Political Reform

ideas to improve the US government


This is a scratch pad I'll use for ideas I think would improve the US government. These may be developed further, into their own pages, eventually.

Managing Corporations

I think there are many problems with corporate America, but the biggest issues could probably be solved by realizing one thing:

Corporations Are Not People

Corporations should not have "rights", especially not the same rights as people. They should not be allowed to own property, or be capable of assuming liability for their members' actions.

Intellectual Property

Over most of known history, the rate of change has been accelerating. If you look back at a timeline of important inventions which changed the way an average person lives, the time between each is getting shorter. Vernor Vinge described this as falling into a singularity, or the end of the human era. While that may be an extreme view, there has definitely been a quickening of change, and the laws are having trouble keeping up.

The rise of the Internet has brought up all sorts of new issues. In particular, it forces us to reexamine our ideas about what information is, how it works, and how it should be governed. Currently, it involves the concept of "intellectual property", including copyrights, patents, and trademarks. But they were designed long ago, before the complexities of widespread internet access, peer-to-peer networks, easy self-publishing, or even the existence of software.

Copyrights and patents should be getting shorter, not longer

As change accelerates, the useful lifetime of ideas is getting shorter and shorter. An average company who thinks up a new enhancement or product only has an "edge" on the competition for a few months any more. Once this "edge" is gone, the idea should be available for anyone to use, but instead we end up with nearly permanent exclusive ownership of ideas.

The intent of "intellectual property" is to encourage innovation, creation, and productivity -- by giving the creator a temporary monopoly as incentive for his/her work. But it seems that the main function of intellectual property these days is to stifle innovation and make money from lawsuits. That's not right.

Exponential Copyright Renewal Fees

I think the problem of copyright/patent terms could be dealt with by shortening the duration quite a bit, then charging a fee each time you want to renew it. The fee would increase each time, on an exponential scale. That way, Disney could still keep Mickey Mouse under tight control, so long as the fees don't exceed the profit they make from him. But most ideas would simply go into public domain after a little while, where they benefit everyone.

As an added bonus, these renewal fees would act as sort of a "tax on the rich" and perhaps narrow the widening wealth gap.

Software is Not Patentable

... but don't take my word for it. Take a look at http://www.nosoftwarepatents.com/ for a lot more details than I could possibly provide. However, I will assert that this issue is much more important than it sounds. Software patents restrict the freedom of expression.

Imagine if you could patent story elements in a book or movie. You would never be able to be able to write a story without first checking to make sure it contains nothing even remotely similar to anything anyone has written in the past 20 years. Here's an example (from the site above):
At first sight, Dirty Dancing and Titanic are two very distinct movies. However, if there were patents on story elements, then the makers of Dirty Dancing could have sued the studio of Titanic. Both movies have a scene in which a poor boy takes a rich girl from a party of her social peers to a dancing party of his group, and she enjoys it. Dirty Dancing came out only nine years before Titanic, so any patent would still have been in force. No one knows whether James Cameron had that Dirty Dancing scene in mind as he wrote the Titanic script. Maybe Cameron never saw Dirty Dancing but the patent (if it existed) could be used against him anyway.
How much damage would story element patents do to the world's culture? How many stories (including Titanic) would simply never be written? And how much damage is done to software by software patents? Everyday life is coming to depend on software more and more. Chances are, software is built into your phone, your microwave, your car, your stereo, your camera, and innumerable other items people use every day, not to mention computers. And all of those devices will be prevented from doing what they could and should be capable of, if software patents are allowed.

But what effect would software patents have on you? I think this sums up the answer pretty well: "You'll know when you get the bill. When someone breaks into your computer, reads your E-mails, and steals the password of your bank account. When your computer crashes every day. When spam doesn't stop. When prices go up and companies shut down. When people lose their jobs."

There are also other good reasons why software should not be patentable. That paper is from 1994, but has good and useful information.

More good ideas.

Voter Competence

I don't know any fair way to do this, but it seems that people should be required to pass some basic competence tests before they're allowed to vote. If you can't name the branches of Congress, or locate your country on a world map, maybe you shouldn't be trying to influence world events. If you've never read the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, do you really know what the US is about?
Last modified: March 21, 2006 @ 9:26 MST
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