The western, popularly-elected democratic government is the cutting edge of governance at the moment, but it doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. This interests me from the standpoint of a sci fi fan, an old political science major, and a policy wonk. Science fiction points the way forward not just on technology and the physical sciences, but also on the social sciences.
i09 recently ran this article on 12 futuristic forms of government. Some of them were awfully vague, or not even forms of government. Unfortunately, most of these were dreamt up not by political scientists, lawyers, or psychologists, but by those who don’t deal with the nuts and bolts of governing very much, like scientists, tech experts, etc.
The i09 article mentions a few ‘forms’ of government that aren’t:
- Noocracy: This is a vague concept, a kinda technocracy, where experts feed policy makers scientific findings on experiments to inform policy. This isn’t a form of government, but a way of advising government, or testing policies. We kind of already do that in almost every democracy, but the information isn’t always the trump card, because there is money, ideology, competition, psychology, imperfect information, and tribalism involved.
- Cyberocracy: ruled by the effective use of information. As anyone who understands basic human psychology, or read Thinking Fast and Slow, this is a pure fantasy. Unless you have something that overrides human fallacies in decision-making, in which case you get the-
- Singleton: world order dictated by an AI. Yes, it sounds like an e-Napoleon, elected software-dictator for life. Is this a new form of government, or just a different type of dictator? I say the latter. Also, not futuristic; humanity has moved away from dictatorship quite rapidly in the last century.
- [Insert special group]-o-cracy: This isn’t a form of government, but restricting the electorate to a certain group: older folks, geniuses, high-achievers, scientists, engineers, men, property owners, etc.. This limits the ruling coalition and is less democratic than more. It’s also not new or futuristic. It’s also pretty repugnant.
- Global democracy: It could be a beefed-up UN, a western-style constitutional democracy, or any other flavor. But it’s not a new form of government, just a different scale. (Note: this may already be on its way as global governing institutions get built up and improved. In 1990, I predicted that this would happen by 2050 and I’ll stick to that prediction. Economic and cultural borders are falling away already. Climate change could be the compelling reason to have a global government.)
Actual forms of government that don’t exist:
- Polystate: Simply, this is non-geographic governance, where individuals can opt in or out at the individual level. Sounds like chaos, but it may boil down to like choosing your electrical supplier is today: you can make the choice, but almost no one notices you have, and it doesn’t much matter. You still have to use the roads and breathe the air around your house. But maybe you won’t have to pay for abortions or drug busts or nuclear weapons if you don’t want to. Comment: I used something like this in my Kagent novels for people living in city-states on Mars. You can choose your political community separate from geographic concerns (which makes sense for highly-mobile people, or people who commute from one state to another).
- Futarchy: Elected officials would manage national measures of well-being, but market speculators (voters betting with money?) would make law indirectly by investing in the value of having a particular law versus not having it. Wisdom of the crowds applied to legislation, I guess. Comment: This is a theoretical construct abstracted from another theoretical construct that has a hard time proving that it’s anything but a corrupted waste of time and money. Who watches the speculators who select the watchers? If you are trying to guess the number of beans in a jar, use the wisdom of the crowds. But this is an attempt to marketize government, and the thing is that governments run markets (at least by setting rules and enforcing contracts), not the other way around.
- Delegative democracy: either be a delegate for others’ votes, or participate passively by voting for a delegate to do the thinking, advocating, etc. for you on a particular issue (like voting shareholder proxies). If you like the economic policy of Elizabeth Warren, the social policy of Rand Paul, the legal philosophy of Justice Scalia, and the defense policy of Andrew Cuomo, you can have it all, I guess. Comment: it may be a complete knot of contradictions, but when aggregated, maybe not. If the entire population chose various ministers/secretaries of departments, and let them implement their preferred policy regime, you would get possibly inconsistent policy across subject areas, but at least you’d have knowledgeable and effective departments headed by people with popular support.
- Demarchy: policymakers are chosen randomly, like jury selection. Kim Stanley Robinson used this in his Mars trilogy. Like jury selection, there would be a lottery for who the policy makers would be. They would be stuck with their terms of office. The idea is that these regular folks would serve the common interest and not be career politicians, which appeals to a lot of people. Comment: It’s a horrible idea: government is not a hobby or an amateur game of kickball; ask anyone with a loved one ordered into a warzone. We relegate this selection method to juries because a) no one wants to be on a jury and b) it’s a short-term commitment. Conscripting people into 2, 4, or 6-year thankless jobs, riddled with opportunities for abusing a position you didn’t earn, and don’t want to keep, with no experience, is a recipe for disaster.
For the most part, these futuristic forms aren’t greatly thought out, but are bandaids on decision-making and election management. I think there is a lot more interesting thoughts to have in this space, building off of judgement and decision making psychology, political science, and public policy, but I’ll bore you with those in another post.
Until then, I highly recommend reading The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics, which digs into what a political system has to do, how leaders fail or stay in power, and has some interesting thoughts about how to improve democracy. Hint: the Green Bay Packers are a good example.