Innovating Governance: Evaluating The Future Of Voting, Policy-Making And Legislation
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I often speak about the importance of experimentation. What about experimenting with how we govern ourselves? As exponential technologies disrupt managerial systems in the private sector, I’m struck by the question: can we run meaningful experiments with government- how we vote, create policy, and legislate? This article is an exploration of three opportunities that might offer the prospect of iteration around governance.
SMALL, ISOLATED GEOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Despite the fact that “all land has been accounted for,” I think there are a number of small communities, countries, city-states, and towns that should step up and test different governance models. Their “smallness” is important– it gives these groups agility, tight feedback loops, and a chance to test ideas with relatively minimal resources (financial, human, and otherwise).
On a national scale, we’re already seeing countries like Finland (5.5 million people) and Switzerland (8.5 million people) experimenting with universal basic income. While this is not a “new political system,” it is at least a new feature within one that is, one, tricky to test and, two, might have dramatic implications on other, larger systems. In academia, groups like Stanford’s Political Science Department have formed research networks of social scientists applying experimental methods to the study of governance and politics in developing countries.
And even at the smallest scale, we’re seeing communities like Burning Man (~70,000 people) experiment with some radical notions of governance by gathering for a week in the middle of a desert. Attendees, known as “burners,” agree to a set of 10 principles, such as: “radical” inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression, community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy and leaving no trace. We need to encourage more communities to step up and attempt new governing models, and then share their results.
Interestingly, improvements in our transportation systems (autonomous driving, point-topoint aerial transport, Hyperloop) will stimulate growth of new cities in underdeveloped areas all over the world. Perhaps many of these will try to reinvent their political systems from first principles.
We’ve also seen the emergence of free zones. Starting as an experiment in Shannon, Ireland, the concept was an attempt by the Irish government to promote employment within a rural area, and generate revenue for the Irish economy. Enormously successful, the system is still in operation today. Similarly, several free zones in the UAE are driving foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country and the GCC at large. In Dubai, for instance, free zones are largely aimed at boosting growth and diversifying the economy, with a focus on technology and innovation. I imagine smaller nations, from Iceland and Cyprus to Tonga and Isle of Man, might take it upon themselves to experiment with free zones as well as provide safe havens for prototyping future regulatory frameworks for global trade and digital nations.
Dubai is leading the charge in the Middle East with formal “regulatory hacking” accelerator platforms, designed to disrupt regular modes of government services delivery. In addition to these platforms and free zones, various other ideas might include:
- An all-digital, decentralized currency
There are many advantages to having a decentralized, digital currency like Bitcoin, built on the blockchain protocol. For one, the transparency and accountability of transactions would deter corruption. Additionally, there would be no fees associated with transferring money from country to country. No large banks or centralized government agencies would be required to serve as middle men. And when managed properly, there would be a much lower risk of capital being stolen.
- A digital vote (true democracy)
One person, one vote, on everything! If everyone could vote from his or her smartphone, we’d have record-shattering voter turnout. But what about votes on subjects that I’m not knowledgeable about? Sure, I could vote for the US President, but what do I know about educational reform or tax laws? How might the average citizen vote on these matters? Well, that’s where the next experiment comes in.
- A new form of representative voting
Rather than assign my vote to a specific politician per se, what if I assign my vote on a specific topic to a colleague who I trust who knows the subject? So, for instance, you might say, “If the vote has to do with space, assign my vote to Peter Diamandis.” If the vote has to do with genetic issues, assign it to your geneticist of choice.
COLONIES ON MARS AND IN SPACE
Speaking of underdeveloped, unclaimed areas: let’s not forget about space! In the long-term, what kind of governance will we have on Mars, the Moon, or perhaps in a free-floating O’Neil Colony? Humans will become multiplanetary in our lifetime. Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Paul Allen and Yours Truly are working diligently to make this a reality. SpaceX is aiming for a manned mission to Mars as soon as 2024. This will be an incredible opportunity to explore entirely new ways of building communities, literally from the ground up. Surely, we can do better with these new societal developments than we have on terra firma.
In my opinion, perhaps the most exciting opportunity for experimentation lies in the governance of virtual worlds. As VR technology exponentially improves, I believe that we are going to be spending a lot of time in virtual reality over the next two decades. As such, each of us may end up having “multiple citizenships” in the future. You’ll have a citizenship in the country where you were born, defined by your geo-location at your moment of birth. But, more importantly, we’ll also have a citizenship by “choice” in the virtual world(s) where you spend the most time socializing, playing and working. You can join communities of like-minded individuals, based on your interests and values, rather than your geographic location at birth. There might be a part of a virtual world for people who love space. Or those interested in exponential technologies and solving grand challenges (like what we are creating at Singularity University). Or for artists and musicians. Or for athletes. Magicians. Only your imagination will be the limiting factor. These worlds, digitally inhabited by human avatars, will become places for rapid experimentation with governance systems and political processes like those mentioned above. But, in the meantime: why is change in governance so hard in the real world?
Making change happen
Why is it so difficult to try new things with our existing governance systems? Well: it’s largely for three reasons. First, those who rule make the rules. Special interest groups and incumbents write the rules that benefit them the most. Laws were created to support the current establishments, not to support possible future interests. Second, most of today’s legal systems were designed hundreds of years ago, before things like information technology, the internet, mobile phones and computers even existed. Third, one of the major reasons for government is stability. Most people hate change and like waking up in the morning knowing that much hasn’t changed, that the rules of the game are still in play. But while governments are linear in nature, technology is exponential and requires agility.
Beyond this, self-interested parties, corruption, disagreement on ideology and cultural values create extraordinary gridlocks, preventing change. The reality is that governments don’t change gracefully- they change disruptively.
My hope is that these new outlets (small communities, space, VR) will allow us to experiment and iterate, rather than radicalize and disrupt. My hope is that we will find ways to better organize ourselves and work together. Our future requires agility. A lot is about to change. Which countries or city states will lead this reinvention?
This is the second in a four-part series by Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., co-founder and Executive Chairman at Singularity University, on how exponential technologies will create abundance and opportunities for entrepreneurs and governments alike. Dr. Diamandis will be in Dubai on Oct 29-30, 2018. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or feedback.