The Path to a Future: Flat Sharing

For my entire working life the conventional wisdom seems to have been that only a mug would pay their full share of taxes, and that it was every citizen’s duty to reduce their responsibilities in this area to a minimum. Those who succeeded in paying the least amount of taxes have generally been lauded as heroes.

Continue reading “The Path to a Future: Flat Sharing”

The Path to a Future: The Mind of Production

To support super-democracy, super-security and build a thriving super-economy we to need to make substantial investments in our societies. To make those changes to our infrastructure we will have to leverage the strengths of private enterprise to help us reach our public policy objectives.

We struggle with the interface between public initiatives and private enterprise, and the debate tends to be rather crudely proposed as pitting right intention against effective action, as if they were incompatible. In fact they are mutually complimentary, and both absolutely necessary if we are to reach our goals.

Continue reading “The Path to a Future: The Mind of Production”

The Path to a Future: LOVE Thy Neighbour

If we are to make the urgent progress that we need to on The Path to a Future, we need to do it together. Areas of blight and conflict will be a drag on all of our progress, because they will suck resources away from more effective uses. The people in conflict are unlikely to participate in the global initiatives needed, such as tackling climate change. We need a coherent policy structure that protects the progress of those that are already building The Path, and provides on-ramps to The Path for the victims of oppression and conflict today, but who will join us tomorrow.

One of the more curious spectacles of our time is the apparent futility, cluelessness and impotence of the world’s governments, especially of the richest countries, in developing coherent strategies toward so-called “rogue states” or “failed states”.

Continue reading “The Path to a Future: LOVE Thy Neighbour”

The Path to A Future: The Indian Highway problem.

I was sitting in the waiting room of a garage the other day with my son, while I scribbled notes for this book. I reached the end of a section and, looking for inspiration, I turned to him and asked him what problem in the world he thought we should think about next.

“The Indian highways.” was his response.

We had just returned from a three week tour around India and obviously the many hours we spent dodging death as we traveled the roads, at one end of the country to the other, had left an impression on him.

At first I simply threw up my hands and said that I didn’t think that was truly a solvable problem. Then I remembered that there isn’t a problem we’ve created that we can’t also have a solution for.

During our vacation we had traveled by car along a section of India’s new “National Highway” and

encountered the normal array of miscellaneous traffic from pedestrians, to ox carts, to huge over laden Tata trucks. But what made this particularly incongruous was that this was a toll road, and for at least a mile either side of the tollbooths there were fences to prevent the entrance of non-vehicular traffic. In remembering this, it struck me that if you build a highway through an area that has no paved local roads, this was bound to happen; people will find a way onto the highway. So the answer is that you have to build local roads for local traffic, first.

“Local roads first.”

An interesting analogy for building The Path to a Future, eh?


Part 20 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future. Real security. A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy! If you want to get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.

The Path to a Future: The Digital Kimono

One of the most shocking developments today is the proliferation of digital surveillance and identity profiling, with little or scant regard for the protection of individual liberties or the sanctity of our society as a whole. What makes this particularly galling, is that despite there being so much wellrespected, high quality and widely read literature on the subject, both our governments, and we as citizens, have failed miserably to contain or manage the risks associated with the digital theft of our real freedom.

The greatest tragedy of this abuse of our digital identities is that it erodes our confidence in the very technologies that we need to forge our Path to prosperity. We need digital communications technology to drive the blossoming of microeconomic activity, the super-economy of our future. But this is only going to happen if the average citizen can trust the technology to be their asset, rather than an instrument of those that might oppress or manipulate them.

The status we have now is rather like wearing a kimono. If we really wanted to maintain our privacy we would have to abstain from virtually every aspect of modern life: no credit cards, no e-mail, no telephone, no taxes, not attending any major event or walking the streets of any town or city. But we don’t live that way, and who would want to live under those conditions? The trouble is that we assume that there is a rule of law in the digital world, just as there is in the real world. In actuality the digital world has streaked ahead of our legal protections, and operates in a space with about as much oversight and regulation as the credit default swap and derivatives markets, i.e. none at all. If you open your kimono even a crack, you may as well be naked. In the digital world there is nothing to prevent a whole host of people and organizations from tracking your every move, snooping on your communications, storing private information about you, and correlating that with who knows what they think they know about your friends. To make matters even worse, they’re going to mix your identity up with the data they have about everyone else in the world with a name spelled vaguely similarly to yours, and whomever now has your old cell phone numbers.

Neither politicians nor the senior members of our legal establishment have had the technical understanding to be able to grasp the fibers of the digital world. We need to subject digital information to the same rigors and standards that we have developed in the pursuit of, and protection for, the liberty of the average citizen – liberties won at great personal cost to many over the centuries. The digital world needs the rule of law, just as much as the real world does.

We must start by accepting that digital identity is part of our present and our future. Once we’ve done that, we can move on to purposefully create a secure digital identity system that has our privacy and the protection of our freedom at its core. It’s not too late, but we really need to get on top of this one right now.

We need a founding legal framework that enshrines our right to privacy, and includes the right to review any personal information held by any other party. Once we have codified the concept of digital privacy and enshrined the rights of the individual to that, we can move on to use technology in ways that will truly serve us.

A secure digital identity system is possible, and we already have all the technology necessary to build one. The security of the system and the protection of our freedom are not to be found in the technology itself, but in how it is structured and deployed. By separating identity from information, we can control our exposure and simplify the system. Imagine if your medical records at your doctor’s offices did not have your name on them; they have all the information about your health, but only a key to your identity. That key only links the information to you when you turn the key in the lock, using parts of your private identity. That is how digital identity should work.

Here are some of the vital elements of a functional digital identity system, to give you an idea of what we are going to have to build in order to harness the benefits of modern technology to serve us all, as we travel down the Path.

  • One of the most important standards, is to avoid the collection of large amounts of data in one place. Data should be dispersed, as much as possible, into separated storage silos, each with their own security and access controls. This limits the exposure of any security breach, and makes it almost impossible to mine for information without the appropriate permissions.
  • A functional digital identity system will also allow the individual to disclose only those parts of their identity that they wish to, for any given transaction. Buying a train ticket and cashing a check can require completely different levels of identity verification.
  • All this can be done without obliging anyone to carry any form of digital identity card, certificate or token. It can all be achieved with a combination of biometric and biognostic information. If we value our freedom, we can never let it be an offense to be peaceful in public without a form of identity.
  • Another important feature of a secure system is that it requires the buildout of a secure network that is used to transmit sensitive information, separate from the general access Internet.

Interoperability between the distributed systems is required for the overall functionality of the system, and that means that we need universal standards for the basic elements of digital identity. Without such standards, the systems and the data they contain will remain veiled behind the barriers of commercial intellectual property.

The xID standards developed as part of the Standards of LIFE provide a framework for the key elements we need, including:

  • The content of a digital ID record
  • A mechanism for verifying the quality of an identity match
  • Security
  • Audit, search, investigation and management processes

We need to start building a secure, privacy-orientated, public, global digital identity system now.The timescale to implement this is a minimum of three years, and is more likely to be five years, which is half the time we have available to turn our societies into functioning super-trio environments.

We can, and must, start building different aspects of The Path now, and implementing a digital identity system is a keystone element that will make full super-trio functionality both easier and faster.

The reason why all of this matters, is because we need to be able to trust digital systems. Digital communications are vital to enabling the new micro-economy, essential for an energy-efficient future and necessary for administrating our new super-democracies. So we need to reach a place where we can be reasonably assured that allowing our identities to be digitized is not sacrificing our freedom. We need underwear under our kimonos.


Part 19 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future – published 2009.
A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
To get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.

The Path to a Future: Middle East Peace

The touchstone or the tombstone of modern politics, depending on your perspective. Finding a solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and for peace in the region more generally, has been the avowed intention of many a politician, inside and outside the region, for many a year. But as I write this, the arc of this particular history seems to be bending further and further down.

To quote an editorial leader in one of my favorite political magazines du jour, although quite frankly this could be found in just about any piece written anywhere about the Middle East, “only a negotiated agreement between strong and unified leadership on both sides can provide the security and peace that the Palestinians and Israelis deserve.” Really? A top down solution? I guess if either side really had a strong and unified leadership then maybe they would be able to negotiate a peace, but the reality is that neither side does, and they haven’t and quite possibly, now they can’t. But if we set ourselves up with an insurmountable barrier at the start, how do we expect to make any progress?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an example of a situation that is repeated in many parts of the world, and perhaps that is why it holds such a fascination for so many. The migrations and movements of people are inevitably accompanied by tensions around the matters of political control and resource allocation; this is especially so when they happen in a short period of time, and are accompanied by military might. So finding a solution in the Middle East also provides a guiding light for solutions in many other parts of the world.

Probably the reason that there hasn’t been peace in Israel or Palestine is because the obvious solution is not in the interests of any of the parties, except the people that actually live there. There are also many factors that result in external actors having their own interests in the outcome. These distortions have resulted in almost every single state in the entire region having a dysfunctional power structure, and some of those states are also deeply threatened by the obvious solution for Israel- Palestine.

So what is this obvious solution? Democracy. Not 20th century Western-style democracy, the solution here has to be super-democracy. Super-democracy has a multi-layer structure based on the foundation of Community constituencies. Each Community is fundamentally and constitutionally in complete command of its destiny. Each Community voluntarily associates with other Communities around it to form the larger constituency of a Region, which provides a mechanism for collaboration and sharing. Regions have their own elected governments, and also voluntarily associate with other Regions to form States. All of this is spelled out in a universal constitution adopted by all constituencies.

This solution requires that everyone agrees that peace is the supreme objective. Peace is necessary for our mutual survival, but if we cannot steal ourselves to promote it to the top of our agendas, we cannot have a solution.

The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is for the people to first divide their land into Communities. Then each Community conducts their own election and forms their own government. Each Community is a voluntary association of residents and must be geographically reasonable (meaning with a population of about 10,000; but not greater than 100,000 or less than 1,000). It can only include land actually inhabited by residents, or land which is closer to a resident than it is to a resident of any other Community. No Community has the rightof- way through any other Community, nor any authority over the people of another Community. All this must happen within the framework of the rule of law so that the use of violence or force is impossible (here is a role in which parties external to the conflict can provide useful assistance as guarantors of the peace, by staffing a “peace force”).

This brings us to the first contentious issue: defining who is a resident. This is a key factor in the resolution of these kinds of situations, and must reconcile the desire to make progress immediately, while avoiding the reward of recent aggressions. If a principle is established that recognizes recent displacement, it only encourages displacement in other conflicts. So we pick a date that does not reward recent changes in population placement, and does not seek to redress history. This is known as the Determination Date (D-Date). All those displaced between the D-Date and the current time can claim residency at the place they were on the D-Date. For Israel-Palestine, 1st January 2000 would seem about right, as it reflects the last deadline from the last major peace negotiation, Oslo.

There is a subtlety to this process that we should note explicitly. Those with legal residency of a place as of the D-Date, are those who have the right to select their membership of a specific Community. This does not mean that others currently living there have to move immediately. D-Date residents define the boundaries of each Community, and are automatically citizens of the new Community. As citizens, they are the only voters in the first election for a Community assembly. Once the assembly has been elected, it has authority over the recognition of residency, and the criteria for citizenship. Under the Constitution, residency and citizenship cannot be revoked once established or granted.

Once elected, a Community assembly may grant residency to anyone they wish to, provided they can supply the basic services to them, as is their responsibility under the Constitution. At this point those living within the boundaries of that Community but without residency, will have to move to a Community willing to accept them. Let’s pause for a moment and imagine the state of the process at this point. All the land that is currently defined by the borders of Israel and the Palestinian Territories is operating as a suspended state with a caretaker administration. That administration is charged solely with the maintenance of vital infrastructure and social services, with the aim of minimizing the disruption of people’s ordinary lives. Over the caretaker administration there is a “peace force”, consisting of Israeli, Palestinian and international forces charged with the enforcement of law and order, and the prevention of violence. So the people are effectively living in a suspended political environment that will last until such time as Community, Region and State elections have been held. This period of suspension should be less than two years.

As Community boundaries are defined, those Communities proceed immediately to the election of their assembly. As soon as the Community governments have been elected they can assume control of policy within their boundaries. One of the first matters that the assembly has to attend to is the business of establishing their Regional affiliation, bearing in mind that they must be geographically contiguous with any Region they wish to be a part of. Each Community can start making decisions about what aspects of law they wish to retain unto themselves, and what they want to promote to higher layers; as well as establishing a court system and local police force tasked with the maintenance of basic law and order inside that Community.

Within a few months it should be possible to draw the boundaries of Regions based on the self-determined, voluntary associations of the Communities. Once Regional boundaries are established, there can be Regional elections to form Regional governments. At this point the Communities and their Regions can begin the important work of building their infrastructures, and assuming responsibility from the caretaker government for the provision of core services to their constituents. Much work can be done on formalizing the Variable Law structure so that, by the time that state elections are scheduled, each Region has clarity about those aspects of law that have been promoted to them by their Communities, and therefore which aspects they have the option of promoting to their State. This is important because what the States will have authority for will be critical in shaping the manifestos of candidates for the State assemblies.

At this juncture, the Communities will be in control of their own environment; including the definition of their migration policies, and responsible to their constituents for the safety and functionality of their Community. The Communities have made their initial selection of Regional association, although they are at liberty to change that association at their own election. As each constituency elects its own government, and assumes control of its specific area, the role of the “peace force” will be diminished. It becomes solely the guarantor of peace between Regions, until such time as State elections have been held.

This devolution of power and control down to the individual Communities will greatly empower the large majority of the population that seeks peace and sustainable prosperity. Admittedly, there is likely to be a concentration of those people that would seek to impose their worldview on others into certain Communities of like mind; however they will be dependent on the cooperation of surrounding Communities, and this is likely to influence their positions over time. This process does not force any Community to change its mind or take up any particular position, so those who wish to maintain extremist or isolationist attitudes will be free to do so, within the constraints of the rule of law and the Constitution.

Eventually there will be State elections. Each State will cover an area defined by those Regions which choose to associate into that State; this may be a single state, it may be two states or it may even be multiple states. By this stage in the process, the Communities and Regions will have determined for themselves those aspects of power and control that they wish to retain unto themselves, so the eventual governments of whatever States are formed will have a much narrower remit than we see in the typical nationstate of today.

At the end of this process of building up layers of enfranchisement, starting at Communities which self assemble into Regions, and then Regions which form States, there will be democratic institutions in place which can assume the full range of governmental responsibilities from the caretaker administration. The final map will not be drawn until after the final State election. Even then the map will remain fluid, as Communities and Regions retain the right to change their associations at the behest of their citizens.

The next logical step would be for the States to form a Transterritory with other States in the region; however this will require that those other nations go through the same enfranchisement process that the peoples of the former Israel- Palestine will have completed.

It’s not a particularly bold solution, nor is democracy a new idea. What it is, is the determined application of a system that is inherently natural and just – that is the hallmark of The Path. The two greatest challenges are likely to be restraining the violent tendencies of those who would rather not be subject to the rigors of democracy, and restricting the interference of external actors of every hue, from every corner of the world. The solutions to problems in an area must be developed by the people living in that area. This is a plain, obvious and unavoidable fact. Those outside the area must accept the consequences of true democracy.

Does this solution require that Israel and Palestine have “strong and unified leadership” today, before they embark on this process? I don’t think so. Only to the extent that it is necessary to make the decision to start down The Path. One of the beauties of the super-democratic path is that it removes the need for small elites to negotiate extremely complex and intricate resolutions to the many and specific problems on the ground. It does this by devolving those responsibilities down to the individual communities most affected. They are the ones most able to arbitrate the minutia contextualized in the benefits of the peace that they seek most urgently, and will feel most keenly.

The basic question that is resolved through this process is: “Does this piece of land belong to that country or this country?” It’s really a nonsensical question because, of course, the answer is: it belongs to the people that live there, and it’s up to them to decide what country they want to be part of. All that the superdemocratic process does, is provide a mechanism that allows people to determine their own future, their own identity and to make their own associations.

There are those who call this solution naïve. They point out that on the extremes of both Israeli and Palestinian opinion there are those for whom peace is not the ultimate objective. They are right. The question is whether we wish to be held hostage by the shortsighted. There must be a solution that leads to the cessation of hostilities and provides the opportunity for all to focus on the future, because we are all mutually dependent on reaching that destination. What this solution does is emphasize the dignity of self-determination, and in so doing provides a path out of the quagmire. It does not pretend that today’s reality is anything other than what it is and it does not describe a way forward that will not have difficulties, challenges and complications. But this is a realistic framework that builds on the humanity of individuals in their communities to create a structure that allows differences to live next to each other. For surely, a way forward must be found and it must be found now. Inaction and despair are not solutions. There are children in every corner of the land who will thank their forebears for persevering through the clouded landscape to bring peace to their lives today.

On a wider note, it is almost inconceivable to believe that the enfranchisement of Israeli and Palestinian communities to determine their own futures will not have ramifications for surrounding states, and perhaps the entire world. Those who are interested in navigating The Path to a sustainable future must be ready and willing to help those states, their governments and their people, make an orderly transition to super-democracy themselves.

Everybody everywhere in the world should live in a super-democratic system, and if we’re serious about reaching the destination of a sustainably prosperous future, we need to set about making this a reality where we live… now!

 


Part 18 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future.
A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
To get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.

 

The Path to A Future: Politicians!

Politics has become a dirty word, and politicians the definition of an untrustworthy profession. It’s not hard to see why, from blatant corruption to obvious incompetence the world is littered with good reasons to distrust anyone linked with politics.

Yet everywhere we still yearn for effective action, and nowhere more so than in the political arena. We don’t envy anyone the job; either because it is dangerous, or futile, or thankless, or all of those.

Being the chosen representative of your peers in the affairs of state should be an honorable and respectable position, a job that our best and brightest aspire to hold. We need to make being a politician a respected role, if we are to attract the quality leadership that we will need to guide us down The Path.

A politician is a representative of the people, selected to provide executive leadership of the government apparatus and civilian leadership of our societies. This is one of the most important roles that anyone can serve in our society. We not only want, we really need people of character, ability and integrity to provide leadership for our societies in this time.

If we are going to make being a politician a truly meaningful job that garners the best candidates from our constituency, and which commands our respect and trust, what do we expect that job to look like?

Here are some elements of what a political job description should include:

  • First and foremost, it has to be a position that allows the holder to get things done, to change what has to be changed and align the priorities of the government with the needs of the people. A politician has to have sufficient power and freedom to make decisions, and hold the civil service responsible for enacting those decisions.
  • They need the support of a legal framework that describes the extent and the limits of their authority clearly, so that they can be held responsible for that which they are responsible for, and not for what they’re not. A framework that also frees citizens to be responsible for their own actions, as partners in the process.
  • We want politicians to be dealmakers, but not consummate dealmakers. We want people who can put a manifesto in front of the electorate, and then go and get it done. Preferably with the support of as many as possible, but where a majority is a mandate.
  • They need to be paid well. Well enough to be comfortable, and well enough to make holding the job a reasonable prospect compared to other leadership positions in a constituency. Well enough to want to hold on to the job without other income or taking bribes, but not so well that they can afford to pay bribes!

In summary, a politician should be a leader, with the weight of their popular support behind their executive decisionmaking, operating in a clear and supporting legal framework, with sufficient pay and administrative support to allow them to focus on being the best representative of their peers that they can be.

Creating that is going to mean changing the political system. These changes are entirely possible in a democracy, and you quite probably live in one. They just require that you, the voter, demand them.

Let’s look at some of the attributes of a political system that will attract the kind of candidates that you would be proud to call your representative. Below are some of the facets of such a system, the kind of super-democracy discussed earlier in this book and laid out in detail in the Standards of LIFE.

Representative Mandate

In a super-democracy, a representative actually has the decision-making power of the voters that support them. A representative who wins 60% of the vote can get things done without the support of another who won 10% of the vote. At the same time, our representatives need to represent us in all our dimensions and diversity. To resolve these two requirements we need an assembly for each constituency in which all voters in a constituency vote for the same slate of candidates, and the elected representatives vote in their assembly with the weight of the share of the vote they received.

For instance, in a state election, everyone in the state votes for the exact same candidates; no subdivisions, no geographic areas and no sub-constituencies. One constituency and one list of candidates that everyone votes from. When all the votes are added up, the candidates with the most votes occupy the available seats in the assembly. But when the assembly votes, each representative votes with the full weight of the number of voters that supported them in the election.

Framework

Politics has to operate within a legal framework where the rule of law is paramount. The law protects the people and describes the limits of the power of the politicians. Part of this framework is a requirement for transparency, which is essential to restraining corruption and keeping the citizenry informed. This is what a constitution is for.

Aspects of a helpful constitution include:

  • A legal structure that accords each layer of government with the authority for their particular constituency. Power needs to originate close to the voter in local government, and only be promoted to regional and state layers by choice. This system allows for differences and provides harmonization. It uses a legal system called Variable Law, which allows for the promotion, and retrieval, of aspects of law between layers of government.
  • Election to office must be open to all citizens who wish to be candidates, and must provide equal access to mass media for all of them.
  • No presidents, no upper chambers or lower houses. Just one assembly for each constituency, full of elected representatives voting with the power of their direct electoral support.
  • No term limits: if someone’s good at their job and retains the trust of their peers and wants to carry on, they should be able to. (Obviously subject to fair-access election system, see above.)
  • No constitutional recognition of political parties. People are free to organize, join and support parties, but individuals are elected irrespective and independent of their party affiliations.
  • The assembly needs to be the highest authority in the land, under the Constitution. All civil and military services must report to, and be subservient to, the assembly. All management positions of those services that report directly to the assembly should serve at the will of the assembly, who may appoint replacements as they see fit.
  • Public funding of mass media access for campaigning to control the influence of money on elections and politicians.
  • No funds from outside the constituency or corporations.

Compensation

  • All representatives should be equally compensated and their pay should be proportional to the income of their constituency – something between 5 and 10 times the average income of their constituents would be about right. This links the personal interests of the politician directly to the interest of the majority of their constituents.
  • Administrative support and expense should be provided to each representative. It is in everyone’s interest that they are well-informed, able to order research and provided sufficient support that allows them to focus on the decisions.

A political system built on these principles, and working within this kind of framework, would be a lot more responsive and responsible to its voters, and would attract candidates who have the desire and ability to effect change.

If we can couple these changes to the job description for a politician with election campaign funding reform, will lay the foundation for the quality decision making that is so vital to our progress through the difficult times ahead.

Not only can we make politics a clean word again, we must. The changes we need to make to our societies and economies require quality leadership in our democratic systems. We need systemic change, and that means changing our system of representation.


A full description of how “super-democracy” is structured can be found at: http://www.StandardsofLIFE.org/Representation.
The full text of the current LIFE Constitutional template can be found at: http://www.StandardsofLIFE.org/Constitutional+Template.

Part 17 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future.
A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
To get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.