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In this form of self-government, a lobby is a set of 21 people in an area. Similar to a county, but on a much smaller scale, each lobby governs their immediate surroundings. The 21 people are only responsible for their environment and their fellow members. In a sense, they act like a Homeowners Association. Each person casts votes at meetings for proposed ideas. For example, someone wants to cut down all the trees in a forest. For this idea to be accepted, a majority vote must be passed. But the lobby can only cut the trees in their designated land, preventing widespread/systemic damage.

Each lobby self-governs through a representative democracy. A majority vote elects a person to act as "host." The host organizes meetings, manages complaints while working to improve well-being. They only work for about 3 months, so hosts cycle quickly. The host can also be democratically removed by a minority vote, at least 7 of the 21 people. If a host is "that bad," they can be closed by a vote, preventing them from being a host for several years.

Their fictional nation is divided into different sectors, like Medical, Technology, Farming, etc. Each sector holds a number of lobbies. Most of the people in the sectors work in the sector's respective jobs. For example, in Farming, there would be mostly wheat farmers, but also tool-makers and agricultural scientists. When a citizen is old enough, they are offered the opportunity to switch sectors, so that each sector has an appropriate amount of experience.

Each sector also has a Quality Control Board (QCB) that works to improve production and well-being in the sector. It is explicitly separate from the lobbies. That is, a lobby deals with its own environment and people, while a QCB considers grander schemes such as education and resource allocation in its sector.

Lobbies are not limited to their area and often interact, with several forming cities. For a host to be elected to the Quality Control Board of a sector, they must be approved by a percentage of their town or city. I could go into far more details about what defines a town and the exact percentages, but let's keep it simple.

In this self-governing system, status is merit-based; No person can easily buy votes from hundreds of people. Hosts are quickly cycled through, avoiding unfavorable moderators. The high-up government deals only with high-up schemes, they cannot impact individuals through laws, only the system.

My question is: Can this system of self-governance work? Are there any obvious faults and necessities I'm missing that would ruin this government?

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    $\begingroup$ JSYK, HOAs are awful. They're almost universally run by petty bullies and would-be tyrants because nobody else cares enough about the minutiae of getting involved in everyone else's business, and power abuse tends to be rampant. $\endgroup$ – Shadur Dec 28 '20 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ Also, 21 people is teeny. That's like half a street. You don't need "several" to form a city, you need 4762 of these to form a "small city". $\endgroup$ – Mooing Duck Dec 28 '20 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ For a fictional example of when a decentralized system similar to yours failed, read Ender's Game. Armies were led by a single commander that had complete control over their soldiers. Some commanders, such as Bonzo, were corrupt and abusive toward their people and did not care about the wellbeing of others; they only cared about power and success. Others, such as Rose, were ignorant of public issues and cared only about what luxuries they could give themselves using other people. The same could apply to the Quality Control Boards who might abuse the councils to unfairly gain power or money. $\endgroup$ – Galactic Dec 29 '20 at 6:27
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    $\begingroup$ Other than the numbers being tiny, isn't this basically what the US (and many other democracies) already do? You have neighborhood councils, which are under the city or town, which are under the county, which are under the state, which are under the federal gov't. Your system is basically what we already have, though possibly with more emphasis on the lower tiers than the higher ones. $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Dec 29 '20 at 18:41
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It was tried. It didn't work

This proposal is eerily similar to the system put forth by the Great October Socialist Revolution which Took Place in November 1917; only they called them soviets (that's Russian for "councils") instead of "lobbies".

Base-level soviets / councils / lobbies were established at factory, village and neighbourhood level; they deliberated and managed the problems pertaining to their factory, village and neighbourhood, and sent delegates to upper level soviets / councils / lobbies at industry, region and city level, which deliberated and managed the problems pertaining to their industry, region and city, and sent delegates to upper level soviets / councils / lobbies at industrial branch and republic level, which sent delegates to the Supreme Soviet.

The great success of the system is that it gave the name of the country: the Soviet Union.

Other than that, in practice it was a total failure. It was immediately observed that the system introduced a lot of friction and delays, and essentially precluded any attempt at planning and coherent execution. Already by the mid-1920 the imperial government sought to get rid of the soviets / councils / lobbies at the factory, farm and industry levels, and replaced them with what they longingly referred to as "one man management". (Yes, really, "one man" not "one person"; at least that's the official English translation of Stalin's words.)

The factory, farm, industry and industrial branch soviets / councils / lobbies were defanged in the late 1920s and eliminated in the 1930s, replaced with something resembling in form the capitalist unions (but, of course, only in form and not in substance).

In theory, the soviets / councils / lobbies at neighbourhood, commune, city, region and republic level continued throughout the existence of the Soviet Union. In practice, they were completely subverted and became little more than a channel of communication from the central imperial government to the masses.

Why?

Because most people are (1) completely uninterested in politics and (2) really, really bad at it. Most people are good at something: some are auto mechanics, some are welders, some are teachers, some are tailors, some are medical doctors, some are fashion models and so on. They don't know how to do politics, and don't care about politics. The proposed cellular aggregate system forces an awful lot of people into political roles where they are unskilled and ineffective. In a word, easy prey for any skilled operators.

In real history, Joseph Stalin very quickly became dictator for life by subverting the system, establishing a network of obedient operators which took control of the soviets / councils / lobbies from the top down. By the 1950s, the entire system became a farce; the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was notionally the head of state of the Soviet Union, and yet he had no power whatsoever. (Quick: do you have any idea who were the Chairmen of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet during the reigns of Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev? Have you heard of Mikhail Kalinin, Nikolay Shvernik, Kliment Voroshilov, Anastas Mikoyan and Nikolai Podgorny?)

Notes to the particulars of the system as described in the question:

  • The real power obviously belongs to the Quality Control Boards. No need to bother subverting the base-level soviets / councils / lobbies, which are directly controlled by the Quality Control Boards. Except...

  • The real power obviously belongs to the (unspecified) central government, which allocates funds (or, in the case of the Soviet Union, directly resources) to the supposedly powerful Quality Control Boards. For here is the fundamental drawback of the system: it completely ignores the need to have some sort of financial structure. Even the Roman Empire had an empire-level financial structure. The question does not even attempt to describe how are public works and public instutions financed; and this is of critical importance.

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    $\begingroup$ You may want to add "1917" to the first paragraph. $\endgroup$ – Spencer Dec 28 '20 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Spencer: There was one and only Great October Socialist Revolution. There is no risk of confusion. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 28 '20 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ It's not about confusion, it's about ease of understanding. You are making a point about how fast things changed back without providing the context within your answer, and appear to be insisting that the reader go to a long and thorough Wikipedia page to get that context. It leaves your answer incomplete and pulls the teeth from one of the primary points you appear to be making $\endgroup$ – aherocalledFrog Dec 28 '20 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ @aherocalledFrog: Oh, OK. Cultural differences. In the world where I grew up everybody knew that the October Revolution happened in 1917, ushering a new era of peace, prosperity and collective accomplishment. Edited. ("Go to a long Wikipedia page to get the context." How far we have come from the Ten Days that Shook the World...) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 28 '20 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ "Have you heard of ... Kliment Voroshilov" Yes! The KV line of tanks was named after him, until he fell out of favor and new tanks in the line were named after Iosef Stalin. $\endgroup$ – Yay295 Dec 29 '20 at 1:11
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As a general principle about worldbuilding like this, you should ask yourself whether such an idea has ever been tried in history. If your answer is that it hasn't, consider why.

There are three problems that I can think of.

The first problem has more or less been mentioned by others, that 21 people is far too small to have this really be workable. You could quite easily have issues with gerrymandering in one form or another. Also, if you think the smaller size avoids problems with things like special interests, you have never seen small town politicians who can make the US Senate look downright functional by comparison.

The second problem is with externalities, which would be extreme given the control allotted to such a small group. An externality is a situation in which the consequences are shared but the benefits are not.

This can have two common forms. The first and more obvious is the NIMBY problem. Which group of 21 people is going to choose to allow a nuclear reactor or even worse nuclear waste storage facility around their territory? While that is an extreme example, this also applies to things like orchards that produce pollen in the air or concrete plants. On the flip side, if the effects are downwind, are they going to care?

The second problem is much larger, it is the tragedy of the commons. If your group of only 21 people has control over a small section of something like a rain forest, they have little motivation not to cut it down for more farmland because everyone else would have to do the same thing for there to be a problem. When everyone thinks that way, you easily have a crisis.

Climate change is the most obvious version of this problem, but it can also apply to things like fishing and grazing rights. Fishing rights have actually caused wars, I can easily imagine similar problems occurring here on a smaller scale as a few lobbies gang up on a rival.

The third problem is about the specialized economies of the various sectors. In reality, most economic situations are much less specialized than you would assume. In the US, rural states that we associate with farming like Wyoming can actually have less farmers per capita than "urban" states like California. Having a sector revolve around a particular industry just doesn't make economic sense in the long run, as it will create the boom town effect in which it quickly rises and falls.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you elaborate a little more on how specialized sectors would work? I intended to create a system with several nation-states, like Ancient Greece. Each nation-state would focus on one aspect but not be limited to it. For example, 20% of the nation-state's exports would be agricultural products, but they still produce 80% of other things. How would this system create economic deficiencies? $\endgroup$ – Mandelbrot Dec 27 '20 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Mandelbrot: In general, when a state focuses on something, it will fail... Compare the complete failure of the great state-supported French Plan Calcul with the exuberant success of the completely private and decentralized American computer industry. (Oh, and speaking of "nation states" and "Ancient Greece" in the same phrase strikes me as discordant. Ancient Greece notoriously did not have nation states; in fact it only became unified when a foreign power conquered it -- first the Macedonians and then the Romans.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 27 '20 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Mandelbrot: And for your question of how industrial specialization works: the search term is comparative advantage. (Adam Smith, 1776; David Ricardo, 1817.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 27 '20 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Mandelbrot: Of course it works. (Immediate examples: China exporting manufactured goods, Pakistan and Bangladesh exporting textile goods, Arabia exporting oil.) Since you mentioned Ancient Greece: in the antiquity, Sicily, north Africa and Egypt exported grain all over the Mediterranean. Iberia exported olive oil -- in Rome they have an entire hill made of the shards of the amphoras in which came the imported olive oil. Corinth and Athens exported pottery. And so on. The classical world was pretty globalized, within its limits, of course. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 28 '20 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ @user253751: Excellent example! They went to the Moon and then they went nowhere. States are good at executing projects which have a well-defined goal and a reasonable duration; these are generally called public works -- building a road, or a port; reclaiming an entire province from the sea etc. They are lousy at setting up a long-term policy and following through with perseverence; which is to be expected, given that states have to constantly adapt their policies and goals to shifting political realities. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 28 '20 at 13:23
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Change "21 people" to "Between 20 and 30 people, with host able to break ties".

I assume you've settled on 21 exactly so that there can never been a tie. Sounds good. Until someone dies, leaves, arrives, or a local child gets old enough to vote. Because of these outside events, you're going to be moving people around to ensure that lobbies have exactly 21 people. Because you're constantly moving people around, you have 3 weaknesses:

  • Someone can control that process, and send their allies into regions where an issue of their choosing has near 50% support. This is a form of gerrymandering.
  • The people arriving would be drawn from populations having the highest birth rates. If that correlates with some other factor (say: a religion that discourages birth control or encourages big families), then that would lead to that people with that trait being widely distributed and overrepresented - (basically "self-gerrymandering")
  • If a group of 20 people are unable to vote because they're missing their 21st, then someone high up can delay sending the replacement, crippling their ability to make a decision.

The solution - make the group size a range. That way these issues are less likely to be an issue (they still will exist - just lower likelihood). If you get a tie, your host is able to break the tie (similar to the vice president in the US senate).

A churn through hosts may have a negative side - it will result in a lot of former hosts, skilled at being a host, but now without the good pay, being subordinate the new, inexperienced hosts. Any group wishing to influence the political process could hire them to influence the inexperienced hosts, who realistically will be grateful for the assistance. This is "lobbying", and happens in the real world.

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  • $\begingroup$ One correction, people with large families wouldn't be over-represented, there'd simply be more populous to represent. I personally doubt any system that works on simple majority for important decisions. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 28 '20 at 0:29
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Sounds fine for neighbourhood control. It does raise a few questions, though.

Do they have unlimited power, in their area? If so, what stops them from deciding to make or buy weapons, then conquer the neighboring area? If they can do that, then what you have is a culture of tribal councils. If they can't, then this is essentially a democratic feudal structure, where local councils have a great deal of power, but it is limited by an overlord.

I don't think the Soviet issue is necessarily the case, here. It sounds like your councils have direct authority over their region, so they don't need to wait on higher ups which stagnates decisions.

Whether 21 people is a suitable number depends on the size of the population. If the population was about 3,000 for that area (similar to the average Chinese village), that's probably about right, as the council would be about 1% of the adult population. You could go for something like 10% of the population to make it more communal, but as Alex mentioned a lot of people just aren't suitable for politics, for lack of interest and ability. Potentially, you could have secondary boards that inform the decisions of the council, who might even have some control or power (IE: veto).

I'm afraid I don't understand how the QCB interacts with this. Long term planning and investment requires power over resources, law, and administration. So either they would need authority over the local council, or they would only be able to suggest plans to the local council which they are likely to say "yes" to without actually putting the effort for a long term improvement (unless they're genuinely in favour, in which case the QCB is likely irrelevant).

You mentioned you're basing the idea off Greek City States? If so, then these issues may make perfect sense, similar to the Amphictyonic League, and act as an intentional fault in the system. If you want it to work, you would probably need some elected(?) authority over the councils, who can enforce the will of the QCB. You may want to look at some feudal systems as well, to see how democratic and semi-democratic methods of rule work.

The technology level will make some difference to how you handle things, of course. If communications are poor, then a central authority is not going to work, and that might be the cause for your local councils. In your example of Greece, the mountains made it difficult for one Greco Empire to form, and caused the formation of many states.

I hope this answer was helpful.

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It would be really hard to get things done.

With so many people running things, there's bound to be strong disagreements that break out, causing conflict.

With everyone being switched out so quickly, there won't be enough dedication towards any large government project to see it carried out smoothly and effectively. Strong leadership gets things done, but if the leadership consists of so many people that are so constantly being replaced, there's no way to maintain a sense of control and productivity.

Furthermore, the people running things will not be as qualified and experienced as other governments, that allow people to run a position their whole lives.

Theres no unity. Every one is running their own thing and there's no overseeing lord or group that manages all of these smaller groups.

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I would look into a more Clan-based system, where groups of people could be grouped by blood and common interest. I don't think your idea is totally crazy. It's similar to the tithing in Medieval England. In the tithing system, men belong to groups of 10 where they are all legally responsible for each other. If one man breaks the law, the other 9 have to take him to the court or else suffer the same punishment. It was phased out as law and power were centralized, but it proves small groups have taken the law into their own hands before.

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