Laws for Learning in an Age of Acceleration

By McGinnis, John O. | William and Mary Law Review, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Laws for Learning in an Age of Acceleration


McGinnis, John O., William and Mary Law Review


TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION
  I. TECHNOLOGICAL ACCELERATION
 II. DEMOCRACY, POLICY CONSEQUENCES, AND
     SOCIAL KNOWLEDGE
     A. Creating Social Knowledge
     B. Encouraging Collective Action
     C. Voting in the Public Interest
III. Two INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES FOR
     IMPROVING SOCIAL KNOWLEDGE
     A. Modern Empiricism
        1. The Nature of Empiricism
        2. The Rise of Empiricism
     B. Dispersed and Innovative Media
     C. A Culture of Social Learning
 IV. LEGAL REFORM AND DEMOCRATIC UPDATING
     A. Empiricism and Information-Eliciting Rules
        1. Decentralization
        2. Randomizing Policy
        3. Access to Data
     B. Rules for Promoting the New Media
        1. Resisting Discrimination Against the New Media
        2. Requiring Posting of Bills Before
           Passage and Signing
CONCLUSION

INTRODUCTION

The twenty-first century's information age has the potential to usher in a more harmonious and productive politics. People often disagree about what policies to adopt, but the cornucopia of data that modern technology generates can allow them to better update their beliefs about policy outcomes on the basis of shared facts. In the long run, convergence on the facts can lead incrementally to more consensus on better policies. More credible factual information should over time also help make for a less divisive society, because partisans cannot as easily stoke social tensions by relying on false facts or exaggerated claims to support conflicting positions. Thus, a central task of contemporary public law is to accelerate a politics of learning whereby democracy improves a public reason focused on evaluating policy consequences.

Government should be shaped into an instrument that learns from the analysis of policy consequences made available from newly available technologies of information. (1) Greater computer capacity is generating more empirical analysis. (2) The Internet permits the rise of prediction markets that forecast policy results even before the policies are implemented. (3) The Internet also creates a dispersed media that specializes in particular topics and methodologies, gathers diverse information, and funnels salient facts about policy to legislators and citizens. (4)

But a public reason focused on policy consequences will improve only if our laws facilitate it. For instance, constitutional federalism must be reinvigorated to permit greater experimentation across jurisdictions, because with the rise of empiricism, decentralization has more value for social learning today than ever before. (5) Congress should include mandates for experiments within its own legislation, making policy initiatives contain the platforms for their own self-improvement. (6)

Creating a contemporary politics of democratic updating on the basis of facts is a matter both of great historical interest and of enormous importance to our future. In the historical sweep of ideas, a government more focused on learning from new information moves toward fulfilling the Enlightenment dream of a politics of reason--but a reason based not on the abstractions of the French Revolution, but instead on the hard facts of the more empirical tradition predominating in Britain. By displacing religion from the center of politics, the Enlightenment removed issues by their nature not susceptible to factual resolution, permitting a focus on policies that could be improved by information. (7) The better democratic updating afforded by modern technology can similarly increase social harmony and prosperity by facilitating policies that actually deliver the goods.

For the future, a more consequentially informed politics is an urgent necessity. The same technological acceleration that potentially creates a more information-rich politics also generates a wide range of technological innovation--from nanotechnology to biotechnology to artificial intelligence. …

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