lateral thinking

One more post on systems thinking, tackling again the problem of the powerful feedback gain and politics then I move on.

The feedback gain we are working with is: congressmen (indeed, any elected official for that matter), gain power and privilege while in their posts and even after -power and privilege that is often used to gain more resources to get their scions (or any other next of kin or protege) to run in the post they will vacate, thereby perpetuating the power> privilege >resources to get elected cycle. (Up to 50% of the previous congress members come from political clans.)

Caveat: There are MANY operational feedback gains, this is but one.

How do we break this feedback gain or de-couple it from the position? Term limits (which reduce the replacement cycle) have been instituted into the constitution, but very often the pol just gets a surrogate to warm their post to keep the power in the family. (c.f. -the Binays in Makati). The bill enabling the anti-dynasty provision was supposed to prevent this but it has never passed muster in congress (whose members, of course, will not vote against their political interests).

Pursuing some wishful thinking, here are a few new approaches using Brian Eno 's Oblique Strategies and Edward de Bono's Lateral Thinking. As with all re-thinks, the ideas are meant to be conversation starters and may set us on the road to innovative solutions. The trick is to think of the consequences (re: feedback gain), and find a workable operating principle:

What would happen to the feedback gain (and to Philippine politics) if we:

  1. Change the service area - What if congressmen were not allowed to run in their home province or any province they may have lived in? Would it remove or redirect vested interest?
  2. Increase the risk - What if all public officials (good or bad) were put to death immediately after their term? Would it bring out the noble or only the crazy?
  3. Extend rather than decrease the term limits What if we keep the congressmen in their post until they die? Would they tire of the privilege and begin to do some serious legislation?
  4. Elect congressmen by pairs What if you had to run as a duo? As a a duo -- but from separate provinces? (i.e.-both of you must win or neither one gets the post)
  5. Change the representation level. What if you can only run for barangay captain? Then the captains elect from among them, the councillors. Then the councillors elect the mayors, the mayors then elect the governor and congressmen, the congressmen elect from among them the senate and the presidentcy? And what if you could only stand for a higher post after at least two terms in your previous post? What if you were required to go back to the barangay level for one term before you could run again?
  6. Isolate Congress. -What if freshmen and sophomore representatives were closeted (ala trappist monks) for the length of their term?
  7. Name successors -What if would-be congressmen were required to name who they would select to run in their post after they retire? And they could not change their choice?

Like I said, new-think that could spark ideas for new approaches to arresting that feedback gain. More ideas please, the wilder the better.

Btw, some classic lateral thinking puzzles here.


Jet said...

wow... *worships*

you write well ^_^

Jet said...

oh, mine is at http://solastralune.tousled.org


Urbano dela Cruz said...

ah Jet,

flattery will get you nowhere (it is, bordering on spam). you could have at least commented on my post.

But I'll let your casual plugging stand.

write about the City and I might include you in my blog roll

Ian said...

I laughed at the one with the congressman being executed after his term but seriously the country being morally inclined to values and religion wouldn't approve such action.

Anonymous said...

How to break the positive feedback gain?

Ok, I'll bite. Let's play your game. This ought to be fun.

Bear in mind we're just throwing ideas here.

First thought: Since you're willing to consider revolution which inevitably devolves to much carnage and chaos, why not put assassination on the menu. Less messy, more controlled kills. Target pols with apparent dynastic ambitions. If not feasible, whack vulnerable members of their families instead. Go biblical on their ass and bump off the first-born. Put the fear of God in them, assuming, of course, that they're not agnostic. A deterrent effect should be observed.

Where the law falls short, social sanctions (assassination being the most extreme) must be resurrected to fill the void. Implement a program of 'sousveillance' or inverse surveillance. "Watching from below." Make it possible for citizens to snoop on government. Put all those phonecams to patriotic use. (This stands on its head the convention of government watching over its citizens.) Make the entire country one Big Brother house for these pricks. All public officials automatically forfeit all privacy rights upon assuming office. This may have to be an underground effort since I expect the pols would sic their legal dogs on anyone involved.

Document their every move and every infraction in collaborative blogs and wikis. Better still, record every move by members of THEIR families (where they carouse, grocery bills, the route they take to work, the route their kids take to school) and post them on the Internet. Hound them, be relentless, never give them a moment's rest. Politicians would then have to endure pressure from the public AND family while in office.

All these goes to radically increasing the cost of public service on those who would abuse their positions. Other types of social sanctions need to be discovered. It would be interesting to see the change in the make-up of the buffer stock.

By the way, the problem I see with your suggested solutions is that they require active cooperation of the pols (to pass relevant legislation and all that). You don't really expect them to act contrary to self-interest, do you? Ever seen a congressman self-regulate? Don't think so. You need independent external controls. This is why I believe any solution will have to be initiated from outside government, from citizens. The pols should be cut off from any role in the process.

citizen frank

Urbano dela Cruz said...

citizen frank,

i agree with you that the pols will not self-regulate. The anti-dynasty bill is proof of that. But I'm not sure if intense public scrutiny -like a hive-mind big brother is the answer. Will it scare-off the better public servants who will be more likely be more protective of their privacy? Will you instead attract the show-offs, or the even moreso encourage the (gasp) celebrities who revel in the spotlight?

You do point to leverage point 6 -The structure of information flow (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)

I think the SAL (statement of assets and liabilities) is meant to be a step in that direction. It hasn't quite worked for the pols -apart from the "richest congressman" label.

How about this as a take-off from your hive-mind big-brother idea: if being a pol means having power and privileges, why don't we push that in the counter-intuitive direction? i.e- make it conspicuous? (Jay Forrester used to say that people instinctively know what the leverage point is -except they more often than not push it in the wrong direction.)

Let's require all pols to wear some sort of uniform (ala priests' habits) or sash? so we know if there is a congressman in the room? Or if you want to go hi-tech, a gps tracking bracelet or RFID implant? They can exercise their power and influence but at least we know where they are exercising it.

We can sell the idea to them as a "national safety issue" - for us to know exactly where they are ...you know, just in case of emergencies. (wink.)

As to endorsing revolutions - like I said in my previous post, changing the buffer stock usually doesn't work if the feedback gain is still in place the day after.

Anonymous said...

Let's continue our little thought experiment.

"But I'm not sure if intense public scrutiny -like a hive-mind big brother is the answer. Will it scare-off the better public servants who will be more likely be more protective of their privacy? Will you instead attract the show-offs, or the even moreso encourage the (gasp) celebrities who revel in the spotlight?"

I expect it to repel the usual suspects -- and to attract exactly the breed of men that government needs. Those for whom public service is truly a life of sacrifice, not of privilege. It will be transformed to a kind of priesthood, elected officials will be as monks singularly focused on the mission. Those who pass muster will likely be bachelors, widowers, widows and spinsters with no close family ties. Family men will be discouraged from entering government as few will be able to take the sustained, continuous, real-time scrutiny of all blood relatives the sousveillance proposal entails. Our social sanctions model basically exploits the fact that kinship ties are very strong among us Filipinos and that most of us will protect these ties at all costs when imperilled. As to exhibitionists, well, we did explore three types of social sanctions, didn't we? Assassination of, inverse surveillance of, and open source dossiers on select pols and members of their families. Exhibitionists care for their families too, don't they? Open season on public servants (and their family circle) leads to lean government in the long run: Bloated government, nepotism, and public sector corruption solved or drastically minimized. (I can dream, can't I?)

"Let's require all pols to wear some sort of uniform (ala priests' habits) or sash? so we know if there is a congressman in the room? Or if you want to go hi-tech, a gps tracking bracelet or RFID implant?"

While I like this idea, we go back to the vexing question: How do we bell the cat? Will the pols allow themselves to be belled? Selling it to the pols or asking permission leaves me cold. When you do that, you effectively turn over control of the project to them as they'll be attaching all sorts of conditions should they even think of giving their consent. Any consensus can only defeat your intent. There's also the problem that comes with relying heavily on tech. People tend to become complacent after a while. When you're tracking signals and not bodies, there comes a point where you're not sure who you're really following or when the trackers have been hacked. Still, I know there's something useful to the tracking device idea that may be merged into our social sanctions model. This just needs some more tinkering.

citizen frank

Urbano dela Cruz said...

Citizen Frank,

two points:

my problem with assasination is: who decides who lives or dies? how can we be sure they are righteous?

same goes with surveillance? where do you draw the line between interest of the people or harrassment?

I think I am beginning to approach this issue from the other end.

since we can't seem to decouple power from privilege (and the accumulation of influence and resources) maybe we should make power and privilege irrelevant to the selection process. -item 5 Change the representation level

I'll tackle this in a later post.

Anonymous said...

To wrap-up our thought experiment...

You will agree that we live in society that has not been punishing its free-riders for the longest time. Sociologists will tell you that this is dangerous. Letting free-riders go unpunished is the single biggest reason why cooperation in a society unravels. And when cooperation unravels, what do you have? My idea here is that where there is a failure of law there should be strong social conventions in place to make up for the deficit. Why? Because we risk inflicting on ourselves the chaos that lawlessness brings or, worse, we risk revolution and bloodbath. I'm thinking of a latter-day version of the political structure of early egalitarian societies which is reverse-dominance hierarchy. A tribe chooses or elects a leader, endows him with vast powers, but brings him down collectively and unhesitatingly when he shows abuse of authority. The means of social control used to include criticism, ridicule, gossip, ostracism, and, yes, for those who refuse to get the point, assassination. This is how the society self-corrects. In translating these ideas to modern day politics, it is necessary to raise the bar on the forms of social sanction we must apply since the complexities of modern society often blunt the effects of criticism and ridicule. Gossip still retains its potency but ostracism simply doesn't work anymore in a highly mobile society. That leaves us with assassination. Inverse surveillance, open source dossiers and similar assaults on privacy of our political class, on the other hand, add to our arsenal of feasible social sanctions. I do not limit myself to this list.

To your first point, executions may or may not occur. In reality, it may not come to that. Credible threat makes for effective sanctions. Inclusion of assassination on the table goes to establishing credible threat. It reminds an abusive nation-state that it no longer has a monopoly on violence. And this is actually true. Call it a new balance of terror. We simply demonstrate that the larcenous congressman in his mistress' bed and his blue-haired wife at the mahjong table are as exposed and vulnerable as the common man standing in the middle of a busy street on a Monday. That is a level playing field.

On point 2, my worry is that the pols will think harassment is a small price to pay for the boundless perks and privileges of public office. Then we'd have to invent new social sanctions. These people deserve no quarter. In principle, those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear. As you go up the power hierarchy, the more transparent you should be. We merely pursue this principle to its logical end.

Consider this a meditation on leverage point #8: the strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against. The feedbacks have to be strengthened if the impact they are designed to correct increases, yes? Our politicians' capacity for deception is too far advanced for our weak laws to deal with which is why we look elsewhere, to more nimble, far-ranging informal sanctions from society, in this instance, to compensate for the defect.

citizen frank

Urbano dela Cruz said...

citizen frank,

sorry for the delayed response. -- and i must also decline giving a full response. this discussion is getting way too long and I need to get back to my discussion of urban planning issues.

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