Government beyond neighborhood scale is 90% corner cases. Defaults need low governance. Eg. If everybody drove carefully and there was universal healthcare you could get by with low traffic regulation. Accidents would still occur, but fault-based governance would be unnecessary.
Software eating government often leads to dystopia because there’s no middle-ground way to deal with a set of corner cases in software. Exception-handling software is hard to write because it loses most of the leverage that attract you to software at all. Doubly so with AI.
Good government software cleanly handles most of the predictable exceptions, and gives frontline government workers enough autonomy that the remaining unpredictable cases can be handled *without* escalation up an exponential-delay-adding hierarchy.
This can only work if government employment culture becomes non-bureaucratic in intent, ie based on judgment and accountability rather than process driving (aka paper-pushing) which ideally has been automated. But neither bureaucrats nor politicians of any ideology want this.
In a posture of bureaucratic helplessness and escalation-exception there is power for both bureaucrats and politicians. The ability to introduce delays that cause breaks in laws they wrote is the source of this power.
Eg. You need a certain number to file a certain document within a certain window of N weeks. You are not required to get that number but without it, the exceptional process escalates to N+1 weeks. Congrats you are now in violation of a law.
Your only choices now are to opt in to more governance or pay arbitrary penalties.

Digitization makes this worse. Government can now efficiently create more varied ways for you to be non-compliant. Policies can be written to reflect mean processing times of caught exceptions.
I think digitization creates a strong bifurcation in the nature of government at scale. The only two stable attractors are a proper surveillance state and large-scale ancap corporatization. Both are awful. Governance by Chinese-style states or by Google and Facebook.
Both are a case of people getting the government they deserve. Thing is sufficiently large-scale government is always staffed by *average* members of the population. Regression to the mean.
If a “good” system rests on the presumption of frontline judgment and authority in exceptional cases, and government is staffed by average types, you’re out of luck. They’ll invariably screw up enough that system will drift towards either way more or way less governance.
This is nearly synonymous with more surveillance in *both* cases. The only question is by whom. Superstates (China), Supercorps (Google) or the Worst Nosy Neighbors (neighborhood apps). I suspect a balance of power among the 3 could work. Problem is third leg of stool is too weak
What does *not* work well is no surveillance at all. Covid has shown that unfortunately there’s a hard tradeoff between mutual surveillance and staying alive. Maybe there’s a secure cryptography way of having cake and eating it too. If so, I haven’t heard of it.
I think the dream of privacy absolutists is true opt-in, which requires an ungoverned space to exit to, where I cannot pry, but you cannot send covid my way either. So... a quarantine exit island where people accept high death rate for low surveillance.
The US of course has managed to become the worst of both worlds: a fairly strong surveillance state that cannot actually keep you safe. But still requires you to file Form 22 on time on pain of penalties, and they can find you well enough to fine or jail you.
India is the same way. The oldest and largest democracies take gold and silver in the Covid-case-count Olympics. Not an accident. I’m currently struggling to not be in violation of some dumb-ass need-a-number regulations in both countries that are under Covid-distress.
Everybody talks about how Covid has broken the economy. It hasn’t really. What it has broken is government. The economic stuff is symptoms. I think we’re only just beginning to realize his badly Covid has broken government. We still gave a functional economy. But not governance.
Covid exposed the fragility of government by open-loop unaccountable processes and disempowered bureaucrats that is in the process of being half-ass eaten by software without adequate attention to its exception-handling nature. Under a stressor like Covid the scheme has blown up.
Congrats Steve Bannon, Covid has done what you tried and failed to do. Dismantle the administrative state. The thing *looks* like it’s holding together but has actually fallen apart more than anyone has admitted.
Continuing this train of thought, I'm beginning to suspect a software-eaten world is ungovernable. There may be no such thing as government 2.0, which means politics 2.0 will rest directly on community rather than institutions. ie pure gemeinschaft, little to no gesellschaft.
The thing is, the private sector has a *natural* meritocratic mode. The talented people go build stuff designed for the mediocre people, there is potential for genuine opt-in and exit/voice choices in consumption, everybody wins so long as there's no must-have monopoly.
It would be hard, but you *could* in principle live without dealing with Google, Amazon, Facebook etc. without breaking any laws. Life would just suck by my standards, and you might have to forgo many things, but maybe you'd enjoy it.
Weirdly enough, despite all the talk of monopolies, the phone companies are still a sort of oligopoly that's a defacto monopoly because you do need a phone number for too many practical things. It would actually be hard to live a legal life without a phone number.
It is no surprise that countries (often leapfrogging developing countries) build their e-governance on phones, not email addresses or web access. It is now increasingly unbelievably hard to conduct life in India without an aadhar number and phone number.
In the US, in theory, all you need is an SSN to be a street-legal human being. You don't even need a driver's license. Technically you don't need a phone number either, though practically you do.
In India, for decades, the primary identity document was the ration card, used for public distribution of commodities like rice, sugar, kerosine. Not the birth certificate (too few people born in hospitals etc) or driver's license (only a tiny fraction drive powered vehicles).
I strongly suspect one enabling factor in the current farmers-vs-government standoff in India is that the identity system has shifted from the ration card (which rested indirectly on ag subsidies and price supports for public distribution via ration cards) to the aadhar system.
As a kid I remember trips to the "ration shop" with my dad. A dreary, soviet-dystopian little government office, for sugar and kerosine (for emergency lamp oil use due to frequent blackouts), the only commodities we bought from the PDS.
Everything else we bought on the private market like most middle class. Truth be told, we didn't need the ration card except for identity. And importantly it was a family/household-level identity document. I suspect, the PDS was propped up by the need for an identity system.
Some satirist (possibly Khushwant Singh) once described the ration card as a "document with the ominously permanent look of a driver's license." In my time it was this blue cloth-bound thick paper ledger like thing where you tracked your allotments of sugar, kerosine etc.
In the US, "social security" plays the same role. It's a benefits scheme that's morphed into an identity scheme. This tells you something about how governments work -- all compliance with identity-linked government dealings must be linked to a big government carrot.
The thing about schemes like aadhar is that it is a high-modernist "view from nowhere" of citizenry that isn't linked to any specific aspect of citizenship but is all consuming and encompassing.
In the wake of Covid, I am guessing some governments will link access to any state benefits to proof of vaccination or something. Things could get ugly. When the state mainly represents a stick rather than a carrot, people wonder why the state exists.
This has been a meandering, discursive thread that's a subtweet of 2 big national governments (and 1 big state government) due to some shit I'm dealing with, but let me try distilling a tldr out of this for why I think something big has broken in government and statecraft.
Government is viable when there is a big enough carrot with which to induce consent of governance by a monopolistic scheme from which there is no opting out, and enough people opt-in even though there is no choice not to. Government rests on people choosing from a set of 1.
In theory, we have consent of the governed and any sort of governance at all because there are collective problems that we think are solved poorly or not at all by private actors. Like pandemic control. **This is the whole reason we agree to being governed at all.**
In practice though, we have consent of the governed because the collective action problems that actually need governance as the unique solution are rare enough that instead we do a softer consent around entitlements that are not actually governance problems.
Ie, let's say that perhaps markets would do better on almost everything, including pricing and distributing ag commodities in India, and securing retirement incomes in the US. There's almost nothing the state *must* to do except a) provide security b) wage wars b) stop pandemics
So why can't we do with just a minimalist night-watchman/night-nurse state that only does those things and leaves the rest alone? Because a state capable of doing those 3 things is by definition big enough to require constant justification and operational use with other duties.
ie if you have a government capable enough to deal with a once-in-a-century pandemic, the kind of problem it is meant for, it has to be given things to do for the other 99 years
But we only put up with inefficiency of the state doing things like food distribution in the 99 years because we expect it to actually work as designed if there is a problem like a pandemic. If a state fails a pandemic test (or a hot war test, or a real law-and-order test)...??
It's an existential crisis. People start wondering: "You had one job...everything else is merely to keep you busy when that job isn't required of you... so if you fail the one job, why are we giving you all the other jobs?"
I'm only concerned with big countries here. The problem is, with respect, simply not that big or hard in small countries. So Covid response is meaningfully comparable across say the US, India, China, the EU (to the extent it is a single zone) etc.
Kudos to New Zealand, Taiwan etc. But the lessons I am interested in are mainly US+EU+BRIC.

China represents one solution. The state did its One Job. Chinese people have to now decide whether it's worth the other costs of being ruled by the CCP means.

I still wouldn't tbh.
The US has failed its One Job. Americans now have to decide whether it's worth giving the state another shot with the next big crisis, or simply accept the costs of being ungoverned (aka, periodic culls and die-offs from a more Darwinian, ungoverned frontier ancap existence)
Despite 284k deaths and Trump, yeah, I'd still choose to live in the US over China. I'll take my chances at securing my own health. As for the choice... , I'm inclined to give the state another shot at getting it right. Unfortunately I don't think most Americans are so inclined.
This is pretty tough for me to admit. I like to think of myself as macro-compassionate and concerned for all life. But here I am admitting I'd rather give a derelict Trump-trashed state another chance on a pile of 284k bodies rather than be ruled by something like the CCP.
But like I said, most people won't be willing to give the state another chance. So choosing to take the vaccine will be partly a referendum on "does the state deserve another chance to get it right" (not perfect, since there's a lot more going into the decision to get vaccinated)
Note that this is NOT a choice between "take the vaccine and risk side effects in order to save 100s of ks of lives" vs. "let people die, I'm healthy enough"

It's a choice between "I trust the state to actually get the rest right if I make this pro-social choice to get vaccine"
Like consider you're a healthy young person who thinks your covid risk is not that much higher than your vaccine side-effects risk, but you're pro-social and willing to take the shot anyway. Your real conundrum is: do you trust the state not to fuck everything else up?
We're not talking anti-vaxx crackpot or maga ideologue nut. We're talking a reasonable person. Such a person might think "the initial response disaster was mainly Trump, and if he's out, Biden deserves a chance at getting it right, so I'll take the vaccine"
But you might ALSO reason, "Trump made it unnecessarily way worse and maybe cost 100k more deaths, but the main failure was the rest of the state apparatus, and I see no difference under Biden, so they'll screw it up again so fuck it, I'm not getting vaccinated"
I suspect a lot more people are in the second camp. A minority of strongly altruistic people will get vaccinated out of some sense of obligation to help first responders and doctors and other suffering types. But many will be like... "I'll wait and see."
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