Tue Feb 19, 2013, 10:21 AM
Tace (6,717 posts)
Skin In The Game | John Michael Greer
Feb. 13, 2013 (Archdruid Report) -- The old-fashioned school districts that provided me with a convenient example in last week’s post here on The Archdruid Report represent a mode of politics that nobody, but nobody, talks about in today’s America. Across the whole landscape of our contemporary political life, with remarkably few exceptions, when people talk about the relationship between the political sphere and the rest of life, the political sphere they have in mind consists of existing, centralized governmental systems.
That’s as true of those who denounce political interference in the lives of individuals and communities, by and large, as it is of those who insist that such interference can be a very good thing. It’s as though, in the American collective imagination, the political sphere consists only of the established institutions of government, and the established -- and distinctly limited -- ways that individual citizens can have an influence on those institutions. The idea that citizens might create their own local political structures, for purposes they themselves choose, and run them themselves, using the tools of democratic process, has vanished completely from our national conversation.
Less than a lifetime ago, however, this was a standard way of making constructive change in America. Local school districts were only one example, though they were probably the most pervasive. Most of the time, when people in a community wanted to create some public amenity or solve some community problem, they did it by creating a local, single-purpose governmental body with an elected board and strictly limited powers of taxation to pay the bills. Sewer districts, streetcar lines, public hospitals, you name it, that’s usually how they were run. The state government had supervision over all these bodies, which was normally taken care of by -- you guessed it -- state boards whose members were, once again, elected by the general public.
Was it a perfect system? Of course not. The interlocking checks and balances of board supervision and elections were no more foolproof than any other mode of democratic governance, and a certain fraction of these single-purpose local governmental bodies failed due to corruption or mismanagement. Still, a substantial majority of them do seem to have worked tolerably well, and they had a crucial advantage not shared by today’s more centralized ways of doing things: if something went wrong, the people who had the power to change things were also the people most directly affected.
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Skin In The Game | John Michael Greer (Original post)
Response to Tace (Original post)
Tue Feb 19, 2013, 12:29 PM
Hestia (2,616 posts)
1. Again, a fantastic read by John Michael Greer
These three factors—the lack of accountability endemic to centralized professional bureaucracies; the tendency for money to get lost as it works its way down through the myriad layers of a centralized system; and the unhelpful feedback loops that spring up when the policy-making and monitoring functions of government are confounded—go a long ways to explain the cascading failure of many of the basic systems that an older, more localized, and less centralized approach to government used to maintain in relatively good order. The accelerating decline of American public education and the disintegration of the national infrastructure are only two examples of this effect in practice; there are plenty of others—a great deal of what’s wrong with America’s health care system, for example, can be traced to the same process of overcentralization.