DemocracyOfGroups

"A Democracy of Groups" is a paper that advocates that the legal system be made more amenable to groups, and that the government be more open to group participation. The action and decision making of groups are practical now (due to communications technology and VisualLanguage). The paper talks about how to incorporate (embody) groups, and notes that there is a tradition for doing so: the corporation.

The paper notes holes in visions of Democracy: “Where are the groups?” (summarized) the author asks. Two major visions are noted for holes: the electronic agora & the electronic voting ring.

The author has another idea. The author says (paraphrasing): “Notice all the groups out here. You go on the Internet, and you see groups there, groups over there, people representing groups, people carrying ideas from other groups. Groups, groups, groups, everywhere you look, groups.”

(again paraphrasing: ) “Shouldn’t we recognize the groups? Shouldn’t we do something about the groups? Shouldn’t a vision of electronic democracy include helping groups participate?”

She makes the point that groups already exist, and already wield power; She just wants this formalized. (See “the Wisdom of Crowds” for her list of evidence.) She talks about groups that are watchdoging to make sure that environment rules are being enforced. Shouldn’t the government make better use of this information, and even make it easier for groups to help out with functions like this?

When congress is meeting, why can’t they consult techies, if they can build a group worthy of such consultation? Today, our group software is probably too primitive to support such a thing, and congress visits the ACM instead, an old establishment, the Association for Computing Machinery, that has been in existance since (what, 1917? some old date.) It’s still paper based, physical meetings, etc., etc.,. But with time, our electronic ad hoc semiformal groups will be just as capable. BayleShanks’ interest in social rules systems will be fulfilled. We’ll have publicly observable interfaces to mechanical objects. We’ll have a DevelopersVirtualWorld and all these things. We’ll have the ProjectSpaceNetwork.

The paper notes anti-group sentiment, and cites Sunstein, Posner, Netanel, and then rejects it: (paraphrasing: ) “Was Congress really such a bad idea?” Parliament? Actual quote: “We have constructed our legal institutions atop willful ignorance of groups as a center, not of social capital, but of power.” That is, the author is saying that the legal system has intentionally been built such that groups are not part of the picture. Later she also notes that there are groups that are currently recognized by laws, and that do receive power from the government. They’re called corporations.

See also

Dicussion

I have, to now, been excited about the concept of eliminating corporations: Requiring liability on the part of people who perform actions. If a corporation has caused the deaths of 10 people, then people should be sentanced and go to jail for the murder of 10 people. And if they don’t show remorse, then we should further fine & jail them for that: Corporations must be humane, they must show humility, they must be good citizens.

I still think that’s a good idea, but I am SelectivelyOpenMinded that perhaps it is not a good idea. I am unsympathetic to the argument “Corporations are bigger than you, so they naturally aren’t going to follow your laws.” I’m unsympathetic to the argument because corporations have very clearly violated laws, and they have very clearly shown no remorse (when they should have,) and they very clearly get away with it.

The approach has been to dismantle corporations: All corporations. If a corporation is playing fair, playing nice, what then, does it have to fear?

But this paper proposes an alternative technique we can use: Incorporate the general public, electronically. The consequence of the idea, if I am following/guessing right, is that perhaps the other corporations simply need civil peers. If corporations are “big people,” then perhaps they simply need “other big people,” other big people with power, which can then put the corporation into a whole SocialPeerToPeerNetwork. (Not a network of simple devices, but a network of very large devices: cybernetic creatures called “organizations” or “cities,” in the language of CityComeaWalkin.)

If corporations simply have an unusually large percentage of “bad dudes” wielding guns (power,) perhaps we simply need more “good guys” wielding guns (power,) to make things all right. The way you do that is to deputize good groups, composed of citizens.

Three comments:

1) I don’t think the article is suggesting that legal power be deputized to groups in the sense that “the government [should] be able to hand these groups some ability to pass some types of judgements themselves, rather than having to bug the present authorities when they notice that something’s wrong”, or to suggest that independent citizen groups “receive and handle government power”. In fact, I thought it was going to suggest that, because most of the article says “i’m going to suggest that we give formal power to groups; see below”; and I was getting all riley up and ready to argue against it. But then, “below”, what she actually suggests is that, first, we create a “lightweight” method of corporation-forming for civil society, and second, government consults groups more. The closest she comes to wanting to give actual power to groups is:

  • suggesting that maybe we give a veto to citizen juries which are formed by government for the purpose of evaluating specific legislative proposals.
  • “In the same way that in many arenas, the state defers to the “self–regulatory” decisions of associational bodies, such as journalists, physicians and lawyers, or Congress enacts legislation made by the consensual agreement of industry and public interest groups [212], or Federal agencies defer to negotiated rule–making [213], through technology, it is possible to imagine that groups will have power not only to consult with existing political structures but to make their own laws to which the state can defer.”
    • the scenario of the state voluntarily letting some industry groups “self regulate” rather than directly intervening in that area is very different than formally deputizing a group with governmental powers of coercion
      • anyhow, I think this idea may not be the best anyway; while I think that overregulation is a big problem, I also think that when regulation is actually needed, history shows that self-regulating industry bodies often make the regulations too lenient
      • btw see also the controversial Canadian system of letting people subscribe to religious tribunals rather than Canadian courts in some cases – should people be allowed to impose Sharia law on themselves? If so, how do you go about the practicalites of it? Will free and informed consent truly happen if you have a newly immigrated wife who said she’d rather be bound by the sharia courts than the standard Canadian ones, etc?

Basically, I think she meant “delegate power” to civil society groups in the same way that government “delegates power” to corporations (which doesn’t make much sense to me because it seems to me that none of the functions of government are legally delegated to corporations).

Quotes supporting this view from the paper (I started at the section “Designing law for groups” and made one bullet point for each type of thing she suggests):

  • “Inevitably, various legal protections will need to come into play to encourage and safeguard the right of groups to exploit technology to engage in collective action. Most simply, we will have to make it possible for groups to own bank accounts…A group has power when it controls assets so figuring out what it will take for a Meetup to control a bank account is crucial.”
  • “This could implicate a variety of areas of legal thought from free expression and other constitutional rights of groups to the power of groups to make contracts to liability incurred by groups. We need to take a searching look at how our legal structures can foster purposive group interaction. For example, we ought to design a framework in intellectual property and information law to safeguard the right of groups to create together….As groups come to use virtual spaces more and more and to create new information objects, they must not be impeded from collaborating by intellectual property strangleholds, whether in the form of copyright and other protections for the mapping of information or database protections [203] of information repositories. These are antithetical to the work of groups….Groups must be permitted to transform the data found in a database into a visual object that can be perceived by the group. Such representations should not be prevented or prohibited by copyright or database protection.”
  • “We might also consider whether a more robust legal framework of digital identifiers is necessary to help with group work. This includes both protecting the freedom to be anonymous within the group as well as the technical ability to ensure identity, when desirable and necessary.”
  • Citizen juries in the legislative process
  • “In the same way that in many arenas, the state defers to the “self–regulatory” decisions of associational bodies, such as journalists, physicians and lawyers, or Congress enacts legislation made by the consensual agreement of industry and public interest groups [212], or Federal agencies defer to negotiated rule–making [213], through technology, it is possible to imagine that groups will have power not only to consult with existing political structures but to make their own laws to which the state can defer.”
  • “As new kinds of groups take advantage of the available technology to form and scale, the law should recognize the rights of groups as social units. If we believe, as I do, that robust and decentralized groups of citizens are a good thing and help strengthen the fabric of civil society, we need to create a legal framework for groups to form, sustain and regulate themselves”
  • “we need a way to safeguard the rights of groups to associate, own assets, make decisions”
  • “This will require recognizing new forms of collective legal personhood”
  • lightweight incorporation:
    • “We can imagine a framework statute [216], which recognizes the external existence of self–constituting groups. The law would accord rights to such groups to allow them to own assets and make binding decisions.”
    • “First, those groups that secure a member’s right to exit and safeguard other member rights, such as rights of free expression and association within the group would be eligible. Second, the group corporation that the law defers to is one that is self–governing. In other words, it makes decisions that directly affect itself and not those outside the group. Of course, there is no such thing as pure autarky; there are always some external effects. But we can imagine a requirement that reintroduces some degree, not of representativeness, but of direct impact. The group cannot have as its purpose to harm individuals or groups. Third, it must maintain transparency in exchange for which the law recognizes its rights to own and dispose of assets and make decisions with binding authority. The group — no matter how short–lived or how constituted (e.g. a Meetup) — can own a bank account.”
    • “fact, I imagine the forming of a new corporation to require only a series of clicks to establish. We trust people to make binding contracts in one click. Why not make it simple and easy to make a group in two?”
    • LightweightFederation?: “Groups could connect with other groups in larger scale corporations, which could be formed for a longer or a shorter period, depending on the task to be accomplished.”

2) I believe that in the U.S., individuals are already individually liable for criminal actions; the corporation doesn’t shield them (I think). The corporation can only absorb civil actions, i.e. where the penalty is paying money rather than going to jail. Yes, the corps get away with criminal actions, but not by design; it’s because they have more resources to avoid getting caught, to defend their people if caught, and to indirectly bribe government.

3) I sent an email to the author, Beth Noveck, inviting her to join the discussion on this page

Um, okay. Please, update the main text of the page, then.

I’m not so concerned with the details; I’m more interested in the idea of recognizing groups legally.

I do think that she’s got an end in sight, though, where groups are actually delegated power. She’s using the word “defer,” I think, to sound a bit softer. But, really, if you make a habit of defering, I think that’s basically delegating power. And I think she’s basically okay with that.

That’s why I think she talked about bad groups. If we were simply talking about, “Hm, what do they think?”, I don’t see what the whole fuss is about. But if we imagine that they will habitually defer (i.e., delegate,) then I think the concern makes more sense.

But, I’m not really attached to the details.

Please, by all means: rework the top.

OK, I modified the top to take out the assertions that the government should hand over coercive power to groups. I’d also like to add an easy-reading version of my bulleted list up there, but not now.

I wish there were some notation so that I could quote people without literal quoting people.

It’s something I do a lot, when talking in person with people, and somehow, people just get it.

“Ah, this is Lion speaking,” they think in their head. “The person didn’t really saying this; This is just Lion’s summarization, interpretation, of what they said.”

The problem is, if I do it online, I get whapped upside the head for mis-quoting people.

So, I need a new notation. Something like:

So she said, <Notice all the groups out here. You go on the Internet, and you see groups there, groups over there, people representing groups, people carrying ideas from other groups. Groups, groups, groups, everywhere you look, groups.>

Just saying (paraphrasing) is too clumsy for you?

OK Beth said she’ll take a look here when she has time. Questions that I have for Beth when she drops by:

  • I understand that you want the method of incorporation for groups to be easier; but it sounded like you also wanted to rights and privilages and rules governing “group corporations” to be different? What kinds of laws would we want for the legal status of groups that are different from what we already have for for-profit and for non-profit corporations? What “rights” do democratic/group corporations need that others don’t have?
  • Do you or don’t you want the government to delegate coercive power (for example, regulatory enforcement decisions) to groups (what Lion and I were disagreeing about above)?
  • I am not familiar with the meaning of “defer” as in “the state defering power to corporations” – you say that the state currently defers power to for-profit corporations12. But surely the state doesn’t ever give actual, final decision-making power to corporations, right? When the Congress says, “industry A, self regulate”, they are by no means giving up the power to say, “nevermind, we don’t like your self-regulation, we’re making 100 new laws to regulate you”, right? So isn’t “allowing A to self-regulate” equivalent to “consulting with A” in terms of who actually holds power?

P.S. what AlexSchroeder said on CorporateMembership (also a small note on WikiPedia) about the Swiss system of non-profit governance might be interesting in this context.

Just back online from several days of traveling. Have enjoyed catching up on the discussion and want to start by responding to Bayle’s comments

  • I understand that you want the method of incorporation for groups to be easier; but it sounded like you also wanted to rights and privilages and rules governing “group corporations” to be different? What kinds of laws would we want for the legal status of groups that are different from what we already have for for-profit and for non-profit corporations? What “rights” do democratic/group corporations need that others don’t have?

So first, let me explain that I am not talking about expanding business corporations, as we currently know them. Business corporations, however, are a good model and example of private associations of individuals to which the law and the government defer and to which we accord legal authority and legitimacy. The democratic corporation expands on the concept of the biz corp and recognizes that there are other, non-market based reasons to establish rules, structures and procedures that enable us to collaborate.

  • Do you or don’t you want the government to delegate coercive power (for example, regulatory enforcement decisions) to groups (what Lion and I were disagreeing about above)?

Yes, this is why we need to think further about those groups to which we will defer. Since we want to respect “value pluralism” and the flourishing of different kinds of groups, I think we need to think expansively about the types of groups to which we will defer. Surely, we want to defer to decisionmaking by groups that effects only the membership of those groups where certain baseline conditions are respected. Need to go back and review debate. More to follow on this point.

  • I am not familiar with the meaning of “defer” as in “the state defering power to corporations” …… But surely the state doesn’t ever give actual, final decision-making power to corporations, right?

Absolutely it does. The law respects the legal decision of the corporation when the corporation is but a legal fiction. It is a “person” only for legal purposes. Yet the law recognizes it as being able to make decisions, own, buy and sell assets and do those things that normally only individuals can do. Similarly, we alllow industries to “self-regulate,” meaning the law-making of that industry replaces and substitutes for laws being made by Congress or another state actor.


See VisualCorporation, AboutDecisions, AboutDemocracy, AreGroupsReal, …

Footnotes:

1. “But the argument about groups clearly calls to mind the other example of law recognizing a center of power independent of central government: namely, the corporation [49]. In organizational life, we define corporations as those groups to which the law defers and, when certain conditions are fulfilled, permits the ownership and alienation of assets.”
2. In the same way that in many arenas, the state defers to the “self–regulatory” decisions of associational bodies, such as journalists, physicians and lawyers, or Congress enacts legislation made by the consensual agreement of industry and public interest groups [212], or Federal agencies defer to negotiated rule–making [213], through technology, it is possible to imagine that groups will have power not only to consult with existing political structures but to make their own laws to which the state can defer.

Define external redirect: LightweightFederation

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