Monday, October 10, 2005

"Making Democracy Work"

Mr. Leonardi,

I wish to ask you what do you think about this ideas:

1. Popper defines two categories of culture: the open and the closed society
2. It seems to me that in your book "Making Democracy Work" you suggest that a community appears around a culture which is difficult to change later, during the life of the community, from one of the above mentioned categories to the other one. Indeed, it seems that one community must briefly disappear before a new community can appear under a culture from the other category.
Community - a group of people that solve public problems in common, according with some social rules named "culture"
3. Daniel Goleman, in his "Emotional Intelligence" book, in chapter 16, describes a program that was successful in American ghettos. If you want, I can try to summarize for you the information about this very promising program. Of course, I do not know from any other source about this program, but the rest of the book makes sense to me, both from a scientific point of view, and also from the author's target point of view. And, anyway, the solution to the problem of modernization of traditionalist societies without using violence (which is pretty ineffective, as one can see in any former colony), passes through education. I believe this should be obvious.

Note: Popper confesses that he never met any person who lived only under democratic regimes who understood his theory about the open society. You will realize that it was vital to explain to westerners what is at stake. The main problem in a totalitarian society is not that you are starving, literally, but that you are dehumanized. If you become a human, than you are tortured and killed.

Now I shall try to summarize Popper, for point #1:

According to Popper, in his book "The Open Society And Its Enemies", we can divide cultures into two categories: the totalitarian one, in which people do not cooperate to solve common problems, but wait the solution to come from a superman savior who should put everybody to work, and the democratic one, in which citizens care about public matters, being, by the contrary, suspicious about their momentary leaders. The first culture is collectivistic, which means that the interests of the group (nation, tribe, family) have precedence over those of the individuals, the second one is individualistic, which means that the state institutions have the main function of protecting the individual rights of the citizens. The first culture is always at war or revolution, the second is usually liberal and tries to solve problems one by one in a rational way. The first culture is essentialist (the nation has a soul and it is eternal), the second one is more formalistic: it establishes common targets which are verified using statistics. The first culture is specific to feudalism, the second is specific to technologically advanced societies. (There have been original touches :))

So: are these common rules a possible culprit for lasting poverty in otherwise advantaged regions (no foreign threats, some material and know how transfers from wealthy regions etc.?)
And could education for students between 14 and 19 years old provide a solution?

As a comment, have you noticed, like Popper, how closed are most intelectuals to new ideas, even when they should be most interested, according to their profession and published articles? I can explain this through fear of retaliation from their narrow group of interests. Anyway ...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

BBC - Rebate

EU, and, for that matter, the world, should raise taxes and transfer money to well chosen points in economy. Those taxes can be on income, individual or GDP, or GNP, or on the value added, or on property, or a combination of these, and should show equal tax rates among nations. The transfers should go in several important places, not all of them to agriculture.

Politically, there should be, let's say, three elected rooms, one with representatives proportional to population, another proportional to GDP, another proportional to income per capita. It is important to allocate political decisions among these rooms in a way that protects lives of people (unbearable decisions are not made) and still initiatives are followed. For example, in US, the Senate can defend, to some extend, the interests of smaller states, which are less represented in the Congress.

First of all, there should be transfers to the individuals, rather than agriculture. Then, there should be macro motivated transfers, to initiate projects that would not spring from private enterprise.

As a rule, Europe went wrong. Continental Europe made bad decisions, like small inflation for euro, during a recession, and UK has not proposed anything sensible (even though they could, coming from a healthy capitalist economy and a good school of economics), while it preferred to stay out of the game. All players lost. Another problem with euro is that there was no provision for fighting recession on small regions, since national currency inflation was no more possible. For example, there could be regional tax reductions (rebates) or money transfers.

Another obvious problem is the complete lack of feedback to and control of the EU administration. Top officials gained financially and politically from the increase in value of euro while they were cutting social aid in EU countries. The Constitution draft provided indeed institutions for a more efficient production in EU, but when I looked on the Internet I had a surprise: the social assistance was to be provided according to whatever national law is in place. First of all, the Constitution is above the national laws, so the five lines chapter could have been missing altogether, and secondly I could not find any link for a comment, feedback, or forum on the official page containing the Constitution draft. Better control systems of the EU administration could use IT technology and Alvin Toffler's proposals in his book "The Third Wave".

It would be a good idea to reduce subsidies for agriculture in Europe, while passing the money saved to the poor. That should allow for higher quality and diversity of food on the market, and higher standard of living for most people. However, in places where bureaucracy and justice are costly (inefficient), one could expect big companies taking over small farms, in spite of the fact that new technologies make small farms economically feasible. Big companies and big bureaucracies make good friends. Still, a small and gradual reduction in subsidies for agriculture should be tried, I think, provided that the money saved from this go to the poor to make up for the inevitable increase of prices for food.