Government and Meta-Government
I want to draw attention to two sites that I’ve recently discovered, and which deserve the attention of democratically (small “d”)-minded folk: Change-Congress.org and Metagovernment.org. The first is about the United States government. The second is a “meta” government, an open document that aims to (eventually) govern governments.
Change Congress is Lawrence Lessig’s latest project. It is:
…a movement to build support for basic reform in how our [U.S.] government functions. Using our tools, both candidates and citizens can pledge their support for basic changes to reduce the distorting influence of money in Washington. Our community will link candidates committed to a reform with volunteers and contributors who support it.
Here’s a blip.tv channel with Professor Lessig’s video presentation of the concept.
The Metagovernment is a project with a much wider ambition: to be
the system which will run a series of governments using a scored, versioned website as the medium for legislation and bureaucracy under the principle of open source governance. This implementation is similar to the concept of wiki government, but with a sophisticated scoring system to avoid potential downfalls of a completely open editable system.
Both sites are working toward an important goal: greater transparency in government, leading to greater accountability of representatives to the people governed, and thus to greater democracy. Rather than just focusing on fixing the symptoms of a broken governmental system (e.g., health care laws which benefit powerful private interests at the expense of the public), they recognize a common cause of these symptoms: the hoarding of information. In different ways, they seek to make it easier for citizens and representatives to exchange information, and to build trust for each other on the basis of that information. Change Congress, for example, allows candidates to pledge not to take money from PACs (political action committees) — and then verifies that they don’t. The Metagovernment provides the infrastructure for citizens to directly create, revise and enact their own legislation.
Sharing information is important for a very simple reason. A democracy is founded on the idea that people are best off as individuals and as a group when they are able to make decisions for themselves; and it’s impossible to make good decisions in the absence of good information about the consequences of choosing one option versus another. (If someone asked you to pick a number between one and ten, you might naturally respond: “What for?” You can’t produce anything other than a random response unless you know something about the consequences of your choice.) Good information leads to good individual decisions, expectations about how individuals will behave in the future, and reasonable consequences for people who break established expectations. It is the foundation of trust, social norms, and law. Any organization seeking to improve the way we exchange information about how we govern society therefore deserves our praise and attention. I hope you’ll visit these sites.