Category Archives: Morality

Direct Democracy and the Safety Net

 I must admit I enjoy reading nineteenth century novels. Behind their dusty covers dwell men and women still deeply concerned about the dictates of morality, though like us they live within an increasingly modern, dehumanizing world.

Honest and good people there endure grim straits the likes of which our own poor and disadvantaged, protected by various welfare programs and not much limited by class distinctions, will never really know. Yet these fictional characters often strive to maintain their dignity, their values, and their independence.

I don’t enjoy such reading because I harbor any sadistic inclinations toward my fellow human beings: I simply recognize and appreciate the profound truth that even marginally good people, when individually burdened by the full weight of their own moral decisions, will often nobly rise to the occasion — and so receive the aid of those around them who judge their actions worthy of it. Yet I realize as well that these same marginally good people, if forever afforded the chance to shift a part of that moral burden onto others, may do so without much concern for the people who now must share the consequences of those same important decisions.

This dramatic human dynamic, of course, could be dismissed as just another element of good, effective fiction; and so it is. But the best fiction also rings true.  And the truth is that when our moral duty to one another is preempted by a government and its safety net provisions, the concept of morality itself becomes for many a vague, lazily appreciated abstraction.

It might be asserted — quite convincingly as well — that it would be better to eliminate opportunities for moral distinctions among us altogether than to subject the poor and disadvantaged to what might prove to be our moral failings. But if our beneficent government then fails to make the proper distinctions between those who merit aid and those who do not, thus exacting sacrifices from honest and moral people for the sake of supporting dishonest and immoral ones, not only have we forsaken our own sounder moral judgments and our strongest virtues to an increasingly immoral, collectivized state; but we may well be imperiling the state itself by so burdening the best among us in order to support the worst among us.

Properly designed,  a system of direct democracy provides the responsive, dynamic flexibility necessary to set and reset the aid given in each community to the poor and disadvantaged to the right balance between the private sector and the public sector — a balance that may well shift over time and between locales — hopefully always in the direction of replacing public sector aid with private sector aid and in the direction both of encouraging individual responsibility and of restoring financial solvency and civic good faith.

The National Budget under Direct Democracy

 The so-called “power of the purse,” one among an enumerated few bestowed upon Congress in the Founders’ Constitution, has long since proven, to the surprise no doubt of fewer still, by far the most corrupting. Indeed this indispensable authority to appropriate tax revenue now represents the greatest threat to the future prospects of this nation. Naturally then it also constitutes one of the more challenging powers to tame and to integrate into the faithful service of a national system of direct democracy.

Currently many revenues raised and already appropriated by Congress may yet be blocked by a handful of powerful budget committee chairpersons  — according to whatever criteria might force or stay their hands. But neither these “gatekeepers,” nor even the committees over which they preside, were ever mentioned by the Founders in the Constitution: These were the innovations of subsequent Congresses.

In spite of — or perhaps owing to — these and other congressional innovations,  rare now are any full, year-round budgets appropriated and authorized by the various committees of Congress. Instead, many may pass but one continuing resolution after another in order to ensure the funding of the many agencies, departments and programs of the federal government.

And this proposed direct democracy, at least with respect to the federal budget, is itself a form of national continuing resolution.

All other departments, agencies, offices and courts of law not superseded or abrogated by this Constitution shall retain the same allotted percentage of public revenues, powers of regulation, oversight and enforcement, and restrictions under law as established prior to ratification, until a proposition alternative for reform of that government body or office, introduced by the People or by the principal officer of the government body or office in question, certified in at least ninety-five percent of precincts subject to its oversight and authority, receives an aggregate of fifty-one percent of votes among said precincts.

(from Article 1, Section 4)

As the priorities of the voting public naturally shift over time, this budgetary “frozen pie chart” might be altered in any national electoral initiative — altered perhaps concurrently with the election of a presidential candidate as a new form of electoral mandate akin to today’s party platform: Thus, with the election of a given candidate the defense segment of the budget, which now stands near 24% of the whole, might be reduced to the 22% health care is now allotted and vice versa.

If these important percentages stood unaltered longer than many might like, the actual revenues raised and spent, as ever, would depend upon existing fees and tax rates. The proposed constitution provides for its own major source of revenue akin to the abolished income tax. (see The Immoral Income Tax and Direct Democracy) A property usage fee, specifically, would serve as a progressive form of revenue generator that, unlike the income tax, neither discourages small business enterprise nor encourages mass resource exploitation and blind urban sprawl.

Some might believe that budgetary appropriations ought to be much more fluid, subject to constant voter correction. But these governmental expenditures are not mere figures on a page: resources are committed and lives changed. Were daily polls to decide the fate of previously authorized, let alone disbursed, government expenditures, the ensuing waste of resources would no doubt prove worse than what prevails today.

Yet the national budget need not be balanced from year to year, so long as debts arising from unforeseeable exigencies were borne by current citizens rather than passed on to future generations. Thus, a constitutional amendment explicitly precludes the transfer of debt:

Amendment X – No law enacted by electoral initiative or otherwise shall establish a debt, project or fiscal program where the financing thereof would obligate future citizens to the financial commitments of current voters. Appropriations shall be drawn from revenues collected within one year of their appropriation through floating debt and the collection of these fees and revenues only:

-Usage fees levied upon persons whose activities degrade or monopolize public property;
-Usage fees levied upon persons enjoying exclusive use of land, in proportion to its acreage and the volume, mass and scarcity of natural resources therein;
-Usage fees levied upon foreign governments for involvement of United States military personnel, equipment or weaponry in operations outside the territory of the United States, at the request of said governments, which would otherwise be the responsibility of any sovereign nation to itself;
-Misusage fees levied upon persons whose activities, whether intentional or negligent, damage public property;
-Misusage fees levied upon persons whose activities damage the private property of another person, or impede its exclusive use by barring lawful access to it, or operation of it; physically altering it or its value; or otherwise converting or making improbable its peaceable, lawful, exclusive enjoyment; thereby necessitating the intervention of law enforcement or courts of law;
-Misusage fees levied upon persons who assume unnecessary risks or file frivolous complaints that require emergency public services or courts of law;
-Sales of forfeited, seized property;
-Sales of goods processed or manufactured by state-confined workers; or revenues from the contracting-out of their services;
-Sales of government property to allies of the United States, upon a two-thirds majority vote among the Governors and a unanimous vote between the President and the Cabinet—or the Defense Cabinet, in the case of military property;
-Duties, imposts and excises;
-Safety-inspection and handling charges;
-Any fiscal-program income deduction annually re-authorized by electoral initiative.

All fees shall reflect the actual duration and costs of use or misuse, so that collections in anticipation of use may necessitate reimbursement.

No law enacted by precinct electoral initiative shall institute or increase an appropriation from revenues derived in part or in full from another precinct, unless with a fifty-one percent consenting vote within the latter precinct, or unless authorized by this Constitution; nor withhold or disburse revenues lawfully collected for and due to a city, county or state government, or the federal government.

While congressional committees and their distinguished chairs would no longer hold the national purse strings, outlays of revenues would yet require close supervision and control. That critical supervisory role would be granted to the extra-congressional organizations already established under the current system — e.g. the SEC, IRS, FTC — and duly reauthorized by the incoming Cabinet, a process shepherded by the new Attorney General — now an elected official running on the same ticket with the President and the Vice President, third in succession to the highest office. (see The Presidency, the Vice Presidency and Direct Democracy)

Amendment XI – The power to appropriate revenues and the exercise of oversight, investigative and regulatory authority formerly delegated to the United States Congress by the original Constitution, where not previously delegated by the former, shall be delegated by the Attorney General to, and in turn by, the appropriate executive appointees, whose official acts may be halted by the President, the Attorney General, or by a three-fifths majority of the Governors, when deemed unlawful, wasteful or predominantly political in nature…

In most cases, the People themselves surely lack the time and the enduring interest to study the issues concerned, to weigh their competing priorities, and to stipulate the requirements for each prospective budgetary appropriation. The proliferation of the internet, doubtless, will broaden the capacity of the voting public to determine even the minutiae of appropriations democratically; but until such time as a secure, reliable system were designed, approved, and disseminated, these responsibilities ought remain with dedicated professionals. 

The President, insofar as the budget were concerned, would be only a coequal to the Attorney General and the Governors of the States and would retain the veto power only over those legislative measures enacted as regulations by the agencies created or reauthorized by an acting Cabinet for that task.

We the People, however, through our electoral initiative process, would inherit the authority not only to enact and to alter existing statutory law; but, in rare instances and with rarer consensuses — to alter the American political system itself.

The “Virtue” of Partisan Loyalty

 Humans, should they mature into strongly moral individuals, must first acknowledge and endure the broader consequences of their actions, directly and personally. But most do not. Instead they cede their own free will to others; they shelter themselves within groups — whether familial, political, sports, religious, etc. — or they act in the names of those whose causes they arrogate unto themselves.

And within these groups this loyalty is widely considered to be a great virtue. More commonly though, it proves a great vice. For the truest test of one’s loyalty to any group comes not with a righteous defense of the truly innocent but with a bold-faced, spirited defense of the unquestionably guilty. Loyalty, in this sense, perpetuates immorality.