject, and simply reading a couple of books doesn’t seem to give any straight and simple answers. I’m comfortable believing the basics (vegetables = good; McDonald’s menu = bad). Beyond that, I prefer to suspend judgment, because of all the various and often contradictory claims. And ultimately I just eat whatever the hell I find tasty. The result is that my usual diet is very different compared to the FDA pyramid. The main difference is that I eat hardly any bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Instead I eat lots of fruits and vegetables (that’s what I happen to like).

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