“How do you envision humans governing a separate planet?”

Elon Musk answered the above question when speaking at Stanford recently by saying that because a Martian government would be built on a clean foundation, it would probably be something closer to a direct democracy (in which every member votes on laws and policies directly) rather than a representative democracy (like what we find in the Western world today).

In the past, such direct democracy was infeasible. There was no tool or engine by which everyone could vote on everything. Communication was only as fast as a horse and illiteracy was prevalent, so it was rational to have elected representatives voting on behalf of their constituents. The absence of technology and education made it so.

Of course, today this isn’t the case — so Elon gave three intuitive ideas that could apply to a new Martian government (or simply a terrestrial upgrade).

Legal Limits

“If you can’t write the law in 1,000 words then it probably shouldn’t be there.”

Elon credits Google co-founder Larry Page for the concept of legal limits. The idea is that laws be limited in size by a simple mechanism like word count. Currently we have 1,000-page laws which nobody has read. “If you can’t write the law in 1,000 words then it probably shouldn’t be there. We shouldn’t have a single law passed that’s the size of Lord of the Rings and literally not a single person in Congress has read the whole thing.”

Legal Sunsets

Laws, by default, have an infinite lifespan. Elon suggests that laws be given a sunset period such that when their time is up, laws must be actively renewed to remain in place. Those that can’t continue standing on their own merit simply expire. Placing the burden on renewal would create a naturally recurring “opt-in” legal system.

Legal Destruction

In the same vein, Elon looks at our current legal system and sees that over time “…the body of law just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.” So, in addition to the natural sunset period, perhaps laws should be easier to remove than to put in place. For example, it might take a 60% vote to instate a law but only a 40% vote to remove it.

He did mention that ultimately the workings of a government on Mars would be up to the future Martians (and he certainly counts himself among them).

You can see Elon’s full Q&A here — though admittedly I think the above is the most interesting part. He gets into Martian government theory after the 50:00 minute mark.

I originally published this post on Medium here.

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March 28, 2016

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