Bemeficent Society, Chpt 13 (rev 2)

 

CHAPTER 13 (rev2)

 GENERAL MEETING OF THE EMEFICENT SOCIETY

FIRST PRINCIPLES

 

11 May, 2016

Now that we’ve cover the commercial world,” said Silvia, “I am pleased to turn the meeting over to the political committee.  Surely none of our teams has worked harder to bring you their report.  They have met every single week since their formation last year, and, as individuals, they’ve put in a nmber of extra hours besides.  So please give their leader, Martin a round of applause for their efforts and pay close attention to his group’s innovative view of what a genuinely functional government should look like.

 (applause)

“Thank you,” said Martin.  “The committee started with the intention to produce a series of reforms many of which were already well known by the professionals in the field but, for political reasons remained unrealized.  However, when we took a hard look at how badly flawed our current governmental processes were, our original intentions turned into a reluctant ambition to replace them altogether with an entirely new system

—one that is, in a word, unimaginable in the today’s poli-sci lexicon.

“It soon became apparent to us that the system we needed was beyond our ability to produce without outside assistance.  And that such assistance was not likely to be found among professionals too wedded to the current democratic institutions to consider radical change.  Instead, we turned to the ultimate authority, nature.  More specifically, we turned to emulate, as best we could, that miraculous invention of hers whose working were, in a number of respects, analogous to those of government—that is to say, the human brain.

“Whereas the brain’s mechanisms are infuriatingly complex, the committee contends we captured enough of its observable traits to create a better governmental system than those in current use.

What reinforces our decision to copy nature’s utilization of brains is the degree to which she dotes on them.  Indeed, she seems so proud of these particular inventions of hers that she squeezes them into every creature she possibly can and fortifies them with an amazing array of specialized functions from the ability of whales to communicate over miles of ocean to the uncanny ability of birds to successfully navigate continent-wide flight paths.  Not to mention her gift of human intelligence that she has gone to extraordinary lengths to maximize over the course of our evolution.  No question about it, nature wouldn’t dream of sending one of her larger creations into the world without some smarts aboard.

Assuming the Society members accept the comparison of government to brains as warranted, then we should revere the former as enthusiastically as she reveres the latter.  Which is to say, we should reject the knee-jerk antipathy to government per se as espoused by anarchists and some of the more radicalized fundamentalists.  Granted the image of government has been tarnished of late, it is well to keep in mind that it is an essential component of civilization and continues to have the potential of contributing to the public good.

“With this brief introduction, let me call on our three committee members to relate key characteristics of the brain that we believe can be most helpful in influencing our dsign of a new form of government: frugality, organization, and functionality.

“Henry, please get us started.”

Frugality.  You would think that, since she regards brains as so essential to her higher forms of life, nature would go all out allocating resources to them.  But she doesn’t.  She sees to it that brains get the sustenance they needs, of course, but she does so in miserly fashion.  From her standpoint, brains are a form of overhead and, as such, present a drain on her creatures’ vital functions such as food gathering, survival strategies, and reproduction.  Accordingly, she maintains a fine balance between what can be afforded for intellectual activities and for physical ones.  For example, nature allocates only about two percent of our total body weight to our brains.

“To my knowledge, there is no comparable measurement of the weight the U.S. government exerts upon the land, but some sense of the size of its footprint can be inferred by the fact it consumes thirty-four percent of our gross domestic product.  Obviously, overhead is not one of our government’s immediate concerns.

“One of the political committee’s reforms, then, is the provision of a ceiling on governmental spending.  To ensure that Newcapian expenditures do not exceed budget, they are capped by the previous year’s revenues—that is to say, funding is collected and set aside before it is spent.  Such a policy is a matter of common sense (sternly impressed upon children and then recklessly disregarded when they become adults) and is, of course, supported by nature’s uncompromising disavowal of deficit spending.

“Society members may recall from earlier meetings that Newcapia has only one source of revenue—an automatic assessment on wealth collected annually.  The amount of the tax rate itself must be approved by a general referendum in which the computerized ballot allows voters to indicate their preference as to whether it should be increased or decreased, expressed in one percent increments from one to five.

“Gretchen, you’re next.

 

“Thank you, Henry, said Gretchen.  From the first, the committee felt we could learn much from the brain’s external functionality even if much of went on inside it remained a mystery.

“A feature of the brain that strikes one immediately is what it fails do.  It is the epitome of inertness with no more physical power than a bowl of Jell-O.  Extracted from the cranium and plopped on a table top, a three-pound brain would do nothing but ooze disagreeable fluids.  Clearly evolution has made a deliberate choice to resist whatever temptation it may have had to affix musculature to tip male hats or to fluff female locks of hair.  Paradoxically, by designing the brain as a powerless organ—specialized, exclusively on intellectual activity—nature enabled ‘the power of gelatin’ to become the most powerful lifeform on earth.

“Correspondingly, in the hope of equally felicitous results, the political committee has imposed similar limits on the Newcapian government by barring it from all operational functions.  In practice this translates into a government that educates no students, provides no social services, builds no highways, engineers no water projects, refrains from the hands-on management of national parks, and so on.

“No exceptions are made for what could arguably be considered essential governmental activities such as police and fire-protection services the acquisition of armed forces, exploits into outer space, etc.  In defense of the severity of this policy, the committee contends the more essential a service, the more important that it be kept out of the hands of government—demonstrably the worst of all managers.  Private organizations, after all, are kept robust by competition, a crucial advantage unavailable in the public sector.

“Surprisingly, perhaps, the Newcapian prohibition against physical activity contributes to the maximum utilization of its resources.  By divorcing itself from any operations of its own, an inert government is positioned to accomplish its missions by impartially selecting the best private operators from a pool of competitive firms.  And should any one selection disappoint, government can always find a suitable substitute.

“Bear in mind this proposal does not divorce the Newcapian government from public affairs.  Just the opposite.  Freed from its operative functions, it is able to focus on the results of its policies—calculating how they impact the ongoing wellbeing of its citizenry.

“There is a further benefit to be gained from separating governmental decision-making from the activities it initiates.  Aside from the efficiency and cost saving involved, the policy offers a moral advantage.  When faced with a choice between keeping a project in house versus contracting it out, bureaucrats are motivated to opt for the former.  Personally, it widens their authority (not to mention, the opportunity for corruption) and, politically, furthers the cause of liberalism and big government.  From time to time, of course, federally-run projects go far enough awry to attract public attention, but such cases are typically resolved by increased funding and adding another layer or two of supervision.  The important thing is that all personnel keep their jobs or are promoted.  Obfuscation rules, needed changes take second place.

“Thank you for your attention.  Timur, will cover another alteration in our present political structure that the committee believes would be helpful.”

 

“The brain has another attribute,” began Timur, “that the committee elected to impart to our proposed Newcapian government: organization.  The brain somehow manages to keep its countless lines of communication from entangling with one another.  Each remains essentially discrete.  Information from the retina follows one path, information from the cochlea follows another and, almost unbelievably, information on a printed page transfers, word-by-word, to specific addresses in the cerebral cortex.  Roughly speaking then, (as only a non-scientist can) the brain is equipped to efficiently resolve stimulii it receives into appropriate action.

“Our form of government is structured with different objective in mind.  Out of a justified fear of autocracy, our framers sought, as their primary goal, not organizational efficiency, but rather, what  is for all intents and purposes, the very opposite: calculated discord.  Their aim was to achieve a balance of power between different governmental segments.  Overlapping functions, duplication of authority, competition between governmental entities were all purposely introduced to prevent one governmental part from overpowering the other.  The resulting conflict arising from this approach is not only tolerated, is commended—as a proof that democracy works.

“Unfortunately, sacrificing organization for what amounts to varying levels of pandemonium comes with a cost—one that the framers of our constitution willingly bore in exchange for avoiding despotism.  It should be noted, however, that what they saw, in 1787 Philadelphia, as a bearable slowdown in efficiency among a handful of officials was of a different order than today’s Washington, D. C.’s politicians’ amusement park.

“What we are left with is an appallingly clumsy and ill-managed conglomeration of activities—the epitome of disorganization.  Multiple agencies, with conflicting strategies, buck heads attempting to perform similar tasks while competing fiercely with one another for funding.  Seen from above, streams of reports from the private sector flow into government that, after a suitable period of digestion, returns them into an equivalent stream of wasteful programs that take on perpetual existence independent of their unfulfilled missions.  Needless to add, in all this unproductive activity, nobody is responsible for anything,  nothing is learned, and there is no way to staunch the accompanying money bloodletting.

“Faced with the challenge of designing a democracy without, at the same time, succumbing to the seemingly unavoidable descent into dissolution, we on the political committee fell back on our role model.  What use, we asked ourselves, could we make of the brain’s impenetrable operations?  At last, one unarguable observation took center stage: the brain had no supreme leader hiding out among its folds nor any sign of an assembly hall for holding debates.  Yet, despite these seeming deficiencies, it  consistently output appropriate decisions.

“Committed as we were to following our role model, the   committee was led to consider the possibility of a government form likewise shorn its legislative and executive branches.  Although we had no idea how to do it, the brain proved it could be done.  Moreover, the idea was attractive because it was particularly those two branches, and/or their innumerable offshoots, that were the principle source of the tangled disorganization we were determined to avoid.

“On the other hand, a double-amputeed government appeared, at first, impossibly handicapped.  Daunting questions arose such as how could Newcapians introduce new laws and, assuming that difficulty could be overcome, who was to enforce them?  How were citizens to make their voice heard and who was to lead Newcapia?  And so on.

“So to sum up this Society meeting, the political committee’s initial attempt to create a new form of democracy, had made some progress.  Newcapia was to enjoy a mandatory limit to  governmental expenditures and one that was devoted exclusively to intellectual, not operational, matters.  On the other hand, when it came to how the new government was to be organized, the only conclusion we had come to was that its present traditional structure was unacceptable.  That period of indecision marked the low ebb in our deliberations.  Would we or would we not succeed in fighting our way out?  I’ll leave this cliffhanger in the capable hands of our leader, Martin.”

“Not capable enough, I’m afraid, to resolve it this meeting,” said Martin. “I will, however, leave you with this hint.  I felt our faith in the Society’s principles had indirectly led us into this quandary and I assumed they would ultimately lead us out of it.

“I broke our team into two subcommittees: Gretchen and Timur were to try to come up with a substitute for the legislative branch while Howard and I struggled to find one for the executive branch.  We would continue to meet weekly until we came up with the answers we needed.

“I’m happy to say that my optimism was rewarded.  Bit by bit over the succeeding weeks we put together solutions that the we’ll present to the Society at its next two general meetings.  We hope you will approve.  Thanks for listening.

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