My brain seems to be naturally wired to question the status quo. That doesn’t make for a peaceful life, but the search for better ways of doing things is intellectually rewarding—if nothing else—and I guess some of us have to do it.
I try hard not to be destructive—there is much that is good out there, which is best left alone—but I doubt that few would deny that there is room for improvement in how we govern ourselves. In fact, I hold to the view that we don’t give it nearly enough thought. Instead, we grumble about government, but devote our talents and energy to other matters.
My sense is that we’d be better off if we really did govern ourselves. I’m not advocating rugged individualism, or less government. Instead, I’m exploring more effective government—and how the gap between between the ordinary citizen and government can be narrowed. Here, I don’t claim to have found the answers as yet, but I’m convinced this goal is worth serious further research. Just because we’ve always done things a particular way doesn’t mean mean there isn’t a better way.
Let me list some guiding principles:
- The status quo is unacceptable.
- People have to feel part of something if it is to work well—and particularly if change is involved.
- People can’t feel part of something unless there is a climate of trust.
- People can’t feel part of something unless they are kept well informed. As matters stand, that is not the situation.
- A ‘them and us’ environment tends to be destructive—and, at present, that is the situation between the average citizen and the government..
- Fast computers, the high speed internet, modern communications plus technology allow us to do things that would have been inconceivable—even in the past. Now, my sense is that we are reaching critical mass in terms of capabilities.
- The split between government and the governed is man-made—so can be changed.
- Congressional districts are so large—the current average is 710,767 per district—the relationship between citizen and member of Congress virtually has to be distant. It is made even more so by the fact that members listen mostly to those who fund them.
- Reform of the constitution is long overdue.
- Gerrymandering has to be be done away with.
- The excessive influence of money in politics has to be curbed.
- We need a structure at local level which will tie everyone into the business of government. I don’t know exactly what form it should take as yet, but it should be interactive with a strong emphasis on information and communication.
- There is no reason why people should not work for both private businesses and government at the same time—possibly by splitting the working week. This should not be confused with privatizing (which has a murky track record).
The Swiss can field a formidable military force in a very short period of time. It is well armed, well trained and proficient. Much of the administrative burden is handled within the context of people’s normal jobs. This cuts costs dramatically. Total expenditure is only 0.9% of GDP (perhaps a fifth of U.S. military expenditure according to how you calculate). The Swiss military system also functions as social glue and a superb networking environment—useful in a nation which splits into German, French, Italian and Romansch speaking populations.
Declaration of interest: I spent some months in Switzerland while researching my book, GAMES OF THE HANGMAN. This included research into the Swiss military. There is much we can learn from the Swiss—and, in my experience—they are certainly not dull.
Photo is of a Swiss Air Force F-5E Tiger II crossing a road between the runway and an aircraft cavern in Mollis airfield. in 1999.