Friday, January 20, 2006

Thought Experiment: Randomness in Government

Yesterday I posted on the need to separate money from government. I am not at all sure such a thing is even possible, but money is -- once again -- the root of all evil in the government. In my post yesterday I said we must "create a disconnect between those who seek or wield political power and those who wield economic power."

We can't keep people with money from trying to influence our society. I'm not sure we should. But there is a way to break the links that continually form between the rich and the powerful.

So, it's time for a little thought experiment...

Randomness.

We need an element of randomness in government. I recommend lotteries!

I am not being flip. If we use lotteries to help choose our representatives and the issues they address, we disrupt the quid pro quo of government at a fundamental level. Note there's emphasis on the word 'help' -- we're not throwing common sense to the winds, we're just introducing an element of chance that removes any guarantee of results for services rendered.

Here's the plan:

  • Any registered voter interested in serving in the Senate or the House of Representatives will have an opportunity to run for office. Registered voters interested in serving will submit their names to an election commission local to the district or region involved. Small groups of candidates -- say four to eight -- will be chosen at random to run in primaries in each district. Candidates will compete against each other in campaigns that are funded by public money, participating in moderated debates in impartial public forums. These debates will be conducted solely to convey the merit of the ideas the various candidates have. The public will then vote in those primaries to choose two candidates, after which elections should be held in each district, again funded by public money, to determine the winner. Media coverage will be provided free; media outlets will be compensated by the government at reduced rates.
  • Incumbents shall be subject to term limits. At the expiry of which new candidates should be chosen for the same position via the same process. However, the public shall have the opportunity to override those limits; the incumbent may run again, competing against the two new candidates that win the primaries. If the vote is sufficiently overwhelming the incumbent may stay on for one more term, after which they must once again face the same challenge from two new candidates.

This element of randomness is the best way of bringing new, fresh blood into the political process. The primary campaigns will weed out the utterly ineffective, while both campaigns will continue our sacred tradition of selecting leaders and representatives based on the will of the people. Government funding of campaigns will close another avenue of influence.

Aside from the above, this has a distinct 'American Idol' feeling to it; I think the electorate would be utterly captivated by the story of Joe Average trying to get elected to Congress!

What about political parties? Well, didn't George Washington disdain them? Maybe we should too. Either that, or a candidate can, at any point in the process, either declare his/her affiliation or attempt to start a new party. Either way, the importance of party membership should be lessened. The debate should revolve around the ideas a candidate brings to the table, not the planks the party brings to the platform.

Now what would you pay? Wait, there's more.

  • Lobbying on the part of organized, funded groups should be absolutely forbidden. It should be illegal to give a representative anything unless you're a member of his/her immediate family. (Can't ruin Christmas and birthdays.)
  • Citizens should have the opportunity decide what issues the legislature should address. Again, a lottery, but this time in reverse. Citizens put in their ballots; issues to be addressed are chosen randomly from this pool of entries. If a given issue is sufficiently important to enough people, it's chances of selection are thus increased. (We have the technology to make this available to enough of the populace. Yes, there are hurdles, and security issues, but they can be solved if we work hard enough at it.) Of course, the Executive branch should also have the ability to bring issues before Congress for consideration. It's the president's job to lead, after all.
  • Governmental research should be expanded to focus on what programs are actually effective. Clear benchmarks and milestones should be required for any and all government program; personnel in, funding for and continuation of those program should be contingent upon how well the program actually meets those metrics. Sure, this will be hard. Worthwhile things always are.
  • The concept of Separation of Church and State should be even more firmly entrenched into our Constitution. Beliefs can be neither proven nor disproved, so they should not be used as a basis for making governmental decisions that affect the lives of millions.

End of Thought Experiment. What do you think?

1 comment:

Dave Gahagen said...

Very interesting concept and one that has much merrit. We would all be well served to reduce the power of special interest groups and get elected representatives who are not obliged to them. "YES!" on an end to all efforts to buy votes in one form of currency or another. "YES!" to Term limits for ALL elected officials. I would also like to see someone develope a better way for the electorate to guage the true feelings of candidates on various issues. Perhaps some sort of 'test' containing a series of tough-choice type questions that each candidate must answer covering a broad spectrum of issues that (s)he is likely to deal with. There would be no right or wrong answers, just what they would do when faced with difficult choices. Every voter could then compare the candidate's answers to their own feelings and opinions. As it stands now, each candidate tries to disclose as little as possible and pander to everyone. I want to know more.... Okay... back to work...