We are entering a time when the planets are aligned as they were a few years before the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II. It’s hard to miss the chaos we are in, or the parallels with Britain, embroiled as it is in Brexit.
We also have some similarities to the period preceding the Reformation. This is good news, in that it offers the potential for something good to emerge. We are not doomed to fight another war.
What these eras have in common (and common sense tells us this about our time even if we aren’t swayed by astrological evidence) is they are all times that brought in a new order, economic and social, as well as spiritual. Whether we can avoid the war and fight on a purely theoretical level depends now on individuals, and our state of maturity.
The most hopeful sign is that women’s voices will be heard this time. Women in general represent a huge force on the side of peaceful resolution of conflict. The feminine side naturally seeks healing if there is pain and conflict, not to impose its will on the other. This path requires strength and self-confidence, and sadly has been obscured by the historical decision toward masculine dominance.
What we in the West have accepted as basic truth is coming unraveled, and our political systems are failing to deal with the situation because they are in fact part of the old order. Very simplistically, conservatives want to hold on to the status quo, progressives want to create a new world order, and President Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (a quick learner, to be sure) aid and abet the destruction of the old order by challenging all norms.
Trump and Johnson are hardly alone in their autocratic tendencies, as we see a resurgence of such leaders in many countries. China’s Xi, Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, India’s Modi, Israel’s Netanyahu, and many others, have likewise sought to eliminate any competition to their leadership, albeit by different methods.
The real problems are not the particular leaders, in fact, but the old order itself. It must be changed because it has been unjust and we are growing beyond it.
In that sense, Trump can be seen as both Christ and anti-Christ, should we wish to interpret things in such a way, because he comes to save those who love him and need a voice to speak for them, but he also comes to disrupt and break down.
People today are more highly educated than ever before, and due largely to the Internet, more aware of what is happening even in far-off corners of the world. Vast numbers of people are certainly as qualified to make decisions as the those elected to represent them. Politics has reached a deadlock, and the U.S. Congress has been unable to make any real progress for decades, due to the pervasive influence of money.
Most people now feel they are not represented, have no voice in their government, and yet this is exactly how America traditionally has defined itself — government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Today most of these people know their voice has been displaced by the voices of the superrich. We are moving towards becoming an oligarchy.
In other words, if we want to remain who we think we are, we have to find a way to restore the voice of the people into our politics, and maybe not even just on a national level, but, over time, worldwide. This requires rethinking our political, social and economic order on a vast scale. But we had something good, so we have to also preserve what we have as we create the new.
For power to become more distributed, we need to find a way to incorporate decisions made by the people into our government, and that opens us up to the dangers of populism, because the people’s voice tends to express resentment, and urge solutions that appear to be to people’s benefit, but actually may have all sorts of unintended consequences. California-style propositions, voted on by the people directly, have had varying results. Redistribution of wealth, for instance, may have been the intention, but results have not been very conducive to equality, as evident from the huge number of homeless on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Nathan Gardels and Nicolas Berggruen, in their book Renovating Democracy, argue for empowering participation without populism by integrating social networks and direct democracy into the system with new mediating institutions that complement representative government.
They propose establishing an unelected body of highly-qualified individuals who can identify the most important concerns of the people and convert them into something more workable, then present them back to the people in a direct vote, again bypassing the government. The unelected body would be made up of several people appointed by elected county officials, one from each of the institutions of higher education in a state, a few appointed by the governor, and a few appointed by (but independent of) the legislative leadership. The actual make-up could be decided by each state.
Authors Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels discuss their book, Renovating Democracy, with Berggruen Institute board member Reid Hoffman at the Commonwealth Club of California last May.
The advantage of this independent body is they are not going to come up for reelection every few years, and are not beholden to any political party. They would have eight-year terms, meet perhaps monthly, and a good idea would be to require them to sit out at least a two-year period before they could be reappointed. They would solicit data about the most pressing concerns within the state, and deal with two or three of these in a year, instead of the vast number of bills that are introduced for current legislators.
Suppose such a body had existed prior to the Brexit vote, then first they could have negotiated with a similar body in Europe to come up with the best possible terms for either staying in the EU or leaving it, then present the realistic proposals with their likely outcomes for a vote. Instead of this, prime minister David Cameron went to Europe’s leaders to present Britain’s gripes and came back with nothing. The Brexit vote was undertaken in the absence of any well-researched alternatives, or even realistic information, and thus represents only the desire to leave the many disadvantages of EU membership behind on the part of those who have experienced some dissatisfaction.
But a nearly 50/50 split vote cannot lead to national harmony. Young people like the freedom to travel and work in other countries, free and easy trade benefits corporations and everyone, and a wider unity acts as a deterrent to any who would consider attacking Europe.
While such a body offers the potential for inclusion into state and national decisions, and must inevitably result in real change in current political institutions and the party system, it cannot work unless everyone can be heard. The most pressing issue by far in the West and worldwide is economic inequality. The rich have gotten too rich, and their voices have become correspondingly way too loud. It is clear that politicians have focused on short-term profits, on protecting private ownership at the expense of protecting wages. The middle class is being decimated, as people who prior to the 2008 Great Recession had a well-paying job now all too frequently find themselves working several low-paid, often part-time jobs, just to survive. And yet we are told this is full employment, even as we hear yet again that Americans’ Social Security benefits may have to be cut.
The system must address the loss of the commons, the attaching of nature by the rich for their own profit. Any system must ensure at least survival level, without the demands of working a soul-destroying job to add to the wealth of an already fabulously wealthy corporate elite.
Renovating Democracy offers a way for all to benefit from digital capitalism, as we enter a machine-based, post-human-labor world. Similar to a universal basic income, which recognizes the right to a share in the wealth conferred by the use of nature, the profits from digital capitalism can be regarded as having been earned by all to some extent, and therefore to be naturally distributed to some degree to all. Did Bill Gates solely create the computer revolution? Of course not, and yet we passed on billions in profit to him personally because that’s what our emphasis on private ownership of corporations had created. The millions of people who contributed by creating a stable democracy, a system of higher education that could pass on knowledge, housing and general welfare were bypassed and considered irrelevant in favor of people like Gates when it came to distributing profit.
Our thinking must be reoriented so as to challenge economic rent-seeking on the part of the ownership class. Rent here refers to income that is not earned, such as the rewards of working as a salesclerk being seized by a large corporation, while the actual laborer must apply for public welfare (like Food Stamps) to meet basic needs. Likewise, the landowner raises rent on housing so as to seize every extra penny the workers have earned, simply because he can. Everyone has to live somewhere, and while the landlord can hold on to land with little tax penalty, he will do so. A Land Value Tax would go far in solving this problem.
Raising wages for the worker will not be enough without ensuring that the extra wages will not be appropriated by the wealthy. The tax system must be revamped to ensure that economic rent is taxed heavily, while income should be taxed only when it gets out of control, not because someone reaches minimum survival level.
None of this can happen while we hold on to a political system that results in any sort of progress only when a president, Republican or Democrat, signs an executive order. Government by executive order fails to address the oligarchy problem, and leads towards an authoritarian presidency. America’s present two-party system, which leaves 50% of the population very unhappy at any one time, is unsustainable. That is the path towards internal conflict, a very unsafe path to tread when so many are armed to the teeth. We must find the way to pursue a more equitable distribution, both of power and of economic wealth.
The voices of mothers are the only really loud voice speaking out for the reduction of gun ownership to reasonable levels, despite the regular occurrence of mass shootings. However, this issue is clearly dominated by the influence of those with money, and can only be resolved outside the two-party political arena. Neither Democratic nor Republican leaders have been willing to take on the NRA. For how long are we to turn aside when parents lose their children because guns are in the wrong hands? This will stop as soon as we craft legislation that truly reflects the people’s voice, because an overwhelming majority of the population favors at least elementary steps, such as universal background checks.
America cannot continue on a path that leads us to greater suspicion and mistrust of each other. We must learn to work out our differences through the art of mediation and discussion, not automatically turn to punishment and the legal system. This step is happening as more women take on leadership roles, and as more of us recognize the power of the feminine side of our natures. Cooperation in standing up for freedom from sexual harassment and discrimination has empowered women because they have exercised their own strength, the power that comes from unity. As this is expanded into more realms of society, there will be changes that will prove beneficial to all.♦
Alison Wakelin (UTS Class of 1989) is Senior Lecturer in Physics and Astronomy at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. She earned an M.A. in Astrophysics from Princeton University and a Part III Math Tripos Applied Mathematics from Cambridge University. A Delaware resident, she previously lived and worked in Korea for ten years.
Alison’s closing comment is important in the context of the socio-cultural-political reality we are now facing. She writes: “America cannot continue on a path that leads us to greater suspicion and mistrust of each other. We must learn to work out our differences through the art of mediation and discussion, not automatically turn to punishment and the legal system.”
Her reference to “punishment and the legal system” reminded me of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s speech he gave at Harvard in 1978.
In his commencement address, Solzhenitsyn asserted that the Marxist/Socialist idea was based on removing the aristocratic class in the drive for greater equality. However, he pointed out how these attempts merely led to a new leader class (the nomenklatura in Russia, e.g.) where privileged elites become a new ruling class with the legal power to compel citizens how to live. As he put it:
“Voluntary self-restraint is unheard of; everyone strives toward the further expansion to the extreme of legal frames.”
Relying heavily on “the extreme of legal frames” necessarily leads to the violation of volition, and as Unificationists we understand that without volition (freedom) there is no chance for “the art of mediation,” not to mention true love, to be realized. Because many of our social problems are cultural in nature, the attempt to solve them via political means or “legal frames” is ultimately ineffective because these remedies do not address root causes.
That’s not to say that politics isn’t important, but True Mother is emphasizing non-political approaches to social betterment: Strong marriages, fidelity, better parenting, better education, and emphasizing the need for Godism to be in the social equation. If, as our founders have asserted, the family is the basis for establishing a culture of peace, it’s clear that we need to start there in our attempts to fashion our hoped for “ideal world.”
I like much of what you say and concur that the rapid growth in inequality over the past decades has contributed to the breakdown in the social fabric both in the US and elsewhere. However, it is ironic to note that because of the strong philanthropic tradition in America, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and others among the super-rich have probably used their wealth to much better effect than if the government had simply been permitted to tax and spend it.
On the subject of Brexit, it’s hard to see what “well-researched alternatives” could have been presented to the people. The UK is fundamentally split between those who don’t want to be part of Europe (“Britain First,” in the Trumpian mold) and those who do. That fundamental division persists to this day. Yes, the Leave politicians manipulated peoples’ expectations and dismissed the reasonable concerns of “experts” as speculative horse pucky; neither side focused on the border between northern and southern Ireland being the major sticking point although, with hindsight, it was predictable. But other than the EU forsaking its free movement of labor doctrine, if there were reasonable alternatives on which most people in the UK could agree, one has to believe that they would have come to light by now.
How about if Gates, Buffett, etc., had say a mere billion, then that would mean for each of them another hundred people could have the same amount. Wouldn’t they have done just as much good? Americans give to people in need. Distributed leadership among many smaller such corporations would have prevented many of the problems associated with monopolies also. Corporations are much too large and powerful to be led by such a small number of people. Wealthy individuals have more power than governments in today’s world, especially given the partisan paralysis that is occurring everywhere, and allowing creeping authoritarianism.
Brexit is a smoke screen that allows both the UK and the EU to continue in the illusion that they can have the same systems, the same regressive tax regimes, etc., and blame other factors for their failures. Inequality must be dealt with, you can’t have such overwhelming poverty and pretend that you are making something successful. Brexit offers the opportunity for both sides here to reflect and choose alternative paths for the future, but so far that’s not happening on either side.
I disagree with this perspective in so many ways, I don’t know where to start.
The idea of creating “an unelected body of highly-qualified individuals who can identify the most important concerns of the people and convert them into something more workable, then present them back to the people in a direct vote, again bypassing the government” just means bypassing government, which should be the legitimate expression of popular will. So now we have two governments presuming legitimacy with no way to reconcile conflicting claims?
We have to go back to a basic understanding of what legitimacy is. What did the American founders (influenced by the best of modern and ancient European political thinking) mean by rule of the majority? What kind of education is necessary for our populations to intelligently “participate” and thereby constitute legitimate government and realize true democratic sovereignty?
One of the main obstacles to popular sovereignty is the enormous power of unelected law-creating bureaucratic functionaries who pretend to be acting in the public good but actually prioritize a national and global power elite.
I can no longer support the assumption that women possess a superior skill at conflict resolution. Today’s observers of family breakdown often conclude that the power handed to women has resulted in family breakdown, crime-ridden neighborhoods and exacerbations of social inequality.
The problem here is that Unificationists should advocate for restored Eves and restored Adams and restored family structures, not the reallocation of power from fallen men to fallen women.
Similar to Peter’s concerns, it is embarrassing for women to see that some congresswomen are not exemplifying better qualities; in fact, we are seeing the disgraceful arrogance, incivility, ignorance about issues, especially American history and values, alignments with subversive and even terrorist organizations and personally unethical and destructive ways toward others and our leaders.
Our founder encouraged the improved “Women in Leadership of the Pacific Era” and we really need God-centered women in leadership. In my estimation, we have seen exemplary women, such as the leadership of the late Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who was an expert in foreign policy, and who understood the issues of freedom and the threats of totalitarianism. She served well as UN Ambassador and had a strong marriage; one memorable event was when she spoke about family values at a WFWP conference with her theme being “Women as specialists in love should become leaders….”
Also an advocate of family values, and a former presidential candidate, Congresswoman Michelle Bachman excelled as a lawyer and educator who provided in-depth education and analysis of the role of Christianity in American society and government. Among Christian women, Beverly La Haye founded the largest interdenominational women’s organization in America, Concerned Women for America, that now is under the leadership of Penny Nance. Their members pray and advocate for religious freedom, family values, Pro-Life, and Godly Education. There are a number of these exceptional women in leadership, but it is sad that our society and government is under assault from women, and men, who are “hell-bent” on America’s destruction.
Changes to create a more ideal society should also integrate the timely traditions of marriage, family values and the wisdom of learning from the past and previous generations. Of course, the exemplary role model of our True Parents show us the unity and focus on world peace that is a needed leadership example for others to emulate.
This article accurately identifies many of the symptoms of our broken system of governance, but I am not sure that the proposed solutions, like an independent panel of experts, sound very workable. I am on the Legislative Evaluation Assembly of Minnesota, and it seems that every time a problem arises, the solution of the Legislature is to create an independent panel, give them some tax dollars to fix the problem, and assume it has been solved. The problem is when leadership has power but is not capable of solving problems, and think some money and assigning it to someone else means their legislative success.
There is a deeper cultural issue involved that relates to the type of people Americans, for the large part, have become. The trend was identified by David Reisman in The Lonely Crowd in 1950, one of the best-selling books in sociology, ever. Reisman noted three types of orientations of people: tradition-directed, inner-directed, and other-directed. Most people who grew up in strong religious families understand “tradition-directed”; you do what your parents, community, and religious tradition say is right and you get your purpose from the tradition. America on the frontier, however, was largely inner-directed — people set out with their own goals to build a new life for themselves. They needed this inner direction to pioneer new lands and businesses. “Other-directed” people listen to bosses in the workplace, government authorities, news media, and Facebook friends. Their image is important, they want to be paid well by someone else, liked, and their image in the eyes of others is most important.
I would argue that America prospered because from the 18th century through the early 20th century the majority of its people were largely inner-directed. Reisman noted that World War II was a kind of watershed, where people became employed by large industries, and increasingly benefitted from government programs. To please these others who are responsible for their paychecks and health, they became other-directed.
Other-directed people are not leaders, they are followers. It is now nearly 70 years since 1950. True Father stated at Washington Monument that Communism would not last over 70 years. Communism created other-directed people. Thus, I have to ask whether our current culture, which began to take shape over 70 years, will last any longer than communism? Nothing has been less heartening in this regard than the Democratic presidential debates so far this year. Most appear to be other-directed, pandering to the population for a vote by promising things that will make them popular, rather than addressing the crucial issues and presenting a way forward for the entire country. When the leadership is other-directed, it is hard to imagine a society any more capable of functioning than the boys on the island in Lord of the Flies.
There are lots of reforms that need to be made to the American government today because it has been hijacked in so many ways by the wealthy and others. However, the first step I would make towards restoring power to the people would be to remove the names of political parties from the ballots. Today most people who vote look for a party they identify with and vote for the party. They do not study the candidates or what they stand for personally. And, because people vote for parties, “representatives” are largely party patsies, other-directed people who take marching orders from the parties that got them elected. Removing party names from ballots would force people to act as citizens and either cast intelligent votes or random votes (if they were unprepared). Random votes would cancel each other out, and intelligent votes by citizens would start to have an impact on the political system — giving citizens more power. Political parties and the wealthy interests that fund them would start to lose their power.
The idea of creating an independent panel of experts sounds to me like another other-directed approach, passing off responsibility to someone else. It might create another check and balance, and checks and balances are generally a good thing. However, unless inner-directed citizens start to press for solutions to real systemic problems — like balancing the budget, securing borders, and implementing safety nets that do not cause dependency, I don’t think either the politicians or the media will stop preying on their weaknesses as other-directed people.
I know about that typical legislature ploy to create yet another independent panel. We (a loose coalition of social justice groups) had legislation all lined up, written, ready to go, to reinstate some kind of early release program for the incarcerated in Delaware, and then the legislature used the same bill, except that they implemented the easy first steps, then created an independent panel to look into designing a way to implement the next steps. Which means that it has to be voted on again when the time comes, and it will not be implemented for ages, if at all.
But the suggestion I wrote about focuses on people with some expertise and experience, not appointed by the legislature, but able to listen directly to the people’s concerns. We had a bail bill that was worked on for several years by many people in various positions in the state, agreed on by judges, prosecutors and defense, police, ACLU, etc., after many meetings, only to get voted down at the last minute by eight Republican senators who wouldn’t vote yes unless the Democrats voted for some budget issue they wanted. They even regarded themselves as pro-criminal justice, and wouldn’t vote for an issue they actually agreed with. This is where such a panel would be effective in getting a direct vote from the people. From my experience, partisan thinking has effectively left us without hope for any real progress from a legislature.
The main reason for such a panel is to avoid issues being voted on with no real idea of the consequences of winning such a vote. In fact, their main function would probably be education, since they’d have to educate the populace as to how they’re reaching the bill they decide upon. People can always send them back to the drawing board to redesign their bill if that’s the decision of the people.
I love what you write about the three types of orientations of people. America’s strength is, I believe, largely due to the inner directed people who have been free to act and work towards their own goals. And then people started working for companies and it became the norm to simply look for a job, which is almost the definition of being other-directed. People need security for sure, though, and there isn’t much of that around just now, so there must be a guaranteed survival level first for everyone, then freedom for following one’s own inner goals. Of course, one doesn’t exclude the other.
I like your suggestion to remove party affiliation, but I think more is needed. We need to find a way to bring government down to the community level. Finance the government from the bottom up, not top down -– like collecting taxes locally and sending them up to the state then federal levels. Get each community (small level, a few thousand people, maybe) to elect people they know, and gradually form higher bodies from among these candidates. People could build up a track record of service gradually. Although I have no problem with anyone being elected once we get through this crazy partisan era.
In Delaware, by the way, we have several lawmakers who seem to vote opposite to their party when they feel like it, not in concert with it. I think it’s the way Republicans get elected in a Democratic state, they say they’re in effect Democrats.
Taxes are also a defining issue. Our tax system has a tendency to be regressive rather than progressive, so we certainly need to find a way to tax economic rent rather than income or consumer purchases. Inner-directed citizens met just last night in our community to celebrate the 180th birthday of Henry George, and the theme was very much about how taxes can shape communities, nations and whole blocs. I talked about how regressive taxes have been a major cause of the current problems in the EU and Britain, and how Brexit can’t be resolved in a positive manner until this is recognized.
Gordon, I think taking party names off ballots would force political parties to focus their electoral efforts on making sure that voters know about party affiliation prior to entering the booth. In other words, very powerful political forces are invested in party ideologies and party structures and they don’t plan to relinquish power anytime soon.
In my experience with local Democrat politics, for example, my “mentors” have no shame in explaining that involvement in politics is about building relationships with power brokers who could advantage me or my children. The idea that political involvement could be an end in itself is not thought of.
The only solution I see to deep-state-swamp politics is intensive education of young and old in the meanings of our institutions, in the manner which Hillsdale College executes.
Peter, I agree with you. The parties have no shame in pushing their agendas as hard as they can to get a vote. Taking their name off ballots would not end their efforts to get votes, just make it a lot harder, and people would begin to think more about the candidates they are voting for, rather than simple party affiliation. I think they would take more interest in understanding political processes and looking at schools like Hillsdale as a result. Still, a lot of voters wouldn’t know or remember when they go to the ballot box, and the unprepared citizen would be more likely to cast a random ballot, while the prepared citizens would determine the outcome. This would remove some power from the party and cause candidates to run more on their virtue and reputation than their party affiliation. There are many other things that need to be done to restore power to the people, but I have not seen any other single item that would have a greater impact. This would have a greater effect than, say, term limits.
There were some interesting points made in response to Alison’s essay.
Regarding the European Union and Brexit, many in the UK were upset with the diminishing of representative government in favor of an unelected governing body (a panel) that makes laws based on “legal frames” that citizens have no say in. Older Brits saw this as an affront to traditional modes of governing.
One of the primary tenets of what is now called “progressivism” is that government has a better way to address certain social problems. Giving more power to non-elected bureaucrats who are considered “experts” and who are seen as more knowledgeable than citizens, is antipodal to the spirit of American Constitution which seeks to limit the power of government in favor of individual liberties. The USA is a republic that uses democratic means to elect its politicians. The idea behind the “republican” modality (state’s rights, the electoral college, etc.) was the attempt to mitigate what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of the majority” (aka “mob rule”). It was also meant to be a hedge against the concentration of power.
In the context of the social groups that we belong to (families, churches, etc.), we exact various measures of social justice according to the relationships that we cultivate in those groups, more often than not, without government interference. In fact, “social justice” was a term coined in the 19th century by an Italian Catholic priest, Father Luigi Taparelli, who averred that it was important to make the distinction between legal justice as implemented by the state, and social justice — remedying relational conflicts without state intrusion. Michael Novak’s last book, Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is, cites Taparelli’s idea that social justice meant keeping the state (and all those panels) out of the equation in order to protect personal liberties and free choice.
Thank you for this far-ranging and thoughtful article. Some things I agree with, others I don’t. I want to share some thoughts and insights perhaps you and others have not considered or are not in touch with from a variety of experiences and observations I’ve had.
I agree that having more women involved in decision-making and politics is very good. I also agree, as a life-long gun owner that universal background checks should be enacted. This will not eliminate violence, but will help to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals and others that have demonstrated by their actions that they represent a threat to broader society.
I’d like to clarify that there are already bodies that function in similar fashion, i.e., elected officials and others to make decisions for the common. Balancing clean water and economic development is just such as issue. The Delaware Basin Water Commission and the same for the Susquehanna Water Basic Commission function in this capacity.
The DRBC was one of the first government agencies in the United States to address the problem of water pollution. The agency predates the EPA and the Clean Water Act:
These members hire an Executive Director who runs the day-to-day operations of the Commission.
You are obviously aware of ballot initiatives, used most notably in California. This allows the people in a state to override and change actual laws. I have a couple of questions for you about this. First, why would the distributive model you are proposing be superior than a ballot initiative? Second, it seems to me that the appointment of “highly educated” people would very likely be politicized. How would this proposed process deal with this? My observation is that educated people do not always make wise decisions. Let me give you one specific example of Allentown, PA, the largest city where I live and where I own investment properties. The city is trying to revive its downtown, as many cities are, to encourage development, job creation, expand its tax base and encourage more affordable housing. All worthy goals.
The larger political solution was to give tax incentives to larger developers who have the experience and resources to make large investments of their own capital and public funds, a kind of public-private partnership. To a large extent it is working, but it has not encouraged a lot of affordable housing, or not enough. The city leaders proposed to small investors like me and my colleagues that they would give us $10,000 to take two or three family properties (apartments) and convert them to single-family homes. They had not one person take them up on this. In meeting with the President of the City Council, who I know, a few of us explained to him that people seeking and who can afford a single-family home would not likely move to these once large homes in center city; they are asking the existing owners to receive less revenue for the properties they have invested their own funds into and the $10,000 they offered was probably 5-7 times too low. Well meaning intentions often do not result in good outcomes is my observation.
Being a small investor, or part of the “investor class” you mention, I can tell you categorically that small investors are the only people creating affordable housing. We take old, run down properties, invest our own money earned in W2 jobs, fix and rent them.
Here is a very typical P&L or use of funds for a typical investment.
Purchase and renovation — $70,000
Downpayment — $14,000 %20
With rent or revenue of $1,000/month an owner makes $100-$130/month, after paying for a mortgage, taxes, insurance and a reserve of 20% for repairs. That downpayment money is provided by the sweat and hard work of the investor and 100% of the risk in this venture is borne by the investor. There is never any grace period for our paying taxes, insurance, nor in fixing repairs as needed. Certainly there are investors who do not maintain their properties, but in my experience with both Section 8 (rent paid by the government) and others, they are a small and declining demographic.
I am familiar with the Land Use Tax here in Pennsylvania. It has not been widely adopted. The problem I see with this is that it assumes that land itself has equal value. How land is used or its potential use is what drives it value. The structures and improvements are often what creates more value.
Through this experience and those of my colleagues we have a very clear view and direct experience with the working poor and those on public assistance. My wife also worked as a public school teacher in Reading, PA for seven years, one of the poorest communities in the US.
What the working poor and disadvantaged lack is:
1. Solid family structures; broken homes are the norm in urban America.
2. Poor job skills.
3. They do not have good networks of people that can help them.
4. They lack good decision-making skills, financial literacy.
5. These all limit their access to loans to buy houses and start businesses.
6. They live in communities that have higher crime rates.
7. They have fewer health care options.
What the government could do, in my opinion, is provide more job training, decision-making and financial literacy training. Micro loans, perhaps similar to what has been used in Third World counties, might be a good solution to test and try. Government can also act to reduce crime and provide a safe environment. Perhaps a broader ranging health care solution is a good idea. It has been, as we have discovered, not easy to do. I have no specific ideas on this.
In general, I think we need to pay for what we use. We probably need to pay more taxes. How that is done is complex and certainly an ongoing debate is important. In Pennsylvania we enacted much higher gasoline taxes to pay for road and bridge repairs. I support this.
My apologies for making this so long. I hope my responses are useful.
The ballot initiative is great, but here’s where the problem lies.
In the community next to where I live, the people themselves formed a group to assess people’s leaseholds for property taxes, voted it in via town meeting, and performed the assessment (several years in a row). Then the county executive out of the blue increased the tax burden by a considerable percentage, actually after our communities had already collected their taxes for the year. Due to the lack of experience, and maybe lack of a town government perspective, the assessors had severely depleted the reserves of the town, considering them unnecessarily large, so now the community has to find a large amount of money out of thin air. Of course, the reduced tax burden had been popular, but it has led to problems.
California propositions likewise have sometimes led to problems. The idea of the independent body is to realize and communicate the possibility of such problems before the proposition gets voted upon.
Water is an interesting problem, actually, given that several nations and states have actually sold their water to an outside company, leading to nonsense scenarios where residents aren’t even allowed to collect rainwater for their own gardens. But I don’t think that’s what you are referring to, just an aside.
I have heard of several towns in PA that have managed considerable revivals through the application of a land value tax. I know Pittsburgh did this maybe back in the ’80s or ’90s with great success. Certainly the theory takes into account the actual value of the land, but I don’t know how it has been applied.
I will answer more of your points as I think them through, although I know for instance the housing problem is a big outstanding issue here in Wilmington, DE, too, so there’s not a simple answer to that one.
Alison responded to Rob Sayre and the idea of “inner goals” saying: “And then people started working for companies and it became the norm to simply look for a job, which is almost the definition of being other-directed. People need security for sure, though, and there isn’t much of that around just now, so there must be a guaranteed survival level first for everyone, then freedom for following one’s own inner goals. Of course, one doesn’t exclude the other.”
The idea that “there must be a guaranteed survival level first for everyone,” and that relying on gainful employment (a job) has a strong whiff of anti-capitalist, socialist Marxism to it.
The words “guarantee” and “must” are problematic because this opens the door for more authoritarianism to be in the socio-cultural equation, and this is antipodal to individuals being primarily guided by their inner goals. How does a governing modality “guarantee” anything without resorting to greater government intrusion? The idea that there “must” be equality of outcome in anything points to a decidedly postmodern-progressive mindset. As political philosophers F.A. Hayek and Thomas Sowell have noted, in any group of people there is just too much variety of circumstances to prescribe across-the-board governmental remedies that won’t have the effect of infringing on the individual liberties of certain people within the group.
In his political treatise, Baruch Spinoza wrote long ago:
“For peace is not mere absence of war, but is a virtue that springs from force of character: for obedience is the constant will to execute what, by the general decree of the commonwealth, ought to be done.”
I believe the better word in this context is “ought,” for it implies that volition remains in the equation. Divine Principle stipulates that a socialist mode of governance will be implemented as we move toward the full restoration of all things in the era of settlement. But as Book 10 in Cheon Seong Gyeong notes, this model would be predicated on the fulfillment of the Three Blessings and Godism, and for that to happen volition is a sine qua non — an essential necessity.
It is spurious to connect this in context with Marxism or Socialism, because it has nothing to do with government. It simply reflects the fact that God provided for humanity a planet, land, plants and animals, biological principles like growth and evolution, totally adequate to provide for survival-level maintenance for every single human born on earth.
Western materialist thinking has separated humanity from nature, and classified nature itself as a “commodity,” thereby drawing it into our economic system, whereas in reality nature is not a commodity at all. Indigenous communities were able to live and thrive within nature for tens of thousands of years without ever questioning that nature belonged to the whole, not to individuals. It is hard for us to recognize what is obvious because it would make it evident to us that destroying the way of life of indigenous communities (and the communities themselves) was going against God’s design of providing a base for all while offering an opportunity for growth and expansion for those who were willing to work for it.
Survival is a must, how could it be otherwise? If government thinks any other way, then government is out of touch with what was self-evident to the Founders of this country. Government is not able to guarantee, but it is certainly responsible to remove obstacles that prevent people’s access to their God-given right to nature.
I commend Alison for her thoughtful paper. I completely agree with the title, that we need more widely distributed leadership. I also completely agree with the necessity of more women in decision-making roles, which is something that True Mother has been talking about for more than two decades.
When the article gets down to specific remedies, viz., an independent commission, we get into a specific possible remedy that has elicited the most discussion, and in so doing I think the main point can get lost. I personally do not see how an independent commission furthers the goal of widely distributed leadership; it only replaces one small group of overly-influential people (the plutocrats) with another (the experts).
Widely distributed leadership needs to begin with reducing hyper-partisanship and promoting dialogue between people with different positions. This ought to start at the grass roots. It also requires a recovery of respect for the media and the professionals that work for it, which True Father stated has an important role to play in any democracy to let sunlight into its dark corners.
A lot of what I see happening in politics is the baneful result of Marxist deconstructionism, which has led to a suspicion of everyone’s motives, as if all opinions and views are based on some underlying agenda driven by class/political interests. I’ve seen this type of argumentation on the Left in the academy, attributing policies on moneyed interests (e.g., the tax cut), and on the Right with people like Rush Limbaugh, attributing policies to agendas to increase Democratic votes (e.g., less restrictive immigration). On the contrary, I believe that ideas need to be examined on their face by considering its effects on ordinary people, not merely on whether they come from the Right or the Left. If they are good ideas that help people, they need to be considered by all sides.
Another cause for this is the perpetual campaign. It used to be that politics and campaigning was restricted to election year, and in between leaders could get on with the business of governing. It is hard for any sort of reasoned discussion to happen in today’s hyper-partisan environment when everything is about the next election that is two or three years away. Maybe the primary season should be shortened, or the parties should take more control of the nominating process and do more selecting in back rooms instead of devolving everything to primaries where often the most partisan extremists control the outcome.
As a nation, we all need to cool down and start civil and respectful conversations on the issues. Then maybe we can come to a consensus on certain matters, like gun control, immigration, health care, and so on, and seek buy-in from everyone. People need time and space to converse and consider respectfully that maybe the other side has some good points.
The root of this should be the inward conviction that we are all one family under God, and God values everyone in the family and is working in their lives, even though we may be in very different places.
I agree with Andrew’s comments on the election process. The prolonged time periods for primaries in addition to the exorbitant funds spent take a toll on our people. Also, the idea of independent commissions is problematic, as Andrew states. Elitism and exclusionary committees prevent real participation from more people and a more “widely distributed leadership.” Especially as Dr. Grace Selover wrote in her thesis, many trained and talented women have been marginalized in our own movement. It takes a special leadership consciousness to outreach and invite experience, advice and recommendations from elders and women who do not necessarily have mainstream or paid church positions, but who are very experienced and knowledgeable people in their unique history and contributions. This kind of “Abel” leadership seeks to be involved with concentric circles of leadership individuals.
Moreover, it is one thing to profess support for women vis a vis True Parents’ proclamations; we need to see male leaders include more women on boards of organizations, more women invited to speak at Interfaith and academic forums, more full-time women faculty need to represent a Unification method of education (as taught in Unification Thought seminars by Dr. Lee.) To date, even after more than “two decades” of True Parents’ instructions, there are male leaders who don’t insist on this shared role together with able women in their own endeavors. We need to practice what we preach.
In relation to politics in America, it is not enough to say as one family that all viewpoints are equally shared. They may be equal in opportunity to be heard and all should be free to participate. However, we have to also acknowledge and teach a God-centered wisdom and worldview; one which shows the difference between good and evil. In America, we need to teach the lessons of the Judeo-Christian heritage as well as the Cain and Abel centered history clearly illustrated in Divine Principle, and the history of communist style totalitarianism. As Andrew reiterated, respect, civility and dialogue need to be encouraged; but that does not mean to appease violent oppression of faith, family and freedoms.