It is time for parallel governance

The world used to be dominated by geographical separation. Travel was difficult  and time consuming. Most people stayed pretty much where they were born. Imports were expensive.  Governments governed people within a well defined boundary. Things have changed. It is easy to travel anywhere, we can transport goods cheaply, and with the 3D printer in rapid evolution, imports and exports of some goods will soon be replaced by downloads and local manufacture. The media keep us informed on events around the world as they happen, with just a few zones where news is limited. And of course, progress in the EU in recent days shows how many people want to be part of a large union.

But I don’t. Most people don’t. 60% of Germans and 70% of French don’t want to be in the Euro. I haven’t seen recent UK figures but suspect they are also high. Most people in Europe don’t want to be a part of a United States of Europe, but their leaders insist they know best and are trying to rush ahead faster.

But you know what? If a lot of people want to do so, and a lot don’t, there really is no reason we can’t just live in the same countries as separate communities. We could share the same infrastructure, and share essential services that can’t be provided separately, such as defence, but choose which lifestyle we want to subscribe to from a short list and live with the consequences of it. There could be a USE and those that support it could live under it. The rest of us could opt out and share the same land under a different regime.

It isn’t obvious at first glance how many ‘flavours’ of parallel governance you should be able to choose from, so let’s just pick the ancient divide of liberal or conservative to start with.

So, given this simple choice, you decide you are a liberal at heart. In the new system, you would make that choice and it would be recorded. There would be a cost to change your decision, a price to belong, and associated benefits. You can’t draw the benefits of that system without paying its price, and if your system has made a mess, and you want to swap, you may have to pay to join the alternative, an investment for the new benefits, a contribution towards the investments that community has already made. Your rights to vote on certain issues, or how much your vote is worth on that issue, goes with the choice you make.

There are a few parties to choose from within the liberal camp, and they would all compete for votes, and one would be elected, and only liberals may vote in that election. Since your community elected them, they would rule over you and make the decisions that affect you. Someone living next door who chose conservative would be governed by their decisions.

The different communities need not have the same geographic boundaries. If liberals want a united Europe and Conservatives want the UK to stay united and outside the EU, that is perfectly feasible. Europe would have a range of conservative style parties, one in each country perhaps, whereas there would be only one liberal party for the whole of Europe.

I am strongly attracted to that kind of future. I have friends in all parts of the political spectrum. They are different ages, genders, races, and they have different religious and political persuasions. I am happy to agree or disagree with them, but they stay friends. We manage to coexist peacefully and fruitfully, while following different motivations and creeds. We have to share some things that are dictated by geography, but most things aren’t.

Take a few examples. I send my daughter to a private school, some of my friends send theirs to state schools. I have to pay a high fee direct to the school, they pay theirs via taxes. What I don’t like is that I have to pay for their kids’ educations, but they don’t have to make any contribution towards mine. In parallel governance, the two communities would make their own decisions separately. Liberals would share state schools, while Conservatives would probably use an education allowance that could be spent on any school. Each ensures that all children get access to well-funded education, but the payment mechanisms allow choice of provision mechanism. The same could apply to health care. I choose the NHS at the moment, but if I choose to pay for private care, I don’t get any refund on the state provision. Many people want to keep the NHS, but why should they not therefore pick up the bill, while those who want to provide their health care via insurance are free to do so? In parallel governance, you would only be entitled to NHS care if you subscribe to the liberal government. Conservatives would be forced to buy health insurance or demonstrate alternative ability to pay, but wouldn’t have to pay taxes for the state system.

I wouldn’t like my friends any less if they were governed by a different party. I wouldn’t suddenly want to wage war on them, though we’d tease each other remorselessly about the incompetence of our respective systems or governments.

On many issues, there is a simple polarisation along part lines. On others, there isn’t, so there is room for different parties to compete for power, and room for negotiation. On some things, we just don’t have a choice. If we don’t defend ourselves, we would be killed or enslaved. All people of all persuasions would have to contribute to defence, since all benefit from it.  There would be fierce arguments over the level of funding, and on policy, but that is what politics is all about. We negotiate and argue until we get some sort of agreement that we can all live with. The point of parallel governance is that it is entirely possible on some things to just agree to differ and each do our own thing.

In the UK, we already have demands for parallel governance of sorts. Some Muslims want Sharia Law to apply within their community. Some outside insist that the laws of the land should apply to all. Personally, I think that there should be some basic rights and responsibilities that apply to everyone, but after that, it should be down to your declared allegiance. In parallel governance it would be simple. If you choose to subscribe to Sharia Law, and you’d have to officially and freely register that you do, then you must pay for it and accept its consequences as well as reap its rewards.

In fact, this is a good model for how parallel governance might work. We must all have some basic rights, but there would actually be little disagreement on those. Basic rules of civilisation are shared by almost everyone. You wouldn’t be allowed to murder or torture or steal or deliberately damage and so on. We would still have some sort of common governance that implements basic civilisation, but under that, we’d have parallel communities sharing the same lands, living happily under different laws and rights.

Parallel governance requires mutual respect. It requires us all to accept that we are not all the same. We don’t all share the same goals or values. But there is no need to now. With the level of IT we have, it would be fairly easy to implement parallel governance and make it work. I believe it would be highly beneficial. I’d feel much happier not having to fund as many policies that I disagree with, and would be very happy to pick up the costs of those with which I do.

I don’t think it would end up with just two communities, liberal or conservative, though that is an easy (but simplistic) split to start with. I think it could evolve. There is no reason there couldn’t be sub-communities. So you could be under Sharia law and then under a Conservative government or liberal. There could be a choice of several flavours. Or you could have a single government laying down basic laws for everyone and pick and mix every policy separately from a price list.

The big advantages for everyone are not having to pay for someone else’s personal decision or lifestyle, and not having to live under a value set you don’t subscribe to. Ultimately this would give us all an increase in quality of life, whichever allegiance you declare. You’d feel you worked towards a goal you believed in. Your human dignity would be higher, regardless of whether other people agree with you.

It is time for parallel governance now. It is a better form of democracy, more democratic and less vulnerable to dictatorship of an elite. We have the means, the motive and the opportunity. I still won’t agree with you, but I promise to be a good neighbour. Bring it on.

4 responses to “It is time for parallel governance

  1. Dear Ian,
    I agree with you about the “Euro problem”, and i think that an “United Nations of Europe” is something that the so-called “Conspiracy Elite” is trying to pursue on our back. There’s absolutely no need of it, and we all should fight to make people understand how dangerous it will be for every nation’s identity.

    But although many of your background reasons are quite right, this sort of “parallel governance” is not absolutely something that goes forward in the future. I think it will increase the divide between population indeed.

    How could a “multiple governance” manage the same shared local resources? That would cause endless confilcts, and would lead people to become racist and intollerant toward other’s opinions and needs. It is just something technically impracticable.

    You state in an example: “What I don’t like is that I have to pay for their kids’ educations, but they don’t have to make any contribution towards mine”? So do you think that people who uses the “public transport services” should pay for your personal, faster, more beautiful car? Well, really not of course. Democracy is absolutely not the perfect form of governance, but it’s structured to ensure equality and mutual cooperation between people.

    You are talking about sub-classes, sub-divisions… You are suggesting to build walls into our society, not to help people to stay united.

    I can’t agree.

    Sincerely, Luca.

  2. Thanks Luca, you are right to be sceptical. The idea I presented isn’t even half baked. I’m just starting to read the recipe after looking at a tempting picture.

    The systems would certainly need to be designed, but since they would take time to deploy, we can also factor in up and coming technology and that solves some of the problems. Taking the example of public transport, I’d favour scrapping today’s buses and trains and replacing them with self-driving electric pods. That could be environmentally friendly, low congestion and socially inclusive, without requiring any public investment. If someone needs subsidy to afford it, that is part of welfare that would have to be designed into every political system or shared by agreement.

    I don’t agree that conflict would be inevitable and racism should only be a problem if we correlate the available systems parties with race lines. Liberals and conservatives can probably live peacefully side by side, and resources could initially be divided on a per capita basis. It wouldn’t be easy to design, but we could probably figure it out.

    Needs work. Thanks for your input.

  3. At first sight I thought your idea appeared good, until you mentioned Shariah law. Now I see how ridiculous your idea is. Like most people in the UK you mention shariah law but seem afraid to mention, Muslim. You know as well as I do that shariah law is a medieval barbaric legal system, that discriminates against women children and gays. It is totally abhorrent and incompatible with British values and decency. A person of your intellect should really know better. No offense.

    • The intent of my blog is to highlight the potential for parallel communities, not to cast judgements on any of them. There are many ideologies I would not feel happy with, for a variety of reasons. Islam is one of many ideologies and cultures that are alien and unattractive to me, but if others genuinely want to live in them and are free to choose, then I believe they should have that right. I can live peacefully alongside people I totally disagree with, provided I am free to live as I choose too. It is still possible to have fundamental protections that all sub-cultures must adhere to.

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