Participatory Budgeting.
April 6, 2011 12:07 AM   Subscribe

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- goodnewsfortheinsane

Government is really complex. Really, really complex. Can't we just continue to elect empty suited megaphone-heads to hire intelligent people to tell them how to make a budget?
posted by munchingzombie at 12:44 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I propose a Wiki budget.
posted by molecicco at 12:56 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

This will Wendell Willkie.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:18 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is like saying the solution to medical malpractice is to have the patient awake and directing the doctor. The answer to ineffective/bad/corrupt politicians isn't "no government", but "better representatives".

While the idea of a direct, democratic approach to the budget issues seems really attractive in theory, there's a lot of logistical questions. Would all the citizens involved have to be in a room, in person, to vote? would people just show up at the polling place and pull a lever? What about voting online?

Ultimately, the amount of time and effort involved in getting a majority of citizen's opinions on the budget means that it'd be quicker to get a single spokesperson for a group, who acts in their interest...
posted by dubold at 1:59 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'd like to see a simple web application where you could test out the effects of changing the tax rates on the deficit and debt. Saying that citizens should have a say in the budget but not taxes is skewing the debate. Is the problem really with over-spending or under-taxing? Tax rates seem to be at historical lows, especially with the Bush cuts extended.
posted by Schmucko at 2:25 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:36 AM on April 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yeah, budget-by-citizen worked so well in California and Colorado.

Maybe going the whole Athenian route where people get to be responsible for making stuff work for a year at a time would work. But this would most likely just exacerbate existing problems (i.e. aging populations voting to slash youth-focused programs like education, keep elder-focused welfare, and tax cuts in the wealth brackets they imagine themselves to be in).
posted by rodgerd at 2:49 AM on April 6, 2011

Well, there's this NY Times interactive US budget app from November 2010. The Times also has a spiffy presentation of Obama's 2012 budget, from February 2011, and his 2011 budget.
posted by malapropist at 4:01 AM on April 6, 2011

I'm all for this, if it'll stop us spending 50% of our budget on international aid and sending all those billions to NPR and the abortion places.
posted by PlusDistance at 4:11 AM on April 6, 2011 [12 favorites]

There isn't much reason to proceed down line item by referendum path explored by California and Colorado, but there are other approaches to resolving the budget by referenda.

In particular, if your budget by referendum solution that asked citizens to vote on a course percentage based budget allocation every year, then presumably voters will slowly converge to a reasonable allocation, thus avoiding the issues experienced by California and Colorado.

Example :

You might take a large federated state like the U.S. or E.U. but apply a weak form of strict constructionism where a proportional legislature, say called the "senate", cannot pass much legislation directly but may instead charter "directorates" whose powers go beyond their own powers. You'd call this a lose form of strict constructionism because the senate my not expand its own powers.

Instead, each directorate posses its own distinct directly elected legislature and executive branch. Yes, the senate writes and changes each directorate's charter of course, but charters don't compel action, they merely award powers. All charters must describe whether the powers awarded are exclusive or non-exclusive among directorates and/or states. In fact, directorates could be sued by people, states, or other directorates for exceeding their charter, effectively weakening the notion of "standing", as exceeding your charter will almost always infringe upon another state or directorate. There would however be agencies that drew their powers from multiple directorates, they'd just need all relevant legislation passed by both.

The senate should not direct the legislative activities of directorates through funding awards, well that'd defeat the whole point. Instead, we build a course allocation of funds among the directorates by asking every citizen to write down a budget when they vote, ala 20% for defense directorate, 5% for interior directorate, 15% for health directorate, etc. You'd likely let citizens copy & edit pre-allocated budgets allocations proposed by powerful parties. You'd produce that years 'proposed' budget by simply averaging over all votes. Your final budget might introduce a slight damping factor by using a weighted average of the current year's proposed budget with several previous years proposed budgets.

Voila, elected representatives control all the line items, but citizens control the overall budget allocation. In fact, explicitly specialized representatives control all the line items. It's surely way easier for a medical doctor to get elected to a 'health directorate' than our current house of representative or senate.

Almost all funding sources like taxes, fines, senate backed bonds, or even just printing money must be allocated among the directorates using the budget referendum system described above. You'd need some exceptions though :
* Agencies would be permitted to charge fees for services or premiums for insurance, ala social security. Any such financial powers are broadly governed by an agency's charter, issued & maintained by the senate, but their controlling directorate would usually hold power over price changes. Any money from fees & premiums must stay inside the agency, or passed to another agency specified in the charter, but the controlling directorates should not benefit.
* All directorates have a separate debt charter that lets the senate limit how they issue bonds. If any directorate digs itself into a financial hole, their interest rates will skyrocket while leaving other directorate's bond prices alone.

posted by jeffburdges at 4:12 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Aside from my monster comment about allocating the budget by averaging over referenda. You might also introduce deliberative opinion polls into the legislative process, say replacing the presidential veto. In short, any bill approved by your legislature must pass a large* jury trial before becoming law. Any minority opinions in the legislature and the president may send advocates to argue for, against, or for further modifying any given bill. A "deliberative democracy" approach like this might greatly reduce the amount of graft, pork, etc., thus reducing spending pressures.

* I think a two hundred person jury would suffice for the purpose of obtaining statistical significant and eliminating the need or juror selection. You obviously need jurors to be randomly selected of course. Ideally, their pay should be commensurate with that of elected representatives or their staff members.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:20 AM on April 6, 2011

Let citizens do it.

Some of these citizens are called corporations and I think they are already doing it.
posted by three blind mice at 4:27 AM on April 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

This will never happen. We already have at least one political party (and a whole side of the political spectrum) dedicated against the proposition of paying for things people want (health care, roads, libraries, education, etc).
posted by DU at 4:55 AM on April 6, 2011

I've got an idea, let's pick one elementary school class every four years and let them decide the budget. This year we can start with the 2nd graders.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:05 AM on April 6, 2011

Isn't this like letting your 2yr old decide how much your mortgage payments should be?
posted by blue_beetle at 5:18 AM on April 6, 2011

This is Political Science 101 stuff. Seriously--I specifically remember my PoliSci professor working us through this, proposing direct democracy, exposing the complexities and weaknesses, then leading us to understand the idea, while attractive, is simply unfeasible. When I see things like this, it makes me wonder if the proposers are woefully naive about the operations of government, or are being willfully deceptive about their agenda.
posted by MrMoonPie at 5:26 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ever since they started running the opinions of viewers on the news across the bottom of the news networks I've been virulently opposed to direct democracy.
posted by winna at 5:49 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

I can see how this could work quite well on a small scale - say, a Chicago ward - but not scale at all. As pointed out above, we already have something like this in California, thanks to our ballot initiative system, and it's fucked us but good. It's not the only culprit by a long stretch, but generally it's a harm rather than a help.
posted by rtha at 7:12 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Too many people are stupid. When 40% of Americans believe that man sprung fully formed from god's finger; when 20% of them believe that Obama is a Muslim; when only half of American adults can explain how long it takes the earth to revolve around the sun; and at least one-third are unable to name even one of the government's three branches; you'l forgive me if I think this sounds like an absurd suggestion.
posted by modernnomad at 7:42 AM on April 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

As someone who depends on government funding of the basic sciences, fuck no, don't let the public do it.
posted by maryr at 7:59 AM on April 6, 2011

You can text in your vote for the next American Idol and key in the allotment for wetlands conservation AT THE SAME TIME!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:32 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I still think that requiring legislators to wear blaze-orange jumpsuits emblazoned with all of their corporate contributor's logos (sized by amount given) at all times, would solve a lot of our problems.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:34 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Kind of reminds me of that movie "Dave," where Kevin Kline (who was the Presidential look alike) asked his business buddy to do the books, and in doing so, saved a ton of money.

Anyway, these crowdsourcing type initiatives are always tricky, since it ultimately depends on the community (quality an size) that participate. Still, I think these things are always worth exploring, esp if the site can gain ground as a place of advocacy.
posted by davidng at 8:38 AM on April 6, 2011

I don't think the citizenry will do much better, because the elected reps reflect the citizenry.

I know people who are absolutely, 100%, certain that the problem is "entitlements" [1] and that the only solution is to end the welfare state completely and cut off all social programs they don't like. Military spending isn't even on the table from their POV.

The only thing missing from the elected reps is the idea of cutting the military, something that many liberals would like to see but, unfortunately, doesn't seem even remotely likely.

[1] Scare quotes because no two of them can seem to agree on what, exactly, is covered by that term. As nearly as I can tell it means "government spending on people who aren't me".
posted by sotonohito at 8:42 AM on April 6, 2011

I'd like to see us cut the military. I'd also like to see us end the war on drugs, at the very least stop actively going after drug users even if we don't take the sane approach of legalizing. Also release all non-violent offenders from prison, that last would save a fortune.
posted by sotonohito at 8:46 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

What exactly is the problem faced by Colorado? I live in Colorado and while Tax Payer Bill of Rights hinders the government here a bit a lot of people think that's a good thing. When we had a budget crisis in 2006(?) people voted for short term increases to cover the budget so that the government could go on as before. Isn't it a good thing that people are more involved in the budget decisions?
posted by kookywon at 9:04 AM on April 6, 2011

I propose a Wiki budget.

I propose a Wikileaks Budget! I don't know what exactly that means, but it will no doubt involve underground mountain data bunkers, platinum-haired international men of mystery and intelligence services skulduggery.

People are right though, the citizens are way too stupid to deal with complex financial budgets. Our elected representatives, with the help of policy analysts and lobbyists who are experts in their field, are the only ones with enough knowledge to make these decisions.

Citizens would only do insane things like reduce military spending, choose not to raise the age for social security, allow Bush tax cuts for those earning > $250k to expire, etc.

Could you imagine it?!? Polling shows that a majority support marijuana legalization. Could you imagine a country with a greatly reduced drug war?

Too stupid I tell you.
posted by formless at 10:38 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Kind of reminds me of that movie "Dave," where Kevin Kline (who was the Presidential look alike) asked his business buddy to do the books, and in doing so, saved a ton of money.

Bumbling fuckwits asking their business-cronies to write the federal budget are the REASON we're in the mess we're in.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:37 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here in PA the budgetary answer is to slash education spending by 50%. I wish I was kidding.
posted by angrycat at 3:04 PM on April 6, 2011

This works. Participative budgeting is one of the best ways to educate people about government and politics.
Recently I was invited to participate in a huge public meeting about public health (it was some sort of lottery). No actual budgeting, but we were ask to set a list of priorities. In all, 5000 people met at five venues. We were divided in groups of 8 to 10, and at the head of each table was a politician who was allowed to answer questions but not campaign. During the 8 hour session, one moved between two tables, and there was health-food and exercise. It was an amazing experience. The tables were coordinated in a way so almost all demographics were represented equal to their part of society. During the day, we saw educational videos, and we could get every type of information we needed. At the end of the day, there was an almost unanimous consensus, and this surprised the politicians. The issues discussed had been completely different from those in the press, and the most and least privileged had managed to agree.
I think one of the good things was that we all got to meet real people instead of statistics. When you read in the paper that 20% of the population are uneducated and poor, you don't think of the multitude of different human beings within this demographic. But at the meeting, they were all there, and of course they were not someone "other", but people exactly someone else in the family of everyone there.
No one really knows who these 10% "rich people" are, but here, they were present and willing to defend their priorities and politics.
posted by mumimor at 6:20 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

During the day, we saw educational videos, and we could get every type of information we needed.

Which side produces the "educational" videos?
posted by codswallop at 10:04 PM on April 6, 2011

Ha. Since the politicians were from across the board, everything had been cleansed of "sides". That was one thing we all complained about at the evaluation, because some elements seemed a bit convoluted and silly. You know, the facts have a left-wing bias, so sometimes they had to go through a lot of hoops to get an "unbiased" range of possibilities.
posted by mumimor at 11:45 PM on April 6, 2011

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