Tuesday, July 01, 2008

p06 Storehouse Governance

Towards an International Workplace Constitution, II

By John Taylor; 2008 July 01, 08 Rahmat, 165 BE


Yesterday we discussed the question of "followership." Leaders of opinion rail against poor leadership but rarely do you hear the masses lambasted for poor "followership," except maybe in popular wisdom, like the English saying: "A people get the leaders they deserve," and Cicero's principle that "People always hate anyone who is a better man than themselves." Cicero attributed to Heraclites a tale of a leading citizen of Ephesus who was banished for being too virtuous. They announced that no "individual among us must ever be allowed to rise above the rest. Anyone who aspires to such a thing must go and live in another place, among other people." Heraclites thought that this was deplorable and that the entire population of Ephesus deserved to be put to death for that law. Cicero generalized about what now would be called "in-groups" and imitation,


"You get that feeling in every community. People always hate anyone who is better than themselves. What a lot of trouble one avoids if one refuses to have anything to do with the common herd! To have no job, to direct one's time to literature, is the most wonderful thing in the world!" (Cicero, Discussions at Tusculum, 5.36.104, quoted in Graham Higgin, Porcupines, A Philosophical Anthology, Alan Lane, The Penguin Press, London, 1999, pp. 38-39)


I think that this touches on a ubiquitous current of opinion in any group or society. Tension between "us" and "them" tempts in-groups into anti-intellectualism and persecution of those who stand out. Meanwhile those left out or rejected react with anti-social or escapist leanings. Abdu'l-Baha, who was Himself a victim of similar opposition, both passive and active, from almost His entire family, emphasized forcefully that any breach between those who fit in and those who stand out cannot be regarded as natural or tolerable. Humans are social by nature and we need to arrange things in such a way that we can express this nature without conflict or tensions. In the talk to the socialists we featured here recently,




He strongly emphasizes that we need close social integration because it is fundamental to our nature. Humans cannot live for long in isolation from our peers. Having asserted this forcefully in the first part of this address, He then goes on to detail how the workplace can be adjusted to accommodate the disabled, average workers and overachievers, assuring that all participate productively in the workplace.


Only lately have I realized some of the wider implications of this economic "storehouse" system proposed by the Master. For example, in yesterday's Toronto Star a front page article has the headline, "The cheque's not in the mail; Backlog of infrastructure projects keeps growing as Ontario cities wait for cash promised by Ottawa." It goes on to explain that projects bolstering essential infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, airports and subways, in Canada are paid in a split arrangement, one-third by the federal government, one-third by the provincial and the last by local coffers. (Toronto Star, June 30, 2008, A1) Unfortunately, the national and provincial governments for years have bogged down in negotiations over who pays for what. Meanwhile, local administrators are afraid to go ahead with these large-scale initiatives for fear of being left in the lurch by those holding the purse strings higher up.


The local storehouse proposed by the Master for rural municipalities is financially far more powerful and autonomous than any local government, rural or urban, in Canada today. This makes it very much in the interest of the national government to have thriving local governments. If a storehouse does not do well, if for example local farmers go into the red, it will bog down and no money flows in as national revenue. Instead of localities going hat in hand to federal authority, the burden is on the other side. This gives a huge incentive for cooperation to central governments.


Storehouses also seem to treat individuals more like businesses, with declarable working expenses, net and gross profits, the latter of which only are taxed as income. This may have been too complicated to implement when the Master proposed it, but now with computerized banking it is seriously proposed that individuals instead of just holding bank accounts become banks themselves. That is, they could operate their finances as chartered banks do, independently investing, lending and borrowing. This reform is not being done because of huge vested interests of the banking lobby, not on its own merits.


It is astonishing that He gives local administrators all locally generated revenues, not just income tax but also mineral rights and even treasures found on local land! This is unprecedented. Think of the implications. If a diamond mine were discovered under my house here in Dunnville, the mayor and counsel would not have to ask any external body to develop it. They could hold an auction for mineral developers, borrow on that collateral and finance the whole project, without asking any other government or corporation for handouts. Contrast that with the backlog of basic infrastructure financing that is presently endemic in Canada and (perhaps for different reasons) throughout the United States.


On the other hand, He does not make local government into its own fiefdom. Once the basic needs of people living there are covered, the entire surplus automatically goes on to the national government (the Canadian constitution follows the American in introducing a third level of bureaucracy, the state or provincial level, a dubious idea not much imitated elsewhere). Getting rid of the whole surplus right away eliminates the temptation to spend frivolously while other places starve for funds. As it is now, there are big inequalities in revenue among prosperous and depressed regions. On the provincial level Canadians use clumsy equalization payments to balance rich provinces like Alberta with poor ones like Newfoundland. Now that oil prices are soaring, this inequity is expanding even more. Worse, any attempt to reform this basic revenue dysfunction would require a constitutional amendment, and extremely difficult and contentious process requiring unanimity on all levels.


This leads to what I think is the most brilliant stroke of genius to the Master's "storehouse" proposal. As mentioned, He starts off by saying that we are all by nature social beings, utterly dependent upon society for our very survival. A stone or tree can exist separately from others of its kind, but not most animals and never humans. The higher the intelligence the greater the social debt. By starting off with this often forgotten or ignored aspect of our nature, both physical and spiritual, He as it were writes reciprocity into the very "constitution" of our future economy. If an individual cheats on his income tax, he is not bravely asserting independence; he is breaking the Golden Rule, basely betraying the very font of existence, the social umbilical cord that keeps us all alive.


What is more, the people elected as trustees to the local storehouse are not appointed from above, they are elected from among the local population. They are your neighbor, your cousin, your own. Yesterday we cited studies that prove that this kind of democratic election of a Primus Inter Pares from among peers known to you personally is the oldest and most natural way of running things.


The sad fact is that in most companies and governments today administrators are appointed from outside the workplace. This assures that their loyalties and priorities stay firmly elsewhere too. When a boss excels at his job, the super-rich celebrate, not the poor blighters underneath him. In the Master's storehouse system, if a local government rules well and the area thrives, everybody in the community has good reason to take pride in the accomplishment. In such a system, dare I even say it? Bosses and politicians would be local heroes. In such a system, Cicero's principle would be reversed; people would always love a better man or woman than themselves.

No comments: