A few years ago I caught myself aimlessly complaining about the terribleness of the US governmental system. Complaining is a terrible way to spend a life, and I don't want to. My favorite antidote is a clear solution to pursue. Today's actual government isn't something I can fix, but imagination is the first step to engineering. What did I think would fix the government, if only I could make it happen? Some of my cached thoughts were about ranked choice voting, term limits and gerrymandering, but rather than stop there, I took the next step: I asked whether we'd have excellent governance if we got all of those reforms?
I did not feel good about that question.
I have some professional experience with organization design and I know a few things about mediocre organizations. It takes more than a few better employees to fix them. A low bar, once set, persists. Incentive problems drive even the best people into harming the organization to help themselves. And even great managers can't always tell who's performing well vs who's playing politics. My own Congressperson has an in-district approval rating higher than 75%, as do many others. Meanwhile, Congress's overall approval rating is often below 20%. The problems of Congress didn't feel to me to be tractable to the kinds of reforms currently being pursued.
What about more radical ideas like randomly selecting Congresspeople (sortition)? Or choosing policies in betting markets (futarchy)? I found these and some others uncompelling for various reasons I'll describe on another day. I noticed that a lot of today's radicals argue for old ideas that have been tried and failed: communism and nationalism among others. There seemed to be a dearth of more novel proposals.
I considered and rejected the idea that genuinely great governance isn't possible; that what we have is the best there is. I've worked with knotty problems before, and absent a law of physics preventing it, we usually discover that better is possible when someone pulls the sheet off their prototype. I haven't discovered a physical law preventing better governance.
I'm not a longtermist who thinks we should prioritize the trillions of people living in the far future, but I do hope for their existence. More importantly, I want them to have great lives, not the dystopia of The Expanse. If I were to wake up a million years from now, I wouldn't want to run into a ranking of how autocratic each planet of the Milky Way was. And I don't want to rely on a deus ex machina in the form of a godlike AI who perfectly cares about us.
So I threw out the expectation that I needed to make a small, politically achievable modification, and asked what a system I'd be excited to live in would look like. If I could invent something worth trying, I felt, then later I could build an incremental plan to validate those ideas.
Since then I have thought and tinkered, and now I have something interesting enough to be worth discussing, worth seeking feedback on. From now until I run out, I will be posting pieces of a book about a novel design of a governmental system. I think this design has a lot to offer.
I am not unusual in this, but it's still important: I have never implemented a novel governmental system before. I may well be making some serious and basic mistakes. I hope that the feedback I get will make these ideas stronger, and that I am capable of recognizing good feedback and making use of it.
Of course, most people who claim to have a radically new design for any longstanding complex social institution are probably cranks and hardly worth listening to, so please consider this short piece on the subject of a better method of sortition to determine if my thoughts are worth adding to your RSS reader.
If you like what I write or it makes you think, I'd appreciate you telling me somehow (comments, email, Substack favorites, or carrier pigeon perhaps). Warnock's Dilemma is real. Also I'd appreciate you spreading the word to people you know who would want to read these ideas. If you think I've gone wrong, I hope you can help me understand why. My ideal internet/comments section is gentle and kind, and I'd encourage you to aim for that if you can, both here and anywhere else you frequent. But please don't be shy. You can also email me directly.