News from Rigatopia (offshore, way beyond the Fog Island with its mythical Tavern…)
The election of a Rigatopia president and parliament has been canceled. Mainstream media speculation about who the strongman new Un-nation might be, are wildly off the mark. Rigatopians have decided, after a long discussion, that with the introduction of the new AbbéBoulian governance system, these trappings of government are not needed. Instead, they are using the innovative community planning and argument evaluation process to effectively solve the problem of power in governance.
The starting point of the process was the introduction of the civic credit system that is part of their ‘passport’ — a revived version of the old ‘Nansen Passport’ for displaced persons after WWI. All new arrivals as well as children born in Rigatopia are issued such a passport, and it comes with a starting capital of civic credits for each new citizen. These credits are the currency and access keys to taking part in community life. People can ‘earn’ more civic credits in a variety of ways: civil service, demonstration of having acquired important skills, making contributions to community planning and decision-making discussions, in which the ‘constitutional’ provisions, citizens rights and responsibilities as well as other common rules and even short term decisions are agreed upon. The key concept for these arrangements is ‘agreement’. Elsewhere they might be called ‘laws’; a term avoided here because of its traditional connotations of having been imposed upon citizens by some ruling entity.
Of course, provisions must be agreed upon to ensure that the agreements are adhered to. This is done in the following manner. Instead of a ‘law enforcement’ agency charged with discovering and prosecuting agreement violations, a series of provisions are put in place that reward citizens with civic credits for useful, productive contributions but also subtracts credits as a consequence of agreement violations. At the extreme, people accumulating more violation points than they have credits are in fact, losing rights and freedoms, depending on the severity of their infractions. Due to these provisions, the need for ‘police’ or security agencies is kept to a minimum. Correspondingly, the tendency for such enforcement agencies — that must by definition be more powerful (forceful) that any potential violator, as long as ‘lawbreaking’ and transgressions of agreements are ‘enforced’ by sanctions consisting of threats or actual use of force — to become ‘corrupt’, is also kept to a minimum. The temptation to engage in corrupt behavior or abuse of power is recognized to be a ubiquitous feature of power itself: if the powerful agency has no ‘more powerful’ overseer, it will inevitably be tempted to persuade itself that the rules and agreements don’t apply to itself.
Rigatopians’ recognition of the nature of power — as both a necessary condition for a free human life in its form as ’empowerment’ to pursue life, liberty and happiness AND as a potentially addictive force — led to the view that yes, people should have access to power (be empowered) — just as they should have access to food and other life necessities — but that people should ‘pay’ for power extending into realms affecting other people’s freedom and empowerment. The ‘currency’ for such payments is, plausibly enough, provided in the civic credit system. But the need for ‘powerful’ people to make decisions is also greatly reduced by that very civic credit system.
For many collective decisions, the participatory discussion forum (in which participation is encouraged by the face that all contributions, questions and answers, proposals, arguments both ‘pro’ and ‘con’ are rewarded with basic contribution credits which are increased or decreased by the collective plausibility evaluation process) will lead to decisions characterized by the need to modify proposals until a solution acceptable to all parties has been achieved. Some of these discussions will be about specialized matters for which there may be spokespersons of greater than average expertise.
But of course Rigatopians recognize that there are situations in which decisions must be made quickly, either as routine adjustments to regular service operations, or responses to emergencies, and that people should be assigned to such duties. The ‘qualifications’ for such ‘powerful’ decision-making positions are sufficiently high civic credit accounts, earned by previous quality service. This may not appear very different from the ‘political capital’ of elected officials usually manifested in votes. The difference here is that decision by such people must be ‘paid for’ — with credit points appropriate to the significance of the decision. The payment may be seen as an ‘investment’ in the decision — one that can ‘earn’ more credit points if successful and beneficial to the public, but one that will be ‘lost’ if the decision is unsuccessful. The credit account will eventually be depleted by poor decisions; — a phenomenon that finally gives some more concrete meaning to the idea of ‘accountability’.
Very important decisions may be so ‘expensive’ that they exceed the ability of individual persons to ‘pay’ for them. Citizens may then transfer some of their credits to potential decision-makers (of their choice); they thereby become ‘fellow investors’ in the decision, proportionately accountable for success or failure: they lose their transferred credits for unwise decisions, but proporionately gain new credits for success.
These arrangements were soon seen as decreasing the necessity for permanent and temporary (for ‘terms of office’) decision-makers. The transfer of decision-empowering credits could be made to any qualified citizen, different people for different issues: hence the decision to do without a parliamentary body of decision-makers as well as president. Many people qualified for such positions could be designated for various ‘figurehead’ functions: receiving visitors or ‘presiding’ at official events — all at civic credit expense to their accounts.
Of course these innovations do not cover all facets of the power issue. What about the power of knowledge and information, the role of ‘propaganda’ — the ‘free speech’-justified power to bombard citizens with incessant political advertising and the like? Some such objections may be covered by the provision to have people pay (with civic credits) for any such activities exceeding the simple one-time entering their information and argument onto the common ‘bulletin board’ that serves as the basis for the public plausibility and significance evaluation. (If there is a sufficient guarantee that enough people will participate in that process, there is no need for the repetition.) But of course many issues of this kind will have to be studied and discussed in more detail before being ready to be proposed for adoption as ‘Law-like’ – agreements. The experiment is seen as a long overdue start for developing new forms of governance instead of the constant bickering about this or that century-old model.
The following considerations are triggered by the following occurrences: A lengthy discussion took place on LinkedIn, (with more than 7700 comments over nearly two years) responding to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’ address at the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos, calling for ‘revolutionary thinking and action to ensure an economic model for survival’. In spite of several efforts to develop a summary of the many interesting and creative ideas that were discussed, let alone a decisive recommendation statement that could be sent to the UN or other agencies, the discussion appear to have ended without any such result. However, key participants in that discussion decided – as a result of the insights or in recognition of the inadequacy of the outcome? – to develop a document endorsing the idea and adoption of the Commons as a guiding paradigm to replace the current economic system. The questions listed in the following are based on issues that have been raised during that huge LinkedIn discussion, but are not, to my mind, adequately reflected in the material promoting adoption of the Commons and inviting others to join this movement, in the hope that they can be clarified to better support a decision to endorse or not endorse the proposal to adopt the Commons concept.
The concept of the commons is appealing; especially so in view of the apparent crisis of currently predominant economic paradigms. The fact of traditional commons having yielded to the current paradigm – a process known as ‘the tragedy of the commons’ – suggests careful analysis of the concept, the circumstances in which it is successful and enduring, and the circumstances leading to the ‘tragedy’: if it is to be adopted as a replacement of the current economic system, what are the reasons allowing us to assume that the tragedy will not be repeated?
The material I have been studying appear to be emphasizing the desirability of returning to a commons-based system for the global economy – often to the point of sounding a little like wishful thinking – and neglecting due examination of critical issues, even very trivial and practical ones that could help readers who are still unaware or unconvinced to endorse the concept.
I don’t know if the questions that bother me have been answered in material I have not yet read; but I suggest that any answers to these questions should be included in the material advocating adoption of the commons as an alternative to the current predominant system, such as the material I have seen. To entice proponents to address and articulate these questions, it may be useful to adopt the role of ‘devil’s advocate’: raising some critical issues that might constitute arguments against adoption of the commons, in the hope that they will be answered not only to my satisfaction but to the level of effectiveness that can cause people who are now beneficiaries of the current system (more than I am) and therefore likely to oppose adoption, to change their position. It is in this spirit that I try to articulate some possible questions and objections, not even trying to cover such objections exhaustively. While I may have some ideas that might possibly be helpful in this regard, they are likely to be controversial in their own right, and injecting these into the discussion is still premature as well as distracting from the principle that proponents of the concept are still carrying the ‘burden of proof’ of its viability.
1 A first question: what are the conditions – both features of commons, and conditions ‘outside’ those commons – that led to the ‘tragedy of the commons’? And what is the evidence that those conditions either do not exist now, or that they will be able to be overcome, and how?
2 Can the rise of earlier commons arrangements be described (in part) as arising from the fact that resources, or the domains in which resources were located, were too large, and thus inconvenient or impossible to be claimed as private property (e.g. large forests in which people were hunting, or mountain areas for summertime grazing by domesticated livestock), so that those forests or mountain areas were initially not ‘owned’ and only in time became claimed as ‘common’ property of a defined community when the respective resources became scarce enough to necessitate some rules for their exploitation? (Subsequently turning into ‘private property’?) If so, is that condition or sequence comparable to the current situation where the main critical resources for survival are privately owned? What implications does this difference have for the task of returning the resources to ‘common’ ownership?
3 Most critical resources supporting human life today are in private property hands. The question has been raised how those can be returned to ‘common’ ownership – commons — because of concerns regarding the status of private property: In many countries, it is constitutionally protected and regarded as a cornerstone of a free society and economy, and attempts to change this must be expected to encounter significant opposition. Claims have been made to the effect that there is no intent to change this. If so, this would leave some of the most critical resources in private property hands, and the movement for the Commons would focus on resources that are not yet ‘owned’. If the underlying factors of the current crisis are related to the fact of private ownership of crucial resources, how would these problems be solved or mitigated by adoption of the Commons as the guiding paradigm for the remaining resources?
4 The representation and recommendation of adopting the Commons as a ‘guiding paradigm’ appears to contradict the assurance that no (involuntary) conversion of privately owned resources is intended. The contradiction would disappear if
a) the assurance of no intent to change private property into Commons is retracted, (that is, those resources must ultimately be converted, (presumably against the resistance of the owners) or
b) the significance of resources currently in private hands is reduced, e.g. by other resources assuming their critical role for the survival of humanity; or
c) the adoption of the Commons even for currently non-vital resources will change the attitude of the owners of critical resources to voluntarily agree to conversion.
I don’t see these questions clearly answered (in the material I have seen); they should be clarified both to make it easier for people to decide whether they want to endorse the Commons movement, and to counter potentially embarrassing questions – for example the following:
5 If the crisis cannot be solved with critical resources in private property, but (only) by adoption of the Commons as ‘guiding’ (i.e. predominant) paradigm, the assurance that critical resource now in private property will not have to be converted is not believable. This would expose Commons promoters to the suspicion of deceptively pursuing conversion: ‘starting with non-essential domains, but tomorrow the world…’ The etymological closeness of “Commons’ and ‘Communism’ raises the specter of unjustified (or ‘justified?) vicious attacks by opponents, describing supporters as crypto-communists deviously aiming at taking over…
6 Alternatively, if the assurance ‘no conversion of private resources) is believable, the campaign for the Commons will be restricted to non-essential resources. This will not really change the causes of the crisis (unless other remedies unrelated to the Commons are taken) — and can be seen as inadvertently or deliberately (deviously) carrying the water for the owners of those critical resources – is the Commons movement a distraction, a diversion from the real problems?
7 Assuming absence of such devious intentions, the possibility must be accepted that there will be opponents of conversion, or of the various rules that must be agreed upon and installed for each Commons resource – even if widespread voluntary adoption of the Commons paradigm can be achieved. This means that there will have to be arrangements to ensure that rules and agreements will be adhered to: a function usually seen as the government’s (state) responsibility, and usually labeled ‘enforcement’ because to overcome resistance and opposition, the ‘enforcer’ must have greater power and force than any would-be violator. It is well known that such power is addictive and can be corrupted; such corruption is widely seen as one of the causes or contributing factors of the crisis. What are the provisions in the Commons concept that might remedy, replace or effectively counteract the detrimental aspects of such enforcement power? Failing satisfactory assurances regarding this question, could the Commons movement be denigrated as a deliberate or inadvertent scheme to increase and secure the power of the State…?
8 If satisfactory arrangements can be found to reduce or eliminate the danger of corruption and abuse of power — of governments as well as private enterprise entities – would those arrangements necessarily be tied to a Commons system? If not, what would be the difference whether such arrangements are applied to a Commons – type economy, or any other economic system?