tiurin: (Default)
[personal profile] tiurin
Do you think that the population of this country has gotten to the point where having a good, efficient, and fair method of government is pretty much impossible and that we can only try to find/use the method of fucking up least?

If so, and this is pointed at [livejournal.com profile] dolohov in particular, is there _any_ size N of human population(where N > 1) where being able to have an efficient and fair government is realistic, rather than have things blow up in one direction and/or another?

Is this problem something inherent in humans, or is it something which could theoretically be overcome with education? Is it also an inherent problem with human societies?

Yes, I've been looking at Churchill quotes.

Edit: The note to John was included because if I didn't specify N > 1, I expected him to answer "yes. N=1." Or perhaps "any N, as long as I'm supreme fascist dictator with 'irresistable power'."

Date: 2005-09-11 12:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zandperl.livejournal.com
Well, once you get around eight cities you start to get too much corruption with Despotism, so I usually change to Republic around then. But if I'm at war (usually against the Germans, those fuckers) my citizens will start to get disgruntled under either a Republic or Democracy so I switch back to a Monarchy. It's usually quick to wipe out the Indians so that doesn't require a revolution, but it takes a while to reestablish the trust of the Zulu and Persians.

Wait, what's that? We're talking about the PC game Civilization, right?

Date: 2005-09-11 12:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dolohov.livejournal.com
That is in fact exactly what I would have said. (Although I have serious doubts about the efficiency of a government of N=1.)

However, I have two little brothers and at one point was bigger than them, so I can confidently also say "N < 4". Arm me a little better, and give me a good supply of amphetamines so that I don't need to sleep, and that number might get as high as 10.

The question is somewhat ill-posed, because it leaves out a crucial part of the equation: longevity. A good, fair, and efficient government is entirely possible for a reasonably large N... provided that it is not intended to last very long. If it is fabricated out of whole cloth, lasts a month, and then goes entirely away, then it is a success.

A large part of the problem is one of homogeneity, both real and perceived. If George W. Bush really did rule over an entire nation of fundamentalist Christians, then his presidency would be fair and possibly even good. His perception that this is the case (combined with his apparent perception that he is fair, efficient and good) is the root cause of many of the injustices and idiocies of his tenure as president.

By the same token, the current prime minister of Japan is considered by many to be a good and fair leader, chiefly because Japan approached cultural and political homogeneity to a much greater extent than the US does. (The Japanese government is not efficient, however -- its entrenched bureaucracy is a significant problem, which reacts badly with widespread cronyism)

I personally think that "fair" and "efficient" are at odds with each other in a heterogeneous political environment. In just about any society with a wide variety of social mores and taboos and other cultural idiocies, there are going to be laws that, while well-meant, are just plain unfair to some people. Only a relative lack of efficiency can ameliorate things. (Of course, a lack of fairness and a lack of efficiency are even worse -- see Prohibition) [livejournal.com profile] leora would probably argue that this is the case more vociferously than I would, given her opinions on the Golden Rule. These problems can be overcome for brief periods. Over time, however, small pet peeves turn into Grievances, and something has to give.

Date: 2005-09-11 12:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dolohov.livejournal.com
I also wanted to make the point that longevity is directly at odds with homogeneity. A group of people changes over time. If it's too easy to make and change laws, then it's too easy to target minority groups -- but if you make it hard to target groups like that, then you usually make it hard to change laws that are no longer fair. We are just not culturally homogenous with our ancestors -- but most of their laws and procedures are still on the books!

For example, there used to be laws that women couldn't wear trousers. At the time, we can assume that nobody had a problem with it. However, tastes and styles changed, and these days the concept is laughable. But going to the bother of repealing a law is generally not worth it, especially when the law is just not being enforced (efficiency again) and when one or two crackpots are always willing to raise a fuss if you try.

Date: 2005-09-11 03:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zandperl.livejournal.com
I read somewhere that Joan of Arc was eventually burned for the heresy of wearing men's clothes. They couldn't catch her on anything else.

Regarding homogeneity, what do y'all think of the concept of "tyranny of the majority"? In case you're unfamiliar with it, the concept is that in a democracy, the majority always rules, even if they are in direct opposition to all the others. As this country becomes increasingly polarized, it becomes more apparent. Another situation is the union I'm in. Our union represents two very separate types of employees, and one group is 80% of the union, so we overwhelmingly go with what's good for them and ignore the other 20%'s needs.

Maybe we could come up with some modified democracy, where the majority rules for N% of the time where N represents its fraction of the populace...

Date: 2005-09-11 01:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dolohov.livejournal.com
In many cases there isn't a real majority, but rather a plurality. As long as the dominant group has an ally or two, it gets its way. But if everyone is opposed, it can be forced down.

As for the latter point, I think that's kind of what you're getting in Iraq. The trouble is that each successive government remembers all the shitty things the previous government did, and tries to outdo it.

Date: 2005-09-11 02:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blimix.livejournal.com
You know, I was thinking about something of the sort not too long ago. That is, a smaller nation has a smaller set of people to draw upon for leaders, so even when the most evil, power-hungry, maniacal person achieves rulership, that person is not nearly as bad as the most evil person in a large nation.

Of course, it's also easier to impose one's will upon a smaller nation. (At least, it used to be, before our national media became a government tool.)

And then you have the smaller nations suffering at the hands of the larger nations, so they don't exactly win that way... Actually, it's not as though Britain is a "large" nation, and they're somehow responsible for at least half of all the strife I've ever heard of. :-)

Maybe a small but powerful nation is best off. You get a mildly evil government, but there's enough wealth that citizens' basic needs are still met, despite the corruption.

This doesn't directly address your question, though. A "good, efficient and fair government" might be possible with a nation of fewer than fifty people, who know and generally like each other.

Date: 2005-09-11 03:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
A "good, efficient and fair government" might be possible with a nation of fewer than fifty people, who know and generally like each other.

I agree that it's easier to govern if you capitalize on people's pre-existing goodwill toward each other - but why fifty?

I think there probably is a biologically-constrained limit on how many people we can have in a group without fractionating down into "our people" and "THOSE people." I'm not sure what the limit is for humans (or really, how you would test it) but I suspect fifty is below the maximum. (OTOH you can have in-group and out-group stuff with as few as three, as anyone who's been through middle school is probably aware. ;) )

Date: 2005-09-11 04:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ukelele.livejournal.com
Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point, opines that that limit is about 150 people, and he has reasons (based in something resembling sciiiiience), though I don't remember them.

Date: 2005-09-11 07:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blimix.livejournal.com
Pretty much, the idea is that all the people are friends to some extent. Fifty seemed like a reasonable cap. Maybe a hundred for a really good set of people.

Power corrupts, but people in power also tend to help their friends. So if the government has nobody to shit on, maybe they'll do a halfway decent job.

This situation probably can't last beyond a generation.

Date: 2005-09-11 03:42 am (UTC)
feuervogel: photo of the statue of Victory and her chariot on the Brandenburg Gate (Default)
From: [personal profile] feuervogel
Back when I was a relatively naive college student, I thought we should break up the US into a half dozen or so smaller entities, each governed separately, but with open borders, one currency, etc. Sort of like the EU, but more unified.

I still think this would be a good idea, if it were remotely feasible.

Date: 2005-09-12 05:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] upsilon.livejournal.com
Well, that was kind of the original plan: a set of 13 states, independantly governed, with a weak central government that oversaw such things as currency, international diplomacy and inter-state commerce.

That plan pretty much failed in the early 1860's.

Trivia fact: Before the Civil War, "United States" was plural, as in: "The United States are a very powerful country." Nowadays, the phrase has become singular: "The United States is a very powerful country." This change is perhaps one of the greatest signifiers of this move from a federation of states to a powerful central government with weakened local governments.

Date: 2005-09-11 05:19 pm (UTC)
kirin: Kirin Esper from Final Fantasy VI (Default)
From: [personal profile] kirin
Interestingly, a discussion like this recently broke out in the comments of the journal of your polar opposite on my friends page (the guy with the nearly an-cap philosophy with not dissimilar conclusions.

My personal instinct in the face of this dilemma has been to propose a bi-modal solution. That is, at one level you have a very sctrictly limited worldwide government body, which does very little but oversee the protection of basic human rights, nasic ecosystem management, and maybe help coordinate some large-scale projects. After that, you skip right down to local-level government (I'm thinking around town-sized) which deals in all manner of day-to-day legal specifics. And of course you have complete freedom of movement so people can join a local group that suits them.

I really have no idea whether such a system could be sustainable... you can imagine numerous ways it could fall apart. But I think it's my best utopian idea for now.

You and John are definitely right, though; for significant size groups, "most fair" and "most efficient" are very frequently incompatible.

Date: 2005-09-11 05:38 pm (UTC)
kirin: Kirin Esper from Final Fantasy VI (Default)
From: [personal profile] kirin
There's supposed to be a close-paren after "philosophy" in the first sentence there. Just to clarify.

Whyever do you want efficiency?

Date: 2005-09-12 11:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sanityfaerie.livejournal.com
First of all, there is an upper limit to good, fair and efficient, because there is an upper limit to efficient. A government, like any other body, will be inefficient as soon as the number of persons with power (government officials) exceeds the personal capacity for direct control of the individual at the top. This could conceivably be extended out order 2 or 3 by having more than one absolutely trustworthy, cogovorning parties, but as soon as you get more than two teirs in a beaurocracy, efficiency starts going out the window, and even in a two-tier system it depends on competence at the top.

Lets say a theoretical limit of 18 governmental employees (3 highly competent co-chiefs all pursuing either parallell or orthogonal goalsets, each capable of directly overseeing 5 subordinates) and a practical limit of 6 (as above, but only one chief.) The numbers are arbitrary, but shouldn't be too far off. As soon as your government requires more than 18 (theoretical) or 6 (practical) people to run, you know that you're going to start losing efficiency.

Why would you want efficiency, anyway? In general, governmental efficiency is a bad thing. It leads to governmental effectiveness, which leads to governmental bodies having more power, and, by comparison, private bodies having less. The Us, in particular, was designed to be horribly inefficient, with the intent that private citizens be able to make end-runs around governmental control when neccessary or prudent. One of our big problems, actually, is that we now have corporations and Interest Groups now that have the raw power of governmental bodies without the bumbling inefficiencies to keep them safe.

Just a thought. Perhaps I'll have another later.

the Sanity Faerie


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