Automatic for The People

Exercise: enter a contemplative state.

Technology is considered to be mature if it stops being considered a technology at all, and becomes part of the fabric of our existence.

Consider gloves. Amazing tech, arguably what let humans survive the ice ages. Warm fingers are wonderful.

Good tech becomes an extension of ourselves. The way we view and interact with the world. It becomes invisible as technology.

Now consider government.

Bad tech. Inefficient. Messy. Divided. Prone to provide platforms for blowhard know it alls, to Russian influence, etc. It works so poorly few people consider it tech at all.

And voting? The feedback idea is right, but the frequency of voting is absurdly low for a world moving at the speed we are. Don’t even get me started on six year terms for the Senate, an organization that should not exist in a sane world.

What would it take for the technology of government, and by that I mean the whole kit and caboodle, to become invisible?

Well, I think it would look something like income taxes. Hear me out on this one.

Automatic income tax deductions started in 1943, and we have Milton Friedman to thank for them.

The 1943 tax withholding system was developed in part by famous economist Milton Friedman, who then worked for the Tax Research Division of the Treasury. Originally a Keynesian economist who supported a large role for government in the economy, he later converted to the classical liberal mode of economic thought that decries government intervention, and he regretted his role in creating the tax withholding system.


Of course they were justified in support of the war effort, and from all appearances they keep the cafeteria at the Pentagon well stocked. If you know what I mean.

The point is, automatic deduction of your taxes from wages is an entrenched process and technical approach to extracting money from the working class. It worked very very well. Before 1943, you paid your taxes at the end of the tax year, and of course people hid the money as best they could. Going to their employers to extract the funds was pretty smart, Milton.

But my point isn’t that we should rethink taxes. We should, but that’s not my point. My point is when tax collection became automatic, it worked incredibly well in support of the governments finances.

In a similar way, government could become invisible, automatic.

And people get will what they need – not what they need as filtered through people in white marble buildings, granfalloon storage facilities.

We have the computational and communication device already in our hands already. What we need is to rethink what government should actually do.

For instance, Why should a government represent land? Why not just people, and the way they want to live? And if it’s just people, then we can scale it in a different way.

Imagine a government that wasn’t run by disinterested oligarchs, or run by some creepy AI, but rather was based only on your Karass, the people you know. So, the people in your meaningful sphere of interactions would be impacted more by you, than people outside your sphere. Government not centralized around location, but around people no matter where they are.

The idea that we need strong leaders to tell us how to think is an idea from the Stone age. It still works as process, but it’s garbage process. We need technology leaders to start thinking of how we solve the problem of government and finding ways to build better versions of it.

And my guess is, we will find it. Someone living now will build an app that at first, representatives use to procure better feedback from their constituents, and then that app will evolve to allow finer grain control of how taxes are spent in realtime. How laws are passed. How norms are set. And slowly the job of politicians themselves will be seen as more of a janitorial job maintaining and refining these systems.

Automatic. For the people.

One final thought. Could the attention meter be our feedback mechanism for gov 2.0?

Painting by Simon Stålenhag, title by R.E.M.

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