Adam I. Gerard

Future Governance

This post summarizes a few thoughts about the future of governance and technology.

Technological Potentialities

I maintain that there's a close interplay between:

  1. Technological development: metal-working, agricultural productivity and yield increases, energy extraction, communication formats and means, etc.
  2. Political economy: the system of government, a market, and the rules that coordinate both enshrined in law or practice.

Historically, philosophy has focused almost exclusively on the latter (without very much consideration of the former).

Watershed breakthroughs in technological development make certain forms of governments or governing arrangements possible in the first place:

  1. Steam and the Gunboat: allowed the British Empire to reach its apogee in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  2. Horsemanship: allowed the U.S. government to create a Postal Service.
  3. Stirrup and Wooden Saddle: allowed the Khan's to vastly expand their empire by allowing stable archery fire from horseback.

And, we see how political economy (norms, regulations, market conditions, innovation, commerce, and so on) contribute gradually to and make possible technological innovations:

  1. The Roman aqueduct was the a product of the Roman Empire and its logistical needs.
  2. The U.S. Highway and the German Autobahn.
  3. Manned moon missions by NASA.
  4. The Internet and World Wide Web which were pioneered by CERN and DARPA.

And though it is at once obvious that these are two sides of the same coin so little discussion exists about how the current state of technological development alters our understanding about future political economy.

Political Stagnation

Very little in the way of political philosophy has been articulated in academic philosophy since Nozick and Rawls (roughly the 70's). And, no great work exists yet for the 21st century:

  1. Marxism - a product of the 19th century that had its influence felt a century later.
  2. Fascism - really the re-emergence of Roman tyranny and depotism (from the Latin Fasces) in the 20th century.
  3. Maoism - a 20th century reaction to Marxism.
  4. Absolutism - most thoroughly articulated by Hobbes in the 1600's.
  5. Republicanism - Jean Jacques Rousseau during the 1700's.
  6. Liberal Democracy - most thoroughly articulated by Rawls in 1971.
  7. Libertarianism - defended by Nozick in 1974.

The above list is hardly comprehensive but I think we can see how little the political philosophy canon has evolved since the 70's quite clearly.

This should concern us (and particularly as citizens in a country whose entire political dialogue is dominated by unending tirades about capitalism and socialism - when both are poorly understood and both are probably outmoded).

The form of political-economy that's usually identified (as the dominant current economic system) is some form of mixed-economy wherein certain sub-jurisdictions practice tighter control over the economy (and sometimes in defiance of the overall national economic posture).

Novel Government Formats

Less well-known political philosophies have already been explored. Often, they lay some kind of technical foundation and do not attempt a thorough defense of the position (and, I won't attempt to here either - also note that I don't advocate such systems):

  1. Futarchy - voting through prediction markets.
  2. Modern Anarchism - unanimous voting through digital direct referendums - not to be confused with violent anarchism.
  3. Technocracy - before the word "technocrat" was appropriated as a pejorative there was a short-lived engineering-focused movement that sprung up in response to Fascism and Communism.

Correspondingly, these visions of democratic evolution - either incremental advancements or modifications to certain democratic mechanisms like ballot voting - have corresponding economic alternatives:

  1. Gift Economics - well-understood non-market economic systems. For example, gift-giving during the holidays or on one's birthday.
  2. Post-Scarcity Economics - economics that explores the possibility and means by which to reject the fundamental presupposition of all economic theory: scarcity.

E.G. - Post-Scarcity Economics is not the thesis that there would be zero scarcity. Only that economics as a theory of optimal resource management need not have scarcity as the predominant factor in determining economic value.

In other words, while scarcity, of some variety, will always exist all human needs will be met (because of practical, technological, or planned abundance). To conflate these claims is just to fall prey to the the fallacy of overnaming.

Novel Watershed Technologies

In addition to the surprisingly fresh new ideas above, the following technological developments allow for reform and improvement in a way that specific statutes often can't.

Leaders can change the status quo by means de jure or de facto - statutes shape society through deliberately modifying the de jure legal regimen. Technology, though typically regulated, can often shape the status quo by means de facto (sometimes contravening the de jure laws as is the case in many dictatorships).

Here, we consider a special case where technology modifies the ability for leaders to govern by means de facto whether or not de jure reforms are required (I note below where certain pain-points might occur).

In other words, in the same way that telephones vastly enhanced the ability for people to simply "talk to each other" unrestricted by distance (without any new laws being required - save for preventing the monopoly of certain telecommunications companies), so too will the following vastly amplify the ability "to simply govern":

  1. ITER - Brief knowledge of Quantum Mechanics should impart the famous equation E = MC² which specifies a fundamental relationship of energy to matter. As a consequence, if you have a practically infinite supply of energy (which I'd think 1:10 ratio of input energy:output energy to fusion power would likely achieve) that lacks any waste byproduct, an economic system of nearly unlimited kinetic interactions and nearly zero cost is possible.

i. This idea has been explored outside academia in famous Science Fiction franchises like Star Trek (often motivated by less famous historical antecedents like the brief Technocracy movement of the 1930's composed of engineers who saw underlying thermal and physical forces as being the real or primary mover of an economy rather than finance and numerical abstraction). These franchises have helped to popularize these ideas but often lack any detail about how they work or the possibility of their actual implementation.

ii. As a consequence, the concept of "economics as cost-accounting and scarcity" will likely recede (being replaced by so-called economics of abundance and post-scarcity). In academia, concepts such as these have already been explored (Gift Economics and experimental Non-market Systems).

  1. Transhumanism - genetic modification will fundamentally alter us and our political and economic systems will be fundamentally altered as a consequence.

i. To some extent, all political systems rely on specific assumptions about human behavior, adherence to norms, etc. (For example, the shift from standardized factory work schedules in many cities required substantial changes to the way goods and people were transported. Psychological and neurological components of political adherence, allegiance to rules, and laws are fundamental and assumed in any codified system of legal axioms, etc.).

ii. If humans suddenly lost all biological commitment to follow or obey norms (deeply rooted as such followings are in our biology), government and rule-systems would be impossible. The realization that rule-systems and deeper-kind considerations (nature, biology, disposition, temperament, etc.) are interconnected motivated most early political theorists to justify their conception of justice on the basis of some conception of human nature (Hobbes, Aristotle, Rousseau) and we should be mindful that governance and laws rest on inbuilt biological and psychological instincts.

iii. If human psychology and neurology is altered enough, we can expect legal systems and governments to be fundamentally altered as well. Many practical human limitations (in terms of absolute knowledge, decision-making, and so on) undergird, justify, and motivate the move to democratic deliberation in order to mitigate error, improve discussion and consideration, and prevent tyranny.

Imagine if human IQ's suddenly lept to 500 or if people were genetically modified to be incapable of violent psychopathy. What kinds of political arrangements would suddenly become a matter of practical possibility? Or, what kinds of political systems would no longer be precluded as a live possibility? Would governance by intrinsically wise and noble leaders collaborating in a guaranteed and benevolent democracy become possible?

iv. This is less a desirable result than an unfortunate consequence of poorly-enforced scientific regulations.

  1. Off-world - off-world colonies are not analogically equivalent to the early off-continent colonies of the 1600's nor the 1700's.

i. Major physical barriers inhibit the ability to communicate and transmit supplies. Any federation between the off-world colonies and governments here on Earth will need to redefine most areas of law pertaining to time, cause, precedent, and so on.

Part of this has to do with seemingly absolute physical laws (or constraints) that delimit the intuitive notion of economic simultaneity. (If Relativity is understand under the lens of Philosophical Realism, there is no absolute moment of simultaneity.)

ii. In this way, the simplistic (but still awesome) Science Fiction depictions of galaxy-spanning, smoothly-coordinated, societies collapses into cosmic and temporal anarchy.

  1. Axiomatic Law - using software and programming to add a new layer of enforcement and jurisdictional separation to legal matters.

i. Laws would be completely unambiguous, non-contradictory, and likely open-source.

ii. Judicial review would be vastly simplified and aided, reducing the work dockets and reliance on faulty human judgement.

iii. Natural languages enshrined in law rely on enforcement and interpretation to work.

iv. Programming languages are inherently interpreted (after compile-time in most cases, at least since they represent states of affairs in fixed formats). They have in-built resistance to non-enforcement since they run and make possible services and systems being used.

  1. Digital Consensus and Direct Referendums - the application of consensus-making and tamper-proof software technologies (like blockchain) but removed from their financial moorings.

i. Citizens might take quick test to see whether they understand the law being debated and would vote.

ii. Here, there would be less reliance on politicians and greater decentralizing back to the electorate.

  1. Structured News - Ground facts that are universally agreed upon (potentially with noted caveats) but presented in ways that are more amenable to specific modes of learning and understanding.

i. Universal ground truth or fact sets eliminating "fake news" and essentially creating an [economic] floor for news-based credibility markets.

  1. Sovereign Wealth Funds - Not to be confused with tightly-controlled investment funds managed by royal elites, the idea envisioned here combines non-inflationary financial systems (as empirically explored through a variety of cryptocurrencies) and the ability for governments to create systems of money by fiat - e.g. a deliberate state-supported mechanism for public wealth through crafted financial engineering instruments.

i. Why have underpaid civil servants? Why let cities go unfunded? Why struggle under archaic and draconian financial and fiscal mechanisms?

ii. The fear is that by suddenly introducing vast sums of printed money, money supply suddenly becomes an uncontrollable factor (in most cases driving the value of the monetary unit down through inflation).

The financial specification I am sketching here need not immediately free this new kind of financial instrument for immediate exchange - we can be more creative and intentionally design financial instruments to increase prosperity without these worries.

iii. For example, consider an asset that is restricted in terms of its sale but which simultaneously contributes to the bottom-line of a firm (much like preferred and dilutable shares or RSU's). Suppose further (for the sake of argument) that it is universally agreed that these instruments have value.

Then, these assets immediately impact the financial value of a corporation, are subject to taxation, and cannot be immediately sold but do not immediately impact money supply. In fact, their presence improves the perceived (and real) value of the firm that owns them. Consequently, any person holding stock of that firm prior to the creation of these instruments sees their stocks increase in value.

iv. Then, the fundamental concern becomes "how does one create an instrument that is agreed to have value?" Perhaps, as a matter of practical necessity, essential civil services can be tied to such systems (consider license plates or kinds of routine identification).

v. My main argument has been that cryptocurrencies are really more analogous to "laundry tokens" (insofar as they are permission tokens that enable people to use a service or perform a function) as well as a commodity (traded like equities or raw commodities).

Really, I'd rebrand the whole "cryptocurrency" industry as a "permission-commodity" - a tradeable commodity that has value because it entitles one to perform a function or have permission to use a service. I think this perspective encourages this broader approach to new financial arrangements (that will not eliminate the current systems of wealth but supplement them).