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:
- Direct democracy; you have to fool a majority of Badgerians most of the time
- An organizational division between the necessary capabilities of government
- A distributed governmental operations capability; government broken into separate chunks cannot easily metastasize into a monolith
- 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.
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.
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.
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:
- Explained to them
- Explored and examined for unforseen consequences
- 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.
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.
Part 1 of this series is here [stderr]
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.