Some policy agenda items for discussionPosted: July 12, 2009
There is a discussion about what govenrment should do to fix the economy. The economy cannon t easily be separated from other governance issues. Here is a list of tentative things for discussion that should be on the agenda — if not of the government then of groups who are thinking about how to get out of the various messes we are in — not yet in any order of importance (which should be the first item: to set priorities…) Should it not be considered Un-American to suggest that Americans cannot design themselves a government ‘of, for, by the people’ that actually works?
1. Discourse framework
The format and structure of the public discourse about public policy (not just elections) should be reorganized, with the aim of providing proposals, arguments and supporting evidence into concise focus and overview, de-emphasizing the repetition, partisan name-calling and degeneration into insults that characterize many of the discussion fora on the internet. Ideas for such a forum are available.
2. A dual system of governance and private enterprise
For all the rhetoric about ‘less government’ and ‘government is the problem’, it is clear that there must be some coherent collective organization to provide the groundwork of agreements, infrastructure, and conflict resolution mechanisms without which complex technological civilizations cannot function. But the discussion as to which tasks belong to this realm of common infrastructure, and how they should be provided, as opposed to things that could and should be done by private enterprise, is very necessary. For example, why not explore the possibility of a ‘dual system’ where every citizen is automatically an ‘employee’ of the government, which in turn provides the basic social network of security/protection, education. health insurance and infrastructure, financed not only through taxes but through civic / community work contributrions on the part of everybody. Everybody is also encouraged to work in the private sector, for competitive wages and profit. Private enterprise would be relieved from the burden of witholding taxes, providing insurance, pensions etc. since those functions will be taken over by government. Of course, everybody will be free to purchase enhancement packages to the basic insurance or education or retirement plans of the government system on the private market. The ratio of work in the public to private sector is automatically sliding: when business is good, more people will work in the private sector, government will purchase infrastructuyre services on the market and finance it through taxes; in times of crisis in the private sector, that ratio will automatically shift to public work — at wages that merely guarantee that nobody will suddenly go hungry, be homeless or without health care. Since everybody is already ‘in the system’, no cumbersome new programs and bureaucracies will have to be set up. The disruptions of economic ups and downs will be smoothed out if not entirely avoided.
3. Percentage Budgeting
Instead of the poisonous battles erupting whenever government revenues fall and budgets have to be trimmed, a simple expedient would be for legislatures to simply specify budgets in percentages of the actual revenues that will accrue, instead of actual dollar figures. The impact of budget cuts will then automatically be more evenly distributed — there will be fewer groups exposed to drastic losses while saving the fortunes of better protected groups. All departments in the system will have to make their own estimates as well as preparing strategies for dealing with the resulting uncertainty; and will arguably do this in more meaningful ways than what can be achieved in crude last-minute compromise amendments to legislative budgets prepared in overtime, that nobody will eb able to read before voting on them.
4. Percentage budget tax voting
As part of the voting process — instead of destructive and divisive referenda that target single issues — the possibility of having voters express — again, as percentages — their preferences as to how their taxes should be allocated to all the various government functions. This would then become guidance information for the budget preparation, and the basis for government / legislation performance evaluation.
5. No new bills without impact analysis
No new bills should be proposed and /or adopted without a reliable analysis, made public, as to the resulting impact of the legislation. This in itself would make the adding of last-minute unread amendments more difficult.
6. No laws affecting (or excluding) lawmakers and govbenrment officials
No laws should be allowed that affect (i.e. provide benefits for) lawmakers and government officials, that will not be available to the public; nor should laws be allowed that exclude lawmakers and government officials from the impact they will have on the public.
7. No laws or policy plans without a “what if we’re wrong” clause
No policies or laws should be adopted that do not have a component spelling out what actions will be necessary if the basic argument in favor of the plan turn out to be flawed — that is, if either one of its premises do no longer hold:
a) the goal or objective aimed for with the proposed means
b) the means will not achieve the desired goal or objective; or
c) the conditions under which a) or b) are valid, are no longer the case.
8. Research, discussion and adoption of better conflict resolution tools
At all levels — local, regional, national and especially international, better tools are needed for peaceful, cooperative conflict resolution.
9. Research, discussion, adoption of better sanctions for breaking laws / agreements
Again, at all governance levels, there is a need for better devices or mechanisms for preventing the breach of agreements, laws, and treaties. Especially, the imposition of (“painful”) sanctions by the application of greater force should be replaced as much as possible by mechanisms of sanctions triggered ‘automatically’ by the very act of breaking the agreement, law, or treaty. This can be achieved, for example, by the installation of ‘safety switches’ for crucial infrastructure systems of a party A in the very systems of party B that would be affected by the violation by A.
A low-level example: the devices that prevent activating the ignition of cars except by the key of authorized users could be enhanced with modules sensing whether that driver is inebrieated, and possibly record and automatically withdraw ‘civic credit points’ (earned through both respective competence tests and civic service) from the driver’s account — obviating the large costs currently devoted to preventing and prosecuting drunk driving.
10. Research, discussion, adoption of more meaningful ways of dealing with power
The issue of power is currently still dealt with in very inconsistent ways. It is allocated — delegated — to officials bot as a perquisite and as the necessary condition for executing official duties / enforcing policies, laws etc. It is obvious that power is sought as much for its own sake as it is for the sake of being able to perform public service. Is power a form of human need? It is also obvious that power — almost inevitably — leads to temptations to abuse: to just bend the rules a little, and then a little more. Is being able to break the rule the only proof of true freedom truly having power? — For if one has to abide by the rules, does one truly have power, freedom? Should power therefore be treated like any other human craving: paid for? Or a deposit (or money or civic credit points etc.) be required that will ‘automatically’ be lost upon violation?
11. Revision of current unquestioned socio-economic mantras — e.g. “growth”
It is an almost unquestioned principle — agreed upon by even fundamentally opposing political and economic philosophies — that a health economy is inevitably linked to growth. Governments like corporations are evaluated according to the rate of economic growth they achieve — even worse, measured in terms that do not necessarily account for real human well-being, but, like GDP, only transactions that involve money payments. This, when even the most superficial inspection of an exponential growth curve, together with the insight that some basic resources are inherently limited (land, water…) should tell us that indefinite growth is unsustainable and impossible for many if not most segments of the economy. The implications of this on e.g. fiscal policy are not clear, currently growth is the unquestioned goal and criterion. But one implication is increasingly evident: its indiscriminate dominance has led to the ever-growing income gap between the higher and lower groups in society: The simple example of the interest rate offered by banks for savings deposits (CD’s) — the higher, the higher the sum deposited — cannot by any stretch of rhetoric be justified with the greater skill, inventiveness, work ethic etc. of the higher sum depositor: it is fundamentally as inequitable and unjust as universally unquestioned and accepted. Should these fundamentals be subjected to critical revision? Should there be some mechanism of ‘diminishing marginal growth of profit rates’, for example, for corporate or individual incomes? That would be much easier an less controversial to implement and enforce that the after-the-fact (hurting) taxing of that income, which is then decried as ‘redistribution of wealth’ — (as if that wealth wasn’t inequitably distributed in the first place?). The discussion of these issues is very necessary, but the form, style and partisanship namecalling should be reduced (see above item#1).
The list can undoubtedly be expanded; it is just a starting exercise.