BIG problems need small solutions

Effective and successful human societies are based on trust, cooperation and contribution. The balance between trust and cooperation is the key to unlocking our contribution. The social structure must provide sufficient protection of and benefit for the individual, to balance the necessary curtailment of individual liberty in the public space within which cooperation happens.

If I was to tell you that to fix our biggest problems we need only do three things: protect individual rights, devolve political power down to our communities and guarantee everyone the bare necessities of a productive life. What would you say?

Would you say that those three things do not address climate change, immigration, food sovereignty, trade, Middle East peace or some other issue?
Would you say that these changes are impossible, or impractical?
Would you say that changing the structure is futile or irrelevant if we don’t change ourselves first?

You’d be mistaken, if you did. We are faced with a veritable bevy of very serious and very significant problems: climate change, poverty, war, nuclear proliferation, demographics, corruption, water shortages and food insecurity, to name but a few. In seeking solutions to address these problems we are easily aware that we need big changes, but we tend to slip into looking for one or two big solutions for each problem. This is our pitfall, it leads us to see solutions in competition with each other and it does not deliver results.

Big solutions to big problems are easy to describe, to capture in a soundbite and put in a manifesto, but they are not reality. The solution to hunger in Africa is not aid, the solution to climate change is not carbon sequestration nor is it a carbon tax nor any other “magic bullet”. The big news about all of the big solutions we need is that they are made up of thousands of millions of little solutions acting in concert.

The most radical principle we must adopt if we are to solve our problems is devolution: we must empower individuals, communities and affected populations of all sizes to develop the specific solutions that befit their situations. Poverty, food supply, peace and environmental balance will not be fixed from above by beneficent leaders (even if we had any). The problems are too complex and the appropriate solutions too varied by locale to be effectively articulated in a grand plan from above.

The only grand plan we need is to empower people to develop their own solutions.

Such a grand plan of devolution must build the framework that will enable a thousand million solutions. The framework requires first that we trust one another. Next we must harness the value of collective, effective and coordinated decision-making. Finally we must free ourselves to make our maximum contributions. Those are the reasons why we need a new constitution, effective democracy and universal services, and why only this approach will actually result in solutions to our big problems.

Effective and successful human societies are based on trust, cooperation and contribution. The balance between trust and cooperation is the key to unlocking our contribution. The social structure must provide sufficient protection of and benefit for the individual, to balance the necessary curtailment of individual liberty in the public space in which cooperation happens. A clearly defined set of rules that formally incorporates these protections and benefits is a necessary precursor to full-throated cooperation.

Cooperation is as simple and as complex as it looks. We cooperate personally with our family and friends, communally in our neighborhoods, regionally for our utilities, nationally for our standards and internationally for peace; and even that is only a thin slice of the total reality. The only reason to constitutionalize freedom is to enable cooperation, and that makes cooperation to constitutional corollary. We need to be able to describe and incorporate our framework for cooperation just as we describe and incorporate our freedoms and protections.

Constitutionalizing cooperation requires a rationalization of our social framework, contemporaneous with the incorporation of flexibility that acknowledges and accommodates the inevitable inaccuracy of a universal application of that rationalization. The model of multilayered representation (www.standardsoflife.org/MLR) reconciles the needs of rationalization and flexibility by providing for local variability and tempromorphism without threatening the structural integrity of the cooperation that it enables. By using anthropologia as its source, MLR’s structure is universally applicable, concurrent with its malleability to local circumstances.

Having established the basis of trust and cooperation through the instrument of a constitution, the remaining ingredient is facilitating universal contribution. Anthropology reveals a natural human inclination to make contributions, once the threats to survival have been overcome. So the first step to enabling everyone to engage in developing and enacting the many small solutions we need to our big problems, is to do what we can to annul the distractions of personal survival. This requires a social commitment by all to the provision of the bare necessities of life to all. The reorientation of our societies toward more fundamentally democratic principles must be accompanied by a revisioning of the social contract to include not only the freedom and security of members but also their basic survival needs.

Universal services are the embodiment of the social contract and are delivered to all as a right of citizenship. As the foundation stone of our society it is right and proper that our tax revenues are used first to deliver these basic services. Beyond the manifestation of principle, the delivery of universal services fosters a cornucopia of opportunity for contribution from all. The cooperation built on trust will direct contributions to develop and implement the solutions to our biggest problems at the lowest marginal cost, because the revealed market for contributions values everything, however small, but only at its marginal value-added. Every service can find its place in a marketplace relieved of the competition of survival. Transaction volumes, wealth, efficiency, resilience and innovation are all increased dramatically. So are the opportunities for unique and enhancing contributions that can improve our standard of life, open gateways to personal growth and bring fun and joy into our existences. Plainly put, there are many more activities worth doing once your food and shelter are guaranteed for life.

So I say again that there are only three things we need to change to develop the solutions to our biggest problems: adopt a constitution protecting freedom, devolve political power and deliver universal services. Three things that, for different reasons in different countries, will be strongly resisted by the rich and the powerful elites; but their resistance does not for one moment tarnish the necessity or imperative.

The scale of the challenges we face and the universal implications of failing to address those challenges points us most assuredly at the vitality and importance of coordinated, cooperative contributions to meet those challenges. The universal adoption of a universal constitution and the provision of universal services do address our problems, they are practical (if not pragmatic), they are intertwined with the opportunity for personal growth and they are absolutely, unequivocally necessary for our survival.

Breaking the constituency link

The denunciation of a patently more democratic voting process based on its impact on a fundamentally flawed democratic structure betrays adherence to the latter.

Mr. Brown, and many others, say that they disapprove of introducing proportional representation because they believe it will break the link between an MP and their constituency. If we vote locally for a national assembly, he is right.

But the link that is broken is only broken in name, because it was broken in practice a long time ago. Our national parliament does not have the time and is not the appropriate venue for the resolution of local matters. It is a national parliament that concerns itself with national issues, and so it should.

The denunciation of a patently more democratic voting process based on its impact on a fundamentally flawed democratic structure betrays adherence to the latter. But it is hardly novel to point out that those in power are unlikely to support, or even to see, changes to the existing framework of power distribution as important or necessary.

Proportional representation is an excellent method of distributing power amongst representatives within a constituency. However if a single constituency is broken up into smaller pieces, the system falls apart. This is not a weakness of proportional representation, it is the logical result of the fundamentally flawed notion of segmented constituencies.

Improving the responsiveness of government, enhancing our democratic processes and more closely connecting the citizen to the actions of the government requires that we layer our government by constituency. We need local governments to tackle local issues and regional governments to tackle regional issues, just like we need national governments to tackle national issues. This will require national governments to give up their control and say over all issues that are not of truly national concern – this is probably a concept that hasn’t even crossed their minds.

Of course introducing proportional representation to the election of national representatives will result in a national chamber full of duly elected members who are concerned with, and were elected on, national issues. This is only a problem if the power to affect local issues is vested in the national parliament.

In reality the “constituency link” is a euphemism for

  • the false promise that you can elect a local MP to go to Westminster so that they can fix your local issues and represent your local perspective
  • the concentration of power at the national level
  • the further concentration of power within the national parliament to a select group of “ministers” (who I am sure have all the time in the world to devote to the matters, affairs and concerns of their local constituency)
  • a breeding ground for porkbarrel politics
  • the fundamental disenfranchisement of individual citizens because they vote locally for national representatives and end up with neither local action nor national representation
  • the protection of investment that “safe” constituencies provide
  • a system of waste that requires every MP to have two houses and travel continuously, such that they are rarely in touch with the reality of their local constituency, the broader electorate or even their own families

So Mr. Brown is right that introducing a fairer voting system will break the constituency link, but he is wrong to identify this as a problem. The problem is the lack of real democracy, and the solution is to break up the monolithic power structure of a single national parliament and devolve power down to constituencies. That will truly link the citizen with their community constituency.

 

 

Opportunity is knocking

Events have outstripped the establishment options.

78%. That’s the percentage of the electorate in the Norwich North that did not vote for the “winning” candidate in the last UK by-election.

So for every Conservative voter there are four others who don’t think that the Tories have the answers. We can do some basic maths here: the Conservatives won with 22% on a turnout of substantially less than 45%; that leaves 55% who didn’t vote at all and half of them is a little north of 27%. So if only half the people who didn’t vote, voted for an alternative… that alternative would have been the winner. Or, if only one in three non-voters voted and 10% of voters switched to the same alternative that would have been enough to win the election.

Add to that maths the fact that just under a third of all incumbent MPs will not be standing for re-election, and you have a real opportunity for real change.

Right now the economy isn’t even serving the minority, the population is aging, the country is committed to foreign wars beyond its means and the climate is heating up. None of these is addressed by the political choices on offer. Events have outstripped the establishment options.

It may be nine months premature to declare the death of Britain’s established political parties but it certainly demonstrates the opportunity. If a human baby can gestate from conception to birth in just nine months, surely a new politics can be born in the same time.

We want better. We deserve better. We can do better.

The essential dilemma of the “new left”

Capitalism and communism have failed differently but equally.

Why is it that, even when supported by a majority, the “new left” parties of today’s democracies seem so powerless and ineffective? These failings have gathered more significance now that their implications extend beyond the philosophical musings of academia to threaten the trajectory of our species.

If an effective and practical alternative to the “history ending” construct of post-Soviet capitalist democracy cannot be found, articulated and formulated… we will be “left” in the hands of fiddling tinkerers or patently failing but readily presentable nationalchismo and egocentrism that is so familiar it feels “right”.

The problem is rooted in the context of the “new left”. After the obvious failure of communism crystallized by the fall of the Berlin wall, the void in alternative thinking caused by half a century of war was deafening. The space was empty, and was promptly filled the “ideas lying around” at that time. The last two decades of the 20th century saw the sublimation of democracies into dependent clients of corporate capitalism. This context became the assumptive base on which all subsequent democratic rationales were built. Our politicians in the early 21st century grew out of this context, and inherited it as the de facto state of the world. All that remains to distinguish between today’s “new” political philosophies is whether or not to tinker with the details at the edges of the “established” wisdom. The “left” became self-described as missioned with the broadening of “opportunity” and the protection of “dignity”. The “right” became the guardians of the purity of the great manna machine that was the raison d’être of the system and without which all else was naught. And so was cast the mould from which our modern politics emerged.

The essential dilemma of this construct is that the “new left” cannot deliver on promises for change, because at its root it accepts the de facto model of democracy as a gift of capitalism. Only aspirations for a friendlier face on the head of capitalism is honestly deliverable, once you adopt capitalism (an economic, not a political, concept) as the core of your political philosophy. To offer to deliver an alternative reality from within the confines of this established hegemony is at worst bare faced lies or at best vainly naïve. Indeed a combination of those lies and thin promises are regularly offered up at election time by every shade of politician, short of the brazenly fascist. And we eat it up, at least we have until now.

At some point, one would assume, we will tire of the disrespect, the shallow illusions and the failed and broken promises. But will we do so in time? I believe we will. The percentage of the population of most democracies that are willing to suck it up one more time, to risk suffering the humiliation of disappointment garnished with a dressing of pompous ignore-ance, is waning. The number who have lost their forbearance for disrespect has climbed steadily this century, and in recent years has reached upwards of 20% of the voting constituency and a majority of the population below the median age. The time will come, and that time will come soon, when a sufficiently large majority of the voters in today’s democracies will have had enough of being lied to, had enough of going in what is obviously the wrong direction. At that time we will once again be grasping for the best ideas lying around. Without good ideas we all risk being seduced by the crude appeals of savage instincts, special natures, chosen myths and other aspects of the illusion of our disconnected selves – all of which would presage our demise and descent.

The best good ideas will not be bound by the strictures of 20th-century constraints on the limits of available models. Alternative frameworks that can actually deliver sustainable prosperity will be big ideas, they will start with what is and aspire to something completely different. A whole new framework that redraws the big picture is what will deliver the change we need.

Capitalism and communism have failed differently but equally. Not because either is without merit or devoid of place, but rather because there are only aspects of a whole. They are nascent ideas springing from the well of possibilities and were dressed in suits before they were rightfully out of diapers. A century of gestation allows us to develop a new model for our societies, our economies and our democracies that includes and values each aspect, in its proper position in the constellation of our natural natures.

The “new center” starts with the premise that the big picture needs to change. That’s what distinguishes it from both the left and the right of old politics.

Reforming Westminster – from Guardian’s “Comment is (apparently not very) Free”

The following text was posted to the Guardian UK web site on May 21st in their Comment is Free section in response to a call for suggestions about how to reform Westminster. Within 18 hours the moderators had removed it; not sure why as it does not defame anyone, it is on topic and relevant and does not seek to promote any commerical enterprise.
In the spirit of really free comment, I post here the original…


So we’re finally ready to think about the alternatives? Good. Not a moment too soon.

For those seriously interested in this, I think you have to figure out a system that reflects the natural organization of people, not just in England but in the EU and everywhere else. The timing of this furore coincidental with the EU elections highlights the need for reform across a much broader spectrum than the UK.

There is a model for the kind of regional/national configuration discussed above, mated with a system of proportional representation that actually works; you can find all the details at http://www.standardsoflife.org/mlr

What you will find as you work your way through the practicalities of political reform is that it will require a (new) constitution with a bill of rights. These are not things which spring happily to the minds of many in the UK, but they are essential. Constitutions, necessarily, require a good deal of thought before they are adopted and so reforming the political system could take quite a while… unless someone’s been thinking about this for a while already, and assembled the basic building blocks of a constitution already that would work well in the UK, builds on the strengths of exisiting international law and could work within an EU framework… http://www.standardsoflife.com/Constitution+Template

One “trouble” with an enhanced system democracy is that it inevitably means that power is devolved down. The consequence of empowering people is that they are unlikely to be very happy with the top-down systems in place today, including the economic system. So that means that political reform will be followed (very quickly) by a (large) wave of support for reform of the economic and social support systems. Are we ready for that too? We’d better be. And it’s a wonderful opportunity too, this is the chance to humanize the economy and green our wealth creation systems – at just the moment when it’s essential that we do both of those.

So what is going to be the face of ecomonic reform that people are likely to demand once they have their new political voice? The end of abject poverty, the right to work for themselves, the availability of a more balanced life that allows for real living during our working lives, the removal of dole-based, means-tested poverty-traps? Probably all of those and some more! Luckily there’s a good model of meeting all of those needs while preserving the best elements of a market place economy that allows everyone to leverage their own ingenuity to make as much money as they care to while, at the same time, keeping the greater peace and prosperity of the whole society in focus too. Universal social services mated to a directly linked progressive tax system. Details at http://www.standardsoflife.com/material+infrastructure

The UK is the perfect place to do all this. Small enough to be able to, big enough to make it work and influential enough to spread the word and gain the cooperation and involvement of other nationstates.
The UK is a really hard place to do all this. Old enough to be attached to its traditions, young enough to be only a fledgling in real republican politics and sufficiently interconnected with Europe to inevitably attract remote as well as local resistance.

But this has to be done, the future of our planet depends on it. The only way to a sustainable future is through sustainable prosperity and that requires just the kind of democratic reform that is arising here. It may be hard but it’ll get easier once we start. Who’s for starting now? I am.

Andrew Percy
andrew@standardsoflife.org


Original post link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/20/political-reform?commentid=24a77007-811a-4fd0-8949-462653ba838c

 


I invite your comments freely !

There is an alternative!

There’s some really fantastic analysis of our current situation out there. Take James Galbraith’s analysis of the current US financial system, or George Monbiot’s analysis of the relationship between economic stimulus and the environment. Listen to Robert Frisk’s analysis of Middle East problems, the decay of journalism and the fundamental disconnect between voters and their representatives. In all of these you will find expert testimony to the flaws in the construct of today’s social, political and economic frameworks. And in every case they will end with the recognition that the most basic flaw resides in the political system. In the end, it is up to us to choose political leaders that make different choices than the ones we have today.

Unfortunately, it appears that a comprehensive and realistic alternative to the status quo is missing. The people cannot see it, so they are not demanding it. Politicians cannot see it, so they are not enacting it. Our great thinkers and analysts can see what’s wrong, but they cannot see what to do about it. We are faced, in this time, with the greatest challenge that Homo Sapiens has ever had to face: the limit of our ability to act without constraints. To meet this challenge, and to adapt to living within self-imposed constraints, requires a new paradigm for the frameworks of our social, political and economic systems. This is a big challenge indeed, but it is not out with the wit of mankind to figure out a way forward.

We are children of our planet, and we are as natural to it as the birds and the trees. We have within us the intuitive understanding, and the natural inclination, to be a compatible element of our environment. The solutions that will allow us to meet our challenges are not sophisticated mental constructs that are out there somewhere, their origins can be found within us. If we can pause for just long enough to seat ourselves in our centers, we will find the confidence of our intuition will serve us better than intellectual escapades.

There is an alternative! An alternative construct for our societies, for our political system and for our economies. It is not an ideology, it is not a perspective and it has no belief system. It is as natural as you are real, and based on nothing more complicated than observation. Built from fundamental building blocks of natural principles, that extend beyond the passage of time, any cultural dimension, or any location on the Earth.

The alternative is that we first guarantee each other the bare necessities of life; we add to that respect for freedom and truly representative social organization; finally we allow natural enterprise to reap our harvest in the space that remains. The details of how to implement that alternative, in today’s society, is the purpose and intention of the Standards of LIFE.

We do have an alternative. There is an answer. There is a plan for how to get from where we are to where we want to be. Find out about it, read about it and start asking for it like your life depended on it; because all of ours surely does!

www.StandardsofLIFE.com

Universal Social Services Make Economic Sense

How cash benefits distort the monetary system, increase our deficits and discourage investment.

 

When we pay cash benefits we distort calculations of cost, wealth and money supply. If we provide basic social services universally, free at the point of need, we would reduce costs across the private and public sectors, improve the flexibility of businesses and enable more accurate money supply management.

The premise of this argument is that the activities that satisfy the basic human necessities of life are not wealth generating; and that paying cash benefits leads to the inclusion of their purchase price, instead of their output cost, in economic calculations, which distorts the results.

Services delivered between citizens in support of the basic welfare of society are not wealth generating transactions in a monetary sense. To understand this, we must evaluate the content of services such subsistence shelter, sustenance and healthcare. There are three distinct contents for each service: generic labor, value adding labor and capital. Generic labor is that portion of the service that requires no special skills to deliver, and can generally be categorized as ‘manual labor’. Value adding labor is the portion of the labor necessary to deliver the service that commands a premium in the market place, on account of special skills or experience. Finally, the capital portion refers to the content of the service which has to be manufactured or purchased from a external agency. In reality, nearly all labor has some value adding element; but it is important to recognize that in the lowest skilled activities command a very small premium over subsistence wages, and therefore the value added is often less than 20% of the total labor cost. The value added labor and capital portions of the service are truly wealth creating, but the generic labor portion is not. The generic labor used to deliver subsistence services does not generate a return; its value is consumed at the point of expenditure.

This is already recognized in current economic models by separating out the charity and nonprofit sectors. In these cases, it is recognized that the services delivered are not generating wealth; and therefore they are only counted on the basis of the contributions made to the sectors, not the output generated by them. This implicitly recognizes that housing the homeless, clothing the freezing and feeding the starving are not wealth generating transactions that should be included in measures used to measure economic wealth. They are services that undoubtedly contribute to the value of our societies, and they have very similar characteristics to infrastructure investments, in that they establish the basis and groundwork for the development of future wealth, but they are not themselves wealth generating transactions. This is represented in the discussion about the value to the economy of homemakers; the consensus of economists is that including the value of the output of homemakers in economic calculations would fundamentally corrupt calculations of GDP and economic wealth.

If we were to provide universal access to basic social services, free at the point of need, it would have a transforming impact on public finances and the enterprise economy. In an economy where the fundamental social services that make up the bare necessities of life are delivered free of monetary value to everyone, the immediate impact is that the “cost” of labor is dramatically reduced. When everyone in the society has shelter, sustenance and the other basics of life guaranteed to them, they are freed to work in whatever manner they can, for whatever wage that someone else is willing to pay. It is in the nature of humans that they will have desires beyond those satisfied by the subsistence services, and so will be keen to earn some discretionary income that they can use to satisfy their other needs. Because all of the resources in the labor market are guaranteed comprehensive social services, the labor market is freed to price labor using accurate demand and supply criteria, negating the need for a minimum wage.

The minimum wage becomes unnecessary because the basic survival of individuals is not dependant on the market for labor. The primary purpose of minimum wage regulation is to ensure that workers are not exploited in their desire for basic subsistence by ensuring that they are at least paid a living wage. In effect minimum wage regulations are an abstention of social responsibility, and they distort labor markets with clumsy attempts to compensate for that lack of responsibility. Society is infinitely better off simply providing the services that ensure all workers are guaranteed subsistence, and then freeing the market to define labor rates. Workers are freed to take the jobs they want, to work as hard or as little as they want, and employers are similarly liberated – all without damaging the fabric of society. If employers do not offer sufficient reward to attract the labor they need, or if they provide unacceptable working conditions, they will not be able to hire the labor they need.

Universal social services and liberated labor markets allow labor to be accurately priced according to the actually wealth-generating portion of their output, measured as the delta between the subsistence value and the market value. The net result is lower labor rates across the entire economy; proportionally more significant, the lower the skill level or less value added.

Reducing the cost of labor, in cash terms, has obvious effects in the enterprise business market by not only the reduction in cost basis, but also in the improvement of flexibility in the workforce. A workforce that is not dependent for its basic sustenance on specific employment, can react much more rapidly and flexibly to changes in the marketplace. Employers are able to react much more quickly to changes in their markets because they can easily change work patterns without being encumbered with mountains of regulation. This flexibility enables all participants in the economy to be less risk averse and more inventive.

The lower cost of labor also has a significant impact on public finances. Principally the impact is felt in the reduced tax burden of providing the social services themselves, but also in the reduced price assigned to infrastructure investments. Both of these reductions stem from the removal of the subsistence portion of labor cost from labor pricing. The subsistence portion of labor costs is removed from the economic calculations and absorbed by the social fabric, in the form of citizen-to-citizen support services delivered free of monetary value in exchange for the same. The labor is still provided, but the subsistence portion of its value is not monetized.

The monetary cost of providing social services is reduced; because the labor rates for the people who are delivering the services is lowered. This cyclical reinforcement reduces the overall tax burden, and increases the capital proportion of the cost that remains. Because the labor required to deliver the bulk of subsistence social services is low skilled work, the value added portion of the labor cost is a small fraction of today’s total labor charge. Only the value added portion of the labor needs to be paid for from tax receipts and that reduces the tax burden. The labor content of services such as education and healthcare includes a higher percentage of value added, and so the reduction in the costs for those social services is less. Nevertheless, removing the subsistence portion of labor from the overall cost of delivering basic social services will reduce both total cost and the percentage of cost assigned to labor. The result is that a higher percentage of taxes spent on providing social services will be spent on capital investments. Given a stable population, the increased capital allocation will result in a substantial long-term reduction in the cost of social service provision.

Taxes and wealth are expressed in monetary terms; and, in a progressive tax regime, more taxes are levied from the highest wealth generators. So transferring the subsistence portion of social services costs on to the social fabric of the society, reduces the tax burden most significantly for the wealth generating members of the society. In other words, providing free basic social services is in the best interests of the wealthiest members of the society.

If labor rates are substantially reduced, this will also impact the ability of the society to raise tax revenues from income taxes. Income taxes will only apply to the value adding portion of labor, because that is what is expressed in monetary terms. There are two modifying effects that mollify the apparently negative consequences for tax receipts. First, the majority of income taxes are raised from the highest earners, so removing the subsistence portion of income from tax calculations will have a relatively minor impact on overall receipts. In fact, so long as the reduction of total social service provisioning costs contributed by lower labor rates, is greater than the effective income tax rate on subsistence wages, the net result will be a reduction in the tax burden compared to current systems.  Secondly, tax revenues could be raised by a comprehensive income tax that is levied on all income, without personal allowances. This will be more politically acceptable because all subsistence needs have already been taken care of by the social services provided.

The impact on the public financing of infrastructure investment is to bring the “cost” of those investments down and, at the same time, more closely match the interest burden on any such investments funded from budget deficits. Because budget deficits are necessarily funded with borrowing, it is important that those funds are spent on performing assets that can deliver a return, to support the interest burden on the debt. By removing the subsistence portion of the labor costs from the price tag of the infrastructure, the amount of borrowing can be reduced. The rate of return on the investment is improved, so repayment schedules can be shorter, and the return rate of the infrastructure investment can be more easily supported without unnecessary expansions of the money supply.

Finally, a beneficial side effect of using input cost pricing for basic social services is that their recognition within GDP calculations at their cost, makes GDP a more accurate measure by which to gage wealth, and therefore manage the money supply. The trouble with a benefits system is that it prices the value of the services at their acquisition cost, because the recipient uses cash to buy services. We pay unemployment benefits as cash, we pay pensions as cash; but what we are really trying to do is deliver services such as housing, sustenance, shelter and healthcare. Instead of actually delivering the services, we find it easier to send cash. This substitution of services with cash is the basis for miscalculating wealth and GDP, because the purchase price of social services is used instead of the provisioning cost.

Changing from cash benefits to universal services reduces labor costs, lowers taxes, makes infrastructure investment more affordable, increases business flexibility and improves money supply management. What more reasons do we need to start owning up to our responsibilities and living up to the social contract we implicitly rely on for a peaceful life?

If they’ve all got to go…

If they’ve all got to go, and they do, we need standards for our lives, for our futures, for our posterity.

…  get the right replacements!

In countries all over the world people are starting to think about throwing out their entire political establishment. In Iceland they’ve already started, they’re making moves in that direction in Ukraine, and even Californians were talking about it this year, during  the budget impasse. Soon this will be a common sentiment across the globe.

But if you’re going to throw them all out, who are you going to replace them with? You need to set some standards, and define some principles that you’re going to ask the replacements to subscribe to, before you put them in.

Let’s face it, most of the replacements ready to step into the shoes of the incumbents, are themselves part of the same system that produced their predecessors. The alternative is to elect some fresh faces, some independent minded candidates from outside the political establishment. The trouble many voters will have with the second option, is that those candidates won’t have a history or affiliation that will allow voters to establish where the candidiates stand on the major issues.

The solution to this conundrum is for the people to establish their own agenda and look for candidates who will sign up to it. This is no time to be selecting leadership on a trial and error basis – we simply don’t have the time for it! What we need now is political leaders who subscribe to the desires and standards set by the electorate, and who will take on the task of implementing the changes we need.

We know what we want, and we damn sure know what we don’t want! If were going to throw out the old guard, we need to  replace the old certainties with new standards.  We know enough about where we want to go to be able to define the parameters of how to get there. We may not have every detail detailed, but that’s what we vote in representatives for.

We need a framework for our politicians to protect our freedoms. We need a structure for our societies that brings us peace. We need a construct for our commerce, that will create prosperity. All these are not variables that we need politicians to define for us, they are guidelines that we need politicians to operate within. There’s a million billion decisions to be made, but a blank sheet of paper this situation is not.

If they’ve all got to go, and they do, we need standards for our lives, for our futures, for our posterity.

We need to start anew, with Standards of LIFE.

The Obama Opportunity?

If it is possible to right the good ship “Human Society” from the inside, without fundamental structural change, then Obama would appear to be the test of that.

Massive investment focused on greening the infrastructure, the pursuit of peace from a position of power and the development of a sufficiently holistic social support system that it liberates the true production capacity of the macro and micro economy are hallmarks of Obama’s proposed agenda. While not undertaken with the same reforming and restructuring zeal at the Standards of LIFE proposes as necessary, the goals are sufficiently closely aligned that it tests the premise that fundamental reform of our basic social, political and economic structures are necessary.

The dilemma intrinsic to the Standards of LIFE is that the changes it proposes are both necessary and seemingly impossible. It is difficult for some to imagine being able to overcome the inertia in the present time based on consequences in the future. To some the changes proposed in the Standards of LIFE seem to be beyond the attainable reach of our generation, at exactly the same time that the outcomes and goals are understood to be vital to the survival of this and the next generation.

If a path to a sustainable future is available by working “within the system” then surely the Obama administration is the embodiment of that option. Formulated within the context of the legacy political process, staffed by the quintessential inside players and blessed by the traditional power centers, the Obama administration appears to offer a road to salvation without upsetting any of the existing norms or disturbing any of the current structures. If it can be done in this way, from the inside, then surely this charismatic leader and his insider team are the ones to do it.

If so, we can rent a villa in Marbella and retire to the sunny beaches of Unnecessario. We’ll see.

Continue reading “The Obama Opportunity?”

Self association addresses key issues at their root causes

The fundamental challenge in the development of human society is to leverage peace for the benefit of all.

Self Association: the legal right of social groups to freely associate themselves within larger groups, as described in the Standards of LIFE for multilayer representation and variable law.

When we look around the world at places where there is conflict and violence, even war, we can distill the root causes into two basic struggles:

  • the right of self-determination
  • control over natural resources

In most ways these two struggles boil down the same issue: the rights of communities to govern themselves. Why is such a basically obvious matter the cause of so much strife? Because the monolithic structures of our outdated political systems have no framework or mechanisms within which local autonomy can be accommodated.

We live in a world where the predominant guiding principles of government have more in common with benevolent imperial dictatorship than with modern democracy. Our nationstates are based on borders defined by cartography more than geography and by control more than empowerment. Having created unnatural and artificial boundaries, it becomes necessary to invoke the appeal of false identities crudely fashioned from a mix of projected ideals, fostered fears and caricatured qualities in order to create any national unity or social cohesion. Because these nationalist identities are so invented, they actually represent no one and are fertile ground for those who would abuse power to satiate their personal foibles.

As rigid, brittle entities our nationstates feel threatened by unique or differentiated identities within their limits and are drawn to suppress their expression lest they lead to separatist intentions. Yet in the very act of suppressing separatism they encourage it by demonizing the separatists while they eviscerate the freedoms of the whole population. The direct negative consequences flowing from these retarded, legacy constructs include: border insecurity, terrorism, migration instability, environmental degradation, inefficient resource utilization and, most significantly, low quality of life for everyone.

Let’s look at these in turn to understand how they go wrong today and how allowing self association would result in better outcomes.

Borders
The current attachments of nationstates to cartographic definitions of their borders is only natural given that those borders are the primary defining characteristic of their identity. The result is a disproportionately muscular attention to border security and, in many cases, actual wars fought over the cartographic definition of the borderline. (Let’s call this “borderline insanity”: the maniacal attachment of ruling elites to remote survey points.)

Now imagine two neighbor nationstates that adopt MLR constitutions and you will see that the two large blocks of color on a flat map will be replaced by a multitude of tiny fragments covering the areas inhabited by both states — each fragment representing a community. The communities will freely self associate into regions and those regions into states. Initially a map that only showed the new states may well look very similar to the nationstates they replaced, but there will be one crucial difference. The borders between the states are now defined by the self association of the communities in those locations, and they are free to change their association from one region to another, and in so doing the border between the states changes by that one small fragment represented by that community. No international treaties required, no wars, no fuss and no one’s business save the citizens of that community.

Now imagine that scenario played out in your conflict area of choice: Israel/Palestine, Kosovo/Serbia, India/Pakistan, UK/Ireland or Russia/Chechnya?

Terrorism
The futility and frustration that spawns the cultures from which terrorism leaps out to thrust insane violence on the innocent are nurtured by the rigid nationstates’ incapacity to accommodate differentiated identities.

Freely associated communities would never harbor the decrepit mentality of terror and anyone disposed to such perspectives would be stifled at their emergence by the lack of shelter, succor and support.

Individual terror is a hazard of the human condition, “terrorism” is the progeny of unnatural social orders resulting from suppressed freedoms.

Migration
Centrally controlled, monolithic societies with rigid borders have a bipolar relationship with migration: they encourage it in good times and demonize it in hard times. Furthermore, the sublimation of community authority makes their migration policies crude at precisely the point where refined and nuanced practice is required.

When migration is managed by the communities that must accommodate it, it assumes the very human dimension that it autonomically has and which larger entities cannot provide. Migration is the movement of individuals between communities and it is at that level but it must be managed. When communities have authority over, and responsibility for, their own configuration migration is rendered moot at any higher level of social structure.

Environment
The control of resources, be it water, minerals, land or energy, is often the driving force behind conflicts between nationstates. The justification used is that the inclusion of these resources within the boundaries of that state will be of benefit to all their citizens.

The actual practice of resource management and exploitation at a macro state level reveals two fundamental flaws in the arguments proffered to support state control. Both of these flaws have their origins in the same characteristic: remote decision-making. The cost-benefit analyses computed by even the most well-intentioned remote actors are based on such poor data that the costs are underestimated and the benefits overestimated. With weak and/or selfish state actors the situation deteriorates further into environmental carnage that results only in the aggrandizement of corrupt central politicians and dealmakers.

The devolution of resource responsibility to democratic local communities results in much more accurate cost assessments and much greater disinclination toward environmental destruction. Local resource management also extracts much greater benefit from the resources at the same time that intercommunity trade, interaction and negotiation are stimulated because full value extraction from the resources requires trade. These trading relationships ensure that the benefits are more evenly and deeply integrated into the societies involved in exploiting the full value of the resource, with lower negative environmental impact.

Efficiency
Large-scale, remote, state actors making poor decisions based on poor data tend to underestimate the true costs of exploitation and so sell the resources at below optimal pricing, resulting in distorted markets where undervalued resources are used inefficiently, because of their low price.

Local ownership that insists on environmentally sound practices and understands the full cost of exploitation will price the resulting resources more accurately, leading to more efficient use. Additionally this fair resource exploitation removes any need to spend money (i.e. other resources) suppressing, repressing and corrupting local populations in the originating region who resist unfair exploitation and may even stimulate separatist ambitions, further exacerbating the cycle of inefficiency.

Quality of life
The fundamental challenge in the development of human society is to leverage peace for the benefit of all. Violence can deliver short-term benefits for the few and if that is only matched by peace, then there is a temptation to gamble on the outcome. Either way, if the benefits only accrue to the few the system is inherently unstable and destined to fail, at which point it is likely to be detrimental to all.

The nationstate is such a system, it subjugates the rights of self-determination in the name of resource control that invariably delivers benefits to the few. Peace is the period during which the few build up resource imbalances and war is the period during which resources are used to protect or enhance the imbalances.

To break out of this destructive cycle it is necessary to adopt social structures which allow for self-determination without social fragmentation. The principle of self association within a multilayered organizational structure that protects local rights while encouraging inter-social cooperation provides the framework for the development of human societies that can exploit the peace dividend for the greater good of all in an inherently sustainable way.

The devolution of the primary organizing structure to our fragmented communities, that then freely self associate into larger and larger social groupings is possible, natural and most likely to ensure our survival and prosperity.

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