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Thread: Design principles of best possible government?

  1. #1 Design principles of best possible government? 
    Forum Freshman GreatBigBore's Avatar
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    I started off with a question something like this: if we could imagine what the best possible human government would look like, would we be able to characterize the fundamental principles of the constitution in a fairly short phrase? When I design software systems, I like to keep in mind the rule of thumb, "Make it easy to do the right thing, and hard to do the wrong thing." Is it possible to sum up a really good government in roughly similar terms? I'm not a political scientist at all, so please don't blow me away with complex theory.

    Another question popped up while I was thinking about this stuff: which country in the world currently has the best form of democratic government? I know almost nothing, but years ago I took a PoliSci class that made me really disappointed in our (U.S.) weak party system and our lack of proportional representation. So in case anyone wants to say that the U.S. has the best democratic government, I'll ask what's the best one after the U.S. But then again if you say that the U.S. is the best, I might not give much credence to your answer.

    Also, I'm talking about the fundamental principles of government, not the actual laws or the shape of the entire court system or any practical details like that. Basically, the constitution itself, before any amendments.

    Also, "Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite" might be pretty, but it doesn't really sum up the French principles of government. It just describes three of the principles. What I'm thinking of would be a deeper set of principles underlying these three and the other principles described in the constitution.


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    For me, the best system is the one that has the most safeguards against corruption and is able to enforce itself the best. The USA governmental has 3 main branches which struggle against each other for power. It's not as efficient as it could be, but battling with each other, they keep each other honest to a certain degree. I'm pretty sure most successful governments do something like that.

    The main advantage of democratic governments, aside from the social justice of treating everyone as equal, is that every decision that comes out of a democratic process is already popular with at least half of the people (at least it would be if it were a perfectly democratic process). That makes it a whole lot easier to enforce it.

    Corruption is the great poison that kills all systems. Most of the time when a system fails, it's because the framers took the naive view that all the important positions were going to be occupied by people who were honest. The truth is that ambitious people are usually very self serving. It's better to go into it all expecting dishonesty, and then be pleasantly relieved if a decent person comes along.


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    Your perception of the best possible government will depend on your personal values. I value personal liberty so I like the US Constitution. I can understand that others may have different opinions.

    As an example, I think the US Bill of Rights is ideal. By comparison, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a horrible abortion filled with entitlements, not rights. Obviously, a lot of people would disagree; otherwise those entitlements would not be in the UDHR.

    There is a reason why we have a republican form of governement instead of one with a straight proportional representation. It is to help the minority factions to maintain some power, rather than always being outvoted by the majority. Of course, if you think proportional representation is a goal in itself, you will never agree.
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    Forum Freshman GreatBigBore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    There is a reason why we have a republican form of governement instead of one with a straight proportional representation. It is to help the minority factions to maintain some power, rather than always being outvoted by the majority.
    Ok, I'm too naive to understand you. Please help me to understand how our two-party juggernaut helps minority factions.
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    Forum Freshman GreatBigBore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    For me, the best system is the one that has the most safeguards against corruption and is able to enforce itself the best.
    Are you sure that the U.S. is the best government just because of our checks and balances? Aren't there other modern democracies with the same built in, but the overall government framework works better? Again I think a lot about proportional representation and a strong party system, and how that seems better than what we have in the U.S. Is our corruption protection so much superior to that of other modern democracies so as to make us not consider any of their other strengths?
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    Quote Originally Posted by GreatBigBore
    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    There is a reason why we have a republican form of governement instead of one with a straight proportional representation. It is to help the minority factions to maintain some power, rather than always being outvoted by the majority.
    Ok, I'm too naive to understand you. Please help me to understand how our two-party juggernaut helps minority factions.
    There isn't anything in the Constitution about parties.
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    Forum Freshman GreatBigBore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    There isn't anything in the Constitution about parties.
    Doesn't the constitution prescribe the voting process? Isn't the two-party system a fairly straightforward result of the constitutionally prescribed voting process? Isn't proportional representation enshrined in other constitutions? I don't really know anything, but I'm assuming that the answer to all of these is "yes".
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    In the UK was have many political parties, but only really alternate between two, although there are two others that hold significant amounts of power. This means that parties sometimes have to work together and not be as confrontational as in the US.

    Also every single week the leaders of all the parties have to answer questions posed by MP's of every locality in the UK, so that they are always held to account and can be questioned on live television about their policies.

    Still our system has its weaknesses, but i think it is far better than the US system, but then i dont think the UK system would work in a country of enormous population like the U.S.

    i think the more people a system governs the harder it is to maintain a simple workable system, that actually applies the basic liberties, not just promotes them. When you reach a certain threshold of population there are too many opportunists that start to destablize the system and in the end at the grass roots level you end up with more authoritarian type policies enforced. Maybe why socialism is still going strong in china.
    I mean America is massive and is probably a good example of how civil liberties can still be applied to massive populations, but its still not as good as it is in other smaller democracies.

    All it takes is for some destabilization to take place and eventually a countries system can start heading down the slope to authoritarianism. At the end of the day the primary collective objective of a system is to stay in power, despite good intentions of individuals within it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by harvestein
    In the UK was have many political parties, but only really alternate between two, although there are two others that hold significant amounts of power. This means that parties sometimes have to work together and not be as confrontational as in the US.

    Also every single week the leaders of all the parties have to answer questions posed by MP's of every locality in the UK, so that they are always held to account and can be questioned on live television about their policies.

    Still our system has its weaknesses, but i think it is far better than the US system, but then i dont think the UK system would work in a country of enormous population like the U.S.

    i think the more people a system governs the harder it is to maintain a simple workable system, that actually applies the basic liberties, not just promotes them. When you reach a certain threshold of population there are too many opportunists that start to destablize the system and in the end at the grass roots level you end up with more authoritarian type policies enforced. Maybe why socialism is still going strong in china.
    I mean America is massive and is probably a good example of how civil liberties can still be applied to massive populations, but its still not as good as it is in other smaller democracies.

    All it takes is for some destabilization to take place and eventually a countries system can start heading down the slope to authoritarianism. At the end of the day the primary collective objective of a system is to stay in power, despite good intentions of individuals within it.
    As a Canadian, I'm also partial to the parliamentary system.

    Although, I have issues with it. The Canadian Senate, equivalent of the House of Lords in England, contains 104 seats appointed for life on the basis of "personal merit" which of course means proper political partisanship to whoever is PM at the moment.

    There are also vulnerabilities in our system of conventions, rather than written constitution, every once in a while something solid is written down, but for the most part our political systems function on unwritten tradition. In Canada, Her Majesty the Queen doesn't interfere even though she is head of government because of convention and tradition rather than written prohibition.

    I think smaller democracies are always going to function better because they can better respond to popular opinion, and tend to move faster. No system is going to be perfect. The USA isn't all that removed from the parliamentary system, it is still a pluralistic system where first past the post wins it all. The UK is also a pluralistic system, despite the system of political ridings and joint executive and legislature makes it easier for smaller groups with concentrated support to gain political influence.

    I think the parliamentary system can be dangerous for a large country like the USA, regional differences are pronounced enough with the two party system they have at the moment.

    Also, I resent the problem of the divided left in Canada. There is one conservative party that won 37% of the vote and 48% of the seats, because they managed to win in a pluralistic system where the left is divided. So, the center-left Liberals get 30% of the vote and like 30% of the seats. It makes me furious. Of course, parties that have broad but low concentrated support like the Green party get 5% of the vote and no seats.
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  11. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by i_feel_tiredsleepy
    I think the parliamentary system can be dangerous for a large country like the USA, regional differences are pronounced enough with the two party system they have at the moment.
    Again, I don't know anything, but I had the impression that almost all of the new democracies that appeared after the U.S. haven been parliamentary, proportional representation, strong party system, less personality-oriented and more party-oriented than the U.S. Is this just a hopelessly naive view?
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    Quote Originally Posted by GreatBigBore
    Quote Originally Posted by i_feel_tiredsleepy
    I think the parliamentary system can be dangerous for a large country like the USA, regional differences are pronounced enough with the two party system they have at the moment.
    Again, I don't know anything, but I had the impression that almost all of the new democracies that appeared after the U.S. haven been parliamentary, proportional representation, strong party system, less personality-oriented and more party-oriented than the U.S. Is this just a hopelessly naive view?
    The British parliamentary system, and its colonial offshoots like the Canadian system, are not proportional. Germany and Holland have proportionally elected assemblies.

    Parliamentary just means that the executive and legislative branches of government are fused. I.e. the executive branch (we'll forget about the queen since she essentially doesn't matter) is the prime minister but he is also an individually elected representative of a constituency. It would be like if the president were simultaneously a congressman. The parliamentary system is essentially the same as congressional elections, except the prime minister is then chosen by the parliament and is usually the leader of the party that has the most seats, or the leader of one of the parties in a coalition that holds the majority of seats. There is also the case of a minority government, like what Canada has now, where the PM's party has the more seats than any other, but not the majority, and the opposition parties are unwilling to form a coalition.

    It also means that the executive has to be engaged in active debate over every decision, since any member of parliament has the right to ask questions and challenge the positions of anything put forward in the house of commons.

    Also, the parliamentary system predates the American democracy by several centuries. Over the years the House of Lords and the monarchy have diminished in importance and the House of Commons has increased.
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    Quote Originally Posted by GreatBigBore
    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    There isn't anything in the Constitution about parties.
    Doesn't the constitution prescribe the voting process? Isn't the two-party system a fairly straightforward result of the constitutionally prescribed voting process? Isn't proportional representation enshrined in other constitutions? I don't really know anything, but I'm assuming that the answer to all of these is "yes".
    The only way to keep a multi-party system going is by proportional representation. The fact the USA doesn't have that guarantees that we will be a 2 party system, just because that's the natural way all the political forces play out.

    So, a 2 party is in the constitution by way of omission. (Nothing in the constitution stops it, which is the same as guaranteeing that it will happen.)

    Quote Originally Posted by GreatBigBore
    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    For me, the best system is the one that has the most safeguards against corruption and is able to enforce itself the best.
    Are you sure that the U.S. is the best government just because of our checks and balances? Aren't there other modern democracies with the same built in, but the overall government framework works better? Again I think a lot about proportional representation and a strong party system, and how that seems better than what we have in the U.S. Is our corruption protection so much superior to that of other modern democracies so as to make us not consider any of their other strengths?
    I didn't mean to say the US system was the best. I am not certain that it is. I'm pretty sure the concept of proportional representation hadn't been invented yet when our constitution was drafted. It would have made a nice addition. We can't change it now, because most Americans are too bad at math to understand a system that complicated. Most people I know can barely understand the electoral college that already exists.

    If you told people in my community that the republican or democrat who had received over 50% of their vote wasn't going to go to Washington because the Green Party had received 5% of the vote nation wide, and our district was the one to which it fell to send a Green Party rep,...... they would be very unhappy. .
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    Your perception of the best possible government will depend on your personal values. I value personal liberty so I like the US Constitution. I can understand that others may have different opinions.

    As an example, I think the US Bill of Rights is ideal. By comparison, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a horrible abortion filled with entitlements, not rights. Obviously, a lot of people would disagree; otherwise those entitlements would not be in the UDHR.
    For once I am in at least partial agreement with Harold. A bill of rights should reflect fundamental principles, not a list of entitlements - although in most cases I would support those entitlements in the UNDHR if enacted through the legislative process. I believe the proposed EU constitution tried to invoke basically the same list of entitlements and failed with the voters.

    The American Bill of Rights owes much to the British one that was written after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Probably the major difference is that the British one established the Church of England as the national church, while the American one went the opposite way in banning "establishment".

    The partisanship of the Supreme Court is one major problem with the US system but I haven't a clue how the interpretation of the Constitution could be made non-partisan. Bribery of congress people by corporations is the other major problem.
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    in addition to proportional representation, direct democracy mechanisms(where a number of issues can be selected and voted on by the public), random allotment/lottery selection mechanism, heads of instititions that are elected but not selected, spreading power among different groups, and of course finding measures to prevent legal and illegal bribery, something else is important imo

    the abscence to secrecy in public and state affairs and groups

    The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. - JFK

    Extremely strong whisle blower benefits and protection are also important, as are anti-trust mesures to prevent concentration of control of the media.

    And, imo money should be issued by the people through public institutions, and fractional reserve effectively allows private banks to expand the money supply
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    I've had the same question of the perfect government. Through research, I have so far found that the best current systems are Sweden, UK, US and Canada. I admit that the best form of government depends on the society, but I feel that it is more universal than we may think. For example, many North Koreans currently believe that their form of government is the best, only because they have been conditioned to believe so.

    It may take a couple of generations, but I believe that the right government will lead its people in a positive way.
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  17. #16  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    Your perception of the best possible government will depend on your personal values. I value personal liberty so I like the US Constitution. I can understand that others may have different opinions.

    As an example, I think the US Bill of Rights is ideal. By comparison, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a horrible abortion filled with entitlements, not rights. Obviously, a lot of people would disagree; otherwise those entitlements would not be in the UDHR.
    For once I am in at least partial agreement with Harold. A bill of rights should reflect fundamental principles, not a list of entitlements - although in most cases I would support those entitlements in the UNDHR if enacted through the legislative process. I believe the proposed EU constitution tried to invoke basically the same list of entitlements and failed with the voters.
    Yeah. A bill of rights should describe what the government won't do, not what it will do. Doing nothing doesn't cost the tax payers.

    I think a lot of people in the third world believe you can do what I like to call "Create wealth by fiat." We just get together and make a law. At that point the government has decreed that there will be resources, therefore there will be. No need to go out and build them.
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  18. #17  
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    Quote Originally Posted by myperfectgovernment
    Through research, I have so far found that the best current systems are Sweden, UK, US and Canada.
    I dont know enough about Sweden, but UK-Canada and US do not represent the people's will theres no adequate proportionality mechanism. How do you justify the assertion that UK, US, Canada systems are best???
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