A POLITICAL PROGRAM FOR THE NEXT CENTURY
This outline of a "program" is an attempt to fix in writing (black on white or white on black, depending on what computer you are using), my ideas about a "user friendly" kind of politics, which would allow us to live in peace and to progress individually and also collectively.
The ideas contained in this "program" are open to discussion and others may be added to them. Those of you who read this, who have questions, doubts, those who approve and those who would like to make suggestions for additions or corrections, feel free to contact me at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am not at this time and have no intention to become, a candidate of any political party. Thus this program is not a promise of mine to put what is written into practice; it is only supposed to start you thinking. If one or the other of the ideas contained herein would find supporters or would become part of the political program of others, I would certainly not be greatly disappointed.
The following are the points that I think are important:
More democracy - direct involvement
The era of usefulness of political parties is drawing to a close. In the future it will be important for everyone to be directly involved with the decisions that concern them. In order to be efficient, direct participation in the political process will have to be organised using electronic means of communication. Optical cable television and advanced telephone services, the connection of many personal computers by modem, the internet itself, are the precursors of the future of direct involvement in politics.
To start with, electronic referenda should be organised to confirm or reject the laws prepared by parliament. But also initiatives that originate from the citizens themselves, with the intent of abrogating existing laws or proposing new ones, ought to be possible.
Clearly not everyone will vote on every issue, but even 10 or 20 per cent of the population is a much larger participation than the handful of members of parliament who currently decide about our future and who often follow party political lines rather than their own conscience when giving their vote.
Elections and citizenship
The notion of what is a "citizen" will have to be re-examined. The old concept of "citizenship by birth" must be revised to take account of the mobility of people, who do no longer consider country borders to be much of a barrier.
All those individuals who reside in a country (and for local administrative purposes all those who reside in a city) and who work and pay their taxes there, should be considered citizens. Any possible abuse such as a change of residence for electoral reasons only, can be prevented by the introduction of a reasonable time span (say one or two years) that is to elapse before a person is to be considered a "citizen" and may thus participate in political and administrative elections or in any direct electronic consultations on political questions.
Migrations of a substantial number of persons will be more and more common in times to come. They are quite normal in an open global society and provisions should be made to routinely accommodate and integrate these persons in their new country.
Extremely large flows of migration are caused by a very serious lack of economic or personal security of the persons involved. The most common causes are wars and misery. As a last resort, people "vote with their feet" and go where they hope to find better conditions.
An unwanted migratory flow is an indicator, a symptom. It is no use to suppress it. One has to handle the cause, in the country of origin, either by helping to re-establish order and security or by enabling the country to guarantee decent economic conditions to its citizens.
The clandestine flow of the poor and depraved will not be arrested by acting on the symptom alone. Only direct intervention on the cause, that is, bettering the economic self sufficiency of the countries where the major flows of 'desperados' come from, will normalise the situation.
The world seems to be getting smaller and smaller. National justice systems will have to be complemented by a world justice system to deal with all those cases that have an international setting. A start is being made by organising under the patronage of the United Nations a permanent International Court of Justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Certainly, this is a first important step, but eventually a complete international justice system will have to be developed, capable of dealing with both civil and criminal justice.
The reality of globalisation will demand this. There are too many situations which national jurisdictions cannot or do not wish to deal with. Justice, and especially any future international justice system, must of course be strictly independent and separate from the executive branch of a possible international "government of nations".
Vindictive criminal justice
The death penalty and the campaigns to abolish this barbaric custom are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The real problem is vindictive justice, which cannot conceive or will not admit that people can change.
Criminal justice makes sense only if it prevents conduct that is considered damaging for society. Any serious attempt to achieve a reformation of criminals and their reintegration into society is destined to fail in the face of the current lack of alternative penal measures that do not require incarceration of the person found guilty. Imprisonment should be used only as a last resort in order to keep a dangerous person away from society.
Effective criminal justice must be swift and should be able to inflict graduated restraining or reforming measures that are in line with the severity of the crime but should always be ordered with an eye on the possibility that a person may eventually improve. Revenge is not where it's at.
The extradition to another country of a person for the scope of punishment does not make any sense. If there is a legitimate fear that the person is likely to continue to commit criminal actions or if the person is clearly a danger to the community, expulsion may be a legitimate act of justice by the new country of residence.
Informed citizens - transparency
Citizens have the right to know and to evaluate any administrative act and the data on which any decision is based. Exceptions to this fundamental democratic right must be severely limited and in no case may the data be destroyed or dispersed, as is current practice.
Any exceptions are not in the discretion of the administration but must be subject to parliamentary and judiciary control on a case by case basis. In any case, a time limit must be set and made known for any kind of exception, after the expiry of which the data must be made publicly available. Data gathering and "covert operations" by intelligence agencies should not have a blanket exception from the principles set out above. In cases of doubt it is always preferable that the information be known by all, as that is the only way administrative activity can be effectively controlled.
Single persons and groups as well as companies that will be or have been affected by administrative decisions, must at any moment be able to inspect and if necessary obtain correction of the data collected in any administrative file that regards them. In criminal proceedings and investigations, the collected evidence must be free to be viewed (and challenged) by those concerned after an indictment has been issued or after the investigation has been ended without formal indictment.
Assistance and individual responsibility
In principle, every citizen is free and is responsible for his/her own health, economic conditions and welfare in general. The state should act to defend the citizen from dangers that are outside the influence of his/her own will and which might lead to serious and immediate harm.
The state's measures of assistance (economic assistance, public health system) should be equal for all citizens and should be limited to averting serious harm. It would be up to the individual to arrange and pay for additional assistance offered by private insurance, that goes over and above what the state provides.
State economic assistance should include an adequate monthly check for all children and the costs of basic medical treatment including hospitalisation. Furthermore, a guaranteed minimum income should be provided for all citizens who are of age, excepting only those who have other adequate means of income or considerable wealth of their own. No pensions or similar payments exceeding the guaranteed minimum income should be paid by the state at any time or under any circumstances.
In the future there should no longer be a monopoly or pre-eminence of one medical system over others such as is the case now with pharmaceutically dominated allopathic medicine. All the various systems of diagnosis and treatment as well as prevention of illness may be freely used by medical doctors and by non medical or paramedical professionals. Citizens must be enabled to freely choose the therapeutic method of their preference without suffering any economic disadvantage as a result of their choice.
Prevention is vastly more important than cure and will have to constitute an important part of any medical or paramedical training plan.
Nutrition is the single most important factor in disease prevention. Research funds will have to be provided to support research into nutrition as a preventive tool in accordance with the importance of its role.
Every single citizen is responsible for his/her behaviour and for their own well being. It is not up to the state to prohibit certain types of behaviour of its citizens. This principle is valid without exception for all drugs, for alcoholic beverages, tobacco, pornography, prostitution, gambling and so on. The state may undertake to encourage more healthy habits, but may not prohibit or restrict the behaviour considered immoral or unhealthy.
Historically, prohibitionism has only had the effect of favouring those criminal elements that were able to get around the legal obstacles and satisfy the demand, thus contributing to an almost uncontrollable growth of organised crime.
High taxation of non optimal types of behaviour or of the products used or consumed is not a valid alternative way of dissuasion. In fact, the state in this way becomes party to the immoral or unhealthy habit by profiting from it and anyway taxation encourages similar illegal actions as prohibition, in an attempt to get around the 'tax obstacle'.
Education does not normally receive the attention it merits. Each country will be strong or weak depending on the education its children receive. Schools have for too long been used to turn out obedient youngsters, perfect as slaves - or should I say workers.
If democracy should function, we must not fill up the minds of our kids in school with pre-digested facts selected only to aid in preparation for a perfect fit in working life.
The most important faculty to give children in school apart from basic mathematical and literary skills is the capacity to learn and understand, to dig up the data that are of interest to them and, most importantly, to arrive, on the basis of these facts, at their own independent conclusions. Familiarisation with the democratic process should begin at school.
State finances and taxes
The taxes which the state asks its citizens to pay must be compatible with the services that the citizens receive.
Payment of interest on a public debt is a kind of legalised robbery; this way the citizens are paying for (wasteful) past expenditures that have nothing to do with them, not to speak of the moral justification of why a good part of all tax income should routinely go to line the pockets of those that hold the state's "instruments of debt".
Only in the rarest of exceptional circumstances and only for short times should it be tolerated that the state might spend more money than it receives. Existing debts must be extinguished as quickly as possible.
The basic mechanisms of taxation should be re-examined in the light of past experience. The system of taxation should be simple and automatic, preferably not based on progressive income tax brackets but on actual economic activity.
Value added tax paid on bills should be only partially deductible, that is, only a certain percentage of it. This way one could well do without direct taxation of business and industry (corporate income tax).
Giving each and every citizen the possibility to deduct part of their documented expenses for family and household, from a low (flat rate, one percentage only) personal income tax, a considerable part of now submerged economic activity would come to light. Everyone would have an interest in demanding documentation for their expenditures, which, together with computerised cross checks, could be the backbone of a "self collecting" tax system.
Money can be said to be the blood of the economy. It must circulate to fulfil its function of "means of exchange and motor of economic activity". Any use of money which impedes or prevents its circulation is damaging to the economy. Such types of use are savings which do not permit the cash to be re-circulated, financial investments at only the highest interest rates and all forms of financial speculation, from "futures" to currency speculation.
Based on the ideas of Silvio Gesell, I have proposed the taxation of liquidity. Limited experiments in this sense were extremely successful in overcoming even severe economic crises, but were soon prohibited by the monetary authorities. Maybe it would be worthwhile to initiate discussion of the possibility of using such an instrument, which would limit unproductive speculation, would force cash back into circulation and would tend to lower interest rates without the danger of starting inflationary tendencies.
Third world debt
Many of the developing countries are in a disastrous financial situation, which forces them to sell off their natural and human resources at sub market rates in order to pay interest on their debt, not to talk about repaying the capital of the outstanding loans.
This is one of the key factors in the development of unwanted migratory flows of the poor.
Exceptional measures will be required in order to cancel these oppressing debts, and to prevent the reoccurrence of the same situation, an international reform of the monetary system will be needed so as to assure stable exchange rates and low interest rates.
It will also be necessary to take measures so as to guarantee the economic self sufficiency of even the poorest of nations. For this purpose I am proposing a kind of "reverse colonisation", where every developed country will, on the basis of bilateral relations, take responsibility for the economic development of one or more less developed countries, and so on in turn, giving every non industrialised country a "brother country" with the purpose of helping its economic development.
Entrepreneurs and labour
The state must favour the economic initiative of the single citizen and of small and medium size businesses. Innovation is necessary for a good functioning of the economy. Small and medium sized businesses are more flexible than the multinational giants and can more easily bring innovation to market.
Conditions for employment of personnel must be flexible, although flexibility could decrease with the number of people employed by one company, conditions being more rigid for multinationals than for medium sized industries or small businesses. The secondary costs of labour should be as low as possible.
Current trends make it difficult to maintain a promise of "full employment" or "work for all", but certainly the state should do everything in its power to make individual economic (entrepreneurial) activity as simple and as easy as possible.
The historical opposition between labour and industry is largely a thing of the past. If there is a problem now, it is with a "common foe" of both labour and business ownership, which together are engaged in productive activity. This opponent is the capitalist financial speculator, the person whose desire is a life of leisure and luxury or of great power and wealth, based on financial speculation and interest. It is up to the state to balance the interests of these two groups by proper monetary and tax policy.
Energy and the environment
Alternatives to our current almost total dependency on non renewable fossil resources: carbon, petroleum, natural gas and uranium, must be developed and put to use. Fossil fuelled energy productionfor both the electrical grid and vehicle propulsion, is the single most important factor in man made atmospheric pollution.
With presently available technologies, these highly polluting fuels could be substituted on a world wide basis. Hydrogen gas may be produced relatively easily by a number of means. One of these are floating 'carpets' of photo voltaic cells (solar cells) located at sea in proximity of coast lines. Hydrogen "burns" leaving water vapour as the only exhaust, or it can be used to directly produce electricity in fuel cells. The problems of transporting and handling it are real but not insurmountable.
Other solutions to our energy dilemma exist but they are being hindered by ignorance and by monopolistic interests tied to the fossil fuel conglomerates.
The use of regenerative sources of energy and especially those that are technologically more advanced such as magnetic or solid state ambient energy technologies, will lower the cost of energy and will thus favour technological development and economic activity in general.
Centralised public administration is one of the main enemies of accountability. It is extremely difficult to control because of its overwhelming size and resistive bureaucracy.
Administrative responsibilities must be divided up between the central government and the lower echelons down to city administration and even private companies at times, according to the principle that nothing that can be done at a lower level should be assigned to a higher one.
Local autonomy must be as great as possible. In this way, separatist tendencies and problems of diverse ethnic groups co-existing under a common central government can be resolved permanently. Switzerland is an excellent example of this.
The European Union, as it is organised now, is neither a union of strong individual countries, nor is it a politically united body. It is a large scale experiment in social engineering without any effective democratic control. Many people do not know that the European Parliament does not have legislative powers. Decisions and laws are prepared by a nameless bureaucracy and adopted by an elite group of some twenty individuals, the commissioners, who are nominated by national governments but who, after taking office, are to act in the interest of the community, not in the interest of the government that nominated them, much less in the interest of the people of their country. Parliament has only a role of "co-decision", of consultation and advice, not much more than a cosmetic function if we are looking for democracy.
The legislative process in the European Union is dominated by the lobbies of multinational industry and international finance, rather than by the interests of citizens.
If Europe should become a union of independent countries, based mainly on common economic interests, it must be decided whether the multinational industrial giants and international finance should dictate the rules of the game and whether in the name of a common agricultural policy, we should continue to physically eliminate "excess" production of foods, only so as to keep prices at an acceptably high level.
If on the other hand, we would like a politically united Europe, the institutions would have to be given a radical democratic overhaul. The first question to be put to all citizens would be the basic question of the Union's existence which was never publicly or widely discussed, and of the parameters of a future union (economical or political) and consequently a few organisational details.
It is not right that the lives of more than 350 million Europeans should be profoundly influenced by the decisions of a relatively very few individuals which are never subjected to public discussion and democratic control.