Note: this document is under construction!
The proposal text is not even a finished draft yet, just parts of a draft interspered with notes.
The purpose of this project is to collect my thoughts about a better constitution. Particular design goals include scalability (many parts of the organizational structure should be applicable to small groups as well as nations), simplicity, direct democracy, protection of civil liberties. Of course there is also the usual design goals of stability, high-quality deliberation and decision-making, etc. More on the design goals can be (eventually) found in the commentary.
This is not a "proposed constitution", in the sense that I do not actually propose that the USA scrap its current constitution and replace it with this one. I think that changes of such importance should be made cautiously, and that when possible, my proposed innovations should be tried out in non-governmental organizations and corporations, and in local and state bodies, before being applied to the national level.
Skimming over the constitutional text does not give a good sense of what is most important, since a large amount of text is used to state some relatively unimportant things, whereas some of the most important parts take up only a little bit of room on the page. Therefore I give here a guide to what I think the most important parts are. I also give brief arguments in favor of the proposal, so be warned that there is some propaganda in this document. If you'd like to skip to the actual text of the proposal, go here.
The two Major Principals are fundamental, and I reproduce them here:
Next comes the Basic Rights. These are rights that any individual possesses just by being human, regardless of whether or not they are a citizen of this country1. After the Basic Rights, one finds the Civil Rights2.
The next thing to understand is the structure of the state. The state has four branches; the Legislature, the Tribunes, the Executive, the Judiciary. The Legislature is broken into two very different chambers, the House of the People, and the Senate.
Out of all of these entities, far and away the most important and powerful3 is the House of the People. The House of the People is a direct democracy chamber in the form of transitive proxy voting4. The House can do just about anything it wants unilaterally if it can has a sufficiently strong internal consensus. If it can musters a strong supermajority vote within itself, it can overrule the Prime Minister and the Senate and directly issue orders to civil servants and to the military.
The House will probably not pass controversial majoritarian legislation, however. Both of the chambers of the legislature must muster difficult supermajorities for any potentially dangerous legislation. A 2/3 majority is needed to pass any law to increase government power, to increase spending, or to decrease individual liberties. Constitutional amendments require 75%, and even garden-variety laws require a 60% majority to pass56.
The House is intended to fix some problems seen in present-day government systems7.
After the House, the next most important part of the state is the three Tribunes. The Tribunes are intended to check the power of the government and of high officials. Their function is a mixture of investigative jornalist and independent prosecutor. They are cleared to access any "secret" information, and they have the standing to take anyone to court for crimes relating to the functioning of the state. Two of them acting together can issue pardons. They are elected directly by the people, and answer to no one. I expect them to prevent corruption and to make sure that legislative limits on government power are actually enforced. They also deter the encroachment of government secrecy and surveillance. They will follow their own individual conscience, and as individuals they will stand against encroaching government power. The position of Tribune is intended to be the most prestigious in the country.
The executive branch is administered by a pair of ministers; the Prime Minister is in charge of domestic matters and most other things, but foreign policy and the military is separated and given to the Foreign Minister. These ministers are selected by the Senate and the Board of Foreign Affairs, respectively. This separation affords the people a chance to vote for one representative with whom they agree on domestic issues, but someone else for foreign issues.
The Senate's main job is to choose the Prime Minister, to hold hir accountable, and to replace hir when necessary. The next most important function of the Senate is to debate policy and thereby educate the public8.
The Senate is an indirect representative body. Senators are insulated from popular pressure and is not expected to defend their policies or to listen to suggestions from hundreds of thousands of citizens. Each Senator is, however, accountable to a committee underneath them, just as the Prime Minister is accountable to the Senate. Care is taken to limit the size of the Senate, and the size of the committee supervising each Senator. For example, a country about the size of the United States would have 19 senators, and each Senator would report to a committee of 70 members9.
The Senate and the Prime Minister do not deal with foreign affairs or the military. The Board of Foreign Affairs is like the Senate, except that it only deals with foreign affairs and the military, and it is smaller10.
The Supreme Court fulfills a similar role as in the United States. It interprets the law, serving as a court of last resort, and in addition it serves as a check on other parts of the state through judicial review.
There are many other minor details in this proposal which are intended as fixes for systemic biases observed in present-day political systems. I will just mention my favorite one; this constitution almost completely bars money from politics.
Follow this link to read the text of the proposal.
1. The Basic Rights are all "negative rights" rather than "positive rights", that is to say, they are rights like, "the right not to be murdered", rather than "the right to be given free health care".
2. Unlike the Basic Rights, the Civil Rights are not considered to "naturally" be possessed by all people at all times. The Civil Rights are fundamental limitations upon this particular system of government, but they are there because they are thought to lead to good results, not because they are considered to be part of the very definition of just government.
3. Why is the House so powerful? In addition to the powers given to it in the constitution (described in the main text), there are two other reasons why I think it will be powerful.
Because the transitive proxy structure allows different citizens to specialize on their favorite policy issues, and to actually make policy in those areas in concert with other interested citizens, it essentially permits the simultaineous operation of thousands of committees. Therefore, I expect that the House will have the "attention span" to simultaineously monitor government and set detailed policy in a greater variety of areas than is possible with a traditional representative legislature.
Other government entities have various checks against the House, however I expect that the House, being composed more of "ordinary citizens", will be perceived to have a popular mandate. Therefore, the politicians in the other entities will be timid about opposing the House when it musters a strong vote in favor of some policy.
So, the House is powerful because of its combination of strong constitutional authority, unprecedented ability to transact a large volume of business, and a stronger popular mandate than the other state entities.
4. A problem with present-day governmental systems is the "black hole effect". If an ordinary citizen has a suggestion for a course of action, there is not much they can do (at least, not without spending inordinate amounts of time or money). They can email their representative, hoping that the representative will champion that proposal in Congress. Or, they can resolve to vote for the other party in the next elections. Most of the time, neither of these actions has any visible or direct effect upon the issue at hand. Citizens conclude that the claim that they are running the government is a sham. However, with a transitive proxy direct democracy, you could vote on individual issues, not just for candidates. Your votes would actually count towards the resolution of the issues that you care about, today. The transitive proxy structure of the House could greatly increase popular interest and involvement in government.
5. These requirements should ensure that a significant degree of consensus-building throughout society precedes any attempt by the House to impose its will on a minority.
6. One might worry that the transitive proxy structure of the House would permit special interests to quietly amass large numbers of proxies relating to some area of policy which is not in the public eye, using these votes to pass unpopular policies. With requirements for supermajorities, it would seem to be difficult for the people to cancel these policies. Fear not, because only a simple (50%) majority is required to repeal a garden variety bill. A simple majority also sufficies to pass a bill reducing government power or spending, or a bill increasing individual liberties.
7. First-past-the-post systems like the United States tend towards extreme partisanship. The supermajority requirements will decrease this.
Present-day governments show a bias towards increasing the reach of government, both in terms of regulatory power and in terms of spending. The higher vote thresholds, combined with Major Principal #2, counteract this with a structural bias towards small government.
8. The Senate's third role is to serve as an "upper house", a deliberative and cautious body to revise, dampen, and delay any kneejerk policy coming out of the House. Their fourth task is to draw the public's attention to important policy issues that are being neglected.
9. A body of 19 Senators should be small enough for the Senators to all get to know one another, and for them to have time to actually get together and discuss the issues in depth. 70 "constituents" should be few enough that the Senators have time to discuss major concerns with their constitutents, without having to dumb down their positions into soundbites, and without spending such a huge of amount of time "campaigning" as politicians in present-day representative democracies do. In addition, the constituents should be able to get a good idea of the personality and character of the candidates. Another advantage of the small size of the Senate is to increase the celebrity aspect of its members, thereby focusing more public attention on Senate debates.
10. When the Senate has 19 Senators, the Board will have only 4 members. The small size of the Foreign Senate is intended to make it easy for the public to pay attention to the foreign affairs, as well as to promote coherence and stability in foreign policy.