Institutions for Future Generations

Given the plau­si­bil­ity of longter­mism, many effec­tive al­tru­ists are in­ter­ested in iden­ti­fy­ing tractable ways to shape the very long-term fu­ture for the bet­ter. One ne­glected and po­ten­tially tractable way to vastly im­prove the value of the long-term fu­ture is by iden­ti­fy­ing fu­ture-benefi­cial poli­ti­cal and eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions and poli­cies and act­ing to in­crease the prob­a­bil­ity of their im­ple­men­ta­tion at var­i­ous lev­els of poli­ti­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion. Will MacAskill re­cently ad­vo­cated age-weighted vot­ing as one such strat­egy for bet­ter-al­ign­ing the in­ter­ests of gov­ern­ments with the in­ter­ests of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to im­prove the value of the fu­ture. We can in prin­ci­ple imag­ine many more, and po­ten­tially more promis­ing de­sign and policy pro­pos­als for al­ign­ing in­sti­tu­tional in­cen­tives with the in­ter­ests of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions so that States will be more likely to use their mas­sive re­sources and in­fluence to re­duce the like­li­hood of catas­trophic risks and put the world on a more pos­i­tive long-term tra­jec­tory.

To that end, I’ve re­cently un­der­taken the pro­ject—funded by the Forethought Foun­da­tion—of iden­ti­fy­ing and tax­on­o­miz­ing as many fu­ture-benefi­cial poli­ti­cal and eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions and poli­cies as pos­si­ble and eval­u­at­ing them along at least the fol­low­ing di­men­sions:

  • How effec­tively could this de­sign pro­mote value in the very long-run?

  • How poli­ti­cally fea­si­ble is this pro­posal?

  • How likely is it to be co-opted by other (esp. short­ter­mist) in­ter­ests?

  • How well could it func­tion as a sym­bol for a wider longter­mist move­ment?

To date, I’ve iden­ti­fied 33 dis­tinct in­sti­tu­tions and poli­cies, rang­ing from the very in­cre­men­tal/​re­al­ist to the rel­a­tively utopian. I’m writ­ing to so­licit your help iden­ti­fy­ing more po­ten­tially fu­ture-benefi­cial in­sti­tu­tions and poli­cies. Any­thing that comes to mind off the top of your head would prob­a­bly be use­ful, as this topic is very un­der-the­o­rized and if I don’t list the idea here it’s rel­a­tively likely that it hasn’t been con­sid­ered at any length any­where else. I’d also be in­ter­ested in gen­eral feed­back on any­thing rele­vant to the pro­ject, es­pe­cially sug­gested amend­ments to the eval­u­a­tion crite­ria and any use­ful em­piri­cal re­search that would be rele­vant to mak­ing these eval­u­a­tions.

I list all 33 de­signs be­low along with a brief and gen­eral de­scrip­tion. Once the pro­ject is finished, it’ll be pub­li­cly available as a re­port and I will be happy to share it back here.

Note that very few of these ideas origi­nate with me; some of them are in ex­ist­ing liter­a­ture, and oth­ers come from peo­ple who I’ve spo­ken to, who I ac­knowl­edge at the bot­tom of this post. Note also that not all of these pro­pos­als are ex­pected to be good pro­pos­als. In the fi­nal re­port, less promis­ing pro­pos­als will re­ceive a more shal­low re­view and more promis­ing pro­pos­als will re­ceive a more thor­ough re­view. Many might turn out to be quite un­promis­ing.

Thanks in ad­vance for your feed­back!


Vot­ing by Guardianship

Fu­ture peo­ple are granted suffrage which is ex­er­cised through bal­lots cast by a for­mal body of ex­ist­ing peo­ple se­lected to rep­re­sent fu­ture peo­ple and who vote with the ex­press pur­pose and func­tion of vot­ing on be­half of fu­ture peo­ple.

De­meny Voting

Some (pos­si­bly all) vot­ers are given an ad­di­tional vote which they are told to cast on be­half of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Spe­cial Vot­ing Rules

Spe­cific vot­ing rules for mat­ters con­cern­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, es­pe­cially in the leg­is­la­ture. One model is a sub-ma­jor­ity rule model: if a pre-de­ter­mined nu­mer­i­cal sub-ma­jor­ity of the leg­is­la­ture de­ter­mines that a bill is in con­tempt of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, the bill can be stalled or ve­toed (sub­ject to over­turn by the Courts).

Om­budsper­son for Fu­ture Generations

Re­ceives and in­ves­ti­gates pub­lic com­plaints which can cul­mi­nate in le­gal cases taken on be­half of fu­ture peo­ple. Lacks for­mal sanc­tion­ing power, and re­lies on ca­pac­i­ties to sug­gest, per­suade, and ini­ti­ate (and take) le­gal cases. Con­nected to and formed by the leg­is­la­ture.

Par­li­a­men­tary Committees

Body in one or mul­ti­ple par­li­a­men­tary/​leg­is­la­tive house(s), typ­i­cally con­sti­tuted by par­li­a­men­tar­i­ans, which performs analysing re­search re­gard­ing fu­ture peo­ple and is able to give opinions on and in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion. May have in­de­pen­dent pow­ers in­clud­ing veto.

Ministries for Fu­ture Generations

Depart­ments in the ex­ec­u­tive branch which are im­me­di­ate sub­di­vi­sions of the cab­i­net and led by the head of gov­ern­ment and of state. (AKA “ex­ec­u­tive de­part­ment,” “office,” “state sec­re­tariat.”)

In­de­pen­dent Ex­ec­u­tive Agen­cies for Fu­ture Generations

In­de­pen­dent agen­cies cre­ated by the ex­ec­u­tive branch which are not lo­cated in the cab­i­net but which may be given cab­i­net-level au­thor­ity.

In-gov­ern­ment Think Tank

Ad­vi­sory re­search group lo­cated within gov­ern­ment set up to perform an­a­lyt­i­cal re­search on the welfare of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions but which may perform other func­tions such as co­or­di­nat­ing gov­ern­ment, fa­cil­i­tat­ing con­ver­sa­tion, and run­ning work­shops.

Non-bind­ing Im­pact Assessments

Re­quires pro­posed poli­cies to con­tain an as­sess­ment of their welfare im­pacts on fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The im­pact as­sess­ment serves only to quan­tify im­pacts, raise their salience, and em­bar­rass pro­pos­als with ex­ces­sive nega­tive im­pact while prais­ing pro­pos­als with pos­i­tive im­pact.

Fi­nan­cial In­sti­tu­tions for In­ter­gen­er­a­tional Borrowing

World in­sti­tu­tions which can is­sue debt to in­vestors and in­vest the re­sources gained in fu­ture-benefi­cial in­ter­ven­tions.

In­ter­gen­er­a­tional Sin Taxes

Tax com­pa­nies pro­por­tion­ally to ex­pected dam­ages to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. In­vest the re­sources gained in fu­ture-benefi­cial in­ter­ven­tions.

Com­mon Her­i­tage Fund for Fu­ture Generations

In­ter­na­tional fund al­lo­cated for the benefit of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions; in the tra­di­tion of pre­vi­ous her­i­tage funds such as the Maltese Pro­posal re­gard­ing Com­mon Her­i­tage of Mankind, the UNESCO World Her­i­tage Fund, and so forth.

World Tax for Fu­ture Generations

In­ter­na­tional tax to be in­vested in fu­ture-benefi­cial in­ter­ven­tions. Mar­cel Sz­abó recom­mends a 1% im­port tax on world trade.

Contin­gency Trust Funds

When gov­ern­men­tal offi­cials fail to pro­tect the poli­ti­cal in­ter­ests of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions (whether through neg­li­gence or ne­ces­sity), the trustee in­sti­tu­tions would re­quire the gov­ern­ment to provide com­pen­sa­tion for the dam­age done to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Pen­sions Pro­por­tionate to Eco­nomic Growth

Pay poli­ti­cal lead­ers’ pen­sions in pro­por­tion to how the coun­try’s econ­omy is do­ing at their time of re­tire­ment (or similar) as an in­cen­tive mechanism.

Longer Elec­tion Cycles

Re­duces ex­tent of short-term in­cen­tives by ex­tend­ing time in gov­ern­ment office.

Leg­is­la­tive Youth Quotas

Re­quires a speci­fied pro­por­tion of leg­is­la­tors to be be­low a speci­fied age.

Age Limits on Electorate

In­verse of youth quo­tas, set­ting an up­per limit on the age of mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture or in other branches of gov­ern­ment.

Age-weighted Voting

Votes are a weighted func­tion of age, most plau­si­bly func­tion­ing to in­crease the for­mal poli­ti­cal power of younger vot­ers rel­a­tive to older vot­ers.

En­fran­chise­ment of the Young

Low­er­ing the vot­ing age to bring in more young vot­ers with a greater in­ter­est in the fu­ture go­ing well.

Guardian­ship Vot­ing for the Very Young

Low­er­ing the vot­ing age to 0, pro­vid­ing votes to those who can­not cast a bal­lot through trustee re­la­tion­ships with par­ents or other as­signed guardians.

In­ter­gen­er­a­tional De­liber­a­tion Day

A des­ig­nated day on which is­sues of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions are dis­cussed in gov­ern­ment, schools, or in other de­liber­a­tive con­texts.

Ad­di­tional Leg­is­la­tive House

Leg­is­la­tive house which is tasked di­rectly with the con­cerns of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Could be an “up­per” house with more limited pow­ers (e.g., can’t in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion and can only vote on mat­ters of long-term im­por­tance) or might have spe­cial pow­ers such as the abil­ity to au­tho­rize cer­tain ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sions and ap­point­ments. Might be ran­domly ap­pointed group of cit­i­zens.

The Court of Generations

An amend­ment to the US Con­sti­tu­tion to cre­ate the Court of Gen­er­a­tions. The Court, which will reside in the ju­di­cial branch of gov­ern­ment, will judge whether pre­sent so­ciety is ‘in con­tempt of in­tol­er­ably threat­en­ing the se­cu­rity of the bless­ings of liberty to our Pos­ter­ity’. The Court will con­sist of a grand jury, made up of one cit­i­zen from each state, and the mem­bers of the Supreme Court. It will meet at least once ev­ery five years. The Court will have no au­thor­ity to force the im­ple­men­ta­tion of any so­cial pro­grammes or agenda. Rather, the Court will provide a fo­cus for na­tional dis­cus­sion and pri­ori­ti­za­tion of long-term is­sues. (Bruce Tonn)

Hu­man Rights Law

In­ter­na­tion­ally-rec­og­nized le­gal rights for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, of sub­sis­tence, ex­is­tence, etc. Need bits of gov­ern­ment to carry out man­date, and there may be a body that en­sures it is be­ing car­ried out.

Royal Commission

Launched by the crown (in monar­chies) to look into mat­ters of ex­treme im­por­tance and in­ves­ti­gate and ad­vise on a very spe­cific is­sue.

Policy Au­di­tor/​Tar­get-setting

Office es­tab­lished to en­sure fol­low-through on in­ter­nally-de­scribed goals and tar­gets by re­view­ing progress on these goals and giv­ing recom­men­da­tions.

In­sti­tu­tions for Pro­tect­ing Fu­ture Democracy

In­sti­tu­tions de­signed to en­sure in­tra­gen­er­a­tional demo­cratic con­trol for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Con­sti­tu­tional Entrenchment

Cod­ify the State’s in­ter­est in the welfare of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions in fun­da­men­tal gov­ern­ing doc­u­ments for the na­tion. Must meet three con­di­tions (Gon­za­lez-Ri­coy): 1) in­clu­sion in a le­gal doc­u­ment with nor­ma­tive su­pe­ri­or­ity over or­di­nary statutes, 2) can only be amended by means that are more stringent than those of or­di­nary law-mak­ing pro­ce­dures, 3) en­force­able by an in­de­pen­dent body with the abil­ity to re­view statutes that may not com­ply with them.

Alter For­mal Du­ties and Re­spon­si­bil­ities of Poli­ti­cal Leadership

Pass re­form to change the stated du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­ities of poli­ti­cal lead­er­ship such as the du­ties of par­li­a­men­tary offices. Depend­ing on the ju­ris­dic­tion, this can come with teeth, e.g., the power of ju­di­cial re­view in English law.

Quo­tas based on Group Membership

Re­quire that cer­tain gov­ern­men­tal bod­ies (esp. leg­is­la­tures) have a min­i­mum num­ber of mem­bers of cer­tain groups (com­monly: mem­bers of the en­vi­ron­men­tal lobby).

UN High Com­mis­sioner for Fu­ture Generations

A sub-or­gan of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly which is tasked with in­ter­na­tional co­or­di­na­tion and recom­men­da­tion on is­sues of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Four-branch Model of Government

Sup­ple­ment the tra­di­tional three-branch model of gov­ern­ment (ex­ec­u­tive, leg­is­la­tive, ju­di­cial) with a fourth branch fo­cused on fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.


William MacAskill, Aron Val­lin­der, Alex Guer­rero, Adam Gib­bons, Ben Grodeck, Zach Fre­itas-Groff, Sam Hil­ton, Kian Mintz-Woo, Do­minic Roser, Max Stauffer, Christoph Win­ter, Brown Univer­sity Effec­tive Altru­ists, this great book!