May 092010

I read with interest an article in which Stephen Hawking expressed concern that any visit from an Alien race may not have peaceful intentions, likening any visitation with the impact that humans have inflicted on each other when colonizing other countries.

Though I hate to disagree, I feel that he may be incorrect in his assumption that any alien race would want to conquer the planet, they may want to ‘show us the way’, which to us, the comparatively primitive race may feel a lot like the North American Indians felt when we educated them regarding Christianity.

However I hope that any advanced race has already gone through a logical next step in terms of evolution and would be a lot more understanding of us than we were when we forced our religion and our culture onto what we considered the ‘savages’.

The logical step that I am talking about is not physical, but mental.

If we are to reach for the stars, as the alien race that Hawking is considering, then we, humanity, needs to work together.

The current ‘mess’ that we are in proves that we are not very good at that. The rich are rich and the poor, well, the poor do not matter.

If we are going to reach for the stars, or just really get much further along as a society, then we need to work as a single population towards those common goals.

This means that we need to look beyond political and religious divisions and do the ‘right thing’, rather than the thing that inconvenience us personally the least.

The state that I live in is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, during the housing boom and the associated spending frenzy the state committed to improving roads, building new buildings and vast amounts of pet projects. This spending is mostly spent now and the state is in a huge budget crisis.

The solution to the crisis is simple, we, as a state, need to balance the expenditure with the income available, plus we need to ensure that we have adequate reserves.

This is incredibly obvious.

It is also painful and will be extremely unpopular to the voting public, hence no politician will even try to implement anything that makes him unpopular this way.

Here are a few ways that we could solve the budget crisis.

1) Increase taxation.

This is simple, we increase taxation to balance the books and re-pay the deficit within a reasonable period. The exact level of taxation needs to be established, but it would probably cost each and every resident of California somewhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars over the next year.

This is mind bogglingly unpopular with voters and anyone that increased taxation this way would be run out of office in a matter of minutes.

2) Cut Spending.

This is the current approach, with state employees taking unpaid days, early retirement and even wage cuts. The most controversial aspect of these cuts being that teachers are being cut.

This barely effects the voting majority, they are slightly annoyed at increased class sizes and marginally inconvenienced by DMV cut backs, but in general this is easy.

3) The combination.

This too is being tried an increase on state income tax and reduced services. This is not popular, but pretty much understood to be the only solution.

But really we need to evolve beyond simply pleasing the voting public, we need to consider our future and our future endeavors as much as our short-term pain.  What we need to do is to look at the problems that we are trying to address and then take a look at the resources that we have available.

Here are a few examples.

It is virtually impossible to do many simple things on the DMV’s web site beyond simply renewing tags or applying for a vanity plate. The site is horrible to navigate and clunky in a ‘designed in 1984’ sort of way.

Due to budget cuts, downsizing and lay-offs in the tech industry, there are large numbers of talented web designers, developers, QA people and infrastructure experts that are all drawing unemployment.

The roads around here are getting gradually worse, some pot-holes are big enough to swallow a small car whole.

There are also a large number of ‘general laborers’ that are currently unemployed and receiving minimal benefits.


Why is it such a huge leap to bring the two parties together ?

The answer is actually simple.

If, say, the DMV started using unemployed web developers to build a better system, how could they justify keeping the full-time and fully paid people on the payroll ?

They could get 4-5 keen, eager, talented developers for the same ‘costs’ as a single 10 year veteran of the IT teams that is sitting on a big 401K.

The story is the same with the department of transport, they could get an ever changing band of road fixers that form a pot-hole hit squad paying the unemployed laborers a decent supplement and the roads would be way better.

Except those IT guys and the road fixers would expect to go back to earning a ‘proper’ salary, with health insurance, 401K and paid days off so they would not consider such a scheme.

This crazy scheme would be for the common good though and voters would not see tax cuts, they would see better roads and a useful DMV site and a million other little improvements.

if as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits it was mandatory that you did 2 days a week of community service that was skills relevant, we could make a huge difference to the world. While we are about it, lets kill off the idea of income tax. it costs a lot of money to collect and it only taxes those that have an income.

Removing income tax and increasing sales tax of goods while removing tax on services too, will also help to balance the budget. This may not be popular, but again, the costs of collection are reduced (less civil servants), income becomes based more on sales in the state.

Then lets start to really think, lets tax gasoline and use the money to pay for the roads, the highway patrols and the search for cleaner energy.

This is a true ‘common good’ concept.

if gas was $20 / gallon the US public would probably riot. It is apparently a ‘God given rite’ to burn as much of it as possible. Having read the Bible I cannot remember anything about being 8mpg single occupant SUV’s. As far as I remember it was all about being nice to each other and not coveting ass’s. Or something.

There are many arguments against gas tax, mostly they can be summed up easily thus ‘I love my 8mpg SUV more than my family and if you make it expensive to drive I will not vote for you ever again’, or maybe ‘I do not give a crap about the environment and I care even less about the legacy I am leaving behind for my grandchildren’.

Hence I feel that we need the next evolution.

It is the ‘for the people’ evolution, where we take a more pragmatic view on our impact on not only the current generation, but on the future ones, we take personal responsibility for our greed and our laziness. We use our skills for the common aim of ‘making the world a better place’ and above all we elect the leaders that share this view, even knowing that their actions may not always be in out own, personal best interests, but they are in those of the world and the world that our children will be a part of.

I feel that it is likely that any visitors will have gone through this already, you cannot reach for the stars without the backing of the whole of your planet, therefore I am less worried than many….

 Posted by at 3:47 pm

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