Some political analysts have described the Badgerian political system as “passive aggressive,” though most would say that it relies on “fail soft” behaviors. While American Thomas Jefferson might say, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants and martyrs” that sounds like a great deal of fuss to a Badgerian, who would probably re-phrase that as “neglect may kill tyranny as surely as revolution, it’s just slower.”
The political structure of Badgeria is that the default state of its government is to mostly not exist. In principle, if the people of Badgeria feel that their government is getting away from them, they can make it incapable of doing anything (without a majority supporting it) and wait it out. The general idea is lifted from the constitution of the old United States of America: the legislative branch controls the other branches of government through the power of the purse-strings. Since Badgeria is a direct democracy, The People control the purse-strings through a system of Projects and Ongoing Projects.
Pretty much anything that the government does involves spending money (that’s what “does” means in government terms) and all expenditures are attached to a Project. A Project has a lot of properties but the main ones, at this level of detail, are that it has:
- A budget associated with it
- A headcount/staffing profile associated with it (must be a line item in budget but also called out separately) If the proposal for the Project requires named executives in certain positions, they must be “voted in” to the Project plan if it is approved by The People
- A mission statement: What does this Project do for The People?
- An organizational chart including management/reporting structure (must match the headcount/staffing)
- A start-up plan describing broad initial steps that the Project is expected to take in order to begin operations (this may be called out in the budget)
- A tear-down plan describing broad steps the Project is expected to take in the event that it ceases operations
- Project metrics and success objectives and reporting interval: does the Project report annually? Quadrenially?
- Projects that do not meet their success objectives immediately lose their guaranteed budget and their duration is automatically set to 2 years. There is a special case of Project failure involving corruption, budget overrun, or a dramatic change in circumstances, which can trigger a proposal through the Proposing House, drafted legislation and a popular vote to shut down a failing project. This, notably, happened to the “Desktop FDDI Broadband” project of 2020 which was shut down by a popular vote and superceeded by the “BadgerTel Telco” Project of 2021.
- Project duration – constitutionally limited to one of four options: 2 years, 6 years, 12 years, 24 years
- Whether the project is an Ongoing Project or not
- If the Project is one that might show a profit, how is the profit to be spent/allocated?
- Some Project proposals are a special form that constitutes a synchronized update to an existing Project. This is how new capabilities are added to existing Projects without having to reconstitute them. A full description is given under “Discussion” below.
The difference between an Ongoing Project and a regular project is that Ongoing Projects that are already underway do not need to produce a start-up plan and when they update their Project, they do so as a series of annotated changes to the previous Project (i.e.: “Our budget goes up 10% to adjust for the increase in the population consuming our service”) Typically, an Ongoing Project is a Project that met its objectives, and proposes to become a longer-duration Project so it doesn’t need to justify its existence as often.
The Project model allows Badgeria to have some of the properties of a socialism: government-sponsored and managed centrally planned infrastructure, but also some of the properties of corporatism: independent execution without government interference. Everything the Badgerian government does is a Project; many of the core Projects that make the government work are Ongoing Projects (naturally) – approximately 80% of Badgeria’s Projects are not for profit, though some Projects such as “The Rapid Mail Delivery Service” is a source of considerable civic pride, and it usually returns a nominal amount of its profits to the Department Of The Treasury every year. BadgTel, the Ongoing Project to provide a broadband communications system for the public, also operates at a profit, but usually asks for (and gets) approval to spend its profits to upgrade bandwidth and provide better “last mile” service. The BadgTel Project is constantly debated every time it comes up for renewal – there are some that feel its Project Plan should have capped profits at a fixed percentage, and others feel it should not charge for bandwidth at all (currently, corporations pay for bandwidth but citizens get free home connectivity). Other Ongoing Projects, such as The Department of Education, operate at a consistent and fairly massive loss, which everyone who dislikes ignorance is generally fairly supportive of. It’s not all rosy, though – there have been Projects that failed, and failed badly, and the careers of executive managers responsible for those projects ended in smoke and flame. There have been some odd attempts to manipulate the system, which (mercifully) were shot down: the most notable “near miss” was the time some wag tried to sneak in a requirement that the Department of Defense operate as a profit-center; that could have had horrible consequences hearkening back to 20th century Imperialism.
When Badgeria started, there were some “chicken? egg?” problems – the Project to create, fund, and staff the houses of government didn’t exist, yet, nor did the Project to monitor and collect The People’s votes. This turned out not to be as disastrous as usual start-up for an 18th-century government: a temporary slate of Projects and a draft constitution were put together, started operation (speculatively!) and The People were asked to approve the entire mass as a Project with a 2-year life-span. Luckily for Badgeria, the government was able to constitute itself in that time, and virtually all of the first slate of Projects (except for the ill-fated Department of Espionage) were able to hit their targets. After that, it was a busy few years while the other major components of the government were proposed and designed: Education, Taxation, Budgetary Analysis, The Department of The Checkbook, Human Resources Department, The Department Of Medicine and Disease Control, The Hoplite Administration Department, etc.
There have been some Projects that conspicuously failed, others grew in directions that The People did not like. In the latter case, there have been cases of Projects where The People dismantled them by allowing their funding to run out and the Project to shut down. That was what happened to the Department of Espionage: they insisted that they had to keep secrets, including their budgetary expenditures, and The People decided that they didn’t want to pay for something they didn’t understand; there was considerable debate about the topic but in the end their inflexibility was met with a great big shrug of disinterest from The People. Other projects have turned out to be, simply, bad ideas – in which case a resolution needs to be proposed to shut down the Project, and it’s put to a vote by The People. During the early years of Badgeria, The People discovered that there are some things that it’s not particularly onerous to just wait for: the United States, at its heyday, had 27 different agencies dealing with “intelligence” and classified material, which maintained often covert budgets – waiting to see what they proposed to do with the money made Badgeria’s nascent intelligence community go off and learn web design and coffee-roasting instead. It turned out, however, that having a Highway Department was a really important idea and The People were not amused at the idea of private-enterprise highways.
At first, setting up such a system involves a fair amount of work, but after a relatively short number of decades, The People and the government establish a fairly good balance between services provided by the government and services provided by private enterprise. The Badgerian system also addresses one of the questions that dogged 20th century societies – privatization versus social control; some aspects of government might get privatized and socialized, back and forth, until the right mixture of budget and service was determined. And, The People always have the option in their back pockets of simply waiting the whole thing out, and letting a rogue Project’s clock run out. Having the subsistence income to back them up, employees of government Projects also have the fallback of knowing that they can simply quit en masse (or refuse to take the job at all!) if The People’s expectations for a Project are not realistic.
There are several things hidden in the Badgerian system which are worth pointing out.
It is effectively impossible for a branch of the Badgerian government to enlarge its power past the point where a majority of The People are willing to allow. Badgerian anarchists can simply vote against everything, and – if there are enough of them – they will effectively abolish the government. Only a government that manages to gain and maintain a popular mandate can govern. This accords with the basic ideals of democracy.
It is difficult (but not impossible) for political parties and slate-voting to take control over Badgerian politics. Slate-voting and political parties only work in an environment where the parties can force The People to have only hobson’s choice, or “the lesser of two evils.” In Badgeria, someone might propose a better alternative at any time and it is impossible to control that without entirely packing the houses of government. To do that, one would have to be able to pack the popular vote as well – which means that, to completely control the country, you must completely control a supermajority of the population (in which case, in a direct democracy, you already control the country).
Many countries that have constitutional controls on budget, where the legislature has to propose and approve/recommend a budget as a single unit, are susceptible to being gamed by political parties that can threaten to shut down the government by not ratifying a budget. In Badgeria the worst any political party could do would be to try to prevent the ratification of an unpopular project or to front-load pork-barrel projects into a particular agency budget. In that case, The People might vote the project down (“none of the above” being an option on any vote presented to The People) – if that happens there is nothing that would prevent another party or individual from re-submitting the exact same proposal, without the pork-barrel project: it’s a built-in “line item veto” for The People.
The People have the ability to decide what government services are public-funded, which are public-regulated (and how) – there is nothing to prevent a Project from being established that says, in effect, “go try to create this capability as a for-profit entity but it must exist under these rules or disband” (e.g.: the way BadgerPost works; BadgerPost is an instructive case-study: there is nothing that prevents a private-sector competitor from arising, if the regulations on BadgerPost are too onerous or it is too inefficient). On the other hand, if BadgerPost is efficient and cost-effective, who needs a free-market alternative? Free-market capitalists in the late 20th century used to like to complain about “government regulation” and “central control of economy” but whenever they had the opening to do so, they would either try to lock out competition – effectively acting in the role of government – or they would attempt to divide the market so they could (again) restrict market-access for their competitors. For a corporation to get the capitalist advantages of government regulation they would need to convince a majority of The People; things like “net neutrality” would not be decided in closed-door committees between ‘representatives’ and lobbyists; it would all be public. The only way such shenanigans would work would be if there was voter apathy or proposals were crafted deceptively – and hopefully that would come out in the Great Hall of Debating.
The Badgerian system does not need built-in “checks and balances” – those can be crafted or re-crafted by The People. In the example above, I rattled off that there might be departments of Taxation, Budgetary Analysis, and The Department of The Checkbook. That is one hypothetical of how those departments might be arranged; I was supposing that The People felt it might be good to have a budget analysis capability and audit agency that was separate from the agency that wrote the checks, and separate from the agency that collects taxes. It might make sense to The People to set it up that way, or it might start off with all of those being a single Project that later turns out to work better as checks and balances. That might work as follows: when the combined agency comes up for renewal, a proposal might be put before The People to create several new agencies, instead, with different budgets and different organizational charts. If The People like that, then the old agency disintegrates into several new ones. That is why the Project proposals would include staffing as well as named executive positions: someone who did a great job as a department head at a larger agency might be proposed as the top executive for a smaller, new, agency. Or someone like Ajit Pai, who is perceived as being in the pocket of lobbyists, might be the kiss of death if they appeared on the roster for a proposed Project. Part of the art of drafting Project proposals is figuring out the right amount of detail in the right places – sometimes too much detail would be limiting and other times critical details might be a selling-point.
[Edit: There is a point I forgot: Project update and re-synchronization. This is a minor point of how legislature works in Badgeria, but it turned out to substantially reduce bureaucracy. There is a special form of Project proposal that can be attached to another project, which comes with its proposed management/head count, budget, etc, but is to be added to an existing Project; the expiry date is set to be the same as the existing project. This is so that, for example, a new capability (or additional head-count) can be added to a Project without having to worry about the Projects’ budget running out on a separate schedule. For example, when the Internet became a “thing” an additional Project was added to the Department of Libraries Ongoing Project, which budgeted for desktop computers, computer desks, software, systems administrators, and basic IT upgrades to provide internet access – after its successful completion it subsequently became a line-item in the Department of Libraries ongoing Project proposals thereafter.]
The final part of this series will be a description of the national defense/policing policy of Badgeria as well as emergency situation management (you have probably noticed the absence of an “executive branch”). At that point, the exercise is completed. Thank you all for your patience!
Chicken/Egg – one other concern the founding archons of Badgeria had was that the social contract be offered to The People and not imposed by force. That was one reason why the government, initially, did not really exist; it was a framework from which the components of a government might be built, but every component was able to be voted up or down so that any government department that was called into being had to be agreed upon by a majority of The People. That left the problem of the constitution: one cannot impose a constitution and have legitimacy; that was why the Badgerians drafted the system of government then left it up for a popular vote. When the constitution was ratified by a supermajority those that did not wish to be subject to it, had the option of leaving; some did. The citizens of Badgeria, today, have the ultimate veto authority against their government: they can sit on their hands and in 24 years there will be nothing of the government; it will slowly fall apart as each Project fails to be renewed.
The “ah-ha!” moment that got me thinking about government as a set of cooperating processes (or co-routines) was when the US Congress ordered the Department of Defense to audit its books and the DoD said, basically, “no.” That, basically, was a constitutional crisis (Congress is supposed to control the purse-strings) At the same time, a Pew Research study reported that 80% of Americans favor reducing defense spending. I started thinking that The People need a way to fire the entire DoD without having to rely on a corrupt Congress to do it.
(I love the idea of the DoD being a profit-center for government. Any sci-fi writers who want to steal that, be my guest!)
Again, I do not think any of this is going to happen; nor is there even a ghost of a chance. The purpose of the exercise, for me, was to think about whether it’s really hard to come up with a better political system than the ones we are forced to live under, today. That inevitably begs the question of “if it’s so easy to do better, why are we forced to live under these horrible pseudo-democracies?” The answer to that is obvious.