A little earlier tonight, the US government shut down. There’s plenty of analysis out there on why that’s happened.
But the specific reason doesn’t matter: there are larger, systemic issues at play.
Congress’s approval rate is at 10%, an all-time low. Our elected officials are ineffective, our political parties are inept, and voters are unhappy.
It seems pretty clear that the system is ripe for disruption. In the past, that’s typically happened by electing new representatives. But now we seem to be unable to fix the system by casting votes.
But in a world where every industry is being disrupted by technology, why not politics? Now that we have the powerful tools of software and the Internet available, how can the democratic process be improved?
I don’t have answers to those questions, but I think it’s an area to which technologists are paying far too little attention.
A model for disruption
The most interesting progress towards disrupting politics has come from Europe. The Pirate Party, which has captured seats in European, Icelandic and German state parliaments, uses an open source platform called LiquidFeedback to make policy decisions. The LiquidFeedback system is a delegated-voting model that differs fundamentally from the representative democracy system we’re used to.
In a representative system, you vote for the representative who best reflects your views. For example, you might choose to vote for a Republican candidate because you agree strongly with their preference for small-government even though you disagree with their views on social issues.
A delegated-voting model like LiquidFeedback is closer to a direct democracy. If you’re familiar with the ballot proposition system in Calfornia, that’s direct democracy in action. Anyone can suggest a new bill, and if there is a quorum of voters who approve the bill, it is voted on by the full membership, with a simple majority deciding the result.
But there’s a critical tweak in the LiquidFeedback system: rather than voting on each issue, a voter can delegate their vote to a proxy. So, for example, if I trust my friend Alice on technology issues, I can delegate my vote to her. And in turn, if she trusts the EFF, she can delegate her vote to them. This system of proxy voting creates a liquid network of trust between citizens and organizations based on specific categories of legislation.
The LiquidFeedback system is just one possible model among many. Another that’s particularly interesting is the “random-sample election” model.
More important than the specific mechanics of the LiquidFeedback system is the way it’s implemented: as software. We can now create political parties, and even political systems, whose underlying philosophies are expressed as code, and refined continuously.
Disrupting the ineffective two-party political system is perhaps one of the most important entrepreneurial challenges out there. Unfortunately, very few talented entrepreneurs are actually working on it.
And that makes sense. Even a decade after the birth of the web there’s a great deal of low-hanging fruit across a range of industries. But that doesn’t make it any less important.
Here’s hoping there’s an Elon Musk of politics just around the corner.