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Self-organizing Government

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 5 months ago

Self-Organizing Government,


Applying Free Markets to Public Goods


In a capitalist system, government exists primarily to take care of activities such as public goods that private enterprise cannot provide because individuals would not be compelled to pay for them --goods such as clean air in open spaces, since individuals are better off not paying if their neighbors foot the bill and they get to breathe too. This is the reason profits are not the driving force for government spending. But nothing dictates that government cannot benefit from that most powerful and effective of forces driving the private economy: free markets.


That is, the most powerful force behind modern society's complex ecosystem, which seemingly magically caters for every need and desire that money can quell, is its self-organizing nature: the fact that each of many agents (enterprises) are free to choose the problem it will solve and the solution it will offer, and that each is rewarded according to the success of his/her endeavour. In this, free markets resemble biological evolution.


Government, in contrast, depends on a single central authority (or at most a few, when competencies overlap), and the sole feedback loop to reward success and punish failure comes in an all-or-none vote (i.e. no selective approval of some policies but not others, in the manner in which customers can reward one product in favor of another even from the same company) only once every four years or so. To top this, political systems like the U.S. one which disallow repeated re-election do not even allow transmission of good governments the way good genes are inherited in a biological system. This robs government of all three ingredients of a successful evolutionary system: diversity, selection and inheritance.


Yet this need not be so. We could have multiple government units (which I will call "pubic good enterprises", or PGEs) whose budget is allocated from the total tax monies by citizens according to their past success, and which can remain funded (the PGE equivalent of in 'office') for as long as they continue to satisfy citizens' mandate in such a way as to receive money. Individual PGEs would succeed and persist, or die rapidly by virtue of their effect on society. A self-organizing government like this would promote the creation of public good enterprises specializing in as many issues as citizens care about.


The allocation of tax monies would borrow from the concept of the Senate, which ensures that all states, no matter how unpopulated, get equal representation in a critical stage of law-passing. Likewise, allocation of taxmonies would give each taxpayer equal representation regardless of how much tax each contributes. Taxpayers could vote for the allocation of their portion of taxmonies by writing in the code for their preferred PGEs in their annual tax return, or through a more sophisticated online system to provide information on all PGEs in the geographical location or topical areas of interest for each taxpayer.


PGEs could be organized for profit or as non-profits. Importantly, each PGE would receive tax monies in accordance to its ability to help taxpayers, so whether investors benefit as well or not is irrelevant.


Importantly, creation of a PGE, and eligibility for funding, should not be subject to approval by any government bureaucrat; the very purpose of the system is to allow the system to self-organize and provide diversity of approaches, a goal that would be defeated by subjecting them to the vision of any single individual or institution.


PGEs would still be subject to the law, ensuring that no minority could impinge upon the rights of the majority.


How would infrastructure projects that are less visible to the public get funded? The same way that they get funded in a market economy: just as consumers pay B2C companies for goods and services and B2C companies pay B2B companies for supplies, infrastructure and services, so would taxpayers fund PGEs which generate visible benefits for society, and these PGEs would in turn pay other firms to provide the necessary infrastructure.


Take, for example, an idea to reduce traffic congestion: visual barriers around traffic accidents (or permanently between freeway directions) that reduce rubbernecking, restricting the congestion to the direction of traffic affected by the accident, or perhaps even to some lanes. An idea such as this does not see the light of day except in isolated cases of visionary governments, because the benefit is for society at large, and no individual has an incentive to pay for it unless all do. With self-organizing government and public good enterprises, a group of citizens with a good idea on how to reduce traffic congestion could appeal to the public to vote a fraction of tax monies for it and implement it without the need to convince a single bureaucrat. Word about good initiatives could spread virally through word of mouth and electronic communications. A good initiative would thus grow in budget and spread around the country. Bad initiatives would die.


I have little doubt that a system along the lines of what I describe would aid our own rather dated form of government. In the absence of revolutions, though, the hardest thing about instituting a new political system is designing a viable transition. In this case, a smooth transition comes naturally: the fraction of the overall government budget devoted to Public Good Entreprises could be gradually increased over several years, after an experimental period during which any wrinkles in the system could get ironed out and the success of the system verified, until eventually, perhaps most of or even the entire budget could be allocated in such a way.



The ball, my friends, is now in the hands of Congress. Or a local or state government with an eye for innovation. Terminator comes to mind...


Alex Bäcker, Ph.D.

Altadena, California, October 8th, 2006


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