Open Thread: Types of government

(idea by Lonespark)

Do you have a preferred system of government?  Would you like to share your thoughts on the pros and cons of various systems? Are there any from history that particularly interest you?

(Note that a system of government which interests you doesn’t have to be one that you approve of.)

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]

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10 thoughts on “Open Thread: Types of government

  1. depizan May 24, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Something on the democratic end of things, where in those in power are also bound by laws (and don’t find it easy to change that). Preferably set up by someone with good sense. Better still if there’s a way to prevent power from sliding inexorably into the hands of a very few.

    The problem with governments (real and fictional alike), is that they are almost always better on paper than in fact. I don’t know whether that’s a power corrupts problem, a people who seek power problem, or just that everything is fallible and rotten people are a constant, which means that rotten people will abuse the cracks that are going to be found in any system.

    Still, governments are almost always better than the alternative.

  2. Only Some Stardust May 24, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    The problem with democracies is:

    1. Mobs, the tyranny of the masses. At least in theory, which is why many elite put so much effort into thinking how they would suppress the masses in a democracy. In practice, it often seems like things would be better if the masses were empowered more, not less.

    2. How are you going to select your officials? If your selection is merely for those who look like they know what they are doing, rather than those who actually know what they are doing, you are going to get actors. Which is something that actually happens from time to time. On the other hand, any kind of merit based selection would drum up the problems of how you decide who has merit or not. A random lottery would be fairest, but no one really wants random average joe who doesn’t even have the advantage of being able to act in charge.

    Sometimes I’ve pondered if it might be possible to vastly undercut the need for officials altogether; these days, you have amazing collaborative technology, petitions, crowdfunding, stuff like that, I could definitely see a crowd co-writing a law together and signing it without any leaders (except maybe some lawyers to clarify what is and isn’t legal to do) if they were given the ability to. You’d still need things like diplomatic figureheads to go talk to other countries for you, or to make snap decisions in times of war, and hackers would be a problem, but… it would be really interesting to see the masses play the role of congress where snap-decisions are often not a thing. If it failed, people would only have themselves to blame, instead of annoying public figures who lie and cheat.

  3. Only Some Stardust May 24, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    On the other hand, recalling some incidents of mob mentality on the internet… maybe my memory is just being selective. -shudder-

  4. Firedrake May 25, 2015 at 4:28 am

    By inclination I am an anarchist. However, I don’t think anarchy is viable with human nature as it currently exists.

    Government design is more like security than like engineering: it’s not that you have to worry about things breaking, it’s that reasonably smart people will be analysing your system and looking for the weak points.

    My problem with voting systems in general is twofold: neither the costs nor the values of votes are equal.

    (1) If you want me to vote for you, you’ll have to go to a fair bit of effort to persuade me that you have sensible policies. (I am an economist by training.) Billboards aren’t going to get the job done. So instead you will spend your campaign budget on influencing five of my my elderly neighbour who don’t really know what you stand for but think you have nice hair: there’s a higher return for the money.

    (2) The constituency where I live now has always returned a Conservative MP, since the 1950s when it took its current shape, and the area has generally been Conservative before that. The last place where I lived had been solidly Labour since the days of Keir Hardie. In neither case does my vote make the slightest bit of difference. So as a national party you have no incentive to do anything nice for me when you could instead do it in an area where the outcome is less certain.

    For example, one result of both of these is mainstream parties embracing racist rhetoric that used to be the preserve of the extremists, because they think there might be votes in it and there aren’t enough of “those people” in seats that might change hands to be worth courting.

  5. Silver Adept May 25, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Firedrake –

    Here in the States, where we redraw the lines of the Congressional districts every ten years, we very stupidly allow partisans to be the ones drawing them, which means that whatever party in power during the census and redistricting naturally draws the boundaries to give themselves systematic advantages as much as can be gotten away with before provoking a lawsuit. So it’s entirely possible, in some states, for the Democrats to win the overall vote tally and send five less Congressional Representatives to the House.

    I have always thought that democratic systems are good temporary measures against empires, dictators, and Supreme Leaders. The ideal communist and socialist experiment for me would have to be a worldwide one, so that all resources could be devoted to getting everyone up to a certain standard of living, and then any excess could be allocated competitively based on ideas presented.

    What we’d really need for a solid democracy are the Guardian Corps of Plato, but they’d have to be artificial intelligence or people who could not think of themselves and their own gain, but only of good service and excellent ruling. Like what Abnegation is supposed to be, just spread incredibly wide or enforced with some sort of reversible biological mechanism.

  6. Firedrake May 25, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Silver Adept – yeah, and even when you get a non-partisan redistricting body, both sides can often agree that rather than having ten districts they have to fight over they’re better off with eight safe seats and just two where they can put all the campaign spending.

    What I think is desperately needed is an end to the pretence that there are enough jobs for everybody. That hasn’t been true since the 1960s, it will never be true again unless we destroy all computers and electronics, and keeping up the pretence is doing vast and ongoing harm not only to those who can’t find work, who are stigmatised as lazy, but to those in it too, whose jobs spread less and less useful work across an increasing gulf of soul-destroying makework, and who are so terrified of becoming unemployed that they will put up with worse and worse working conditions.

    I suspect the only viable answer to this is some sort of universal income.

  7. froborr May 26, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    Yep. “Past Tense” is looking more and more like the most prescient episode in the entire Trek canon. (That’s the one set in the 2020s, amidst riots spurred by massive, generally inescapable, unemployment.)

  8. froborr May 26, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Oh, and as for the actual question: my own view is that there is no correct system of government, but rather a sort of evolutionary arms race between systems to prevent the accumulation and abuse of power, and people who like accumulating and abusing power who “solve” those systems. My natural inclination is toward anarchy, but that is the easiest of all systems to solve and thus will inevitably collapse near-instantly into tyranny.

  9. Only Some Stardust May 26, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    You could have a computer program (open to everyone to analyze) draw the lines. It might not draw the best possible lines, but it would do so with no agenda, provided it was a program both parties actually agree on for every state. (Obviously an AI that scans for Party Demographics and then favors one party all the way would be a no go, of course, and having a different program for every state would be problematic and more open to manipulation by the current party in power in that state)

    One could also introduce a budget for introducing political candidates and their policies to the populace. Everyone would have the same amount of money spent on them, ergo, a fair playing field instead of ‘richest billboard owner wins’ or ‘best at begging companies for donations’ which is super bad in my opinion. We don’t need our politicians in company pockets!

    My main problem with communism is that it actually puts property in the hands of the state rather than the hands of the people, thus it puts more money in the hands of the leadership who have the ability to decide what to dole out rather than the masses it wishes to empower – instant corruption. I lean toward the solution of lots of socialist benefits and Worker Owned Companies – employees own everything in the company and they, not some council or boss or highest share holders, choose the salaries for everyone and what path the company is going to take. No more supra million dollar salary goofballs while the underdogs don’t make enough to live on. Company employee steals a pencil? They own that pencil anyway. I think Worker Owned Companies are thing that actually exists in a working non-collapsed-into-dictatorship way, too. It’s technically still capitalism, but I kinda like being able to purchase and sell stuff so that doesn’t bother me.

    Universal income would be… interesting, at least. It summons to mind online communities where everyone has a guaranteed income. Inflation is an absolute monster there; you’d somehow have to make sure there wasn’t new money being generated (except to replace damaged money) but old money being circulated / shuffled around. I suppose this might be doable with careful use of taxes, but you’d have to take what you give unless the person spends it, and if they spend it, you’d need to somehow come up with another tax somewhere else that could be used to pay them their required minimum. (+10, then -10… is still 0.) With no static assets, the monetary system would probably collapse and people would revert to bartering or using gold and silver.

  10. Only Some Stardust June 1, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    I thought I recalled universal wages being familiar – so I looked it up. It’s part of communism. So, again, the problem is that you empower the state far too much. Also, it just hasn’t worked, historically. I agree with government regulation for things like toxic wastes and a livable wage, but the end of a great degree of governmental over-regulation (the favoring of guild monopolies, lots of paranoid tariffs against other countries out of the belief that wealth is limited, for instance) was part of what led us out of the dark ages, literately. The free market has its problems (What does not?), but it’s definitely better than what it replaced.

    I’m currently reading The Science of Liberty. It’s a fascinating read, talks about the difference between conservatism, classical liberalism, and progressivism, argues very effectively that the right to free speech and concept of equality and liberty arose from scientific community values, etc, and I recommend it to everyone.

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