Monday, May 15, 2006

Theory of modular politics

Software world and politics have many parallels, but one in particular is of great educational capacity. In software there is a concept of platform, and of a plug-in. For example, any operating system, like Windows or Linux, is a platform. So is Internet. Other programs can be considered platforms in a more narrow sense - for example Photoshop is image manipulation platform. Biology, surprisingly, also works the same way. In every tissue there are so called HK (house keeping) genes, and TS (tissue specific) genes. HKs are a platform, and TS are modules specific for every tissue (or several). What makes Photoshop or HK genes a platform are two things:

1. Breadth of coverage: they provide all the necessary basics for performing set of "house keeping" tasks. For example, operating system talks to hardware, manages memory, communication over network, security, e.t.c.

2. Depth extensibility: they allow easy plugging of additional components that are designed to help perform very specific tasks. In operating systems world this means applications, in photoshop - special effects plug-ins.

This second part, and it's design, are very important. Every user wants something different from the system, and those interests overlap in some parts, and don't overlap in others. If one was to take the union (in Venn diagram sense) of those interests and try to integrate them all into a platform it would quickly become apparent that the system is capable of much more then any single user needs. This comes at a price: the system becomes much more difficult to manage and use. Another reason this is important is that no single group can hope to unite everyone to work on the same project - the platform, because people's priorities and agendas are too different, and so we naturally tend to modularize our efforts.

This is how all this relates to politics. A ruling party can be looked upon as a platform. It provides the breadth coverage of all basic ideas of how to manage a state. In dictatorial regimes the ruling party is also integrated with all it's modules. In a democracy there is a possibility of appearance of modularization: smaller parties that defend specific agendas but only marginally step on each other's turf. Those parties form the ecosystem of the platform: the ruling party. If two small parties try to address similar problems in dramatically different ways they are usually flocking to different platforms. This ecosystem is absolutely essential and without it the platform becomes irrelevant. Party that alienates it's ecosystem by attempting to build modular functionality into it's own core is going to loose on two fronts: it will become harder to manage, will be teared by internal conflicts, and will confuse voters as to what the agenda is, loosing those who do not support the new agenda in it's entirety. But most importantly the alienated ecosystem will go to a different platform, or unite around brand new one, taking all the alienated voters with them. In essence, attempt to integrate ecosystem makes the platform less, not more attractive for voters.

This is a crucial point, contradicting the idea that ruling party needs to be as big as possible and have a say on every issue. The opposite is true: the best platform is party that represents the smallest common denominator of a given cluster of ideas.

Lets take a look at a recent example in Israeli politics. In previous elections Shinui positioned themselves as a cross-platform modular party. The reason for the rise of Shinui was specificity and unambiguousness of their agenda. One of the reasons for their subsequent downfall was their ambition to become a platform party while still carrying most of the properties of a module. The voters were confused and left.

There are two platforms in Israel: Avoda and Likud. Each has an ecosystem of parties that support them. Compared to Likud, Avoda has a small ecosystem because they keep cannibalizing it, integrating every successful party that appears on horizon into Avoda itself. Meretz, the lone holdout, is the only hope for Avoda to ever come to power. If they ever integrate Meretz into Avoda it will be the end of both parties. In fact, the perceived weakness of the right wing camp, multiplicity of parties, is also their biggest advantage - unrecognized and unleveraged.

Kadima, the new platform in town, suffers from near absolute absence of ecosystem. Their only true ally is Gil party, but Gil is a fashion party, and like any fashion will soon go away (that said, the reason for their rise is, again, narrow agenda). After beating every other party in the elections they got a chance to create their own ecosystem by stealing it from Avoda and Likud. But greed for power closed their minds to reason, and instead they did the unthinkable: they accepted another platform into their ecosystem. This is the equivalent of running Linux inside Windows, or, if you will, using house keeping genes for tissue specific tasks. Those misused genes will keep trying to step on the turf of house keeping, until eventually something will break because 2nd task is unmanaged and first uncoordinated. In other words, Avoda will try to act as the ruling party, eventually bringing the coalition down, and all the mismanaged ministries into stupor. It is, well, in their genes. The future of Kadima is bleak. They will not be able to form loyal ecosystem because there is nothing to form it around.

The optimal political system is one of competing platforms, each pestering their own ecosystem of satellite parties. The most important point here is that a platform party and module party have very different purpose and architecture. One can't just grow or shrink one into another. Winning platform will be the one with the best ecosystem. That means making a right decision about what not to include in the platform. It also means creating interfaces for coordination with modular parties: a plug-and-play architecture. Public statements like "we are delegating task X to a satellite party that is designed specifically for X and proves it has the public support in the elections" can go a long way. In fact, this opens the door for true technocratic governments where every party specializes in specific areas, and fights for specific ministries. For example, party with military expertise can fight for ministry of defense, and one filled with businessmen for the ministry of trade. In addition to cases mentioned above there are many examples how public claims for specific office bring a lot of popular vote: it happened with IBA when they claimed ministry of internal affairs (the famous "MVD pod nash control"), and recently with Lieberman who proclaimed he fights for ministry of internal security. Finally, such plug-and-play architecture (and it's fair and consistent use) can create a lot of confidence in a satellite parties that the platform is not going to monopolize them away, and hence grow the ecosystem to be very large, diverse, and competitive. This will in turn up the quality of the parties and give voters more flexible choice. Such a platform will inevitably carry the elections, essentially turning them into battle of ecosystems instead of battle of fat men with 5 funny arms.


Irina Tsukerman said...

And fat women like Solodkina.

How long have you been holding this in?: D

Interesting view.

Yury Puzis said...

Exactly :)

Not sure. It kind of slowly crystallized.

FollowJesus said...

"Software world and politics have many parallels" yes, that is because they both originated from man's perverted imagination.

Yury Puzis said...

hm... I imagine so, LOL