I live in the UK, where the government is not great. However, when I talk about politics with friends and colleagues, I often draw parallels with the Italian government.
The Italian government is a clear example of a horrible system. There is almost no one in Italy that would question that, and I can bet some money that most of the Italian politicians believe that the current system is pretty bad. However, I do think that the Italian government is more advanced than others, but not in the classic sense: I mean that its current, horrible state, will be reached by other governments, eventually.
Think about a prototipical bad, despicable, corrupt, horrible government, and think of it as a state where other governments are headed to. Current governments around the world are at a certain distance to this horrible one. Italy happens to be closer to it than the UK government, but they are all slowly moving in that direction, at different speed. The horrible government can be then seen as an attractor.
This is a very pessimistic view, and I do not believe in it completely. But is a good introduction to the idea of governments as attractors, and not only that. The idea of a government developing in time, given the set of rules it's been built with, is very powerful, and can unlock some useful insights. So let's explore it a bit further, and let's see where does it lead us!
A government is a type of social structure responding to some rules, influenced by the environment (the population is governing upon, but also other governments), and shaping the environment itself. Let's think of the government as an instance of all the possible governments within a multidimensional space. Is multidimensional in the sense that it has a vast number of variables and one of the important ones describes the goodness of the government. Let's not spend several thousands words defining what I mean for good, and feel free to take whatever definition it works for you, as my reasoning should make sense anyway.
A government is always moving within this space, and is almost always moving along the axes of goodness: sometime a new law is passed, sometime a new party enters the game, sometime the population interact in such a way to push the government in a certain direction, etc. Generally these movements are slow and strongly correlated with previous positions: if we know the position of the government in the multidimensional space some time before one of these slow events happen, we can predict with high confidence where is position is going to be some time after it.
Now, think about what happens when a new governmental system is born after a period of strong social instability (a revolution, a riot, with a strong minority taking power and so on). This corresponds to a moment where the preceding governmental structure is most disconnected with the new one: the movement in the space is fast and weakly correlated with the previous positions. The new people in power have now the occasion to re-organize the governmental structure. When they draft the Constitution, they are effectively placing their government in this multidimensional space of possible governments - as new - mostly disregarding the previous position. Every time this happens, we can consider this point a new starting point for the government.
Most importantly they are placing the government at a certain distance from two things that must exist in the space: the best and the worst possible governments, according to your preferred metric. We will call them the Utopia and Hell-On-Earth.
The set of rules written in the Constitution1 not only places the government in space - it also defines a trajectory. To be more precise, given that there is variability in the process, they define a stochastic trajectory in this multidimensional space of governments. This trajectory answers the important question: how is this government going to evolve in time?
With a very good simulation, if we had *enough* information about the environment, we may actually predict what direction this social structure will likely go given the initial set of rules it was responding to. So, now, the important question is: where are we going? -sorry, I meant: where are we most likely going? First, let me say something more about the idea of attractors.
An attractor is a state of the governmental structure which other governmental structures tend to evolve towards. If a government is close enough to an attractor, it will more likely get even closer to it, even if perturbed. Let's imagine that the space occupied by Hell-on-Earth (the worst possible government) is actually an attractor, and a government is close enough to it. The population can try to oppose the government becoming Hell-on-Earth. Heck, even the politicians themselves can try to oppose it. But if the rules are set up in a certain way, after a certain point in space it just becomes very likely that the government will be drawn towards the Hell Attractor. And from there, who knows what's gonna happen (almost by definition: chaos, murderers, hell on earth, etc.)
Let's be less pessimistic. Of course in the space there is a point with the best possible government, our Utopia type of government. Like the Hell-on-Earth, this may or may not be an attractor. If it is an attractor, a government close enough to it will just be sucked in, and utopia forever ensues.
We are in a pretty symmetric situation. We don't know how distant is our government compared to the best and worst governments, and we don't know if these two prototypical governments are really attractors or not.
If there anything else to say about attractors? Yes: we don't have to be naive about it. Hell-on-Earth and Utopia are obvious candidates to be attractors, but they are not the only ones, and they may not even be the most likely attractors. A very average, grey, bland government, with some good and some bad characteristics may be an attractor. There are some reason to believe that this types of attractors are more likely than Utopia or Hell-on-Earth. The important thing is that: once we are in there, is impossible to get out; and, if you are close enough, you'll get in there whatever you do.
Because it allows us to express some concept faster and clearer. One thing is to say "our government is bad", and another one is "our government is very close to a bad attractor". We can express new concepts, such us "the starting point has been badly designed", or "the current perturbation (for example, a truck strike) may increase the variability of our movement". Try to express one of these concept without using this new framework, and see for yourself how difficult it is.
Another important point, maybe a bit more psychological: with this framework, we get away from the human considerations that pollute politics at all time, and start thinking about the system itself, how does it evolve with its rules, and how we can design it. We stop thinking about who to blame for this or that, and we stop thinking about individual problems for individual governments, and start thinking about the general good rules for any government, within a given environment. Solving individual problems is almost surely irrelevant, if they don't modify the trajectory. And if we don't think in terms of trajectories and attractions, we will only focus on individual problems.
Finally, let's go back to be really pessimistic mood, considering this point: Some stuff are not going to work whatever we do. Utopia may exist, but it may be unreachable: the condition for getting in that point in space may be too narrow, or it's attraction may be to dim, so that we are just not going to get there. We may ask ourselves what is the distribution of starting points in this multidimensional space, and find that in most of the cases, we are going to be close enough to the Hell-on-Earth attractor, and almost never to the other one. We have to be willing to face one possibility of our investigation: there is no good solution to our problem. In this case, we may want to change the problem altogether2
This is obviously unreasonably pessimistic, because I have not motivated my pessimism, but I will certainly try to do that in the next posts. Armed with this concept of multidimensional space of government, we are going to see where are we, where are we going, and how do we get to Utopia (if we can).