Constitution Design Challenge

So you buy a music box.  The one where you can place the pegs in the cylinder, define your tune.

Wind it up, it plays your tune. Wind it up again, it plays it again.

You can’t complain that this simple system played your tune. That is what it was designed to do and you specified the tune.

Now some pegs fall out, it plays a different tune until more pegs fall out. That changing behavior was specified by the design, the manufacturer’s process and the manufacturer’s Quality Assurance program. You can’t complain about that either, it was part of the price : you bought the cheap one, the first generation of this line of music boxes.

There is no use complaining about the poorly specified lug nuts that rotted away and led to the wheels falling off of our government, that was built into the specification, the Constitution.  Indeed, our government doesn’t follow the Constitution, because that specification didn’t require it, left enough loopholes that the entire government has escaped.

Our system of government was designed before we had modern understanding of system-level constraints, before we had a vocabulary for systems, early in mathematics, science and engineering, so they didn’t have the concept of meta-level instructions such as :

  • “In cases of conflict between the Powers of Government and the Rights of the People, decisions must always maximize the Rights of the People.”

From the perspective of control systems, as a technology, the Constitution didn’t have enough negative feedback loops built into it to be stable.  Tri-partite division of power worked for a while, but the political system overcame that.  A correction might be protection of a pushback from citizens against erosion of a strict adherence by all government officials.

Our Constitution is a design for a government, a social technology.  We don’t have an academic discipline that considers governance as a systems technology.  Further, we can’t trust the Establishment to correct the problem :

  • The wheels fell off.  Our Establishment is hopelessly corrupt, we can’t trust them to run a playground sandbox, much less modify the Constitution they abhor and ignore.
  • They are lawyers and liberal arts majors.  Almost none understand enough of the math, systems, … limitations on future knowledge, the implications for what it is possible for government to actually do, successfully.
  • Nobody in government wants limitations on their power, which is what the Constitution is.  They don’t want to believe anything is wrong, and don’t and won’t.

So we citizens have to do that analysis, and then translate those to requirements to a systems specification with rules, meta-rules and actual implementation by human beings — a practical constitution that maximizes the rate of progress of humanity.

That is NOT a utopian goal. We have many analyses of the failure of our own government and most of us personal experience with different aspects of that.  We have a huge amount of history to work from, 1000s of failures of governments with enough information to make some judgments about what works and for how long and the failure modes. All tempered by the understanding that the scale of those governments was very different than ours.

We have to work from reality, not from ideology. The guys who wrote our current Constitution were the scientists and engineers of their day, they were doing that as well as their knowledge allowed. Did an OK job, better than any before in all of history.

But their design had failure modes they didn’t anticipate, e.g. personal honor is not a sufficient constraint on official behavior, at least in the absence of dueling.  It is time to do it again, guided by the intellectual progress made since the Constitution was first designed.  A couple of possibilities :

  • Justice is the highest priority in legal procedures and can only be achieved via fully-informed jury trials.
  • “Necessary to correct the system” is a valid defense in all cases, enabling ‘pushback’ by citizens and holding official behavior to the the strictest interpretation of the Constitution of any member of the jury.

Systems designers have a rule that complex systems must evolve from working simpler systems.  The Obamacare web site and the FAA’s upgrades to the air traffic control systems are fine examples of violating that.  We have a design that worked for the first 50 years of the country’s history.  We will tweak that.

Incremental steps into the future based on what works and what fails today.  Conservative since the dawn of humanity.

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