I want to talk about responsibility. Personal as well as social responsibility.
Let’s talk about social responsibility. The majority of us are part of society. We enter into a social contract with our fellow citizens and our government to give up some of our liberties in exchange for certain conveniences. For example, we allow the government to tax us in exchange for them to build infrastructure such as roads, communication and utilities that we can use. We expect them to pass laws, regulations and statutes that will protect us from others who would do us harm, and to look out for our best interests on the international stage.
Has anyone ever heard of the Bystander Effect?
It was a study that wanted to know what, if any differences there were in the response time of normal people giving aid to complete strangers who were being or are hurt depending on how many other bystanders were present, and they found out something interesting. That the more people are watching, the less likely help will be rendered in any form. Why was this? Their theory was that because everybody could see everyone else also watching, they assumed that somebody else would dial the police, or the ambulance or render immediate aid in some form.
So what does this have to do with society?
Now having read that, think of western governments that a lot of us are in this contract with. By now, most of us know that something is wrong. We know that spending is too high, government meddling in the economy distorts the marketplace and various other problems. No one however, does much of anything to protest it. We all assume that someone else will do it, and yes there are those who stick it to the man, but they are few and far between. Even OWS (Occupy Wall St) that the majority of Americans support, but even now it is starting to fizzle out.
The world sits atop a precipice, a financial one. The western world is in so much debt that any day now we can plunge into another depression. If that was our only problem we might be so lucky.
– Online privacy is practically a thing of the past. Goverments and corporations are increasingly meddling into our private lifes
– Inflation is accelerating around the world i.e. your money is being taken away from you insidiously
– Too Big Too Fail companies getting trillions of free dollars because apparently socialism is now in for friends of the government
– The Mainstream Media seems to be getting more biased by the day sometimes outright trying to misinform us
– Resource depletion is accelerating and that doesn’t bode well for our modern civilisations as we are completely reliant on these resources
– US politicians stirring the hornet’s nest that is Iran, and domestically passing draconian laws
So it’s quite obvious, that when it comes to social responsibility, we have dropped the ball big time there.
Now let’s talk about personal responsibility.
We like to think of ourselves as responsible, more so as we age yet are we really? Let’s look at the populations of Greece, Italy, Spain. Are they really acting responsibly protesting the governments austerity measures that are removing unsustainable programs? Programs that will only make their situation worse by accelerating their countries economic downfall. Sounds silly protesting to keep entitlements that are damaging to your economy, and thus your personal wellbeing doesn’t it? Of course, those protesting don’t know this, but it is part of their responsibility, their social contract to be informed on what does and doesn’t work economically. It’s not good enough to demand something just because it benefits you. Ignorance will eventually hurt them, and their fellow countrymen and the entire region.
All 3 of the just mentioned countries are in so much debt, they are finding it problematic to attract further financing on the debt markets. So we must ask, why are they (and others) in so much debt? Well, one of the reasons is that people vote for politicians who bring the most benefits to themselves, without asking such simple questions like ‘Where is that money going to come from to pay for this program?’ or anything else remotely resembling a sensible question. The recently elected politicians can’t just raise taxes as soon as they’re elected to office, so what is a politically expedient way of getting the necessary money to keep the promises without also attracting the ire of voters? Easy, borrow it on the foreign market. Even if they know it can’t be repaid, the loan will come due on some other politicians watch, and not their own. Problem solved!
Another reason that government debts have spiralled upwards around the world (It’s not just limited to those 3 mentioned countries above, they are just the top 3 examples!) is because previous government programs will rarely get cut, as there are people who rely on those programs who won’t or can’t give them up and this effects the politician’s chance of re-election. Thus, the upward thrust of government programs that history has shown happens time and time again happens again. Politicians are so concerned with keeping their jobs, they don’t do their job to the full potential. And people are so concerned with their own benefits, or entitlements that they won’t allow politicians to do their job to its full potential either. Does this sound like responsibility? More like ignorance with a dash of cowardice.
This shows a huge lack of personal responsibility that we exhibit. The fault of the matter lies at the feet of the populace. Yes, politicians have run up the debt, made things unsustainable, spend too much, borrow too much, or print too much and we rightly blame them for their part in these problems. But we blame them for the whole problem, when we are part of the problem; we voted them in based on what they would provide to us, for not asking of them basic questions on how they will fund these generous entitlement programs, or not understanding basic economics. We are the instigating factor in the crux of this huge worldwide issue that will come to bear down on us in the ensuing years. Worldwide, we are at over 300% Debt to GDP. Yep, cumulatively speaking, total worldwide debt is currently 3 times bigger than ALL THE MONEY that exists, and this gap is just getting higher.
Now, some may argue that this view is to simple to be right, and there’s probably an element of truth there, but how else can you explain the fact that almost ALL western nations are indebted to an extreme degree (According to the CIA Factbook, in 2010 only 4 countries worldwide were debt-free). Even the USA, the cornerstone of our world economy, now has more than a 100% Debt to GDP ratio, and that’s just government debt! It doesn’t include household debt which raises that ratio many times higher. So while this might not explain the entirety of the problem, I think it explains a majority of it. If anyone has any competing or complimentary theories, I would love to hear them.
So, what are the solutions for these rash of problems that are so endemic? Here are a few suggestions as I see them. If you have any alternatives, please feel free to add them in the comments.
The career politician has to go. Career politicians are beholden to an ignorant populace for the choices they make, therefore they cannot always make the tough decisions that need to be made to move society forward, as an ignorant populace can and will (and have!) remove them from office if there is any short term pain. Thus, they must cater to the lowest common denominator that binds the varying social groups together, do the minimum necessary and rarely stray outside of this niche for fear of spoiling their re-election chances.
I think we should limit politicians to 1 or 2 terms. I prefer 1 term as once the politician is elected, he then has 2, 4 or 5 years to fix what needs fixing, then get the hell out, without needing to pander to the masses. Politicians are there to manage the big picture, they are supposed to be smarter than us, and routinely when they have to make the hard long-term decisions that need short-term pain, but will result in long-term gain, we punish them by being short-sighted and demanding the best of now, and the best of then, which is impossible. Thus, the calibre of politician is reduced as people who talk a lofty game are voted in, and who pander to the now crowd, and the future is left behind.
Of course, a 1 term senator lends itself to some abuse so see #3.
Stop the Revolving Door
We need to jam the revolving door between big business, or business of any kind to be fair, and government. When I worked in Saudi Arabia and was signing my employment contract; there was a clause that stipulated that should the company and I part ways, that I cannot work for any other company inside Saudi Arabia for a minimum of 2 years. While in the private sector, this is a silly rule and of itself shows of the collaboration between big businesses afraid of losing secrets to competitors and using the government to pass such laws, but it’s a monarchy so what do you expect. In the revolving door between public and private sector in the west, I think this is vitally necessary.
All too often, you see officials from big companies that have huge influence in the halls of power, and high-ranking private sector officials moving into a regulatory position overseeing an industry they just came from, or into a myriad of other positions. This puts them in a position of power to provide favourable circumstances for his recently departed company. Often times, they will re-join that company after their stint in the government . This is unacceptable and creates a clear conflict of interest. Another strategy that lobbying firms apply, is to offer government employees high paying jobs once they finish up in the government. This effectively puts the government employee in the pocket of the firm, as they will rarely do anything to risk a multi-million dollar job that is sitting and waiting for them.
This practise simply must stop. I would like a 2 year gap between any private sector switch to a government position. Obviously there would need to be qualifying conditions for this, and not an outright ban. I propose the following conditions be met for a 2 year ban to be legal:
From Private Sector to Government
– The corporation lobbies the government, and has spent money doing so in the past year
– The government position in question will have some part in regulating or overseeing the industry from which the corporation the individual recently departed from is involved in
From Government to Private Sector (Harder to regulate, and maybe even impossible)
– If moving from Government to a big corporation, the government position had some part in regulating the industry the corporation belongs too, thus providing the corporation an unfair competitive advantage in the marketplace
– The corporation lobbies the government, and has spent money doing so in the past year
In almost all countries, there are dozens, maybe even hundreds of universities. These universities do hundreds of studies each year in any matter of subjects. I propose that for each program that politicians want to implement, that 3 randomly assigned universities must carry out relevant social/economical/statistical studies on the impact of the programs in question to the general population, to the budget and to attempt to assign a statistical risk to eventual outcomes, and its potential success to the programs original goal.
For example, if a politician wants to implement a program to help seniors pay for medicines, or to revamp the social security (or universal care system or anything), a study must done to access the impact of the program, and whether it’s implementation will be positive or negative, whether it’s affordable without (or with if it’s part of the program) raising taxes. So 3 randomly assigned universities from around the country should participate, and 2/3 of these studies must agree with the recommended outcome of the program in order for it to be eligible for a vote in the senate / parliament. The names of the Universities, and thus research teams should be kept secret from all, and the outcomes of all 3 studies should be published in the public domain.
So many times, we see politicians come out with fancy sounding programs enacted, that do not do as their name suggests and are actually harmful to the general populace at large and beneficial to a few. This should do away with that, with a few safeguards such as secrecy, publishing the results publicly warts and all. We can possibly have sound, fiscally responsible and efficient programs that are worthy of the country. They can have binding recommendations on how to make the program more efficient, cheaper, more inclusive etc before passing into law.
In Conclusion, I see politics as a very malleable instrument used by people. It can mean many things to many people, much like religion. There is no right answer, but there are plenty of wrong answers. Too often, politics becomes a shouting match between 2 choices; each of which is at least partly wrong.
As human beings, we desire certainty, it’s an evolutionary outcome of our brain. If we are certain of something, it relieves us of a large cognitive load and we can move on with our daily lives. Of course, this evolved on the african plains when Lion = Avoid and/or Run, River = Drink and Zebra = Food. With our complex society, our large and varying political spectrum, we adapted our politics to the simplicity of our ancestor’s life view. To a left-winger, a right-winger might be a lion and vice versa, and it’s just not feasible.
My point in all this is that politics cannot continue to be a shouting match between black and white view points. Anybody can make anything sound right by making it eloquent or simple. This is simply not true. We are where we are today because of science and the scientific method, philosophy, rule of law and a balance of power between an informed, educated populace and elected officials. Except we don’t have an informed educated populace. Merely a shortsighted one, and this distorts the quality of our elected officials.
It is our personal responsibility to learn, to understand, and to take part in the political process, lest we regret it for a very long time; and as such, we are paying the price for it now, and will continue to do so until the debt and credit problems are dealt with. Which I believe is going to be very painful for a lot of people for a long time. But we bought it on ourselves.
I believe the following quote from Plato is more relevant now than at almost any other time in history:
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Plato
We are the Roman Republic, right before it gave way to Tyranny.