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Earl Killian’s Politics and Philosophy

Contents

Preface

General Philosophy

Voting Reform

Campaign Finance Reform

The Media-Industrial Complex

Advertising

Corporate Power

Free Speech

Environment

Trade Policy

Military and Foreign Affairs

Experimental Government

Fiscal Policy

Tax Policy

Monetary Policy

Property Rights

Welfare

Poverty

Society

World Government

Slavery

I can’t understand why people are frightened by new ideas. I’m frightened of old ones.

John Cage

Preface

I decided to write down some of the thoughts that have been kicking around in my head for the last several years on how to reorganize our society and government. This document is my attempt to organize these thoughts.

Some of the thoughts on this page have evolved since I first wrote them. My Editorials give a better idea of my current thinking.

I do not consider myself either a liberal or conservative; such labels are meaningless in a multi-dimensional political landscape. (The fact that these labels work as well as they do is a testament to the failure of our so-called leaders.) I do believe that our society should be organized along very different lines than it is today. These changes could not be effected overnight, but we could move in these directions over the course of the next few decades, working within the system to change it for the better.

My goal here is to be both idealistic and pragmatic at the same time. One should be pragmatic in means used – recognizing that any system must work with human nature, not against it. One should be idealistic in choosing the end result to be strived for.

And of course I am not a Republican or a Democrat. Neither party has a real ideology; they exist only to serve their major investors, and present the illusion of choice to the elecorate. (For example, Republicans only pretend to be market oriented until it conflicts with their investors' wishes and Democrats only pretend to be pro-environment until it conflicts with their investors’ demands.) Even considering their affected ideologies, I do not align with either: the Republicans' public posture on the ecology of the planet and the health and safety of its citizens is deplorable, and the Democrats’ public posture is so confused at the moment that I cannot say what it is. Both parties are too far out of touch with the needs of the people and the country [Greider1993]. I am currently registered with the Green Party, because they are probably the only party that would do anything to avert global climate catastrophe, an issue more pressing than all others.

General Philosophy

On entering Paris, which I came to visit, I said to myself — Here are a million human beings who would all die in a short time if provisions of every kind ceased to flow toward this great metropolis. Imagination is baffled when it tries to appreciate the vast multiplicity of commodities which must enter tomorrow through the barriers in order to preserve the inhabitants from falling prey to the convulsions of famine, rebellion, and pillage. And yet all sleep at this moment, and their peaceful slumbers are not disturbed for a single instant by the prospect of such a catastrophe. On the other hand, eighty departments [regions of France] have worked today, without co-operative planning or mutual arrangements, to keep Paris supplied. How does each succeeding day manage to bring to this gigantic market just what is necessary—neither too much nor too little? What, then, is the resourceful and secret power that governs the amazing regularity of such complicated movements, a regularity in which everyone has such implicit faith, although his prosperity and his very life depend upon it?

Frédéric Bastiat,
Economic Sophisms, 1845

[Capitalism] is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous—and it doesn’t deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it, and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed. …

John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946),
National Self-Sufficiency, sct. 3 (1933), as quoted at Bartleby

For all their power and vitality, markets are only tools. They make a good servant but a bad master and a worse religion.

Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins
Natural Capitalism

I believe that an enterprise oriented market system is a relatively efficient way to organize a society. However, such a system is a means for acheiving a goal, not a goal itself (as market fundamentalists believe). Left on its own, such a system gives poor results [Hardin1968]. The robber barons of the last century and their corporate equivalents today are sufficient to drive governments to regulate such a system. Even Adam Smith recognized that “the interest of those who live by profit has not the same conexion [as land proprietors or wage earners] with the general interest of society.” While regulation is sometimes appropriate, I lean toward working within the enterprise market system, by changing the rewards such that distributed decision making arrives at the desired answer. This is likely to be more efficient than regulation as it can expose the true cost of things to the market system.

Examples:

  • Modify costs (e.g. via taxation) instead of writing regulations to reduce pollution. For example, today Congress legislates average fleet fuel economy. I would substitute a tax on fuel inefficient cars instead, and increase fuel taxes as well.
  • Include the true cost of disposal in the purchase price of items. For example, the beverage container disposal fee reduced litter far more than making littering illegal.
  • Taxation should be designed to make products and services reflect their true costs (e.g. funding road construction and repair from vehicle taxes and not from general revenue makes the true cost of travel apparent to the market system).
  • Institute metrics for the quality of life and use them to judge how well society and government are doing. Today the infotainment industry (and therefore much of the electorate) uses GDP as the metric for how well the country is doing. A better metric would give better government and a better quality of life [rprogress.org].

There are also instances where market systems are not particularly efficient [Frank1996]. Government should work modify the rewards to rectify these shortcomings.

An enterprise-oriented market system is not synonomous with capitalism. Capitalism is problematic in that it depends upon exponential growth, and exponentials collide with the finite with the subtlety of a high-speed collision. I hope someday to understand non-growth economics.

Newer thoughts:

Voting Reform

Even the basics of voting in the United States are broken. I believe it is time to try something else. For winner-take-all elections, I nominate approval voting as a start. For multiple-member elections, proportional representation makes sense.

Instead of requiring voters to pick only one of a number of choices, approval voting allows voters to pick as many as they like. Given several choices on a given issue or several candidates, each voter votes for as many as she approves of, in effect assigning 0 or 1 to each choice. The issue or candidate with the most votes wins.

There have been many third party candidates for President in United States history, but such candidates rarely garner much of the vote. I believe that this is not because voters truly disapprove of third party candidates, but because they believe voting for such a candidate is actually a vote for the major party candidate they least approve of.

Approval voting is one possibility that fixes this problem. In the situation above a voter might vote for both the third party candidate she really believes is best, and then also vote for one of major party candidates. In such a situation a third party candidate would be taken far more seriously, and might indeed win an election.

See the Approval Voting Home Page for more information. Also see Condorcet’s Method for an alternative, more complicated alternative. See the Voting Systems FAQ for background information.

Newer thoughts:

Campaign Finance Reform

I believe that representative government is over-emphasized in the United States today, and I would like to reduce its importance. Still, some form of representative government will remain useful, and so it will remain important to regulate campaigns for public office, and particularly the financing of these campaigns. Campaign financing in the United States today is one of the most obvious ways in which the system is broken. Reform is difficult because it requires those in power to dismantle the system that put them in power. However it must be done.

Reforming the way elections are funded is a top priority simply because without reform here, it will be impossible to make important changes elsewhere in the system, because they will be strongly opposed by corporations and individuals that benefit from the current system. The primary method used by vested interests to defeat the popular will is through contributions to politicians. Once campaign finance reform is in place, it will be easier to protect the environment, change tax policy, etc.

  • All donations to political campaigns should be made through a government agency so that appropriate checks can be made
  • Only citizens in the jurisdiction should be able to contribute, not corporations or foreign entities
  • There should a maximum contribution on the order of $100 to $500
  • Free use of public broadcast for campaigns. Use of this would come with certain restrictions such as five minute minimum slots to prevent the “sound bite” phenomenon, and encourage candidates to really address the issues.

Newer thoughts:

The Media-Industrial Complex

Eisenhower was concerned about the influence of the Military-Industrial Complex. Today we should be worried about the implications of the Media-Industrial Complex. Control over books, newspapers, movies, television, radio in both the areas of news and entertainment now rests with twenty-three large corporations. (Worse still, consolidation in media continues.) These corporations do not hesitate to exercise editorial control when their interests are at stake.

In addition our media are driven by advertising, and even without corporate ownership, the media give priority to advertisers over subscribers. The result is that our news and information is filtered to be in line with corporate values of the owners and advertisers.

Recommendations:

  • Outlaw ownership of news media by other corporations
  • Separate content creation from ownership of the means of delivery (many delivery methods are akin to monopolies)
  • Institute policies that lead to media funded more by subscribers and less by advertisers

References:

Advertising

The way advertising works needs to be changed so that it is no longer such a corrosive force on the media. Advertising today funds much of the content creation of our society. Content creation should be funded by subscriptions instead, so that the creators are responsive to the subscribers and not the advertisers. While some subscribers would want to pay for their subscriptions directly to avoid advertisement, other subscribers may prefer to pay for their subscription by subjecting themselves to advertising. These subscribers would select an advertising channel that would mix with their content channel and pay their subscription fees. The advertisers would not interact with the content creators in any way; indeed the subscriber would be the only entity to link the content creators to the subscribers. Multiple advertising channels would compete with each other for subscribers’ business to pay subscription fees with the least interruption.

Corporate Power

Corporations are not people. The rights granted to citizens of the society should not be automatically granted to corporations because their wealth gives corporations overwhelming power. For example, the people should be able to exercise control over corporate speech. Corporations should influence government through their employees and shareholders.

In addition, corporate interests are divergent from the interests of society. Another said it better than I can (emphasis added):

Employers constitute the third order [after land proprietors and wage earners], that of those who live for profit. … But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with prosperity, and fall with the declension, of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin. The interest of this third order, therefore, has not the same connexion with the general interest of the society as that of the other two. … The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. … The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Conclusion of Chapter XI

Corporations were seen as necessary to our war efforts by the leaders that helped enthrone them (see [Lincoln1864] and [Eisenhower1961]). Yet these same leaders forsaw dire consequences if corporate power was not checked. Their warnings were not heeded and the dire consequences have occurred. The abuses following Lincoln’s time were at least partially addressed a few decades later by anti-trust legislation. The abuses of our day will be more difficult to tackle, as the corporations have silenced their opponents by buying the press.

Below I suggest that we could do without corporate income taxes. On the other hand, corporations get off lightly when they when they break the law (politicians in love with the death penalty and three strikes never seem to advocate these for corporations – why?). Our laws must be enforced and the fines should be significant, not wrist slaps. Many corporations generate profits of ten percent of revenue; therefore a fine of that amount would be a significant incentive to operate within the law. Perhaps an approximate parallel between sentences for individuals and sentences for corporations is appropriate: a crime committed by an individual that receives a one year sentence would for a corporation receive a ten percent of revenue fine; a ten year crime would for a corporation would receive a hundred percent fine spread over ten years. A crime that merits a life sentence for an individual would see the corporation disincorporated; its equity would become worthless and its assets would be auctioned off by the state.

  • End government subsidies of corporations
  • Overturn/repeal Buckley v. Valeo and Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad
  • Repeal GATT
  • Make it financially unattractive for corporations to grow too big
  • Make penalties for corporate law-breaking be sufficient to actually be a deterrent
  • Make it illegal for corporations to own stock in other corporations (mergers would be allowed, but not hostile takeovers).
  • Eliminate the “race to the bottom” between the states that results in most corporations being chartered in Delaware because of its lax oversight. Allow incorporation only by federal charter.

References:

Free Speech

The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibits Congress from abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. This has been interpreted as protecting even pornography to some extent and so many U.S. citizens might be surprised to learn their freedom of speech does not extend to food products. In over a dozen U.S. states special libel laws apply to disparaging remarks about agricultural products. You can call the President a crook, but you cannot call beef unhealthy. Go figure.

The threat of corporate lawsuits (e.g. SLAPP suits) is another deterrent to free speech in the U.S. Threats are only one weapon in the corporate arsenal for protecting their power at the expense of society, but it is one of the most chilling weapons.

Free speech also suffers when those who want to speak find no outlet that will carry their voice. Ownership of the media by non-media corporations is therefore a free speech deterrent, as these corporations will squelch speech that threatens their interests. Corporate advertising can have a similar effect on independent media. In the past, public broadcasting was an alternative outlet for free speech, but the corporatization of public radio has diminished public radio’s independence.

Recommendations to restore free speech and freedom of the press in the U.S.:

  • Repeal food disparagement laws
  • Implement the tort reforms suggested in [Nader1996]
  • Fund SLAPP defense fees with a tax on corporate legal filings
  • The FCC should treat the airways as public property and not the private domain of broadcasters
  • Make corporate funding of public radio illegal. Make up the difference with contribution matching, paid for by charging corporate broadcasters for their use of the public airways.

References:

Environment

Our posterity will wonder about our ignorance of things so plain.

Seneca, 4 BC – AD 65

Protection of the environment is my number one priority, coming before human rights, economic success, etc. We need to overhaul our policies on energy, pesticides, waste, and wildlife.

I think we should amend the U.S. constitution to declare that it is the responsibility and the right of Congress to protect the environment. Pennsylvania’s environmental bill of rights could be a starting point. Such an amendment should make it clear that the people (both present and future) have a right to clean air, pure water, and unpolluted land, and that the government must place the preservation of these above other concerns.

We should recognize that many forms of pollution kill people, and so legally pollution should be treated as homicide. Executives of polluting corporations that deliberately put toxins into the environment should be tried for first-degree murder; inadvertent release of toxins should be equivalent to manslaughter.

Energy should be from 100% renewable sources such as solar (including wind and hydro) and geothermal. Hydrocarbons should be used for energy storage only if created from renewable (non-fossil) sources. The standard objection to this is the cost, but if everyone operates on the same cost basis, this simply results in a shift in the relative costs of the the goods we consume.

The use of pesticides to produce food is counterproductive. The alternative, integrated pest management, should provide the same yields without poisoning ourselves, the lands, and wildlife. The government should provide incentives and disincentives that will lead to nearly all produce being grown organically.

As [Hawken1994] points out, one problem is not that we consume too much; we consume too little! The things we produce but don’t consume are “waste”. Everything produced in the Earth’s ecosystem is consumed by it, except for mankind’s production. We must find ways to make our waste consumable by Earth’s ecosystem. To this end I favor the elimination of garbage services; instead we would return all the things we discard to the places we bought them from. For example, the grocery store would be both a place to buy food and to return leftovers to compost heaps, for example. The grocery store would in return the compost to the farms when it restocks its shelves.

Earth’s living species are going extinct at a frightening pace. While pesticides and pollution play a role, the major problem is loss of habitat. Most habitats are being lost to make room for an ever expanding human population. Eventually the growth in the human population will stop when it reaches 100% of the carrying capacity of our planet. At that point only homo sapiens, our food species, and our parasites and pests will remain. In my mind this will be a poorer home for us. If we were to stop the human population growth before the 100% point, we might leave room for other species, making our planet a far richer place. Which adds more to our lives, another ten billion homo sapiens just like the current five billion, or birds, foxes, bears, elephants, tigers, whales and dolphins? Human population growth will stop; let’s stop while it makes a difference!

Here are some other ideas:

  • Discourage the creation of pollutants instead of trying to prevent their release by heavily taxing (and in some cases banning) production of
    • Heavy metals such as Lead, Mercury, and Cadmium
    • Covalent chlorine compounds (e.g. Cl2 and organochlorines), (as opposed to ionic chlorine, like NaCl salt)
      • pesticides DDT, Lindane, Heptachlor, and Chlordane
      • herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T
      • solvents like TCE and perc
      • PCBs, CFCs, methyl chloride, vinyl chloride, polyvinyl chloride, dioxin, and chloroform
    • Bromine (as in methyl-bromide)
    • Phosphates and their derivatives, e.g. organophosphates such as the herbicides parathion and malathion
    • Xenoestrogens like nonylphenol, endosulfan, dieldrin, toxaphene, APEOs and DEHP
    • Radioactives
    • CO2 from carbon outside the eco-system (e.g. burning of fossil fuels)
  • Make manufacturers of toxic substances legally responsible for any consequences of their products on a pro-rata basis according to their share of production, even if fault rests with the purchasers of their production (they will quickly begin policing their customers better than the EPA polices them).
  • Reduce population of homo sapiens to 500M or less over a century or so by reductions in the birth rate.
  • Leave 66% to 80% of the land as wilderness areas as habitat for other species. See that wilderness areas are not segregated, so that wildlife can move freely. Rather than the government deciding on what are wilderness areas, require all developed land parcels to be matched with a 3 or 4 times larger undeveloped parcel of the same type (e.g. match beaches with beaches, forested riverbanks with forested riverbanks).
  • Amend the U.S. Constitution to add an Environmental Bill of Rights along the lines of Pennsylvania’s

References:

Newer thoughts:

Trade Policy

I believe in free trade with others that share our views toward individual rights, the environment, economics, etc. I do not believe in free trade when it only serves to weaken and undermine our laws and policies. For example, I believe it is acceptable to tax or ban food imports that are not organically grown, manufactured goods that are produced with abusive labor practices, etc. The tax should reflect the cost advantage of the cheaper method of production.

Tarrifs and other trade barriers should not be used for the protection of industries and workers when foreign producers are simply more efficient; it is important to let markets work and nations find their areas of comparative advantage. Obstructing trade lowers the average standard of living on both sides, and is thus a sensible policy only to achieve aims more important than material benefits.

The recent GATT and NAFTA trade treaties are good in that they remove many trade barriers. However, they are terribly flawed in that they effectively repeal decades of progress in regulating commerce in the United States and undo some very basic protections for its citizens. With each successive trade treaty, corporate interests insert additional provisions to protect their ability to operate without government oversight. We should not only should reject such future attempts, but go back and fix the existing free trade treaties. Begin by repealing GATT and NAFTA and then begin again.

Free trade on a level playing field need not incompatible with policies that promote local production when it is feasible and economically competitive. This should not be implemented with trade barriers, which simply encourage inefficient production at home.

  • Repeal GATT
  • Stop FTAA

References:

Military and Foreign Affairs

The United States should make a 180 degree turn and begin supporting democracy and popular movements in the rest of the world. If you believe the United States supports democracy today, see [Chomsky1992]. We could start, for example, by closing the School of Assassins in Fort Benning, Georgia. We should also actively oppose Indonesia’s illegal occupation of East Timor (as we did with Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait).

I also believe that economic strength is more important than standing military strength (see [Kennedy1989]), and so I advocate lower military spending in times of peace as the best way to increase our security by keeping our economy and society strong. 1-3% of GDP is sufficient for most nations during peacetime; with our larger GDP, this would still give us the most powerful military in the world.

I also see no reason for the United States to help successful economies defend themselves against unsuccessful ones (e.g. Europe vs. the Soviet Union, or South Korea vs. North Korea). By spending on the defense of Europe and South Korea, we give them the ability to concentrate their economies on competing with ours. The people the United States should help defend are those threatened with greater economic might (e.g. the Kurds from Iraq and Turkey or East Timor from Indonesia).

Experimental Government

There are many alternatives to the way government works in the United States. I think we could use some experimentation with alternatives. For example, today is almost impossible to implement campaign finance reform or sensible redistricting because sitting representatives put their own interests ahead of their citizens'. We need a system that, at least those cases, can solve this problem. Here are some possibilities.

  • Instead of having a sitting Congress of two bodies (House and Senate), replace one of them with randomly selected (on a per-issue basis) groups of citizens. When the representative body passes legislation, a citizen’s body is convened. First, the wording legislation is tested for comprehensibility by testing the citizens’ body on its meaning and implications. If it passes this test, the citizen’s body then either approves or rejects the legislation or sends it back to the representative body with changes. Only when both bodies agree can the legislation become law.
  • We need the Federal equivalent of the California ballot initiative to help address things that representative government is unable to, but with restrictions that prevent the problems with the California system. Rather than having a single yes/no vote on one version of the initiative, there should be a chance to put multiple versions in front of the voters for approval voting.
  • For representative government we should change our winner take all system to give better representation to minority opinions in our populace, and thus destroy the two-party system.

Newer thoughts:

Fiscal Policy

Government accounting should be changed to separate capital from other expenses, so that the cost of capital expenditures is recognized over the life of the item.

It is appropriate for the government to run a deficit at times, and a surplus at times. If government spending is forced to decline during economic downturns, then this contributes to the downturn (positive feedback). Government spending that remains steady or increases slightly (e.g. by responding to the increased demands on its safety net) during a downturn softens the impact (negative feedback).

Government decision-making is usually not fast enough to respond to economic conditions to provide useful negative feedback. It is necessary instead to depend on policies (such as safety nets) that respond automatically.

The trick is find a way to keep expenditures and revenue in balance over long periods of time, but allow deviations over the period of a few years. I believe that debt ceilings, and taxation that increases automatically with debt levels can be engineered to bring the system back into balance over an appropriate time frame. The interest payments on debt or interest receipts on assets should be limited to about 5% of the government’s revenues during normal times.

Tax Policy

First, I think most government operation should be funded not by general purpose taxes like the income tax, but by taxes on those that benefit from such government operations. The effect is to make products and services reflect their true cost, and thus causing the the market system to be more efficient. I see little rationale for corporate income taxes or the double taxation of dividends (does that make me a Republican?). Also, taxes should be structured to be enforcible (the current income tax is not). Finally, I believe in the use of taxation to direct market systems toward sustainability (ecological, economic, and societal) by making the short-term effects of an activity similar to the long-term effects. This means favoring taxation of negatives (like waste) over positive things (like work).

One problem with my proposals is that in some cases they lead to regressive taxation rather than flat or progressive taxation. Taken as a whole (e.g. the inclusion of wealth taxes and non-means tested safety net payments), however, I believe the effect is that of a progressive tax.

  • Tax Waste, Not Work [Hamond1997]
  • Highway and road construction and repair should be funded by vehicle fees.
  • The FDA, EPA, FCC, OSHA, FAA, SEC, etc. should be funded by fees on the industries they regulate (and thus indirectly the individuals they serve).
  • The military, CIA, NSA, police, and prisons should be funded by wealth (not income!) and individual taxes, since these organizations exist to defend wealth and individuals.
  • Public broadcasting should be funded by matching funds raised from annual fees paid by corporate broadcasters for the privilege of using the public airwaves.
  • Other things that should be funded out of taxes on individuals and corporations are voting, representative government, research (NSF, NASA, DOE, NIH, CDC), foreign aid, education, and the arts (NEA, NEH).
  • Note that today the U.S. has wealth taxes only on real estate and automobiles (why not other forms of wealth?), and such wealth taxes often are used to fund education, which seems unrelated. Also note that wealth taxes are the way Mutual Funds generate their income today.
  • Much of the Coast Guard should be funded by taxes on maritime users; other functions should be funded by military taxes.
  • The FTC should be funded by taxes on retailers and manufacturers and importers; Customs, Immigration, etc. should be funded by import taxes.
  • I do believe in tax breaks for true investment (e.g. venture capital), but not gambling (e.g. playing the stock market), which should be taxed like any other income. On the other hand, I don’t see why selling one stock to buy another is a taxable event – you should only pay tax on gains when you withdraw money from the account. Of course a wealth tax rather than an income tax would make this moot.

Monetary Policy

The Federal Reserve has been doing fairly well lately, but it has had some disastrous years. One problem is that it is charged with two functions: protection of the banking system, and maintaining stable money. When these goals conflict, the Fed opts to protect the banking system. Perhaps these functions should be separated, to avoid a conflict of interest.

Deregulation of the banking system in 1980 removed interest rate ceilings, which reduced the Fed’s ability to regulate the money supply, and led to the depression of 1981-82 as the Fed had to raise real rates extreme levels to counteract the inflationary pressures caused by Reagan’s enormous deficits. The system would be better off with interest rate ceilings.

The Fed creates and destroys money by giving it and taking it from the banks. While I haven’t given it much thought, I think we should at least consider other alternatives, such as giving or taking money from the Federal government; on the surface this seems fairer than giving it to bankers. Alternatively created money could be given directly to the people (but it is a little harder to take it away when necessary).

The Reagan disaster of the early 1980’s showed what happens when monetary and fiscal policy are not coordinated. One solution would be to move control of the money supply to the President and Congress, who currently control fiscal policy. An alternative would be to give control of fiscal policy to the Federal Reserve. In other words, let the Fed decide how big the surplus or deficit should be in each year. It could do this by adding a tax surcharge (or rebate) to whatever taxes are decided by the President and Congress.

References:

Property Rights

One basis of U.S. society is private property and certain property rights. We need a new definition of at least land ownership that recognizes that a deed to a piece of land is not a writ to do whatever the deed holder pleases. Current legal theory recognizes this, and permits zoning restrictions and so forth, but the property rights movement persists, essentially saying that land owners should be able to do whatever they wish with their land. Property rights must be subordinate to the interests of both present and future society. If, for example, land ownership includes the right to destroy the land, then eventually enough misguided owners will destroy enough land that future generations will find themselves without a place to live or till.

Perhaps a sounder way to explain land titles is not as “ownership” but as a perpetual/transferable lease from society to the title holder. The lessee has certain rights, but so does the lessor, such as preservation of the land.

Welfare

Welfare is a hot topic right now in the United States. The amount of energy that goes into denouncing welfare (the program was once technically called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and now Temporary Aid to Needy Families) is amazing, especially given that there are many untalked about budget items where we spend far more.

Note: The pundits and press sometimes talk about “corporate welfare”, which is not welfare at all. It is a handout, but welfare is need based, and corporate handouts are not. They are simply rewards to corporations for their support of politicians. Corporate handouts are not the subject of this section.

What society does need is a safety net for its citizens, and especially its children; they should be assured of food, clothing, housing, and education. (Those that would do without any safety nets would do well to read Poverty and Famines, by Amartya Sen.) What is critical from a practical point of view is that providing such a safety net not be a disincentive to work. Many safety nets have the property that taking a job causes government payments to disappear, which reduces the incentive to work (what is indeed amazing that so many do choose to work in this situation, as the average time on welfare is actually quite short).

One possible solution is to make safety net payments to all individuals, without a means test. For example, funds raised by taxes to influence the market system (e.g. on the creation of pollutants) could be returned as a fixed amount to every citizen. For example, each citizen might receive $10,000 per year from the government whether she works or not. A low-income individual might only earn $10,000 per year on their own, but they would still have a strong incentive to work (thereby doubling their income). The median worker might earn $30,000, and the extra $10,000 represents only 25% of his total income, but by not trying to take it away, we prevent any discontinuity in his income and avoid the appearance of unfairness. Of course, this is an income redistribution method. The $10,000 for the low-income worker and the $10,000 from the median worker must come from somewhere; eventually it could be traced to higher fees paid by these workers on the goods they buy. 25% or more of all spending might be going to make these payments, so that the low-income worker pays $5,000 and receives $10,000; the median worker pays $10,000 and receives $10,000, and the high-income worker pays $15,000 and receives $10,000. The effect is to turn a flat tax on goods into a progressive tax with the possibility of negative taxation for those with low incomes.

The market adjustment fees returned to citizens might not be sufficient to shelter, clothe, and feed an unemployed individual. Unemployment is sometimes the fault of the worker, but more often it is the result of macro-economic policies that deliberately sacrifice workers to the interests of capital preservation (e.g. fighting inflation). Society’s safety net should not permit homelessness and hunger by guaranteeing jobs to unemployed workers. A meaningful task will always be to produce your own food, clothing, and shelter, so providing the means for individuals to do this will provide meaningful employment that at the same time reduces the costs of unemployment to society. Many inner cities already produce food today; I only suggest that the government promote and facilitate this as a form of unemployment insurance.

Poverty

We lost the first “war on poverty” in the United States, but instead of giving up we should look for better strategies. First, we must discard the notion that modern rhetoric hints at, but rarely comes out and says flatly, that most poverty is the fault of the poor.

Poverty from unemployment is often the result of macro-economic policies or from problems such as being a single parent or drug addiction. Solutions to these problems would make a difference. In Welfare I suggest that the safety net include a guarentee of employment for those that want it. Drug addiction can be treated as various successful programs demonstrate, but those programs are currently underfunded and only reach a minority of those who need assistance.

Poverty from employment at low wages should be addressed via the minimum wage and by offering such people alternatives (e.g. for self-employment — see below).

There are magnificent exceptions, but on the whole poor parents tend to beget poor children because poor children lack the same opportunities as middle class children. We need to find ways to break this cycle and give the children of the poor the opportunities similar to those of their middle class peers. Providing more services to poor children at school (e.g. proper nutrition via breakfast and dinner in addition to lunch) and after-school sports and hobby opportunities would be a start.

I agree with Aung San Suu Kyi that empowerment must be part of a solution to poverty. Providing just subsistence to the poor is a disservice, because it provides no escape from the cycle. Society should provide opportunities for entrepreneurship to the poor, e.g. loans to start or enlarge a business. Empowerment at the community level is important as well. Many poor communities are neglected areas of larger political units. Giving such communities political autonomy would give their people the feeling that their participation can make a difference. For example, local communities should be responsible for the administration of the safety net, employment, farming, home building, drug addiction, etc. programs. Community empowerment also requires local resources that serve the community (as oppose to drain it), such as banking.

Suggested Reading:

Society

One of the problems with our society today is that it has gotten too big. This is one of the reasons for the large income disparities today, as some people (e.g. recording artists, broadcast sports athletes) and corporations (e.g. Disney, Proctor and Gamble, McDonald’s) sit at the top of a revenue pyramid with the entire world population underneath. This also leads to greater homogenization and the destruction of cultural heritage. We should find ways to promote values that lead to less globalization to replace single large pyramids with multiple smaller ones. For example, if we valued live music over recorded music, there would be less of tendency for an artist to become a worldwide star or for what’s in vogue in one place to go global; instead each locale would have its own favorite artists and its own unique contribution to the arts, fashion, culture, etc. Unfortunately I don’t have a good idea how we could promote such a change in our values, given that technology is breaking down the walls between far-flung societies.

Also, reducing the human population to 500M or so, as suggested above to allow room for other species to share Earth, would help with the revenue pyramid effect.

A smaller population would most likely also reduce the rate of technological innovation. While I favor technology innovation, a somewhat slower pace would allow society more time to adapt to its effects.

World Government

The people of Earth will eventually need to create a world-wide government because there are issues that do not respect national boundaries and bilateral negotiations are ineffective at effecting change. However, the world is much more diverse than the United States; our Federal/State model is certainly inappropriate. Even the EU is too homogeneous to serve as a model. World Government should allow nations to follow their own way on economic, social, cultural, and technological matters. World Government should not be a mechanism for the western nations to impose their system and values on the others. Neither should it be a trade organization.

Conversely, World Government needs to be substantially more than the United Nations. It must have real power (both legally and in reality) in its fields of authority. It must be more representative than the UN. It should represent not nation states, but the whole Earth.

The responsibilities of World Government should be

  • to protect the Earth’s ecosystems; and
  • to prevent genocide; and
  • to resolve disputes between and involving nations; and
  • to govern areas not subject to nation states (e.g. the seas).

The primary principle for World Government decision-making would be to give priority to the long-term over the immediate; it should not give in to momentary convenience at the price of eternal regret. Thus it would give priority to the needs of the many future generations over those of the present generation. How this could be codified in the Earth Constitution will need careful thought. Also, some way would have to be found to provide representation to the non-voting inhabitants of Earth (its wildlife).

What then are the powers and authority that must then be vested in the World Government?

  • Exclusive authority over all weapons of war and mass destruction.
  • The power to set environmental standards for all nations and peoples.
  • The power to resolve disputes between nations.
  • The power to set national borders, and to create or destroy nations.
  • The power to dissolve governments or change their constitutions in response to popular will.
  • The power to conduct free and fair elections and votes by the citizens of any nation, territory, region, or group to determine its leaders, its policies, and its resolution of disputes.
  • The power to tax within certain bounds.
  • To protect its power and authority from other powerful entities (primarily corporations, as the above would give it ample power over nation states).

World Government leaders would be elected by the populace, not by nations (via proportional representation or approval voting, as appropriate to the position). Referendum of those affected would be used by elected officials to guide issue and policy decisions. By tradition and precedent, the wishes expressed in such referendum would be respected as much as possible. World Government would however be able to act without a vote if necessary.

The use of representative government and referendum for World Government does not to say the nation states themselves must be democracies. A nation state might be ruled by nobility, oligarchy or dictator. Of course that nation’s government might be dissolved by World Government and another national government instituted should its citizens so express their will in a referendum. (Thus only benevolent kings and dictators would survive.) A nation might be split in two in response to a poll in one region demonstrating a preference for independence.

World Government would have Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches. The Executive branch would include a police force capable of enforcing World Government legislation. A strong bill of rights in the Earth Constitution would protect citizens and nations from abuse by the World Government. Unlike the United States, the bill of rights would not be applied to its nation states, so as to allow nation states the freedom to find their own solutions. Individuals would however be guaranteed the right to emigrate. The ability of a majority to change the government, and the ability of a minority to emigrate should protect human rights far more than the current system.

Following the Property Rights point above, the World Government should own the earth and lease portions to national governments, which would in turn lease to corporations and individuals. Redrawing national boundaries would be in effect revoking the lease for some of the property governed by the nation state.

New References:

Slavery

Take the second step in the battle to end slavery in our society by making it illegal to own all sentient beings, not just homo sapiens.

An end to slavery of sentient beings would significantly affect our eating and clothing habits by favoring a vegan diet and plant-based fabrics. When humans can not own cows, pigs, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, elephants, or bears, it is unlikely that we will raise them for food or labor. This in turn would lessen the impact on our environment from food production, and improve the health of the populace. My quote collection includes some eloquent advocates of such a change, including Pythagoras and Albert Einstein.

While an end to animal slavery would change much of our relationships with animals, people would still have animal companions such as dogs and cats. The commercial breeding of dogs and cats for sale would no longer exist, which would be a plus since it might lessen the population pressure that exists today. Instead companion animals would be adopted from litters. People would not buy and sell their companion animals. They would also not force them to stay once they become adults; they should not be caged or locked in, for example.

Horses could also remain our companion animals. Monty Roberts' The Man Who Listens to Horses shows that it is possible to befriend a wild horse without force, pain, or cruelty. The critical point is whether the horse has a choice or not; if the horse is given a choice and voluntarily accepts join-up with a person, then it is not slavery.

There are ethical issues to be resolved concerning just how much control we should be allowed over companion animals (can we decide to spay or neuter an animal for example). However such issues should be used as an argument against animal slavery. Those sort of arguments were used in the early 1800s against the abolition of human slavery. The proponents of human slavery looked upon their human slaves in much the same way that we look on our animal slaves today; there are many parallels to guide our thinking on this issue. Since many otherwise respectable people of those times (e.g. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Payne) were slave owners, we need to recognize how much tradition, current practice, etc. influences us in these issues and be prepared to put aside our initial reactions. We should all consider how we would have reacted in the early 1800s if we had grown up in the U.S. south before going on to think clearly about this issue.

Suggested Reading:

Other:

Copyright © 1997-2002, 2006 Earl A. Killian. All Rights Reserved.



      Sympathy

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

			—Paul Laurence Dunbar