Monday, November 29, 2010

331 / Representative Government

The text in the image is from Representative Government, by John Stuart Mill. One lesson to be drawn from the underlined statement is that people will pretty much get the government they "deserve." If members of the public, in general, are virtuous and intelligent, they can expect their governmental institutions (as operated by their elected representatives) to reflect that virtue and wisdom.

This brings me to the editorial that ran yesterday (Sunday, November 28th) in the San Jose Mercury News. The online title, more comprehensive than what space allowed in the print edition, was as follows: "Mercury News editorial: Solution to budget crisis starts with an informed, realistic electorate." The Mercury, in other words, echoes the insight of John Stuart Mill. I do recommend the editorial to you. It's the most recent in what have been a string of exceptionally able editorial statements from the Mercury about California politics and government.

Unfortunately (though accurately) the Mercury notes that the public in general is almost totally uninformed and unrealistic about our budget crisis. If Mill and the Mercury are right, we are not going to get a solution that addresses our budget problems unless the electorate becomes more informed and realistic.

I do note that while a lesson to be drawn from the Mill quote is that the people are likely to get the budget they "deserve," the actual advice provided by Mill is that it is a primary task of government to "promote" the intelligence and virtue of the public. If you review the Mercury editorial endorsing Jerry Brown over Meg Whitman, the Mercury's support for Brown was premised largely on the fact that Whitman was providing "pandering and false solutions" to the uninformed public, instead of educating them on what actually needs to be done.

To be successful as Governor, Jerry Brown is going to have to "promote" the intelligence and virtue of the public as part of his strategy to lead California in a time of genuine crisis. Might I suggest that our other elected representatives (even including Republicans) join in that effort. While the public in general may be uninformed and unrealistic, this is because elected representatives (and those who seek elective office, like Meg Whitman) have consistently suggested that we can have something for nothing. Our so-called political "leaders" have consistently proposed budgetary "solutions" that have the effect of foisting onto future generations the payment for the services that we are utilizing today, services we can't, in fact, afford, unless we are willing to tax ourselves more.

Unlike the public in general, whose intelligence and virtue has been undermined, not improved, by the level of political discourse in these United States, those actually charged with running the government actually know the facts.

Let them show their own virtue, now, by helping to educate everyone else. I say this with best wishes to our new Governor, who is going to have to lead members of the Legislature in that educative effort, applying the insights of John Stuart Mill right here in California, right now.

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