A Desire for Central Planning

Eamonn Butler thinks that Canada’s spending reform model is the solution for governments with spending problems:

The Canadians’ first move was to appoint a minister for public-service renewal — a single individual with the authority to drive change and make sure that all ministers did their bit. They put nothing off limits, not even health care. There were no spending targets because they knew that departments simply spend up to such limits. But there was a complete review of all government activity.
Ministers had to define what their department was for and ask whether it really needed civil servants, or could it be done better by private bodies or by the public themselves. With a reform minister rather than a finance minister in charge, everyone bought into this as a total rethink of how the government served citizens, not just an exercise in penny-pinching.

I don’t know enough about Canadian politics to know whether Butler’s characterization is accurate or how the structure of government differs from that of the United States, but a couple of general observations are still possible. First, such a program depends heavily on the person in the reform ministry chair. Inasmuch as we don’t have a parliamentary system, I would argue that our chief executive, the president, should fill that role, and that the people of the nation should vote to select him.
The related “second” is that benevolent dictatorships look good on paper but require a sacrifice of liberty and self-governance that is (and ought to be) anathema to the American system. If subordinate ministers did not rebel and workers did not strike, it is probable that they had some confidence in the particular leader to address matters as fairly as possible. But it is also probable that they saw no benefit in doing so, because that leader had power over them.
My suggestion is that the United States should head in the other direction: less government intervention. The reason our politics are so contentious and our special interests so gargantuan and influential is that we’ve consolidated far too much power in Washington, D.C. Spread that out, back to states and municipalities, and not only will there be less motivation for lobbyists to consolidate attention on federal seats, but the people will be better able to mount counter actions, thus increasing pressure on special interests to keep their demands reasonable.

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Tim
Tim
11 years ago

Thing to remember about Canada is that while it’s the 2nd largest country in the world landmass wise it’s population of 33 million is less than that of California. It’s economy is also smaller than California.
Central planning in Ottawa would be the equivalent to central planning in Sacramento.
Might be a good model for some states to use but there is no way this would fly on a federal level.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Let me get this straight, you think Canada is a dictatorship? You totally crack me up sometimes.
I look forward to your follow up post calling for the elimination of the WTO, World Bank, and the National Endowment for Democracy due to their capitalist “central” planning being foisted upon and restricting the liberty the rest of the world. I say you’re all for central planning when it benefits your corporatist and casino capitalist worldview.

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

Frankly, your suggestion sucks.
I really love it when folks think the solution is returning more power to the “Rhode Islands” and “Providences” of the country!
Maybe you should read your own words about RI and local politics!
As bad as the Feds are, if you want to see even more problems, institute more “home rule”. With that you are giving the money directly to the people who steal it!
Me thinks you are just a complainer who will never change a thing, but – like all complainers – can always find something to gripe about. Beside, it calls attention to yourself, something every human strives for.
Maybe you should consider becoming part of the solution instead of the problem – we have enough complainers and uneducated tea partiers as it stands.

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

My suggestion is that the United States should head in the other direction: less government intervention. –Katz
Katz Do you think that the federal government should or should not require an underperforming school like Central Falls to take action to make improvement in their testing results?

Andrew
Editor
11 years ago

Stuart,
You’ve managed to answer your own question from several threads ago about the goals of the Tea Party movement. Tea Partiers seek an alternative to the ideology that holds that making remote units of government more powerful should be assumed to be the default solution to any policy problem — which happens to be the dominant governing ideology of the national Democratic party right now, with perhaps some significant leeway existing in the realm of education.
Glad the blog could be here to help you work through that.

John
John
11 years ago

Justin,
We have three choices: (1) engage in prolonged trench warfare over spending cuts with the public sector unions and supporters of the myriad of social welfare programs funded by RI taxpayers; (2) Challenge them, with the support of said taxpayers, to see by how much they can raise the value they deliver in exchange for the current level of taxes — this is what Canada did at both the federal and provincial level, and the result are governments that deliver much more value for money to much more satisfied taxpayers; or (3) move out of RI.
Regarding (2), you can look for evidence of how it might turn out to both the Big Audit and Supt. Gallo’s recent actions in Central Falls. One points you towards option (3). The other suggests (2) might have a better chance of succeeding now than in the past.
Tough call.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Russ,
“Benevolent dictator” is more a political abstraction than description. It’s akin to folks’ on your side saying that conservatives want a “lawless Wild West.”

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

[Not allowed — JK]

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

A lawless wild west? No, I’d say folks on my side think many conservatives would prefer a police state. The right is all for instruments of state power so long as that power is used for things like the protection of private property, rounding up undocumented workers, growing the military and “defense” industries, suppressing dissent, etc.
You’re mistaken about the left, not to be confused with the Democratic party which is hardly the party of the left anymore at least on a national level. William Blum put it this way (“Congress of Corruption”):

Activists have to remind the American people of what they’ve already learned but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want more government, or less government; they don’t want big government, or small government; they want government on their side.

As I see it, you tea party folks are one-handed leftists: suspicious of government control as a form of tyranny (at least during Democratic administrations) but possessing a blind faith in the benign stewardship of private tyranny (read the “free” market).

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.
The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Message from the President of the United States Transmitting Recommendations Relative to the Strengthening and Enforcement of Anti-trust Laws”

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Russ-I think the government should definitely arrest illegal aliens.
I also think they should protect private property.You don’t believe in private property?Can someone steal your boat?You wouldn’t press charges if you actaullay are sincere.Give me a break,Russ.You like what you own as much as anyone else.And I’m sure you got it through honest effort.Get real.
Joe

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Joe, I’m not the one railing against “big government.” As to private property, it depends on what you mean. Who owns the oceans or the sky? Who owns the airwaves, the national parks, the human genome, a musical riff, or a piece of art?
And I’m not so sure I like what I own as much as everyone else. I’ve never been that into stuff. Sounds like projection to me (and hands off my boat).

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

You actually have a boat?I thought you told me you did,but i wasn’t sure.
What’s up with the sky and ocean thing?
Private is your home and possessions.If that is unreasonable than I guess I’m guilty of projection.I didn’t exactly steal whatever I have and I pay my taxes on time.Do you?Some big time liberal/progressives have tax “issues”.
Joe Almeida for one.Remember?And he had the gall to suggest an expanded sales tax.Which is actually very regressive.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Russ-WHY would a piece of art be public property.Sometimes you don’t make sense.
I do agree about the airwaves,however.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“WHY would a piece of art be public property”
There are plenty of examples of art in the public domain. I’m a Shepard Fairey fan (by the comments below that post I see that you’re familiar with his work too). I was also thinking of the battles over music sampling where copyright laws have been used to stifle much of the creativity that was going on in hip hop. Caught, Can We Get A Witness?

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“You actually have a boat?”
Yep, little 16′ (good memory!). Definitely an exception to my comment above about “stuff” (I love to fish and so by association am kind of attached to the boat).
“What’s up with the sky and ocean thing?”
This is one of the areas where property gets more muddled. I’m of the belief that things like the ocean or the air are collectively owned, an example of where I don’t believe in private property (see more detailed analysis of differing libertarian views on property here).

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

I never downloaded music,so I know little about the whole subject.
I was thinking more like if you see a print for sale and buy it,well,that is private property.
There is the whole question of intellectual property which is something for lawyers to fight over.
I’m not aware of circumstances where the ocean is privately owned in any part.We’re not discussing beach property,are we?
Public parks are collectively owned,but simply because you or I are part “owners”deosn’t give us the right to litter,vandalize,etc.

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