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Re: CA online legislative database access

Lance Dettweiler writes:

> cypherfolks, do you have any idea what these efforts are the faint
> glimmers of? Imagine a future society where *anyone* can propose laws,
> not just the elite few called Legislators and identified in an

Actually, this is my worst nightmare of what this country could
become: a direct democracy of the most populist sort.

Prices too high at the grocery store? Quick, pass a law lowering them.
Too many bums downtown? I'm sure a majority can be quickly gotten
together to pass a new law. 

Much of what we are seeing in America today is the result not of venal
and corrupt government folks, but of them simply doing what they
perceive the people want. The people want drugs outlawed, so they are.
The people want jobs, so imports are restricted. And so on, just as de
Tocqueville warned 150 years ago (something like: "America's grand
experiment in democracy will last only until its citizens discover
they can use the democracy to pick the pockets of their
neighbors"...he said it more elegantly!).

I certainly am not implying that Lance is in favor of this. But there
are some mighty good reasons, outlined in "The Federalist Papers," why
a direct democracy is undesirable. In today's terms, we might speak of
it as having undesirable feedback relationships, with too much
tendency toward wild oscillations (mirroring the oscillations of
public opinion). The Founders wisely adopted a _representative_
democracy, with more dampers on the results a direct democracy often

(I would be less fearful if fewer things came up for voting, if a
Constitution truly protected basic property rights. This would
eliminate things like most drug laws, the motorcycle helmet laws, "No
smoking" laws (which, naturally, are wildly popular to the "majority,"
even if the rights of airlines and restaurants to set whatever
policies they wish are completely trampled), minimum wage laws, and so
on. I won't cite the usual libertarian points here.

> exceedingly time-consuming, tedious, and troublesome process. Imagine
> that everyone has complete access and full understanding of all the
> laws that affect one's life, and the ability to propose and *pass*
> superior modifications. It would be a sort of Legislative Free
> Enterprise, a competition in the marketplace of laws such that superior
> ones would prosper and inferior, archaic, and absurd laws would be
> rooted out and expunged by the citizenry itself, in a very dynamic,
> interactive, and responsive process! Far from this bureacratic
> nightmare we lumber in daily! Write that small letter to set in motion
> this grandiose cyberspatial karma!

I am not as hopeful as Lance is. "Electronic democracy" could easily
be the most totalitarian thing the planet has ever seen. Imagine this
on CNN: "This just in to CNN. Todays's popular vote on whether
citizens can use strong cryptography has gone 72% to 16% in favor of
the ban , with 12% either abstaining or generally clueless. To remind
our listeners, under this new law, effective tomorrow, unauthorized
use of a cryptographic system can result in forfeiture of all assets,
plus a 5-year jail sentance.  People we interviewed expressed the
opinion that only drug dealers and tax cheats would want to use these
hacker systems.  President Reno expressed satisfaction, saying "This
plebiscite will make America free.""

We certainly don't need more laws, more restrictions, however popular
they may be.

Besides, as Milton Friedman points out so cogently, in a free market
we are in fact free to choose. Anything that makes even more laws
possible is _not_ a good thing, in my opinion.

Having said this, the proposal Jim Warren is pushing sounds fair
enough. But not because it'll turn ordinary citizens into proposers of
new laws. Rather, it will allow groups to spot legislation early on
(this is one of the main motivations, the NRA tells me--yes, "I am the
NRA," to no one's surprise) and then marshal their forces to defeat
the legislation. Things like tax increases, new regulations, etc.

Just this Cypherpunk's opinion.

-Tim May

Timothy C. May         | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,  
[email protected]       | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
408-688-5409           | knowledge, reputations, information markets, 
W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA  | black markets, collapse of governments.
Higher Power: 2^756839 | Public Key: PGP and MailSafe available.
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