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My plan to set the world to rights, part 2
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By Stephen Browne
Stephen Browne
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By Stephen W. Browne
May 16, 2014 11:25 a.m.

“One of the peculiarities of the American Revolution was that its leaders pinned their hopes on the organization of decision-making units, the structuring of their incentives, and the counterbalancing of the units against one another, rather than on the more usual (and more exciting) principle of substituting ‘the good guys’ for ‘the bad guys.’”
-Thomas Sowell
Last week I indulged myself in a bit of utopia planning. As we say in Oklahoma, “I know it’s wrong, but I’m weak.”
Well not exactly wrong. Who among us has not had the, “If I were king” fantasy and imagined what they’d do to fix the world if only someone would give us absolute power? Which you can trust me with, really. I wouldn’t lie to you.
So take these suggestions as just that, suggestions. I’m not wedded to any of them.
I think we inherited a pretty good system from the Founding Fathers, all things considered. If it’s beginning to show some wear and tear, that’s to be expected after two and a half centuries of use.
Consider that within that time we’ve never cancelled an election, not even during a terrible Civil War. But during that time France has had five republics, two kingdoms and an empire.
Obviously we’ve inherited a system that suits us well enough to make our society reasonably stable while being responsive to change when necessary.
What I would suggest is that we might build on the insight of the Founders that you have to work with human nature, not against it. That is, do not expect to find angels to govern but consider modifying our institutions to provide greater accountability by our governors.
Last week I mentioned a truly original idea by Robert Heinlein to greatly expand representation of citizens in our legislature. The nice thing about that idea is it could be applied locally on a small scale first.
Now I’d like to pass on an idea I saw years ago, by a libertarian named Sandy Cohen.
Almost all political battles are about spending government money. Whether it should be spent on this, or that, or should be spent at all rather than left in the hands of the taxpayers.
Everyone acknowledges taxes are a fact of life, it’s what to be done with them we argue so viciously about.
Cohen’s idea was to extend democracy to the pocketbooks of the taxpayers. How about letting us decide where some of our money goes?
What if your tax return had a checkoff list? Say X percent of your tax payments could go to: a) military, b) healthcare, c) welfare, d) scientific research on cancer, physics, etc?
Maybe the government would want to control spending on half the tax receipts, or more. So what’s wrong with saying, “OK, you can send half your tax payments wherever you like in 10 percent increments.”?
We could argue about the percentages, how much they get to decide versus how much we get to decide. Point is, you could vote your convictions, put your money where your mouth is. And you could apply it first on a small scale to test-drive the idea. A criteria we’ve forgotten about now that every new idea has to be top-down, one-size-fits-all, my-way-or-the-highway.
Would those who spend our money feel more accountable to us if they knew we’d vote them less next time around if we thought they were wasting funds?
Would government bureaucracies have to become more efficient if they had to compete for funding from an informed electorate?
Who knows? I certainly don’t.
But I wonder if we ought to be thinking along those lines.
What’s your suggestion?

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