Thursday, May 31, 2012

If I Were the King of the World

Last Friday, Kevin Grier (Angus) at Kids Prefer Cheese listed the 5 things he would do as Supreme Ruler of the United States. Grover Cleveland at Pileus (ht Cafe Hayek) and later Brandon Christensen at The Republic of Liberty made their own lists. All three lists have some good ideas, and this sounds like fun, so I made my own.

I've tried to focus on more radical and interesting structural ideas, instead of more common policy ideas like tax reform or cutting sugar subsidies. That means I'm not so much convinced that these are actually good ideas. At present, I think on balance they probably might be mostly good (is that enough qualifiers?), but the academic's motto of "more study is needed" definitely applies to all five. So without further ado, here they are, in approximate descending order of probability (or ascending order of ridiculousness, if you prefer):

1. Submit Supreme Court Justices to Re-election
The entire Obamacare fiasco has underscored just how ridiculous the Supreme Court system is. By most accounts, whether or not we keep one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the last few decades will be decided by just one man-- the unelected, unaccountable Anthony Kennedy. The Constitutional idea of checks and balances was supposed to prevent exactly that.

My proposal is simple. Supreme Court Justices will continue to be appointed by the President and approved by the Senate, but they will also be subject, on a rotating basis, to re-election. Every two years, put one Justice up for re-election on a straight yes-or-no vote. If the result is yes, they stay in office, but if the result is no, they step down and a new one is appointed. Re-elections would rotate so that we always vote on the Justice that has gone longest without being re-elected. Without retirements, this means Justices would face re-election every 18 years; with retirements, it would usually happen faster. Hopefully, that's long enough that purely political motives will still be discouraged, but short enough to introduce at least some measure of accountability.

2. Create a Fourth Branch of Government - The Delegislature
As it stands, two of the three branches of government are entirely focused on creating new laws and new regulations. The judiciary is the only branch that regularly considers whether old laws should be eliminated, but they can only eliminate a law for being unconstitutional. The problem is that there are many bad laws and bad regulations that are perfectly constitutional, including many that once were good laws but no longer are.

The fourth branch of government, the Delegislature, would have as its sole power the ability to strike down bad laws and regulations. In a way, it would be like a Supreme Court that could focus on whether a law was actually good or bad, not just whether it was constitutional. It would also, of course, be elected in a similar manner to the Congress, and would be able to take on any existing law rather than be limited to court cases like the Supreme Court is. Politicians seeking re-election to the Delegislature would have to campaign on how many bad laws they've overturned. Hopefully, the underlying question of political discourse would eventually shift from "How should we control people?" to "How should we free people?"

3. Turn the Presidency into an Issue-Based Triumvirate
Just as concentrated power is bad at the Supreme Court, the same goes for the Presidency. At the same time, the nature of political discourse means that government's focus seems to grow without end. Rather than asking government to make us better off in general, we should seek a government that fulfills only those social functions that we need it to fulfill.

With an issues-based triumvirate, we would have three Presidents at once. We could stagger their elections; maybe they would serve six-year terms, with a new one being elected every two years. But once elected, each President would not have carte blanche to set policy in every area he can imagine. The three Presidential offices would each set policy on certain predefined issues. Very broadly, I'm thinking maybe they would be foreign policy, economic policy and social policy, although there are probably better ways to split up the issues. Obviously, there are some overlapping areas, so conflicts would be settled by a vote between the three. Hopefully, each election would focus more on the issues, and even if they didn't, the ongoing mission creep of the federal government would at least be slowed down. 

4. Eliminate Elections in Favor of Democracy Markets
We see this time and again-- a politician is elected on promises of governing from the center, and then once in office immediately pushes through the most extreme parts of his agenda. Closer to the next election, he shifts back to the center enough to get re-elected, and the cycle starts over again. This works so often because voter memory is significantly shorter than terms of office. What if there was a way for voters to express their discontent and keep politicians in line all the time?

Enter what I call democracy markets-- think of a stock market, where the "stock" you own reflects which politician you support. You would get one vote per office, and at any time you could transfer that vote to anyone who had registered as a candidate. The system doesn't have to be any more complex than automated online or phone banking, and there's no reason it can't be just as secure. There's no need to wait 2, 4 or 6 years to have your voice heard, because you could change your vote at any time. No need to wonder if your ballot was actually counted, because you could check your current vote as easily as you can now check your bank balance. And most importantly, politicians would get active, real-time feedback. Hopefully, they would be forced to do what the people actually wanted.

5. Decouple Governance from Geography
For as long as there have been governments, they have been linked to and identified by geography. For most of human history, this was just a necessity, for reasons of defense if nothing else. But governments in general, and defense in particular, have changed a lot over the last century or so. Many, if not most, of the things governments now do have no direct relation to actual geography.

If I want to buy insurance, or save for retirement, or invest in an exciting startup, I don't have to be in a particular geographic area to do so, government restrictions aside. Living in a particular geographic area should not mean I have to join a particular government service provider either. If I don't like Washington state's laws, I have the right to move away. But why should I have to uproot my life, give up my home, my job, my friends in the area because I don't like what some doofus in Olympia is doing? Obviously there are some government services necessarily tied to geography, so leave those be. But for everything else goverunment does, we should encourage some healthy competition. Ideally, we should be able to switch governments as easily as we switch grocery stores. Hopefully, this would encourage existing governments to become more responsive to what people actually want, and maybe it would even allow new, more efficient, more competitive governments to sprout up wherever there was demand for them.

Your Turn
What do you think? Would you support any of these ideas? Do you see any problems with them? What five things would you do if you were the Supreme Ruler?

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