A Very, Very Concise History Of The Social Contract and Its Relevance to Chicagoland

An Overview summarizing this page’s headlines.

1) Why today’s Turning Point may be regional.  

2) Why “A New Order Of Things” precedes a Social Contract.

3) How “Consent Of The Governed” evolved and can rebuild Trust.

4) Government Powers, The Social Contract and their relevance to Chicagoland.

Extreme dysfunction in federal institutions is a major contributor to the public’s record-high distrust. Lacking “consent of the governed,” the feds realistically have little chance of generating a new deal that taxpayers will support in the near future. And without a new deal, taxpayers will not step up and today’s budget fights will recur for a decade as public services suffer. Worse, this dysfunction could cause a downward cycle that.

Instead of that unsavory future, we propose converting these government crises into an opportunity to shape a sustainable future. Since sustainable programs are appearing to be more effective if structured regionally, “What’s Our Deal?” thinks Chicagoland has a great opportunity to build a prototype for other regions to adapt.  

1) Why today’s Turning Point may be regional.  Despite the ominous clouds over American democracy, soul-searching can produce a practical consensus. Consider a few clues around us. Consider Triple Sustainability… and how its components are starting to emerge.

For example, we already know that environmental balance and many aspects of sustained economic growth can be achieved if there are well-run regional services for transportation, water and, increasingly, other government services.

Today, that ”if” also requires fiscal sustainability. And the lessons of today’s dysfunction teach us that fiscal balance requires coordinated, effective and clean governments responsive to the needs of citizens and taxpayers alike.

Many factors contribute to a dearth of good government in Illinois: bureaucratic waste, outright corruption, special interests capturing administrative agencies and legislatures, and, now, excessive government debts leading to higher interest rates. These -- and other problems -- contribute to ineffective government.

Later in Parts 3 & 4 of this series, we discuss how to minimize the influence of special interests and protect the deal for taxpayers and those who need the services government is responsible for. Until those Parts are posted in 2012, we provide a logical summary of the government’s core problems (it is broke and taxpayers want value). We break that down into government’s sub-problems and how they, respectively, can only be solved by a new social contract. This is sketched below.

Sustainable SocialContract


2) Why “A New Order Of Things” precedes a Social Contract.

A great obstacle to better government is many powers are misaligned for solving today’s problems. Today’s laws organizing different levels of government are similar to the old adage that “Generals prepare for the last war.”

Today, most problems have regional solutions. Transportation, water and many local services can be improved far better with a regional authority than with today’s law which have unhealthy amounts of state involvement and local autonomy.

Yet, we have no regional government to make things work in the sustainable century. This rebalancing of authorities is a sizeable obstacle and will take at least a decade to overcome and we need immediate remedies. So to be fair to taxpayers and citizens for the sacrifices they all must make, we need to work out the details of a Sustainable Social Contract first.           

To think about this rebalancing, I propose we consider the wisdom from a classic of political theory, “The Prince.”   Written by the superficially-maligned Machiavelli, it is read todaybecause it serves as the foundation of the modern nation-state and, perhaps move important, it helped 15th Century rulers think-outside-the-box.            

            There is nothing more difficult to take in hand or more uncertain in its
            success than to take the lead in the Introduction of A New Order of Things.”   

In that pre-modern world, Machiavelli argued it was in the best interest of princes of city-states to give certain powers to form an effective nation. He also anticipated creating republics to facilitate growth in commerce. The nation-state’s New Order changed 1000 years of medieval stagnation and made possible the powerful prosperities to evolve in the modern era.

Much like the stagnant medieval worldview, today’s inflexible ideologies and their unprecedented political machinations have caused government’s dysfunction. Choosing to lock horns instead of using their heads to make good decisions, government has given us uncontrolled public debt causing taxpayer anger that also has broken the social contract causing citizen disgust.

The above quotation provides insight into today’s transition to Sustainability. States, cities and suburbs are less relevant. Those levels of government are the city-state “princes” who must give up power to consolidate into a sustainable region that gives taxpayers the value and citizens the benefits that they want.

How the federal system realigns powers between states and metropolitan regions and between that region’s cities is explored in Parts 2 and 3; also to be posted in 2012.

Of course, there is a big difference between Machiavelli’s day and our complications. After all, taxpayers vote and, in our opinion, won’t throw money anymore at the Old Order Of Things. So for Americans to have a New Order of Things (hopefully, a sustainable one), taxpayers need guarantees that their money will be well spent. These guarantees become a key part of the Sustainable Social Contract.

3) How The Social Contract evolved and can rebuild Trust.

The classics of political theory also tell us why the Social Contract is key.  Within this Agreement, the classics weave three notions: the rule of law; laws are made with consent of the governed; and, government should produce a collective progress that also is deemed fair.

First, why law should rule and doesn’t. Three centuries after Machiavelli broadened the political vision to include the nation-state, Hobbes in the early 17th Century established the necessity of the rule of law so government could minimize the chaos inherent in relations between men.

A great and largely unspoken problem today is we no longer have the rule of law in American elections.  While increasingly citizens are speaking out against the unregulated flood of money into elections, the resulting destruction of political debate through negative 30 second sound bites and the calculated suppression of voter turnout, in their totality, mocks free elections. And citizens and taxpayers know this to varying degrees across the political spectrum.

They also are seeing how this mockery is translating itself into the behavior of Congress and most legislatures throughout the country.  Too rarely articulated, but known in the gut of the electorate, we no longer have the rule of law: we have the rule of money buying laws.

Second, consent of the governed. In the mid-1700s, John Locke added a framework for democracy that influenced Thomas Jefferson as he penned into The Declaration of Independence as “government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.”  

While intended initially as a reason to rebel against the British king, Jefferson’s phrase also contained a notion flexible enough to transition our nation through four economies (agricultural, manufacturing, services and information.) Each transition required a new contract and an adjustment to the powers assigned the federal, state and local governments. 

Today, we probably have turned the corner into a fifth economy, hopefully a sustainable one, that also requires adjusting these powers to include the region.

Our challenge today is to breathe new life into our Founding Fathers’ notion that government should serve as an arbiter of public and private interests, resolve differences satisfactorily and, continually, move the nation forward.

Today’s de-regulation of corporate spending on electoral campaigns and inadequate disclosures of lobbying expenses has made a sham of government as an independent and civil arbiter. Typified by outrageously negative campaign ads and carried through by daily partisan bloodletting, one questions if we can regain “The Greatest Generation’s” capacity for civil problem-solving.

Third, government perceived as fair.  Shortly before the American and French Revolutions, Rousseau gave a more collectivist thrust that, some argue, laid the philosophical foundation for the 20th Century welfare state that created a growing middle class. Roosevelt coined this as “The New Deal.”

Today and in the face of its having shrunk for three decades, the middle class must reengineer its programs so they are sustainable and affordable. Our challenge today is to resolve fairly the differences between Jefferson’s “consent of the governed” and Roosevelt’s intent to use government for the collective good. Our social contract for the Sustainable Century also must recreate the middle class that made our nation great.

4) Governments’ Powers, The Social Contract Their Relevance To Chicagoland

On this page, we introduce these Big Issues and develop them more concretely later in Part 1 by using Chicago as prototype. In anticipating that early 2012 exposition of the Sustainable Social Contract’s case, we offer this summary as a working guide to prepare for the Sustainable Century.

We offer these three summary points for your consideration.

First, what “A New Order Of Things” means. Municipalities will need to give up some key land use authorities to maximize the effectiveness of taxpayer’s regional infrastructure investments. Suburban sprawl’s roads, sewers and dependency on automobiles are too expensive for governments, taxpayers and households to sustain. The suburban lifestyle has been extended to almost 66% of Chicagoland and rough estimates are that less than 50% households now can afford this lifestyle if they are to invest sufficiently in the future. To help this 16% in the near future to get on a long-term and sustainable savings track, how should suburbs and Chicago change so these families can spend less on housing and live closer to jobs?

To make a long argument short…. Either municipalities agree to remake their communities so they are economically, fiscally and environmentally sustainable … or our on-going deficit spending will help kill the American middle class in their hometowns.

Second, public sacrifices require an equitable Social Contract.  Simultaneously achieving sustainable budgets, updating the region’s infrastructure, deleveraging households and rebuilding their assets, and fostering entrepreneurial job-creation for the sustainable economy all requires some innovative deal-making before an equitable Social Contract can emerge.

Certainly amidst today’s zero-sum fights, citizens and corporations who face service cuts and those taxpayers who have to invest will not create a new pact.  While governments struggle to reduce deficits, their long-term goal is to reduce debt to manageable levels. The tricky part in de-leveraging taxpayer liabilities is this must be done while we make historically huge investments in creating the roads, sewers and transit for a sustainable future.

Third, the Sustainable Deal is a Promise that needs Protection.  To state the obvious, politicians are in no position today to convince taxpayers. Instead of leaders helping the public to think about the future, taxpayers and citizens instead feel the sting of betrayal and are saying to politicians the folksy maxim: “ Fool me me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”   Simply put, taxpayers are not going to be made the fool again.

Conclusion: Since politicians don't, we must.

In today’s stalemate, elected public servants should come forward and propose a new deal, that also offers a credible promise that says: “Today’s dysfunctional government will not happen again because we also are establishing these good government reforms that will protect your investments.”

But today, credibility is at an all-time low and public expectations from politicians are even lower. So, citizens must initiate proposals to protect their investments. Hence, Part 4 of this series.

Part 4 explores how good government reforms will bring accountability up to satisfactory levels to protect public investments and new taxes. We can develop steadfast accountability with greater disclosure and the lasting protection against corruption, campaign finance reform.

Yet, Rahm Emanuel’s inaugural warning to Chicago’s Aldermen remains still true: “Nothing ahead of us is easy. It is all hard.”

With other good regional leaders, citizens and taxpayers will rise to the challenge… if you give them a deal they can believe in. And if they don’t get that protection, we explore the politics further in “Part 5: Deal or No Deal.”

The 3 Principles for this Sustainable Deal are explored in the Introduction due in mid-December.