Friday, July 17, 2015

Our sunny future II (politics)

In my previous post I started presenting an Idyllic view of life on Earth in year 2500 AD, where a bunch of humans (well, there are still 500 millions of them, that’s 1,000 times more than the current number of elephants, more than 12,000 times the current number of all rhinos, and more than 5,000 times the current number of gorillas, just to compare with other large mammals with similar metabolic demands) live scattered in little villages surrounded by fertile fields they till and tend with the help of heavily automated machinery, which enables them to lead lives of leisure and health, with a substantial part of their time devoted to traveling and knowing the world. Today I want to focus on how they govern themselves, to ensure a maximum of safety and freedom. To that end, I’ll first need to review why we need a government in the first place, what it is essential for and what it has ended doing because of the very contingent vagaries of our chosen path of social development (and thus we should at least consider freeing it of those responsibilities). Why is there a group of people we are willing to surrender a fraction of our liberty to, then?

·        For clarification of the rules we give to ourselves. As the publicity, clarity and consistency of those rules is a precondition to live together in harmony, we want an independent body charged with proposing them, discussing them and giving those that are finally chosen a “seal of approval” that allows everybody to know since when they are enacted and thus can be enforced. This we will call “State as legislator” (aka the legislative branch). Today, we produce a most complex and protracted amount of legislation hierarchically organized, so there are some charters and rules for multinational bodies, then each country has a constitution and a myriad laws and regulations published by the parliament, the region, the city hall, the professional governing body, ad infinitum
·        For convenience, as they can provide us with services that it would be very difficult (read: impossible) to leave to private initiative because there is no “market” for them, as they a) can’t be priced fairly (their price elasticity is infinite) or b) imply a huge asymmetry of information or power between the provider and the receiver or c)  the good of ensuring universal access vastly outweights the lack of competition derived from providing them publicly. Under this category I have in other posts classed (basic) education, healthcare (up to a point), basic infrastructure (energy and telecommunications) and safety & security (police & army), but what is true of the XXIst century may not be of the XXVIth. This we will call the “State as big corporation that gives us things nobody else would” (aka the executive branch)
·        For arbitration, as an impartial 3rd party to adjudicate in the myriad disputes, big and small, that arise incessantly when living together. As each person is endowed by nature with an inordinate fondness for his own welfare and enjoyment and too little for those of his fellow humans, so every time there is a conflict between different parties its resolution can be greatly expedited if there is an external source of legitimate decision both parties can agree to submit to. This we will call “State as judge” (aka juridical branch)
·        For security and peace of mind, we want there to be a monopoly of violence, and that monopoly to be exercised by an institution that is as transparent as possible, as accountable to the majority as possible, and as restrained in its use as possible. I have listed that security previously as one of the services the State provided for convenience, but I think it belongs to a separate category, as the previous three would be meaningless if the State did not have the means to enforce the laws that it passed, to secure the monopolies it granted itself and to have its judicial decisions respected. Indeed, this is the most problematic of all the things we want to have performed, as history shows it is all too easy to allow for increasing levels of “mission creep” and ensuring the safety of the citizens ends up being the excuse for meddling in their lives, administering every little activity and communication they engage in and just bossing around for its own sake. This we will call “State as a night (or day) watchman” (aka security apparatus)  
So we are breaking no new ground here, people may disagree regarding the extent of the involvement of a collective apparatus (agencies of the State) in each of those areas, but a vast majority are for at least some limited involvement in each, if not for their complete collectivization (now, remember I am an anarcho traditionalist… the anarchistic part makes me oppose to that majority’s opinion in this, which will be abundantly clear when I describe what I consider the ideal society). I maintain that such approval derives from the irrational attachment we have to an outmoded social organization which was geared towards international competition through increased production of material goods, and is particularly ill suited to the kind of future that is starting to take shape already in the second decade of the XXIst century.

We will leave how we get from here to there for a later post, and start right away describing how each of those functions will evolve between now and 2500 AD. Given that the village (remember, about 10,000 people strong) is the main administrative unit, and that there will be about 50,000 of them, which would make their coordination pretty cumbersome for any project that required the collaboration of multiple villages, I see as necessary an intermediate level of “village federations”, of which there should be roughly around 500 (so each one encompasses 100 villages, and represents the interests of a million people).
·         Legislation consists of two documents: the “Charter of Humanity” and the “Village Charter”. The first lists the rights and duties of every human being (so it not only identifies what every person can legitimately expect to receive, but who has the direct duty to provide it to him/ her), and it shouldn’t be more than a page long (along the lines of the current UN declaration of the rights of man, but in stark contrast with it, it would be embedded in a society with the means to respect them). Two rights merit special attention, the right to means of subsistence (the State shall effectively provide enough food to any citizen, regardless of employment or status) and the right to move and settle where they see fit (people will be actively encouraged to travel to become familiar with how other villages order their affairs, and any village shall accept and provide for any traveler that declares his intention to settle in it)
The second defines (again, in no more than two, three pages) how each particular village is ruled. The universal template stipulates the appointment of a council of “village elders” (between five and ten in number) to act as board of directors of the collective facilities (we will describe what they consist in when we deal with the economic organization) and as judges. They may have great latitude to appoint auxiliary bodies to temporarily take care of the communal business (oversee some significant public work, investigate some new area of research, gather evidence in some complex case they have to decide about, etc.). Now each village may have their own rules on how those elders are chosen (democratically or by examination or by birth, for a short period or for life, etc.) and to what kind of restrictions they are bound (some villages may prefer that they devote their time exclusively to the community, and so declare it incompatible to pursue any individual business whilst in office, and some others may allow them to engage in both). The key here, again, is that people will have the freedom to move from one village to another and to settle wherever they want (remember indeed that a significant amount of time is spent travelling and communicating with people in other villages), so if one is very poorly managed it will just see its population dwindle and will thus have the greater incentive to reform.
The village elders send one representative (at least twice a year, although there is also latitude on how frequently they meet) to a council of the village federation where the issues between different villages are resolved (as villages never overlap, and have a fixed amount of land allotted to them, there should be almost very few of these, although some are conceivable, like pollution of a shared river by an upstream neighbor) and common initiatives (like the improvement and upgrade of the communication networks) are approved and monitored. Finally, the different federations send two representatives to the world council (which meets at least once a year), where the biggest projects humanity as a whole embarks upon are decided and steered.  Thus a minimalist framework of laws and institutions regulate the use of the commons, and everybody has a strictly equal representation. All the rest of day to day activities are regulated by “private” contracts or free agreements between the directly affected parts, as the citizenry is homogeneous enough regarding power, wealth and ability to influence each other as not to require infinitely complex norms to restore a semblance of balance and fairness.
·         There is just one monopoly in the hands of the state, and two additional services that it provides. It monopolizes land, and assigns it sequentially both for its residential use and for agriculture and industry (we will explain more about the latter when we talk about the economy). Every newborn and every foreigner that arrives with the stated intent of settling in the village is allotted a patch of land to build a dwelling in and (if such is his inclination) to cultivate. After the first generation all the available patches may have some housing already built in them, and once they are made available (after the death of the previous inhabitants) the new dwellers may choose to tear it down and build a new house from scratch, or to modify it as they see fit. Some villages may want to enforce some building regulations (to ensure a modicum of safety or of energy efficiency) and some not. Regarding services, the only ones provided by the state are physical means of communication (keeping roads in good state and, if by the sea, a functioning harbor) and telecommunications (having high bandwidth access universally available to any citizen within the area under the control of the village). Significantly, medicine is left in the hands of the citizenry because by then it will have stopped having infinite price elasticity. If a citizen is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he won’t be willing to pay a fortune (all that he has and more) to extend his life a few months, but he will instead bid farewell to his loved ones and get a modest dose of painkillers to die peacefully. Beyond that, normal medical services will be provided by those with the inclination and the ability to do so, offered in an open market subject to competition, which will determine that they set reasonable prices in exchange for the best service they can offer. I will have more to say regarding both education and security later on, so I do not have to belabor this point.
·         We already mentioned that the village elders would be the judges to which any case of disagreement is brought. They will not need to be trained in a whole monstrous discipline (law), as all the relevant laws will occupy all of four or five pages in plain language and understandable by everybody. In a society of equals (we will see when we talk of how economy works what mechanisms it will develop to limit inequality and ensure nobody becomes so wealthy as to exert an unduly influence on the common business) there is less risk of the judiciary being bought by particular interests, but in this case we would have the tempering effect of the freedom of movement. If the elders of a village were consistently unjust, and there were no legal ways of removing them from office, their village would witness an exodus that would force them (or their descendants) to change their ways. I do expect a very substantial reduction of crimes, specially against persons and properties (in an open societies where everybody is effectively –against just nominally, as in our own society- ensured of having enough to subsist it is to be expected that only pathological cases, with which we will deal in short order, may be compelled to threaten, maim or hurt their fellow citizens or their rightful belongings), but given the litigious nature of human beings I could imagine in certain zones and places a significant burden on the elders under the weight of countless demands of civil and commercial nature. Although nothing in my proposed organization would prevent them from appointing auxiliary courts for judging in particular areas, I’d rather prefer that they would provide guidelines for the writing of contract between individuals to better foresee and resolve in advance the potential differences in interpretation that may arise during their execution.
·         Finally, we come to the very delicate aspect of how will the community enforce the norms that it dictates to itself. Old school anarchists were violently opposed to the idea that a dedicated force to that end were even necessary, as in a perfect society, defined by its liberty, equality and fraternity (or any such set of republican virtues) people would naturally behave well and disinterestedly contribute to their countrymen’s well being to the full extent of their capabilities, never breaking a rule they would have given to themselves freely and voluntarily. Maybe, maybe not (as never in the history of our species has such society existed, or is likely to exist). I tend more towards Kant’s view of men, from whose crooked timber nothing good ever came. Even in my dreamed society of equals, where ambition is reconducted to “speaking great words and making great deeds” instead of “owning more shiny things than your neighbor” there will be unjustified violence (as long as there are young men full of testosterone and alcohol), petty crime and potentially more serious one (rape, sexual abuse, even murder). There will be lazy bums, maladapted whiners, miscreants, malingerers, communal job slackers (the equivalent of today’s tax evaders), remorseless over procreators, and more seriously, violent psychopaths, dangerous schizophrenics, pedophiles and wife beaters. The most benign cases may be talked out of their wayward ways and with some monitoring and supervision be made productive citizens again. Unfortunately, evil is very real and some people will be (as they are today) evil beyond redemption, so they will have to be identified (some are wily and skilled in dissimulation) and dealt with, humanely but firmly. For all that, a dedicated police force is unavoidable, and it is better if they are under the community’s control, in the form of the village elders, who decide on their size, eventual expansion or contraction, the guidelines of conduct of their members and their eventual dismissal.      
So essentially that is all the state I see in the XXVIth century: 5 officials per every 10,000 people, plus the police force they deem necessary (but which on average I think shouldn’t go beyond 10-15 well trained officers), a short set of universal rules and another, similarly short set of local rules, and open borders to ultimately vote with your feet in case or irresolvable disagreement with the latter (both with how they are written or how they are effectively implemented).

That minimal State will need very little surplus to be extracted from the population in the form or taxes (or rather, communal work) for its maintenance, but that leads us to how this future world will organize its production and distribution, something with which I will deal in my next post.

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