Monday, August 22, 2011

Government 2.0

One of the most salient terms these days is uncertainty. No one seems to be sure of anything anymore. We are told over and over that uncertainty is to blame for our economic malaise. Many have even begun to doubt our political institutions.

In a world run by binary code perhaps a new look at our operating system is in order. The source code for our political life, the U.S. Constitution, appears sound. The United States Constitution, our ultimate coding convention, still operates an executable program.

Still feeling uncertain? Check it out for yourself. Our Constitution still works.

When analyzing computer software engineers tell us the most important factor when writing code is reliability. Reliable source code tells a computer what to do and how to do it time and time again without fail. The U.S. Constitution has been in effect for over 220 years. No governing document can boast that kind of reliability. “We the people” still govern. The enumerated powers given to our government are still effectively calculable. The original programmers would still recognize the government they created. The delicate relationship between our three branches of government continue to check and balance. No one branch exerts excessive power over another. The source code for our political institutions can be counted on.

Software engineers also look at a source code’s usability. The creators of our U.S. Constitution may not have used the most perfect user-centered design paradigm but over time greater and greater accessibility has characterized our government institutions. In contemporary terms our U.S. Constitution is ergonomically suited for all of us to use. Suffrage continues to expand. Access to our government has been made easy. Little else separates us from the power centers of government than our ability to learn how our Constitution works. Take great comfort to know that our Constitution was written not for somebody else or some other time. Our Constitution was written for you and for right now.

A final consideration when assessing any operating system is its maintainability. How easy can its defects be corrected? Can the code meet new requirements? Worse, as David Hilbert’s life work reflected, compilers of source code must take on the Entscheidungsproblem. Can the code be expected to resolve value judgments? The Entscheidungsproblem is a decision problem. Even the best algorithm cannot on its own tell you what the right thing to do is. The same might be said for our Constitution. Our rule of law sets limits but we the people must make the important decisions that govern our times as times change. The maintainability of our operating system, the U.S. Constitution, depends upon an educated citizenry.

From the President on down we are being told that we no longer can make the important political decisions of our time. Sam Rayburn, the longest tenured Speaker of the House in history, once said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn but only a carpenter can build one.” We may no longer have carpenters but in Government 2.0 we certainly have software engineers and they are called citizens.

Our operating system is strong. The U.S. Constitution, put in place over 220 years ago, continues to be both reliable and useable. The only uncertainty is whether or not “We the people” are up for the challenge of its maintainability. “The very success of democracy,” James Madison wrote, “depends upon the knowledge and skills of its citizens.” Government 2.0 will continue to be executable as long as we are willing to run the program the way it was intended . . . with our consent. Certainly you can do that.

Be a part of the program . . . just in time.

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