Can we ever create a government that works well?

I was just thinking about how all countries (or governments thereof) seem to think that their government is so fine that everyone else on the planet should use it. There’s China that continues to drool over Taiwan. There is Russia, 'nuff said. There is democracy that is trying to do it (mostly) in a slightly different manner, something more similar to cheerleading.

I am not terribly impressed with any of them. Yes, democracy has the edge but what a mess America has made of it. The next trend seems that it will be lie your way into office. Well, I don’t want to derail this discussion too much by ranting, so I’ll get to the point.

Can SDMB create a better form of government?

My own two cents is that, maybe there needs to be more hurdles for anyone to seek public office. I was thinking of a sanity test and a honesty test for starters. I think it would be fun to have a test on the foundations of U.S. government, like the constitution, the bill of rights, etc. Clearly there are a lot of politicians in office today that haven’t a clue about the U.S. government.

Anyways, just curious if anyone else has any ideas. It does not necessarily need to extrapolate from democracy. The idea is over three thousand years old. Maybe someone can come up with an alternative form of government that works even better.

All in all, I’m pretty much a fan of social democracy. In my mind, I describe it as tax the ridiculously wealthy to the point of pain. While visiting social democracies, I was impressed that everyone was quite fine (including the wealthy) with a system that helped make life livable for all. Maybe it has more to do with the ‘personality’ of the country. As far as I can tell, America (yes, I’m American, often to my great shame) has a borderline personality disorder.

This is my first topic. I hope it makes sense and is worthy of the best message board I have run across in decades (which is almost as long as message boards have existed.

Sanity tests and honesty tests sound good, until you ask who’s going to create the tests, and who will grade them. The least-problematic way to do such tests is to let the voters decide just who they consider to be sane and honest. Which, yeah, does still fail horribly sometimes, but it’s probably better than the alternatives.

Hmmm, that makes a lot of sense. I was going to respond with, “well, maybe, the voting public should be given the tests” but the same argument applies. Who creates the test and who gives it?

I just feel that, after three thousand years, we should be able to do better than the mess of a democracy we currently have. I know I am impatient. This last election showed, to some extent, exactly what you are saying. The Red tide did not appear. Some people are gaining perspective. But, neither did a Blue tide. Sigh.

I think I would make a start by putting tight limits on prospective politicians’ campaigning; both in terms of expenditure and time.

Most democracies are dominated by rich old men, and some way should be found to encourage younger people to participate.

There are other democracies.

Once you create “additional hurdles” for public office, you put in place ways that the powerful can exclude the common, and that’s how such hurdles will be used.

No government of men can be perfect. That must be our baseline for discussion to start.

I am anti-democratic because I think democracy is a bad idea. It is more complex than that, I think democratic decision making is appropriate in some contexts. Local governments lend themselves to more viable democracies, and large national governments very much not.

That does not mean all democracy is bad, you can have good and bad of any type of government. My premise is that democracy tends to be a bad idea and often will not work out in a good way.

Max Weber identified three types of government legitimacy. 1. Legal, 2. Traditional or 3. Charismatic.

All three types can exist in the same system or not. Generally I think a system that is based on Tradition, with a coherent and consistent legal system, is the ideal. Charismatic government should be avoided. Overly legalistic government should also be avoided–many democracies are overly legalistic. The United States is a major example of a crippled legalist society.

A traditional government requires a traditional reservoir of power. Often this will be a monarch and an entrenched hereditary nobility, possibly with a clerical class as well. One of the best ways for a traditional form of government to maintain legitimacy is through a deep and abiding respect for God’s moral guidance and respect for the Church. Atheism and lack of religion in a government make it all but impossible for a government to function morally over long periods of time.

I think that by the late 1700s we were starting to see traditional governments that met these definitions but also maintained good laws and justice, but they were torn apart by the years of revolution that followed and we were left with what we have now.

Russia is a decent model under Putin for some of the ideas being executed well–the national government is tight with the Church and is insulated from the vagaries of democratic nonsense. Local and regional governments tend to be more democratic and that is appropriate. The great failing of Putin is the failing of most Russian leaders since the latter 1800s–which is disregard for the law and morality. Even when you get many ideas right, when you refuse to obey the law, have cronies who refuse to obey the law, and allow expansive corruption you forfeit the moral and spiritual legitimacy that a traditionalist government needs.

China is another example that is trying to find a good alternative to democracy but they suffer from their atheism which inhibits moral development and the same as Russia too much corruption and lack of respect for the law among their leaders.

Which is the great failing of all governments based on tradition (which all governments are, to some degree): What happens when the leaders decide to just ignore the traditions?

But I don’t think you can really say that any ideas are executed well under Putin, unless by “ideas” you mean “people”. He does seem to be pretty good at executing those.

I think increasing the number of House members would help. Maybe a 50% increase, or even double the current number of representatives. This would make it easier for non-wealthy people to run for national office. My guess is that gerrymandering would become increasingly difficult and risky, which would also be a benefit.

Although none of the first-world democracies can claim a perfect system of government, there isn’t really any dispute among scholars impartially studying the issue that the American system of government has become one of the most dysfunctional. Indeed, it’s been questioned whether democracy even exists any more in America, since democracy is based on more than just the ability to vote, but rather on a system of well-informed voters sufficiently engaged to vote in large numbers, and being able to do so with equal access without harassment or attempts at turnout suppression, and without being subjected to a deluge of misinformation.

I can think of several issues that have contributed to this dysfunction, most of them part of the American zeitgeist and many that have substantially worsened over recent decades.

  1. An extreme distrust of government. This leads to the view – mostly but not entirely from the conservative side – that governments can’t do much that is useful, but much that is harmful, and therefore their functions should be limited and how well they work is relatively immaterial.

  2. A pathological fear of anything that even remotely sounds like “socialism”. This has led to major impediments to creating and maintaining progressive taxation schemes, and made the prospect of universal health care – adopted by every industrialized country in the world – essentially impossible in the US.

  3. A great aversion to change, exemplified by such things as holding the Constitution in a sort of religious regard, insisting on the most absolutist possible interpretations, and making constitutional amendments on controversial issues essentially impossible. It basically denies the fact that many of the Founders had deep reservations about some of the constitutional provisions or their wording. They were not handed down directly from almighty God. Thus the Second Amendment, for example, that should have been thrown out 100 years ago, continues to exist and has been endowed by the Supreme Court with an even more extremist interpretation.

  4. The zeitgeist of American Exceptionalism, which is a term invented to express the idea that America is special and unique, unlike any other country. For that reason, many potentially very valuable policy learnings from other countries are dismissed out of hand and scoffed at. Health care and gun control are great examples of this principle in action.

  5. The scourge of money in politics. The presence of – and indeed, the need for – vast amounts of cash to finance long political campaigns has probably been one of the most insidious factors in taking political power away from the people and concentrating it in the hands of the rich and powerful. Recent Supreme Court rulings and institutions like superPACs have exacerbated the problem even further. A related issue that makes this even worse, and perhaps a separate issue in itself, is the extreme and growing inequality between rich and poor in America, as shown for instance by metrics like the GINI Index.

  6. The political system itself is problematic, in part because it concentrates so much power in the presidency. While the UK has recently not exactly covered itself in glory, it has demonstrated many times the ability of the Westminster parliamentary system to oust an unpopular government (through a non-confidence motion) or for parliamentary members alone to quickly vote out an ineffective leader.

So, in summary, there are no magic answers, but governments in first-world democracies have generally been shown to conduct themselves more responsibly and with greater efficacy than the US government. The people of the Scandinavian countries enjoy the security of a social democracy with less disparity between wealth and income levels than elsewhere, and people are generally happier. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been impressively effective in containing COVID and in enacting gun control after the mass shooting at a mosque.

A good example from the UK goes back to World War II. While still in the midst of the war, the government commissioned a report that came to be known as the Bevridge report laying out the foundations for a universal health care system. As part of the great social reforms after the war, the UK established the National Health Service and a comprehensive single-payer system of universal health care.

The US has been trying to create a truly universal health care system for over 100 years and getting nowhere. The Brits just went and did it. The US has been trying to enact meaningful gun control for nearly 100 years. In New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern just went and did it, in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shooting. Ardern also successfully contained COVID, while in the US, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers were going nuts while Trump was demonizing Anthony Fauci and other medical experts. You’re not going to have a functional democracy when the populace is inundated with misinformation from lobbyists and lunatics.

I think the three biggest areas (which IMO the US is lacking in all of) are:

A streamlined legislature that has very few checks against its power other than the court system. Full unicameral parliamentary system is the ideal for most countries I’d say.

Proportional or proportional-like representation.

Strong constitutional protection of the right to vote (the US in this case has a convoluted constitutional backing for the right to vote and probably the worst culprit is the vote for president where there is no actual text saying that people have a right to vote for their states’ presidential electors).

Interesting you assess many of the same problems I do with American government but we come to different ultimate conclusions.

Taking as an example lack of trust in government. A government from tradition generally has high levels of trust. Things like public safety and gun control, a traditional government would handle fairly easily. A traditional sovereign and his ministers have an innate responsibility for the welfare of the people. They are not beholden to winning elections or running political concerns like in America. They would look at these massive school shootings and rampant gun criminality and simply say “this is not acceptable, we are banning guns” and the populace in a traditional society understand they owe fealty and obedience to their government. They would have obedience ingrained in them.

The issue of socialism, too. In a traditional government we do not have to justify via law to provide for people. We can simply say–people cannot be allowed to starve or die due to lack of doctors care, we mandate these things be provided. The taxes raised are thus not in dispute.

Has it occurred to you that disregard for law and morality and rampant corruption in both these regimes despite their many differences is not coincidental, but in fact stems from the desire of authoritarians to establish authoritarian regimes, with all the lawlessness, immorality, and corruption that is intrinsic to such regimes?

This is why I vehemently disagree with your conclusions. You seem to conclude that the best possible system of government is one that is run by an enlightened benevolent dictator. While in theory this is probably true, such systems are exceedingly rare and mostly exist in fictional fantasies, and in the real world would quickly degenerate into authoritarianism or totalitarianism. No stable political system can depend on the goodwill of one particular individual, and especially not when that individual is succeeded by someone much less scrupulous.

I don’t want to go too far down this argumentative path because it’s a digression to what the OP was asking for, which is, how can the US system of government be improved. And my answer was that the best system of government is a functional democracy that fairly reflects the will of a well-informed populace. This requires addressing the issues I already mentioned.

And by the way, @Whickwithy, I forgot to mention: welcome to the Dope! I think you’re going to like it here. Also a welcome to @Ivan_Denisovich, as I haven’t seen you post here before.

Authoritarians often are not traditional rulers and many traditional regimes do not feature those things for long periods of time. Many legalistic regimes feature those things from time to time as well. Many of the so called authoritarians are charismatic leaders who have to undermine the law and violate morality because they perceive that their position is unsafe, probably because they usurped it in some way. A traditional ruler often only faces existential threat over generations long periods of extreme mismanagement.

If that is the topic then I apologize–I misread it. I read OP as asking how can SDMB create a better government, I did not understand it to mean “only improvements of the existing United States government.” He even mentions China / Russia and other countries in his post.

To constrict strictly to current American government I would diagnose the problem is too much legalism, not enough traditionalism, and too much charismatic influence.

It is not easy to reduce charismatic influence as that is a societal issue with usually complex matters giving rise to charismatic political leaders.

Legalism / traditionalism I do see things that could be changed. Note I mean ideas here, the U.S. has a complicated constitution that many people feel is inviolate like the word of God, I am not a legalist or a constitutionalist so I do not propose to explain how ideas can work only what they are.

  1. Reduce settlement of issues in courts. Courts having an excessive role in making policy decisions leads to extreme over-legalism. It also corrupts the courts from their more important work because they become so political

  2. Reimpose traditional morality tests for public office. It used to be if you committed a serious sin like adultery you were done in politics. I think the fact we now routinely ignore serious immorality in politicians has undermined the political system.

  3. The constitution should be understood as a changeable advisory document, that could be replaced at any time through ordinary government action, not special processes that are impossible to do.

  4. The President should be understood as the guarantor of the public welfare, and in cases where Congress refuses to act on his proposals in a definitive way, he should be permitted to impose policies and laws by fiat.

I am reminded of a Sci-Fi short story by Asimov, where an alleged Humanoid robot becomes a lead politician to help humans . Evidence (short story) - Wikipedia

Perhaps AI will someday create a better government for us.

Too much charismatic influence, I can agree with. But a large part of our recent problems is that the scale has been tilted too far in favor of traditionalism and not enough to legalism. How do we select judges, how do we deal with misbehavior from office-holders, how do we determine qualifications: On all of these topics, the law says surprisingly little, and we instead relied on traditions. But then we had people say “But what if we broke those traditions?”, and it turns out that there aren’t any consequences for breaking traditions. And the only place that consequences can come from is from legalism: There can’t be a traditional consequence for breaking tradition, because there isn’t any tradition for a lack of tradition.

I find this one a bit difficult to figure out in a chicken and egg kind of way. Are we exceptional because of the idea of American exceptionalism, or are we exceptional because we’re genuinely a bunch of weirdos? I’ve foreign mental health experts mention explicitly that their models and studies do not apply to Americans. I’m certainly not arguing that Americans are better, but we do appear to do things differently than many parts of the world. And arguing that it’s because of a concept of American Exceptionalism is circular reasoning.

America hasn’t made a mess of democracy. America has never been a democracy. I’m not talking about “actually it’s a constitutional republic”, I’m talking about it’s been a federation of states with varying shades of democracy, with few that are anywhere close to shining examples of the genre. It was born with anti-democracy baked into its constitution, and a big thumb on the scales to prevent true democracy from emerging (electoral college, US Senate, lifetime SCOTUS appointments to name but a few).

For most of its existence, America has only been a “democracy” for white native-born males, many of whom are constantly resisting change when they’re not trying to roll back the clock.

“America” is only a country when we want to go to war. When the war is over and we want anything like democracy or equal rights, it magically converts into “well actually we’re a constitutional republic.” Until that changes, it’s really hard to have a meaningful discussion on what “American democracy” actually is.

I’m curious as to what those ideas are, because from where I’m sitting, Russian governance is uniformly a failure, and the country is coasting on having a lot of natural resources.

I’ve mentioned this before, but here goes again:

It’s clear that we need to allow people to have some say in their political leadership, and that all political appointments should ultimately derive from how people have voted for candidates. However, there is a very strong argument to be made that when the candidates represent a large enough area, it becomes very difficult for people to form their own opinions about candidates that are not overly influenced by propaganda, as they have little to base their own opinion on since the candidate has never done anything that personally affects them. Thus, I propose that we allow voting by everyone only at the very lowest of levels. Those that win elections at low levels are allowed to vote for people at higher levels.

This does raise the specter of gerrymandering causing there to be an outsized influence due to how districts are formed. I believe the best way to deal with this is to allow up to 3 candidates from each district to be elected, so long as they get a minimum percentage of the vote (5? 15?). However, these representatives would not have equal power - their votes in the assembly they are part of would be weighted based on the number of people who voted for them, and this original count of individual lowest level voter would go up the chain of jurisdictions. Maybe you round off once you get large enough numbers, but the point would be to have most people’s vote for a candidate matter, and it to actually matter how much of the vote you got, not just that you won the election. I find it a travesty when there are elections decided by less than a tenth of a percent and who get all or nothing representation.

Those two items I would propose to be a good start for a government that is responsible to the people in the best ways imaginable, while not wasting too much time and effort on national campaigns that try to trick low information voters, and with high-level politicians being people who have been able to show to their peers that they know how to handle being in government, since those are the actual people that they would need the votes from, not the masses. Government would be insulated from radical change at the polling place from a huge change in popular opinion, as the high level elected officials would have the chance to react before they’re ousted completely due to the various levels of elections being spaced out. but it would allow for a complete replacement of everyone within one cycle of elections if the current leaders are not able to convince the new people coming in that they’re doing perfectly fine and the commoners just don’t understand. This is easier to do when there are less people that need convincing, and you’re capable of reasoning with people on a higher level.

Would this government suffer from the same sorts of problems we have now? Most likely in some sense, yes. But it would be much easier for people to get into politics, and even a low-level position equivalent to ward delegate or city council would be required as a first stepping stone to get higher in politics, and thus you can’t just buy your way to becoming President or whatever just because you can get lots of media coverage. By the time that you become a candidate for higher office, you’ll have a record that can be scrutinized, and the people that will vote for you will have more desire to do so, since it’s a major function of their job and not just something they do once every two years for a few minutes.

Any state could go and decide to reorganize itself along these lines, but none are really small enough for such a transition to be completely painless. Transitions would work best over a generation, where you start with new candidates for mid-level offices being required to hold low-level offices, and being voted on by low-level delegates, before slowly working your way ip the pyramid.