The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Liam Madden. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Liam Madden, who’s running for Congress in Vermont on the Republican Party line of the ballot. But as you’ll hear, he’s not a typical Republican by any means. Liam served in the US Marine Corps in Iraq, and then based on his experience there, served as chairman of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He has been a solar energy professional and an entrepreneur and has won awards as a climate innovator. We’re going to talk a fair bit about Liam’s ideas and positions, et cetera, but there’s a lot more detail. I read most of it this morning at rebirthofdemocracy.com. Also, he has a Twitter handle at @LiamAwakening. Both worth checking out. Come on, guys, let’s go have some of y’all follow Liam. He needs some more followers on Twitter. Anyway, welcome, Liam, to the Jim Rutt Show.
Liam: Jim, I am so happy to be here. Great to meet you for the first time.
Jim: Yeah, this should be fun. Regular listeners know I never have politicians on the show, goddammit, right? But somebody from Vermont on the Game B online home site, where many folks interested in radical social change hang out, www.game-b.org, mentioned that their Republican congressional candidate was mentioning people little bit on my show, people like Zak Stein and Daniel Schmachtenberger. I said, “Damn, I got to check this dude out. What kind of Republican candidate’s talking about Daniel Schmachtenberger.” So I went to your website and looked at it and said, “That’s pretty interesting.” And so I said, “Come on.” So I sent you, I don’t remember if it was an email or a thingy on your website or something, asked, “You want to be on a show?” And you said, “Yeah.” I thought this would be a lot of fun. Why don’t we get started by telling our listeners how you came to be the Republican nominee for Congress in November?
Liam: Well, Vermont is an open primary state, which means you do not need to be a registered Republican to run or vote in the Republican primary. You don’t need to be a registered Democrat to run or vote in the Democratic primary. If anyone were to take a first glance at my website, they’d say, “This guy’s claiming to be an independent and is making some pretty profound critiques against the two party system itself.” How I came to be a Republican Party nominee is by just running, and at every moment saying to the voters, “Listen, guys, I’m an independent. I’m running in the two parties because that’s the only way to win.” I need to take a spot on the general election ballot, otherwise, first of all, I would never get enough press attention, I would never be invited to debates. And then once I was in the general election, there would be that dynamic where people would feel like they were throwing away their vote if they were to vote for anybody other than a Republican or a Democrat.
So I had to choose one of the two parties, and it was really just a matter of logic to say, “I need way fewer votes here in Vermont to win a primary on the Republican side, and I need way less money.” I think just knowing my politics, knowing my networks, pretty working class rooted, that it would be easier to win on the Republican side. So that’s how I came to be in the primary. I came to win it by highlighting what I think are unifying issues between the left and the right, which is that the system of politics we have doesn’t represent us well. It doesn’t solve our problems well. It divides us, and it’s controlled by an oligarch class.
And then I also obviously tried to emphasize during the Republican primary some of the values I do share with conservatives. I see value in the Second Amendment. I see logic in having strong borders and prioritizing public safety. And just generally from a philosophical framework, I think that personal responsibility is the steelman of the conservative worldview. I think that you need both. You need personal responsibility, and you need a community that is healthy in order to grow strong individuals. Those things are reciprocal values that need each other. That’s the kind of thing I talked about, and it got me the plurality of the votes.
Jim: Yeah, I noticed, I went back and looked at the votes, looks like you beat a Libertarian who came in second, who then went up the run on the Libertarian line, and then a traditional Republican third. Traditional Republicans must be pretty thin on the ground up in Vermont these days.
Liam: Yeah, it seems to be.
Jim: Yeah, it’s funny because Vermont used to be the most Republican state in the union or damn close to it back in the days of Calvin Coolidge. I think Maine in Vermont were the bedrocks of Republicanism, never voted for anybody else. Times, they have changed.
Liam: I will say that Vermont Republicans are a bit of a different breed than the national Republican, and have remained so.
Jim: Yeah, Maryland State where I grew up is the same way. They had Larry Hogan in there as governor for eight years and did a good job. Very moderate guy and not at all the current crop of national Republicans, so I would imagine. If you have any chance at all winning an election in Vermont, you’d have to be somebody more like him.
Well, let’s move along a little bit here. One of the things I pulled off your website, which underscore, “This is definitely a guy I need to be talking to,” you put right up there pretty much upfront, “We must reimagine America’s story with an understanding that complex systems and godlike technologies must be stewarded with wisdom and love.” That’s a pretty big insight, pretty different than what most politicians are talking about.
Liam: Yeah, well, you could imagine the kind of language that you hear there is something you’re well familiar with being involved with The Consilience Project. That is a source of huge inspiration for me. If you were to think of the Founding Fathers of the United States as deeply influenced by John Locke or Immanuel Kant or some of these thinkers and then they had the distillation in The Federalist Papers. I would love my candidacy, the ideal, the highest ambition of it is to just be a conduit for the kinds of thinkers who are making The Consilience Project, The Consilience Papers, maybe that could be the next Federalist Papers outlining how a civilization can actually survive given some of the dynamics we see caused by technology, caused by globalization, caused by how the human mind has shifted thanks to those two prior events of human society. So yeah, I think there’s big, big questions, and the existing political discussion has been incredibly uninspiring to me. What makes running worthwhile in the first place to me is to be able to try and broaden the conversation to include important topics like that.
Jim: For our listeners out there, that’s theconcilienceproject.org. I’ve been a long-time advisor to the team out there and agree with Liam that they are doing some really good work. Of course, there are lots of other people doing good work and looking with a complex systems lens at the unfolding of society. There’s a lot going on, but as you say, it has not yet reached the level that most partisan politicians are using that kind of language. But the truth is, if we’re going to deal with the meta crisis of the 21st century, we have to. All of our really deep questions are complex systems questions. They’re not simple mechanical or complicated questions. And if we can’t find leaders who are willing to level up to the level of being able to see reality through a complexity lens, the chances of fixing our problems are going to be pretty small.
Liam: The problems are so interconnected that it’s almost impossible to solve just one without needing to take a holistic approach.
Jim: And literally thinking of them as systems. If you make a tweak here, guess what? There’s very likely going to be unexpected side effects there. When people came up with welfare as we knew it in the ’60s, they probably didn’t intend that we’d end up with a 70% out-of-wedlock birth rate amongst people who live in the inner cities. And so, thinking things through from a linkage and systems perspective is going to be critical, particularly now that we’re dealing with really critical things like climate and the sixth great extinction of species and things of that sort.
The other thing I saw on your site which caught my attention was a section, again right up front, What Is Sacred To Me. You don’t see that too often on a politician’s website, or if you do, it’s a conventional testimony that I belong to the Antioch Baptist Church or something like that. I hear you lay out some quite specific things. One, you say that if you are alive, you are sacred to me because life itself is sacred. Can you say a little bit about that?
Liam: Oh wow, where do I even start there? Well, life is sacred to me, Jim. That might be considered to be a dog whistle about pro-life or pro-choice, and I don’t mean it that way at all. I mean it in the way of being part of reality, the scope of what government, what culture should be caring about isn’t just our GDP or even the family unit. It needs to be a broader consideration of all life on this planet or losing that, you would call it complexity maybe, but losing that deep interdependence, we lose everything I think. My background’s on being a renewable energy professional, sustainability entrepreneur. I was deeply inspired by the quote from Buckminster Fuller that to change system, don’t fight it, create a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
So when I heard that, I switched from being an anti-war activist to, “Well, what new model do I want to pour my creative energy into?” And it really involved all of my life being devoted to the health of the relationship between the human world and the more than human world. By the way, that was my little son, Winn, who just had a little tiny cough. He’s strapped to my chest listeners. If that becomes an issue, we’ll find a better spot for him, but he’s along for the ride.
Jim: Yeah, very cool. I like to say that frankly life is more interesting than non-life. We had 10 billion years of the evolution of the universe, mostly, far as we know, not alive. And it had some interesting things. [inaudible 00:10:56] are interesting. Neutron stars are interesting. Supernovas are interesting. But then, I don’t know, three and a half billion years ago they think, maybe at the bottom of the ocean, maybe deep underground, somehow a series of strange accidents occurred and life came into being. Suddenly things got a lot more interesting. In fact, it’s often stated that the most complex known thing in the universe today is a human brain. There’s more complexity in the human brain than a whole galaxy of stars. That has to do with the miracle of life. So I’m with you that first and foremost, we have to preserve life because it’s just more interesting, goddammit, right? Winn, don’t listen to potty-mouth Jim here, he’s been known to lay a few F-bombs and worse on you. But that’s all right, fortunately at his age, he won’t remember.
Liam: You won’t be the first, Jim. Don’t feel like you’re polluting his ears more than anybody.
Jim: Gotcha. Gotcha. Yeah, we used to have the cussing jar at home when my daughter was young and that would fill up pretty quick.
Some other things on your list: free speech and free expression, something that’s near and dear to me. We’ll talk about that more later in the context of social media. The vitality of our natural places in communities, particularly our communities. The current paradigm of the market and the government, neither of them know or care about community, and that’s pretty depraved. Humans have lived 300,000 years, 200,000 years at least, and until 200 years ago, we lived in communities, typically small ones, 150, 200 people, something like that. But now we’ve traded the services that we got from our face-to-face community from the anonymous, sterile, transactional government and the market. What do you think about that?
Liam: Are you familiar with the author Charles Eisenstein?
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Liam: He says we’re turning all of nature into goods, and we’re turning all of our relationships into services. I know the podcaster and Professor Nate Hagens talks about how human beings are considered… or can be considered a global super organism. The economy, likewise, it behaves that way. Its function is to just turn everything into money. So as you’re saying, we used to draw sustenance for what it meant to be a human from these small groups of people around us and the natural world around us, and now we live in a place where all of those relationships and all of those connections to the natural world are all mediated or are headed towards all being mediated by money. That’s a dynamic that we should pay a lot of attention to before it’s too late, because a lot of the best things in life are not things you can buy.
Jim: Interesting point, Nate Hagen is going to be on The Jim Rutt Show in a couple of weeks.
Liam: Oh, awesome.
Jim: I’m reading his book right now, as a matter of fact. Some other things that are sacred to you: creating meaning in life through service to others and sharing our gifts and sharing the love of life.
Liam: What’s the point? The idea of this life to me is I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not having things that were meaningful to me while I was here. I think most people see the world that way. Without these stories that humans had for thousands of years, the story of either you belong to your community and your efforts there helped to make everyone better, that was a story for most of hunter-gatherer-hood. And then for most of this last century, we had the story of patriotism. We had the story of your religion or the story of just work itself was this meaningful aspect to contribute to something greater.
Those stories, thanks to globalization and automatization and the fracturing of local communities and even the story of nation states, those stories hold us together less well, wouldn’t you say? And so, meaning is just as much in crisis as the economic and ecological world. The world of meaning needs to be considered as we design whatever set of collective problem-solving tools that we endeavor to use to ameliorate our problems, meaning needs to be one of the first and foremost sets of criteria that we satisfy.
Jim: And yet, of course, humans have different ends, different goals, different loves. We have to figure out how can we have a system of real meaning and yet also have real pluralism so people can pursue a variety of meanings, right?
Liam: Right. It’s easy to glorify the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is so connected to nature and so much meaning there and so much intimacy with community, but you’re right, you could be ostracized or cast aside socially for even the slightest deviation from the rules of that society. So to have, obviously, the balance between freedom to express yourself individually as well as to be deeply connected to others, there needs to be both a unifying source of meaning as well as individual sources of meaning. And that is, you’re right, Jim, the challenge. The real key of the matter is, how do we satisfy both the collective and the individual with whatever system we design?
Jim: Yeah, we can’t go back, we have to go through and forward. In the Game B world, we talk about something called coherent pluralism where we all agree on a core, small core, of things that we all think are absolutely critical, like humans living in balance with nature for an extended period of time. But at the same time, we acknowledge diversity and pluralism and that one can live right and in balance with both human nature and the natural world and yet express it in very, very different ways. And of course, that’s something that our current society’s having a real problem with, “You’re not only different than me, you are evil.” That’s going to require a breakthrough of how we perceive ourselves to get ourselves out of that game. Any thoughts on how we do that?
Liam: Well, that whole subject is reminding me, I have a supporter who’s reading a book by Ted Kaczynski, the guy who is more famously known as the Unabomber. There’s a passage in that book where Ted Kaczynski says, “Conservatives are not seeing their hypocrisy because they really lad innovation and technological change in the market. They also desperately want to hold onto traditional values, but they’re not seeing that changing technology and changing and innovating on society will inherently undermine traditional values.” I never knew that Ted Kaczynski had such deep philosophical critiques to make, but is interesting to see from someone that’s considered a pariah. But yeah, that’s what it reminds me of, that we can’t rely only on the market or technological change without understanding those change values themselves.
Jim: I got to tell you a funny story about Ted Kaczynski, I just can’t not tell the story. People may recall that he was killing people, not a lot but a few, by sending bombs through the mail. They were intricate wooden carved bombs, apparently quite beautiful, and said that he would stop bombing if the New York Times and the Washington Post agreed to publish his 36,000-word manifesto. The FBI went to the papers and said, “If you’ll do this, he says he won’t do any more bombing.” And so they said, “Okay.” And so, his 36,000-word screed was published in the New York Times and the Washington Post. And as you say, it’s actually quite interesting.
But here’s the funny part: a couple weeks later, Kaczynski got arrested. It turned out his brother had turned him in. He had read the screed “That sounds like Ranting Ted at the Thanksgiving table.” But the next day, my CFO came into my office. At the time I was a senior executive in a multi-billion dollar, multinational corporation, and the CFO came in all sheepishly and goes, “I was so glad to read about the Unabomber being arrested because after reading that paper in the Post, I thought there was some chance it was you.”
Look up Ted’s essay, it is not all nonsense. I mean, yes, he goes too far, to say the least, and he’s a bit more than a little crazy, but there is some wisdom there. So check out Kaczynski’s rant, not as bad as you might think.
Liam: I’m glad we uncovered that little wormhole of [inaudible 00:20:12].
Jim: Isn’t that a hilarious? I’d forgotten all about that. But yeah, you’d have to know my CFO, extremely earnest guy, fairly young guy, very earnest, and you could just see him. Anyway, let’s move on. There’s some other things in your section on what’s sacred, but people check him out in the website. Let’s move on to your next big point. This is becoming more and more salient every day, which is ending war mentality. I mean, if you really think about it, what is more stupid than war? Spending a huge amount of human energy and resources to build stuff and then blowing it up and blowing up a bunch of other stuff too, killing people, destroying stuff. And yet, here we are in the 21st century, and we’re still dedicating some significant percentage of our GDP to war. We’ve got a hot war going in Europe and the damn thing could go nuclear on us. How in the world do we end war mentality?
Liam: Wow. Well, you’re speaking to the choir here. I found myself feeling like an imperial stormtrooper as a marine during the height of the Iraq War in 2003 through 2007. The first impression I had was, “Wow, we are here.” I had a naive view of it because the media gave people bad information. And obviously, the government lied. But if you’re not asking, “Well, why are people so susceptible to bad information or these really thinly-veiled arguments or propaganda,” at some point you’re reflecting as an anti-war activist that you yourself are just totally against… At the time, it the Republicans were the party in power. Pretty much anybody who was a Republican to me was scum. “How could you be so thoughtless and brutal to support this war?” You can’t make friends. You can’t connect with someone. You can’t really persuade someone when they are the enemy.
I just feel like as I backed out and observed society as a whole, you saw that everywhere, especially in politics, where there was just an us versus them and that binary black and white logic. I discovered the works of Charles Eisenstein who says, “That boils down to separation and interbeing.” Interbeing being you can’t exist without the existence of others. That is the direction our society needs to go in order to, at some point, break away from this idea that everything is this good versus evil. Everything can be blamed on some faction, some other, some out group. I’m just deeply compelled by that. We exhibit that kind of mentality in almost every area of life as a culture, and if we don’t get past that…
I’m by no means a saint. I still poke fun at people who I disagree with. I still get angry and lose my cool. But the more we can recognize that we cannot exist without each other, without a healthy blending of the boundaries between your interests or my interests, we’re not going to get anywhere. So yeah, war mentality is deeply embedded in the way I think our entire culture operates.
Jim: In fact, we talked about before the show, you have been a student of Daniel Schmachtenberger’s work. He makes the point that a lot of these dynamics are literally game theoretic. We’re caught in what he calls multipolar traps. If China is building up its military, then all the countries around China need to build up their military. The current situation in Europe with the Russians attacking the Ukrainians and suddenly the European countries are doubling their defense budgets because they see real danger from the Russians. Extraordinarily difficult to back away from these multipolar traps. I suspect it has to come from outside the game itself. It has to come from some change in the heart of the people who come to see that this is the stupidest possible use of human creativity. I don’t know what the answers are, but it’s certainly a damn big problem.
Liam: Yeah, I don’t know what the answers are either, but I think they’re the right questions to ask.
Jim: That’s a good way to do it. So now we’re going to move on to some of your actual positions. So far we’ve been talking about the bigger philosophical statements, but you do have a bunch of positions on your site. Again, I would encourage readers to check them out because I’m not going to hit them all. Just going to hit the ones that were interesting to me that would fit in an hour or an hour and 15 minutes. First, and you say that this is the most important one, I think I agree with you, which is we have to fix our governance machinery. You say, “Fixing the government is my top priority because if we don’t, our other problems will kill us or rob us of the beauty of life.”
In my world, we often talk about the fact that the institutions themselves are critical. You mentioned the institutions in Vermont, that you still have two party primaries, not an open primary, you still have first-past-the-post voting rather than ranked choice. So the institutions that you have affect a whole lot how governance work. Consider the filibuster in the Senate. Every single one of these pieces of machinery has implications. What brought you to think about this that you would call it your first priority, the fixing of the machinery of governance?
Liam: Abraham Lincoln has a quote, “If I had eight hours to take down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my ax.” Meaning it’s not just your effort that matters, it’s the tool that you’re using. And then according to Abraham Lincoln, primary, six of the eight hours. I think we can all relate to that. You either view it as the war mentality perspective, which is the reason why we don’t have a good governance system is because there’s stupid, immoral people on the other side preventing us. Or you can view it as maybe the tools themselves, the architecture of how we are trying to solve problems are themselves what’s preventing us from having… Sorry, buddy… Having the kinds of dialogues where we can actually solve problems.
It’s really related to your first question about what is war mentality and why is it a problem? It’s because it manifests itself or maybe it’s reciprocally manifested by the way the tools are set up, the way the process is set up to get us to work together. It’s really the only alternative in my eyes because I’m not going to just blame the stupid people or blame the immoral, the ingrates, the ignorance… There’s plenty of that, there’s plenty of ignorance for sure, but I believe more productive way to view it is not just to blame the evil, the stupid, the ignorant, but to examine how can we change the process of how we work together.
Jim: I presume that comes from an optimistic perspective, which says, “If we had better institutions and the will of the people were actually manifest with processes that didn’t drive us apart, we would be more likely to come to better decisions.”
Liam: I’m glad you brought this up, Jim. I think this helps to illustrate that left versus right both having valuable things to say. The right in this instance would be behind the argument, “Well, you need better people.” You can devise any number of good systems. People are clever enough to game systems and to be self-serving. And so, to compliment my previous view that we need better tools, you also need better people, for sure. That’s why the government through a constitution set up a system where government powers were checked and balanced against each other. But all of those founders were talking about how important it was that the citizens themselves be educated. I’m by no means just naively assuming that a bunch of Jersey Shore-watching, Fox News-addicted, lowest common denominator of our culture are going to produce the kinds of solutions to deeply complex, scary, enormous problems that we need. We need to do both of those things at once and walk and chew gum. I think there are ways that we can and must prioritize education of not just the young people. We need to have buy-in about educating the entire population, the adults included, in order to have a democracy actually be able to solve these things. But ultimately, I root for democracy. I see this as the ultimate direction to put my energy behind because the alternative to me seems scary. Scary and likely that-
Jim: Yeah, we have fascists in China. We have theocrats in Iran and some here in the United States. We have neo-feudalists, I would say. I would say, frankly, some extreme forms of libertarianism are essentially return to feudalism. How do we beat these other bad attractors with a good attractor? That’s the question of the hour.
So let’s move on to some of the specifics. One, I’d have to admit, I’m not sure about this one. You propose a national initiative program. Tell us what that is and why you think that’s a good idea.
Liam: You might recognize this from a previous statesman, a presidential candidate, a senator from Alaska named Mike Gravel, does that name ring a bell?
Jim: Oh yeah, he was a big anti-Vietnam war guy.
Liam: Yeah. As a presidential candidate, he had some innovations that he wanted to expand the Overton window and one of which was a national initiative, which is what it sounds like, instead of a state level initiative where the citizens can put something on the ballot or remove a bad law or a bad politician through referenda, you can do that on a national level. If you truly believe that the two party system is broken and the idea of getting money out of politics is the only answer, well, you need to get money out of politics before you can get money out of politics. It’s chicken and egg. And so, what can break that cycle? If you think that the two parties themselves have demonstrated an inability to fix the system itself, there needs to be, like as you said, something from outside of the game in order to shift what’s possible.
And that to me is the people. The people need to be able to be involved and to be able to propose their own laws. We know that Princeton University says through a 2015 study, “There is a 0% correlation between what the people of the country want, and if it gets passed in a law.” No matter what the policy, there’s a 0% correlation. That’s a sign of a really dysfunctional system. As you just mentioned, I don’t think that pure democracy, pure will of the people without education is necessarily going to solve the problem, but you do need something that can act as a check on a completely gridlocked, dysfunctional, and corrupt political system. And what other place can it come from other than the people?
That’s why I advocate for a citizens initiative. But I would also caveat that with there’s no way that that can succeed in creating actually good policy unless it’s coupled with other suites of technology. For instance, modeling what the Taiwanese recent innovation in the ministry of digital democracy, so ways that you can up-regulate the best ideas, the most inclusive ideas, the ideas that actually have broad-based support and synthesize values from left. If we can use better social processes and better technologies to inform what goes on those initiatives, I think we will be in a better place to have better options.
Jim: Very good. Now, first of all, I have to take the traditional argument against direct democracy, which is, what would happen if there’d been a national initiative for a security and surveillance law right after 9/11? The Founding Fathers would say, “The bob is dangerous. We don’t want to allow them to put their hands directly on the levers of power.” Because I definitely buy your argument that there are times like now where our system is so gridlock and so caught in game theory team red/team blue dynamics so we need something to break it, but there’s also the risk of direct democracy that it can go too far.
Liam: Well, of course, of course. But one way you could do that is to set certain thresholds. Maybe if it’s a citizen initiative it needs 70% support or some higher threshold of support. I’m by no means at all suggesting that we get rid of existing institutions. They’re just alternative or supplemental ways to check and balance the existing political structure. There could be ways we could balance that threat. The ultimate balance of that risk is smarter, more critically thinking members of the public.
Liam: Also, I do talk about liquid democracy and qualified democracy and ways to implement that. You have brilliant political philosophers who write books about this stuff that would be able to talk about how to actually implement that kind of thing. I’m just trying to say we should talk about it. I think that these things deserve a spot in how we consider better governance structure going forward, and the public needs to start seeing them as options. So that’s the other way to mitigate the risk of the mob, is through qualified democracy, liquid democracy type of systems.
Jim: Cool. We’re actually going to talk about those in a minute. You also called for a Manhattan Project for a 21st-century democracy, which as I read it sounded like a system for deliberation, trying to find consensus using things like machine learning and artificial intelligence, et cetera. Maybe you could put a little bit more gloss on what that project might look like.
Liam: Well, it’s really just a synthesis of everything we just spoke about, which is, how do you simultaneously educate the entire population to be better critical thinkers, better empathizers, better listeners, better perspective takers? And you’d want to do this in a way where you were experimenting and not just whole cloth changing the entire system and hoping it works, trying to find ways to model small systems to see if it can be scaled up. But you would want to not only educate the population but also find ways to model on a small scale the use of these kinds of initiatives with the digital forums, with liquid democracy, which I’m sure most of your listeners know, but it’s the idea of being able to give your voting power, your citizen authority to someone who actually knows more about a subject. All of these things have risks, but if they’re hopefully well-pitted against each other, well-balanced risks, then we’re more likely to have better options on how to solve problems.
Jim: Cool. We talked briefly about ranked choice voting, a little bit, and then you also propose, and I think a lot of people really like ranked choice voting. I think 50 cities in the US are now using it, and two states, Maine and Alaska, where instead of having the Republican and the Democrat and the Libertarian, you have the top four or five guys to get by an open primary. And then you rank choice your votes. We vote for Liam number one and Mary Jo number two and Jackass Smith the third. I’m not voting for the fourth choice at all. Then there’s an algorithm by which those votes are allocated. There’s some pretty good arguments that this is much more likely to produce candidates that an actual majority of the people want rather than, again, the game theory dynamic that comes from our first-past-the-post system. And then the other one you talk about, which we haven’t talked about, which is very interesting to me, is proportional representation. Why don’t you tell us about that?
Liam: Well, that’s a pretty conventional model of doing politics throughout the world. The most parliamentary systems are often proportionately represented. Here in Vermont is a great example. It’s probably around two-thirds Democrat. I mean, really it’s probably 40% Democrat, 20% Republican, and 30% swing voting independents. Now, what we get in national politics is the Democrat. We get only one side of Vermont’s three faces are well-represented in Congress. Proportional representation gives us the opportunity to have… We’d need more seats. If we had three, we’d have one Democrat, one Republican, and one independent. That’s just more likely to have more views expressed, and therefore, there’s problems and benefits that get associated with that, but hopefully that also means more compromising, more cooperation, more creativity go into problem-solving and people are just fundamentally better represented.
But it’s also important to note that ranked choice voting, while it can get you preferable candidates, if it’s not implemented with proportional representation, you run into a lot of the same problems that we have with the two party system even if it’s ranked choice voting. It’s like you have basically boiled down to a similar, if it’s first-past-the… I mean, I guess first-past-the-post is potentially mitigated by ranked choice voting. But there’s been research, none other than Howie Hawkins, the Green Party presidential candidate sent me this research, showing that proportional representation and ranked choice voting are very complimentary to each other, and one without the other doesn’t really get you the full effect that you’re hoping for.
Jim: I think I agree with that. Many countries, like Germany for instance, have a combined system where you have both first-past-the-post district congressional type things. Then they also have a significant percentage of their legislatures elected by professional representation. So if the Green Party gets 5% of the vote, which isn’t enough to elect any of the district representatives, they get 5% of the approximately half of the legislature that comes from the proportional representation side. One of the things I love about that is it allows new voices to be heard. In our current system, it’s just two loud voices yelling at each other. In a proportional representation system, and we look at the countries in Europe, most of them have 4, 5, 6 parties, not just two. That strikes me as a much more generative way to get new ideas into play.
All right, let’s move on to the next topic, something near and dear to my heart, which is election finance reform. It’s certainly one of the great scandals of our period that billionaires can spend as much money as they want, though they have to use little trickery and go through super PACs, to influence elections. What kind of democracy is that?
Liam: It’s near and dear to my heart. My opponent has received a million dollars from a cryptocurrency billionaire who funneled it through a PAC. It’s real. Vermont’s not used to that kind of big money in our little primaries, but that’s a real problem. There’s a lot of talk about needing to change the Supreme Court in order to do that. I mean, that seems like the most obvious place to start because money can have such a profoundly corrupting and entrenching influence on our politics. But if you can’t change that until you change the Supreme Court with lifetime seats, then we need to start considering other innovations and other ways to circumvent this problem of a gridlocked and corrupt political process. I want to tip my hat to all the people that deeply care about election finance reform. I just can’t see it working in the near term without packing the Supreme Court.
Jim: Or a constitutional amendment.
Jim: Because at the present time, both parties might have an interest in this, right? The Democrats are actually doing better at fundraising on the internet than the Republicans are, kind of reverse of where we were a few years ago. The Republicans as always are doing better with the giga donors. There might be some room for a constitutional amendment to do something interesting, I don’t know.
Liam: That’s a good point.
Jim: Because I agree with you, with the current court, ain’t going to happen, which is kind of perverse, but it is what it is.
Now, your solution, should we ever get a chance to enact it, is government funding for elections. I’ve got an alternative for you to consider, see what you think about this. One of the problems with government funding is government could abuse it. Who gets it? How much? What about if you did the following, which was you went and made all political contributions such that they could only be done with your politics voucher, and that every citizen got exactly the same politics voucher, let’s say it’s $100 a year, to spend on anything they want in the area of political advocacy or political campaigns. And this is the key: only that money could be used for political advocacy or political campaigns. So the welfare mother and the billionaire both use money to signify early who they like before the election. The beauty things about financial contributions is it’s partial, it’s asynchronous in time. There’s lots of interesting things about donations as a signaling modality, but it equalizes the power of every citizen to do that. I’m going to put forth that that’s actually better than government-funded campaigns.
Liam: Yes, I like that idea lot. One of the other alternatives is just to ban advertising and just only have candidates on their websites or in debates. And so you have equal access, but I think I like your version better. You still get a lot of the freedom to split up your voice and equalizing the power between the super rich and the working class. I like that a lot.
Jim: Yeah, that I liked that one for a long while. On to your next reform, we alluded to it a little bit, liquid democracy and qualified democracy. You may not know this, but I’m actually a fairly prominent writer on liquid democracy. Written four or five essays on the topic, including one of the top ranked Google choices called Introduction to Liquid Democracy on Medium, and wrote another one, which is for pure liquid democracy of the delegated sort that you talked about. Then I also wrote a second paper called Reclaiming American Democracy that showed how we could splice liquid democracy into our current constitutional system. If people are interested in some of the details, I would point them to those two articles. But you also added another new innovation I’d never heard of called qualified democracy. Maybe you could tell us about that.
Liam: Well, I think you have heard of it just under different terms. The idea is liquid democracy allows you to pass your vote on to another person like liquid flow of your power, of your voice. Qualified democracy, you have heard of it, it would be under the term… Jason Brennan calls it epistemocracy, the rule of knowledge. Obviously, rule of knowledge could be tyranny of the educated, which is ultimately tyranny of the already wealthy often. Rule of the knowledgeable needs to be balanced with the less knowledgeable on any given subject, still having some way to check and balance the power of the knowledgeable. That’s why I think liquid democracy and qualified democracy can work well together. So just to make sure people fully understand what we’re talking about, qualified meaning you would need to pass a test about a given subject matter to be able to write policy on that subject matter or imagining that there’s a forum where all members of society can vote, and it’s not just happening in the halls of Congress.
You would need to be qualified. You would need to have a certain level of expertise that the people can choose and vote on what that test entails so that we don’t have, as Plato would’ve said, the people who know nothing of sailing steering the ship. In essence, you need to be qualified in order to have power. And to mitigate the power of that being abused by the people with a lot of education, you need liquid democracy to ensure that the less educated on any given subject are still holding those people accountable.
Jim: Yeah, it might work, although I’d be very concerned about the mechanism of choice for the extra votes for the qualified. I might be tempted just leave it at liquid democracy, where the idea of liquid democracy is that you pass your vote to someone who knows more about it than you do. You give your vote for education, for instance, to your beloved fourth grade teacher who is a good educator. You give your healthcare vote to your trusted doctor. You give your military vote to your uncle who’s retired from the Air Force, et cetera. So the votes flow towards more knowledgeable people. And that in itself is, as I pointed out… Actually, I had Jason Brennan on the show on EP 32, we had a very good conversation. I pointed out, liquid democracy does provide at least a pressure towards a epistemological democracy. It’s not pure, unfortunately, because as we know, some percentage of your people are going to give their vote to whatever Kardashian happens to be most popular this week or what moron is bloviating on Fox News this week. And so, by no means it’s pure, but there’s some reason to believe that most elections are determined at the margin. So even if only 25 vote percent of votes are applied to well-qualified electors to liquid democracy, that might well be enough.
But anyway, it’s very interesting question. I’m very glad that you, I’ve never heard another politician, had done this kind of deep dive into these plumbing features of our democracy. I think that’s the real takeaway, that our current first-past-the-post system did not come down from Mount Sinai with Moses on stone tablets. Some people made it up in the 18th century, by the way. Times have changed, and we can and should own this. I think that’s one of the great takeaways of your campaign is, “Americans, wake up. Shit’s busted, we need to fix it. Let’s start doing some smart thinking about what we can do to fix these things so our democracy works better.” Would you say that’s a fair macro gloss on where you’re coming from?
Liam: Absolutely. The way I often put it is we have a system of government designed when information traveled to the speed of horseback, and it travels to the speed of light now. Surely we can’t just be wedded to these tools that can’t possibly fathom or keep pace with the way the world is changing. Absolutely, we need to take a step back and look at how can we not just relegate all of our creative power to the Founding Fathers who are slave-owning, people of a different world, a different era. We can have a say on not just the ideas we bring forward but the tools that will ultimately express those ideas into our political life. Why can’t we do it?
Jim: Exactly. We can. In fact, there’s even a mechanism. As you probably know, a number of states have subscribed to a call for a constitutional convention. I think it’s 28. It’s getting pretty close. When it gets to 32 or 33, it gets called.
Liam: It triggers.
Jim: There’s a possible angle to do this if we realize that our current constitution was actually a slightly run-a-muck call for a convention to modify the Articles of Confederation, maybe it’s time to do that again.
Liam: I’m all for it. I think it’s important to frame my candidacy not as this naive idealist who thinks this one of the 435 Congress people is going to go and shift the entire paradigm. But it’s just to start the conversation being more open to these kinds of things. Whether bulk of the change happens through a constitutional convention or through some other means, I’m agnostic, but we have to get momentum of what the conversation can hold.
Jim: All right. Let’s move on now, we talk about machinery of government, and it is damn important and underappreciated. I really appreciate the fact that you’ve put that at the top of your campaign because it’s where it belongs. Now, let’s move on to some of the more traditional articles, but you have some rather untraditional views on these in the economy, taxation, monetary policy, et cetera. Something that’s been talked a lot about recently, Andrew Yang, probably most famously, is the UBI, universal basic income. Everybody gets, let’s say, $12,000 a year from the government in lieu of many of the other government programs. You propose something quite different. Why don’t you give us your proposed alternative to UBI and why you think that’s a better solution?
Liam: Well, I do appreciate Andrew Yang for bringing this topic up, and honestly his candidacy is one of the inspirations to mine to show how much you can expand the conversation about what innovations to our moment in time in terms of how we solve problems together, how we even look at problems, I give him a lot of credit even though I don’t fully agree with this particular solution. And so, I would think would be a better way, talking with some of my mentors in the realm of ecological economics, is universal basic services instead of universal basic income. First of all, universal basic income I think would entail trillions of dollars in additional taxes that would be very, very disruptive in a way that could potentially be pretty catastrophic. I think a lot of businesses might just leave the United States altogether.
Whereas, universal basic services, you get a lot of those same benefits for housing and transportation and perhaps food and other services that give people the same thing that universal basic income is hoping to achieve, which is more freedom for the population to not be ensnared in debt that prevents them from being creative with their time. His logic is, Andrew Yangs, that extra $12,000 puts a lot of… It doesn’t liberate you from your job. It’s not like you can go and do nothing, but you have a lot more cushion to be creative and to perhaps take a risk. I think the universal basic services can do that, but just way less costly to the taxpayer.
Jim: Yeah. Yeah. I’m unsure about that. To your point, a universal basic income big enough to actually help is hugely expensive. Oh by the way, a lot of it goes to people like me who don’t need it. And so, it’s quite wasteful. The other area that you allude to in this universal basic services is more investment in the commons, better things like healthcare, education, et cetera. Why should people have to put themselves in debt for life in many cases to get a college education? Wasn’t like that when I was coming up. You could work your way through college in the 1970s. Really difficult to do that these days other than maybe at the local community college or something like that. More investment in these kinds of human capital building things could be part of your universal basic services, it would strike me.
Jim: Now, let’s move on to a next topic, though I wish we had more time talking about this because as regular listeners know, this is one of my pet favorite topics, which is monetary reform. You have some pretty radical ideas here on monetary reform and finance. You lay out two different approaches. One is what you call dividend money, and the other is called more well-known form, modern monetary theory, MMT. Tell us a little bit about your thinking about monetary reform.
Liam: Well, I would start off by saying I am not an expert on this subject. I just know how important it is as an undergirding of our entire economy, and that it sets in place monetary structures set in place, incentive structures for the entire rest of the economy. For instance, the fact that all money comes into being as interest-bearing debt, it makes it so the economy needs to never stop growing, and never-ending things are not very sustainable. That puts a toll on the biophysical reality of our planet. That’s just because there’s interest attached to all new money, meaning, every time someone has a loan to start a business, the money in the economy that’s needed to pay the interest hasn’t been created yet. So it’s either going to be a game of musical chairs where it’s zero-sum, they can only pay on their interest if someone else is losing. Or it needs to be never-ending growing because the next poor sap gets a loan that puts the money into the economy that can make everyone whole.
If we don’t examine alternatives to a model of never-ending growth, I think that could come to bite us in the short term. Nate Hagens often talks about this stat that landed on me pretty strongly, which is, if we were to grow the economy at 3% a year for the next three decades… Which 3% a year is what every economist says is a normal, to be expected thing to shoot for and so does every politician. Economic growth is just the unquestioned good. But if we were to grow at that normal rate for three decades, we’d use the same amount of energy in those 30 years as we have in the last 10,000. And we only have 40 years of oil and gas left, and the solar and wind, which I’m a solar energy professional, I know a fair bit about this, you would need 72% of our land to cover existing energy needs with wind, 6% with solar. You can’t have a existing energy infrastructure that matches that model of an economy. I do not know well enough the mechanics of how to shift to an alternative, but I know that we need better problem-solving systems as a whole in order to generate the alternatives. That’s where I have put the priority and the most emphasis on my campaign, is the governance structures, the political reforms.
Jim: Got it. You make the very good point that any system that is locked into exponential growth or dying, as our current system, monetary and financial system is, in a finite world is literally insane.
Liam: Thank you for putting it plainly, Jim.
Jim: This is the biggest issue that we confront here in the 21st century. In 1700 when what we call Game A got started, humanity was only 650 million people, believe it or not, 300 years ago. Each one of those humans use a 10th as much energy as the average human uses today, including everybody across the Third World. So we have 10 times as many humans, more than, and each one consuming 10 times as much energy. That is just utterly not sustainable. And yet, our current system has no breaks. It wants to grow exponentially. It has to grow exponentially. Or like the shark, if it’s not swimming forward, it’ll die. And so, the biggest challenge, and again, this is above my pay grade too, is we have to come up with form of economics and finance that can be healthy, something close to equilibrium, and not have to have this constant exponential growth because it’s just not possible in a finite world.
Liam: There are a few things that I say on the campaign trail that are as head-scratching and out of place for a politician to say than we need to not exponentially grow our economy forever. That that’s impossible.
Jim: That is such the conventional wisdom, and it has to change. You do suggest that as part of this adjustment that there be Public Service Corps and a federal jobs guarantee. I’m going to challenge that one a little bit, but first, tell us why you think that’s a good idea.
Liam: The Public Service Corps I like for a lot of reasons. I got my higher education at Northeastern University. I will give all of the credit to the GI Bill, the post 9/11 GI Bill. I just don’t think you should need to risk your life in a military endeavor in an often for-profit, completely unjustified war in order to get the access to those kinds of benefits that I received. There should be other forms of service for young people to engage in that not only pays for those kinds of benefits but also gives them that real hard skillset education, that life experience that can do as equally as a life-changing effect as the education itself. I think we have lots of stuff to build. I think we have lots of agricultural systems to improve and create regenerative agriculture and thriving farms and farm families, and we need the people to do that. I don’t think the market alone will be able to prioritize the resources of our human capital. We need workers. We need workers that we can collectively put towards those types of endeavors. That’s where I think the Public Service Corps matters to me a lot. What was the other one?
Jim: Federal jobs guarantee.
Liam: I’m a little less wedded to that. A lot has changed in the last six months when I started my website, but the unemployment rate is just practically nothing. I’m actually considering how a fully employed population might not always be beneficial to society. But I do think that there’s something there where if it is different times when unemployment’s closer to 8% or 10% to just have a mechanism for, no matter what, people can have a job if they’re able to work. I think we can afford that, and I think that could be a worthwhile thing. I am not wedded to that and I’m questioning that more as we have really low on inflation that’s almost a problem in my area in Vermont.
Jim: Same true in our very rural area of Virginia. Every small business person I talk to, the number one problem is they can’t get help even though they said the effective minimum wage is now $15 an hour, and that’s for people with three limbs and a shovel. Got four, add $2 to that. But I do say this is a transitional issue because, as we know, AI is coming. It’s going to automate more and more jobs. I must say, I laugh at politicians that say, “More jobs. More jobs.” Don’t we actually want less jobs and better living?
Famously, John Maynard Keynes back, I think, in the early ’40s, said that by 2030 he predicted that the West would be working 15 hours a week. Well, guess what? That didn’t happen. We now live in the hustle culture and the side job and working three different jobs and all this sort of stuff. But that may be coming to an end. There may be a transition time finally coming, if we learn to say, “Enough,” when it comes to stuff, then maybe we can get by with less jobs and use things like UBI or Universal Basic services as a way to smooth that transition.
Liam: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. That promise of technology liberating us to live a life of leisure has been the carrot in front of humanity for a long time. Never really paid out every single time, the car, the washing machine, indoor plumbing, like, “Oh, now we’ll have so much more time.” But we just invest that time back into game theory.
Jim: Exactly. It’s an interesting problem. We’re getting up to our time here, but let’s go into one other topic, which is obviously influenced by some of your reading, and that is that you seem to have a pretty good understanding of the risks that exponential technology provide to humanity’s successful future, things like our social media that’s corrupting our ability for collective sense-making, nuclear weapons, bio technologies, et cetera. What in the world can the government do to get their hands around, and it may not be the government, but some mechanism to allow humanity to use wisdom in choosing what technologies to deploy and when?
Liam: This is another one where I do not have the answer, I just know it’s the right question. I wouldn’t even know it was necessarily the right question if it wasn’t for the work of The Consilience Project and the thinkers like Daniel Schauberger and Zak Stein who are often the public face for that, putting that so clearly and articulate in front of my face. But yeah, it seems to me like the age-old problem of humanity. It’s technology that we are not yet wise enough to use wisely, to use in service to a really greater hole. Oftentimes, and maybe this is just baked into technology itself, but it seems that oftentimes we solve one problem and create a host of other, you would call them, second order effects, a host of other problems that we don’t see immediately like the car making it so the streets of cities weren’t covered in horse poop.
It was great for a good 100 years, but as technology becomes so much radically more powerful and global in scale, we don’t necessarily have 100 years to examine what the consequences going to be as they happen. We might need to have a little bit more forethought about what they might be before we unleash them. Especially with things like artificial intelligence won’t have necessarily, unless we do something about it beforehand, any collective or public accountability. Right now, who controls artificial intelligence is either the tech feudalists of the Silicon Valley or authoritarian nation states. If the public is not a player in a horse in that race, then it could be a pretty bleak future.
I don’t know, like you said, if it’s government or it’s some other public mechanism that we can trust can have the kinds of foresight that’s needed to regulate these technologies. It’s government or something else, but I know that we need something. I have no faith that the existing tool sets of our political system are adequate. They’re not. They’re not even able to understand… Me, 435 other Congress people, we’re generalists. If anything, the specialty is law. There’s a couple doctors. But there’s really no one that goes into that with enough specialized knowledge to be able to even understand the changes that are happening in technology, never mind be able to regulate it. So we are just inherently handicapped, and so we need a better system of government to be able to even keep pace with what the challenges are, never mind how to solve them.
Jim: Well, that get points back to your first point, which is it’s an institutional problem to a significant degree. We have an 18th century bit of machinery trying to solve 21st century problems, and that’s a bit of a problem.
Well, this has been a right interesting conversation. I never would’ve imagined that I’d stumble into a person running for Congress that knows all these things. This is really good. I’m very, very pleased that you’re doing it. But now let’s ask the last question, which is, hey, we got to ask the horse race question, how’s it going? I couldn’t find any polling data at all.
Liam: Well, there is no polling data, it’s not out there. So it’s an open seat, so I’m not running against the incumbent and that’s in fact the only reason I’m running at all. I would never run against incumbent they have 99% or well over 95% reelection rates. But I am going against the Progressive Vermont establishment. The Senate president is a bright, big-hearted… She cares about people, for sure, but she’s also not thinking about or talking about these issues. She’s basically a kind face on war mentality, a kind and sanctimonious face on war mentality. She has been the recipient of a cryptocurrency billionaire’s donations, so she is vastly outspending me. How that reflects on the polls, we don’t know because there haven’t been polls. I would imagine based on some of my just internal polling, which is very meager, that she probably has an 80% name recognition in the state and I’m at 35 or 40.
That will probably change in the next few weeks because of some more media I’m getting and more debates. But every time we debate, I do well, and we level the playing field of name recognition. And so she’s been backing out of debates, which is cowardly. What I need to win is I need probably 70 to 85% of Republican voters in Vermont. I need a good 70 to 80% of those independents. We have a Republican governor in Vermont. So often it’s the case people will go and a third of the electorate will vote for the Republican governor and the Democratic congressperson. So we need those swing voters to vote for me in a large way, which I think both of those things are possible. I think getting a huge chunk of Republicans and a huge chunk of the independents is possible. And then I need probably around 20% of the state’s Democrats.
I don’t know if I’m there. I have what I would consider a pretty credible background in terms of anti-war, environmental stuff, the MIT Solve Award winner for climate change things. But the tribalism, just being labeled as a Republican, people will write me off without looking. And not just write me off, call me a Nazi. The tribalism has been shocking and bewildering to me. I could very easily be a Democratic candidate in a different year and people, I would be their champion. They would have me on their shoulders, but a lot of Democrats can’t get past that I have the Republican label. We’ll see. I think it will be close. It will give her a run for her money. There is a viable path to winning, but it is an uphill battle with the money and the name recognition advantage she has.
Jim: Well, hopefully helped a little bit on the name recognition here today, though I don’t know how many listeners we have in Vermont, but we got some. But any you crypto billionaires out there, go to rebirthdemocracy… And there may be some actually. For a number of people in the crypto world, do listen to my show, go to rebirthdemocracy.com and give Liam a million dollars. Wouldn’t you love to see this madman in the Congress laying out the ideas we just talked about today? I’d love it. And even if you don’t have a million, maybe you give him $100. Let’s help this guy out. He’s our kind of guy here on The Jim Rutt Show. Liam Madden, I want to really thank you for coming on here. I’m amazed that you have the ideas that you have and you’re actually on the ballot. That gives me a lot of hope.
Liam: I’m so grateful for that. Thank you, Jim. It’s been such an honor. I’ve seen the guests you’ve had, and I feel just so humbled. I’m pleased to meet you and hope we can stay in touch. If I win, I could either name a bridge after you for that little appeal you just did, or I can make you the Czar of Game Bdom. I appreciate you so much, man. Have a great day.
Jim: Sound very cool. Actually, I want a toilet named after me in the House office building, The James E. Rutt Crapper.
Liam: I think I can manage that.
Jim: All right. Well, thank you again. This was really a wonderful conversation, and it actually restores my fairly meager trust in our political system that somebody like you could actually make it on the ballot.
Liam: All right, take care, Jim.