Tag Archives: Mark Rosenfelder

Participatory budgets

In previous posts we have discussed how the governments of space settlements can raise money and how they can avoid to borrow money. We will summarize the key points of these post: 1. Since governments are the owners of space habitats, they can use the collection of land rents to fund government expenditure, hence all other taxes can be abolished. 2. Because the government of a space settlement can require that land rent has to be paid in government issued money, it creates an effective demand for national currency and gives value to this money.

By playing with the height of (the total sum of) land rents (R), and the height of public expenditure (S), the government can control to growth of the money supply. This because the change of the money supply (delta M) is simply: delta M = S – R. In this way, governments of space settlements can control the level of inflation. Because this system is vulnerable for abuse by politicians seeking electoral gains, we have proposed to establish an independent body which will set the height of land rent, and the level of government spending. How the government would spend this money will remain a political issue.

The authority to prove the government budget is among the most important powers modern parliaments have. Without an approved budget, a government can’t function since they can’t pay its bills. In modern democracies the influence of citizens on the budget is limited to their ability to participate in voting for the legislature.

Attempts to increase citizen participation in budgetary matters, haven’t been successful. The most simplest version, the government just proposes a budget, which is subsequently subjected to a referendum. Then the citizens can either vote for or against the proposed budget. The result is quite predictable: since any given budget would contain measures a particular citizen does not agree with, many people will simply vote against the budget. Hence there will be no approved budget, and even if the government would submit a modified budget to a popular vote, there will be no guarantee the citizens will approve it this time.

A more extreme, and even more dysfunctional, example of budgeting by referendum is California. As a result of a series of initiatives the Californian state budget is fixed for a substantial portion. Such initiatives have form of “Do you agree that the government should spend 30% of its budget to education?”, on which the citizens can only vote “yes” or “no”. And whatever the majority wants, will be done. The result is that some government programs are over-funded, while others are underfunded. Another problem which might arise is an inconsistent budget, i.e. a budget which spends more than 100% of the budget.

Often this example is used by opponents of direct democracy to “prove” that direct democracy does not work.  However, the problem here is not (direct) democracy as such, but the “dogma” that a budget has to be approved by a majority of the voters. It’s taken for granted that if the government would want to spend one million MU on public parks, this should be approved by a majority of voters, even if this is a majority of one vote.

This majoritarian thinking has several problems. First, it forces the minority to spend its money on things they do not want. Secondly, a complex compromise has to be found, since money spent on A cannot be spent on B. It’s this second issue what goes wrong when you attempt to make a budget by referendum, millions of citizens cannot negotiate a budgetary compromise.

The whole concept of a non-majoritarian budget seems strange and democratic, but I will give you a non-budgetary example. A few years ago I heard on the radio the story of a father and daughter who had written a crime novel together, and how did they do this? Well, first the father wrote a chapter, than his daughter the next one taking her father’s contribution into account, then the father wrote the third chapter and so on. The father and his daughter did not vote, nor were they seeking a compromise on each chapter. And still they managed to finish the novel together.

Can we conceive a similar approach for participatory budgets? Yes, it can and several proposals have been made. One idea is known as “tax choice“, in this concept each tax payer determines how his or her tax money will be spent by checking the appropriate boxes on his tax form. This approach has two problems: it requires to have an income tax, the very thing we wants to avoid in a space settlement. And secondly it gives more power to those who pay more tax, and thereby violating the “one man-one vote” principle. A slightly different version has been proposed by Mark Rosenfelder.

The version of participatory budgets we propose is as follows. Each year each adult citizens receive a form from the national budget office. On this form the citizens can distribute, say, 10,000 MU among different government programs. One can spend all money on the military or distribute it evenly among education, science, healthcare, arts and infrastructure or some other combination. By filling in this form, he or she has only to consider his or her own preferences. After filling this form, it’s returned to the national budget office, which collect all these forms of the whole citizenry.

In this proposal every one has an equal vote on the budget, which follows from the arguments discussed in “The problem of taxation. Part Two“. Since land should be a collective property, the revenues from land rents should be enjoyed by all in an equal fashion. Hence it is justified that all citizens should have an equal say into the budget.

The next question is whether the entire budget should be determined in this way? No, we believe that a fifty-fifty split between the citizens and the legislature would be appropriate. It’s important that the state has some discretionary spending power, for example to act in an emergency.

Why should we consider participatory budgets at all? Because it enhances the concept of self-governing citizens, the core of classical republicanism. As we said above, the most important power of modern governments is the power to spend money. Participatory budgets gave citizens a real stake in the governance of their nation, state or city, and create also a sense of responsibility among the citizens.

The year 2100: a review of Rosenfelder’s predictions

This post has been previously posted on blogspot.com.

On the web page of Mark Rosenfelder I found the following article. In which he is reflecting on the 20th century, but the last section he makes a list of predictions of what will happen this century. I want to share my comments about his predictions. First of all I have to note that Rosenfelder writes from an American perspective, however, I think most of his predictions are also of value for the Western world in general.

The Republicans will find that they like governing; as a result their anti-government rhetoric will fade away, to be revived only on ceremonial occasions (in much the same way that you only hear “these United States” at political conventions).

The GOP just do not like that other parties than themselves are in charge. It is questionable whether the GOP will actually still exists in the year 2100, if we take their current increasingly extremist ideological position and their destructive political practices into account. Personally I also question whether the USA as such will survive this century, given the fact that todays US politics is extremely polarized. But I will discuss my thoughts about the future of the USA in another post.

Religion is here to stay; but the fundies, frustrated with their inability to impose theocracy, will lose interest for a generation.  The next time they pop up, they’ll be as likely to ally with the left as with the right (especially because abortion will, I suspect, be largely eliminated by improved methods of contraception).

Religiosity is a characteristic  with to some degree genetically determined. The abolition of religion is utopian fantasy and also undesirable. Many people have a need for some religion and as long as religious life doesn’t harm society, it should be allowed. The strong alliance of the religious with the political right is a particular US phenomenon, while in Europe religious motivated politician are spread over both left- and rightwing people (in Europe politics are dominated by multiple party systems, so it quite easy for a culturally rightwing, economically leftwing party to gain some seats in parliament). In order to eliminate abortions better use of contraception is needed much more than better contraception per se. Even if there is better contraception, people have to be aware of them, to accept them and to make use of it. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason why abortion rates in the USA are the highest in the Western world, is the poor quality or total absence of adequate sex education (which primarily blocked by religious zealots), better sex education will decrease the number abortions.

Liberalism will disappear— at least in its incarnations as described above; the new movements and causes that replace it may keep the name.  The political fights of 2100 will center largely around ideas that are considered impossibly idealistic or perverse today.

Of course, Rosenfelder is here speaking from an US perspective, “Liberalism” has in Europe a (slightly) different meaning (and as I believe also “truer”) than on the other side of the Atlantic. However I almost fully agree with his second sentence; nowadays we have political discussions about, for instance, Internet privacy, something which did not exist a hundred years ago.

Conservativism will remain, of course; though it will end up implicitly accepting everything that 20C liberalism stood for.

Conservatism is not an ideology, it’s an attitude. In every society there are people who prefer the current status quo. The people who in China support the there present system, would be conservative GOP supporters if they were born and raised in the USA. Too many people confuse conservatism with reactionary thought. Basically there are two types of conservatism: the first one, and I believe also the most common, stems from an attachment to a comfortable present situation and a fear for the unknown. The second type of conservatism is the result of a certain scepticism about the ability of man to change society deliberately. For these reasons we can see that if society changes conservatism also change, conservatives will defend the new status quo. Conclusion: Rosenfelder is basically right, I think. 

Acceptance of gays and lesbians will be mainstream in a generation, and will spread to the conservative churches by the end of the century.

I hope that Rosenfelder is right, and this will not only limited to the Western world. But I a little bit pessimistic in regard of this prediction, in my own country [1] there is increase of anti-gay sentiments in some parts of the population. Remember that homosexuality was accepted in classic antiquity, but became unaccepted when Christianity took over Europe. What I mean to say is that social attitudes towards gays and lesbians can change quite rapidly in a century.

Collectivism will come back in a big way… but not for another generation, and Americans won’t be the ones to develop it.

Since human has evolved as social animals, human civilization has always been characterized by some sort of collectivism. This simple and plain fact is usually ignored by “libertarians”, and the social nature of humans is also the fundamental reason why “libertarianism” will never succeed, anywhere on this planet. Due to the “individualistic” nature of American society, “collectivism” is a filthy word in the USA, while the rest of the world is more the less collectivist. The emergence of new forms of collectivism is inevitable [2], but I do agree with Rosenfelder that Americans will not take the lead in these developments. See for instance the discussion about “Obamacare”, which is according the West-European standards actually quite moderate. The most likely places where these new brands of collectivism will be developed are Europe, Asia and South-America. Personally I think there will be a collectivist revival in a post-aging Europe.

New forms of democratic government will be devised (again, not here; probably in Europe) that prevent the tyranny of the majority.

One possible alternative for a new form of democracy is the random selection of legislators. This would eliminate the need for elections, and also make electoral campaigns obsolete. In which case the problem of the influence of campaign donors on policy making would disappear. In order to reduce the risk of the tyranny of the majority, we can demand that these new legislatures can only make laws by super-majorities. If more votes are needed for a law to get passes, it would more difficult make oppressing legislation.  A further addition would be the requirement that legislator should always vote by secret ballot, this would reduce the possibility of legislators being bribed by so-called lobbyists.

The important units of society will be, increasingly, not geographical units but what we might call tribes: diffuse collections of like-minded individuals who want to live life in a certain way and have broad rights and powers to do so.

I have serious doubts about this one. For example, most people live quite close to their jobs. Secondly many things have to organized geographically, think about sewages, water pipes, garbage collection. Even if you spent most time with your “friends” of your tribe, you still need to go shopping, bringing your kids to school, typically services you want to have in your neighborhood. At the national or super-local level, there are things like infrastructure, dikes and so on, which are fundamentally geographical.

When the oil runs out, mid-century, we’ll finally make some progress on sustainable development.

Since oil reserves are finite, sustainable development is a necessity, not a luxury. Problem with people is that they only act to solve problems, at the very last moment or even is already way to late. Ostrich policy is one of the fundamental flaws of the human species, that we are running out of oil has been clear since the 1950s and yet relatively little action has been undertaken in order to arrange a smooth transition from a petroleum-based economy to a sustainable economy. Note that sustainability and economic growth are not necessarily mutually exclusive. See also this and this post about alternative energy.

Corporations will be run quite differently, though if I knew exactly how I’d be a business consultant, not a writer.  I suspect that by present standards they’ll be much more efficient, much less autonomous, and more democratically run.

Since more and more economic activity will be automated, the will be increasingly fewer jobs (see also my upcoming post about “The Lights in the Tunnel” by Martin Ford). Consequence of the process will be that corporations will have less and fewer employees, and those who will remain will have coordinating positions. Probably these corporate coordinators will make their decision by voting, which will make corporation more democratic in one sense, but this is the traditional idea of work place democracy.

Half the economy will be bit production and consumption— an amalgam of entertainment, news and business analysis, science, education, religion, and the increasingly abstract support industries that these require.  Manufacturing will be like agriculture is today: a tiny though essential sector of the economy.

This particular trend is quite obvious to almost everyone, in many development countries there are more people with access to Internet than to clean and save drinking water.

The scientific study of government will make present-day political fights seem like pure foolishness.  Once we actually know how to grow an economy, 20C moralisms of all political flavors will sound like leeches and electroshock therapy do today.

Personally I am a little bit more pessimistic about this one. Further is it quite possible that we have a steady state economy in 2100, in which there is no economic growth. If we assume that in 2100 most people are able to meet their basic material needs and that according to the previous prediction most of the economy is just bit production/consumption, we can ask ourselves what purpose is served by economic growth.

English won’t take over the world; localism will lead to a resurgence of local languages, whose inconvenience will be mitigated by technology.

I agree with the first statement, I am not sure of the second one. It is questionable whether there will be a widespread localism, not that I believe that there will be a homogeneous global culture (the other extreme). 

Artificial intelligence will be a significant factor, past midcentury.  I suspect that human-level intelligences won’t turn out to be useful– or politically viable.  Rather, we’ll see lots of low-level AI in appliances, software, mechanical translators, etc.; as well as massive systems that can contemplate the affairs of an entire corporation or government.

Artificial intelligence is already increasingly more important, and it will affect our economy and society in very severe ways. However there are basically two types of artificial intelligence: soft and strong AI. The latter is what most people would see as “pure” or “true” AI, computers with the same (or even higher) intelligence as humans, while the former is what most computer scientists understand as AI: using (complicated) algorithms to solve problems with computers. Weak AI is almost everywhere these days, and it would only become more and more prominent. No one is sure whether strong AI is actually possible (personally I believe it is, but until someone manages to build such a system we can’t know for sure), but most optimistic “experts” believes that is at least “fifty years from now” (this was so in the 1960s as it is in the 2010s).

Still no flying cars.  Dammit.

Actually flying cars do already exist

A few hundred thousand people will live in space… the largest space industry being tourism.  But Alpha Centauri will have to wait for the next century, at least.

For some one who writes on a blog devoted to space colonization, I have to comment on this. His first state, I think Rosenfelder is at the right end. Assuming that rockets can only bring a few dozen people in space during each launch, only hundreds to a few thousand people can move to space each year. Therefore a few hundred thousand space colonists in 2100 is a likely event, however if space populations have above replace fertility, their numbers could easily be a few million in 2100 (and a few billion in 2200, even without further immigrants from Earth). I disagree with his second statement, the largest space industry will not be space tourism but asteroid mining. His third statement, I think Alpha Centauri has to wait until the 2500s or something like that, but interstellar space colonization is both unlikely and undesirable, our Solar System contains enough resources for many million times the current number of humans. Colonization of other star systems is a fantasy based on the misguiding ideas of planetary chauvinism, with dreams of colonizing Earth like planets while ignoring the work of people like O’Neill.

Notes:

[1] Which is the Netherlands.

[2] With “inevitable” I don NOT mean that such a development is desirable, that is a completely different matter and depends largely on personal preferences.