I recall fantasy games such as fantasy baseball where at the start of the season you pick your own team with players actually playing but on different teams, and then calculate the fantasy team’s performance with the chosen players’ actual performance in the coming games. Perhaps that is still popular, but it is certainly old by now.
I was thinking of a similar game of fantasy government, choosing a particular form of government and compare that government with the policies of actual governments concerning some crisis.
The COVID19 crisis is one context for such a game. We are already seeing a wide variety of government reactions across the globe. That variety extends in breadth in terms of different policies attempted, and in depth in terms of how extensively they implement and enforce the policies. The unfolding events give us regular updates as the season progress, at least as often as week by week, but maybe as much as day by day.
There is unprecedented data available about the progress of this disease with near real time information about the progress of the epidemic itself, about the quality and shortcomings of that data. In addition, there is unprecedented information available almost in real time about various government actions at all levels from International, to National, Provincial, and local. That data includes both the expressed policies as well as the enforcement of those policies down to the individual level (so far mostly be individual witness reports).
This is a backdrop to consider how a different government would respond. I would consider as my fantasy government, the dedomenocracy I discuss in this blog. This idea is to have algorithms set policies instead of humans, and humans have no authority to craft or veto the algorithm chosen policies. My idea is more specific in several ways
- Algorithm policies including regulations, laws, and orders always expire after a short period not longer than two years. As such, policies are only made for immediate and well recognized urgent issues instead of philosophical ideals.
- Algorithms choose policies frequently with new policies replacing old ones without any constraints on precedents. New policies are free to completely contradict the previous ones or emphasize priorities that previous policies opposed.
- Due to this frequency and short-life of policies, the number of enforced policies are limited in number, in the dozens instead of the tens of thousands we currently have.
- Certain things we normally expect to be against the law may not be against the law at the moment. Previous policies made under periods of urgency educate the population of a certain objectives. The lifting of the the policies allow the algorithms to produce improved future policies with the new data of people’s behavior free of the older policies. I describe this as punctuated liberty.
- Algorithms use the full extent of available data for every aspect of the world. For policies focused on some priority, such as this pandemic, will consider all data including the economy, the supply chains, the individual experiences including their stage of life and plans for future.
- This particular concept of government by data requires public participation similar to democracy but instead of having the public periodically vote for human representatives, the public will continuously be involved in selecting and verifying the algorithms and the data available to the algorithms. This actually gives the public more control over their future than the present system because adding more data, disqualifying types of data, or improving the algorithms will immediately produce results that maximize the satisfaction of the population. Although there will be some who benefit more and other will be penalized more, the extent of the data and the consensus on choice of algorithm will satisfy the majority middle.
Although the COVID19 pandemic started many months ago and initially had major impacts in China, the west and USA in particular started to address this in just the past few weeks, consistent with an early response period of a dedomenocracy.
Starting about a month ago, the urgency requirement to trigger a dedomenocracy response was met with the history of this disease and the confirmed cases occurring within our borders. Due to this urgency, there is a need for a new policy as described in point 1 above.
Given the data available at the time (a month before this post), I can imagine dedomenocracy making a policy with a similar shock factor as the one we got with declarations of national and local emergencies. The policies might also be similar in terms of requesting people to take additional precautions such as social distancing and minimize non-essential activities.
Although there was a the wide variety of government responses to the emergency, all of them appear to be focused on the data related to the disease and the medical readiness to deal with it. This resulted in more explicit closing of many businesses and buildings or the enforced prohibitions of operations such as number of customers served at any time.
According to point 5 above, I would expect dedomenocracy to take into account all data to include data about economy, to keep people engaged in the economy in ways that are available to them. In particular, a dedomenocracy would consider the lower impact of the disease on younger people plus the priority to give that same population the opportunity to grow their careers or reputations.
Presumably, the algorithm will consider the future needs of having a well developed middle-age work force. Forcing an immediate shutdown of everything will deny us that benefit of a future matured workforce.
However, it is very possible that dedomenocracy would have come up with the exact same policy we are under now. I base this on the observation in point 4 above. Going back a month ago, there was a need for shock to educate the population of a new urgency. The best way to do this would be to shut down everything not considered essential and to recommend or even enforce stay at home lock downs for a period of at least a month. This gives people time to adapt.
That same point 4 is where there would soon be a major divergence between a dedomenocracy and all the current governments.
All the current governments have already made indefinite commitments so that future modifications are bound by precedent to double down on the policy, tightening the restrictions and adding administering more abusive penalties.
In contrast as described in point 4, dedomenocracy expects the population to adapt to the newfound urgency. There is a combination of two factors. One is a trust the people will continue new learned behaviors such as taking precautions. The other is a need to collect data about unfettered human behavior to see how well people have learned and to see what new behaviors emerge. The point of punctuating liberty is to quickly return the liberty so that we can collect unbiased data about how people behave now that they have learned of the urgency.
The benefit of punctuating liberty is to permit people to innovate. Some of these innovations in behavior may be detrimental and thus requiring new policies specifically for those new behaviors. Many others will be beneficial and unexpected especially by democratic and bureaucratic representatives selected long before this crisis began.
To be fair, we are seeing many innovations occurring now that are re-purposing industries to manufacture medical supplies such as respirators, masks, gowns, hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment, etc. This has a dual benefit of offering employment for the workers as well as to meet demands for these products.
The problem is that this current innovation is limited to those industries that already have some infrastructure and supply chains that are relevant to the medical industry. That leaves a lot of people still unemployed and more or less confined to their homes.
A dedomenocracy would go much further to allow all businesses to resume operations and all customers to resume their consumption of services. After a month, the entire population would have received the shock message. The daily news of COVID19 cases and deaths will convince them that the urgency is far from being resolved.
When a dedomenocracy quickly returns liberty to the population, it benefits the full population by giving the the benefit of doubt that they will behave responsibly. The real objective of this return to liberty is to collect new unbiased data to see how people respond so that future policies can be more effective in addressing the urgency while also taking advantage of the new innovations.
Even conceding that a dedomenocracy could have chosen very similar policies as the first month of the emergency declaration, I would expect a dedomenocracy to rapidly take a very different trajectory of oscillating between liberty and new policies. Those new policies would take a very different form than what we will see in the current governments that are bound to their prior commitments and consistency with past policies.
All of the existing governments will continue to tighten restrictions on peoples activities and access to employment and retail services. In contrast, a dedomenocracy could allow people to resume their personal choices for activities and pursuits of employment and services with the newfound appreciation of the seriousness of the new problem. I’m certain that the dedomenocracy will quickly invoke new policies of restrictions or incentives but those policies would focus on specifics that emerge from newly collected data on behaviors and how those behaviors relate to the management of the pandemic.
One of the things I do see emerging in the current climate is from the restaurant businesses adapting to the enforced policies of not allowing more than 10 people (including staff) in the restaurant. The initial options available are to offer take out and delivery services. In some cases, these options already existed but would at best offer supplemental revenue compared to what they get from customers dining on site. In other cases, they are making changes to accommodate these services.
The initial problem is that most of the appeal of dining out is to be among others who share and appreciation for the same establishment as well as enjoy each others company if only to be in the same room. Removing this benefit of dining out, would inevitably reduce the demand for the restaurant’s services.
However, the word is getting out that these restaurants want to continue to operate and in particular want to retain their staff and maintain their wages. The public is (perhaps slowly) adapting by incorporating restaurant prepared meals when they would normally prepare their own meals more cheaply. To those who could afford to do so, they are adapting to provision their at home meals with restaurant prepared meals.
Restaurants have to also adapt. For the normal operations, there are predictable busy periods where the popularity is based on the place being busy as much as that being the normal dinner time. For at home dining, the dinners occur over a wider range of times, thus imposing on the restaurant a need to maintain meal-preparation readiness over a longer period with some capacity in case there is a random spike in orders.
There is emerging a crowd adaptation of both the customers changing their at home habits and the restaurant’s changing their kitchen operations in a mutually beneficial way. While the customers may appreciate the meals over what they can prepare themselves, the larger benefit is the investment to be sure there will be restaurants available once this crisis is over. This emerging behavior did not come from government direction. Instead it came from people adapting to the remaining liberties they still have.
In contrast to current government, a dedomenocracy would enhance this innovation phase by removing the previous enforcement while reminding everyone that the matter of urgency remains. More innovation will occur and people will begin building new patterns of behaviors that will resume more full employment more quickly.
One of the innovations I have seen are smart phone apps using bluetooth technology to track other phones coming within bluetooth range. The purpose of this technology is to more quickly track down who may have been in contact with someone who later is found to have COVID19 infection.
Under the current governments, such technologies are not popular due to the exposure of private information by tracking people’s movements. Governments are quickly restricting the use of this type of trick for privacy reasons based on historic precedents on privacy protections.
A dedomenocracy is not constrained by past precedents concerning privacy. In addition, as noted in the above point 1, there probably would be no current restrictions on privacy protections under the assumption that the population already understands the privacy issues from much earlier policies that are now expired. People would use this feature more freely because it offers a direct benefit for the current situation.
Using this technology would, I suspect, influence people’s behavior to narrow the geographic range where they would be in blue-tooth range of others. The reason is that the more broadly one travels the more likely the possibility of being tagged as being close to someone with a COVID infection from some far off location. They would adapt to limit their social participation to certain areas whether those are close to home or not.
The consequence of the additional liberty permitted under my concept of dedomenocracy is that this type of innovation would be permitted to flourish and probably quickly recover the lost jobs.
In all of the cases of governments, current or imagined, the government actions will change people’s behavior fundamentally and those behaviors will persist long after the crisis ends. We won’t return to what existed a few months ago. The question is what form of government will lead to a more appealing future.
I see a very grim future for current governments that are already trapped by their decisions with the only option to ratchet up the restrictions and government dependencies.
It is possible that a brighter future could emerge under an algorithmic driven government with the properties described above of punctuated liberty with extensive data use.