There Is an Alternative to Lawyers Running the Country
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There Is an Alternative to Lawyers Running the Country

Imagine for a moment if the US government was run by a cross-section of people.
March 20, 2015, 11:00am

Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and founder of and presidential candidate for the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.

For many of us, our careers take more time and energy than anything else in our lives. Our chosen professions speak volumes not only about who we are, but what we believe in. With one's job being so important in one's life, you'd think there would be more insistence on career background diversity for the top leadership roles in the US government.

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There isn't.

Forty percent of our highest politicians in the US Congress are l​awyers. And it's been like that, or even more stilted, for a long time. Does that seem right?

The legal profession is often criticized in public in a blase way. Some of the criticism is fair, and some of it is nonsense. As the US Presidential candidate of the Transhu​m​anist Party, I'm not here to bash lawyers, some of whom are my close friends and advisors. However, I'm rather convinced one of the largest problems with US politics is that it's overrun with the profession of legal-minded people, who have a bad habit of creating evermore bureaucracy. In fact, I'm wondering if the US has lost its way as of late because too many attorneys are steering the wheel of our nation. I'm betting a system that has more career and education diversity across the government would result in a better nation, a better economy, and better social policies. So what can we do?

Philosophically, I've never been a fan of actions that let a lesser qualified person get better treatment or advantages than a more qualified person, especially in the workplace. The problem, though, is that massive inequalities exist for society at large, and how one becomes "more qualified" is partially tied to one's background and circumstances. That's why to keep society moving forward, helping the lesser qualified person (often the far more underrepresented person, too) is important and sometimes very necessary—especially if as a country we believe in the spirit of democracy.

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With this in mind, I see only two realistic ways (and a third default method) to get other non-attorney politicians into office.

The first is to simply put a legal cap on the amount of lawyers (and any other single profession, for that matter—we wouldn't want all bankers running everything either). To keep a fair playing field, maybe we could have a lottery or rotation system deciding how many attorneys can serve in the three branches of US Government and in what states. Of course, such an idea is interesting to contemplate, but it's totally unlikely to happen, as it's somewhat authoritarian.

A second, perhaps more likely way might be to give non-attorney politicians a better advantage at being elected in the first place. For example, generous federal and state funding for campaigns could be made available to qualified non-legal degreed candidates. And many other incentives could be provided to push non-lawyers into office, such as public promotion campaigns that advocate diversified career backgrounds of its US government leaders. I'm thinking ST​EM advocates would love this.

Of course, there's a default method, too. Some futurists, including myself, see a time coming when lawyers—human lawyers that is—will become ob​solete.

"To have a government that is so overwhelmingly dominated by people with a common training risks shutting out other ways of thinking about what our politics could be."

The rise of artificial intelligence is poised to affect many jobs, and the legal profession is definitely included. Free online legal advice has already caused law schools to have lower amounts of entrance applications, since less lawyers may be needed in the future. So if we just wait it out for 20 or 30 years, when ​superintelligent AI arrives, we might not have to worry about attorneys running the country. They won't exist, at least not in human form.

There's a problem with that argument, though. With lawyers mostly in charge of the nation and its laws, it's unlikely they are going to let technology sabotage the legal field and their careers—at least not too much. In the near future, expect attorneys to try to pass stringent regulations on AI development and the robot revolution in the name of national security and stability—but really, in an effort to protect their livelihoods and dominance of US politics.

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Either way, with human or computer lawyers, there's simply too much red tape created by the legal profession in politics. When asked earlier this year to comment on the large amount of lawyers entering the 114th US Congress (213 in total of 535 places), Cornell Law School's Josh Chafetz told The National Law Journal, "I suppose my only real thought would be that that's probably too many lawyers—especially when you consider that the president is a lawyer and all of our judges are lawyers. To have a government that is so overwhelmingly dominated by people with a common training risks shutting out other ways of thinking about what our politics could be."

Here's the thing: Being a lawyer is more than a profession—it's a state of mind. To the attorney, everything is settled in court, by a judge, through guiding rules, historical precedence, and subjective presentation of ideas and facts. Lawyering is essentially becoming proficient at abstract thinking, and society must be careful to leave its operations in the hands of people who deal mostly in the abstract.

Doctors, engineers, farmers, plumbers, and just about every other profession don't look at the world in the same way as attorneys do. Doctors have taken an oath to help their patients by administering the best medicines and performing surgical procedures. Engineers must make sure their buildings don't fall on its inhabitants and that the lights work. Farmers must grow food with whatever conditions they're given or people don't eat. Plumbers must make sure sewage pipes flow freely and don't backup. These are not abstract pursuits. They are the nuts and bolts of a material world.

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Abstract ideas are easy to get lost in—just think of the fascination with abstract art, which I also enjoy. But it's no way to run a country.

"With almost 1.3 million lawyers—more by far than any other country, and more as a percentage of the national population than almost all others—the United States is choking on litigation, regulation, and disputation," says Jeff Jacob​y, a Boston Globe columnist with a law degree. "Everything is grist for the lawyers' mills. Anyone can be sued for anything, no matter how absurd or egregious. And everyone knows how expensive and overwhelming a legal assault can be. The rule of law is essential to a free and orderly society, but too much law and lawyering makes democratic self-rule impossible, and common sense legally precarious."

Imagine for a moment if the US government was run by a cross-section of people, all who have had different careers and varying educations. Imagine if the massive medical profession of America's workforce was represented by surgeons, nurses, and scientists. Imagine if blue-collar workers sat in Congress and debated inequality. What if teachers dealt with education reform? What if designers wondered about infrastructure development of the country and had political power to implement it? What if journalists dealt directly with defense and military policy? What if accountants and mathematicians debated spending budgets? What if scientists dealt with environmental issues and laws?

When I imagine these things, it's not hard to picture a better America—one that more closely reflects the will, image, and dreams of its people. America was made great by the promise of the American Dream: the idea that you can become successful through your hard work. I tend to believe we should consider mandating that non-legal professions be equally involved in government and leadership of our country. A system could be developed where all major professions are approximately represented according to their numbers and societal impact.

Many people seem to be dissatisfied with the plight of American politics and our nation's future. Perhaps if we really want to improve our country, we should start by electing leaders who design and build our homes, who teach science and history to our children, who diagnose and cure our diseases, who plant and grow our foods, and who create new technologies and innovations that improve our lives. We can change America by insisting new types of people lead our government.