Bemeficent Society, Chpt 15

 GENERAL MEETING OF THE SOCIETY (CONTINUED.)

“I hope the break has given you a chance to clear your head for this next session.  You’ve heard the political committee’s recommendation for replacing executive branch.  Now we’re looking forward to presenting our suggested substitute for the legislative branch.  We call it the Volitionment.

“The framers of our U.S. constitution did not make law-making easy.  And advisably so.  Law-making is, indeed, a serious business.  It’s effects—generally unpredictable and always underestimated in cost—can impact the lives of citizens throughout the land and, like as not, the economy as a whole.  Understandably, then, our Founders established a series of painful steps designed to discourage all but genuinely constructive measures from making it through the process.  Before a proposal ever becomes law, it must gain the attention of a coterie of enthusiastic activists, accepted as a cause by one or more legislators, survive debate over its provisions by both houses of Congress, surmount the compromise of the two resulting versions, and, obtain the signature of the President if he is so inclined. be signed into law by the President.

Given the importance of the process to the nation’s wellbeing, its laboriousness would be defensible if it worked as intended.  It does not.  Not in today’s politically-charged, media-infused environment, at any rate.  At present, the reality is process is too time-consuming,  too exasperating, too expensive, and, worst of all, too fallible.  Emotional clamor is more likely to dominate than common sense, lobbyists’ arguments more likely to prevail than careful research, special interests more likely to benefit than the common good, and bad laws more likely to make it into the books than good ones.

Given these imperfections—not to mention the baked-in bad memes—the political committee determined the conventional approach incompatible with the high standards they set for their proposed Newcapian government.  In their considered opinion, they had no choice but to reject it out of hand.

When it came to finding a substitute for the legislative process, the committee turned, as has been its habit, to nature for inspiration.  The closest natural counterpart to governmental decision-making they could think of was the human brain.  And there was no getting around the fact that the human brain was a thinking machine par excellence.  The trouble was that the brain’s manipulation of billions of neurons is so exquisitely intricate that it is impossible to mimic with current technology.  In short, our brains outsmarted us.

We were forced, then, to settle for a mixture of approaches combining what superficial characteristics of the brain’s activities we could understand with our own conjectures of a workable selection process.   compromise approach that took advantage of the brain’s easily understood external characteristics and a methodology of their own invention.  By our own admission, it too is imperfect but we feel its bottom-up, more deliberate and better informed decision-making offers a distinct advantage over the present top-down, thorn-strewn procedure previously described.  It works like this:

 

CREATING A VOLITIONMENT `PROPOSAL

 

Any citizen is entitled to propose a law.  In theory, at least, all he has to do to initiate the procedure is submit his proposal to an evaluation board for review and accompany it with a small fee.  The hitch is that the proposal must follow a precise format the preparation of which normally calls for expert assistance.   Aside trom the normal particulars, that an employment application would require, the proposal form must respond to the following ten inquiries:

  1. The proposal’s objective
  2. How it plans to accomplish its mission
  3. How it is to be funded
  4. Its initial geographical scope, impact on the environment, and job creation
  5. The same for its eventual fill-out phase
  6. Its burden on the state for enforcement
  7. It’s conflict with existing laws and regulations
  8. Its possible abuse by unlawful elements
  9. Its consumption of scarce materials
  10. Its feedback formula(ae) by which its viability is to be judged along with proposed remedial action if necessary

Each response must be no longer than 80 words, however it can contain links to additional supporting material, graphs, expert opinion, statistical backup, endorsements, etc.

The evaluation board is required to inform the applicant within fifteen days of any mechanical impediment that prevents his proposal from being processed.  If no such impediment is found, the board is given thirty days to forward it to the comment board and provide the author with an estimate of its costs payable in advance.

Note that the province of the evaluation board does not include an opinion on the virtue of the proposal itself.  Whether the evaluation board (or any other) feel it promotes a good or bad law is to have no bearing on its treatment of it.  Indeed, the multiplicity of boards involved is designed to prevent any one of them to have an undue influence on any one proposal’s outcome.

 

FINANCING THE PROPOSAL

 

The transition process from proposal to incorporation into the statutes is time consuming and expensive.  To cover these anticipated costs, the proposal’s sponsor is required to escrow the necessary funding.  The amounts vary but are, in any case, significant and can easily reach five or six figures.  In many cases, the sponsor is a corporation or an individual wealthy enough to self-finance.  An author without such resources can often appeal to a sympathetic individual motivated by the hope that the proposed law would advance his own ends.  And the same might be true of one or another of the variety of non-profits.  Crowd funding would be yet another possibility.  In short, one way or another, reasonable proposals are likely to find the money to see the light of day.

 

COMMENT STAGE

 

The comment board is required to immediately post notification of its receipt of a proposal.  It does so by publishing the proposal in full and inviting comment on it by any interested party.  and notify all public parties who might be interested in it and willing to identify themselves as the source of their comments.

Furthermore, to discourage trivial and/or irrelevant entries, the submitters must enter their physical address, email address, occupation, affiliation, and any connection with the author.

The  rules applicable to the submission of comments are these::

  • Comments must be submitted within two months of the evaluation board’s announcement
  • Entering a legitimate comment enables the submitters to receive a key that entitled them to participate in the selection process on a one vote per submitter basis.
  • Contributors can submit as many comments as they choose, but each comment must pertain to only one of the ten inquires and be labeled accordingly.
  • As in the case of the original proposal, no comment can be longer than 80 words but may contain links to external information.
  • If intended as alternatives to the original proposal, comments must be so labeled and be fully explicit—i.e., replacing the original inquiry in all its particulars.

After the two-month deadline, the comment board must republish the subject proposal along with all the approved comments it has attracted.  The board groups alternative comments separately, numbering each in accordance with its inquiry line and unique label (example: 8a, 8b,etc).  The board, at its discretion, may consolidate similar alternatives, and, if feasible, order them in a logical sequence.

Upon publication of the consolidated proposal, the comments board hands the project to the selection board.

 

THE SELECTION PROCESS

The Volitionment’s law-making process is meant to arrive at the best laws as opposed to the most popular ones.  In keeping with this objective, it solicits what it hopes are the most thoughtful opinions of those impacted by the proposed law.  Thus the selection procedure is limited only to those people concerned enough by the issue to have taken the trouble to comment upon it.

When the selection process opens, participants use their authorization key to enter the system.  The first screen offers the user two shortcuts: FOR the author’s entire proposal without modification or AGAINST the proposal and all its alternatives.  If the voter opts for neither of these choices, he selects PROCEED.  At that point he is entitled, but not obligated, to cast one vote on every inquiry line.   Each of these is listed with the author’s version shown in bold face followed by two boxes, “FOR” and “SEE MORE.”  Should the user check the latter, he is shown the alternative comments, each with its own “FOR” checkbox—a check FOR being interpreted the user prefers this alternative to all others including the original proposal.

If after viewing the alternatives, the voter is still too undecided to cast his vote on any inquiry line, he can scroll down to see the comments—likewise consolidated and ordered—that had not been designated alternatives.  At that point he can backtrack to enter his choice, change an earlier one, or leave that inquiry line undecided.

For clarity, a given inquiry line occupies either an entire screen or, if the comments are voluminous, a succession of screens.

When done, users are presented with a summary of their choices and can, at that time, confirm them or make any revisions they choose.

 

THE WORK-UP BOARD

 

Assuming the reception of the proposal as a whole is favorable enough to proceed, a meeting is scheduled between a workup board and the author in order to arrive at a final bill.  Prior to the conference, the participants are expected to approach it in a collaborative spirit and to familiarize themselves with the results of the selection process.

At the meeting itself, the participants consider each inquiry line in turn taking into consideration such inputs as:

  • The number of affirmations of the author’s original version
  • The number of approvals given the alternative comments
  • The popularity of any particular alternative
  • Pertinent suggestions within the general comments relating to the inquiry line

In this connection, it is important to note that the function of the markup board is to represent, as best it can, the intentions of the comment contributors—not to introduce its own preferences regarding the bill in question.  Should the board overstep its mandate in this regard, the author can appeal to the Volitionment for a replacement board and seek penalties against the outgoing one.  His other choice is to withdraw his proposal altogether and resubmit it at least six months later in its original form or an amended one.

If the first round produced a tentative agreement on all ten lines, a second round is normally necessary to iron out any inconsistencies or language confusion that might have arisen in the deliberations.  Once that is done, the bill is forwarded to the Volitionment for incorporation into the lawbooks after checking that it offers no conflict with existing statutes.

 

AN OVERALL VIEW

The political committee believes that, wheresas deleterious bills could sneak through the process, the eventual impact of constant change inherent in its system would evolve an ever improved legal system in much the way natural selection works to reshape organisms.

For example, granted the system could be abused by either organized elitist or populist groups, it is also open to moderation by disinterested non-profit groups who tend to keep close tabs on the system and act speedily to respond to any politicized manipulation.

More importantly, perhaps, is the way the system could be used to kill bad and/or outmoted bills.  Under our existing system, bad bills, that always benefit some group or another, can be prolonged indefinitely by the strenuous support of their adherents.  And an accumulation of such expensive deadwood—ergo farm subsidies and sugar commodity support—can weigh down a society until it breaks.

The political committee believes that, by eliminating corruptible middlemen and restoring lawmaking directly into the hands of the public, bad laws would not linger long on the books and creative destruction would make its way into the political arena.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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