Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I'd like the control-freaks-out-of-my-face package, please

Netflix offers different packages to its customers: one, two or three movies at a time, and would you like Blu-ray with that? So do health clubs, which sell access to classes, coaches and equipment. My phone carrier offers a dizzying array of choices that can keep your costs down or grant you unlimited chatting from anywhere on the planet. Menus of options are the standard for most interactions between people and institutions that want to cater to a variety of tastes. So why do we settle for one-size-fits-all when it comes to our relationship with the government? Especially since arguments over the nature of the political package on offer have become so divisive and all-consuming.

The fact is, we vary as much as political consumers as we do as connoisseurs of movies, fitness equipment and mobile phone service. A recent paper (PDF) published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that liberals, conservatives and libertarians differ in their fundamental premises about what constitutes a "good society," and in the moral basics on which they construct their ideologies. Starting from such different foundations, it's ridiculous to think that an adherent of one of these ideologies could ever be happy with the sort of political arrangements that please members of another group.

Does it make any more sense to shoe-horn disparate individuals into the same package of political offerings and costs than it does to force them all to pay for spinning classes and nutrition counseling when all they want is to jump on the treadmill?

Maybe it's time to reconsider government as a provider of services -- services that can be and should be tailored to different tastes, so that what we get from and surrender to the government can be, to the extent possible, a matter of personal choice rather than a consequence of political combat.

This isn't exactly a new idea. The federal nature of the United States was supposed to result in separate "laboratories of democracy" bound together in one country. If people didn't like what was happening in Massachusetts, they could choose an arrangement that worked better for them by moving to Rhode Island or Pennsylvania.

So a menu of arrangements with the government could be considered an extension of federalism, but without geographical borders. On your eighteenth birthday, with opportunities to revisit the decision thereafter, you'd pick from a menu of arrangements with the government, representing very different packages of goodies and obligations.

One package might offer more extensive services, such as subsidized student loans, small business grants, health coverage and Social Security in return for somewhat higher taxes and observance of certain sets of regulations. Businesses eligible for low-cost loans and other forms of support would have to submit to the authority of regulatory agencies.

Another package would be bare-bones, offering no access to special services, support or pensions, but also requiring lower taxes and imposing fewer regulations. Anybody opting for this option would accept a higher level of personal responsibility in return for fewer taxes and less red tape.

Folks dubious about the value of alternative lifestyles and open sexuality could opt for a package that includes covenant marriage and a set of traditional moral standards accompanied by a badge of approval for participating institutions.

Businesses and individuals subject to regulatory regimes could advertise their status, so that people who put their faith in inspectors and regulations could so direct their trade.

Obviously, you couldn't spend your life in low-tax status, only to hop on the gravy-train package at 65 to take advantage of Social Security, so some kind of buy-in or window of opportunity would have to apply so that people didn't game the system.

And the various packages would have to be protected so that they aren't incrementally forced into homogeneity by the federal government the way the states largely have been on many issues.

Government has increasingly become a provider of services to the public. If that's what it's going to be, there's no reason why those services shouldn't be differentiated to cater to the very different tastes of widely divergent markets, including the preferences of liberals, conservatives, libertarians, socialists, and individuals of no particular ideology but very clear preferences

Or we could keep fighting to jam our preferences down the neighbors' throats.



Blogger Ned said...

Interesting concept, but you’ve left out the most important package (that’s what she said). In the Netflix scenario, If I don’t want movies, I don’t have to buy Netflix at all. Keep in mind that the people who support the war on drugs, build more military bases in foreign countries, and sign off on a trillion dollar stimulus package are the same people entrusted with making sure the tier system works fairly. What good is the tier system when you’re still forced to participate at gunpoint? If Netflix hikes up the price of your tier, you can switch to Blockbuster or quit. If uncle sam changes the rules on our package, we’re SOL.

February 17, 2009 5:13 PM  
Blogger akaGaGa said...

It's a nice utopian idea, JD. You must be having a good day. It'll never happen, though, because all those people who want lots of gov't. services and regs. need all the rest of us to foot the bill for them. They'll never let us go.

February 17, 2009 6:24 PM  
Blogger Mully410 said...

Nice plan. I like it. I just don't get how 8 years of deficit spending and lowering taxes was so bad just a few months ago, and now BO has embraced it. Hypocrite.

Our freedoms are being lost at an increasing rate. Did anyone read about the HIT Committee in the new stimulating package? (Health Information Technology). Just wait until big bro decides your BMI is too high for that knee surgery or hip replacement. sheesh

February 17, 2009 7:06 PM  
Blogger Kent McManigal said...

I choose to opt out completely. Like "Not interested. Get your foot out of my door or lose it. I'm oiling my guns."

February 17, 2009 11:24 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

You got me, folks. I'd opt out of the whole deal, too.

February 18, 2009 9:24 AM  

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