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A WORLD-CHANGING PROPOSAL:

“Virtual Governments” could give us real Democracy

by Marc Cherbonnier

Author's note: This proposal grew out of composing a response to the growing problem of outsourcing jobs [see Norma Sherry's articles: Few American Jobs are Safe from Outsourcing and Bye, Bye Miss American Pie], coupled with seeking solutions to other chronic social, political and economic problems. The conjoined result has blossomed into this concept proposal for future virtual governments to replace our increasingly dysfunctional national governments.

The situation:

National governments cause more harm than good under today's conditions of unfettered oligarchies and compromised media. It's time to re-think how things are done.
What happens if we continue to drift without government intervention to stop hemorrhaging job losses, budget deficits, trade deficits, and unfunded Medicare and Social Security liabilities? We likely will see what happens, since politicians are paid by corporations seeking those favors (indirectly). Government-by-bribery has become the norm in Washington. [Note: the excess of campaign donations, the left-overs, may be kept by politicians depending on the state law where their campaign committee was established!] Corporate "donations" are never turned away, regardless of whether their products or proposals would harm or kill the public. (Want a cigarette? Why do our children have asthma? Was allowing tap-water to become unsafe profitable to someone? Want to buy land in Florida? Why has deregulation caused price increases in virtually every instance?) The benefits of this profit-mongering, we are told, will trickle down to citizens. Do you believe that?

The pandering to corporate interests is especially true of the current Bush Administration, which prides itself on being extra-friendly to corporations if they contribute generously to Republicans. Witness the way it doles out Iraq reconstruction contracts (to rebuild what the US military just destroyed) to companies who heavily contributed to the Republican party, and most generously to George W. Bush. [See Republican Ties & Bush Support a Pre-requisite for Postwar Contracts] Note the no-bid contracts awarded, and to whom.

The problem: Uninformed and propaganda-fed citizens have lost their Democracy to the plutocracy

Leaping ahead a year or two, the public in the developed world may be angrily calling into question the worth of their governments. How come our corporate-controlled governments only gave us lip-service as we sank from First-World economic status to become new Third-World banana republics? On just the jobs issue alone, what good are governments that let hundreds of thousands (millions?) of our best jobs leave in such a rush?

Can the American government be fixed?

How we got to this sorry place will be the subject of many books, for many years to come. In the opinion of many, the unprofessional and biased news media is largely responsible. The Fourth Estate has let us down. Our media are being flogged by their corporate controllers to yield ever-higher profits, and this change has resulted in laying-off journalists (reducing costs) and in an unseemly currying of favor with advertisers, including censoring stories possibly offensive to advertisers.

Our media have been transformed from servants of the public to mere vehicles for delivering audiences with desirable demographics. Worse, there is increasing evidence of intentional manipulation of information in behalf of those now in political power. No one seems to have a clue for how to fix the problem of America's broken news media.

We need a government (and a news media) whose paramount interest is the well-being of its citizens. But how is that possible when so many citizens are vulnerable to propaganda and too misinformed to vote intelligently? How then can we get a truly benign and enlightened government? Should we struggle to improve the news media and just hope for the best? Or should we go to another level, realizing our media are not likely to change under the current circumstances?

Thinking "outside the box"

Obviously we need a physical local government for 'utility functions' - including police and fire and roads and schools and water and sewage and trash and mass transit, etc. And contiguous local governments have to work together, so the roads meet up at borders, and so on.

But what purpose is served by physical national governments? Do national governments have to have physical authority over local governments? No, that is just a tradition that has evolved in recent centuries—a design that provides ease of physical (military) domination, both of states/provinces within and nations without. Present-day physical countries are all the products of imperialism.

But now, with the advent of the digital revolution, we have an opportunity to devise a new "logical" paradigm of national government, where people with shared priorities and goals from all over the world can elect to join together as fellow citizens. Such "logical (virtual) national governments" could rapidly displace old paradigm "physical national governments."

Virtual National Governments - a concept whose time is coming

What if you could join-up with like-minded people scattered across the planet for a common virtual government just the way you want it. The process could be something like this: Every virtual government would be based on a charter - a pledge of principles, priorities and provisos. People would review such alternative virtual government charters, their past performance and tax structures (much like choosing a mutual fund) and then select the one for which they wish to become citizens.

As a simplistic example, suppose you had a choice between only two virtual governments: Virtual government "Green" prioritizes the practical use of renewable energy, and virtual government "Black" prioritizes oil/gas extraction. Other things being equal, wouldn't you like to choose one over the other? If later you change your mind, fine, you can immediately quit one (with pro-rated tax refund, etc.) and join another. It could be as simple as switching phone companies.

Now that's Democratic accountability!

Core responsibilities:

What would be the responsibilities of such virtual national governments? Core responsibilities include foreign aid, health care, university education, trade, international diplomacy and peace-keeping. Plus all virtual governments--to a greater or lesser degree--would seek to improve sustainable life on Earth. [Unbelievably, the richest nation on earth is now actively working to allow greater pollution!] In addition, virtual national governments could singly or cooperatively fund and direct basic research in select areas complementary to their higher goals-such as the NIH for drug research in the US-from which the common good is advanced beyond what corporations alone could achieve.

Politicians are Out, Professionals are In

New to this form of national government (at least in the virtual government I'd want!) is that you might not have/want elected representatives. Wait! This isn't bad. Often times we don't really know who we vote for, anyway - we only know what campaign ads tell us. Instead of electing politicians, all virtual government leadership and staff could be selected based upon relevant professional merit & experience. What a concept! And remember, if you later do not like your virtual government, for any reason, you can quickly switch to another virtual government by filling out a card or using the Internet! Now that's Democracy! Each virtual government's performance makes it or breaks it.

Money

How about currency and collecting tariffs (if any)? All transactions could be done with debit and credit cards. Your cards could be encoded with your virtual government code, and upon each transaction your virtual national government's Value Added Tax (VAT) and tariffs would be automatically computed and remitted. Payroll withholdings could also be handled according to the chosen virtual government's regulations, like local government withholding.

Military

What about the military? The cost-benefit of an expensive military (and higher taxes to support it) would be a major factor in your choice of a virtual government. Consider, though, that in a future world with virtual governments, what would large military forces be for? Who would you be fighting with? Where are they? The future with virtual governments is a naturally safer future than the one we have now. Perhaps only the United Nations, or its better replacement, would need a large military force at the ready in order to intervene in crises and do major peace-keeping.

How would Virtual Governments mitigate job outsourcing?

Right now, the Chinese government is surely aware of the 'weapon' dimension of 'outsourcing,' though it's unsure if they are focused on that objective or if it's merely a byproduct of efforts to improve their economy. With a change-over to virtual national governments there would no longer be such a 'weapon' that nations could use against each other. Yes, lower-wage regions would continue to attract new factories, but this would not be construed as a "national" threat.

Virtual national governments would rapidly normalize all aspects of world society. The advent of digital-only money transactions would make very granular tariff adjustments possible. Perhaps punitive tariff charges could be assessed by plant of manufacture for such negatives as slave wages or pollution. Then once the plant is modernized and labor practices improved, the tariff could immediately be reduced. A pre-purchase price scan would divulge any such punitive surcharges, and consumers would be able to make better-informed purchasing decisions.

Conclusion:

The problems of our own American media and government are not only real, they are worsening and corruption is increasing. The problems will not be cured simply by electing a non-Republican as president. Other 'developed' nations are experiencing similar symptoms of systemic failure.

Obviously this idea for virtual national governments is incomplete. How would functions like judicial appeal work, for example. It would take time and energy by professionals to think through all functons of government for how they could work in a virtual government context, and there would need to be preliminary trials to build first-hand experience to hone it.

Postscript:

The current system of national governance is not acceptable and unfixable. I invite you to propose preliminary designs for a next generation government responsible to its public, and send it to this newspaper to be published.


© Marc Cherbonnier 2003.

The author, a former systems analyst and information architect, modestly describes himself as "a recovering former employee." Contact him at marc@baltimorechronicle.com.


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This story was published on November 6, 2003.