Commentary

01/19/2017 by Duf Sundheim

A New Declaration needed to bridge gap between government and the people


(Photo Credit: RabbleRouser/Wikimedia)

A New Declaration

In politics, people tend to believe the bigger risk is thinking too big. But in these times, the bigger risk is not thinking big enough.

In 1976 people voted for change. They did the same in 1980, 1992, 2000, 2008, 2010, 2016. It is about time they get the change they want. We need a new pact between the people and our government. We need a New Declaration. And no group is better positioned to lead that effort than those attending the 50 State Solution meeting in San Francisco on January 26.

The situation is serious. We are not just losing faith in our government; we are losing faith in ourselves. People are dying at an earlier age due in large part to increases in drug overdoses and suicides. This is time for bold leadership.

Our Founding Fathers provided such leadership. Not only did they topple the most powerful political force in the world; they changed the way we view the world - and each other:

  • They replaced the divine right of kings with a set of principles: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (my favorite) – and then built a government system to achieve those goals.
  • They changed our view of each other: “All men are created equal.”
  • And they had the courage of their convictions, putting their lives on the line to make it happen.

Their goal was to provide a government Of the People, By the People, For the People. That should be our goal as well. However, technology is fundamentally changing the way we work, play and interact with each other. Yet, the way we interact with our government has remained the same. That is why the New Declaration is so critical: to bridge the yawning gap between (a) how we make decisions in our personal lives and (b) how government acts, or fails to act, on our behalf.
The goal of the New Declaration should be to:

  • Spark a new burst of freedom so each American can pursue their personal dream
  • Commit ourselves to social justice for all Americans

New Burst of Freedom

To spark a new burst of freedom we need to:

Decentralize power. In the past it made sense to centralize power in Washington:

  • Experts had unique access to critical information
  • Economies of scale

We now have more information in the palm of our hand than the people who put the man on the moon. Google has given us the tools to organize such information and Facebook the tools to share it. The net result is that in many instance (a) the combined knowledge of the public is greater than Washington and (b) the people are much better equipped to act on such information in a timely manner.

Eliminate government layers and consolidate districts. When California became a state, it could take a month to get information from one end of the state to the other. It may have made sense to have 58 county governments, some 1,000 school districts, etc. No longer. We need to eliminate the complexity and duplication to make government more understandable and responsive.

Replace traditional representative democracy with new forms of direct action. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine said the best way to make decisions was to gather everyone under the town tree and develop consensus. However, due to (a) the need to coordinate with other areas, (b) the difficulties of travel and communication, (c) the fact that most people had to spend most of their time literally trying to survive; representative government was a “necessary evil.”

Due to the technological advances over the last 250 years, many of the “evils” Payne identified are no longer “necessary.” If I had told you just 10 years ago the largest bookseller would not own a bookstore, the largest cab company would not own a cab and that we soon would be transported in driverless cars, you would have had difficulty getting your mind around what I was talking about.

We need to bring the same imagination to our decision-making process. We still need representative government. And the courts are important both to protect the rights of the individual and ensure we stay true to the better angels of our nature. But just as our Founding Fathers identified what was most important and then developed the systems that best addressed those issues, we need to do the same today.

Reduce the role of bureaucrats. When knowledge and access to information was limited, not only did Washington flourish, bureaucrats did as well.

Given our new reality, we should do a top-to-bottom review of the bureaucratic system and to the extent possible, eliminate positions and shift authority to those who are accountable to the people.

Social Justice for all Americans

Although each person has their own dream, it is essential that collectively we be committed to a more just society. This requires transparency and accountability, both inside and outside of government. We now have the tools to do both. What percentage of the public has access to a quality education? Is the education system preparing us for tomorrow’s jobs? How many people have access to quality health care?

Our first challenge is to determine what information to measure and then measure it. The second challenge is to do so in a manner that preserves our right to privacy.

How will we achieve these goals? That is the beauty of the 50 State Solution. We can try different approaches in different places. We can see what works and what doesn’t.

But let us not make the mistake of not thinking big enough. There is too much at stake.


Duf Sundheim is principal at GPS Mediation, APC, former chairman of the California Republican Party, and member of the California Forward Leadership Council.

Categories: 50 State

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