Constitution v2.0

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Wed, 06 Aug 1997 01:19:14 -0500

The Constitution is one of the universally acknowledged great documents of all
time. If you ask someone why the Constitution is so great, they'll likely
tell you that the Constitution is an important part of our history, the legacy
of our founding fathers, or that it is the foundation of our government...

But the most important thing, the really stunning thing, is that the
Constitution *works* - where just about every other attempt to constrain a
government has failed miserably.

Sadly, the Constitution itself seems to be failing now. But only partially,
and sporadically. The bulk of the original Constitution remains strong and
intact, indefeasible and incorruptible, so that nobody even thinks about
violating it. But the Amendments are steadily shrinking in scope.


My thesis is that the Constitution is a work of organizational engineering,
while the Amendments are simple admonishments. Imagine if the elaborate
three-branch anti-tyranny system had been replaced with Amendment XI on the
Bill of Rights: "No tyrant shall be permitted to gain absolute power. There
will be checks and balances everywhere." It wouldn't have worked, right? No
less so with Amendments I through X, which really are phrased that way.

Besides, while the Constitution is very effective in preventing the original
threat - tyranny - it doesn't stack up too well against predators in the
modern organizational ecosystem. Bureaucrats, endless paperwork
proliferation, Parkinson's Law, the Peter Principle... above all, pork... I'd
say the Constitution needs a major redesign.

I mean, the thing is over 200 years old, for crying out loud. *200* years
old. 200 *years* old. Can you think of *anything* else that old that's still
around? (Informational inventions, not physical ones.) Maybe a few holy
books, which have the excuse of being written by a Perfect Being whose work is
assumed never to become obsolete. Maybe some works of fiction or classical
literature, which are *supposed* to be old, and aren't under constant attack
and corrosion by a rapidly changing society.

There's no excuse. The Constitution is not merely a 200-year-old piece of
information, it is a 200-year-old piece of information that's trying to
coordinate a society which - Singularity or no - *already* constitutes a
challenge utterly, inconceivably different from that of the late 1700s.

In short, the Constitution is obsolete.
Time to start work on v2.0.

Remember - the Constitution worked for so long because it was, in essence, an
utterly amoral document. It didn't admonish, didn't adjure; it set up an
organization such that undesirable features ("tyranny") would not self-emerge.
Any Amendment which did not follow this essential principle has broken down
in modern times.


I propose the following general organizational principle: Inefficiency enters when an unnecessary abstraction makes it possible to short-circuit a desired link. Try to insert 1-to-1 correspondences whenever possible.

This needs a concrete example. I'll start off by proposing the following organizational measures to eliminate pork:

1) Switch the legislative branch to an at-large system. This amounts to setting up a 121 (1-to-1 correspondence) between voter and congressbeing.

2) 121 between any tax dollar and a given program. In other words, link taxes and spending by having any given dollar of taxes go to a known spending program. Fund programs in real time, so overruns don't get taken out of a general budget. This sets up another 121, this one between temporal segments.

<Punch line:> 3) Only constituents whose 121-elected representatives voted for an item of spending are taxed to pay for it.

In other words, pork spending results from a series of commons problems that result from the abstraction of a resource pool (while benefits remain 121). You fix this by ensuring that all spending comes from specific people; taxing in real-time so there's no delayed penalty/immediate reinforcement; while subtly and unobjectionably bypassing the taxation-as-theft, commons-problem that is the root of all uncontrollable government spending.

It might be necessary to keep commons-based spending - though with each tax dollar accounted for - for military or other "Yes, you *can* shoot your aged mother if she doesn't pay up" spending.

I should also note that having members-at-large may also fix the problem where the congressbeings spend all their time trying to get reelected. With an incredibly and increasingly diverse collection of constituents, Congressbeings can't take a stand on controversial issues. The result is that they concentrate on other things; attacking known scapegoats, constituent service, and so on...


I also pose the following question: Do we really need State-level governments?

Seems like cities does for local, federal does for global - I think the states are a level of abstraction unnecessary in a fast-linked world where, in terms of travel time, the entire planet is considerably smaller than a single state was in the old days. Plus, states represent another level of taxation and bureaucracy.


"Make no laws whatever concerning speech and, speech will be free; so soon as you make a declaration on paper that speech shall be free, you will have a hundred lawyers proving that 'freedom does not mean abuse, nor liberty license;' and they will define and define freedom out of existence." -- Voltarine de Cleyre (1866-1912)

How's this for a First Amendment (Amendment 2.1:)

"Excepting copyrights, government secrets, and {anything else crucial I've forgotten}, no law shall be made which mentions or refers to speech; press; pictures; electronically stored information; any information which can be expressed as text, speech or pictures; any communication of the aforementioned items; or any other form of communication or information. Nor shall the law mention or refer to patterns within this information."


Next idea: If we're going to have a bureaucracy, it should be a separate branch of government so we can make separate rules to cover it - the problems of controlling a bureaucracy being completely different than the problems of controlling a judiciary, legislative or executive branch.

Amendment 2.2: The total sum of words within all government regulations, including this constitution and all government forms, but excepting regulations which apply solely to government employees, shall not sum to more than 100,000 words or 500,000 letters, whichever is less. Any new law which overflows this limit shall be considered void until a previous law is repealed to make room. Acronyms may not be used, nor any language other than English.

(Possible sub-amendments (i.e., 2.2.1) to ensure that regulations not hard understand cause brevity?)


Exotic ideas:

AIs or deterministic computer programs as congressbeings.

Nonlinear number-of-votes to representational-power curves, for congressbeings, to prevent dictator/messiah problems. I.e, after you get more than 1% of the population voting for you, your representational power goes up as the .8th power of number of votes.

Elections - no longer periodical. A vote can be withdrawn instantly, but can only be vested after a one-month cooling period. Because, let's face it, more than a year is too long for misdeeds to stay in the public attention span. Errant congressbeings should be instantly removed. Also, this would do something about the frantic "election-year" phenomena.

Dynamically tweaked coefficients - for nonlinear representation, say - based on the size of the budget or something.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.