Michael White

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Do you believe in governance? What is the alternative?

Recently i've seen a lot of very generalised anti-government sentiments expressed in TED conversations and comments. I would like to know more about the alternatives, and the realities of something like an anarchic solution.

The way I see it a bad government is a force for concentrating and hoarding power and wealth through the use of physical force, the denial of rights and propaganda.

A good government is a focus for cooperation. For organising our collective resources into improving living conditions. For making decisions in a true and honest representative way.

All governments have some elements of both. Because governments are made up of people and their actions, they aren't some abstract entity. In the worst dictatorships there are people working for the state who genuinely wish to make things better. And in the most utopian democracies there are those who will abuse their power.

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    Jun 4 2011: I don't believe in governance, my alternative is a organizational form united through federalism and a cooperative economy of voluntary associations.
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      Jun 6 2011: I think your original post suggest anarchism already Budimir.
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        Jun 7 2011: Interesting articles Richard. The conclusion of the first sums it up nicely:

        "The concentration of wealth -- a natural process under the "free market" (particularly one marked by private property and wage labour) -- has an impact on the surrounding society. Private property, i.e. monopolisation of the means of production, allows the monopolists to become a ruling elite by exploiting, and so accumulating vastly more wealth than, the workers. This elite then uses its wealth to control the coercive mechanisms of society (military, police, "private security forces," etc.), which it employs to protect its monopoly and thus its ability to accumulate ever more wealth and power. Thus, private property, far from increasing the freedom of the individual, has always been the necessary precondition for the rise of the state and rule by the rich. Medieval Iceland is a classic example of this process at work."
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          Jun 7 2011: Yes.
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          Jun 7 2011: nicely? you really see no problem with that text?

          for example: "Private property, i.e. monopolisation of the means of production". how would private property be synonymous to monopolization? how would it be even causing it? how could a private company control the police or the military? and so on.

          i would also ask whether the destruction of private property can increase freedom. i mean, come on, this one is easy.
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          Jun 7 2011: Wow, Nichola! Who'd a guessed?
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          Jun 8 2011: I am definately impressed! Thanks!
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        Jun 7 2011: Great articles Rich,

        History always will repeat itself if not educated upon!
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        Jun 8 2011: Krisztian:


        "for example: "Private property, i.e. monopolisation of the means of production". how would private property be synonymous to monopolization?"

        OK. I'll agree with the removal of the snippet "i.e. monopolisation of the means of production". But the rest of the paragraph can be supported with convincing arguments.

        And here is an example of how a private company can "control the police or the military":

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          Jun 8 2011: a company can control the police without its consent? i doubt so, unless they have the alleged powers of derren brown. and if the police is partner in that, which one is responsible?
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        Jun 8 2011: You know Krisztian, I'm not in favor of elimination of private property. But I am opposed to excessive concentration of wealth.

        Concentration of wealth inevitably leads to conspiracy between government and those with the most money. Why else do you think people make huge campaign contributions?
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    Jun 6 2011: I could never hope to clearly relate the complexity and brilliance of anarchism, as well as all the diverse anarchist philosophies that currently exist so anyone who wants to learn about the subject I will refer you to a book called Anarchism by George Woodcock, where you get an introduction to wide range of anarchist thinkers from Proudhorn to Max Stirner.
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    Jun 6 2011: The whole idea of governments is (or should be) to bring people together to serve people. Does it need improvement- of course it does. It needs courageous people to make it serve people better. Can it enslave people in its own way? Yes. We have bad government now because we have all cooperated with it and have not held politicians responsible for not serving in democracies and in spite of their self serving ways we continue to allow them to rule rather than serve.

    When confronted with the three alternatives of corporations whose sole motivation is to gain profit and to whom people are simply units of work, chaos or governance - I choose governance.

    Let's not for one second, though, imagine that any corporation is voluntarily going to bring in health and safety regulations, choose not to employ chldren in its factories, provide a living wage, or implement any other prosocial idea because it will go against the profit motive and they will moan that someone else will produce the product for less because they were more ruthless.

    People promote the idea of some beneign capitalistic force that will elevate all. Where on earth does that idea come from when it is so clear that those who own the corporation are convinced that the 'brotherhood' of man is unimportant next to their own selfish ambitions?
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      Jun 6 2011: Hi Debra, I hope all is well btw.
      I feel enslaved, therefore am I not enslaved?
      I pay 68% marginal tax on income and spending (I spend all of my income... those cars and girls don't come cheap ;)) and as I look around what is that money buying?
      Here in the UK, 32% of the workforce (about 20% of the population) is engaged in Private private sector work; 41% of the workforce is working directly for the Government or on Government projects. 46% of GDP is spent by the Government. How can this make sense, what can all these people possibly be doing????
      Maybe Richard has a point, and that maybe I wouldn't mind if the tax was being used for something productive - but state hospitals are falling down, schools are a mixed experience at best (my children go to state schools, as I was keen that they contribute to the community), and anything really important we'd all prefer to trust (IF you can afford it) to use private companies for not state provision.
      My cards on the table _ I would prefer to see a smaller Government, less tax, don't see the need for zillions of folks in Dept of Transport etc, and we use our spare money from less tax to buy the services we really want. Also, let's outsource more to foreign countries. We have low cost foreigners in our army, why not in our Police?
      What Richard, Debra, would you like to see as an alternative to our current Government?
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        Jun 6 2011: James, i hope you are well too. I really enjoy conversing with this side of you.

        It is my impression that you of all people are not one to idly complain. You have valid complaints but if we expect countries like Palestine and israel to work out their problems shouldn't we get moving and work out our own?. My guess is that there in not another single area of your life that you are as annoyed with and still do nothing to remedy it.

        If Ghandi could oust the British heirarchy when they were injust and enslaved the people why shouldn't the British people learn from his example and oust the insanity? You of all people have astounding power at your fingertips to say- "I've had enough and I am not leaving this to my kids! "The power of prosocial film to influence and lead is staggering and yet you do not plug it in to make the changes that you say are so vital.

        I suggest that you look at the link that Richard posted. It is based on Clay Shirky's work and it presents a cognent alternative that can be implemented bit by bit or wholesale to steer the ship of state back into the harbour -depending on just how serious you are about wanting change. It is a viable, amazing route forward that simply needs a clever capitalist with the ace of mass influence up his sleeve. How about you?

        Finally, as much as you consider to be wrong with 'Rule Britiannia' something somehow enabled you to carve out the life that you are enjoying even at a 68% tax bracket. Maybe its time to give back more than money?
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          Jun 6 2011: Debra, prob firm but fair criticism...
          - I wish I had more drive to change the World, I am a bit lazy
          - I keep my Work life (Films and Ads, Marketing, Analytics etc) very separate from my personal life (Social Causes etc), but sometimes they do collide and we make films for cause I believe in, or the trade in time and money goes the other way... But, I need to keep the two very separate
          - As it happens, i do give the majority of my money away. I am delighted to give money to causes I believe in, and is my biggest single expenditure (hell, more than cars and speedboats. Stopping kids dying is my biggest single line item of spending). This is NOT the same as having it stolen by the Government. I am happy to give all my money away, I just don't want it taken from me. I am happy to make films for social causes, I just don't want be told I should :)
          There is a difference in life between choice and responsibility. I make good choices, and I think i change the World one small step at a time and I'll die with no money but some kids still alive in Africa. But, I have no responsibility to die poor to feed some crazy beast called Government.
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        Jun 6 2011: James, your response is more than fair and I apologize if I put you in a position where you felt you had to justify any action or inaction at all.

        I was perhaps a bit too forward and excited by putting an idea with a person who perhaps had the ability to implement it. (Just as I did with the TED films idea).
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    Jun 16 2011: In the 60s & 70s "The Man" was the oppressor against long hair, pot, peace and free love and it seems a lot of the same idiots who figured themselves revolutionaries then embrace tea party notions now. Or maybe they're different idiots, but they're idiots. You need to be over-entitled, willfully ignorant, marginally sociopathic or all three to fall for the anarchist libertarian nostrums eschewing responsible governance. In an individual, it's called conscience; as a collective it's governance. "The least of us" must figure into the equation of just and righteous governance. Where statesmanship has all but vanished, where elections have become free market auctions and candidates corporate chattel, it is no wonder the antipathy toward government, politicians and the judiciary. "The least of us" in these circumstances is only the obstreperous demands of "MINE."
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      Jun 16 2011: It's not just the 60s and 70s. it started way before hippies, tye dye and orgies. It actually started in the 17th and 18th century but of course you shouldn't trust me, I'm just a willfully ignorant anarchist.
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    Jun 8 2011: to Nichola Edison:

    don't you see it ironic that you try to defend governments by presenting allan greenspan as the bad guy? he was a government figure, and indeed, as you say, he hurt the u.s. economy hard. isn't it a good reason not to trust government officials? those who create rules that help frauds and tricksters, but hinder legal businesses?

    after trying and firing many generations of politicians, maybe it is time to realize that we don't need another one. we don't need any more politicians promising change. we need something really different already.
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        Jun 9 2011: you didn't present him as a government figure, it was not my point. you presented him as a bad guy, and he was a government figure. he did the things we both condemn when he was de facto government official. his failure is a government failure.
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        Jun 10 2011: no doubt, the US government does a lot of wrong things. as all other governments on the globe. many of them could be done better. but i claim that whatever good a government is, it will always be prone to severe errors and wrongdoing. because it is a consequence of the rules of the game. governments can not possibly succeed.
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        Jun 9 2011: Well this tends to be the common argument for government but what about the post medieval religious communes or the post spanish revolution anarcho syndicalist societies? Many well functionin societies have emerged without government and ut hasn't been lack of government that stomped out these societies it has been the positive presence of government which forced these societies to perish through military violence. In nature you can find functional organizational forms without government or laws from the lowest animals such as insects to the ones nearest to our own such as monkeys.
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        Jun 9 2011: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_morality

        Well open up a wikipedia page and expand your horizons. Altruism is more beneficial when there are enough resources to feed everyone, power play and dominance only occurs when resources are scarce.

        Deforestation makes alot of the monkeys more aggressive and stupid. More agressive because deforestation takes away from the resources and they fight over it, stupid because they are not living in cooperation and they are not learning any benefical habits from one another. So power play is comletely counter intuitive to evolutionary success if there are resources to provide comfortable living. This is taken directly out a National Geographic magazine.

        As I demonstrated existing governments have ruined many of these cooperative societies, so wouldn't getting rid of governments also do away with the threats that governments tend to pose for these societies? I think it would, so no government implies a smaller threat to the cooperative anti-statist societies not a greater threat.
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        Jun 10 2011: as i know, the wild west was never as wild as they present in the movies. life was mostly about farming and trading. you could live a life without ever seeing a single bandit or gunfight. however i might be wrong about that.

        however please keep in mind that people at that time had like one tenth of the income of a today's american citizen. they simply didn't have enough income to finance a good police, and law enforcement in general. just as they didn't have enough resources to have good health care.

        the development of the west coincided with the rise of governments. many people simply assumes that all the progress in our lifestyles is a result of bigger governments. they forget that in the same time income multiplied many times, and it is in itself might be enough to explain the progress. quite possibly governments just took the fruits of the increased productivity, redistributed it, and claimed it as their own achievement.
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        Jun 16 2011: @ Richard

        No problem, it's a good book on the history and diverse philosophies of anarchist thought.

        Currently I am pro any form of progressive idea that gives freedom and decision making over to the people. If democracy can evolve to be a direct democracy I see that as great step towards the evolution of human freedon.
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    Jun 6 2011: For those who believe that the least government is the best - which countries have the least government?
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      Jun 10 2011: Somalia?
      Haha, just kidding! I tink the countries I'd look to might be Hong Kong or Singapore - massive economic growth in these countries for the last generation. I'd also look at Australia and Switzerland at about government spending 30% ish of GDP, as opposed to nearly 50% in the UK. What's the US, maybe 37% i think - and most of that is healthcare, pension, education etc not actually Defense!!
      It's intriguing that Denmark is >50%, whereas other developed countries are almost half that.
      The UK is interesting in the majority (yes, the majority) of jobs in the UK are either direct government employees or private sector employees working on government work... this can't really make sense can it? It's only approx 20% of the UK population doing real work propping up the rest of the country.
      I see no reason why Government spending as a percentage of GDP should be higher than 20% or so.
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    Jun 4 2011: Michael, hi, I love this question.
    I don't like the notion of Government because it is forced on me.
    I like the idea of trade, of contracts, of free inter-action, of me deciding what I want to do, what services I want and from whom.
    I can't actually see the point of any Government at all.... An essential service such as a Fire Brigade can provided by a private contractor as indeed it is in some communities. Not much point in having a Police Force - serious crimes such as Murder are prevented by a shared morality, not because the murderer is worried about getting caught by the cops. Army, yep, privatise that too... I think the Israelis would do a good job, I'd outsource it to them. What else, planning of Roads, er.., the economy? Maybe outsource to Goldman, they seem to do ok for themselves? Waste of time and money really to do any state planning or state interference whatsoever; any central planning is pointless or dangerous as who knows what the future will hold.
    So, privatise everything, and let us live together by free trade with one-another and live freely and happily.
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      Jun 5 2011: Awesome. There'll be 3 super wealthy families and the rest of us slaves..
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        Jun 5 2011: any proof for that?
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          Jun 6 2011: I don't know Greenspan, but I have read his autobiography.
          He comes over as well meaning, and a guardian of freedom... he seems a serious man, better to have the Fed chair Randian than randy? ;)
          I'm guessing any criticisms of his 20 (ish) years at the Fed helm are more about Mortgage regulation than Governance, role of the state, do the rich get richer in a free economy, like Scott thinks, etc? So Nicola, help me out here... Why Greenspan evidence of what happens in a free economy?
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          Jun 10 2011: Hi there Nicola
          Unusually I've been in the US this week, hangin' with my Wall St chums, so I asked about Greenspan. I think the consensus seems to be there were some problems with Government debt, but probably "not guilty" of causing the housing bubble, and on balance the positives outweigh the negatives, ie: oversaw an amazing period of economic growth and stability.
          Anyhoo, I don't really think the Greenspan story is a good response to Krisz's challenge to show evidence of what happens when we strip back the frontiers of Government. I still find it hard to think what on earth the Government actually does. In the UK, how can they spend 46% of GDP.
          I just can't see the point of any Government whatsoever. All essential services such as a Fire Brigade can provided by a private contractor (did you see that great movie Gangs Of New York?), waste of time having a Police Force - serious crimes such as Murder are prevented by a shared morality, not because the murderer is worried about getting caught by the cops.
          Army? Privatise it. Outsource it to the Indians or Israelis maybe.
          Just can't think of anything useful a Government does.
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        Jun 5 2011: Huh?
        Why families, why slaves? What's terrible now is that we're enslaved to the Government.
        In the Atlantic economies, almost HALF the income generated is squandered by the Government; I have to work until September to pay my taxes for the year as we pay 50% marginal tax and 20% tax on spending the remaing half, so I have 32% cash left after what the Government has stolen. That my friend is slavery :(
        Let's be FREE, let's trade together through contracts and do what we want to do.
        What Scott would you prefer to Freedom?
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          Jun 5 2011: I've got to say that I don't have an answer.

          I do recognise that governments are generally based on tradition, are slow and useless, riddled with bureaucracy that ends up going around in circles and using tax dollars in extremely inefficient ways.

          Many laws are stupid (the law really can be an ass) and democracy needs a huge streamlining for the new century. I don't think it's enough that a political party gets in because they got more votes. Maybe allowing a much more localised government but that would still be run only by interested parties and no matter how altruistic, everyone has an agenda.

          The whole idea of opposing parties always seemed a bit of a school-playground approach to me.

          I'm not sure there is any system that would be flawless. I just don't see corporations being bound to the people in the same way that governments tend to have to be (at election time, anyway).
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        Jun 5 2011: Richard, an excellent point. Central planning, whether by Government or by corporations is not great. I think I just trust corporations to do a better job of it than a government!!!
        If you want a task performing, do you ask the government to do it, or if it's really important, do you ask a private company?
        - A visit to a hospital for an important operation, I think I trust a private healthcare company way more than the UK national health service
        - Pension provision so I don't starve in my old age? Yep, you bet, I want a private pension I can trust, not some useless government scheme
        Time and time again, given a really important choice, you'd always turn to a corporation not a tax stealing, central planning, useless Government.
        • Jun 5 2011: All well and good if you can afford to pay the private company. Nothing like the minor things in life like health, justice, education and infrastructure only for those who can afford it. Can't think how this might go wrong.

          Big companies or big government can go bad when too few have too much power. Governments may be getting big but the alternative of no government is terrible. Hold your government to account through a good system of voting and transparency. As for this being bad for business some would argue that the flourishing economies in the world are so because of stable systems of government.
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        Jun 5 2011: Hi Richard
        Haha, I probably would prefer a plutocracy! (No, just kiddin', don't really like any Government(.
        So help me out here..
        - Do you want a Government, elected by most people?
        - Do you then empower that Government to do what it wants, eg: steal 68% of my money each month?
        - Do you trust the Government to Plan and to Interfere in our matters?
        Wouldn't it be better to have no Government, and we just get on with our lives without these parasites interfering? Here in the UK, just over OVER!!! 50% of the workforce in employed by the Government's money, isn't that insane? Only 20% of the population is actually gainfully employed in the Private Sector (inventing Social Networking sites, tailors, building cars etc) doing private sector work. So, 20% of the population carry the other 80% of the country!!!!!!!
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          Jun 6 2011: **********Richard- Is this the Clay Shirky link? When i clicked to check it - I got a message that said it was private. I love that link! Is there any way to make it work?
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          Jun 8 2011: James: Yes, hence my quesiton to you on other threads directly challenging you about China!
          Plutocracy seems to be where your theories direct us.
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        Jun 5 2011: Hi there Jamie.
        I wasn't asking about what we can each afford (I want a bigger plane, faster speedboat, a better heart surgeon or whatever) it's about who would you trust to do a better job. So here in the UK, most folks I know would trust a private hospital more than a government one. Most people would trust a private pension than a state pension. Most people would trust a private detective than the Police etc etc. Most people would trust a Private school more than a Government one (although actually not me, I was keen that my children went to local state schools).
        So, when it comes to mattes of life and death, health, pensions, education etc, I think most people (if they can afford it) would prefer a private company to perform that service than a Government.
        So therefore, isn't it better that everyone and everything be provided by the Companies that we all Trust so more than Governments (who we don't trust [and they steal my money])???