Do We Really Need A Leviathan
In this essay I question the role of national government infrastructure and make some proposals for a more distributed method of organization.
In past decades, when I complained about taxation, my uncle would always chime in half-jokingly, “Do you know how much those nukes cost?!” — An insightful question. Holdover rhetoric from the Cold War era brings up a very interesting line of inquiry in 2016. To me, this paying for nukes question rattles the core of international politics. The american taxpayer had a simple trade off to make in past generations. Pay taxes, and buy in to being the world’s superpower. Today, private institutions are kicking the US Government’s butt in providing value to the American taxpayer. TurboTax being the most absurd example, of paying a company to help pay the government. Companies like Uber, SpaceX, ect. are all progressing leaps and bounds above government institutions when it comes to our infrastructure. Do we really need a Leviathan any more?
Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan is the prime example of social contract theory, in which people surrender some of their freedoms and submit to an authority (the Leviathan), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. This social contract theory is the backbone concept under which much of modern political theory has been built. But the American People’s social contract is outdated. It’s time to redraft our bloated social contract. Lest we forget ‘we the people’ is the opening to the US constitution’s preamble. I’m not proposing a complete shutdown of the National Government mind you, more of a distribution of responsibilities to local free trade centers combined with a new system of human infrastructure.
The Nuclear arms race has changed diplomacy and warfare in one fell swoop. Conflicts now originate more frequently from pockets of idealists and revolutionary luddites than national sovereignties. The scale of violence now is miniscule compared to outright total war of generations past, (even while the information age is indoctrinating us with reports of every conflict across the globe.) The last border change before 2016 involving major military forces was Putin’s “annexation” of the Ukraine which was much more an act of heavy-handed diplomacy. Borders may be changing, but the threat of nuclear retaliation looms heavy over any nationality seeking to take up arms. Mutually Assured Destruction locks the superpowers in a quagmire of non-violence. Declining real violence, declining sentiments of violence, and declining marginal returns on violent acts reduce the importance of a Leviathan in our daily lives.
At the end of the 20th century we are left with more power to do violent acts than benefit from them. Marginal returns on violence, traditionally the spoils of war, have declined to almost nothing. Nuclear fallout has made sure any struck territories are not going to be reaped for resources any time soon. Our global trade network has made any act of violence from one member to another a negative consequence in terms of global production. All countries lose in a 50 megaton loss of resources. The concept of modern total war has ruled out economic growth from violence. In its stead, diplomacy and trade regulation abounds as the soft method of power.
Personal violence is also declining as well. Imposing violence on an individual in hopes of stealing her assets is becoming more and more futile as we hold more information in data centers and less on our person.
With all this good news from the information age, and so many wonderful organizations that arose from in, why is national government performing so poorly. If it was compared to a company, it would get an F on budgetary management, and this essay is too short to go into all of the US Government’s shortcomings (I’ll just leave bailing out Fannie Mae $116B, Freddy Mac $71.3B, AIG, GM, Bank of America right here). The answer is quite simple — the government bureaucracy at large is a holdover from a different age, suck in incumbency with no usurper on the horizon.
Why am I wasting all my time trying to satisfy the state tax requirements? Market forces dictate, that at a certain point I will vote with my feet, and leave the country. But emotional sentiments overpower quantitative reasoning time and again, allowing people to be manipulated by the imposing power of the Leviathan. The power to leverage taxes remains as a form of violence utilised by governments to sustain their power. The bureaucrats employed by the system also control the policy making power of that system. There is no way in which they will make decisions that undermine their own self interests.
In the information age we may not need a Leviathan watching over our well-being. There must be new and more optimal ways of organizing people and giving them a voice. We need to cut out the inefficiencies that have arisen in our system. Application of modern communication technologies and modern business organization strategies to federal agencies will have great benefit on how we organize ourselves. While protection through a centralized power used to be justified, I believe the information age is making contemporary forms of governance and representation obsolete. In this age every voice has a platform. The new challenge is how to capture and act on these voices. Here’s my proposal:
A new platform for governance
- Randomly selected government representatives based on an opt-in candidate pooling algorithm
- Performance based compensation for representatives
- A new method of gauging citizen sentiment and choice through communications technology
- Cryptocurrency with fixed supply— no inflation
- Free, deregulated trade across borders
Isn’t it time to redesign the way humans organize themselves? It’s time to bring political science into the information age. Let’s design a new system, build as many governments as possible, iterate and test them.
Tyler Schmidt is an independent user experience designer who wants to improve the way humans organize their lives.