By Seth Richardson
In a comment to the thread “What’s wrong with socialism?” reader Jim Campbell asks if there are practical ways to secure the liberty of individuals while still making government effective? I think this is a valid and important question.
Mr. Campbell says, “A discussion of the relative local merits of representative democracy (our nominal local arrangement), direct democracy (I place TABOR in that category), and benevolent dictatorship would raise some interesting issues.
I moved here about five years ago from what many referred to as the “Peoples Democratic Republic of Montgomery County, Maryland,” a land of high taxes which nevertheless was fairly successful at delivering both bread and circuses in exchange for that money. I’m now in the land of low taxes, low cost of living, and a seemingly insatiable need to make government not only small, but totally ineffective. I suspect there is an approach somewhere between State (or County, or City) Socialism, and Anarchy that would allow local government to provide the services and regulation it should, without impinging unreasonably on the individual’s pursuit of success.
What would be the outlines of such an approach? Could we achieve it in Colorado Springs, given the provisions of the City’s Charter and the State Constitution? Are there achievable changes to those documents that would ease the transition? Is the end worth the effort in any case? Such a discussion would be more useful than ruminating on “visions” outside the constraints imposed by reality.”
In my view, the first requirement of balancing liberty and government at the local level is to discuss what we mean by “government” and have a discussion of what exactly we expect our elected representatives to do for us. One of the chief failings of representative democracy is exactly that it is representative, and that we have a tendency to abdicate our authority to our elected representatives rather more than is prudent.
Most people view representative democracy as a convenience that lifts the burden of governance off of them. This is understandable. Most people have lives to live and jobs to do and families to support, and they don’t have time to be thinking about and making decisions regarding where a new sewer plant needs to be or whether the park’s grass gets mowed. But like any neighborhood convenience store, convenient government is expensive. We pay a pretty penny when we hire people to do all our governing for us.
But the worst part of “convenient democracy” is that in freeing ourselves of the responsibility for staying informed and being involved in our community’s governance, we explicitly accept the judgment of those we appoint to do the job as our own. But at the same time, we very often do not communicate with our elected representatives and let them know how we want things done, so they are left guessing. Sometimes they guess right, sometimes wrong.
We have no one but ourselves to blame for this because we choose to ignore the realities and difficulties of operating a major city and we choose to delegate that authority to elected officials and bureaucrats. And they have the authority, and must perforce act, hopefully using their best judgment, but too often with some personal agenda or even corrupt intention in mind. So, if we, as citizens, do not have a clear vision of our community and what we require of our elected representatives, how can they meet our expectations?
So, let’s begin by examining what our community is, what we would like it to be, and what’s wrong with it. Once we’ve identified some areas where we have some sort of consensus about the issue, we can seek ways to effectuate those ideas.
I leave it to readers to provide commentary on things of concern that we can usefully address with this discussion. Please contribute and when we have some candidates, I’ll extract them, form them for a debate and post the subject for debate under its own title. In this way, it may be possible to debate several different issues at the same time.
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