A Kinder, Wiser Democracy

Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Nations

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Dark, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair . . .”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities



This is a story of two imaginary countries: Gstan & Hstan.

These two nations share the same continent: Gstan has the northern half and Hstan has the southern half. A chain of mountains traverses both nations along the eastern side, flanked by another chain on its western side. In between the two ranges lie the plains of Gstan and Hstan where the farms, towns, and cities are located. Both nations have similar climates, with similar dry and wet areas, with similar hot and cold areas.

Both nations have very similar economies. For instance, they have about the same number of Farmers, who own fields, pastures, orchards, fish reserves, and small factories to grow and produce the food. Each Farmer is an independent business person and belongs to a respected profession in both lands.

Both nations have about the same number of Makers, whose products range from kitchenware to automobiles to farm machinery to computers.

Both nations have their Miners. Each Miner owns property in one of the two mountain ranges. The East Mountains contain minerals such as iron, copper, and tin. The West Mountains contain coal. Both mountain ranges are covered in forests, which the Miners also harvest for paper and lumber.

Both nations have their Service Providers, who are the police officers, teachers, doctors and nurses, the water and electricity plant workers, truck drivers, and government administrators.

The citizens of Gstan and Hstan, although not overly rich, do have a little disposable income from their labor and business initiatives to spend on their own enjoyment. When they want to partake in the better things their society offers, they have two possible choices:

  • They can spend their disposable income on the Artists who produce theatre, music, paintings, and sculptures. Artists and Makers are frequently working together to create, for a little profit, goods that are both artistic and practical.

  • They can visit the establishments run by Casino Operators. Here, citizens can indulge in a little gambling, possibly increase their wealth, and enjoy some of the excitement that gambling offers.

In both Gstan and Hstan, the Artists and the Casino Operators thrive in about the same proportion.

Both nations are actually quite self-sufficient, and as a result, there is very little trade between them. When one sees how similar these two countries are, it’s difficult to see the one big difference between them: their systems of governance.

The citizens of Gstan have decided that those citizens elected to positions of government really cannot be trusted. Therefore Gstan has devised all sorts of laws and regulations that prevent untrustworthy elected citizens from abusing their position for their own profit.  “Because it is hard to prove who is trustworthy from who is untrustworthy,” say the political philosophers of Gstan, “trustworthy elected officials have to abide by the rules made for the untrustworthy.”

While the Gstan society has shackled its elected officials in their legislative deliberations, it has also decided to give its citizens an extremely large amount of freedom: as long as one citizen’s actions do not directly interfere with the life of another, that citizen is free to continue that action. “It is far better,” the recognized thinkers of Gstan say, “that average citizens have the freedom to act as fools than to have one untrustworthy official get away with a corrupt deed.”

Hstan, on the other hand, has a different approach in governance. It has decided that it does have many trustworthy and capable citizens in its midst. Hstan has devised an electoral process that is good at putting these trustworthy people into positions of governance and a legislative process that encourages these minds to work together rather than compete for power.

Hstan has also recognized that civil liberties are not an absolute concept. For any society to function, it must provide a certain degree of freedom and it must create laws that limit freedom. These liberties will change as the society changes.

Rather than enshrine these freedoms into a constitution, the citizens trust their elected officials and their legislative processes to make the changes as needed.

So here we have two nations with very similar economies and social structures. Only their systems of governance differ. Do we dare imagine their destinies?



The Rise of Gambling in Gstan
In Gstan, the Casino Operators have banded together to devise a clever business plan to increase their business. Instead of competing with each other for the same number of gamblers, they collectively decide to market all their casinos to those citizens who are not gamblers. Working together, the Casino Operators create a long-term advertising campaign that shows gambling casinos as “the place to be,” “the place for fun and excitement,” and “the place where everyone else is.” Because Gstan is a free country, there is nothing to stop this advertising campaign. 



But in Hstan

Casino Operators in Hstan see what their colleagues in Gstan are doing—and would like to do the same thing. “Not so fast,” say those trustworthy elected officials of Hstan, “we see some social problems that have been created because of gambling. If your vision of increasing the number of gamblers becomes reality, is it not unreasonable to expect the number of social problems is going to increase?”

The elected officials of Hstan feel they need to be more proactive than just making citizens wary of the intent of the Casino Operators in Hstan. They start to engage in some public consultation about the gambling in their nation. The first question they ask is: “If Hstan had more gambling, would this make us a better society?” Very few citizens agree with this statement. A second question arises, “If Hstan reduces the amount of gambling it has now, would this make us a better society?” Most citizens, even many gamblers of Hstan, have to agree. Next the elected officials offer their citizens a third question: “If we want to create a better society, should we direct some of our society’s resources today towards reducing gambling in the future?” Again many citizens think this would be a wise use of their collective resources. Then there is one last question: “Would you trust the government of Hstan to limit a few of our current civil liberties to help this goal?” Because the citizens trust their government, most of them say: “yes.” The government feels it now has attained a long-term mandate to reduce the amount of gambling in Hstan.

Acting on this mandate, the government quickly passes a law that prevents any advertising that depicts gambling as a preferable lifestyle. It sets up a citizens’ board to which Casino Operators must submit their ad copies for approval before they can put these ads in the media outlets. But if any ad seems to be designed to attract gamblers from one casino to another casino, there are no restrictions.

“Censorship,” cry the Casino Operators. “Potential for abuse and corruption,” they shout.  When their rhetoric fails to generate public sympathy, they look for allies: “If the government can take our right to advertise in the way we want to advertise, what is to stop them from taking away rights for Farmers and Makers. If we don’t stop the government now, it will be too late!”

Whether or not they understand the rationale behind the directive for Casino Operators to submit their advertising for approval, the citizens believe that further arbitrary restrictions of a business’s right to advertise are not likely. All the other freedoms citizens have enjoyed for generations will remain intact. The Casino Operators find very little public support for their cause.

The government realizes that reducing gambling is going to be a long-term project. Any resources invested now towards this problem will not bear fruit for at least a decade. It decides it needs a 30-year plan to create a culture that does not promote gambling as a virtue. It realizes that without consultation with the citizens of Hstan, this plan is unlikely to be effective.

Ironically, the first group the government consults with is the Casino Operators. It tells them that the 30-year plan to reduce gambling will probably not have too much effect on their current operations for another decade: the Casino Operators should expect similar profits to what they have been earning. After the first decade, however, the society of Hstan will have fewer gamblers, which means more competition among the Operators for these gamblers.  “As the plan continues to evolve and bear fruit,” says the government, “your profits will decrease. We advise you to start thinking about getting out of this business.”

Some Casino Operators deplore this interference in business, while others do not believe the government is capable of engineering such a shift of values in Hstan society. But other Casino Operators recognize the profits they earn in this next decade will help them move into another occupation.

The government tells the citizens it wants their input into how it can implement the 30-year plan. It uses the elected national, provincial, and local representatives to consult with the citizens to garner ideas and information. With the consultative process, these representatives bring these ideas into one anti-gambling document to which citizens of Hstan can see their ideas and concerns becoming part of the process.

The document has many ideas. For instance: making gambling casinos less visible in the streets and roads of Hstan, government-sponsored advertising that creates a cultural message that gambling is not acceptable, placing a small tax all on wagers, banning the worst forms of gambling, nationalizing other forms of gambling, encouraging the less harmful forms, educating children and youth about the drawbacks of gambling, issuing licenses for gamblers with a limit each gambler can gamble each week, and many more.

One very innovative idea that comes from the first round of consultation is for the Hstan society to place more emphasis on employing Artists: “If we could only create a culture that appreciated art more than we do today, we would not need as much recreational gambling,” is the comment of one thoughtful citizen. From this comment, ideas such as subsidizing the Artists or their works (paid by gambling taxes), more emphasis on art appreciation in schools, providing a free newsletter to all citizens about up-and-coming Artists in Hstan society, and so forth.

The anti-gambling document, created by the citizens of Hstan, becomes an excellent catalyst for more ideas on how to change the values about gambling in their society. The government sets up a second round of consultation to discuss this document and refine and enhance its original ideas. As expected, suggestions in the first document spawn more and better ideas; other concerns are uncovered in the second round that need addressing. This round of consultation produces a much better second document to which the government and the people can use as a guide to attain their collective societal goal for the next 30 years.

The national government then announces its 30-year plan based on the second document. It tells the citizens that it cannot immediately implement all the ideas, but many of the ideas not used today will likely be tried in the future. It also admits that the entire plan should be considered as an experiment. No one really knows how each idea will work, but the government will be watching the progress of each implemented idea and making necessary changes.If results are not forthcoming, the government will discard any ineffective idea—even if it was well thought-out.

The plan also lists the responsibilities for the provincial legislatures and the local councils. Some areas of Hstan think they have special insights into attaining this goal and have prepared an excellent anti-gambling plan of their own. The national government allows these areas the freedom to conduct their own gambling reduction program and expects to learn from these experiments. If the local plans work, the entire society of Hstan can benefit from this experiment. If not and the national plans are bearing fruit, then citizens of these areas will better see the wisdom of the national plans.

Moreover, the plan makes it clear that during this 30-year period no citizen will ever be prevented from gambling nor will any Casino Operator be forced out of business by the government. The plan emphasizes that it will achieve its objectives by a shift in values, not by prohibition.




Back in Gstan

Even though many citizens in Gstan see the logic behind Hstan’s directives, they are quite alarmed that Hstan passed laws to limit the freedom of Casino Operators to advertise. “Such a society,” they say while shaking their heads, “will eventually evolve into a totalitarian regime.”

It is very ironic that they see the advertising restrictions imposed on Casino Operators in Hstan as a violation of individual liberty, yet the Farmers of Gstan have to follow regulations to produce safe food, the Miners of Gstan have regulations about withdrawing the resources from their lands in an ecologically sound way, and the Makers of Gstan have regulations to provide safe work places for their employees.

So the Gstan Casino Operators are unimpeded in implementing their marketing plan to convince citizens of Gstan to partake in the pleasures and excitement of spending their recreational time and disposable income in gambling casinos.

To create the right marketing message, the Casino Operators hire many Artists for their advertising campaign. The Artists are very good at creating the clever slogans, jingles, and scenes to make it look like gambling is a preferable—and traditional—pastime for all citizens of Gstan. The Artists are happy with their improved employment opportunities and appreciative of their creative talents being put to such good use.

For the first five years of the campaign to make gamblers from non-gamblers, the Casino Operators do not earn much additional profit. The extra costs of advertising are just being met by revenue of new recreational gamblers and former recreational gamblers becoming, as some ads say, “very enthusiastic and committed gamblers.”

But slowly, the advertising campaign is changing the value system of Gstan. Gambling becomes an acceptable activity for most citizens. If Gstan sociologists are watching closely, they will observe more “gaming topics” in the idle conversation of average citizens. The traditional topics such as weather, theatrical productions, sports, and politics are being replaced with the best casinos, gambling games with the best odds, the luck of last night’s gaming, and the very few heroic players who won big.

Elected politicians in Gstan start feeling more comfortable about appearing in casinos. As the gambling trend becomes even more popular, they need to be seen in a few casinos during an election campaign to win enough votes.

Now the Casino Operators are making excellent profits. And because they are paying more business taxes on these profits, the government of Gstan is quite happy. “All is well in Gstan,” it says, “because the gambling industry is doing much better than before.”

The first visible casualty of the increasing gambling is the Artists. Because the Casino Operators have successfully created a value system that encourages gambling, they no longer need as many Artists for their advertising. So these Artists return to the same artistic endeavors they were doing before. But this work no longer provides for them: the citizens of Gstan are spending their recreational time and disposable income in gambling casinos and have less time and money for Art. Most Artists are now workers at gambling casinos—and with too many Artists not being able to fulfill their dreams, Gstan has more discontented citizens than it had before.

It would not be fair to say that Gstan did not have social problems related to gambling before the Casino Operators began their massive advertising campaign. Some Gstan citizens were already gambling addicts. Their work and family life suffered, and some of these addicts took to small crimes to pay for their addiction. Children growing in a household where one or both parents were problem gamblers were already being deprived of opportunities that could have made them more responsible and capable when they became adults.

But as the number of recreational gamblers increases, so do the number of problem gamblers. Gstan society needs to hire more police, prosecutors, and jail guards to handle the increase in crime. More dysfunctional families are raising more dysfunctional children who also become problem gamblers and problem citizens. Workplaces are not as productive because more workers are speculating on the gaming tables instead of concentrating on their work. And for the first time in centuries, Gstan is suffering food shortages because it has too many gambling-addicted Farmers who are not being very attentive in their farming operations.

Perhaps worst of all, the laying aside of the many Artists means a loss of spirit in the Gstan culture. Citizens do not care or think anymore! What matters most are the gaming tables.



Hstan: a Generation Later

While Gstan is falling (and please note that many citizens of Gstan will argue vociferously that their society is not falling), Hstan society is nearing the end of its 30-year plan to reduce gambling. Like Gstan, Hstan had its fair share of problem gamblers who were directly or indirectly causing other problems in society. But because the government of Hstan has been successful in creating an anti-gambling culture in Hstan society, fewer Hstan citizens are now gamblers—either recreational or addicted.

It would not be correct to say that Hstan has eliminated problem gamblers. But problem gamblers in Hstan are much fewer than a generation before. Therefore, Hstan experiences less crime, so it requires fewer police, prosecutors, and jail guards. By not needing to hire these extra Service Providers, Hstan citizens of this generation are paying less taxes—and have more disposable income to enjoy what the Artists of Hstan have to offer. The workplaces of Hstan are more productive—and more enjoyable. Hstan citizens have a higher level of prosperity, which they will need for the next challenge.



A Crisis Looms

For centuries, the Miners of Gstan and Hstan have been extracting coal in the West Mountains as their main source of energy. But this coal will be used up within a generation. If societal changes are not made,a generation from now Gstan and Hstan citizens will find themselves incapable of the same prosperity that the current generation has experienced.

Even if the government of Gstan wants to, it cannot become proactive in solving this problem. It is too busy directing many of its resources into resolving problems that originate from the cultural rise of gambling in Gstan. “The Miners will find more coal,” says the Government of Gstan. Or they say, “Let the free market solve the problem.”  But there is neither more coal nor a free market solution. The coal seams of the West Mountains have always been very accessible to the Miners, so coal has never been expensive. The price of energy will not go up enough to investigate new energy sources until the coal runs out—but this will be too late.

In contrast, the Hstan government already has experience in looking at least a generation down the road. It gives its citizens the truth: “The coal will run out, and we must find new sources of energy.” It embarks on a massive consultation with the citizenry. Because the citizens of Hstan trust their government, they take this warning seriously. Many ideas appear about how to best resolve this crisis, for example: a coal tax to encourage conservation and to fund research for alternative technology; developing “geographical centers of economic activity” that will use less energy, subsidizing Farmers, Makers, and Miners to adapt more efficient practices; and educating adults and children to expect less available energy in the future. Some ideas are implemented now, some later, and others not at all. As each idea is implemented, the government sets up a process to monitor how well each decision is working. They will be ready to modify or discard the original decision if needed—and learn from any mistakes.



When the Coal Runs Out

When the coal seams run out, Hstan already has a working system of solar collectors and wind generators. It also has hydrogen plants, hydrogen fuel cells, and large batteries for storing electricity for when weather is not favorable. Because of the decision made two generations ago to sideline the gambling casinos, Hstan’s society has the resources (in both the public and private sectors) to make these gradual changes without causing great hardship on the general citizenry. With the new electrical facilities built, this generation of Hstan citizens will enjoy even more prosperity than their parents and grandparents.

But in Gstan, the picture is not so good. Neither the government nor the free market could find alternative sources of energy in time. Gstan citizens are using their forests to heat their homes—and these forests may last only another decade. Because energy is now so expensive, farms and factories are no longer as productive as they were. Because there are lower profits, Gstan is losing taxation revenue from businesses to pay for government services.

“The solution,” says the government of Gstan, “is trade with Hstan.”  So they send a delegation to their neighbor to open up trade talks. “What do you have to offer,” says the negotiator for the government of Hstan. “Why,” says the head of the Gstan trade delegation, “we have these excellent casinos for your citizens as a vacation destination. They can experience the pleasure and excitement of gambling as we Gstan citizens have for the past two generations.”

“Only a very few of our citizens would enjoy your casinos,” says the negotiator from Hstan, “You have very little that interests us.”



Conclusion
Two generations ago, Gstan and Hstan were very similar countries. Now they are very different. In one country, the citizens could not trust their elected representatives; in the other country, they could.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
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