Monday, April 30, 2001

Government - April 01

It is clear that the state must be the institution to make the laws, you cannot privatise the legislature. Why? Well, clearly if this process was in private hands the primary interests that would be served would be those of the controller. This would not be a helpful way to govern at least not for the majority of the population. Why is it then that there are those who imagine that one can privatise various public utilities and yet these will continue to serve the public interest?

With the state making the laws there are some factors that need to also be in place to safeguard the public good. Firstly it is important that laws being made are communicated properly, punctually and comprehensibly to the populous. The population should be given the chance to discuss the legislation and should certainly be made aware as far as possible when legislation is passed. The media is the natural apparatus to carry out this function, as if it is under the control of the state it will be able to best appraise the statutes and act as an interpreter to inform the people. At this point I am sure there are doubters who will presume that if the media is in state hands it will be bound to be biased toward that state and therefore cannot be relied upon to give an objective viewpoint or critique. I would draw the example of the BBC as part of debunking this whole argument. There are a handful of political interviewers who are well respected within the media sector and well feared by politicians, as they do not pull their punches calling ministers to account, most of these high-profile interviewers work for the BBC. As commercial television and media is beholden to its advertisers it can never be fully objective as there will always be a conflict of interest when it comes to an argument over corporate legislation. The BBC is not dependent on advertising revenue and is therefore able to afford its journalists more freedom to go ‘for the jugular’. Let us not assume that the BBC is independent, it is under state control and it would be foolish to imagine that at certain points the government has not exercised its influence in order to serve its purposes, however these occasions are, I would suggest, many fewer than in the private sector. The government of the day must be held directly accountable for its actions. If a law is proposed within a particular sector then the minister responsible for that brief must be obliged to give interview to the state media and be questioned most strongly to justify the policy, if the law is a good one, it should be easy to do so, if the law cannot be justified then perhaps it should be dropped or modified. Furthermore the same rules should govern a minister’s justification of his/her behaviour which should be subject to a stringent code of conduct. If a minister is proven to have violated this code in front of an extra-parliamentary standards committee then said minister should be dismissed forthwith and a replacement sought with immediate effect.

This also leads me to look at the whole setup of government. The bipartite system is not conducive to good government. It leads to the polarisation of politics into extremes and also means local issues are often swept underfoot for centralised political reasons. It is vital that if a person is to represent an area that they are standing for that area, they either come from or have been resident for some time in that area. It is an unacceptable practise for representatives to have multiple residences and to stand in an area in which they are not based. The state should provide apartments for the representatives when they are required for central governmental duties.

The Second Chamber
It appears to be a given in a democracy that one have a second chamber of the legislature. Let us for the moment proceed without questioning this, we must first establish what this chamber is for and then populate it with those best suited to serve out this purpose. Let us say that we wish to have a second chamber as a safeguard mechanism, an overseer of the acts of the first chamber. This would be by design a way of tempering politics and regulating the first chamber. If this is the case then obviously the first chamber must not have the appointment rights for its own regulator this must be done independently. One could say, why not let the people decide this and this idea has merit, but one must then be sure that the people are able to have a good choice of candidates. These candidates must be chosen from the people and therefore the best way to ensure competency is to educate the entire populous to have the ability to serve should they wish to do so. This is the volition approach; allow the people the ability and opportunity to help in the process of government. The other method is a more forceful one, a system similar to that of the UK Jury service be set up. This means that people would be called up to serve in the second chamber; this would be a mandatory service. There are pros and cons to both of these suggestions, the first is open to corruption and rigging to get certain people elected, apathy and disinterest in the voting procedure and a second chamber populated by people who may or may not be competent to carry out the job. It is my theory that the problem of corruption would be hard to tackle but not insurmountable if properly scrutinised, wages for those serving in the second chamber should not be an incentive as those interested in serving should be doing so for their interest in government and not in financial gain. The problem of apathy is something that would need to be tackled at an early age by education. If people are taught how there government works and how they can make a difference the procedure of government is likely to be of more interest to them. Apathy occurs where a person either does not understand the system or believes his/her input to have negligible impact. Competence is difficult to asses before someone takes up a post but if serving terms are short then it should have minimum impact should their suitability be called into question, besides it is important to give those interested a chance as they may have crucial input no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time. If people are educated as to how their government works they should be able to take more of an interest in it and it is therefore far more likely that they will be able to make a valuable contribution.

The second approach to the second chamber recruitment poses more problems. Whilst giving people social responsibility is a good thing and makes them feel part of the collective it is a fine line between this and making people feel press-ganged. The forced approach is also no guarantor for competence although under the conditions already outlined this should not be a major issue. However it is important that people feel they are willing participants in the collective and not herded into every facet of their lives by an omnipresent, omni-cogniscient state, as this would just be retreading the steps to totalitarianism.

Property – Right, Privilege or Theft? - April 01

This is a tricky one. People will feel that it is their right to choose how they live their lives and what they choose to spend their money on, and provided this does not infringe upon others they should be left in peace to get on with it. If one goes into depth though this is a difficult ethos to depend as how can one be sure that it does not infringe upon somebody else? I may feel buying a pair of brand name trainers is my prerogative with my money and I should be allowed to wear them. However if the company uses exploitative labour practises or child labour of any sort then the trainers are tainted with this morally indefensible action. Simply by buying the trainers I am offering tacit acceptance of the work practises and furthermore I am bolstering the company’s profits that they may continue to trade under such conditions. It is easy to say what I am doing is not harming anybody that I can see but those I cannot see may be a different matter. A man who lives alone in a large house with multiple bedrooms may see nothing wrong with what he is doing if the surrounding countryside contains sleepy little villages and pockets of affluence and comfort. If, however this mansion was right on the Strand in London, where large numbers of the homeless take shelter it would be considerably harder to reconcile with one’s conscience the size and wastage of the house. Now the man may say that he has worked hard to gain what he has achieved and therefore should be allowed to reap the rewards but who is to say what constitutes real work, does this man work harder than a single mother with children to feed? Does the affluent man deserve to be better remunerated because his job is a particular profession and he has more time to devote to his work than people with families. Why should those who sacrifice themselves to their work be treated better than those who may have other interests and a life outside of their job?

The simple answer is that in the corporate world those with families or other interests cannot always be relied upon to give absolute loyalty to the company. If a worker’s child is ill and at the same time his/her company is in trouble it should be to the child that s/he runs to the assistance of. One must remember that most large and profitable companies under a capitalist system will make the most of exploiting their workers in pay, working hours and conditions if it is profitable for them to do so. The greater the greed of the shareholders the more the company must squeeze out of its resources. This materialism spills over to one’s private life, capitalism makes one strive for material wealth as it is by this that you are judged by your peers. Of course this is not a level playing field as we all start out at different points and with different advantages and disadvantages. For the poor it is a major effort and achievement surviving from week to week, any further amelioration of circumstance would be a bonus, for the rich life is very different, speculate to accumulate, money breeds money etc. etc.

So by the end of one’s life, one’s material possessions show neither how hard one may have worked nor how deserving one may be of them. A man born into poverty may die with a small house, modest savings and some domestic possessions to his name. This will have probably taken his whole life to amass and he will have to have worked hard for them. Another man born into a gentrified family may die with an extremely large house, some land, 2 cars and some ostentatious assets to his name, he may also have worked hard, but he may have had a privileged upbringing, private education, been funded through University, got a job through a friend of the family, come into money through inheritance, been bailed out by his parents when his first business venture went bust etc. etc. Who therefore is the more valuable? Well, neither really can claim to have been better or worse. The point is the rich man will have had many opportunities to succeed whilst the poor man will have had few, what is more the rich man will have many chances should things not go according to plan initially whilst the poor man must stake everything and take the risk as he may not get another chance.