Programmable politicians

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In the USA, the campaign that will culminate in next year’s presidential election is already well underway.  As regular readers of this site know, I would like to see the US presidency abolished. I think Benjamin Franklin’s proposal at the convention that wrote the US Constitution, that the chief executive of the federal government should be a council rather than a single individual, was right when he advanced it in 1787 and is now a reform most urgently in need of implementation.  Combine the president’s overmighty position at the center of the US government with the celebrity culture that tends to focus all political attention on him as the ultimate celebrity, and you have a recipe for Caesarism.  An executive council might still be a threat to the freedoms of Americans and the peace of the world in something of the way that they unitary executive currently is, but at least there would be a chance that rivalries within the  group would lead members to restrain each other from the worst excesses we see today.  And no member of any committee could ever be glamorized in the way that a lone warlord can be.

There might be an alternative to the plural executive.  In reply to a post on Secular Right in which “David Hume” (a.k.a. Razib Khan) remarked that he for one wouldn’t object at all to a candidate who had a robotic demeanor, if that candidate were driven by data and logic rather than by rigid ideology and emotionalism,  I posted the following comment:

Why not replace the US president with an actual robot? The robot-president’s major campaign donors could program it so that for any policy challenge, it produces a list of possible responses that they might accept. Among these possible responses, the program should eliminate those that will move the robot’s political base to desert it and back a robot controlled by a rival syndicate of investors in a primary. From the remaining options, choose the one that has the highest favorable rating in the opinion polls. That seems to be how the biological presidents have been making policy in recent decades, so the change wouldn’t be particularly radical. Granted, the robot-president might not look as good on television as do biological entities such as Mr O and his predecessors, but in view of the shrinking audience for news coverage of all kinds that aspect of it might not be so widely noticed as to cause trouble.

I still prefer the idea of an executive council, but the more I think about it the clearer it seems to me that a robot president of the sort I’ve described would represent a real, albeit modest, improvement over the status quo.  What, in the final analysis, have our biological presidents done that such a robot would not be able to do?  They’ve been more effective at peddling fear and instilling a sense of dependency in the American people than a black box would be, that’s certain.  And they’ve added elements of venality and personal corruption from which a mechanical head of government would be free.  So, if we can’t have a plural executive, I’d gladly support replacing the president with a robot.

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