Votes for the future

Democracies are notoriously short-sighted. With one simple device, we could give unborn citizens a say in our present

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Photo by Forrest J Ackerman Collection/Corbis

Illustration from the Forrest J Ackerman Collection/Corbis

Thomas Wells is a philosopher based in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He edits the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics and blogs at The Philosopher’s Beard.

Given the ferocity with which he opposed it, the Irish philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke is not often accused of radicalism. Yet here he is, writing in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790):
Society is indeed a contract... a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

Though it might not look it, this is a profoundly radical thought. We already have a device with which to represent the wishes of past generations. Constitutions, the voices of our history, do not chain us to the past, for they can always be outvoted, but they do have a powerful influence on what our societies do now. We lack any such mechanism for considering the interests of future generations. And this is a trickier problem than might at first be obvious. Indeed, the very structure of reality seems to conspire against us.

While we might feel a sense of solidarity with past and future generations alike, time’s arrow means that we must relate to each other as members of a relay race team. This means that citizens downstream from us in time are doubly disadvantaged compared with the upstream generations. Our predecessors have imposed – unilaterally – the consequences of their political negotiations upon us: their economic regime, immigration policies, the national borders that they drew up. But they were also able to explain themselves to us, giving us not only the bare outcome of the US Constitution, for example, but also the records of the debates about the principles behind it, such as the Federalist Papers (1787-88). Such commentaries are a substantial source of our respect for our ancestors' achievements, beyond their status as a fait accompli.

By contrast, future generations must accept whatever we choose to bequeath them, and they have no way of informing us of their values. In this, they are even more helpless than foreigners, on whom our political decisions about pollution, trade, war and so on are similarly imposed without consent. Disenfranchised as they are, such foreigners can at least petition their own governments to tell ours off, or engage with us directly by writing articles in our newspapers about the justice of their cause. The citizens of the future lack even this recourse.

The asymmetry between past and future is more than unfair. Our ancestors are beyond harm; they cannot know if we disappoint them. Yet the political decisions we make today will do more than just determine the burdens of citizenship for our grandchildren. They also concern existential dangers such as the likelihood of pandemics and environmental collapse. Without a presence in our political system, the plight of future citizens who might suffer or gain from our present political decisions cannot be properly weighed. We need to give them a voice.

How could we do that? After all, they can’t actually speak to us. Yet even if we can’t know what future citizens will actually value and believe in, we can still consider their interests, on the reasonable assumption that they will somewhat resemble our own (everybody needs breathable air, for example). Interests are much easier than wishes, and quite suitable for representation by proxies.

So perhaps we should simply encourage current citizens to take up the Burkean perspective and think of their civic duty in a more extended way when casting votes. Could this work? People certainly do take up political causes remote from their own immediate interests from time to time, for example when they vote in solidarity with those poorer than themselves. But this ideal solution founders on the manifest short-termism of most actual voters. In reality, we have limited empathetic and cognitive capacities. We are only human.

Let’s look at those limitations for a moment, in the hope that doing so will suggest a solution to our problem. Firstly, the range of our empathy is both narrow and short. We might cast votes for the future in a restricted sense when we consider our children or grandchildren, but this is not the same as voting as temporary stewards of the whole of society. We should not limit our concern to the welfare of our own family members. Furthermore, even when we are voting as parents, we often struggle to consider our own children’s long-term future. For example, while we do elect politicians who promise to invest in education, we seem rather less enthusiastic about reforming the economy to help young people build a prosperous life with dignity, because that comes into conflict with our interests in our own economic security. We fall short of the demands of even our narrowest loyalties.

If current citizens can’t help but be short-sighted, perhaps we should consider introducing agents who can vote in a far-seeing and impartial way

Our second limitation is intellectual. It is difficult for us, as individuals, to analyse the full cumulative effects of our political decisions for future generations. It is hard enough to tell whether entering the euro or invading Afghanistan is the right thing for our country to do, even though we know at the time that these are big decisions and their major consequences will be clear within a few years, not decades. The cognitive challenge is far greater when we try to calculate the full intergenerational cost of keeping the retirement age at 65, or the optimal carbon policy to mitigate global warming. Human voters just aren’t equal to the task.

The outlines of a solution to our problem begin to come into view. If current citizens can’t help but be short-sighted, perhaps we should consider introducing agents who can vote in a far-seeing and impartial way. They would need to be credibly motivated to defend the basic interests of future generations as a whole, rather than certain favoured subsets, and they would require the expertise to calculate the long-term actuarial implications of government policies. Such voters would have to be more than human. I am thinking of civic organisations, such as charitable foundations, environmentalist advocacy groups or non-partisan think tanks. To ensure that these voters have some political weight – but not too much – we might award eligible non-governmental organisations (NGOs) equal shares of a block of votes adding up to, say, 10 per cent of the electorate.

The moral and legal status of such voters would be as trustees of the generations to come. Trusteeship is a mature legal concept with well-established professional codes of conduct and systems of external accountability. It is specifically designed for situations in which one person must exercise his or her best judgment to the benefit of others’ interests without considering their wishes.

Trusteeship has played a political role before – indeed it is the very model for the role of elected legislators that Burke himself advocated, as did the British political economist John Stuart Mill a century later. All the same, we would certainly need to introduce some new rules and legal instruments to ensure the success of this novel kind of political trusteeship by organisations, and especially to protect them from improper ‘presentist’ influence by partisan or commercial interests. To ensure their independence, these organisations might have to demonstrate popular support (say 50,000 unique citizen members), be non-profit-making, comply with electoral campaign financing legislation and so forth. But rather than discuss those specific practicalities, let me turn to the principal advantages of this new electoral device.

As 10 per cent of the electorate, these NGOs would constitute a significant constituency, but not an all-important or completely homogenous one. That should be enough. As the Austrian political economist Joseph Schumpeter put it, the democratic method is ‘that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote’. It is in the nature of democracy that, wherever there are votes, you will find politicians. All the mainstream political parties will make a play for this new constituency, making their policy platforms relevant to its various concerns, just as they do for other single-issue constituencies, such as retirees and nativists.

At least to some degree, the myopia built into the institutions of democracy would be overcome

This, incidentally, seems like a better result than we could expect if we simply appointed such trustees directly to our upper legislatures. The 26 Church of England bishops who sit in the UK House of Lords are trustee legislators in this sense: they are charged with acting in the interests of God. However, while they have a small degree of direct influence over legislation, they have no clout at all on the electoral battlefield where the ideas and principles behind the legislative agenda are developed.

In contrast, the presence of trustee voters has the potential to benefit democratic deliberation in general. They would make sustainability an unavoidable political topic, one that politicians have to treat in a way that is credible to these cognitively sophisticated agents. The improved quality of politicians’ attention to the future would also help the merely human voters who struggle to turn their moral concern for the future into effective political choices. At least to some degree, the myopia built into the institutions of democracy would be overcome.

As a matter of justice, the interests of future people deserve to be taken into consideration in our decisions now. The choices we make about decarbonising the economy, guaranteeing pension entitlements or funding research into vaccines will have an enormous impact on the lives of those who will be sitting where we are in just a few decades. We care about these people – they are our fellow citizens after all, and our children and grandchildren besides. Even if they haven’t been born yet, they have a claim on our attention and consideration at the political level. Our ethical values point one way, towards intergenerational responsibility, but our political system points another, towards the short-term horizon of the next election cycle. However we do it, we need to find a way to make our political system take the future – and everyone who inhabits it – into account.

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Comments

  • Oliver Milne

    This is all very well, but how are the 'trustees' to be selected? The halfhearted list of "civic organisations, such as charitable foundations, environmentalist advocacy groups or non-partisan think tanks" you give sounds to me like fertile ground to sow shell organisations for partisan interests. I'd be more inclined to have a certain percentage of MPs elected specifically as representatives of future generations, with their performance rated and rewarded (in the form of a variable payout for them or their inheritors) by voters 40 or 50 years down the line. But that's not a perfect solution either.

  • G

    Ultimately what we are talking about here is the search for a means of applying moral principles in the absence of any fear of retribution for failing to do so.

    Consider this as among the possibilities:

    'Do unto the future as you would have the past do unto you.'

    This is what I call 'the Diachronic Golden Rule,' which merely means 'the Golden Rule applied across time.'

    We give thanks to our predecessors for the good they have given us, and we criticise them for the pain they have left us. How would we feel if our predecessors had not abolished slavery or defeated the Nazis, and we lived under the horrific results of a failure of that magnitude? How do we expect our descendants to feel about us if we leave them a world ravaged by climate crisis, where billions, and billions more, face lives that are nasty, brutish, and short, and without any hope?

    The Golden Rule normally works in the present: Do good to others, and others will do good to you in return. Do not harm others, and others will not harm you in return. This sense of reciprocity or balance works at every level from base self-interest, to the principle of being a law-abiding citizen, to the principle of transpersonal compassion or unconditional love.

    But what if there is no 'in return'? The real test of a moral principle is whether an individual or society lives by it regardless of any self-interest beyond the simple internal feedback of 'feeling good about oneself as a moral being.' The law-abiding citizen does not steal when the police aren't looking, and the Bodhisattva does not indulge in a moment of selfishness when the motors of karma are having a brief power outage.

    Do we adhere to our principles and follow our moral rules, in the absence of any possibility that those toward whom we act, could reward us for doing good, or punish us for doing harm? This is a test of moral character.

    Envision yourself having a conversation with someone 500 or 1,000, or 5,000 or 10,000 years in the future. What would they tell you about the world we have left them? What would that tell you about us?

    • lakawak

      Well...since I am not a pathetic little bi*ch, I know that the future generations will thank us for all the technological advancements we've made in the last 150 or so years.

    • http://thewayitis.info/ Derek Roche

      That's real nice, G, in theory but how about in practice? I'd love to see my grandchildren's children enfranchised too but I'm having trouble identifying a suitably disinterested trustee. Any thoughts? And suppose we could agree on a suitable lobby group(s) or even custom-make one, what are the chances of getting bipartisan support now to enfranchise it? And suppose we could do that, who would write its constitution, how would it be funded, who would police the Future Police etc etc.

      Oh man, I hate being negative about such a good idea in theory but I just can't see it happening.

      • G

        In practice you already teach your children and grandchildren about morals and ethics, and you talk with other parents and grandparents. So add this to the mix: get them to imagine having conversations with 'people in the future.' Teach them the diachronic golden rule just as you teach them the regular version.

        There's method to my madness here. 'The future' is something that most children, most people of any age, find inherently interesting. Asking them to 'imagine' those conversations gets them exercising the proverbial 'imagination muscles,' which helps strengthen them. Stronger imagination paired up with 'imagine the conversations' means they necessarily have to think about how _other people_ think, which teaches empathy.

        Then at the right moment, introduce a question such as 'what do people in the future think about all the pollution we're making now?' or any other instance of some problem we're creating for the people of the future. That gets them thinking about how what we do affects others. All along the way, they're 'making friends' with these people of their imagination: something children already know how to do. (We've all had 'imaginary friends' at one time or another. Atheists argue disparagingly that deities are 'imaginary friends' as well. To my mind, that shouldn't be so disparaging, because it implies we have a truly fantastic personal and cultural capacity for imagination, so let's use it!)

        Now what you have is a kid who has imaginary friends in the future, who s/he wants to know more about, and who s/he cares about in some way. The diachronic golden rule is an abstraction but this makes it more tangible. The lessons learned could stick with someone for a lifetime.

        And slowly but surely, the memes may percolate through the culture to the polnt where people routinely ask themselves (as members of certain First Nations tribes in North America routinely did when making important decisions), how will this affect people a number of generations from now? When that kind of thinking has reached a certain critical mass in the culture, the culture will change, subtly but none the less.

        But as for the question of how to embody a future trusteeship in government, I'm still thinking about that and haven't got any specific proposals to offer yet. When I do, you can be sure I'll make more too-long comments about them;-) Between now and then, I need to give it more thought. That's hardly a cop-out, any more than saying I don't know how to repair an automobile or perform ballet. Each of us offers what we can, and all these pieces together add up to something.

        • http://thewayitis.info/ Derek Roche

          Here in Australia we actually had a Commission For The Future at one time (unenfranchised) but it was abolished by . . . the conservatives.

    • Dr. Shekelstein

      The Nazi comment is debatable, even if unpopular. Some would argue that the world wouldn't be so bad.

  • Giovanni Campanella

    This might work if the role of the state as we know today were rejected. As long as members of the state (politicians all the way down to police officers) are allowed to initiate force on other people, there will always be abuse. Not only do you have a moral contradiction, but you have a logical contradiction. If taking someone's money by force is wrong, it must be wrong for other humans to do it as well, and that recognition of what is wrong does not change simply b/c there are certain amounts of people saying that it is okay (voting).

    We need a government that is voluntary from start to finish, top to bottom, and not have it be used to control other people, especially for good reasons (b/c well intentions are the reasons it gets away with abuse).

    Power corrupts - it's not just a historical re occurrence, it's scientifically proven. Any society that allows some members to do things that if other citizens did would be arrested of a crime, you will always get abuse, corruption and eventually collapse.

    No one owes you a pension unless the money was made legitimately and there as a clear contract and a contract with society must be voluntary.

    • G

      Have you bought your own personal fire appliance yet?

      The former Chariman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, was a strong adherent of the ideology you advocate. In fact he was a personal friend of Ayn Rand, and a member of her inner circle that read and presumably provided feedback on _Atlas Shrugged_ before it was published.

      He applied his philosophy to his deregulation of the banking industry. The result was the spectacular financial implosion of 2008, the global economic crash, and the resulting economic depression.

      QED: Randism, as with Marxism, is a failed ideology, as demonstrated by its effects in the real world. It didn't even take a particularly large dose of it to nearly kill the patient: dosing the financial industry was quite sufficient.

      I don't want to live in a world where there is no government inspection service to protect me from infected food and unsanitary restaurants, and the only recourse if I drop dead of salmonella or e.coli is for my surviving family members to sue them for damages. Neither do the vast majority of us: the overwhelming majority.

      Personally I like the idea that if someone tries to break into my house, I can ring Emergency, and a police officer will come right around to impose a bit of government control on the burglar. So do the overwhelming majority of us, though I'm sure the burglar and his fellow crooks both petty and grand would love to argue that government should be voluntary.

      Government isn't the only entity that can take your money; a fraudulent investment scheme can do the job even more efficiently, as millions of formerly wealthy investors found out when they were robbed by crooks on Wall Street.

      Taxes are the price tag for civilisation. And civilisation is the price tag for living past the age of 35 or 40.

      On the other hand, I wholeheartedly support the efforts of the 'Free State' group to do a full-fledged libertarian experiment in the State of New Hampshire, USA.

      If only there was a similar group seeking to do a full-fledged experiment in socialism in the neighboring State of Vermont, the combination of the two would be as close to a 'controlled experiment' as possible with anything involving government and economic policy. After which, we should all go revise our respective ideologies again, in light of the empirical findings.

      • lakawak

        If you call the cops they will come right around and fix your problem?
        Awwww..the naivety of children is SO adorable!

        • Mirror

          So are you saying (sarcastically, if I'm reading this correctly) that the idea of having police is wrong, or is your comment about its current state of practice?

        • G

          Ad-hom, you lose.

          Next time you get robbed, call an anarchist. Good luck!

      • Hermit

        It seems to me what you're saying about Ayn Rand's philosophy is this: If a doctor prescribes a certain dose of a certain medicine as a cure for an ailment, and the patient takes only a partial dose, and gets worse, the prescription is wrong.

        • G

          What I'm saying is that if a little of something gives you a convulsion, a lot more of it will probably kill you.

          I'll be really concrete about this: There are some famous interviews with Ayn Rand where she says, explicitly and in no uncertain terms, that any form of charity or active concern for others is evil, and unlimited selfishness is good. That is the ethic of antisocial personality disorder: or as we say colloquially, sociopathy. Interestingly, she thought Jesus himself to be a contemptible weakling and a bad influence on society. Those among the political right wing in the USA who espouse Rand whilst courting evangelical Christians ought to give that some thought. I would suggest that one cannot simultaneously be both Christian and Randian.

          Extreme ideologies fail. The most obvious recent example was the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and Russia. The Ayn Rand type of libertarianism is no less extreme, and we saw what it just did to the global economy when it was applied to the financial sector merely years ago.

          If we look at the places where the quality of life is highest by every available measure, what we find are mixed economies, part socialist and part capitalist, each force acting as a check-and-balance against the excesses of the other. Pragmatically, empirically, realistically, that's what works. That 'compound,' with two 'active ingredients,' is the right prescription.

  • lakawak

    Blogs are almost always pointless, but somehow, this one manages to top them all and be the MOST pointless article ever.

    • Mirror

      Great. What does that say about people who spend time reading and commenting on articles they find pointless?

  • InklingBooks

    In the U.S. we legally kill off real members the next generation in numbers and at a rate faster that the Nazis killed Jews over the twelve years of their rule. Yet this silly writer wants to act on the pretense that people such as he really care about those not yet born and want to look out for their interests. It's a classic illustration of the madness that cause some to 'love' humanity in the abstract and hate it in the concrete.

    I'm no fool. I know precisely what he intends. Those NGOs won't include many (if any) prolife groups. None of that allowed. But they'll include a lot of ideologues who, unable to impose their agendas by any democratic process, want to set the pretense that it is is they who care about generations yet unborn.

    Sorry, but I don't buy that. If you don't care about the unborn generations who actually exist in mommy's tummies, then you certainly don't care about those who'll be born half-a-century or more in the future.

    --Michael W. Perry, Lily's Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan

  • http://commentaramapolitics.blogspot.com/ tryanmax

    You're basically arguing for giving PACs and corporations a vote.

  • Nim B.

    Isn't there also a problem with numbers? That is, how many future generations are the trustees to take into consideration. Let's stipulate that there will be at least 10,000 future generations of humans. That is quite a lot of demand for, say, oil. Their interest in having any oil radically outweighs all of the interests that the present generation has for burning up such a broadly useful resource. If the real price of oil were set in a market where all future generations were to compete as buyers, the current price for oil would be absolutely prohibitive. We wouldn't get to use a drop. That seems like an absurd result. How can we give future generations a just voice and yet not let their sheer numbers grant them too much say?

  • Felix Erwin

    This is a great and grandeous idea, as was Marxism, in theory. Practically speaking it can never work. Look at the communist countries, and you will see political corruption and repression on an intolerable scale for the free world. Even if I thought it would work today, it is fundamentally flawed some time in the future, and who would want to bequeath that. If there are like-minded people in the world they will vote in step, as individuals, not as a committee. The past is a mantle, on which we (contemporaries) build our bridge to the future. Surely our sons and daughters would say that future is not ours to dictate.

  • Nemo_of_Erehwon

    "I am thinking of civic organisations, such as charitable foundations,
    environmentalist advocacy groups or non-partisan think tanks."

    And I am thinking that I can guess which end of the political spectrum these disinterested trustees would come from.

  • Curious

    This is unbelievably stupid. We can't know what future humans will value. They might not be collectivists and statists who subscribe to modern American leftist conceptions of "social justice". This policy would very plausibly make future people worse off economically.

    If neurotic people had done this in the past, say in the 1860s - 1920s, our world would be much worse today -- we would be worse off by almost every measure. If people had tried to shut down the dirty techologies just emerging back then, we'd have lost an entire arc of technological progress that has nourished and lengthened human life. This observation alone destroys Wells' argument, and reveals one of the underlying flaws -- a technological shortsightedness. Add to that an ignorance of economics, and how technological change happens.

    Wells is operating in parochial and pedestrian framework de jour of modern academia, and the popular acontextualism of modern philosophy, thinking that ethics is about trying to optimize other people's lives for them. It's a control freak phase of philosophy, and wildly short-sighted.

    • Mike A.

      Please explain why the ''entire arc of technological progress that has nourished and lengthened human life" is worth the suffering it has, is, and will cause. How would be worse off? I can imagine a much better world where clean energy was pursued from the get-go, empires weren't created (because Western powers saw the harm and cycles of poverty it would create in the future) and human development was conscientously balanced with ecological limits. Only with a long-view towards the future can such insights be made, and that's exactly what Mr. Wells is proposing with his idea.

      Also, thinking ethics is about optimizing people's lives "for them" is not a "control freak phase of philosophy" but rather the whole purpose of government. We recognize humans are currently incapable of living in voluntary association with one another and that a government with a monopoly on force and various coercive powers is the best way to allocate resources, resolve conflict, normalize behavior, etc. It's our current answer to "human nature" (I reject the view that is static or necessarily exists, but our conception of it is slow to change). Every government action weighs the benefits and harms to people and ultimately results from such analysis. Of course self-interest, greed, corrpution, etc. have come to dominate that analysis but the ideal is still enshrined in the laws of the liberal states you deride.

      I agree with you that the future may not be statist or accept social justice but that's not a reason not to consider their interests as we can understand them today. Otherwise you'd have to prohibit any government action affecting children, incapacitated people who have no living will, power of attorney or similar document, or really anyone who has not explicitly proclaimed his/her desires. Consider the Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram. Since we have not heard from them we cannot know for certain if they want to be rescued. But who would challenge Nigerian government efforts to rescue its citizens from kidnapping? Just like the author suggests, we can empathize with their situation, conduct an imaginary conversation with a girl in that situation and come to the rather easy conclusion that rescuing them is the proper course of action.

      Future humans are certainly a tougher group to speculate about but that should not preclude us from doing so. Most major government policies are expected to be long-lasting and sustainable, Wells's idea simply extends our thinking.

  • ProfitOverLife

    This would never fly---the future, collective public interest, and even true self-interest, ALL have a heavy liberal bias that cannot and will not be tolerated by the selfish, self-destructive, and currently self-destructing Right.

  • cllrrupertread
  • ApathyNihilism

    That solution is far from radical.

    A far more radical solution worth considering:
    Allow all life to die out, by ceasing to reproduce. There will be no future generations to suffer the harm of our decisions.

  • http://Gajantic.com/ GajanticFounder

    Let's take this one step further. Article author Thomas Wells makes a super case for defending and enhancing future people's interests.

    Bestowing block voting rights on NGOs seems difficult to actually implement, though. So his solution as proposed in this article might not be sufficient.

    Nevertheless, he's on to something.

    The main troubles currently, as he describes, are that voters of the present are somewhat selfish, and are not particularly suited to predicting all the long-term effects of their votes today. Almost no one has time or resources to adequately investigate most topics for themselves.

    So why not help them/us?

    The NGOs Wells is thinking of try hard to eliminate both the problems individual voters have (too much self-interest and not enough foresight). Let's say they succeed, more or less.

    Let's have those NGOs inform voters of their recommendations, and how they developed those recommendations.

    We sort of do that now. In many societies around the world, civic organisations, charities, and other NGOs have access to effective media outlets.

    But currently, their messages are fragmented. It's very difficult for a concerned voter to find credible, representative information - about just about any weighty topic.

    So my recommendation is to gather NGOs' findings into one place, where anyone can see them. Might as well allow anyone else's opinion, too.

    We can trust people, when preparing to vote, to differentiate garbage from gold.

    A vibrant, defined, contained debate about any question put to voters. About all questions put to voters.

    Yes? No?

  • Philo Vaihinger

    No, we shouldn't. This is stupid.

  • thefermiparadox

    Paul Tough the scientist write something to the future I don't recall. The writer has the idea right and I would say existential threats are important it's why becoming a multi - planetary species is so important to preserve future generations. The three biggest issues for humanity is death, existential risks and life isn't as good as it could be (nick Bostrom). This is for us and future generations. We need to work harder with technology to solve homo sapien problems.

  • thefermiparadox

    The environmental religion alone won't save is and future generations. They are the new Reds have no love for humans.

  • old_timer_37

    A thought provoking essay. I’m glad it’s out there to be
    discussed. I agree with the problem, that much of what we’re doing now is beggaring
    our descendants. I don’t agree with the conclusions about what to do.

    To some degree, this is one of those things for which a rational
    solution, like expert agents whom people vote on, is probably worse than the problem.

    I do agree with the concept of specific, resources trusteeships
    like land trusts, water trusts, etc. However, the longer the trusteeship, the more
    specific and limited in scope the trust should be. One factor for this is that
    reason doesn’t work well for large, multifaceted responsibilities over long
    periods of time. A second factor is that we suck at choosing experts or well-motivated
    people. Successful startups are run by self-selected leaders. A third factor is
    that gaming a system for its resources is built into evolution. Every cohesive
    organization of resources is eventually gamed by insiders, people who will use resources
    for their personal reasons rather than those intended. This happens in all
    organizations including corporations, churches, and governments. Gaming small
    systems is generally obvious fairly quickly, and if not corrected, soon kills them
    to free up their resources. However, larger ones can limp along reasonably well,
    covering up malfeasance for generations by cooking the books. For example, densely populated cities attract more pathogens, parasites and predators than rural
    settings. However, they can also endure higher mortality rates and rates of
    illness than small villages.

    In other words, the best practical solution consistent with evolutionary processes may be many small trusts, with limited lifespans, begun by highly motivated people without votes by outsiders. It’s the entrepreneurial process applied to social problems. I suspect that the best way to encourage this option is to educate one another (formally and informally) about stewardship and to cherish those who devote themselves to such endeavors. Making such activities financially profitable for individual participants is counter-productive because money for performance
    attracts parasites and pathogens.

    The issue of stewardship isn’t something for which there is a top-down shortcut.

    • Icharus

      I'm uncertain of the entire prospect of voting reform being the solution to this. None of this leads to real reform, unless politicians have to specifically go out of their way to appease these trustees. And while it's arguable they have to to some degree, it doesn't entail that political promises are transformed into policy, or that there is anything bordering on a unified enough vision of what is needed to help future generations that these trustees could be a coherent voting block which could then be enticed for one candidate or another. It will do the minimal good of getting these issues out in the open, but I think there is reason to be skeptical of anything beyond.

      Future sensitive voting would be nice, but given how much decision making occurs outside the realm of the democratic vote (technically almost all of it, as most countries are republics, but you get what I'm talking about), I think a solution that directly made policy more future oriented would be preferable.