In I Were In Charge

December 3, 2006 | By | 5 Replies More

Dangerous idea, that.

If you were in charge–if you were King–what would do? What would fix? What would you ignore?

The Socratic ideal is the philosopher king, whose first act upon accession to the throne is to abdicate. The idea being that a truly ethical thinker would refuse to accept the responsibility to rule a nation.

Pity the world doesn’t work that way.

The problem with such systems–and there are many, including those proposed by certain self-proclaimed Libertarians–is that human nature refuses to cooperate. There’s a kind of Malthusian coefficient involved–population growth always outstrips the potential for ideal behavior. All such utopian systems are based on one fallacy that keeps gumming up all the works of any system anyone cares to name.

The fallacy is that We’re All Alike.

It’s a widely touted formula–the things that we have in common outnumber those that divide us; underneath we’re all the same; people are people. The Libertarians believe as an article of faith that if government got out of everybody’s way, we’d all be fine because people basically know what’s best for themselves and their immediate circle of intimates. Socialists believe (mostly) that without class structures, everyone would get along quite nicely. Communists like to assume avarice is an aberration that can somehow be bred out of the species.

If only.

It’s not so much that we’re so very different–but that we’re alike in such individualized ways.

The fact is, we come in all shapes, sizes, talents, capacities, points of view, prejudices, and predilections. We’re not the same in precisely those areas that make such blue sky hopes for the self-responsible, self-actualized, self-controlling individual a reality. Government ends up becoming a default necessity to keep us from each others’ throats as much as keeping the whole thing working in something resembling order.

Do governments go too far? Sure, often. Government is an imprecise tool, a blunt instrument. It’s reactive more than proactive. It makes huge blunders, overlooks details, stumbles along an ill-perceived path. In frustration–or under the same illusion that people are all basically the same (or should be)–many governments become autocratic, despotic, fascistic, tyrannical, brutal. They squeeze tighter on the reins in the futile attempt to force a population to conform to certain standards. Combined with a fervent belief that only They know what’s best for their country, you have all the ingredients for classic botched jobs.

Then there are those times and places where someone–a Hussein, a Khaddafy, a Stalin, a Hitler–does end up In Charge and sets about actually remaking the country according to their ideas. From the outside, occasionally, things look like they’re working quite well. There is Order.

Misery doesn’t have to be loud to be real.

But the hypothetical I put as the title applies to us all to some degree, because it is true that rulers rule by the consent of the ruled. Ultimately, when people–the euphemistic, legendary, all -but-mythical The People–have had enough, a ruler or ruling class just can’t keep them on the farm no more. France boasted one of the most autocratic, absolute despotism in modern history and look what happened to poor Louis XVI. Bad haircut day, one where the barber missed by several inches.

So. If I were in charge, what would I do differently?

First off, being an American, I would declare one day a year in which all classified documents would be declassified. For a day. Let the free-for-all start. Whatever slipped through the fingers of those hungry conspiracy theorists, the press, the general run-of-the-mill paranoiac–tough. Gotta wait till next year.

This would allow for release, for breathing space. Illegal, hidden things would still go on, but imagine the safety valve such a day would have! Miss your chance one year, just wait till next year. It would provide a format in which those who openly distrust the system would have their say. Of course, it could not be a cheat. It would have to be real. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. I give as an example–an outre one, to be sure, but classic–Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s program to deal with UFOs. A look at the history of it shows that they shot themselves perpetually in the foot by not declassifying everything. The fringe maniacs who really believed they were hiding something could continually point to the things not revealed and make a quasi-legitimate claim that there, indeed, were the relevant revealing documents. As it has turned out, there never was anything that actually threatened national security, but because of the habitual inability of government to let go, they created the present day UFO frenzy–and its related groups, like those folks who believe the UN has a clandestine bunch of storm troopers who can kidnap people…

Anyway. That would be the first thing.

Second thing, I would feed people. America has always grown a surplus. Food prices are kept high artificially. We can sell to other countries, but Americans should eat. Give it to them. Not candy, but real food. (I would also make this a part of welfare–no food stamps and no exceptions for the junk people buy. You come into the supermarket with foodstamps and them produce cash for alcohol, cigarettes, junk food, and so forth, the food stamps are not to be accepted.) Give it to everyone, though, not just welfare recipients. The guy in the mansion should have access as well as the single mom laid off from her job and living hand-to-mouth. (I guarantee the guy in the mansion won’t use it–too embarrassing. That’s why you rarely see people from rich counties shopping at Save-A-Bunch–they prefer spending more at an upscale store because it keeps them apart from the scruffy and impoverished.)

Third thing, I would federally fund schools at the primary and secondary level and keep them open 24/7. Classes would go on all day long, all night, all week, all year, for students to attend when they chose. They would also be staffed in such a way as to provide safe havens for children. Yeah, you’re doing the physics class with Dr. So-N-So, the experiment will take three months, you can sleep over. They would also have clinics attached to provide everything from first-aid to birth control to psych counseling. School should be the place where you mature, get healthy, learn, become what you want to become.

Fourth, taxes would be changed from income tax to purchase (or sales) tax, with exemptions for food, clothing, medicine, and books. Property tax should be assessed purely on a square-foot basis, regardless what’s built on it. (Second floor, more square feet, and so on, but the “improvement” of the property would have no bearing.) Business taxes would be altered to an annual licensing fee–your business does X dollars per year gross income, this is how much the license is. Period. Adjustments could be made over time, but I really do agree with Libertarians on this–a tax just because you make a certain amount of income is unethical, probably immoral, and retrograde. Tax what people spend, that’s different–except for necessities.

And retired people should be exempt from taxes. You hit retirement, leave the work force, taxes end. Period.

Between high school and college, there will be a year to two year long program everyone will participate in of public service, what the courts now term community service. Everyone. Rich, poor, whoever. If you want to avoid it, join the military, which will be exempt from conscription. Everyone will give a year or two to helping the poor, forest management, urban renewal, charity work. The time will count toward student loans to underwrite college. But for one or two years, everyone will be part of a Peace Corps type program, working in communities that need help, doing all the stuff that needs doing, learning what it means to be a part of the community at the most basic level.

I would issue stringent requirements for people wanting to get married. It should be hard to get married. People do it for all the wrong reasons, all the time, and make a mess of it, and all it does is make money for lawyers, courts, and, at a certain level, the yellow press/tabloid market. It should be hard to get married, easy to get divorced.

No children except for those willing to go through the byzantine machinations of getting married.

Which leads me to possibly the most controversial program.

Upon puberty, all boys would have a quantity of sperm harvested, all girls would have eggs harvested upon menarche. Once banked and filed, boys and girls would be “fixed”. No more teen pregnancy, no more pregnancies to blackmail people into relationships, no more unwanted babies. Later, after maturity, if two people really want a child, they have to make a CONSCIOUS CHOICE TO DO SO–because it will be done not in the heat of sexual congress, but thoughtfully, with the aid of a councilor, at the clinic, when they sign off to withdraw sperm and egg and actually MAKE A BABY.

That’s some of what I’d do if I were In Charge. Doubtless everyone has a list, but I thought I’d offer mine just for the sake of discussion.

Probably a good thing I’m not In Charge. Or likely to be.

Still, it kinda makes you wonder.

Doesn’t it?

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Category: American Culture, Civil Rights, Cultural Evolution, Culture, Education, Food, Law, Meaning of Life, Media, Medicine, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (5)

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  1. I would declare a Jubilee. All debts gone, all land divided by lot according to family {tribe} size. Land would be valued by what it would produce. Land inside cities used for habitation or commerce, exempt. Large groups get large tracts, small groups get small tracts. Also, try to match land with skill sets. If this wasn't possible, land could be leased to provide income to "owners" who lived in town, etc. Land is never to be sold, only leased for a short term, according to it's productivity. If a person preferred to work in an area outside their family's allotment, apprentice programs would be utilized but their own birthright would not be compromised. "Ownership" and diligence are both rewarded. This would provide a minimum sustaining income while motivating people to see to their own, and their own tribe's well-being.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    "All debts gone":

    Your buddy who borrowed money that you'd been saving for a year for a car because he needed an operation is now off the hook?

    The banks don't have to give you back the money you've lent them as a "savings account"? That will have to be the case because they won't get it back from all the homeowners they've lent your money to. That's what a bank does with your assets.

    Therefore, no more saving or lending institutions, or credit cards. People can only buy with cash in hand. Employers will have to pay daily, because otherwise its a debt by the company. Gone.

    Land division:

    My 1/8 acre produces computer code valued at a few dozen kilobucks a year. A farmer with 2000 acres nets about that in grain. Both our families are the same size. Should I get more land, or he less? What if one or the other of us gets an oil lease? The land that Manhattan sits on was once rich farmland. How would you gage its productivity? How many people per square mile is necessary for the urban exemption?

    How much land matches the skill set of pro-basketball, office management, or salmon-fishing?

  3. "That’s what a bank does with your assets." No, the bank loans out several times my assets and charges usury on the electrons. "Money for nothing and…".

    I'm talking about the basis of wealth {land} being put back in the hands of the producers. I'm talking about having our birthright restored instead of being born into a slave factory.

    There are going to be difficult details, but not impossible. What would be so wrong with not needing to borrow from anyone because you have all you need.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    As near as I can tell, LJC wants to let everyone be as well off as the land-rich native Americans were in 1200 A.D, less their gains from their trans-continental trade routes.

    Banks lend out many times your assets by joining them with many others' assets. The "usury" they charge is the interest you collect, less insurance costs and a handling fee. The "usury" they collect also pays for the defaults (informally canceled debts). The bank takes the risk of lending money, and you take the (now limited) risk of lending it to the bank. Please take at least a junior-high level course in economics before taking over a country.

    Modern wealth comes from a civilization where the root of money/value is energy and applied information (ie: industrialization), not land. If land were so valuable, why are farmers deeply in debt, while those who borrow money to set up stores or transportation systems get rich?

  5. Jason Rayl says:

    "I’m talking about the basis of wealth {land} being put back in the hands of the producers. I’m talking about having our birthright restored instead of being born into a slave factory."

    The trouble is, Larry–how to say this?–it just doesn't work that way. The problem with land as the basis of wealth is that eventually population outstrips the resource. In America we have clung to this myth of economic independence longer because our founding myths were based on limitless supply. Of course, we had to take it away from the previous owners first, but eventually we have spread from sea to shining sea and land is just incapable of providing the model of economic independence you claim for it.

    First off, all land is not created equal. For all the rich, alluvial soil that was supposed to provide the imagined cornucopia of Jeffersonian yeomanry, there's desert, mountains, tundra. Then, too, there's what's under some land that's not under other land–gold, silver, oil, gas pockets.

    But it's population growth that drives down the capacity of land to provide a constant living. The subsistence model that predates Jacksonian market economy was sustainable only because it was expected that the sons would leave when they married and start their own. Pretty soon you run out of places to leave to. Then you either retain all the mouths on one plot–which have the nasty habit of making more mouths to feed–or you start limiting births.

    Either way, some plots will make the owners more equal than others.

    Hiring labor is one way to deal with itinerant progeny who have no land, but then you are taking your first step toward a market economy since you have to find a means by which to pay the hires. And again, population growth outstrips the capacity to pay in kind.

    Even in ancient history, urbanization came to be a solution for a labor problem when success drove population to exceed the capacity or need of soil-based economies.

    The problem is, at base, that people keep making more people and the land resource is limited. Look at India. Look at China.

    In order to feed people according to a work-based standard of deservedness, production for pay comes about. Now you need a method of compensation. Barter becomes inefficient when it turns out that not everything everyone makes is required in constant enough quantity to balance the barter equation and meet the population pressure. Specific objects have only situational value. You always end up with an underemployed surplus population–perfectly capable of working, but not making anything that will keep them fed.

    Substitute barter–money economies–develop out of this apparent flaw. At first, simple exchange–this piece of representative currency for food or a day's work. But again, the production upon which it is based soon becomes clearly unequal in proportion to demand as population rises.

    Money itself has to eventuallyu become a self-correcting medium of exchange to compensate for fluctuations in demand and production. The only way to do that is to base value on something that is equally volatile, which is labor, the value of which can "float" according to fluctuating needs and capacities.

    As you can tell, it just gets more complex. What you're asking for is a return to village-sized subsistence economy which is viable only in small population aggregates. It's a fantasy.

    I'm not saying that how we do it is necessarily the best way–I don't think it is–but it's not going to made better by trying to return us to a valuation system based on something of which there just ain't enough of.

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