Github for government

January 21, 2013   

I’m a big fan of both Git and Github (both as a product and as a company - it’s made by a bunch of seriously cool people) and I think that a thing like Github is (with a few pretty minor tweaks) what we need to bring our 19th century governments into the 21st century.

Let me prefix this: I am Australian and live in Australia, I understand that most of the people reading this will be in America and maybe Europe, so let’s not argue over details but look at the ideas most of the world’s democratic government systems are based upon - they are all pretty similar in concept. My understanding of the way even our government works is quite limited, but I will do my best to present my ideas - if I am erroneous please let me know

It seems to me that representative government is designed to solve the following problem: people have different views and beliefs; in order to develop policies which best represent the group as a whole, we elect people whom we believe best echo our views and interests to represent us in the creation and uphold of laws.

Ideally, everyone should be able to represent their own unique views on every issue individually. When you have 21 million people who each have slightly differing views on issues, this becomes difficult for a couple of reasons:

  • If you tried to put all those people in a room and consider every single opinion, it would take so long that nothing would get done
  • Not everyone has the time to go sit in a room arguing about laws all the time, and it seems unfair that a person shouldn’t have their view/s represented because they don’t have time to argue it

    These are legitimate problems and it seems this is the reason our current models of government have stuck around so long. Although our present government models kind of work, there are some serious issues:

  • When you elect an individual to represent your interests, they are always going to have their own interests as well. It’s human nature to put your own interests first and until the human mind completely changes corruption and self serving lawmaking is always going to be an issue.
  • Because of the amount of interaction, voting parties and the general inefficiency of the whole system, the time frame from realising a change needs to be made (even if the majority agrees on this) and actually applying a real law is sometimes many years.
  • The process for an individual to propose a change to the law and actually have that suggestion heard is often long, unclear and off-putting unless they are already heavily involved in politics.
  • Running a system of parliament and employing all the people needed to make such a system work in hugely expensive and resource hungry.
  • The amount of formal and informal education required to even think about contributing to politics is extremely prohibitive to ‘normal people’.

Github for government

It seems that the technology we have right now (computers, smartphones, widespread availability of internet) could solve most of these problems and provide a much better system. Admittedly I haven’t considered a lot of details - but I’d like to present the basic idea and get some feedback.

What I propose is a Github-esque system of collaborative document editing/versioning/merging for legal documents and laws. Imagine how unimaginably fucking fantastic it would be if I as a regular dude could go fork some law, change some things around, make a pull request and if approved by a group of maintainers (not sure how these people would be elected? Perhaps the whole thing would need a reputation based moderation system a la StackOverflow?) be voted on by the general public. I think that would be amazing.

What this would mean for government as we know it

Our whole system of party politics could be thrown out, and with it all the bias and relationship bullshit that comes with it. Everyone could vote on and discuss individual, modular issues which are completely separate to each other - it seems obvious that government should be done this way. Why do I need to agree with everything some particular politician thinks? What if one person represents my views relating to education and health, but I completely disagree with their policy regarding same sex marriage and the environment? Why can’t I have the best of all the opinions across all members of all parties? Why do we even have parties if such a collaborative, distributed, modular approach to government is possible?

Everyone can participate

If we were to implement such a system, those with smartphones could download a Government app and receive notifications when there is a new proposed change to vote on. If they don’t particularly care about certain issues, they could choose to ‘follow’ certain ‘repositories’ of laws. Those without smartphones could receive an email notifying them that there is a new change to vote on. There would probably need to be some amount of buffer time between proposing a law change and deciding that it’s agreed upon (maybe something like 30-45 days could be allowed to give everyone time to review changes and check their email), but I don’t think every single person should necessarily have to vote on every single issue - you shouldn’t be forced to make a decision on something you don’t care about or know enough about to feel you can make educated judgement. There should certainly be a minimum number (somewhat like the Whitehouse’s threshold for proposals to be reviewed, maybe there would be some kind of minimum stars or votes for a pull-request to be reviewed and go to a public vote for approval? Just thinking aloud here)

There could be a global changelog on the homepage, showing all the changes in chronological order, people could subscribe to notifications and be alerted when this changes.

Let’s do it

I understand that ripping the current government system out by the roots sounds crazy and impossible, but throughout history bigger changes have happened. I think there would be an incredible amount of public support for something like this if there is a way of explaining this system to regular people and educating them as to how it could benefit them. It certainly needs a whole lot more thought and detail, and if you have any ideas, thoughts or feedback (positive or negative) I would love to hear them.