Monday, 15 December 2008

Avoiding Cock-ups

I've been blogging away for a while now on the incompetence of our elected leaders, and thought that I ought to attempt to offer a solution to these problems.

Remember - more haste, less speed


It seems to me, that we are facing a world in which decisions are required nearly instantly. The response to the recent economic problems might easily be described as "knee jerk". Now I am a great fan of the "Garbage Can" model of management. In this model the decision maker is faced with a bubbling mess of "Problems", "Solutions" and "Justifications". When a "Problem" becomes unavoidable, the manager grabs hold of it, and roots around for a "Solution", and then a "Justification". These three are now matched up and the problem deemed solved. Compare this to Gordon Brown's response to the financial crisis and I'm sure you will find a match.

There is no time for reflection, and even less for a systemic analysis. Even when commissions are established, their decisions are reviewed, and often ignored. These commissions are often restricted in their terms of reference, and cannot review all relevant options. If you need examples, then I'm sure your favourite search engine will provide. Even worse, the system that produced the problem is not up for review. The failure of the social work system is assumed to be a failure of the components of that system, not of the overall concept. The failure of the financial system is blamed on foolishness and greed, which did allow it to happen, but little thought is given to potential flaws in the system.

I have studied a fair amount of economics in my time, and in spite of considerable effort have no real idea of how the system behaves. I am, however, convinced that the nature of the 24 hour, globally linked, debt based financial system is inherently chaotic. This is linked with its current failure - and if we patch it this time the next disaster will be worse. Further, this next failure may occur very soon and in a shocking way. The fact that one $50 billion Ponzi scheme has just been exposed in no way precludes there being another ten, hundred or thousand of them out there.

We need to step back and take the time to work out the problem, not just root around amongst our memories for a suitable solution and justification.

Lessons from Free Software


I am a great fan of the Free Software development methodology. It has created great things, like the GNU/Linux operating system, Wikipedia and many other things. It works well in association with conventional capitalist businesses, as shown with the development of OpenOffice, heavily supported by Sun Microsystems. It accepts its own flaws, recognises them and moves to address them. So, though "The Now Show" can have great fun with the clear mis-truths displayed in Wikipedia, very many rely on it for our first view on a subject or topic. We know to double check what we see, and can correct errors. As a result, it no longer reports running triad battles in my village in the Black Country, and the promotion of a piece of proprietary software is no longer so blatant - I know, I edited those pages and now watch them. This is a case of Linus's law that many eyes make all bugs shallow.

How does this apply to government? Well, we have a ridiculous system where our servants, civil or elected, become our masters. They need to be made to realise that they do not have the answers, and often don't even have the correct questions. Opening up government in a real way would allow all decisions to be discussed and constructed correctly. I'm not sure how to do it, but then why should I know exactly the solution? It is only politicians and religious fanatics who believe that they the answers.

Avoiding the vox pop

In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Bob Heinlein proposed a system of government where one house can only pass laws with a two-thirds majority, while the other can only repeal laws, but can do so if one-third wish to do so. This appeals to my hacker mentality. We need to stop passing laws and making decisions in a hurry. We need to slow down our decision making process. We need fewer, not more laws. If we do need a taxation system, it should be clear, simple and unavoidable - see below for a suggestion. We need to get away from our current situation where we have a vox pop by default. Our elected representatives are more worried about the opinion polls than making the right decision. It would be difficult to design a worse system.

We could, of course, assume that our leaders were so involved with the rich and powerful capitalists that they would conspire to support them, even though they were aware that it would repress and punish the majority.

A logical taxation and benefit system

Once again, I should credit Bob Heinlein for this idea. In For us, The Living, published posthumously, Heinlein proposed 'Dividend' system, a form of Social Credit. My suggestion would be that everyone, man woman and child, is paid a living wage - and then they have the decision about what work they take on, and pay tax at a flat moderate rate - say 40% - on all of this income. Before you squeal about this rate, have a look at your marginal tax rate, by the time you've accounted for VAT, NI, pensions, and the rest. This would be equitable and liberating.

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