Hack-Proofing Legislation

The Senate today approved President Williams’ treaty where a Russian-led consortium will build and provide 10% of our nation’s electrical power using coal-fired and micro-nuclear plants. The 50 year agreement gives embassy-level sovereignty to over 100 sites in the U.S. for construction and operation of these new plants. U.S. businesses and households will see an estimated 10% reduction in energy costs (aka Taxpayer Repayment Using Metered Paydowns). Construction and operation of these facilities will be by U.S. labor.

Russia in turn agrees to pull out of the contested Crimea Ashawr pass, and will yield further concessions to de-escalate military tensions in the region.

President Williams, commenting on the agreement, stated “This is a vital addition to the U.S. infrastructure. We ensure a reliable baseline of energy for the U.S. power grid and we open up markets for alternative sources of energy, needed for peak loads. Also, I’m confident this agreement will defuse tensions in the Crimea and will lead to further economic and military cooperation between our two great nations.”

Included in the treaty are lands and licenses for the consortium to spearhead exploration and exploitation of oil & gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Contents

  1. Hack-Proofing Legislation
  2. Statement of the Issue
  3. Historically Stable Legislation
  4. Illustration: Employment Vouchers
  5. Illustration: A New Corporate Tax Structure
  6. Take-Away

Statement of the Issue

You deem it necessary for the Federal Government to take action[1] and want assurances future administrations, lobbyists, or the judiciary won’t undermine your action (e.g., Obamacare, McCain–Feingold).

There’s no definitive protection. Hacking legislation is a long-term, full-time occupation for lobbyists, trial lawyers, partisans and interest groups. They get paid to overwhelm, outbid or outwit politicians and Federal agents.

The Brazilian government put in place restrictions on capital flows. We were able to find a work-around in just one day. — Personal communication ex-McKinsey consultant

But that shouldn’t stop us from making the hacker’s life as difficult as possible.[2]

Historically Stable Legislation

Social Security can’t be touched with its well-organized lobbying group and a concentrated voting block. It was designed to look like a personal savings account — public made private.

National Public Radio protects itself by locating offices and employment in key congressional districts. And it caters its programming to an active voting block.

Illustration: Employment Vouchers

I proposed employment vouchers to increase the attractiveness of U.S. labor vis a vis its competition.

Once in place do-gooders will fight to restrict the use of these vouchers in industries deemed “undesirable”: tobacco, coal-fired power plants, fast food, etc. Or they’ll empty the intent of vouchers through the courts (e.g., negating surrender of these vouchers as a condition of employment).

We need the equivalent of an AARP for the voucher program.[3]. Voucher recipients receive $25.00 they can donate to a lobbyist of their choice to protect their interests.

But that’s not enough. As part of the legislation we set up an agency, one charged with evaluating how true the program cleaves to its original intent. This agency has the power to shut down the voucher program in the face of legislation threatening to divert it toward partisan ends, raising the ire of voucher recipients toward such legislation.

Illustration: A New Corporate Tax Structure

We repeal the 16th amendment and replace it with a per capita tax for individuals and a “custom-fit” tax for firms (see: Tax Fairness). If Congress wants to spend money they’ll have to first collect it from those wily corporations.

But “custom-fit” will run up against the equal protection clause of the constitution. The Courts will rightly fear that partisan (or vindictive) politicians will use the tax code as a threat to opponents, or as a reward to supporters, rather than for its intended purpose of value-free revenue collection. Only a one-size-fits-all (OSFA) tax structure can pass constitutional muster.

So we construct hundreds of (generic) alternative minimum tax provisions, each one requiring congressional approval. Firms will pay ample taxes under at least one of the alternatives.

We build a tangled web of tax provisions that will jam up lobbying efforts attempting to remove just one or a few.

Take-Away

There are many tactics we can use to protect against hackers: treaties, constitutional amendments, structural design, independent agencies, building third rails of politics.

The important take-away from this article is recognition there are just as many opportunities to hack legislation. It is subject to hacking at every step in its life: from its ideological underpinnings, to its adjudication in the administrative courts.[4]

We must be just as clever, persistent and attentive to the protections as to the intent of the legislation. Hack-proofing legislation becomes an art, not a science. War gaming is not too extreme an option.

Or would you like your name attached to another spectacular legis-failure?


1. Preference should always be given to private or state-level actions. For example, instead of running a central command-and-control EPA, use a Federal agency whose job it is to temporarily take over and fix the worst performing state EPA’s.
2. There are times where you want hackers to unravel your legislation, e.g., for political grandstanding, or for legislation enacted merely to upend an opposing party’s agenda.
3. An interest group that stays focused on the vouchers and not on grander partisan agendas, as in the case of AARP’s endorsement of Obamacare.
4. “All new laws, though penned with the greatest technical skill, and passed on the fullest and most mature deliberation, are considered as more or less obscure and equivocal, until their meaning be liquidated and ascertained by a series of particular discussions and adjudications.” The Federalist No. 37 Concerning the Difficulties of the Convention in Devising a Proper Form of Government. January 11, 1788. James Madison
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