Our governmental institutions were designed in a simpler, less chaotic, less inter-connected age.

Todays world is exceedingly complex … in two ways. First, everything seems to be connected to everyting else. Making the simplest of changes requires considering many different stakeholders and many different institutions. Second, nothing is sitting still, everything is changing at a dizzying pace. Simply underatanding the current situation is difficult. In system theoretic language, we face a system with very high variety.

Ashby’s law is relevant here: In order to regulate a system, the regulator’s variety must at least match the variety of  the system’s variety.  In layman’s terms, we can say that a successful regulator will always be at least as complex as the system that is being regulated.

None of the modern forms of government meet this criteria…and that is why they are failing to deal with our current mess.

Dictatorships attempt to meet Ashby’s law by aritificially simplifying the system: they coerce people into prescribed forms of behavior. In the long run, this never works and the people eventually find ways to rebel and toss out the tyrants.

National democracies attempt to meet Ashby’s Law via elections and representative bodies (parliaments, congresses, etc.). Democratic systems are more complex than tyrannies but are still substantially less complex than the citizen-systems they attempt to regulate. Thus, many laws, rules, and regulations are formulated to attempt to regulate the citizen-system. This rule making is often inadequate because:

  • The laws have large unintended and unforeseen consequences. For instance the “war on drugs” has failed to decrease drug use, increased the crime rate as people steal to support their habit, increased the murder rate as dealers war over turf, enriched the drug cartels, filled our prisons to bursting with mostly  offenders, and destabilized Latin American governments. In general, our legislative bodies make laws without understanding the systems they are trying to regulate and therefore pass bad laws.
  • the lawmaking is too slow. For instance we have known for at least forty years that large scale anti-biotic use in animal feed would generate super bugs that would seriously threaten humans. We now face those bugs and have still not elimated the anti-biotics in animal feed. Unless masses of citizens get riled up about a specific, the special interests prevent any action.
  • The legislative  process is too easily hijacked. Recent studies of US congressional behavior have documented whose interests are being served by our House of Representativea and Senate. Less than one percent of the legislation passed by our representatives is aimed at promoting the interests of the comman person. Ninety-nine percent of the legislation is advancing the interests of special interests and especially the interests of the very wealthy (need to add the documentation for this study)
  • The elected representatives spend more time trying to get re-elected (e.g., xx percent of their time is spent fundraising)  than they do in working on legislation.

In summary, the variety of our democratic governments is woefully inadequate to reasonably and responsibly regulate a nation, a state, or even a city. This is why democratic governments all over the world are experiencing serious problems today … they are systemically flawed.

There is some creative thinking available on governance structures that would support democracy.


Participatory Budgeting in Brazil

Participatory Budgeting in the US


Schecter et al goes here.

Again, we need help in filling out this section with the best available resources. 

Contact barry@citizenactivists.school