October 3, 2011
As the U.S. Congress and its deficit-reduction supercommittee prepare to further cut safety-net and social programs, reduce regulatory oversight, ignore crumbling national infrastructure, continue absurdly high military and security spending, and refuse to make even modest additional demands of those who have richly profited from three decades of laissez-faire capitalism, many Americans have concluded that federal budgeting now operates with a philosophy that ranges from callous disregard to utter contempt for the well-being of the nation and most of its people. Philosophy, process, and result are all faulty.
In any endeavor, when a fundamental paradigm is found to be wrong, the only reasonable course of action is to replace it. I therefore propose a federal budget largely built on a new paradigm of "Direct-Democracy Earmarks" — the people themselves directly selecting the departments and programs to be funded. Every adult citizen would independently allocate an equal share of total federal discretionary spending.
Note that allocation independently done by each citizen not only produces collective expenditures in accord with aggregate public preferences, it also prevents both the subjugation of minority interests by a tyranny of the majority, and the blocking of majority interests by an obstructionist minority. While the proposed process is revolutionary, it stands entirely consistent with the founding of this nation, which sought to advance a more rational, moral, and democratic philosophy of government — a philosophy repeatedly betrayed during the past three decades. The democratic decentralization of my proposal rates as a notable improvement, for it will end many of the betrayals, absurd compromises, and episodes of gridlock now frequent in American politics, reduce the current bloated influence of big business and wealth, and, most importantly, finally empower the people in setting national priorities.
The American people already "own" the budget. Unfortunately, our "ownership" extends only to the debt/obligations side of the ledger. It's high time that we also owned the appropriations. We ostensibly elect representatives, but all too often those representatives view wealthy individual and corporate donors as their true constituency, and a significant portion of tax money is expended in ways harmful to the nation and to many of us individually — military adventurism and empire, unwarranted or inadequately-regulated corporate subsidies and bailouts, etc. However, we also see great sins of omission, with major national problems never adequately addressed, so cries of supposed "excessive taxation" falsely frame the central issue. This nation must categorically reject the never-ending, self-serving disinformation from the wealthy and the corporations seeking to avoid contributing their fair share to a country that has enabled them to prosper. Our problem isn't excessive taxation — it's what those taxes are used and not used for. The people of this nation need to reclaim ownership of national spending — and the only process that can be expected to properly accomplish that in our political environment is direct allocation, by all adult citizens, of the discretionary portion of the federal budget.
Will current politicians voluntarily permit it to happen? Of course not — if they can by any means prevent it. However, the Arab Spring should have taught Americans that today’s impossibility may become tomorrow’s inevitability. Thus, the more relevant questions are: Would such a budgeting structure work? Could it produce an allocation balance more progressive than what we currently have (let alone what we will have after the scheduled evisceration by the supercommittee)? Shouldn't progressives be willing to go forward with what would amount to a true grass-roots people's budget? Shouldn't libertarians and genuine conservatives support such a process as more representative of popular will than is government control? Shouldn't free-marketers of any stripe support it as being as close to their vaunted "wisdom of the market" as government can get? Shouldn't all honest citizens endorse it, as eliminating some of the corrupting influence of campaign contributions on the budget process?
Personally, I believe that more efficient, better results would come from allocation by a strong progressive government. But not only is our present government not progressive, even its center-right proposals continue to be blocked by right-wing extremists brandishing an ideological grenade with the pin removed. Our present course is a path to failure, and right-wing ideology will take us to a new dark age of corporatist plutocratic oligarchy. Absent strong progressive leadership and responsible conservatives, we need a new solution. I have proposed one.
I make no claim that my direct-democracy allocation proposal is perfect. Some government departments and programs would undoubtedly attempt to exploit my proposed system — but our current system has long been outrageously exploited, through fear and the widespread geographic sprinkling of contracts, by our "Defense" and "Homeland Security" departments. A mechanism would be needed to insure that accurate information is available to the people, and that departments/programs can make their case for funds to all citizens in an efficient and fair manner that doesn't bias the process towards manipulative mega-departments. Optimum granularity of the allocation menu and the best frequency and timing of the allocation process are yet to be determined. Finally, the direct allocation proposal I have outlined is not a complete solution; it does not itself impose the modest progressive tax increases that most reasonable economists agree are necessary — though it might make such increases more palatable through the promise of direct citizen control. Overall, one can say that complexities are present, but they are manageable, and quite tolerable in light of the benefits to be gained.
I believe that allocating federal discretionary spending via "Direct-Democracy Earmarks" has the potential to revitalize the nation. I assert that philosophy, process, and result would all be vastly superior to what we have now.
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