Archive for January, 2012

On scale and politics

A retreat of government in favour of the public has become the preserve of the right wing. It would appear that political parties to the left and in the middle of the political spectrum seem to want to hold on to the role of the government as the great protector. The left and centre parties are thus missing a huge chance to further emancipate their electorate and claim a sensible and still important role for government.

One of the big trends in 2012 will be the growing importance of small scale civil initiatives. People want to actively change and influence their neighbourhood.  One recent example was in The Netherlands were the civil guards who guarded their own  neighbourhood with the active support of the police prevented the major riots that routinely occur during New Year’s night. The neighbourhood watch managed what the police with and with riot gear and water cannons did not manage in the previous 20 years.

There are more examples such as the Swedish schooling system which gives enourmous autonomy to parents and enterpreneurs to set up schools. The role of government is limited to the provider of funds (at a fixed rate per student) and the guardian of quality by setting two tests for each subject during each school year. The Swiss Kantons where citizens have unrivalled influence over the way their Kanton is being run requiring a relatively small number of signatures for a referendum

It gooes without saying that the schools in Sweden produce excellent students and that Switserland is a well run country. The interesting thing about it is that the small scale works because it enables active and meaningfull involvement but also because it creates real competition. If a school is not good enough it is easy for parents to leave and set up a new school, low barriers to entry prevent schools sitting back and teachers taking it easy. The same applies to the Kantons, there is in Switserland active competition between the Kantons. Recently after Zurich raised its taxes to 25%, many inhabitants left to nearby Zug which only levies an 8% tax.

Their are many areas to decrease scale and increase involvement, competition and quality. The most unlikely is the use of currency. But why not apply the rule here too. Hayek did. Let everyone decide which currency they would like to be paid in, let different currencies exist next to each other and compete, the best currency will win but will be replaced if another currency retains its value better. Small scale, active choice, active involvement in politics.

Politics is close deathś door. For the sake of democracy we have to reduce the seize of the everything to the level where the public feels it can handle it with only marginal support from the government.

Government could start by giving areas full control to the neighbourhood over parks and common green areas, play grounds and road maintenance. Money would obviously be provided by the government at a fixed rate per square meter. It would mean that neighbourhoods would have to set up committees to facilitate local decision making and act as the contractee. Involvement, competition between neighbourhoods and the rebirth of tru democracy will be the effect.

If this is too ambitious, governments could start at short notice, too give citizins the opportunity to indicate on their tax form what they would want their money spend on. Government will have too set a framework within which taxpayers can choose. Taxpayers could for instance chose which country development aid should be given to and whether money should be set aside for the creation of national parcs.

This approach is ideal for centre and left of centre parties. They will be able to balance the role of the public with that of the government. In that balance the emancipation of the Joe Public from someone who had to be protected to someone who will be able to take control of and take care of his own environment will be completed.










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