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Single Point of Failure

(I'm at the eastercon in London, hence the lack of recent activity here.)

One of the things that happen at SF conventions if you're me is that you get drafted onto panel discussions as a stand-in when somebody else fails to show up. This morning I had the thought-provoking experience of finding myself on a panel titled "Meet the new King (same as the old King)" — why do so many fantasies assume the problem is the monarch, not the monarchy? How do you write against this expectation and tackle realistic, broad social change in your fantasy setting?

(Guess why I was the last minute substitute ...)

The panel went ... interestingly. More to the point, it provoked some thoughts. Monarchism isn't a monolithic ideology but it's a mode of government that has been with us as the default structure for organizing human societies since, quite probably, the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies. Until relatively recently (the revolutions of 1916-19) it was the predominant form of political organization. It comes in a variety of forms, but in general they share the common principle of a unitary executive vested in an individual (and this is usually a hereditary post, subject to some restrictions — it may be limited by gender, religion, physical fitness, and so on). It has a common failure mode, which is the lack of a mechanism for handling transfer of power triggered by political dissent: in event of a change you get the next monarch in line, you don't get someone who actually addresses the problem that triggered the change. And we seem, to this day, to be inordinately fascinated by monarchy as an organizational paradigm.

Well, there's monarchism. And there are various republican forms of government. There's classical tyranny and more recently the dictatorship, with or without an ideology or a cult of personality (Leninism, the Fuhrer principle). There's theocracy, but due to the lack of manifest deities on Earth this is usually derogated to the priesthood who in turn run temporal affairs using an existing administrative model (monarchy-by-priesthood, such as the Papacy in the Vatican; a republic under priestly curation, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran).

What haven't we tried?



If only we had some means to find sane, competent people to lead us when we needed leading and to get out of the way when we didn't, and to step down before they became insane.

I don't know if this is possible. Since leader is such a coveted position, any test we set up would eventually give us leaders who had trained for the test, not the job.

As for why we're fascinated by monarchs, even over here in the US, well, look at children's stories and songs. I've never heard one that ended, "Isn't that a tasty dish to lay before the President."


One prerequisite for any other form of government is (I suspect) a well educated and literate population. Another may be some form of mass communication.


As for what we have not yet tried - something akin to Iain Banks Culture - rule by Godlike AI. In fact, that may be the final governmental structure for almost all of Human history.


How about some kind of rule by draftee? Every person with a BA or BS degree or higher and over the age of 30 is subject to being drafted into the government for a term of 5-10 years as a legislator, governor, president, etc., after which they are forbidden from serving again.

David Eddings took this one step further; the draftee's monies were "invested in the economy" (I forget exactly how it worked in the book) and they had to bear the economic consequences of their decisions. But it's possible to imagine the draftee's monies being invested in a broad range of stocks via some kind of blind trust.


We haven't (recently) tried universal direct democracy: let every individual vote on every single issue, and recover practically by letting people assign votes to others on a flexible, per-issue basis.


We haven't tried minarchy/libertarian anarchy. I know some point to a period in Iceland, but I'm not sure that counts, or is a good indication of a modern form.

We haven't tried Technocracy, though I suspect it would be something similar to Communism or Fascism, just with different ideological markers.

There's consensus, or truly direct democracy as well. Which would probably require technology like Reynold's Demarchy from the Revelation Space series.

I suppose you could also convert capitalism into a form of governance as well. Not what we have now, which is basically corporations controlled by either indirect democracy (stockholders) or mini-monarchs (owners). But something where all political decisions were open to market pricing, and people literally bought the government though some mechanism.


True trial by jury - every side submits written evidence and statements to a website, random juries of 11 debate online and reach a verdict - without ever seeing the defendant etc.

Rule of the 5000 - there are only 5k laws limited to one page each. Each new one must replace an existing one.

Rule by the doomed - once the ruler takes office, all his posessions are nullified/taxed at 100%. At the end of their term, they are euthanized.


Representative Dictatorship

People vote for a limited-term absolute-power dictator.

This almost certainly has no long-term stability.


"We haven't tried Technocracy"

Somewhere like China or Singapore might qualify


I would argue that we are currently trying a form of technocracy-by-proxy here in EU.

None of the politicians, elected, born or otherwise, dare try anything which has not been run through computer models to predict consequences with respect to economy, electability etc.

I do like the public-duty model myself, but I would implement it with the following twist, so that it merely fills the gap democracy leaves behind:

If 60% of the voters turn out for an election, 60% of the seats get filled according to the votes cast. The remaining 40% of the seats gets filled by randomly picking the necessary number of citizens to fill the seat.


Humans, as far as I know, have never tried Futarchy (using prediction markets to bet on policies) nor the Clarke-Groves-Tideman-Tullock voting with money scheme (see paper about the demand-reveal process).


Selection as a member of the ruling bureaucracy based on competitive examination in such things as the ability to write poetry in classical Chinese forms?


We haven't yet tried government-by-futures-market (which is to say you have an automated betting pool and people bet for or against something happening, then if it occurs the money bet against it is distributed amongst the people who bet for it -- thus people have an incentive to cheat by performing tasks normally performed by the state and people with cynical views of the system are paid back when the system failed them). This may be classified as a technocracy, and it still involves some infrastructure for maintaining the betting pool (so it isn't anarchocapitalism proper), but it still differs significantly from existing systems because the only representatives of the state are the people who maintain the betting pool computers and judge whether or not a goal has been met.


No one has ever tried government by conscription, as in picking people off of the street at random : But we do have a potential basis for it in the form of jury duty. There are few excuses to get out of jury duty, and a revisionist chamber could involve a panel of people selected to write a law or evaluate whether legislation drafted is comprehensible, fair, fit for purpose or not.

This could be like the house of Lords but run upon a bill by bill basis, persons selected for each, and largely comprising normal people, sitting for one session at a time. This is instead of the current morass of failed, pensioned off cabinet ministers, the biggest shits from the Labour front bench, captains of industry whose vanity has compelled them to purchased a peerage and inbreds whose ancestors helped a princess out once.

It would potentially eliminate Christmas Tree Bills (Wikipedia) which degenerate into a list of gifts for favorites. If the panel examine the bill and find it stuffed with pork, but do not question the central issue for the law, they can point out that the bill is stuffed full of pork and simply refuse to pass it, and do so again and again with competent advocacy from people who point that the pork has nothing to do with the laws being outlined. We could even have the idea that if a law is refused it cannot be sent before a panel without revision again, in the fashion that no man can be tried for the same crime twice unless new evidence emerges.

We trust the public to reach decisions upon law even in the case of terrorism, murder and fraud trials whose complexity is often extraordinary, why can we not trust the public to revise or evaluate new law?

Parliament can be elected but these people are compelled to sit and assess the law's merit, and they are impartial because their selection was arbitrary. They also cannot be bought off, or intimidated, to the same extent that juries are so protected.

The truth, though, is that the public cannot be trusted to write the law because that would take power out of the hands of the democratic mandate, which in the case of British politicians is mostly an ever present temptation to lounge about ignoring your peers' vices, and then charge about behaving like a unapologetic dickhead, upon the instant that there is something that you want....And that is why, from my own experience, politicians are out of control and publicly loathed.

...So it will remain forever science fiction.


How about a computer/internet/google-ish algorithm to identify individuals who seem able to anticipate emergent trends, understand the pros and cons of likely decision/action scenarios, and score highest in identifying the most favorable/least harmful outcomes based on limited information?

How this would work ...

All individuals' online behavior, e.g., email, sites visited, posts made etc. would be tracked anonymously on an on-going basis. Whenever a thought-leader (or any type of a leader) for a particular event/catastrophe is needed, a search would be conducted via some algorithm to identify the individual or groups of individuals who seem best suited for the role. Their tenure at this post could be based on a combination of need and ability to fulfill their role. During their tenure, the algorithmic Google-ish snooping would continue with a focus on comparing their thinking processes pre and post. Any individuals thus placed into power/authority could also then be monitored to see whether/when they succumb to power tripping egomania. This data could be used to then find an appropriate minder for those affected individuals -- 'appropriate' as to type of personality that could rein in the power-tripping, etc.

I wouldn't necessarily want to automatically exclude the sociopaths who typically seek power, but I would want some safe-guards in place if they get selected.

Term of office would depend on need. Personal finances would be liquidated and put into a blind trust weighted to reflect their local national economy at the start of their term of office and would remain in a blind trust for the rest of their lives. (This should discourage short-term opportunists.)

Bureaucrats of course can still completely screw things up as per Peter's Principle, so you'd need a similar mechanism at this level.

Mass media talking heads can derail anything and make it seem as though they're doing you a favor. So tracking their performance via a similar algorithm but weighted for 'unwarranted scare-mongering' and other nonsense that their role seems addicted to would be needed.


@ENKI-2 Yes, Futarchy is some pretty extreme stuff...

(Might be fun to read a speculative fiction model in which there's an entire alien species who all think like Robin Hanson.)


Judging by the reports of the recent downfall of Bo Xilai - described as a "princeling" by many reports, and incontestably the son of one of the Elders of the Communist Party - China is arguably closer to an aristocracy than a technocracy.


We could try anarcho-syndicalist collectivism, but that always falls apart because no one can stop arguing about who ought to bring pastries for the administrative meetings.


Layered metagovernment: The outermost layer collects taxes/tribute from the autonomous tax-collecting regions, and only enforces laws applying to regions. Its only concern with citizens is enforcing the right to leave a region (and possibly found a new region).

Government by secret societies: Secret societies are founded, grow, become public and ineffectual in a natural lifecycle. Rather than one secret society, a nested (expanding, escalator-like) tradition.

Rule by the mutilated: Certain brain injuries are inflicted at birth on a small fraction of the population - only these individuals are trustworthy enough to hold office.

Stochastic voting, for representatives or issues: we shuffle the ballots, pick one, and that ballot decides.


Depending on the granularity, almost everything becomes a single point of failure at some scale. The monarch, the monarchy, representative government, the economic system...

Each system tries to stabilize the conditions to self perpetuate without disruption. The question is where is the balance between stability (with no change) and chaos (with constant disruptive change).

The other issue is scale. Monarchies (or any pyramidal governance structure) might be OK if you can freely migrate to one you like. But when it is unique and the individual has no choice, that is a different matter.
So perhaps we need the equivalent of "anti-trust" laws for governments?


Momocracy. Several variations: one mom, one vote; number of children = number of votes; restrictions on candidates to mothers; etc.

I guaran-damn-tee you it would produce different political outcomes.


There are all kinds of questions about when you need a "leader" and when you don't. A lot of the time, perhaps, you just need good administration - not itself a trivial problem of course.

At other times you may need a "leader" to get a coherent response to a particular situation (economic crisis, war, whatever). So whatever system you have it may need to flip between these states (and perhaps others? And perhaps you might want to be in one state on one issue and the other on other issues?)

I'm sure monarchy arose this way: brought in to deal with a crisis (Help! What do we do about all these mammoths?), got its feet under the table and could never be got rid of again.

23: 4: during their most successful period the Athenians selected almost all of their government officials by lot.

We haven't tried sortition (selection of representatives by lot). I don't think it would work as a replacement for the entire system: some people think it would eliminate the party system; I think the minimum number of parties is one. However, I think it would make a great way of replacing the house of lords (and it was seriously proposed as such; see "The Athenian Option", published by Demos). There is some argument that the original Athenian 'direct democracy' was really sortition, but I don't know how good the evidence is for that.

My personal pet idea is a modification of sortition: arrange for the population to organise itself into groups of 100 (approximately Dunbar's number). Each group then selects a candidate by voting. The House of Lords is then selected from these candidates randomly. This is better than pure sortition, because it allows a) the population to fix a house which is unbalanced in some direction, and b) the candidates are in the top N% by some criteria, instead of being average. And it is still resistant to capture by cliques.

The major open question is whether random selection can be done in such a way that the population can be sure it hasn't been 'influenced'. We know how to do it in cryptographic terms (have N people who all hate each other select numbers, add them modulo X), but like electronic voting, the problem is doing it in a way that can be credibly demonstrated to the population at large. This is particularly awkward since generating a random number is, by definition, not repeatable...


Geoffrey @5: We haven't (recently) tried universal direct democracy: let every individual vote on every single issue

Joan D. Vinge described something like this in "Outcasts of the Heaven Belt." So did L. Neil Smith in "The Probability Broach." The electorate could vote directoy, or assign proxies to representatives, either in toto or per bill or subject.

Both depended on real-time interaction between the electorate and representatives; now easy via the internet, which didn't exist when either book was written. But the key was selective representation.

I don't want to have to involve myself in the details of acquiring new cages for the local animal control department, or negotiating the details of trash pickup with a new contractor, or any of a vast number of trivial and boring details that go into "government." There are a handful of subjects I'm vehement about, that I'd prefer to vote on personally, a larger group of things I'd be willing to assign to a representative, and an even larger block of things that "they" could take care of without my oversight, unless they stop on my toes, anyway.

This is a much finer-grained representation than what I have now, where various people are elected to terms of two to six years, then do as they please until the next election.


We haven't really tried a universal meritocracy, although various versions of it exist within organisations. But not as a governing tool for a modern country.

We haven't tried rewriting human psychology for less need for power structures, alpha/beta types and the like.

We haven't tried, ever so far as I know, fluid-interest-groups. You're concerned about the water taken from the Mersey? If you live in its catchment basement you have some say, if you live/work in the flood plain, you have a different say (more votes on some issues, less on others), if you work on it, etc... If you're the dude from Oxfordshire who thinks he's in charge of the UK, P.F.O. you don't live there, it's no concern of yours.


My personal preference is for all governmental positions to be filled by lottery, but this does mean that the government needs to be structured so that no single office has that much power. You'll certainly get occasional turkeys, but probably no more than you do today. I don't think a BS or equivalent should be a requirement for eligibility for this draft. And the ages drafted should be 25 and over, with a requirement for mental competence...but all such competency tests should be required to be made before the lottery. No voiding people just because you don't like their views.

There is also a lot in favor of having a strong limit on the number & length of laws. It's clearly improper to insist that people obey laws they have no reasonable chance of knowing. Perhaps each proposed law should be required to be understood by 3 random choices of classes of high school seniors.

Perhaps all laws should automatically expire every 7 years. If a law isn't worth passing every 7 years, perhaps it isn't worth keeping. And no just "we re-enact the prior law". This must be a chance to fix any problems. You can resubmit the exact same law as the current (if you're a legislator), but it's the full text that's submitted, and it's just as subject to amendments this time as it was the first time.

Perhaps there should be a special house of the legislature that does nothing but repeal laws. This house is not allowed to initiate laws, only to repeal them.

Maybe it's time to reinstate the custom of the drunken legislature and the sober legislature. I understand it worked reasonably well for the (¿)Assyrians(?). Each action of the legislature has to be initiated in a drunken session, and then reaffirmed in a sober session.


re: Momocracy I can see restricting the voters and candidates to mothers, but not giving them a number of votes equal to the number of their children. That's a perverse incentive.

OTOH, if you're going to do this, I would require that they have raised at least one child through their 18th birthday. That way the voters have a legitimate basis on which to judge competence.


A form of technocracy that popped up quite often in 50s SF was scientists (presumably natural scientists) in charge of things.


Margaret Thatcher was a mother. This pretty much kills the idea of momocracy as a moral force.


I'm told that in Ur or Sumeria there was a "sort of" democracy, but in times of trouble people would meet on the plains of Enlil (the wind god) to listen to speeches about how to deal with the trouble. Then they would select a "big man" to lead them. At some point one of the "big man"s declined to step down after the crisis was over.

In another city in the same area I'm told wealthy citizens erected massive temples to their own personal gods. At some point one of the acquired enough followers to establish himself as the god-king.

I'm sure that in each of these cases there was lots of background politics that didn't get recorded. What this seems to indicate is that once you let a concentration of power accumulate past a certain point, you are headed for monarchy. The exact mechanism isn't always the same.


I think we more or less tried everything plausible.


Geoffrey @5: "We haven't (recently) tried universal direct democracy"

From reports, it sounds like the ability to vote on general proposals in California's elections is a limited experiment in this direction. California is nearly bankrupt - is this because people voted in favour of individual spending initiatives and, in separate propositions, against raising taxes to pay for them?

Maybe that isn't what happened in California, but it does seem a fundamental problem with the idea of direct democracy - you can't just vote on separate propositions, you need to choose between complete programmes.


We Irish haven't had a king since 1014, when Brian Boru was killed at the battle of Clontarf.

And we've done alright. . . if you don't count the millions who died in the famine.


@18, continuing on 26: Don't forget Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Anita Bryant, and that jerk who cut you off in the parking lot this morning. Having squirted out babies doesn't give a person any special claim to goodness.


there was a "sort of" democracy, but in times of trouble people would meet on the plains of Enlil (the wind god) to listen to speeches about how to deal with the trouble. Then they would select a "big man" to lead them

That's the original notion of dictatorship, as it existed later in the classical world. Some sort of immediate crisis? Pick a time-limited dictator to take command. Supposedly that is what Marx had in mind with "dictatorship of the proletariat".


Rule by prisoner. We are already ruled by the most ruthless, ambitious and arguably sociopathic folks (including corporate heads) so why not give the lifers something productive to do? Every prison a parliament, every death house a bureaucracy. "I hereby sentence you to 20 years to life pushing paper." Anyone who has a chance at parole doesn't qualify for policymaking. We wouldn't want them to profit by their policy positions, would we?


I like the Swiss combination of devolved kantone, no single president, but a board of eight ministers or so with rotating chairperson duties (Bundesrat), and a lot of direct democracy.


e.g. Roman dictator


The problem is that prison is filled with the unsuccessful. Almost invariably the people in prison are the ones who should not have made that career choice in the first place.


"Perhaps all laws should automatically expire every 7 years. If a law isn't worth passing every 7 years, perhaps it isn't worth keeping. "

Trouble with that is, it creates a momentum to pass new laws, which isn't always a good thing. eg in the UK, Income Tax expires unless renewed every year - so there has to be a Finance Bill every year. Once there's guaranteed to be a Bill, other stuff gets added to it, so you get endless tinkering (660+ pages this year, 3 volumes).


You're adding the word "moral", a word which I deliberately avoided. I said "different".

I will also point out that extrapolating systemic behavior from the privileged exceptions of an opposing system is inherently flawed. See Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction. The concept of "more royal than the king" exists for a reason.

Going back to the original question. Charlie asked, "What haven't we tried?" We haven't tried this.

I am intrigued by the pushback:

They should be the mothers of adult children -- why? (Frankly, if this idea were ever adopted, I'd want mothers of young children to have more power.)

It creates perverse incentives -- as if other systems don't! There's a huge literature on the subject.

It's not inherently a more moral force -- so what? you get out of politics what you put into it. Was Thatcher the only qualified mother in Britain to become Prime Minister? Sad if so.

Look at Sarah Palin! -- as if she would be elected in a momocracy: the moms of my acquaintance loathe her, as do a current majority of Alaskans; her brief career in high politics depended solely on the starbursts of men.

A better objection to the idea might be a close look at an American local school board: but they've been radicalized by the far right in the US, which is almost exclusively male in inspiration.

Again, Charlie asked, "What haven't we tried?" We haven't tried this.


I don't believe the papacy is actually an instance of monarchy, since it lacks the hereditary element. I believe the Romans tried something like what the papacy has, when they had elected emperors. But they were unable to prevent the hereditary element from creeping back in....


Meritocratic democracy. You get one vote for simply being a sane human and of age, you can get other additional votes as a premium for achieving some milestones: one for getting a degree, one after passing a special civic education exam where you show understanding the basic principles of laws, government and economics, another one for each 10 years of voluntary service in some charity or such, maybe one included when receiving special decorations for heroic actions... Please note, I'm not saying it would necessarily be a good thing, only we never tried that...:p


I believe that some of the early Greek city-states did use government by lottery. I am not aware of the details, I am afraid. According to a number of websites, which seem to be independent, Athens did this.


How about a modified "Starship Troopers" citizenship system. Soldiers, teachers, policemen, social workers and other government employees with 3 years on the job automatically qualify for citizenship. Otherwise, citizenship is awarded for spending 2000 hours volunteering for registered charities or with government sponsored programs; (volunteer park rangers and such.)


If you're referring to the adoptive succession period, also known as the "five good emperors", they were not elected, but adopted by their predecessor. And anyway, it ended when one of them adopted his own son (see "the gladiator" movie for a not so accurate depiction of the events...:p). There's also to say that plenty awfull emperors were adopted too, like Caligua and Tiberius, so it's not such a good guarante...


Actually, we tried libertarianism (in something not unlike the modern American framing of a night watchman state) in the UK from roughly 1832 to 1860. The Great Stink put an end to it. There's a very good reason the UK moved towards a welfare state; libertarianism really sucks for about 99% of the population, assuming you have a working state in the first place. If you don't, you end up with contemporary Somalia, which is even worse.


A while back, I was reading up on the ancien régime in preparation for a gaming campaign. After some disorientation, I figured out that the political system was confusing because it assigned responsibilities completely differently than I, as an American, took for granted. The parlements were not legislative bodies to any significant degree; more than anything else, they were judicial bodies. The legislative function was exercised by the king ("the king's word is law"). The executive function was exercised by the ministers on behalf of the king. That last part is sort of akin to the way, as I understand it, British ministers exercise the executive function on behalf of Parliament, which has the legislative power—in that respect, the US is the odd one out with a completely separate executive (though the president has increasingly taken on the function of proposing legislation for Congress to confirm)—but, again, there's the difference that the monarchic system allowed the king, not elected representatives, to legislate.


Momocracy: maybe we would call this the Nanny State?!?

Yeah, I can see that producing some radically different outcomes to the current system. (It'd also have interesting demographic implications.)


FWIW, pure random isn't needed. A standard pseudo-random number generator using a seed generated by two rolls of a many-sided die would work (one for the seed, and one for the n-th number of the series). Or use the time as a seed. (You'd need to record that if you wanted to repeat the number selection.)

Or for that matter you could use the number of clicks recorded by a Geiger counter in a specified interval of time as the seed. But again, you'd need to record that if you wished to be able to repeat the number selection.

Pure random is only needed for certain very specific purposes. I don't think this is one of them. For this, it just needs to be unpredictable.


You appear to be unfamiliar with the non-hereditary monarchies. Amirite?


How about a representative democracy with a meritocratic check/balance? The government functions as it pretty much does now in a Westminster system but people qualified in subject Y have the power to demand a referendum on a policy related to Y if they think that it is required.

For example: Having a degree/worked for X years/took a standard test in something related to health and healthcare means that you are automatically a member of the National Society for Health. This functions a bit like a union and through meetings, newsletters, magazine publications etc government policies related to health are explained and discussed. If the NSH one day thinks that a government policy is flawed they can make a petition and send it to their members. If they get a set amount to sign it it is enough to mandate the the government must call a referendum either to veto or perhaps modify in a specific way the policy. Anyone in the NSH can then vote on this.

I'm not suggesting this would be a better system and it would have huge problems (namely what qualifies for member ship into a merit group, what happens when a lobby group games the system by offering training to their employees to earn more votes in a society etc) but I'm putting it out there as an idea for discussion.


The Birth of Monarchism. The transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies can be found in the bones in graves. hunter-gatherer's bones are like well fed modern athletes. Then most bones become weaker and smaller. But the bones of the new bosses stay well fed. There is even wealth in the ruling class graves. For the people it was a bad deal. but the "men with guns" of the time made the rest do what they wanted. JUST LIKE NOW.


Dave @33: California's problems are a combination of factors including having lots of spending locked down by ballot initiatives as well as strangulation of local government by decades-old Prop 13 restrictions on property taxes. But worst of all IMO was a reapportionment system run by state politicians for decades. This unsurprisingly generate a very high number of "safe" districts for Democrats and Republicans alike and thus a very highly polarized state Assembly, unable to agree on how to deal with the perpetual budget problems we've had since the .com bubble burst.

But the reapportionment system has recently been changed substantially as the result of a ballot initiative, which if it generates improvements in the functionality of the Assembly might be considered a self-correcting process.


Momocracy might not shift policy in an advanced economy by all that much. The rich and more powerful would still more likely to be elected or appointed than the poor and the less powerful. And some nations could probably switch over to momocracy right now and continue on with little change.

On the other hand, mothers as a group are less powerful than fathers; women as a group are less powerful than men; and children's concerns are more often the concern of the mother than the father. I suspect that mothers discount the future less than other types -- they tend to think ahead more than a financial quarter or an election cycle. This could lead to more forward-thinking policies, or more truly conservative policies.

This whole line of thought was inspired by memories of the Rosenstrasse protests on one hand, and a particularly odious politician in my home state -- a men's rights advocate who is a bachelor living in his elderly mother's house -- on the other.

(It's also the argument Starship Troopers should have made, with its grating emphasis on biological determinism. What group is most important to the State? The group which populates it and nurtures it, not those silly drones who defend it. But Heinlein had serious issues about working mothers.)


How about exploring other economic systems as well as governing systems. I mean strictly speaking communism is an economic system, whose requirements spawned dictatorships or oligarchies. Take a look at the Inca system. A monarchy with a communist economic system. :-)


Or perhaps the interplay between economic systems and governance. If a monarch couldn't benefit (money or power) from the economic system, why be a monarch? Conversely, how does governance impact the economic system?

If we takes Olsen Mancur's "government as organized banditry" idea, then how does the removal of economic wealth from the system change the model and evolution of government?


ALex R @ 4 Problem with rule by draftee ... One the ancient Greeks tired it, and what do you do when your current leaders are really competent, their time is up, and all the potential sucessors are obvious wankers? Um.

Geoffry Iriving @ 5 "Death Penalty" that's why. What do you do WHEN you get it wrong?

Paul Heniing-Kamp @ 10 I would argue that we are currently trying a form of technocracy-by-proxy here in EU. No we are trying and succeding in establishing an unnacountable authoritarian bureaucracy - which will (if it isn't already) becaome irredemably evil.

General point: Jury Duty Some people are (I suspect quite deliberately) NEVER SELECTED for Jury duty. My father never was, and nor have I been. They don't like members of the awkward squad.

Oh dear, DJPoK @ 34 And all the other millions who died in the REST OF EUROPE, because the weather was SHIT in 1846-8.

fizz @ 44 See also Nevil Shute Norway's semi-SF novel

Final point - also recycled from the same debate (I was there) ... LABELS are deceptive. The most serene Republic of Venice was a corrupt cruel Oligarchy. Britain is a Republic with an hereditary Head-of-State. The USSA is already an Oligarchy & heading towards an entrenched aristocratic syatem, unless lucky. N. Korea is a classic theocracy. Never mind what it is CALLED, what does the operative power-structure actually function as?

And, agreeing with/echoing Charlie, what can be tried that might work better?


Something went worng there ... I meant "In the Wet" as the title of the NSN novel I was trying to refer to - my bad typing obviously exised it .....


While it's commonly regarded as a bad thing, for realistic societies, or any other complex system, a single point of failure is more of an unrealistic goal than a problem.

Sure, if the new King is sufficiently clueless, evil or mad, everyone's lives will suck. That beats the typical alternatives, which are more 'if any of these 20 or so people is arrogant, ambitious or simply mistaken, then there will be a civil war'. Twenty points of failure are worse than one.

That's kind of why monarchy originally took off, and keeps getting independently reinvented by the likes of NK and Syria: the previous leader's son is the compromise candidate of all the generals or other power-brokers.

It's also why, if you have people power in the usual 20C sense, democracy fills the same role: if the people of your country are bad, your country will unavoidably suck. Any attempt to interfere with that is just adding extra failure cases: military dictatorship, imperialism, War on Drugs, Republicanism, etc.

The US may be about to invent a new one. The Supreme Court is rumoured to be taking it on itself to remove the manner of funding of health care from the domain of legitimate politics that people can be trusted to vote on.

Not entirely novel though - that was predicted in the pages of 2000 AD back when they weren't worried about picking that title for their weekly SF comic.


"Actually, we tried libertarianism (in something not unlike the modern American framing of a night watchman state) in the UK from roughly 1832 to 1860."

Not any form of libertarianism I've ever heard of. maybe you're thinking of "a corrupt parliamentary system?"

For that matter, the Victorian Era's foreign expansion and increase in the size of government, along with the exclusion of most of the population from the franchise (only about five percent of the population could vote at all) are pretty much the opposite of libertarianism.


...what do you do when your current leaders are really competent, their time is up, and all the potential sucessors are obvious wankers?

That depends on the population base. In the US we'd simply draft someone else. As I've laid out the system we have around 40,000,000 possible candidates.

I can see where this would be a problem for a small city-state, however. Maybe they should chose a different system of government.


I'm not sure why you consider dictatorships to be different than monarchies, rather than simply young monarchies. Given time, a stable dictatorship would evolve traditions about succession and about what messes the dictator shouldn't step in, and become indistinguishable from a mature monarchy.


IQ Relative True Democracy

Everyone gets a vote on every subject. However the value of the vote is relative to the individual's IQ, for every point over 80 you get extra weighting. So someone with an IQ of 140 gets three times the weighting of someone with 100 IQ.

In addition, you can appoint someone to vote on your behalf (with attendant safeguards) and your vote is then weighted with their IQ. On any matter you can vote yourself, if you so choose, temporarily taking your vote from them.

Upshot is you can have representatives, but they arise organically and change progressively as they do/or don't reflect the voters wishes. In addition intelligence is valued and utilised in governance.

Oh, and the republicans in the US are in deep trouble.


We've never tried a matriarchy.

Supposedly we've had gynocracies or gynococracies in prehistoric times. But opposing views abound as to what exactly was the extent of rule by women in those places.

In trying to find the title and author of a book I had once read on the Cretan Gynocracy that might have existed before the Thera volcanic disaster, I ran across this:


Funny that, I never heard of that author or that idea somewhere else before... but reading about it in wikipedia prove to me that we're really too many in circulation from too much time to be possible to have a really original idea... :p

Well, another couple of attempts at exoctic forms of gevernment.

Vote-out constitutional bureaucracy: all branches of government, while still divided and competing, works like the judicial one, where officials obtains posts on the basis of their careers with promotions, public competitions and so on. Simply, from time to time, a popularity check election is conducted, where the most hated public officials (at different thresholds depending on the level of the official) are voted out from their charge. With maybe the possibility of being permanently banned from public office if the performance is particularly bad.

Pyramid rapresentative democracy: I'm not so well informed, this may be a way similar to how some unions work, for things I caught... elections are strictly local election, for example town-level. After some periods as town-elected representative, among the other town-elected representatives one is elected at city-level, and so on to the highest roles.

Democratic guilds: the government is divided among some guilds that take charge of different aspects of the public life, more or less like current ministries. People do vote using a standard democratic process, but only inside the guild they're linked to as a consequence for their profession, attitude and so on.


There's the modification to govt that Zero State suggests - separating monied interests from politics.


What haven't we tried?

A just machine to make big decisions Programmed by fellas with compassion and vision We'll be clean when their work is done We'll be eternally free Yes and eternally young Oooo


1) Fourieran phalanxes; though Charles Fourier is usually considered an anarchist thinker.

2) Italian city-states tried some complex combinations. Caution: reading descriptions makes my head hurt.

3) Elections to choose the form of government for the next ten or twenty years -- with term limits.

4) Any national government can govern the same territory for only a limited amount of time. And then? The US government might be replaced in its current territory by the Mexican government, and move to Canada. The Canadian government might move to Chile, Australia, or Ukraine. Etc.

5) Members of government are chosen secretly; and no one knows who they are -- including them. They are given false cover memories for the time they spend governing.

6) Everyone in the government is elected -- every clerk, judge, police officer, etc.


I predict that government by I.Q. would be indistinguishable from government by random selection since there is no evidence I have ever seen that "I.Q" measures anything meaningful. I have one of the allegedly high ones and it never did me any good at all, and was damn inconvenient at an early stage of my life.

My suggestion is that the only candidates allowed to run for office would be those who have sat in wordless meditation for, say, one year (with constant surveillance of course). I have concede that I have no idea of whether or not the results would be better or worse. But at least we would have rulers with a demonstrated aptitude for patience.


Come to think of it my suggestion might be ruled out as nothing new since they seem to have done something like it in Tibet for a few hundred years.


Anti-meritocracy. Draft or recruit decision-makers from the ranks of the poor/unemployed/homeless. Besides needing the work, they will have first-hand knowledge of society's failure points and probably some degree of humility. Also, a case can be made that achieving success under current conditions may indicate an unfortunate predatory streak.


I have to strongly disagree with the idea that we haven't tried anarchy. If anarchy is defined as the absence of the state, one could easily argue that we've been anarchists for most of human evolutionary history, since states are both relatively recent in human history and definitely an invention.

More importantly, I'd also point out there are a large bunch of organizations (for example, this blog) whose membership corresponds very badly to state boundaries.

The point is that we are taught to think of the world as divided into states (or else), and that this is the natural end-point of the evolution from primitive hunters and gatherers. Is this reality, or is this propaganda.

I'd suggest that the evolution of human organizations is something like the evolution of hominids. It's a bush, not a ladder leading to the present from the primitive past. We know that the genus Homo is a bush of which we're the only extant survivor. Similarly, there are a bush of organizational models, ranging from extended families to secret societies to criminal gangs to professions (in the broadest sense, including farming and herding), that have been used to organize groups of people.

Most of these types of organizations are still around, and some (such as the Red Cross or the Internet or criminal gangs) are extremely important, though not states. Only a very few types of organizations arm soldiers, defend territories, and subjugate the people living in there. Currently, these are modern nation-states. Two thousand years ago, nomadic hordes were an equally viable alternate model, to give one example. Currently, we have ex-pats instead of nomad hordes, but nomads are still around.

The big point is that people generally belong to more than one type of organization: families cross state lines, as do religious affiliations, professional ties, online friendships, and so on. Our state citizenship is only one group we belong to, although it's an important one.

If we're wondering what will replace states if they fail, the good question may not be, "what haven't we tried," it's "what's out there that will take up the slack?"


Minarchy has been tried, many times. However, what constitutes the absolute minimum government necessary is a matter of some dispute.

As for libertarian anarchy or any other type of anarchy: What is a government, and what is anarchy? Most forms of anarchy I've seen advocated, and almost all fictional ones I've read, look to me like government.

And all but a very few of the rest have other kinds of organizations taking over governmental functions. Organized crime in C.M. Kornbluth's The Syndic; corporations; insurance companies; neighborhood compacts....


I think the last couple of thousand years of history shows that any system we set up, no matter how effective, will eventually be gamed by some group or other, who will then attempt to set up an oligarchy, autarky, or hereditary aristocracy of some flavor or other. The great danger of any government not already turned to some form of rigid hierarchy seems to be that some class of officials or politicians turn into nomenclatura or Senators. What we need is not some special form of government that will be better than all the others, but rather some form of metagovernment that can stabilize the government we happen to be using, making it robust against attempts to game it and able to react to and adapt to non-governmental changes in the society and the world around it. I suspect that it will take Culture-level AI to do that, but maybe attempting to do it with humans will allow us to keep a decent civilization going a little longer than we have in the past.


Democracy is not hip now days. But historically even the twisted kind last longer than the boss and his buds running every thing. And historically that's not what upper English schools told there students.


One thing to consider here...

Every government has checks and balances.

In a given country, who are they accountable to?


soru @ 60 Interestingly, one of your points came up in the after-session beer discussion ... Charles I was totally untrustworthy, to the point that people who were his loyal supporters deserted him for the Parliamentary side, after they had just met him for the first time ..... James II lasted 3 years only - it was a lot easier the second time around; and he was deliberately allowed to escape to France, since it avoided the mess.

cirby @ 61 No Wrong Franchise was very variable pre-1832. The so-called "Great Reform Act" of that year standardised the franchise, and limited it to MALE (some women could vote before 1832) property-holders of £10 value, plus certain others, the franchise was, approximately multiplied by about 2.5, to 1 in 5 of the male population. [ So 20% OF THE POPULATION, NOT 5! ] Subsequent reform enlaged the franchise in 1867 (all male householders) & 1884. Secret ballots were intoduced in 1872, but women didn't regain the vote until after WWI.

@ 64 As also proposed by Nevil Shute Norway in "in the Wet" ...

Dirk @ 67 Define "Monied Interests" Individuals? Corporations? Trades Unions? "Free" associations? Could get very tricky. Nice try, though - more work needed on that one.

Dan Goodman @ 69 The USSA has something close to that - do we REALLY want elected judges, who will pander to the fascists every time, as already happens?

Bruce Cohen @ 75 Yes Someone will always try to game the system The USA's was deliberately set up to try to avoid this problem, but seems to have (finally?) succumbed. The election of 2016, assuming Obama wins this year, will tell us.


out of curiosity when people think to their "new forms of govt" how many are still envisaging middle aged white guys ? How may think "Single Unemployed Parents" or "Physically Handicapped" how many consider what the right age for having a say in society should be and if there should be governance based on borders.

I got involved in the process by becoming a Parish Councillor and now I watch how our UK process works I am convinced that we can do far more today at the edges of administration than we perceived possible only 10 years ago.


Two thoughts. The first is something I read from Daniel Davies; you replace the House of Lords with an elected body, but the constituencies are not geographic. He called it "the House of Chiefs": basically, if you can get 50,000 people to say you're a chief, then you're a chief. So you can stand as "chief of the birdwatchers", and if 50,000 people think that birdwatching is the thing they primarily care about then they'll vote for you and pow, you're a chief and member of the upper house.

The second is that (speaking as a little tiny bit of a monarchist) some sort of non-elected power is there as protection from the tyranny of the majority. Since it's unreasonable to have that non-elected power actually exercise actual power most of the time over people (that's historical "off with his head!" monarchy, which is intolerably inequitable), I think a system where you have some non-elected body/person who does not exercise power but, critically, retains the right to do so in emergency situations (your elected body/dictator starts killing everyone, abolishes elections, and so on) goes some way to stopping those emergency situations from arising. Importantly, though, this non-elected thingy needs two attributes to make that happen: the legal right to do so (which you get grandfathered in for countries like the UK with a monarchy) and the popular support necessary to make it stick if required (which the UK has because lots of people love the Royal Family). This is one of the reasons that I don't mind things like the Civil List; it's important if the monarchy acts as the final bulwark against tyranny that they are loved and respected by a reasonable subset of the population, so that they can essentially act as the figurehead of La Resistance if you need that.


Stuart #79: that sounds guaranteed to fill the House of Lords with priests, or at best, special interests. I think special interests already have too much weight in politics. That's why in the scheme in #24, I limit the size of groups.


Alex: of course it's going to fill with special interests, I agree. What's interesting is that at least in theory it's special interest groups defined by people rather than money. Now, there's a reasonable argument that if you're a special interest with money that you will find it easier to get someone elected (because you've got the advertising reach), but your representative will be explicitly elected to deal with your special interest (and publicly so), and if we can find 50,000 Charlie Stross fans then we get a representative whether there's also a Big Oil representative or not.


It's not obvious to me that pseudo-random numbers are good enough. As you say, the choice needs to be unpredictable, but a pseudo-random sequence is predictable by definition. You can have things like a reverse chain of hashes, which are not predictable by the ones already revealed, but you are then relying on some trusted party to kep them secret and not act on their own knowlege (eg, by nobbling future selections they didn't like).


Stuart: We may get one Charlie Stross, but Big Oil wouldn't get just one, and the religions would get hundreds, because they could say, 'you 50,000 people vote for this priest, and you 50,000 vote for this priest', etc. I see that it removes the monopoly of the major parties, but it still favors organisations, not the people. I think that my scheme at #24, is more in the interests of the people, because it actually selects candidates who are representative of the people as well as being representatives of the people.


I was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but only partially so; I'm describing a night-watchman state, no income tax, no social security at a national level, poor houses where the poor would be fed but put to work, government's primary job being to defend the nation's borders. Even the empire was a private enterprise operation until 1856, created by the [not very] Honourable East India Company. Sure only 5% of the male population could vote, but why is voting a prerequisite for libertarian utopias? People were free to do what the hell they liked as long as it wasn't a crime, including emigrating (or immigrating) without needing a passport. And there were rather fewer statutory crimes then than there are today.

Squint at it in the right light and Victorian Britain circa 1850 was the libertarian utopia. It also sucked mightily.


Nik, can you give some examples of how access to the machinery of government is opening up to non-upper-class-white-male persons? And why? I'm intrigued.



I'm very suspicious of the "healthy hunter-gatherer" vs sickly urbanite" theory. One thing we now appreciate better is that there has been greater fluidity over time of people between these two ways of life: moving from one to the other as circumstances varied. But only rich (healthy) hunter-gatherers get a burial: failing bands or individuals succumb to predation, and their bones are lost. Meanwhile, why did people stay in cities if gathering was a better life? I suspect they did it because it was a more reliable life: reliable food trumps independence.

Of course, one difference between nomads today and a thousand years ago is being captured as a slave ...

@greg: While the rest of Europe lost millions too, Ireland lost nearly half its population. While in Parliament many ranted that this was a good thing, and they weren't dying fast enough. The ultimate point of a government is the protection and survival of its people. The Great Famine was where this ceased to be theoretical for the Irish. The bigger picture of the famine is that is was perfectly predictable, and avoidable. The Irish population more than doubled from 1800s to 1840, almost all fed on potatos, a crop that failed on average every 5 years, and a major multi-year failure every 20 or so. This was known at that time. For a government that cared for its people, fixing this should have been the number one priority. For someone living in Galway, the local history of the riches of the fisheries at the time are unbelievable: shoals of mackerel, herring and cod could be seen from the shore: passing shoals raised the sea level five feet or more, and were spotted by lookouts on the boats by this. shoals ten miles long. During fishing season, fish were piled high on Claddadh quay. So why did people starve? they sold their boats for food during the famine! Why? Because the lack of quays and harbours meant they could not fish during the winter, only summers. The lack of roads and rail meant fish rotted while five miles away people starved.
The means of avoiding the famine were there, but meant investment: investment that happened in Britain, but not Ireland. Resources flowed from the colonies (and Ireland) to make the centre richer. Simply, famine was the cost of empire.


Hunter gather societies are what humans evolved to live in. Yes, diet was in general better, people were fitter and probably had a great deal more freedom to do whatever they felt like at any one time.

But the population of Britain towards the end of the Mesolithic around 7500BC was of the order of 10,000. If the population had been spread evenly over the land area of the country, there would be one person about every 25km^2.

The introduction of agriculture around 6000BC lead to a quadrupling of the population within a few hundred years. Which implies that the downside of hunter-gather life was pretty dramatic mortality. If you weren't strong and fit, you simply didn't survive.


Rule by short people. Never been tried. A miniarchy*, if you will, which seeks to minimize the size of the governor. Think of all the trouble tall manly rulers, staunch of feature and proud of bearing, have gotten us into. It's time to try something different.

  • credit to David D.G.

Greg, there was indeed hardship all over Europe in the second half of the 1840s. . . that's what drove the wave of revolutions that broke out everywhere in 1848.

Broke out everywhere except in Ireland, where people were too starved to fight back.

And there were also cases where government responses were not shaped by Laissez-faire "nightwatchman state" bollix, and where the hardship did not tip over the edge into full scale famine.


cough Napoleon cough


IQ is a hideous measure of intelligence, it was originally created to determine which schoolchildren had special needs. IIRC it was never meant to be used in the opposite direction of determining who is especially bright.

Also given how stupid some smart people are and the diversity of intelligence/education I can't see a meritocracy working without partitioning what the merit is for i.e. extra votes when voting for energy policy if you are a professor of energy.


A miniarchy would inevitably lead to apartheight.


Napoleon probably wasn't particularly short (see , by the standards of his time. Nobody ever talks about an Alexander the Great Complex, btw...


Ah, well, Patrick, you see that was what we in the trade call a "joke".

I freely admit that Kate Beaton's Napoleon cartoon (which I link to here) is both funnier and more historically accurate.


@91 why is there no 'like' button?


My personal preference is for all governmental positions to be filled by lottery, ... You'll certainly get occasional turkeys, but probably no more than you do today.

I think we'd get a lot more turkeys. At least in the US. I've met way too many of them to think they are not representative of their numbers in the general populace.

But then again we may get fewer people who think Guam might tip over.


"If only we had some means to find sane, competent people to lead us when we needed leading and to get out of the way when we didn't, and to step down before they became insane."

I've always thought that the best form of government is probably a truly enlightened dictatorship. It's just that what happens next, will probably be disaster.

It's not just about them stepping down at the right time, it's about replacing them.

My suggestion -

Two sets of people. First is assembled by lot from the citizens and is responsible for selecting the second group of people who will form the government on whatever basis they wish. Service is mandatory, but well renumerated, and the government sits for ten years, before being replaced in the same way.

At the end of the decade, everyone else gets to vote whether both groups of representatives are burned alive, 2/3rds majority required.

I call it Pyrocracy :-p


I like selection for parliament as a form of jury duty, but it should be at least somewhat meritocratic; a basic examination would suffice for pre-selection (enough maths to understand economics, enough English to write laws competently, enough history to not remake mistakes etc., and some understanding of basic ethics, making it about as easy to pass as a driving test.) This could be given to everyone when they leave school, with an option of re-sitting whenever you wished. Only those who passed the exam could be selected for parliament by random ballot from their constituency, to serve one-year terms, with one-twelfth of the parliament changed every month to keep things fresh.

I'd also like to see parliament kept in a metaphorical fishbowl. All communication from the outside world to any member of parliament, and vice versa, must be visible and public. If they can do it with the Big Brother House, they can do it with parliament.

Alternatively, assign a journalist to each MP, who gets to read all their communications first, and gets a sizable reward if they uncover any influencing of policy.


A randomly chosen council of governors, with limited terms of office, each of whom is sacrificed to the gods at the end of his or her term. The citizenry would vote on the form of sacrifice (from quite painless to barbaric) for a particular governor based on that person's performance. A disincentive for seeking office, a reason for governing well, and an entertainment all in one system, plus the gods would be happy and send us Camelot and lots of chocolate.


You are Tim Brooke-Taylor and I claim my £5.

(The Goodies did that)


The UK has tried a minor form of more votes for higher "intelligence".

Before 1950 University graduates had an extra vote to vote in special constituencies see


Rule by adolescents hasn't been tried yet. For example, a system where only the 21-27 year old can pick and form the government. It might make some sense, too. They may not have as much (often overrated) 'life experience', but they are at their prime intellectually, and will make choices in the realization that they will probably have live with the consequences for a long time.


Pyramid rapresentative democracy: I'm not so well informed, this may be a way similar to how some unions work, for things I caught... elections are strictly local election, for example town-level. After some periods as town-elected representative, among the other town-elected representatives one is elected at city-level, and so on to the highest roles.

That would be a version of indirect election, which was fairly common in the past; versions of it exist today. It's how US Senators used to be chosen, for example, prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment.


It sounds like Eller's book covers this in detail, but for a bit more about the 19th and early 20th Century origins of the "ancient matriarchy" idea/myth, this short essay by Cosma Shalizi (disguised, in NY Review of Books fashion, as a book review) is rather good.


Here are a couple of possibilities:

1) Theocracy, but with a cool religion. I like the Sith Imperial model myself: rule by Satanic space ninjas (yes, I’m a bad person).

2) Borgocracy. Take dot-communism to the extreme, then multiply by several orders of magnitude. This model combines Technocracy, Communism, Fascism, Singularitarianism, and perhaps a bit of New Agey “Global Brain” ideology just for fun. Resistance is futile!


I don't think we've every actually tried "strange women lying in ponds distributing swords"[*] as a system of government. (Sure, there's the well-known anarcho-syndicalist critique of the idea, but still ...)

[*] Really, the whole area of "farcical aquatic ceremonies" as a basis for supreme executive power is strangely underutilized.


One example of a 'Dunbar's Number'-sized group that uses a combination of election and sortition, albeit purely internally, is the Amish church district. Candidates for a church leadership position (candidates for minister must be baptized male members of the district, usually married, while candidates for bishop must be ministers) are verbally and semi-secretly voted for by the baptized members. Those who receive more than two votes (three in some districts), move on to the next stage. A slip of paper with a Bible verse on it is placed in one of several hymnbooks equal to the number of candidates. Each candidate, from oldest to youngest, selects a book. When all have chosen, the books are opened and the candidate whose book has the paper is judged to have been chosen by God to fill the position.


It occurs to me that we've never tried a Strossocracy before. That could have some interesting results, not least of which news footage of our supreme leader visiting somewhere like the Vatican or an American run by any of the current GOP candidates :P


Thanks for that. One of my old supervisors, who was part of the great wave of post-war female academics who went into the UK uni system, told me once that she used to give talks on anthropology to a consciousness-raising group in Birmingham. . . and she always told them that, sorry, there's damn-all evidence for the "ancient matriarchy" hypothesis.

That said, there have been cases where the political status of women was rather more enhanced than you might assume. I believe it was among the Iroquois that political decision making required certain vital ritual substances. These were in the hands of women, who were able to exercise a veto power over political decisions in that society. A Jesuit missionary travelling in Seventeenth century Canada has left us an account of meeting a puzzled Iroquois who looked at the missionary's entourage and asked "why are there no women in your war-party?"


Alex: to be blunt, if the religions can convince a million voters that they want to use their one vote on a religious candidate rather than on one of their other interests, then don't they deserve representation? I mean, sure, we're describing the tyranny of the majority here, but that's democracy for you. I don't actually believe that there are quite as many people who would put their religious beliefs ahead of their other beliefs as you seem to, although I'm happy to admit that I might be wrong.


I hear that sociopaths tend to have above-average IQs - in which case things wouldn't change all that much. So I hope your proposed "IQ-based" meritocracy includes 'emotional/empathy' and 'ethics' IQs.


I've liked the idea of drafting candidates for office for a few years now, although I had yet to think it through to the point of setting aside pre-candidacy financial assets in blind trust. Probably a good idea to add that into any legislation proposed for the drafting of politicians into service as such, now that I think about it a bit.


I would like their to be some sort of fact checking branch to the government. The current USA Congress/Executive/Judicial split could probably happily subsume it into the Judicial branch, and the UK system could probably stick it into the place currently occupied by the House of Lords.

I'm not sure exactly how it would work in practice, but in theory I would like it to deter blatant lies and overselling without severely limiting freedom of expression. probably impossible, but certainly desirable.


There are actually quite specific proposals as part of the prospective policy of the upcoming political party. No doubt I will squeeze in a mention here when they are online and the party is registered with the electoral commission.


"Really, the whole area of "farcical aquatic ceremonies" as a basis for supreme executive power is strangely underutilized."

But not the use of theatre to gain and retain power. The most recent and notorious example is of course the Nazi Party rallies at Nurnberg.


Thinking about it, here's a simple question: how often have monarchs as prescribed by the monarchist theory of a state actually existed?

Simple example: the Japanese emperor. In theory, they're the longest-reigning monarchs. In practice, they've been disempowered several times by shoguns, ending with the Tokugawa shogunate, then the modern Meiji restoration worked for them from the late 1800s to 1945.

English crown now? Still around, and fairly disempowered compared to what theory says she should be doing. Maybe the Murdoch mess will bring about a new William the Conqueror?

Chinese emperor? It's worth looking at how many different states claimed to be China, each with a different territory. It's also worth looking at how often the imperial bureaucracy was really in charge, though carefully subservient in appearance.

Pharaoh? How often did the pharoahs get in fights with the major temples...and lose? Akhenaton was the classic example, as his successor (Tutankhamen) seems to have been chosen as young and compliant with the older order his father sought to overthrow. Moreover, there were thirty some-odd dynasties (where one family was overthrown by another, often after a few generations), old and new kingdoms (what happened in between?), several successful invasions...

You get the picture. I suspect the answer is that monarchs, tyrants, dictators, and other strongmen are more or less indistinguishable, and that the monarch described by monarchist theory is actually a fairly rare phenomenon. It's hard to tell, because people generally put on their ideological glasses before looking at the evidence.

The consequence is that the king may be just as misleading a trope for SFF as swords and rayguns are. Swords have rarely been as important as say, spears and bows (or guns) on the battlefield, and rayguns don't seem as feasible now as they did back in the day. Not that I expect characters to stop grabbing up their light sabers to defeat the Emperor when their blasters don't work, but perhaps, at some point, we'll acknowledge that the John Carter trope vein has largely played out, and we can safely go on to something else.


You don't have to go back as far as early 19th century Britain to meet a libertarian utopia. Take a look a Liberia after its Independence during WWII and before the Civil War of 1975–1990.

I've read enough by Liberians writing about the "good old days" that lasted for more than a generation after the second world war to discover that they wanted and got a state that let them run their small businesses without government intervention. Also, they could run medium or large sized businesses any way they pleased.

Everyone could do as they wanted, as long as they had the money.

This meant that everyone could buy as many pistols, and rifles and grenades as they wanted, to protect their shops. Or maybe to protect their religion. And they did. Bang!

When I look at Liberia now, more than 20 years after the end of the civil war, it still looks way closer to an ideal libertarian state than anything else on the planet. And yeah, a Liberian passport is worth zilch because Liberians still don't want to pay the taxes needed to support a decent national bureaucracy to do even "minimalist" things like control citizenship.


Talk about the dangers of posting and writing drunk!

I meant LEBANON and not LIBERIA.

I got mixed up because I've met Lebanese whose families ended up opening small shops in Liberia and all over West Africa, when they fled the civil war.


I have colleagues who work on Liberia, so yes I was puzzled by your post.

The great Lebanese migration to West Africa (you can find them in just about any W.African country you care to name) actually dates back to the 1890s, from well before Lebanon became a byword for civil strife.


" [ So 20% OF THE POPULATION, NOT 5! ]"

That was the theoretical number, not what ended up actually happening. In the real world, only about 5% of the total population at the time actually were "enabled" to vote and allowed to exercise their franchise.

Even with your "high number" case, it's nothing like a libertarian government.


Alternatively, assign a journalist to each MP, who gets to read all their communications first, and gets a sizable reward if they uncover any influencing of policy.

That's a beautiful idea. Make sure the assignments are random, that the journalist has a bodyguard, and pay the journalist a million dollars each year so s/he is not inclined to take bribes. Also give the journalist a decent budget for hiring expert help where necessary.


"I've read enough by Liberians writing about the "good old days" that lasted for more than a generation after the second world war to discover that they wanted and got a state that let them run their small businesses without government intervention. Also, they could run medium or large sized businesses any way they pleased.

"Everyone could do as they wanted, as long as they had the money."

...and as long as they were part of the five percent of the population that actually ruled the country. The voting/ruling class were almost exclusively descendants of American-African colonists. The lower classes were (and are) mostly organized on tribal lines, and very much could NOT do as they wanted.

It was a corrupt, bureaucratic, graft-driven country with a strongly ingrained caste system - and, once again, not libertarian at all.

It's a funny thing: I keep seeing the argument that libertarianism is bad, followed by horrible examples that are not based on libertarian principles at all.

We Irish haven't had a king since 1014, when Brian Boru was killed at the battle of Clontarf. And we've done alright. . . if you don't count the millions who died in the famine.

Oh please don't use us as a data point. Aside from the fact that we didn't have an independent system of government until the 1950s really, our political history is one giant step over the line into banana republic farce. Almost any single data point from our political history over the past forty years would tell you that. I mean, where would you start? Haughey? Bertie? Biffo? The housing boom continuing despite economists screaming about it in the press and on television while the politicians said that they should go hang themselves if they were that worried? The way we pay our politicians more money per annum than any other Western nation despite continual scandal and failure?

Honestly, we give democracy a bad name...


"I meant LEBANON and not LIBERIA."

Oh, well - but the same sort of problems with your argument still hold.

Lebanon (after WWII but before their civil war) was a parliamentary democracy - with a certain amount of theocracy thrown in.

They allocate high offices to members of certain religious groups. The President is a Christian (Maronite sect), and the Speaker of the Parliament and the Prime Minister are Muslims (Shiite and Sunni, respectively). This worked fine until they had a nice big religious civil war, and it still causes problems.

When I was growing up, my best friend was from a Lebanese family - and the adults would alternate between stories of how nice Lebanon was in the 1950s - and how awful the corruption was. Then they'd go on and on about how bad the bureaucracy was if you didn't belong to the right religious faction or didn't pay the right bribes.

While the Lebanon of the 1940s-1960s had some good features for large businesses (which could easily pay the large bribes needed to operate), it was (once again) not libertarian at all.


Sorry, that should have been a reply to Chris. I'd planned on replying to Stuart Langrige, then decided it wasn't worth posting and apparently MT kept Stuart as the reply-to person when I tried to reply to Chris... Anyway, Chris should receive credit for his excellent idea.


The 'rules and tools' of government should depend on that government's objectives/goals ...

Therefore a built-in flexibility. Some objectives/programs need to be long-term, some are short-term -- the people including composition by elected, assigned, bureaucrats/civil service would need to vary accordingly.


Apparently, one of the qualifications to be a chief in Polynesia was being a good surfer.


That's a beautiful idea. Make sure the assignments are random, that the journalist has a bodyguard, and pay the journalist a million dollars each year so s/he is not inclined to take bribes. Also give the journalist a decent budget for hiring expert help where necessary.

I, for one, welcome our new media-mogul overlords.

You're giving the journalists such huge resources and privileged access to all politicos that they could "persuade" them to vote however the journalists want.

We've had hints of what rule-by-the-press might be like what with all the Murdoch related hooraw. It's not pretty.


A government system could probably be developed based on variations of multiplayer games that allow rules to evolve with play and number of participants, i.e., complex psychosocioeconomic systems.


I'm not sure that really counts. I see 19th century Britain as an oligarchy, with a small elite controlling things for their benefit.


It seems to me as close to an actual libertarian state as anyone as come near to in a modern monetary based economy, because everything was settled by bribes. Even a relatively small business or a professional (like an engineer) treated bribes as overhead, and went along just fine. Or so I was told.

To me a libertarian state is a fee based state as opposed to a tax based state. So in essence it amounts to each individual or business placing a bribe at the right place, at the right time instead of having general taxes.

Except that in a "proper" libertarian state I suppose you would not call them bribes. They would be legalized, so you would call them fees.

(And yes I was already very much aware of the rather complex theoretical division of power between religious groups in the post war Lebanese constitution.)


I wonder if rule by combat has been tried? Not out and out warfare, but formalized dueling for official positions, passing laws, repealing laws, etc. All duels to the death, no champions allowed. Declining a duel would be a resignation.

At the very least, it would ensure that people were very dedicated to their office and laws. :)


"The US may be about to invent a new one. The Supreme Court is rumoured to be taking it on itself to remove the manner of funding of health care from the domain of legitimate politics that people can be trusted to vote on."

I know that a lot of people don't understand how the US government works (especially Europeans) - and this is proof.

The Supreme Court, if it overturns Obamacare, will be doing just the opposite of what you claim.

The big question is about what powers the legislative branch has - what they can forbid and require. According to the most common reading of the US Constitution, Congress does NOT have the power to require US citizens to buy something like personal health insurance. Sure, they could create a single-payer government-run health care system and tax people to pay for it, but the weird route they took to require people to buy health insurance is more than a bit dodgy.

The biggest issue is something called the Commerce Clause. The original reading of the CC was to allow the Federal government to regulate commerce between the states, but it has been expanded dramatically over the last hundred years or so. Even with all of those "re-readings," forcing private citizens to buy something is pretty much an overstep by the people who wrote the law, by a huge degree.

If the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, they won't be "inventing" anything - instead, they'll be undoing something that the Democrats screwed up when they passed it. This is a mainstream part of US Constitutional law, and they've done similar things about once every year and a half for the last 200 years...


Well, this is basically what I proposed with my Sith Empire idea. An oligarchy in which the oligarchs undergo a brutal process of selection!


In a setup of this kind the journalists would have to be independent rather than employees of some corporation.

I've also contemplated the idea that no company can claim to be selling "news" as opposed to "opinion" if they are owned in whole or part by another company. The idea is to encourage small, independent news-gathering companies rather than big conglomerates which force a particular viewpoint. For a useful example of why this is a good idea, note that NBC's coverage of nuclear issues is piss-poor, and further note that General Electric owns 49% of NBC.


"To me a libertarian state is a fee based state as opposed to a tax based state."

There's a big difference between "pay me for my goods and services" and "pay this government functionary a bribe in addition to the normal permit fees so he'll give you the permit to keep operating, as long as you're part of the right social, religious, or social group."

Once again: pretty much the opposite of libertarianism.

I think the problem is that you don't really know anything about what libertarians are proposing, and take your clues from what other, non-libertarian sources say about what they want it to be.

One thing to remember: while most libertarians are very pro-business, don't assume that a government that is pro business for other reasons (like increased opportunities for graft) is libertarian. Ditto for firearms ownership.

Some idiots think that Ethiopia is a good example of libertarianism, and hold it up as a sarcastic example of a "libertarian utopia," when it's really a combination of socialist/tribal social principles merged with old Islamic financial practices, and worse than either.


"I suppose you could also convert capitalism into a form of governance as well. Not what we have now, which is basically corporations controlled by either indirect democracy (stockholders) or mini-monarchs (owners). But something where all political decisions were open to market pricing, and people literally bought the government though some mechanism. "

You could; here in the USA, we're not that far away.


I think you're confusing Ethiopia with Somalia, old man. Though confusion seems to be, like, your thing.

The state of Somalia since the collapse of the central state twenty years ago is used as a stick to beat you and your desperate cohorts with precisely because it demonstrates the naivete of your position.


"Rule of the 5000 - there are only 5k laws limited to one page each. Each new one must replace an existing one. "

Please note that that wouldn't lead to what you think.

For example:

'The federal budget shall be balanced in each fiscal year, save in time of declared war'.

Reasonable, short, but it opens not a can of worms, but a dyson sphere of worms.


"There also are several offices which may be taken, most notably including the Insubordinate, a low-ranking (4° or 3°) member who ideally is to be informed about all work of a high-ranking member he or she is assigned to, and charged to criticize and ridicule it, channel feedback from others concerning it, and will veto it if necessary. Every Adept, Magus, and Magister Templi (leader of a Temple) has an Insubordinate."


"#4: during their most successful period the Athenians selected almost all of their government officials by lot."

Depending on the pool, this in practice could mean quite different things.


Nik, can you give some examples of how access to the machinery of government is opening up to non-upper-class-white-male persons? And why? I'm intrigued.

Assuming that truly upper-class white males have titles that bar them from the Commons, surely you mean "non-middle-class white male persons"? I wouldn't describe attendance at Eton as being an automatic indicator or "upper-class".

While it might be fashionable to point out that Boris Johnson is a distaff descendent of George III, or that several current Cabinet ministers went to Eton, I found it interesting that the last two Conservative leaders to actually win an election were a grocer's daughter (the first PM to have a Science degree, IIRC) and someone who ran away from the circus to join a bank; while the Labour PM that followed them, went to Fettes (an Edinburgh public school with aspirations to Eton-like status).

Around here (a few miles southeast of Edinburgh in an old mining area) anyone "upper-class" has exactly zero chance of getting their hands on any government machinery - local, Scottish, or National - unless they manage the golden ticket of being parachuted in by Millbank or the SNP. That's true across most of Scotland; having met a few MSPs and several of our local councillors through my sport, there wasn't a silver spoon in any of their mouths.


Stuart #122: You are assuming the thing that you're trying to prove, that it is the organisation which deserves representation. I don't think an organisation is capable of deserving anything. People deserve things.


The concept of appointment by lot -- sortition -- is based on the principle of distrust. Athens, and later the Venetian republic, used it to prevent overt collusion by factions. There's a literature on the subject; you don't have to reinvent the wheel.

It's not based on representative sampling. You need a different argument for that.


All is change. So any system of government must include the ability to mutate. The Discordians take this to an extreme and propose a sequence that they see as completely inevitable. Chaos-Discord-Confusion-Bureaucracy-Aftermath. or Subsistence pack leader -> Monarchy-dictator-metapack leader -> Formalised Parliament -> Bureaucratic State -> Decadent collapse under weight of control. But that's only one sequence that fitted with Thornley's view of late 60s America. Another might be a meta-game approach from game theory or MMORGs where each round allows the creation or modification of one game rule. What can't really be avoided is that all things must pass so any system created now must either include that idea or accept that on some timescale it will break down. So what timescale are we talking here? 10 years or 10,000?

How about a pyramid structure based on roughly the dunbar number (100 for neatness). With most decisions at each level made by straight vote but a caretaker group of 5 used to do day to day management. So 100 people elect 5 people from among themselves to govern their affairs (Street level) and 1 person to the next layer up to represent them. 100 of these street reps elect 5 people to manage their town and one person to county government. 100 town reps elect 5 people to manage the State-County with one rep to the Country government. 100 Counties elect 5 people to manage the Country and one person to world gov. 100 country reps elect 5 people to manage the world. Feel free to manipulate the numbers to make it work but it's fairly close as 100^5 is about the population of the world, 100^4 about the size of a typical country, etc. The trick is then to arrange that decisions about the right things are made at the appropriate level although perhaps this just falls out with free movement of people between groupings. Echoes of Anathem here.


"I think you're confusing Ethiopia with Somalia, old man."

Not really. They're pretty much in the same boat, but Somalia is a lot more disorganized. I was going off of the typical meme of "(insert failed state) is a libertarian paradise."

For that matter, a lot of the countries in that part of Africa follow pretty much the same pattern. People keep putting labels on their government types, and they may have OFFICIAL structures that look like what they claim, but in the day to day operations of those places, it's down to variations of tribalism and religion, with a dose of failed communism or socialism mixed in to compound the failures.

"Though confusion seems to be, like, your thing."

You might note that the one who was most confused was a guy who confused Liberia and Lebanon, and that wasn't me.

"The state of Somalia since the collapse of the central state twenty years ago is used as a stick to beat you and your desperate cohorts with precisely because it demonstrates the naivete of your position."

The naivete of my position that they're not libertarian at all, when they aren't and never were? Do tell. Make sure to include how Somalia got where it is, and don't forget to include the basic fact that it was a failed socialist state.

Start by telling me exactly what part of that region is run or has ever been run by anything resembling actual libertarian principles. Or that continent, really.

I'm also interested about those "desperate cohorts." You mean the other people who keep telling you that the thing you imagine libertarianism to be looks nothing like actual - you know - libertarianism?


Pirate Party here in Germany are toying around with "Liquid Democracy" - as far as I understand it, one crucial idea is that every party member can assign his vote for a specific field of expertise to another party member, so well known experts in some fields should collect lots of "delegations", getting more voting power than others that way. The delegations are cancelable all the time, so the expert delegate can't be to sure his/her voting power will remain over time.


AIUI "dictatorship of the proletariat" actually meant democracy universal (male?) suffrage, and the ability of the proletariat as a class to dictate society, rather than the bourgeoisie doing so.


You know, son, if you're in a hole you should stop digging. I've been to that region of the world, and believe me, people there know exactly the difference between the state systems that rule them and the old "tribal" systems they used to have (and by the way, the fact that you use "tribal" so unreflectingly is another proof of your rock-bottom ignorance).

Sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy.


Fuller had a wonderfully out-there proposal for measuring public opinion by satellite -- he contended that positive feelings could be measured in the aggregate, from space.

His suggestion was to implement pure democracy through this means: you propose a bill and measure public opinion on it; IIRC a 2/3 majority is required to pass a new law, but if public opinion turns against it after it's implemented, only a simple majority is required for repeal.

Anyhow, we haven't tried that.

(And of course that simple mechanism omits any protection against tyrrany of the majority. I'm curious whether Fuller's system would have had some equivalent to a Supreme Court to interpret Constitutional protections for the minority, or if, since he's already postulating a world where you can accurately gauge public opinion on a single topic from space, he's also assuming a populace enlightened enough to protect the minority without needing additional checks in place.)


Just what we need - perfect mob rule


cirby@135: forcing private citizens to buy something is pretty much an overstep by the people who wrote the law, by a huge degree.

Except that the 2nd Militia Act of 1792 mandated almost all able-bodied male citizens of the US to purchase firearms and ammunition so that they could be called out as the militia when needed. AIUI, that mandate remained in force for a century or so without anyone questioning it.


(Guess why I was the last minute substitute ...)

I'm dumb, why?


he contended that positive feelings could be measured in the aggregate, from space.

See Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for further analysis.


Actually classical Athens did go for politics in which a lottery was used and not turning up was not an option. But as always you still ended up with a political class. They did go to some extreme efforts to try and keep things fair - a level of complexity not seen until Venice and the rules for electing a new Doge.


Artificial selection / genetic engineering with the goal of eliminating the need for a centralised leadership at all? I.e. ending up with a population where altruism is ingrained in everyone.


Brain scanning for psychopaths and making them ineligible to hold political office?


Damn, I read that one too, but I didn't think of it in this context.


@141: 'The federal budget shall be balanced in each fiscal year, save in time of declared war'.

Haven't we always been at war with Oceania?


"Except that the 2nd Militia Act of 1792 mandated almost all able-bodied male citizens of the US to purchase firearms and ammunition so that they could be called out as the militia when needed. AIUI, that mandate remained in force for a century or so without anyone questioning it."

...or enforcing it.


@147: "How about a pyramid structure based on roughly the dunbar number (100 for neatness)" [deletia for brevity]

That's not too different from the system described in the Soviet constitution. Soviets (councils) were to be formed from handy-sized blocks of similar people - workers in the same factory, or trade, or residents of apartment blocks, or any other handy method. These small-soviets would then elect representatives to administrative soviets of the same type of block, all the way up to the Supreme Soviet.

In practice the Party nomenklatura reduced the soviets to a "look how democratic we are!" sock puppet, but hey, that's practical politics for you...


@159: "Brain scanning for psychopaths and making them ineligible to hold political office?"

Even if you had your magic scanner, why would identifying someone as a psychopath be justification for denying them the civil rights enjoyed by other citizens?

If, say, my county clerk (an elected office) is a psychopath, or sociopath, or engages in squicky sexual practices doesn't necessarily have any bearing on how well they do their job.

Now, if you could come up with a magic scanner to detect "clueless screw-up", I might be interested...


"You know, son, if you're in a hole you should stop digging. I've been to that region of the world, and believe me, people there know exactly the difference between the state systems that rule them and the old "tribal" systems they used to have (and by the way, the fact that you use "tribal" so unreflectingly is another proof of your rock-bottom ignorance).

Sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy."

You want a bloody tragedy? Talk to the people who left those places because of the things I've been talking about. You think the local government "handlers" are going to be honest about how things actually work there?

I work with more than a few African expats - we get so many people from Africa here that some of the hotels have signs in various African languages in the back halls for their staff. They mostly won't talk about things back home, but when they do, you get a much different picture than the one you seem to have in you head.



A recent study found that successful CEO's tend to have the characteristics of sociopaths. (Dexter should run Apple? ;) Ruthless leaders without empathy for people may well have what it takes to climb to the top of businesses, but that is not necessarily a good thing for society.


"Even if you had your magic scanner, why would identifying someone as a psychopath be justification for denying them the civil rights enjoyed by other citizens?"

Civil Rights are what the govt say they are. What happened to the right to own slaves?


The Society for Creative Anachronism chooses leaders by combat, although not to the death. This at least ensures that the leader is not a layabout, as being able to compete at a sufficient level usually takes a decade or so of practice. (In practice much of the actual ruling is delegated to the winner's consort, whom they beg the favour of before the tournament.)

It is however, once again, a system that favours tall people, and I can not give it my whole hearted endorsement. Perhaps a more intellectual tournament would be better, such as chess or core wars, or better still, a limbo tournament.


Banksian Mindocracy


"There's a big difference between "pay me for my goods and services" [in the theoretical libertarian state]and "pay this government functionary a bribe in addition to the normal permit fees so he'll give you the permit to keep operating, ..."

Yes of course, but there are also a lot of things in common, and this is where the Lebanese experience can sometimes be instructive.

For instance, you can sometimes bargain for the amount of the bribe. In a sense market forces are then the strongest powers affecting the size of the bribe. Now, in a theoretical libertarian state you could also invoke market forces to establish the size of the fee you pay for using a particular segment of the commons.


The Lebanese experience in recent decades is all about two nations fighting a proxy war in their country. Nothing to do with libertarianism and its failing.


That would fall under Congress's power to raise Armies, and to regulate the Militia. Part of the Enumerated Powers rather than the Commerce Clause.


DJPoK & Paul Harrison Not just Boney, but, erm, Adolf Schikelgrüber, % (I think) Louis XIV & Josef Vissarionvitch unpronounceable (Stalin) NOT a good idea!

cirby @ 122 And where did I say it was a "Libertarian" guvmint? I think I was talking about representative guvmint - wasn't I?

Mark Dennehy @ 125 Thanks for that - one small correction. S Ireland (Eire) didn't get an independent guvmint until ablout 10 years back, when they finally realised that Paisley was right about the RC church (without joining his version of the lunacy, of course)


The number of things we haven't tried is huge. Government by random decision making (no, even Precedent Reagun was not random despite his alleged use of astrology).

The "no true libertarian" argument was only funny once, please stop it now.

I think a more revealing thing would be using technology to expose reputation. Forget various companies collecting info about you for "targeted marketing", use that information to generate reputation and skill scores for people, and make those public. I've just read a pair of novels using that idea and it seems vaguely plausible.

That would cut the legs from under a lot of the other forms of government by making decision-maker's abilities more obvious. If you see a parliamentarian's corruption score rise you know there's something fishy going on. Want to know where that score comes from? FOSS and vote recording, you can see the records.

I'm curious as to how that would develop, would the "reputation points" you have to give out just become a GMI tradable for cash? Would the social network reputation-gaming tricks work IRL?


S Ireland (Eire) didn't get an independent guvmint until ablout 10 years back, when they finally realised that Paisley was right about the RC church (without joining his version of the lunacy, of course)

Could you explain that to this poor clueless American?


How about restoring the Athenian custom of scapegoating, butin a less extreme form. Once a year, the person who the majority feel is the source of all their problems is banished from the country or at least from participating in politics for a year.

Catharsis for the masses, and if things don't improve in their absence, at least the people know they picked the wrong victim.


There's a book out there by Michael Notten, (Law of the Somalis), positing (yes) that Somalia is some sort of libertarian paradise.

It isn't. What's interesting about Somalia is their local law, and the systems they have for having a cultural judiciary without having a state enforcing it.

That part's kind of cool for culture-vulture types like me. Unfortunately for the libertarian theorists, I'm pretty sure that many non-state groups have similar mechanisms, whether it's tribes or organizations holding ethics hearings.

The bigger pointer about Somalia being a libertarian paradise is that there's reportedly a famine on outside Mogadishu. As a model for how to run society, I think it fails the test of basic humanitarian care.


Me, concerning a 'simple' law: 'The federal budget shall be balanced in each fiscal year, save in time of declared war'.

TRX: "Haven't we always been at war with Oceania?"

That's the obvious dodge, a permanent state of 'war'.

And even beyond that, who decides if the budget is balanced, or what 'balance' means, or what should be done when if it's not, or what the federal budget is.


I really can't agree with the qualifications filter. China tried this and it lead to one the most hidebound and elitist civilizations in the history of the planet. If people without the requisite qualifications gained power, the elite were even known to let barbarian hordes in through the border rather than face the ignominity of being ruled by their intellectual inferiors.

On the more positive side, I think there is a lot to be said for a 'sortition' approach. I'm also for maximising checks and balances with houses of review, constitutional courts, juries, and a bill of rights (though this needs to remain a protective instrument rather than an affirmative instrument). I would finally top this off with every law having a sunset clause as well as a prologue on what the law is supposed to achieve and statistical benchmarks it needs to meet.

Note, that with sufficient checks and balances and input from the citizenry, almost any form of government will work well, including monarchy.


...a system where only the 21-27 year old can pick and form the government. ... They may not have as much (often overrated) 'life experience', but they are at their prime intellectually, and will make choices in the realization that they will probably have live with the consequences for a long time.

This is sarcastic, right? This was a big part of the 60s in the US. Don't trust anyone over 30 and all that. Most of those 20 somethings advocating this at the time have since decided it would be a very very dumb way to do things.

And 20 somethings in GENERAL are very bad at considering long term consequences.


As a model for how to run society, I think it fails the test of basic humanitarian care.

AIUI, humanitarianism is not a characteristic libertarians find necessary, or even desirable, in a governing structure. Nor is utilitarianism ("the greatest good for the greatest number")

Libertarians prize "liberty." I'm not sure what that means in practical terms. American libertarian theory tends to cluster around no taxes/all the guns I want/no laws regulating sexual behavior or drug consumption. And no public infrastructure at all: everything is designed, built and maintained on a subscription basis, from roads and bridges to ambulance and fire fighter services.

My preference would be for a utilitarian government, with strong overtones of humanitarianism. No governmental structure can guarantee to be those things at all times; the trick is to find one that has the capacity to be those things most of the time.

Let's see... an interlocking multi-house mechanism, with one house composed of subject matter experts, another house composed of people who already have proven their ability to be good-to-excellent managers, and the third house composed of elected representatives from regions delineated by criterion [X]. The representatives discuss the issues important to their region and come up with potential policies. The subject matter experts study the policies, tweak until the policies are workable (or reject them as flatly unworkable). And the approved policies are then turned over to the management house to implement.

The proven managerial class would by definition be at least in their 30s,and so let's require age 35 as a minimum age to be a Manager. The age requirements of the subject matter experts would vary by their area of expertise - my understanding, admittedly anecdotal, is for that some areas such as mathematics and physics, the most innovative and brilliant work is done in one's 20s and perhaps 30s. The representative class would be encouraged by law to be as heterogenous as possible, in terms of age, background, experience, etc.

As a final wrinkle, a person who has served in one House would be barred from serving in any other House.


If you ask them what they want most say what libertarian should be. It says people should not mess with people. What we have now are "libertarians" who want the right to mess with people without the evil government stopping them.
Interested people should read DEAR AMERICA (1975)by Karl Hess. I can't see it working till we become a libertarian people. And that's not going to happen.


That is a good summary of the argument that the ACA is unconstitutional. Given that requiring people to buy insurance was the standard Republican healthcare reform proposal for the last few decades, it would have been nice for the republicans to have noticed that mandates were unconstitutional sometime before Obamacare was signed into law. Are you really pining for the 'good old days' when limiting bakers to 10 hour days and 60 hour work-weeks was an unconscionable intrusion into employee's right of contract? And when banning the sale of goods made by child labor was an unjust governmental intrusion into the free market?

Trying to stray back into topic, all Federal judges in the US, including the Supremes, are appointed to life terms. The main problem there is that a life term with modern medicine is a helluva lot longer than what could be expected circa 1790. If Thomas lives as long as Rehnquist we can expect him to stick around until 2029, having served a term of 38 years. It's at the state level where you can run into elected judges. Actual practice can vary, such as whether or not the election is partisan (de jure or otherwise), or if the election is just to keep nominated judges in office.


And can we notice that the "everyone must buy healthcare" was inserted to please republicans?

Universal healthcare is perfectly constitutional in the US.

Regardless of one's opinions of the current Supreme Court, it's worth paying attention to the fact that the people leading the charge to defeat the ACA are the same group who insisted on the unconstitutional bits.

(As for the Supremes, I feel like I'm in backwards land, when the people claiming to be the most "original" are the most prone to pulling stuff out of random orifices, and not recusing themselves when they have a conflict of interest, as in Bush V. Gore. But I digress).

The scary possibility that we're already close to is if the three branches of US government become irrelevant. We're already quite close to that, given things like: --how much money members of Congress are required to raise for their parties every year and SuperPACs --military programs (such as MISTY) where even when the Congress gives a direct cancel order, the program still goes ahead --Super-secret stuff the executive is doing, which (unfortunately) primarily keeps incompetence and law-breaking from US citizens, more than keeping critical secrets from the enemy. --Oh, and Congress' inability to get much done, due to partisan gridlock.

While I'd hate to see another conservative, activist Congress as in 2004, I'm even more loathe to see one where they're totally ineffectual, and we're at the mercy of contractors who aren't even accountable for their bottom lines. There are many examples of this, going back to the British East India Company, and usually they end badly for everyone involved.


"Pyramid rapresentative democracy" -- In theory, this is how Gadafi's Libya worked. Repeat: In theory.


I'd like to see something like Paul Di Filippo's Wikiworld tried out.

Perhaps first at the township level.

A link to a sample chapter, replace "dot" with you-know-what, and there is no www:

pyrsamples dot blogspot dot com/2008/09/fast-forward-1-wikiworld-by-paul-di dot html

I would reckon there would be the issue of bandwidth to contend with, first. Though perhaps that could be raised incrementally as more and more of the elderly populace gained smart devices over time.


I keep thinking about a Rhizocracy, where the people who own the root directories rule. Unfortunately, this is close to the political theory underlying Polynesian Ali'i power (in Hawaii), so it's not precisely new. It's also similar to the way secret societies work.

Still, I suspect there are some interesting infrastructural variations that could make for a viable government. Whoever gets root on the power grid (for example) rules. Or on the water controllers. Or the sewers...


You've pretty much described the fantasy Bristol secret government in Diana Wynne Jones' Archer's Goon...


See also New Model Army. Any wiki based system of gov is going to have to find a way of dealing with the denizens we know and love on Wikipedia. It wouldn't be long before an editor class appears.


Like the poor, power-hungry sociopathic alpha males will always be with us (since we're a pack mammal[1]). Suggested new systems of gov ought to at least explicitly acknowledge both issues even if it considers one or both of them beneficial.

[1]Hmmm. Pack mammals led by power-hungry sociopathic alpha females? Elephants, perhaps?


Not, perhaps, aquatic, but how about it being a requirement that all Cabinet meetings be held in a sauna?


Ian Paisleyis a Unionist politician and, until recently, religious minister in Northern Ireland, with a reputation as a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Catholic. But he was able to make a deal with Sinn Fein that enabled the Northern Ireland Assembly, with devolved powers, to be established. I suppose it was a Nixon and China moment.

Eire, meanwhile, had a government very strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic church, though I don't think there was any formal constitutional status involved.

There have been huge political changes in Ireland, both sides of the border, since agreement was reached in 1998. It's arguable that both sides were polarised opposites as a consequence of the armed conflict. Once you've agreed not to discriminate on the grounds or religion, the influence of one sort of church is going to diminish somewhat.


Crypocracy - govt by secret society. Nobody knows who is in charge.


Great Darwin's Ghost, not this again.

The southern part of the island of Ireland achieved more or less Dominion status in 1922: it became a full republic and left the Commonwealth in 1949. The Catholic church certainly wielded a great deal of power, but it wielded that power in concert with the state and the political and economic elites who dominated Irish society from the counter-revolution of the 1920s onwards. The church was always the junior partner in that relationship.

As for the wee gobshite "cirby", I have also met and worked with people from the Horn of Africa - Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. They are all deeply concerned about the political fate of their countries, and aspire to new political orders in which basic human rights would be respected. And how many of them see the silly, naive and puerile ideology of "libertarianism" as the best vehicle for achieving that aim?

Not one. Not a single one.


ALex R @ 174 Simple The entire "South" was ruled from the Vatican. In that one respect only, Paisley was correct. (perhaps) Importing contraceptives into there used to be illegal. It all fell apart with the abuse, and school and other corruption and sex scandals.

See also Dave Bell @ 191


"The entire "South" was ruled from the Vatican."


It really, really wasn't that simple. Would it kill you to open a history book, Greg?

He called it "the House of Chiefs": basically, if you can get 50,000 people to say you're a chief, then you're a chief.

This sounds pretty much like the quotas used in election systems such as STV (single transferable vote); this is already in use in a number of places, with no noticeable representation of bird-watchers...


As a replacement for the UK’s House of Lords how about election from non-geographic constituencies?

Any organisation, be that a trades union, an environmental charity, a football clubs’ supporters’ club, Mumsnet, a church is eligible for a seat in the revising chamber if their membership places in the largest X number of organisations.

Electors can be members of more than one eligible organisation. So when calculating the size of the organisation I count 1 for my trade union membership, 1 for my membership of the local drama umbrella group, 1 for my membership of Edinburgh Zoo. The more active and engaged you are in the community the more influence you have.

How organisations eligible for a seat in the revising chamber is up to them. They can hold an election, hand it to their CEO ex officio, randomly assign it, rotate it amongst their board, whatever they want.

It’s sort of democratic in that organisations with more popular support get more influence. It provides expert and sectional input into the legislative process. It is perhaps less prone to partisanism.


What haven’t we tried before?

In the UK – democracy.

Rather than come up with novel ways of governing ourselves I suggest we try applying in practise the theory of the system we currently have.


No, at the time at which the Thatcher government came to power, Britain was almost into an irreversible death spiral. Large unions controlled large State-owned enterprises, and exercised power over these ostensibly to protect their own workers, but quite often merely for the joy of exercising that power.

Industry was hideously inefficient, to the extent that it was cheaper to import coal from Australia than to dig it out of mines a half-mile or so from a power station. Installing a telephone line took months of forms, applying and waiting for the State telecomms monopoly to get around to doing anything much, and when installed the handset had to be expensively rented from the company. British cars were a global laughingstock, barely capable of driving out of the factory and to the customer without breaking down. Power cuts were frequent, the economy was unstable and great galloping inflation was commonplace.

The Socialist government in place had imposed "soak the rich" taxes, of the sort which have never in recorded history ever actually worked as designed. Tax avoidance and evasion was rife, and the Government was so hamstrung by union involvement that it could do nothing about this (the Labour Party in Britain is heavily funded by unions, and internally is heavily beholden to them. This is why the current Labour Party leader is a talent-free zone; the unions wanted a puppet).

The Thatcher government imposed a number of rapid, painful reforms mostly aimed at clobbering union power over government. Tax avoidance was massively reduced by eliminating the old super-taxes but the thing everyone remembers Thatcher for is a years-long pissing match with the Coal Miners' Union which culminated in said union losing badly. What is never said is that this union and all its colleagues would have lost anyway, once they had so crippled British industry that it could no longer afford their coal. Pre-Thatcher, the preconditions for a painful re-adjustment were all sown and waiting and that adjustment was going to happen one way or another; the Thatcher way was merely the less painful one.

Finally, it is worth remembering that of all the Thatcher reforms to UK industry, none were reversed by the previous Labour government in Britain. For all that they villified her, they weren't quite stupid enough to hand back power to their friends in the unions, nor were they fool enough to re-nationalise huge swathes of British industry.


You missed the essential caveat that no-one who is still doing the job they took in order to become a voting citizen is entitled to vote.


But taking a moral look at it, the rise of the self centred me culture, the increase in financial gambling in the city, and the social breakdown in deprived areas left a decidedly unmoral legacy. Obviously, I disagree somewhat with your slanted view of the 70's.
How the Thatcher way was less painful is hard to imagine. Without north sea oil money it would probably have failed, and the legacy of underspending on public services lasted for years.


I haven't seen the Mongols mentioned so here goes:

Mongols and other Central Asian nomads had government by Kurultai (political gathering), where the families, clans, and tribes would gather around the national leader they supported (sometimes the vote was between a leader versus no leader). Presence at a Kurultai counted as a "yay" vote, absence as "nay." Once a national leader (Khagan) was chosen, his orders were followed until he caused enough problems for one of his enemies to declare a Kurultai against him. Literal voting with your feet.

I can imagine a future world system where relaxed border regulation allows people to do the same thing physically, clustering around locations run by people who know what they're doing. Perhaps the future of getting an entree visa will be something like signing a contract that says you agree to work for whoever's in charge of the district you're entering.


It also ignores "little details" like the nationalised industries that were losing money because they were paying 15% interest on plant investments from the Heath and Wilson years. The NCB was actually one of those industries.


Personally, I do not think "what have we not tried" is an interesting question -- I think that the interesting questions are "what has worked well, why did it work well, why did it fail, and how can we use this perspective to do better in the future?". But I am nitpicking, here.

A bigger issue is that, I do not think that it's reasonable to consider modern day governments as being independent of each other. We can pretend that our governments are independent (and we love simplifications), but we should I think take it as given that (for example) every country's economy has significant dependencies on the economies of other countries, and that the best interests of each such country is thus inextricably tangled with the actions of other countries.


The default governmental system throughout recorded history seems to be variants of monarchy.

There are always people who want to be the boss, and others who will willingly follow them.

Any democratic system has to have some way to deal with that, or it will eventually wind up as a monarchy / dictatorship / tyranny / etc.


Sortation? Easy, just pick your leadership from everybody with the same last four social security numbers so 123-45-6789 and 543-21-6789 would both be legislators. Sure, you can pick a number. So what? You don't get just the guy you want, you get 30,000 other guys, too. So we give them a reasonable salary, one year's apprenticeship, and five years in office deciding which expert is right about this whole 'invade Iraq' thing. Then they go back to being plumbers and cops and librarians, etc.


"The big question is about what powers the legislative branch has - what they can forbid and require. According to the most common reading of the US Constitution, Congress does NOT have the power to require US citizens to buy something like personal health insurance. Sure, they could create a single-payer government-run health care system and tax people to pay for it, but the weird route they took to require people to buy health insurance is more than a bit dodgy."

IIRC, SCOTUS has noooooooo problem enforcing US federal drug laws on the states, despite their wishes (e.g., local marijuana production/consumption). Their 'federalism' is rather inconsistent.


The entire World does not use USian social security numbers.


DJPoK @ 196 No, it would not. As I've said before the slow, stage-by-stage train-wreck between (approx) 1848 - through Gladstone's first Home Rule bill, the Phoenix Park murders, the vote to give Ireland what is now called devolved government, the Curragh mutiny, the insanity of the Easter Rising, the applalling screw-up, resulting from the only time the British guvmint used paramillitaries (The Black & Tans) and onwards, the death of Collins, and finally with Valera (nasty man) in charge is a textbook example of how NOT to do it. As far as I can make out each faction (because there were at least three) took it in turns to see how far they could completely fuck up the ongoing attempts for a peaceful and equitable solution. I disagree fundamentally (pun intended) with your stance re the power of "Rome" in Eire. The RC church said things should be so - they were. The last time I was in Eire, before very recent times (i.e. in 1966), I was challenged as to whether I was importing contraceptives, when I got off the train at Amiens Street. Yes, children, really!

Dan H @ 200 You are a member of The Adam Smith Institute, & I claim my £5 million!

Oh, and the epitomy of supposed "union-run" industiry was car-making. The car factories are still there, with the same workforce and unions. But now, they are profitable and successful. What's changed? The boardroom membership, because those firms are foreign-owned. Think again, sunshine!

TRX @ 206 Correct.What you need are limits on the "Monarch's" power. Often imposed within the power-group at the top, so what you actually have is an oligarchy, with the monarch as Primus inter pares


On the theme of Athenian systems, I always liked their taxation policies for say new warships - if they needed 10 ships, the richest 10 people had to pay for them. It was easy to get out of, you just had to prove someone else was richer and then that person was liable.

On the what haven't we tried idea - how about a quota system to replace the House of Lords - you have an upper house to scrutinise the laws proposed. It has a minimum age requirement, to ensure they have life experience. Say maximum two terms followed by a minimum one term ineligiblity to make it harder to simply bribe someone and force rotation. Quota is evenly split amongst all the major power groups - scientific research/military/political/union/financial/religious/hereditary aristocracy/etc.
Also have requirements for representatives from arts/cultural/education etc to keep body broad, say 20%. No more than 10% of total can be career political, preferably retired senior civil service - this group is to review the laws, not create them. Representatives are appointed half every half term so they don't all change at once.
Appointment done from within their interest groups. Could have them elected, could have them drawn randomly from a pool of people willing to do it, could have a mixture of lots of styles. Make it say 200 ppl, and you get a nice mixture of worldviews and enforced compromise, and the nice mixture of senior/junior members like Congress but without the benefit of tenure and the corruption that inevitably brings.
Keep the lower house as elected by the populace, based on popular vote, but do it similar to French elections - wipe out lowest polling candidates and redistribute votes until you have top 2 or 3 so you get the least disliked to win.


I don't see the connection here. One is what type of regulatory activity the Federal Government can impose on citizens and the other is whether Federal law preempts State law.


Well, the idea of the US Consitiution was that it allocated specific powers to the Federal Government, and reserved all others to the states, territories, and sub-divisions thereof.


AIUI, that mandate remained in force for a century or so without anyone questioning it.

In the US system the Supremes and the district courts under them don't review laws when passed. They only get involved if someone with standing wants to challenge it. So a stupid unconstitutional law that no one enforces or gets upset about can stay on the books forever.

And since almost all such challenges have to pass through the district courts first you can get situations where national laws are differently implemented in various areas if the district courts hand down differing rulings to challenges. And if these differing rulings are not appealed it can get weird.

But we're really getting into the weeds of the US judicial system here.

Do courts in the UK/EU review laws without challenges?


A question I have is are there ANY sustainable non messy systems of government once the population gets above 10 million or so. All the examples of somewhat working governments given on this blog seem to be under that number. The Scandinavians, Swiss, Scotland, etc.. Or maybe more if the country is densely populated and fairly homogeneous ethnically and culturally.

Of course we could debate how well Korea and Japan work compared to Finland or the US.

AIUI the original design of the US House of Representatives was so that each member represented no more than 30,000 people. But to keep the number of members manageable that was increased over the years then the size of the membership set to a fixed number about 100 years ago. Now members represent so many people that there's no way anyone can expect any kind of meaningful contact unless you're a part of the "club".


IIRC, SCOTUS has noooooooo problem enforcing US federal drug laws on the states, despite their wishes (e.g., local marijuana production/consumption). Their 'federalism' is rather inconsistent.

Totally. This is the problem. The commerce clause has been contorted over the years to allow the federal government to do all kinds of things that a "purist" of any political leaning would take exceptions to. Unless they really really thought it was needed.

The marijuana issue gets there by being wrapped up in the various FDA related laws and those pass muster because most of the food and drug business is interstate in some way or fashion. Which is why some folks want to say home grown weed is outside of these laws.


Heinlein posited a monarchy in "Glory Road" where the monarch was selected in a cross between heredity and scientific selection. As a high-tech monarchy, the monarch was subjected to some sort of memory overlays from all the prior monarchs so they could learn from all their past errors.

I always thought it was an interesting idea but not, of course, either technically or politically feasible.

The monarchs reign usually ended with assassination though we're told.


I thought I'd add this observation - isn't it ironic that those terribly liberal, representative, and sensible Netherlanders and Scandinavians (the Dutch, Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians) seem to have achieved their egalitarian ideals while keeping a constitutional Monarchy, rather than a Republic?


There is also the system of Piper's "Lone Star Planet" (borrowed from Twain) where the government is a strictly limited republic, with most military power in the hands of ranchers who need fleets of jets and light tanks to herd the local wildlife, and a law that to harm a "practicing politician" is only criminal if a jury believes that it was excessive harm. Not one of his more realistic political systems!

The Chinese exam system didn't produce rule by subject-matter experts; it produced rule by those smart and dedicated enough to master an arbitrary subject (classical literature and composition) on the assumption that they could learn whatever else they needed on the job. The British copied it in the 19th century, only used their own classical literature. But the problem with any meritocracy is that its vulnerable to gaming the system, and to positive feedback loops as those selected by the system chose the system for the next generation.


Interesting that Heinlein never wrote a sequel to "Glory Road" isn't it? Or did he and I've just missed it? Given his ghastly obsession with TALENTED ..thus RoyalBlood tm, Divine Right of Kings and less so Divinely Entitled Queens this could be said to be a bit odd? Mind you Queens tm were Entitled too, though. Heinlein's Models for Rulership they were all Ever So Capable ..the $Women were MEN! ... in those days of Yore as were Gays which is rather more surprising given the US of A's Time and place at the time of his later works.

I'd say that most of his later work could be attributed to the obsesions of an Elder States-Person of The Genre, who no longer gave much of a Damn what the Proletariat thought of his work..but then I did read Chris Priest's recent refection on the Clarke award list. Ho, Ho, Ho ! and all that sort of thing.

Had you ... all here present .. noticed that The Graniads Picture inset on its piece on The Award featured a photo of Arthur C Clarke award nominee China Miéville, who 'is restricting his art by depending too heavily on genre commonplaces', says Christopher Priest. Photograph: Sarah Lee

Hum ...this must MEAN something ..other than that China is deemed to be much more, " Mean Moody and Magnificent" than Chris Priest?


isn't it ironic that those terribly liberal, representative, and sensible Netherlanders and Scandinavians ... seem to have achieved their egalitarian ideals while keeping a constitutional Monarchy, rather than a Republic?

So how much is due to which factor? Size of the population. Density of the population. Homogeneity of the population. The system of government.

I think the system of government is the least influential of the items I've named.


Homogeneity of the population

ISTR reading that homogeneity within Sweden is helped because of state-supported childcare provisions.

Basically, if childcare is made cheap enough that a working mother gets to keep far more of their earnings, more mothers will work.

If a far higher percentage of the children are in (very affordable, safe, well-run, structured) childcare, then fewer children will be stuck at home with a mother caught in a poverty trap. From a pragmatic point of view, it also makes more children "visible" to the social services... I wonder what the exclusion rate is in Swedish schools compared to UK ones? Or the scale of their "at risk" registers?

Again, from a pragmatic point of view, I suspect that far more immigrant children are exposed to "how Swedes do things" from a far earlier age, than perhaps would be true for immigrant populations in other countries. Assimilation by childcare...


" The British copied it in the 19th century, only used their own classical literature. "

The British copying China at the time of The British Empire? Don't think so ..look up the Opium Wars and, rather later, the 'literature ' of The Yellow Peril as of the wildly popular Sax Rohmer of " Fu Manchu " fame at the height of Empire ...

We didn't despise the Chinese quite as much as did the US of - definatly NOT A sians - of the time of the Time of ..what was the Saying ? ...

" Not a " Chinaman's chance "

Also, ghost of a chance . An extremely slim chance, a hopeless undertaking. Both versions are most often put negatively, as in He hasn't a Chinaman's chance of finishing the work in time , or They haven't a ghost of a chance to get as far as the playoffs . The first term, now considered offensive, dates from the late 1800s when many Chinese immigrants came to work in California and were resented because they worked for lower wages. Its precise allusion is unclear. The variant, which relies on the meaning of ghost as an insubstantial shadow, dates from the mid-1800s. Also see the synonyms fat chance; not an earthly chance. "

But we British certainly didn't model 'our ' upper classes educational indoctrination system for second third, and so on downwards, SONS - of the pattern of " An Heir and a Spare " That is still applied to this day in some quarters '17 Nov 2010, – Kate Middleton advised to 'stay pretty, produce an heir and a spare... and don't do a Fergie' by royal expert James Whitaker'. on Ancient China. The Culperits for The British Empire Model of RULE Britania is Ancient Rome.

Look up 'British Grammar Schools " and " Latin Grammar " Our Grammar Schools were mostly patterned on the Public Schools that were in their turn established by Church and State/King.

" The original purpose of mediaeval grammar schools was the teaching of Latin. Over time the curriculum was broadened, first to include Ancient Greek, and later English and other European languages, natural sciences, mathematics, history, geography, and other subjects. In the late Victorian era grammar schools were reorganised to provide secondary education throughout England and Wales; Scotland had developed a different system. Grammar schools of these types were also established in British territories overseas, where they have evolved in different ways.

Grammar schools became the selective tier of the Tripartite System of state-funded secondary education operating in England and Wales from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s and continuing in Northern Ireland. With the move to non-selective comprehensive schools in the 1960s and 1970s, some grammar schools became fully independent and charged fees, while most others were abolished or became comprehensive. In both cases, many of these schools kept "grammar school" in their names. Some parts of England retain forms of the Tripartite System, and a few grammar schools survive in otherwise comprehensive areas. Some of the remaining grammar schools can trace their histories to before the 16th century."

Our, British, Ruling Classes were much more obsessed with the Example of the Romans ..Roman Empire than that of any Suspiciously Wiley Orientals. And, of course,its Greek predecessors Model of the Scholar Sitting on one end of the log and the other being occupied by the Teacher/Philosopher ..Student being of the Ruler-ship that had time to spare and Philosopher who didn't want to Dig Ditches for living and was clever/sneaky enough to have thought of a semi-priestly alternative that didn't involve starving to death. As in ..

Mind you even at a later time we British did have our moments of racism ...

" MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932) “British government!? I’ll wipe them and the whole accursed white race off the face of the earth!”

This is bound to land me in the - very necessary - Holding Cage of Moderation with the Spikes of Necessary Correction Closing in from the Walls of Doom, but, I just can't resist it since googling vague memories has given me these Terrific MGM movie posters and photos, So .... " CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST ! " ...


Meanwhile back at the ranch. . .

Our friend Mr. Santorum is pulling out of the race. What'll we do for fun, now that we don't have Rick Santorum to kick around anymore?


Damn!! This is SO Un-Fair! ...

Oh, well, one last time ..

"They're creepy and they're kooky, Mysterious and spooky, They're all together ooky, The Addams Family. Their house is a museum Where people come to see 'em They really are a scream The Addams Family. (Neat) (Sweet) (Petite) So get a witches shawl on A broomstick you can crawl on We're gonna pay a call on The Addams Family " ...


I'm with D. J. P. O'Kane on this one, that is a gross oversimplification, almost offensively so.


Of course, that could be the case right now. It would explain a few things in politics, too. (Not that most couldn't also be explained by base stupidity)


That still does not explain the non sequitur. Plus the rights and powers are reserved for the people as well as the states.


ironjelley @ 226 I suggest you read my reply @ 210 ...... I do, actually, know quite a bit of the disastrous and sad and criminal history of Ireland .... But, as a conviced atheist (brought up protestant) I STILL don't have any time for the vileness of the RC church.

Seriously folks .... It really was illegal to bring contraceptives into Eire during the 1960's, and for some time therafter - EVEN FOR PERSONAL USE AS A TOURIST. Blown away in (IIRC) the late '70's by a group of women who (having ordered beforehand) went to that centre of the enlightenment, Belfast (!) and filled up as many travelling cases/rucksacks (etc) as they could carry with condoms, and got the next train back to Amiens Street. Met by the forewarned press, who took LOTS of piccies, they marched down the platform, showering the landscape with condoms ..... That was the end of that nonsense, at least. (!)


At the risk of Yanking the thread, maybe I can clear up some misconceptions.

The Federal and State governments can have overlapping areas of competence. The Federal government can choose to preempt the States in those areas or let the States regulate those issues themselves. There are issues that the States cannot touch even if the Feds do nothing, e.g. mint money.

There are theoretical areas where the States have exclusive competence, but the Commerce Clause, the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment have pared those down to a pittance.

The new health insurance mandate is not unconstitutional because of federalism, but because it is a reach into regulating inactivity. The federal government could reach similar goals with different means and it would not be that much of a stretch for Congress' Commerce Clause powers, quite normal really. The NHS would be perfectly constitutional to enact here for instance.


No Greg, you're own personal experience of the backwards policy on contraceptives does not mean that the entire south was ruled from the vatican. You've provided no evidence, no broader argument, no list of economic, agricultural, educational and social policies dictated by the vatican.

Just admit you are riding a hobbyhorse and thus making broad generalisations rather than specific, useful comments.


I see quite a few suggestions involving some form of eligibility filter for people to elect and/or be members of the ruling class -- education level, intelligence, lack of mental illness, a literacy test, etc. While these sound sensible, they have a failure mode: those who get to define or affect the criteria can exploit that, forming a clique that captures the system.

Back to the original question: what haven't we tried? Depends who "we" are, I guess. I suspect any practical system I can think up has been tried somewhere. But in terms of impractical ones, how about double-blind rulership? The identify of the ruler is not known, even to the ruler. Has some of the same advantages as rule by lottery and also protects against various failure modes in which the ruler is a target because others know they have power, or in which the ruler becomes corrupted because they know they have power. (Big disadvantage is that you get rulers with no particular aptitude, of course, and good luck implementing it in practice...)


I think you are missing the point. Neither the Greeks nor the Romans chose civil servants based on how they did on a standardized test; they mostly chose them by looking for the clever ones in each shipment of slaves.

The key document is the Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1853 which proposed that candidates for civil service jobs write a competitive literary exam. While Northcote and Trevelyan don't spell out that they are copying the Chinese, the Chinese had used the same system for the past thousand years, and Europeans had been familiar with it since the 18th century. See eg. Y. Z. Chang, "China and English Civil Service Reform," American Historical Review Vol. 47 No. 3 (April 1947) pp. 539-544.


"Crypocracy - govt by secret society. Nobody knows who is in charge."

Add: Including the people in charge.



That seems to describe the British Civil Service fairly well. MPs and parties come and go, but the bureaucracy endures, running as a distributed operating system underneath the elected officials. Then the good old boy systems running as daemons... the lines of authority and responsibility diffused and indirect.

Oops. Time for my pills again.


It occurs to that it might be useful to rephrase the question as "What sources of legitimacy have not yet been used to justify a government?"




A merit based technocracy, with the ability to draft a benevolent dictatorship in time of need. Effectively, the Western Democracies in WW2 drafted in government's of national unity, with leaders with effective dictatorial powers (FDR, Churchill, Curtin in Australia). 'Time of Need' is based upon a universal ballot, from a pool of people selected, again by ballot from the professional elite. Scientists for example, don't necessarily make the best leaders so you need specially trained political operatives. Wasn't Queen Amidala of Naboo a trained politician? They had a form of meritocratic/technocratic benevolent dicatorship. The Dictator (Queen) serves a limited term, upon which the technocracy selects someone else from the pool. The outgoing queen then becomes eligible for senior diplomatic service in meta-government structures (like the EU, UN or Galactic Senate). The Queen is advised by a council of selected operatives from the professional/technocratic pool. Lobby groups and campaign donations are strictly illegal.


I thought I'd add this observation - isn't it ironic that those terribly liberal, representative, and sensible Netherlanders and Scandinavians (the Dutch, Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians) seem to have achieved their egalitarian ideals while keeping a constitutional Monarchy, rather than a Republic?

I just have to pipe up here and say that even though Finland isn't part of Scandinavia, we're still a Nordic country. I'd also group us with that liberal, representative and sensible group with Netherlanders and Scandinavians.

Finland was a Grand Duchy and had a Grand Prince (who was the Emperor of Russia) for over a century, and even after we did claim independence somebody had the bright idea that Finland should have a monarchy. That didn't last long and we've been a parliamentary republic since.

Also, Switzerland.

I admit that there are a lot of those monarchies around, though. Looking at the amount of fawning over Victoria even here in Finland I wouldn't bet on the monarchies ending soon, though.


Monarchies, in their current form are harmless figureheads. As heads of state, they can and do deflect negative criticism of democratic governments. In the UK, government's of both flavours have experienced positive boosts from royal weddings and funerals. In Oz, we've been trying to work our way to a republic for decades now. The "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" brigade tend to win - and the most recent royal wedding set the republican movement back years....


See also "Yes (Prime) Minister".


See also the recent nonsense about "Australia will become a republic automatically if Scotland seceeds from the UK". If that was automatically the case, Oz would have become a republic on the creation of Eire.

In general, in the event of agreed secession, one of the parts of the original state becomes the "successor state" for the purposes of administering these sorts of international treaties and laws. The exact statii of the other states can vary.


oh dear... guthrie @ 231 If it, whatever it was, was against RC doctrine and policy, until about the mid 70's, it did not happen, it did not get done, and it was proabably illegal - in Eire. Examples: divorce, contraception, homosexuality, secular education, "mixed" (i.e. to non-catholic) marriage - never legally enforced, but huge social pressure on the last, censorship of books, films and all distributed media. The Monty Python song "Every Sperm is sacred" was literally true, in Eire, then. It wasn't satire, except in the grimmest way.

That was the way things were, then.

I was profoundly shocked the time I went to Inchicore Works, home of what is now IR's engineering, ( previously CIE, and before that the GS&WR) [ NOTE ] up the hill from Kingsbridge atation. Centre of engineering excellence for over 150 years, where many great loco men worked [ McConnell, Aspinall, Ivatt, the Coeys, Maunsell ... ] What was out the front? A statue of the unmarried mother and her baby, Yeshua. THAT is how deep RC went there. I also suggest AGAIN, that you read my comment @ 210 - where I hope I show, that even from quick memory, sitting in front of the keyboard, that I do know quite a bit about Ireland's sad, bad past.

VERY CONTEMPORARY reference The BBC "Today" programme [ BBC website -> Radio 4 -> Today -> Listen again, for this dates programme ] is doing an extended piece on LIBERIA, scattered throughout the entire programme. Very informing, and appallingly depressing - what happens when the syatem collapses completely. From one doctor per 1500 people to 1:35 000, no piped water, except in very small areas of the capital, secret ("witch") societies, saying: "The rule of law is OK, but doesn't apply to us, cause we're traditional". etc. Makes one understand why "benevolent" dictatorship can SEEM attractive. Be warned.

NOTE: Curious how in both England and Ireland the two best railways had "Great" & then "Northern" or "Western" in their names... - GNR(I), GS&W, & GNR, GWR, repectively.


(Note that one of the above Alex isn't me)

I'm surprised there's no love for the D'Annunzio Constitution of Fiume.

The tenth corporation has no special trade or register or title. It is reserved for the mysterious forces of progress and adventure. It is a sort of votive offering to the genius of the unknown, to the man of the future, to the hoped-for idealization of daily work, to the liberation of the spirit of man beyond the panting effort and bloody sweat of to-day.

Sign me up! (Wouldn't you like a 1980s Niven arcology/space colony story - but with that constitution as the rulebook?)

Meanwhile, I also quite like D^2's idea of an elected Chiefly House, although I'd point out that he lifted it from John Stuart Mill's notion of an electoral system with constituencies defined by the voters' free choice. I'm pretty sure we could get 50 kilovotes for him, or indeed for Charlie, as Lord Representing the 10th Corporation.

Momocracy: I shudder to think. Just look at the politics of the Daily Mail and the politicians who love it - and they're very explicitly marketing themselves to your mum. Now, matriarchy, well, that's something else. But I think you can make a case that we actually live in a momocracy, given the marketing assumptions and practices of the political-media-advertising complex.


We tried a "National Government" in WWI. Among many things they were incapable of handling the conscription issue. There were conscription riots and in Quebec City the Dominion Police machine-gunned a crowd, killing rioters as well as innocent bystanders. It was a disaster.

So we avoided this kind of dictatorial "National Government" in WWII. Things went more smoothly.


I would need more time to fully digest etc the Constitution of Fiume, but I love the language in the translation!

Oh and I think that buying the Daily Snail should disqualify you from ever voting, or indeed voicing opinions in public forum since we already know you'll just say NIMBY NIMBY NIMBY b100dy foreigners paedophiles. ;-)


I take it this "Constitution of Fiume" was proclaimed after that city was occupied by D'Annunzio and his merry band of proto-fascists at the end of the first world war?

While it may have a certain elan, it is the product of the same poisoned ideological wells that led to 1923 and 1933. . .


We have never tried a true democracy where everyone can vote or stand for election irregardless of qualification, age, fitness, mental acuity, sexual proclivities, background (criminal or otherwise), emloyment status and anything else that is used to filter out the 'undesirables'. Let the voters be the filter rather the uber-moral, the techno-elitists, the middle class, the church or the upper-class inbreeds. You get who you vote for.

I also like to use a variant of an idea used in California, where a petition of a certain size can force an election. What I would do is restrict it to individual electorates. If more than 50% of the people in an electorate turn on the current member then there has to be a by election.

249: 247 - The link is just to the document, and not to the underlying history. My comment was confined to the language and not to the political effects of the document. 248 - Para (1) We sort of have, for values that confine the franchise to adult property owners.

Para (2) - You mean like how you can force a referendum in Switzerland?


In light of your comments and previous good record, Comrade Paws, I shall refrain from passing your name on to the relevant authorities . . . for now.



We have never tried a true democracy where everyone can vote or stand for election irregardless of qualification

My daughter ran it to how this can work in high school. (USA) She was the best German language student by far. Was planning to spend an entire year of high school in Germany. So she decided to run for president of the German club.

She lost. Someone who wanted a "president of a club" on his college application but could not speak any German joined the German club, got a bunch of friends to join, they showed up for the first meeting and election, got elected president, then vanished never to be seen again.

Club rules in many high schools these days (and many US colleges) say ANYONE can join. There can be no qualifications.


"Sign me up! (Wouldn't you like a 1980s Niven arcology/space colony story - but with that constitution as the rulebook?)"

That was actually covered in Charlie's 'High Frontier Redux' post.


And it's people like that who rise to the top in corporations etc. Not your daughter, obviously, but the no-mark who scuppered her plans.


Not possible and I suspect this will never be possible. Money is simply too powerful and will always find the way, usually by hiring smartest and least ethical people.


Ideas not suggested yet, nor obviously completely insane..

Wholly transparent government, aka the panopticon pointed upwards - Get rid of secrecy entirely, all political buisness recorded and uploaded to freely available databases. This would, of course, make it impossible to operate any form of traditional intelligence service, but I think that is actually a sacrifice worth making, and possibly an actual upside.

Governance under Reset Starting Conditions. Ever hear about the tought experiment where it is suggested that one should write the laws and form the institutions of a nation on the assumption that tommorow you would wake up as a random person in that nation? This probably requires drexlerian levels of nano to pull off, but.. suppose that every 30 years, that is exactly what happens. You are assigned a new body at random, and all records of ownership, diplomas, wealth and so on are wiped.


See, I have some sympathy; I remember when someone pulled this exact manoeveure on the branch of the Progressive Democrats (very-neoliberals) in my college, and proceeded to force its discorporation inside a year.


*sympathy with the tactic: proofreading, Mouse...


Just vote for me Put me in charge Oh yeah Muhahahaha!


The weak point is not the giving of money by special interests, but the receiving of it by decision makers


"Just vote for me Put me in charge Oh yeah Muhahahaha!"

Actually, you may get that chance, at least with me. Unless you too want to stand in elections for the Zero State spinoff.


Unless you too want to stand in elections for the Zero State spinoff.

Splintering already, Dirk?



Because your suggestion implies that a new persona every 30 years - therefore severing all personal and social connections without any remorse - I'm guessing you don't have any kids. Or would children be raised in anonymous childfarms?


Here's another take on futures-market-based governance: maybe we should require that any potential candidate for office spend at least a year playing a futures market (all candidates starting with an equal amount of play money), and only allow those who come out ahead to become candidates. Doesn't do anything for the ethics, but might ensure that at least we weed out people who don't have a good sense of what's actually going on.

Just an idle thought.


"Splintering already, Dirk?"

No - the whole idea of ZS is to create spinoffs


Equally every year we can fire 50% of the participants at random - this weeds out the unlucky people.


I'll let the actual Irish people answer Greg.

It is worth noting that David Brin has been pushing sousveillance, that is surveillance by us of the government, for more than a decade. It would be worth a try. Although it would require some legal fiddling, it seems to me that it would bolt onto a wide range of democratic type systems.


Something that hasn't been tried as far as I know is true universal suffrage. You think we already have it? Think again. Children have just as much or more of a stake in how the world is run, but we don't let them vote.

I propose that anyone, of any age, who can mark a ballot be allowed to vote. If a three year old can manage it she should have the right to do so. I suppose we might have a lot more spoiled ballots but I don't see that as more than a minor side effect. I am sure no child could be much stupider than the average republican voter in the USA.


That sir is a truely novel idea. I salute you even though at 5 ft 10" I would not be amongst the new ruling class.


30 years is long enough to raise kids, and given the implied immortality of getting a new body every three decades, they would be few anyway. I confess that the social cost of actually implementing the tought experiment does seem kind of high.


guthrie @ 266 "The Irish People" have already spoken: The attendance at churches has crashed, following the repeated scandals over ... raping lots of small boys, and some girls, and the Magdalene "laundries" and the graft, and the treatment of orphans, and ..... Ireland is, however about to acquire a new set of colonial masters who will make the hated Brits seem like benevolent friends ... the EU commissioners. Nasty.


Warning Off Topic

I think the fallout from this is going to be huge.

Noticed that Amazon fronted by the US government is suing Apple and the five big publishers in order to be allowed to set its own prices for ebooks. It seems that Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster have settled and agreed to Amazon's terms. So it is just Apple, Macmillan and Penguin who are still fighting.


You know, when they finally gave the vote to women in the UK they did it in a gradual way, first letting mature women vote, ant then extending the franchise to "flappers". The idea was to give them time to think about their future responsibility.

It would be logical, then, to gradually extend the franchise down to lower numbers.

After all, they let people drive cars at 14 in the US, so why not vote?

In this slightly more devoluted (by Scottish standards) but not quite yet completely devoluted Province of Quebec the Parti Quebecois has been proposing lowering the voting age to 16, hoping that this will finally break the stalemate in any future referendum for total Independence.

I don't see why they didn't propose going down to 14 later on, and then further down.

After all, they let people drive cars at 14 in the US, so why not vote?

A better argument is: we try 12 year olds as adults. So why can't they vote?


One of the 'safety valves' in any society, was a frontier of some sort. In the US, it was the West, in Australia, the West and the North. Other countries had immigration to looser colonies and/or new world countries where oppression/surveillance weren't as prevalent. Do democracies require a safety valve? Do we need somewhere for our rebels/non-conformists to go?

Science Fiction always postulates that the 'high frontier' will be the safety valve that allows the best/brightest/bravest/most difficult to emigrate, thereby allowing the Earth to subside into smugness/war/dictatorship/environmental anarchy. Ther Northern Territory in Australia still fits this bill a bit - lots of crocodiles, serial killers and other things that will kill you - combined with lax regulation and law enforcement. Not a week goes by without an American/English tourist being eaten by something.

On ths subject of a republic - I think the problem is that there has never been an imperative (in Australia) towards one. Is a presidency purely ceremonial (thereby not challenging the primacy of parliament) or does it have real teeth and create an alternate power block (thereby adding to government gridlock). Too many checks and balances - supreme court, presidency, senate, minority government, citizen initiated referendum etc make for a government that can't actually govern...

But then, its the bureacracy that actually governs, not the parliament. Sir Humphrey Appleby knew this.


Question: why have a number of people above given a high priority to degrees / higher education qualifications? Is there any empirical evidence whatsoever that this better equips people to choose or participate in government?


I'd prefer rulers who have passed a statistics class.


Statistics classes are available as early as high school, though they're not actually a requirement for many degrees.


A system of government that hasn't been tried, or not for a long, long time, anyway; Completely open borders. It's one of the things that makes me pro-EU and welcomes EU expansion till it's at least Sahara to Arctic, Atlantic to Urals (and beyond).

See here, Ursula Le Guin, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas".


That situation would be intallerable.


That situation would be intallerable.

281: 276 and 277 - So I'd be disqualified as a candidate because I don't have a Stats qualification on any of my exam certificates, even though I understand stuff like how the only actually valid measure of how dangerous driving is to those doing it is deaths per unit distance?

The only reason that insurers are interested in deaths per unit time is that they sell cover for unit time.


Ms Sunlight @ 276 Do you really want guvmint by Milwall supporters, or illiterates ... never mind ones who don't understand either statistics or RISK (real risk that is).

Mind you, there was a panel at Eastercon, called "Occupy the Metaverse", where I've not heard before, such a collection of intelligent people, conducting a discussion based on completely false, or irrelevant assumptions, without questioning them.

Julian Bond @ 278 The EU has a huge problem A vast, corrupt and totally unaccountable bureaucracy, imposing arbitrary rules, and always in favour of big business interests - especially those which have lobbied in Strasbourg/Brussels.



I think you're right about the lack of an imperative in driving monarchies towards republics. It seems as if those countries that have retained constitutional monarchies (eg. Scandavia, as above in the thread), had functioning democracies early enough to act as a safety valve to release pressure. Hence removing the pressure to become a full-blown republic.

But democracy as we know it is relatively new, and so is the post of a "ceremonial, symbolic" presidency. In Ireland, for example, we have a mostly ceremonial presidency, basically as an elected substitute for the British crown when the constitution was drawn up. The post was well circumscribed by politicians (the President cannot leave the country, or give a speech without the OK of the govt of the day), and was originally a retirement home for senior politicians.

But it has evolved a new role over the last few decades as a "moral backbone" of the state: standing up for issues that all parties theoretically support but in practice may ignore: eg. "the diaspora" for Mary Robinson, better integration and relations with Northern Protestants (Mary McAleese), etc. I think that this is a good working example that other countries may follow when planning changes in their consitution (e.g. Scotland): such a presidency has more authority to goad a government into doing the right thing than an unelected monarch.

Though for a counterpoint for this "moral presidency" theory not working so well, see Germany.


"I'd prefer rulers who have passed a statistics class."

I'd settle for an electorate with the ability to pass a simple English comprehension test plus at least a passing familiarity with current affairs and recent history. If we're offering the opportunity to express an opinion on where we're going, how we get there, and who should be driving then at least a basic understanding of where we are and how we got there doesn't seem too unreasonable or onerous a requirement...


Yeah, and the ability to communicate with persons other than the "txt spk gnrtn" ;-) seems likely to be useful innit?


Anybody remember American science fiction writer and member of Socialist Labor Party "Mack" Reynolds? I don't remember what he called it but many of his stories had a system where every one was born with voting stock in the country. They could not lose them and were paid dividends. You could buy or inherent more stock for more votes and dividends. I remember it was not a new idea and I could not see any advantage.
What we call the founding fathers in America soundly rejected calls for a true democracy. They feared a mob-ocracy and went for a democracy run republic. In fact the reason things are so hard to do here is because its meant to be hard to do the wrong things too fast. As our R/W has found out. Look at all the things they said they were going to do right away. And could not. In the 80's it was said we would soon know if we were becoming a oligarchy. I think we are or maybe going back to one as the WW-2 and Nam Vets who cared die off.


Para 1 - I've heard of him, but never read anythign by him or met him. As for the system you're discussing, I'm pretty sure that will tend to oligarchy or plutocracy due to the facts that votes may be both inherited and purchased.

Para 2 - Democracy and constitutional republic describe different aspects of the government of a state. It's entirely possible for a constitutional monarchy to also be a democracy, or for a constitutional republic to be a tyranny.


Um... no. Church attendance started falling precipitously in the '90s. "States Of Fear," widely regarded as the start of exposing the scandal, was broadcast in April/May 1999. The story of the last 20 years is more a trend towards secularization, fed by increasing affluence, encouraged by massive immigration (around 13% of the population today is foreign-born, almost all of which arrived in the last 15 years), rather than 'good Catholics' being repelled by the moral turpitude of the hierarchy.


Really? The population of Fusilliville is 100 persons, 90 of whom are Pastafarians. Clearly this means that 90% of the population are Pastafarians.

13 new people, none of whom are Pastafarians, move into town. None of the pre-existing population die, leave the Church of the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster (bless his noodly goodness) or move elsewhere. This reduces the percentage of Pastafarians to 79.6%. Hardly a "precipitous fall" in Pastafarians as you claim.

Ravioliburg has the same starting demographic. 13 new people move into town, and only 12 of them are Pastafarians. Half the existing Pastafarians leave the CGFSM, so Ravioliburg now has 57 Pastafarians in a population of 113, or just over 50% Pastafarians in the population. Now that I'd call a precipitous fall!


Church attendance and immigration are independent. The trend to secularization, however, is helped along by increased heterogeneity of the population due to immigration.



Mack Reynolds has been dead for some years now. By most definitions he'd be classed as a hack writer - most of his books were variations on a single theme, but they were acceptably entertaining, had a visible plot, and a beginning, middle, and end, things not always a given in modern fiction...

Most of Reynolds' stories were based in post-industrial leisure societies and how they dealt with the problems it caused. He ran basically the same stories through different versions - oligarchy, meritocracy, trial by combat, technocracy, and so forth.

Many of his stories are still quite good if all you want is to kick back and relax for a while without getting dragged into the latest 1500-page angst-ridden bloviosity.


After all, they let people drive cars at 14 in the US, so why not vote?

I'm fairly certain that no one under the age of 16 is allowed to drive a care by themselves in any state in the US. Legally. Learners permits might exist for those under 16 but those require a licensed driver in the front with you. I can't imagine (well I guess I can) a learners permit for voting.

What's interesting about driving. My father was driving trucks with an 18' bed on country roads hauling logs when he was 12. This would have been in 1937. I learned to operate a pickup truck while I was 14/15 on fields behind our house. 1968 (Not a farm but we owned the fields.) Got my license the first day I was allowed after turning 16 and given a list of errands to run and told I would lose my driving privilege if the carpenters working for us ever had to stop because I had not picked up something they needed. My son didn't get his license till he was 18.

In the US (and I suspect in Europe) we are gradually delaying life experiences which are needed before you let young adults take on responsibilities. But at the same time many want to tell them they can make more decisions on their own.

So as to giving younger kids the vote. Fine. But quite letting them act as kids till they are 21. You want to vote. Start earning a living and vote.


Re: Driving

I have no problem with people learning to drive as young as they like on private property.

I have a LOT of problems with the inadequate driving tests in large cities with lots of cars and traffic and other road users.

To get my license in England in a London Suburb in 1986 I had to drive for about 30 minutes in a variety of conditions and roads. I had to stop, parallel park, reverse around a corner, turn left AND right in traffic, start on a pretty steep hill and a bunch of other things. To get a US license in 2007, I had to turn right of the test center, make 4 additional right turns, park the car (non parallel parking) and that was that... I am informed that the test is no different for a 17 year old versus a 40 year old with 20+ years driving experience.

That's inadequate testing for modern driving conditions and, frankly, it shows on the roads.

In other comments: I am always amused by the "AH HA! But that is NOT libertarian!" statements I see from libertarians.

It always reminds me of the "AH HA! But that is not true communism" stuff I used to get at school from the real lefties.


Your English experience is more typical of American driving tests (from my perspective of having taken a few). Each state does organize its own system, though.

The age at which a kid may legally drive unsupervised in the US can vary by a number of things; relevant factors include state rules, time of day (some places offer daylight only licenses), and residence - teenagers who live on farms may drive younger than city kids in some states. But as a general rule, 16 will do.


"will tend to oligarchy" Well right, that's what happened in many of his stories. In fact it was a key point, a warning for us. He was more or less a hack, he was feeding his family back in pulp days. But he was saying things that were just not said back then. 2 cents a word, I've read its 3 now. Maybe that's why things are so long now. It was then.
"a constitutional republic to be a tyranny." Right right. The founding Fathers of America did know that. That's why they used then radical democracy that nobody else had. Back then the ruling classes hated any kind of ocracy. And from what I read the English uppers still don't care for democracy. Its messy and really dose not work that well. But it keeps working longer than the rest.
Young drivers kill lots of people here. I don't think it training. Its just doing it long enough to train the unthinking reflexes. I don't want the voting age lower for the same reason.


Rule by dickgirls? Yes it does sound extreme.


Thatcher (milk snatcher!) was of course the definition of evil.

But, possibly influenced by her scientific (soft ice cream!) background, and maybe being a mum, did help set up the IPCC.

Ok, the near total destruction of one small country (fuck I'm glad I got out in '83) balanced against one small effort to save the world. Who's going to call it?

Me. Fuck the UK - you didn't have the balls to revolt,


I'd be interested in the States who have these decent tests. Because it's certainly not Washington - and nor is it CA, MA or TX...


and nor is it ... TX...

Well duh.


To get my license in England in a London Suburb in 1986 I had to drive for about 30 minutes in a variety of conditions and roads. ...

My high school history teacher told us about his driving test. He grew up in a fairly rural county in KY. The first thing the tester said once the test started was "pretend there's a curb".

There were no curbs in the entire county seat.


David L, note: When DaveOn said "start on a pretty steep hill" in his description, he meant "execute a hill start using a manual transmission" (stick shift) -- and rolling back even six inches is an automatic fail for the entire test.

Yes, 90% of British drivers learn on a stick shift. Because if you take the driving test in an automatic, you're only licensed to drive an automatic, whereas a stick shift gives you both, and most British cars have manual transmissions. (With petrol at roughly $9 per US gallon, every percentage point on your fuel efficiency is worth having, and until very recently automatic gearboxes were 5-10% less efficient than an averagely-competent driver with a manual transmission).

Note: if you haven't tried doing a hill-start using a manual transmission, it requires you to play the clutch and throttle pedals off simultaneously while working the gear selector and the hand brake, without stalling out. A certain degree of physical coordination is mandatory.


David L, note: When DaveOn said "start on a pretty steep hill" in his description, he meant "execute a hill start using a manual transmission" (stick shift) -- and rolling back even six inches is an automatic fail for the entire test.

Yes I know what he meant. My first two vehicles of major size that I learned to drive were a Ford 8N (1954) tractor and a 1959 3 on the column Chevy pickup truck. In fields with hills. Most folks these days who think they can drive a stick have never experienced the joy of shifting and steering on the same column with two hands at once. It IS a skill that must be learned.

Before that I drove our riding lawn mower. Built by my dad and uncle in the mid 50s. Ingredients: 1. 2 cylinder haybailer engine w/ lever clutch. 2. Crowsley station wagon front axle (w/wheel barrow tires) with steering wheel attached. 3. Crowsley station wagon transmission and rear end including emergency brake. 4. Motorcycle 3 speed transmission. Hand shift model. 5. Pile of angle iron to build frame. 6. Parts from several cutting decks made into a dual blade unit. 7. Anything else needed to make it all work.

Most fun lawn mower I ever saw or used.


The driving test in NZ has just been changed to include a greater variety of conditions (e.g. merging on to a motorway where practical), increasing the time required for a restricted licence to around an hour.


My Father required that I be able to do a hill start without rolling backwards, stalling or spinning tires before I could take a driver's test. This in a 1963 Ford "Intermediate" size station wagon (Estate), about the size of the land yacht you rented, with about half the power and manual steering and brakes. Entertaining. Missouri has had an intermediate license for young drivers the last few years, with a few restrictions added, in an attempt to reduce the carnage while they pick up the skills not covered in the driving test, and driving is a learning experience, or else.


No one had yet tried the existing forms of democracy (aka representative selection via massed voting) using the single leasable vote system.

Under SLV elections, referendums. recalls, etc happen by location-based voting, and we all have one vote as now.

But I can chose to lease my vote to a third party. They can then vote in my location for whichever candidate / proposition they wish.

My vote is leasable for minimum period of one month, maximum three months; the lease must be completed one year in advance; and all lease details (who, when how much etc) are published publicly.

Now, if a corporation wishes to affect an election, they can publicly lease votes in the right constituencies.

What used to be backroom corruption is now money paid direct to voters. Votes are more valuable in marginal constituencies, which tend to be the poorer ones, so campaign money is surgically targeted to where money is needed.

High minded individuals will lease their vote for free to campaign organisations that they support.

This makes your vote a tangible resource that has value all year around. Suddenly capitalism and democracy can become compatible without the present difficulties.


Daveon @ 293 This fallacy is called "The no true Scotsman" argument .... Last time I met it was the "occupy" wankers outside St Pauls, where the purveyors of SW, open and blank-faced, with dreamy expressions would not be conviccced that they were advocating a cruel religion ... ("Ah that's Stalinism, it'll be different THIS time round with US in charge"). Oh yeah.

John Hughes @ 297 I think you need to see a mental-health doctor. The madwoman from Grantham was indeed off her head, but the country isn't ruined (yet). In spite of having earnest christian Tony B Liar in charge.

Charlie @ 301 Oh dear ... never mind - like starting an L-R in low ratio on a 1:3+ grade, with a non-tarmac (i.e. loose) surface!

307: 306 Para3 - In 2WD or 4WD; with or without difflocks engaged? (presumes you mean a Series rather than a coilie).

Oh my yes, I went through a few halfshafts on my Series III back when I was learning to drive. Very Loud Bangs are a good indication you're doing it wrong, and spending a weekend cleaning out the rear diff of bits of halfshaft was an excellent incentive to learn to take more care!

Thank god for difflocks and the ability to drive the wounded girl home on the front wheels :D


Oh my yes, I went through a few halfshafts on my Series III back when I was learning to drive.

Translation for y'all.

The current (but not for long) "rugged" model of Landrover is known as the "Defender", with "90" or "110" variants indicating the wheelbase length in inches. It uses coil springs in the suspension.

Landrovers built before then used leaf-spring suspensions. To identify them, look at the headlamps; not sure about Series I, Series II had headlamps mounted in the radiator grille, and Series III had headlamps mounted on the wings.

According to the brother-in-law (a production engineer at Landrover), the transition from leaf to coil meant that the limiting factor on cross-country speed changed from "discomfort of the passengers" to "strength of the chassis"; they started to see breakages with the increased stresses.

The handbrake on the early LRs wasn't connected to the brake drums at the wheels, it was connected directly to the propshaft to the rear wheels. You couldn't apply it gradually; it's very binary. Get it badly wrong - i.e. never try a handbrake turn in a Series III - you break the drive shaft, and have to rely on 4WD pushing the front wheels only to get you home (normal 2WD turns the rear wheels).

Thank god for difflocks

Where did you ever see a Series III with a diff lock? IIRC, it was the red and yellow levers to switch between 2WD/4WD, and between high and low ratio. There wasn't a diff lock on the Army's Series III wagons that I saw.

Apocrypha: according to BiL, they saw a cluster of Range Rover automatic gearbox failures in California. Someone had discovered that if you started in low ratio, you could burn off a Porsche at the lights. They then discovered that slamming from low to high ratio while accelerating (contrary to all the warnings in the handbook) will succeed in continuing to burn off said Porsche beyond 30 mph during the first six or seven attempts. It would then result in a very large bang and cogs all over the road...


Landrovers built before then used leaf-spring suspensions. To identify them, look at the headlamps; not sure about Series I, Series II had headlamps mounted in the radiator grille, and Series III had headlamps mounted on the wings.

It's more complicated than that. All series Landrovers have the radiator grille recessed several inches fron the front wings and bumper, a split windscreen and selectable 4wd. Early S1s had headlights in the grille, behind the mesh. Late S1s, and SIIs through about 1967 had the headlights exposed, but still mounted in the recessed area between the front wings. Late SIIs and SIIIs had the headlights mounted in the front wings.

90/110, Defender and military "Wolf" models have a flat front, front coil springs (Wolves have leaf rears rather than coils like the civvie models), a one-piece screen and permanent 4wd.


Ahh yes, by difflocks I was actually thinking of the locks in the front wheels - the 4wd lever did nothing useful until you got out and turned the knob in the freewheeling hubs that engaged the front axle. That caught me out badly one wet eve while I was learning, and wondering how on earth I managed to get stuck when I should have been in 4WD.

I also found that part of my problem was some previous owner had replaced the mild steel crown nuts on the ends of the rear wheels with hardened steel ones, so instead of breaking them you broke the halfshaft. Yay for mechanical fuses.

Never did fall for the handbrake turn trap, though I did know someone who left a fair bit of mechanical parts scattered across his street when he turned in his newer model for something more basic ...

With regards the models - Series I was the lights in the grille and usually no indicators, Series II was the smaller grille with lights next to the grille and usually parking/indicators on the wings and Series III was the lights and indicators on the wings.

That being said, with the Lucas electrics ... I'm not sure we can really claim any of them as having good lights :)


I'd been avoiding the issues that free-wheeling hubs (and the Fairey overdrive) were likely to cause.


Freewheeling hubs? Not on our Landies, they all had proper 4WD gearboxes in them - you didn't have to get out to switch it on. You only had to get out when you wanted to check the ground because it looked iffy (because bogging down a vehicle made you a figure of fun).

That being said, with the Lucas electrics ... I'm not sure we can really claim any of them as having good lights :)

Ahhh, the days before halogen bulbs as standard. The delight was that the lights were almost good enough, given the acceleration and speed of a military Series III, that you still weren't able to drive much faster than you could see.

Added complexity came from the military light switch - a rotating knob on the dashboard that allowed you to select Tail, Side+Tail, Head+Side+Tail in one direction; Convoy, Side+Convoy in the other. The convoy light being a small bulb mounted under the back of the vehicle pointing down at the ground; it helped you in driving in the dark with the lights off. That's also the reason for the white paint on the circular cover plate on the back of the rear diff.

I'm still conditioned to reverse cars into parking spaces, so they can be driven straight out if you're in a hurry...


Not novel, but my understanding is that the Iroquois League operated under a modified form of consensus democracy, with a hereditary group of women holding veto power over new legislation.

Rule by those who least want it: develop a tool to measure how much a person does NOT want power over others, and appoint the n "highest scorers" to rule for X number of years by whatever means they select amongst themselves, after which time scores are reassessed and a new batch of rulers selected.

Rule by poverty: Modify an existing system so that legislators are paid minimum wage (hourly) for their work, or salaried at the mean annual wage of the lowest quintile of population. Any excess income, either through wages, per-diems, or donations, gets taxed at 100%.

Rule of non-interference: government is barred from coercing adherence to laws passed, and each resident must explicitly consent to any laws to which they are subject every N years.


This is probity going to make more people madder than usual. My granddad had all the National Geographic magazines. I read all them over and over. Back in the early 1950's they had a lot of Brit's being the first to go going from one hell hole colony to another over hellish land with Landrovers. I remember pics of then using tree limbs and wire to fix broke back frames. The thing is they often had a old war time jeep at the back of the pic, loaded down like a cartoon donkey carrying what the Landrovers could not. Not and live. Testing off road here finds that front independent suspension of the new ones hooks the edge of deep potholes. The new ones must be grand to go to fox hunts over farm fields.
Nothing brakes any thing on a old Jeep. Our 1962 1/2 ton truck was made like other brands 3/4 ton.


EU has a huge problem. A vast, corrupt and totally unaccountable bureaucracy

Of course. Perhaps a centralised bureaucracy is the inevitable price we pay for harmonization (eg free health care at point of use everywhere) and free movement across borders. So does that mean we need a vast, corrupt and totally unaccountable world government before we can get rid of all border controls?


IIRC the freewheeling hubs were actually an option (for fuel economy, because without them you were soaking up power driving the front drivetrain backwards).


The Series I had vertical body sides. The Series II and later have a rounded step, at the height of the front-wing tops, which gives a little bit more space.

There were also various engine changes.

The military spec "Air-Portable" or "Lightweight" reverted to the vertical sides, had various removable body panels, and could be stripped down to be carried by a 1960s military helicopter. They also have rather different front wings and bonnet. It was also narrow enough (special hubs) to be carried two abreast on the Argosy transport, which also meant it fitted the LCVP landing craft.


Resistance is fertile!


baa ha ha ha


I got back to this one late; but I am glad you are intrigued. My example can only come from the furthest end of Govt reach. Local Councils and Parish Councils ( and some of this I might be able to answer a little better after the 20th as I am attending a Localism conf. ) Parish Council positions are generally considered independent positions the exposure to how Local Government works is eye opening and provides a good "foundation" as to what we could be doing. Meanwhile Local councils are realising that its not just "parties" that can stand for an election and they are opening up the process for independents ( something that will only improve if more independents stand ). Between social networks and faster communication people are "catching on" to the tropes of governance and are able to address them faster. Council officers are now having to catch up with a public that can outcommunicate and overshare information beyond the previously established channels. Everything at the edges is crumbling for government because at the Parish/Local Council levels it is getting easier to understand that it is not just for upper-white-wealthy individuals to take part.


Arguably, the 21st century is groping towards a form of networked organisation. The occupy movements are the first to try it, but I doubt they'll be the last:


What haven't we tried?

I bet the only thing we can come up with is rule by AI.

If we ever get actually working AI.

That could go two ways;

  • AIs crank out the perfect form of Communism. Automated Gulags for everyone!

  • AIs are to people what people are to dogs, in the West.

  • This might not be too bad, really.

    There are, yes, lots of stories of animal cruelty. But I submit that dogs are better off for partnering with man than if they'd stayed wolves.


    There was work being done on "next generation computers". One would really think. There were a lot of SU scientists where the work was. One of our people asked one of there's why they were there, it would be a secret. He said they would know if it worked and the KGB would find our how. He said that a true centerized government needed about 4 or 5 times the computing power then possible. The SU sort of gave up but did not end till well after we and the Japanese gave up.



    So does that mean we need a vast, corrupt and totally unaccountable world government before we can get rid of all border controls?

    A world government of some sort has long been a staple of science fiction. It was one of those background things I never paid much attention to, until someone said, "what if you didn't like the government? There would be no other place to go."

    Nowadays when I see the phrase "world government" I think of something like the old USSR, except with no hope of defecting to somewhere else... somehow, I just don't see a consolidation of all major political power as coming out in any happy scenario. And even if it did, it'd get taken over from the inside by the kind of people who would view it as their ultimate power toy.


    So does that mean we need a vast, corrupt and totally unaccountable world government before we can get rid of all border controls?

    Very likely. And I contend that border controls are not such a bad thing.

    Notice that levels of violence worldwide have been falling since WWII. It may not seem that way because violence gets reported more, but fewer people were killed in 2006-2010 than in 2001-2005 -- and fewer in 2001-2005 than in 1996-2000. And number of independent states went up during the same time.

    This is very ironic considering what science fiction writers had imagined for decades. Throughout 20th century SF assumed that any prosperous future would by necessity involve unified humanity -- that divided states would always fight, and only unity enables peace. What happened is the inverse -- peace enables disunity. It was tough to be a small country in 1900. Small internal market condemned population to poverty. Covetous neighbors might attack. And there was always a danger that some sergeant would storm the royal palace and declare himself king.

    Whereas nowadays being a small country is much easier. If you produce something valuable, global trade opens a big market. However not perfect, international community does MUCH better job than in 1900 keeping bullies in check. And palace coups and such are more difficult in the age of ubiquitous phone cameras and Internet. So there is little pressure for unification -- quite opposite.

    All through history wars and other calamities had forced diverse tribes to unite into larger groups. Today peace and prosperity make it attractive for large groups to split back into (mutually more-or-less friendly) tribes.

    Now, if the more dire predictions of Paul Ehrich and the likes come true, and environmental degradation makes world a nasty place again, conflicts will go up -- and provide a push back to unification. Not necessarily all the way to one world government, but perhaps to regional hegemonies.


    I am waaayy late to this party, but I want to note that Lloyd Alexander raised this whole issue quite explicitly in his Westmark trilogy -- what starts off as an "evil vizier" scenario becomes a general critique of monarchy, even with a well-meaning ruler.

    The problem with fantasy is finding political systems that make sense given the socio-technological order. We assume this is feudal or imperial (or sometimes canton-sized republican) because, well, that seems temporally appropriate... but most of these novels have magic which should have a huge impact on production and social relations, and that should have upstream effects on political order. Yet too few writers are willing to think this through.


    I know this post is pretty dead but I came across the idea of cellular democracy recently. The basic idea is that people assemble into groups of 500-1000 and elect a council of 10-20 people, this is called a tier 1 council. These people then pay tax towards the council who act in a local government capacity. The reasoning behind the small number is that local issues will be better understood, campaigning requires (and is somewhat less dependent on) less funding and in such a small group you are likely to either personally know a councillor or know someone who does.

    The next step is that 10-20 of these small groups (dubbed "neighbourhoods") can then combine together and form a tier 2 council, essentially each tier 1 offers up one candidate to the tier 2 council (with someone from the community stepping up to the tier 1 to take their place). This process can continue onwards as many tiers as possible.

    I don't necessarily think this is a great idea. Firstly it seems too similar to libertarian municipalism and therefore suffers from the same problems. Secondly I don't like the relatively small level of say that local people will have in upper tier politics and lastly the idea of localism is quite dated in the modern age when people not only travel further and more frequently but also associate with groups much further away. This may be possible to get around with the tier 1 groups being independent of geography.

    As I say I think this idea has more flaws than positives but I thought I'd offer it up for consideration.



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