Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Good Governance – Part 2: The Area of Good Governance

This is the second part of a two part essay on good governance. You can find the first part at [4].

For brevity, I’m going to invent an acronym: “AGG” for Area of Good Governance. An AGG is a jurisdiction which has acquired, or is in the process of acquiring, good governance. That is to say, a region of the world, in which the political state has been or is being dismantled. And in which that state has been, or is being, replaced by governance which maintains peace, defends the rights of civilized people, justly resolves disputes, and does no more.

Some may dismiss the ideas I put forward here as Utopian. To them, I say: No radical idea can be realized, until it has been communicated to those who stand to benefit from it. And no vision can be passed on to anyone, unless it has first been articulated. That is my purpose today; to offer, as best I can, my vision of how an AGG might be constructed.

The starting point

I don’t want to spend a lot of words on what a mess world politics is today. We all know that. Nor do I want to talk too much of the anger and disdain, which good people are more and more feeling for the political system and its ruling classes. Except to say that the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump are, I think, signs of a growing dissatisfaction that goes far deeper than any day to day politics, and well beyond differences of “left” or “right.” Early signs of a resurgence of the human spirit after a period of recession, perhaps?

So, I’m going to start from a situation in which many, many people in an area are ready for a shift to a better kind of government. To government that is smaller, more honest, less wasteful, less violent and aggressive, more responsive, and far, far more respectful of us human beings. To government which works for us, not against us.

Furthermore, I’m going to assume that the will is there, and the way is clear, for action to reform government so that it becomes a nett benefit to good people, not a drain on us and a danger to us. How we get to that point is another matter; and a major one. But my focus today is on things we, the builders of the new way, might do once in a position to create good governance.

These ideas are radical. Inevitably, some of them won’t work; others may work in principle, but not on the scale that will be necessary. Yet others may aim to solve problems that don’t eventuate. What I’m trying to do here is give a feeling for the kind of actions that will be necessary to make an AGG work. Others may, and I hope will, come up with suggestions far better than mine. And for that reason, the details of what happens may differ substantially from what I say here. But the outline, I hope, will not.

Where might it happen first?

I expect that the pressures for change, of the kind we’re interested in, will become strongest first in Western democracies. Firstly, perhaps, in Europe, in places where both the European Union and national governments are becoming increasingly unpopular. And secondly, in regions of other countries – such as a state, or a group of neighbouring counties, in the USA – where many people have become fed up with the political system and with big government.

Therefore, I’m going to put forward my ideas in the context of Western democracy. And, in particular, in the context of a post Brexit England, perhaps including Wales too; an area which, I think, has as much potential to become an early AGG as anywhere in the world.

The start of the process

First, a general point. The changes we make must be evolutionary, not revolutionary. We must take care not to throw away the lessons of the past. So, it isn’t part of our task to raze potentially workable institutions to the ground in order to clear space for a brand new system. Rather, our task is to de-politicize governance, and to make it work as it should. This means that we must seek to preserve the best traditions, customs and institutions in each place. Our primary focus should be on re-purposing institutions to make them work for us.

Thus, at the outset, the institutions of an English AGG won’t be much different from today’s. There will still be elections to a parliament. There will still be courts, judges and juries. There will still be police, and even prisons. There will still, regrettably, be for a time a need for borders. The military won’t be reformed overnight, though they will be quickly withdrawn from all foreign conflicts. There will still be diplomats, although their jobs will be reduced in scope and scale. And even the monarchy will continue, albeit re-purposed.

Reforming the parliament

The place to start our reforms must be the parliament. We must reign in its excesses, and make it start working for good people, as it should have been doing all along.

In the case of England, the parliament currently governs a territory, and a population, larger than just England (and Wales). So here, as in other places where an AGG is smaller than the state from which it sprung, we must first split the parliament. So, it will say adieu to those members, who do not represent people in the region of the AGG. And it will cordially invite them to form AGGs in their own areas, if they wish. Further, the House of Lords, which in recent times has become no more than an echo chamber for establishment groupies, will be abolished.

Now, we begin the reforms which will turn political government into good governance. First, we must dramatically increase the quality of the individuals in the parliament. Part of this will come through increasing their financial rewards significantly, as long as they do the work honestly, objectively and without bias; and have no conflicting interests.

But more importantly, we will test all the parliament’s members, as objectively as possible, for suitability for positions of power in an AGG. This will include both looking at their past conduct and voting records, and psychological tests. All those that agitated or voted for aggressive war, or supported policies designed to harm innocent people, or have psychopathic tendencies, or are too dishonest to be fit for power, will be removed from their positions, and suitable replacements elected.

Second, the parliament will withdraw the AGG from all international agreements, other than those for genuine free trade. Though it may, if necessary, establish mutual defence treaties with suitable parties, particularly with other AGGs if there are any yet. It will leave NATO. It will finally sever any remaining entanglements with what is left of the EU. And it will leave the United Nations, and ditch all its agendas, including Agenda 21 and the “humans are causing catastrophic climate change” fraud.

Third, it will repeal all the bad laws, with which it has saddled us over many decades. At the same time, it will manage the process of specifying and agreeing the rights the AGG will defend, and the obligations necessary to effect respect for those rights.

Having completed these tasks, I envisage that the parliament will be reformed into a quality control organization. At this point, the “sovereignty” that the political state has claimed over the territory of the AGG, and the extraordinary rights and immunities which that claim implies, will have ceased to exist. Thus the state itself will also have ceased to exist within the jurisdiction.

The parliament will no longer have any power to make legislation. It will, however, manage the process in the (very rare) event that a change to the code of rights and obligations might become necessary. But its main role will be to ensure that the other departments of governance, such as judges and police, both keep within their remits and do their jobs to the very highest standard. To this end, it will order and publish independent, objective reviews of governance.

A second level of quality control

Our AGG will need, I think, a second level of quality control, to minimize the chance of corruption taking hold in the parliament. In some places, a second parliamentary chamber may be able to take on this role; in others, an organization may need to be created from scratch.

But in those countries with monarchies, in which the monarchy is generally popular – and England is one – I think that the monarch (above and beyond the obvious ceremonial role) will be ideally placed to take on the job of quality controller of the quality controllers. He or she will commission, periodically or as needed, impartial audits of the parliament and of its work. Thus providing an answer to the age old question: Quis custodet custodes? Who guards the guardians?

Financing good governance

Observant readers may already have asked: “But how will good governance be paid for?”

One thing is clear. The imposition, by political fiat, of systems of taxation that are complex, unjust, redistributive, predatory and easily vitiated, must not be allowed to continue. Instead, what each individual pays for good governance must reflect the value of good governance to that individual. Reduced to economic terms, each individual’s contribution ought to be in direct proportion to his or her total wealth in the jurisdiction. As John Locke observed [5]: “It is true governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit every one who enjoys his share of the protection should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it.”

Here’s a wild idea, which I think could be made to work. The AGG will retain one holdover from the state; a currency. And it will be mandatory to use that currency for all transactions within the AGG. To pay for the institutions which implement good governance – courts, police, the military, and the necessary support services – the AGG will be authorized to inflate that currency by a small, pre-agreed percentage each year. Or, perhaps, an equivalent amount in smaller steps. The money “created” by this will be the entire budget for governance.

In an AGG smaller than the state from which it sprang, this will require a currency split first. But this has been done successfully before – for example, with the Irish pound in the 1920s.

This approach, if properly calculated and quality controlled, seems to me to have several advantages. It’s fair to everyone. It can’t be used to redistribute wealth. It requires no bureaucrats and no form filling. And there’s no possibility of individuals being unable to pay their share.

Dismantling the state

The dismantling of the state apparatus of surveillance, predation, oppression and cronyism will, inevitably, cause some disruptions and dislocations. But it’s absolutely necessary in order to reduce, and in the end to eliminate, the burdens that the state imposes on good people.

The “first, do no harm” principle does, however, mean that the state must be dismantled in an orderly fashion. And those that have misused power, or have profited from the state and its noxious activities, must be granted an opportunity to compensate their victims. It’s not out of kindness that we will allow this; for those that used the state for nefarious purposes have, by their conduct, forfeited all possible right to concern or compassion from good people. Rather, we will do it because – as always – the rights of the victims must come first.

To that end, the first step must be to establish the conditions for a prosperous economy. That is: A totally free market, with no unjust restrictions on business. A reasonably stable currency. Interest rates set by the market, rather than for the state’s benefit. Tariff barriers eliminated as far as possible. An impartial, objective system of law and justice. And an end to all political agendas.

Good governance can provide all these conditions. So, it will unleash for all good people the power of honest business. No-one will be left destitute, who is willing to develop their skills, and to work to provide goods or services for which others are voluntarily willing to pay. But for those too lazy or dishonest to do these things, what happens to them will be their own look out.

With a free market economy in place, the dismantling of the so called “public sector” can begin. First, the past conduct of all state employees will be reviewed, and any instances of misuse of power catalogued. This will apply to employees of both central and local government, as well as to the military.

Beyond this, state employees will be divided into three groups. First, those – such as judges, court officials, police and the military – whose jobs when properly done are core functions of governance, will be individually tested for their suitability for positions of power. These tests will be similar in kind to those used for members of the parliament. But the less the power of the position, the less stringent the tests will be. Depending on the results, these employees will either offered new contracts with our AGG, or sacked.

If, through this process, some core functions of good governance become understaffed, individuals may be promoted internally, or recruited from outside. Or individuals, who failed the test of suitability for the power they had, may be allowed back in at a lower level. In all cases, those taking on positions must pass tests appropriate to the level of power they will have.

There are also processes which, while not functions of good governance, will have to continue for the short term at least. The most obvious of these is border control. For it will be necessary to stop troublemakers from outside the AGG coming in and trying to de-stabilize it. And as to immigration, there will be many, many people wanting to flock into the AGG to enjoy the new freedom and prosperity. Thus, to avoid disruption, some kind of control is, regrettably, needed. There’s no totally fair way to decide who may come to live in an AGG and who may not. But some kind of points system would seem to be the least of several evils.

The second group are those employed directly or indirectly by the state, who supply services others are willing to pay for. These include people like teachers, doctors and nurses, and those who maintain roads or empty dustbins. These people will transfer their services to the free market. Where their work requires physical assets like schools, hospitals or power stations, that are currently owned by the state, they will continue to make use of them. However, I envisage that ownership of these resources will pass to the people in the AGG. For example, where a business such as a school is spun off from the public sector, individuals in the AGG might receive shares in those businesses.

Where a state organization – such as the BBC – has a function which is potentially commercially viable, but has been run in a dishonest, politicized way, it will be disbanded. Those responsible for the bad conduct will be sacked. The remaining employees will be allowed to transfer to the free market, in a similar way to teachers and others like them.

This is a complicated process, which will require much forethought and effort. It’s important that we mustn’t allow crony capitalists or oligarchs to seize riches they don’t deserve. And one particularly difficult aspect, I expect, will be transitional financing. The users of services like schools will need time to adjust to the new market. Thus it will be necessary to allow for a transition period, during which the financial burden is passed from taxpayers to users. However, this transition period must be kept as short as possible. If only because every penny taken in tax from an individual, that was not used for that individual’s benefit, must in due course be repaid. And the earlier the better.

The third group consists of those state employees that fail to supply either a core function of governance, or a service viable in a free market. This group will also include those responsible for bad conduct while in positions of power. These individuals will simply be sacked, and their pensions cancelled.

In parallel with all this, reviews will be conducted of all nominally private organizations, to which the state has been providing funding. All projects with political agendas will be terminated. All projects and contacts with politicized “non-governmental organizations” and “quangos” will be ended. And those at or near the top of these organizations will be reviewed, in the same way as equivalent state employees. Companies, that lobbied for subsidies or for laws to harm their competitors, will also be investigated, and their directors reviewed similarly.

All subsidies for particular forms of transport, such as buses and trains, will be quickly phased out. Planned major construction projects, for example HS2, will be either sold off to private companies or cancelled. Subsidies for “renewable” energy, such as wind and solar power, will also be withdrawn. Some transitional help may be allowed to smooth the path back to cheaper and more reliable forms of energy, such as coal, gas and nuclear.

Other economically viable or potentially viable organizations, such as universities, will also have their funding withdrawn. And all support for projects or institutions outside the AGG’s jurisdiction will be terminated.

Lastly, all assets which the state has misused, such as spy cameras and catch-you-out speed cameras, will be removed, and either sold (if an appropriate use can be found) or scrapped. Similarly, for example, with computers used for spying on Internet access. Other state assets, such as buildings and land neither required by core functions of good governance nor to be transferred to spin-offs, will be put up for sale. Subdivided, where necessary.

Dealing with wrongdoers

The state, by its nature, attracts bad individuals into its ranks. Politics tends to attract psychopaths, because it offers them opportunities to force their agendas on to others; if not also to become rich. Jobs with power over others, and lack of personal accountability, can attract bullies and jobsworths. And lack of financial accountability spawns waste and function creep.

All this means that, beyond the quantifiable damage the state has caused to innocent people, it also harbours many that, in reality if not in “law,” are criminals. And worse; crony corporations, politicized academics, and other organizations and individuals close to the state, have also been able to commit, and get away with, damaging or criminal acts. Such as promoting agendas that harm good people, lobbying for laws to damage their competitors, or demanding subsidies.

Thus, there are two aspects to dealing with these wrongdoers. The first is restorative justice to their victims. Those, whose lives have been damaged by misconduct by the state or its cronies, by predatory or redistributive taxation, or by other bad policies, deserve compensation for what they suffered. We want our lives back! And the perpetrators must pay, each in proportion to the damage they caused. This will be a big programme; worth an essay in itself. So I won’t say more about it here.

The second aspect is retributive justice; punishing those wrongdoers that deserve it. What good governance can do to help this is to publish, and to index, accurate factual summaries of the injustices each of them has done. This will include acts such as intercepting the e-mails of innocent people, even if those acts may not necessarily have caused any quantifiable damage. All this will enable individuals to make their own decisions about how to treat each wrongdoer. In most cases, I expect that this, on its own, will provide sufficient punishment

I do, however, want to see one group singled out. That is, politicians that agitated for aggressive wars in places like Iraq or Syria. What they deserve is to be deported for justice at the hands of the people they aggressed against. I expect that an AGG, bearing in mind its commitment to peace and in the longer term to an entirely peaceful world, will always be open to requests for the extradition of such individuals to face trial.

Dealing with state debt

From the point of view of an AGG, the state (or what is left of it) is a criminal organization. All contracts with it are therefore, on principle, null and void. These include any expectations of future payments from it, and interest or repayments on its financial instruments. Thus our AGG has the right to repudiate all the state’s debts and, in effect, to wind it up as bankrupt both ethically and financially.

The “do no harm” principle, however, means that an AGG must not allow innocents to suffer unnecessarily. We don’t, for example, want to de-stabilize the banks, in which good people hold what little wealth the state has allowed them to amass and keep. Therefore the process of dealing with state debt must be an ordered one.

We must also not lose sight of those, particularly pensioners, who are expecting to receive from the state payments for which they have contributed in the past (and may well have paid many times over). These payments will continue, as if they were an advance repayment on the excess of the taxes they paid over the benefits they have received.


Good governance, as I said in the first part of this essay, is logically prior to any particular society. It provides a framework, in which people can form whatever societies they wish, and run them in their own ways. Thus in an AGG, I envisage, there will be a very large number of different societies.

Each individual will be a member of many societies. People within a particular society will interact according to the constitution of that society. Interactions between societies, and between individuals from different societies, will be governed by the obligations of civilized people towards others of their kind, including the obligation to respect their rights. And these are precisely the rules our AGG has been granted the authority to uphold.

Further, these societies will be of many different types. Voluntary societies and business companies, of course, will continue to operate as they do today. But new types of society will evolve, too; and old ones will be revived.

For example, societies will be formed to take on specific projects, such as to build a new road, a new nuclear power station or a new runway at Heathrow Airport. Another example is a private welfare system. I envisage this as having three main components; insurance, mutual aid and savings. Some will prefer insurance to mutual aid, or vice versa; though in general, insurance works better against low probability catastrophes, and mutual aid against less serious but more likely contingencies. In the absence of a predatory state, saving will be far easier than it is today. And non-politicized charity will always be available as a backstop.

There will also be societies of people who share a cultural bond. For example, societies to celebrate English (or Welsh) culture and tradition, or some particular aspects of a culture. Other societies will also allow those, who find it important to restrict their close cohorts to – for example – a particular nationality, or racial group, or religion, to do so without impacting anyone else. While the rest of us can simply join whatever societies we like and will have us. We won’t be concerned about the race, religion or geographical origin of their members.

No-one will be compelled to join any particular society. This, indeed, is a basic human right. And specifically, those to whom politics is anathema will be free to stay out of societies run by or for the politicized. On the other hand, those who so wish can form societies based around political ideologies. For example, those with green leanings can buy a forest, and hug its trees. Those who like socialism can make societies based on socialist ideals. And lovers of big government can live in communes ruled over and watched over by their very own Big Brother.

But in an AGG, no political society has any right to force any ideology on anyone else. Nor will the capitalists up the road be able to force others to practice capitalism. Thus, no-one will be compelled to live under an ideology they don’t like. Although, of course, all societies will have to be economically self sufficient. This, I expect, will go a long way towards removing the causes of the injustices and conflicts so prevalent in political societies today.

The longer term

As I look further ahead, my “crystal ball” becomes increasingly opaque. But because of the great benefits it can bring to all good people, I think the AGG or a similar idea – Utopian though it may seem to some – has a decent chance. And as AGGs take over more and more of the world, increasingly we will find the borders, the weapons and the militias to be unnecessary. Even before that, I expect, AGGs will be working together cordially, for example to deal with problems in which pollution crosses AGG boundaries.

There may, of course, be setbacks on the way. For example, it’s not inconceivable that some rogue state might try to attack one or more AGGs. Another risk is of a displaced political class trying to restore their state. A third possibility is corruption within the AGG, or among the quality controllers. All these are issues to be addressed.

Given my age, I may not live to see it; but I’m confident that we human beings can make it through to a better world. A world in which there are no political states, no politicians, no political agendas, no political borders, no bad laws, no predatory or redistributory taxes, no oppressions and no wars. In which the free market, personal freedom for all, good governance and objective justice are the norms. In which the rights of those, who do not violate others’ rights, are not violated. And in which all governance everywhere, if it fails to keep strictly within its remit, will lose its custom and be superseded by better governance.

To sum up

I’ll end with what I hope you’ll find an amusing little ditty. It’s based on the end of term school playground song, “No more Latin, no more French.” For the avoidance of doubt, I’ll say again that “AGG” stands for Area of Good Governance.

In a few years, how will things be,
When England is an AGG?
No more taxes, no more wars,
No more scheming behind closed doors.
No more lies or propaganda,
No more “justice” without candour.
No more politician prats,
No more bossy bureaucrats.
No more weasel words from moanies,
No more cushy jobs for cronies.
No more barriers in the way
Of those who want to earn good pay.
No more stealing of earned wealth,
Whether obvious or by stealth.
No more cameras all about,
Spying on us to catch us out.
No more tracking of our bytes,
No more trampling on our rights.
No more stops without good cause,
No more bad, politicized laws.
When England is an AGG,
Then all its people will be free.


[5] Second Treatise of Government, §140.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Good Governance – Part 1: The functions of good governance

A few months ago, I published an essay titled “Rights and Obligations” [1]. There, I sought to develop a list of obligations of civilized people towards others of their kind, and the rights which flow from them. More recently, in “Conviviality” [2] I tried, building on the ideas of Frank van Dun and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, to sketch how it might be possible for civilized people to live together, and to resolve their disputes, without any need for a state or a “sovereign.”

This is the third essay in the series. It’s in two parts, published separately. Part 1 looks at what such a system of minimal government ought to do, and gives a list of things it must not do. And in part 2, I’ll try to suggest some ingredients, and perhaps even some recipes, for better government. “The Minarchist’s Cookbook,” if you will.

The state does not provide good government

I’ll begin with a brief recap on the political state as it exists today.

Territorial nation states and the idea of “sovereignty,” as I’ve pointed out before ([3]), are rooted in a 16th-century attempt to increase the power of the French king. The idea is that the state permits a “sovereign” ruling élite to do to its “subjects” – that’s us human beings – whatever they reckon they can get away with. Including making bad laws to bind us, levying taxes, and starting wars. Furthermore, the sovereign isn’t bound by the laws it makes. It bears no responsibility for the results of its actions. And there is no come-back against it for anyone.

I’m not sure this concept was really workable, even back then. But our human civilization has grown, changed and progressed enormously in the last 400 years and more. As a result, the state as a means of legitimizing political government is now several centuries past its last use by date. Of course, over time we’ve tried various bags on the side of the state – like “representative” parliaments and “democracy” – in an effort to mitigate its worst effects. But they haven’t worked. Indeed, parliaments today in many countries – and, in particular, in the UK – are out of control. And it’s possible to argue that, over the last 150 years or so, democracy has tended to make things worse, not better.

Moreover, the human mind set has changed over the centuries. Most of all through the ideas of the Enlightenment, which began to spread in the late 17th century through the work of thinkers such as John Locke. The Enlightenment originated or promoted many fresh, good, progressive ideas. Such as: Logic and reason. The scientific method. Individual rights; and in particular, the rights to life, liberty and property. Freedom of thought and speech. The rule of law. Religious and political tolerance. The essential goodness of human nature, and a desire for human progress.

But today, we face an anti-Enlightenment backlash. It comes from both the left and the right of the political spectrum, as well as from those that claim to be in between. Many, perhaps most, among today’s intellectual and political élites seek to relentlessly increase the power of the state. And they use that power to impose on us civilized people, against our wills, policies harmful to us. They have no concern at all either for Enlightenment values, or for those of us who uphold them. Nor do they have much, if any, concern for truth, or for ethical ideas of right and wrong. And the behaviours of all the major political parties reflect their lack of any such concerns.

Thus, as is painfully obvious today, the state fails to deliver good government or anything like it.

The idea of good governance

Now, I’ll explore the idea of a civilized community without a state, and with only a minimum of government, serving its people rather than ruling over them. Such an order could help to provide a stepping stone between today’s political states and the fully fledged private law societies in reference [2]. I’ll assume that such a community will, like today’s states, have a defined territory or jurisdiction; if only because, for a while, it will need to co-exist with territorial states.

And it will have what, to distinguish it from today’s political governments, I’ll call governance. That is, an institution authorized by the civilized people in its jurisdiction to exercise the minimum of power necessary to defend peace and their rights and freedoms against those that violate, or seek to violate, that peace or those rights or freedoms. And, where required, to arbitrate justly on disputes between parties in the jurisdiction.

Furthermore, governance – like any other civilized institution – must adhere to one of the most fundamental of all ethical rules: “First, do no harm.” This is, of course, the Hippocratic oath for doctors. But it applies equally to any institution intended to be for the benefit of all. Therefore, governance must obey this principle towards all in its jurisdiction; except, of course, for those that commit aggressions, cause harm to others, or violate or seek to violate others’ rights. Governance must be a nett benefit to every individual who refrains from aggression, and from damaging or seeking to damage the lives of those who behave up to the same standards. To make this clear, when I use the word “governance” in this essay, I’ll usually call it “good governance.”

Community versus society

I’ll begin with an idea which may at first seem curious, but in reality is very significant.

The people in a given territory at a given time don’t necessarily form a society. For example, the group of people currently on the concourse at London’s Waterloo Station isn’t a society. They do form a community; a group of people with something in common. Many of them may share geographical, racial, cultural and perhaps economic ties, too. But even this does not make them into a society. Nor does it give them as a group any common will or purpose.

Thus any claim that the individuals in a jurisdiction, whether of good governance or of a political kind, thereby form a society, must be false. The idea that they, or some large subset of them, form a political society with some shared identity and purpose, is therefore also false. Yet today’s nation states claim exactly this.

Rooted as it is in the nature of civilized beings, and in the rights and obligations which flow from that nature, good governance is logically prior to any particular society. Thus there can be no “general will” or social objective, from which it can derive any purposes beyond the provision of good governance. So, in the context of good governance, conceits like “social contract,” “social responsibility,” “social justice,” “social democracy” and “social security” are utter nonsense.

What should good governance do?

Good governance has just three functions. First, to maintain peace. Second, to defend rights. And third, to resolve disputes justly. I’ll briefly discuss each in turn.

Now, much of what I have to say under these headings may seem non-controversial. For when I talk of good governance, I mean what government ought to be. Many of the matters I bring up here are already enshrined, supposedly, in the ways that Western, democratic governments are expected to behave towards citizens. But unfortunately, today’s governments are not what they ought to be. And that’s a big problem.


The first function of good governance is to maintain peace. That is, to minimize, and to seek as far as possible to eliminate, conflict.

Why is peace so important? First, because conflict kills. When a human being is killed in a conflict, not only is a life unnecessarily destroyed. But the individual’s future, and all their hopes and plans, are destroyed too. And worse, the potential value, which that individual might have created in the rest of his or her life, is lost. To everyone, and most of all to those closest to them.

Second, peace is important because conflict harms the human environment, above and beyond killing people. It causes injury, physical and mental. It shatters families and societies. It destroys well-being and happiness. It destroys property, and spreads hardship and poverty. It makes it all but impossible for individuals to plan for a better future.

Maintaining peace does not, however, mean that good governance must prohibit all violence in its jurisdiction. For, first, everyone has the right at need to use violence in self defence, or to defend, or help to defend, others against violent aggression. And second, everyone has the right at need to arrest, or to help to arrest, a suspect for the purpose of bringing that suspect to justice.

There’s a third case where violence may be necessary, too. This is where an individual or group from outside the jurisdiction uses violence against someone inside it. In this case, proportionate retaliation may be required. For this purpose, good governance will permit the use of weapons in defence, or in retaliation against aggression. It will also permit the arming and training of a decentralized volunteer militia, who will defend the members of the community when needed.

It’s a paradox inherent in politics that, in order to avoid war, you must be prepared for war. As long as one or more political states still exist, therefore, those in jurisdictions under good governance will need to retain some degree at least of military capability. That said, good governance must never use the military capability of its jurisdiction to commit any unprovoked aggression against anyone, either inside or outside the jurisdiction.

Defence of rights

The second function of good governance is to defend rights. Rights arise, as I discussed in reference [1], out of an expectation that all individuals should keep to a set of obligations of civilized and responsible behaviour. These obligations, in their turn, arise out of the nature of civilized beings. Because of this, the list of rights to be defended isn’t arbitrary. Rights don’t simply appear or disappear at the whim of some ruling cabal. But there’s room for argument about what exactly the list should be; and the list I gave is only a start. It’s certainly incomplete.

On the other side, the list of obligations, which good governance should enforce, isn’t arbitrary either. Though there is, of course, room for argument about just what level of failure to perform an obligation should be sufficient to warrant sanctions. But once such matters are agreed, there are only two circumstances in which rights and obligations can change. One is when new situations arise, which had not been foreseen. The other, far rarer, is when new knowledge becomes available about what the rights and obligations should be.

And it isn’t just actual harms, resulting from violations of rights, which can lead to sanction against the perpetrator. Mental state may need to be taken into account too. For example, an act accompanied by a clear intention to violate others’ rights can lead to sanction, even if the harm it was intended to cause does not actually come about. And if an act is irresponsible beyond the bounds of reason, and imposes on others a significant and unwarranted risk of violation of their rights, that also can lead to sanction. Put in more conventional terms, good governance can at need enforce, not only restitution for wrongs, but criminal penalties too if appropriate.

But there’s a major safeguard, which must operate before good governance can enforce any sanctions against those that have committed, or sought to commit, violations of others’ rights. That is, that the process of making the decision to authorize sanctions or not, and of how far any sanctions may go, must be entirely unbiased and objective. It must not be concerned with who the parties are, for example with their status in some society. It must concern itself only with what the parties do, as demonstrated by their actions and the attitudes they take to others’ rights.

And, as with all other decisions it makes, any such decision made by good governance must be made public, along with the reasoning which justifies it, in order that it can be reviewed by independent parties, and challenged if necessary.

Good governance must incorporate procedural safeguards, too. These are, in effect, rights which everyone has against governance as an institution, rather than against each other. Such as, for example: A right to due process of justice. A right against strict liability; there can be no crime without mens rea. A right to a speedy, fair, and public trial, and a full and public hearing. A right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty. A right not to be tried twice for the same offence. And a right against self incrimination; not to be compelled to be a witness against yourself.

Furthermore, the “do no harm” principle imposes very strict restrictions on what governance may do. For it implies that governance must not knowingly treat any individual worse than he or she treats others. In particular, it must never harm, or violate the rights of, those who do not themselves harm others or violate their rights. Thus many things, which today’s political governments routinely do – such as military aggressions, punitive or redistributory taxation, favouring some individuals or groups over others, or imposing political agendas on the population – will not happen under good governance.

Last, and perhaps most important, everyone in the employ of good governance must, at all times, perform their work to the very highest standards of honesty, integrity and objectivity.

Dispute resolution

The third function of good governance is to resolve disputes justly. Within this function there are, broadly, two kinds of disputes to be judged.

The first consists of cases where there has been objective harm to someone; whether physical, mental, financial, to the reputation or of some other kind. (This is independent of whether there may have been a criminal act too). The remedy in such cases is restitution. It is proper for good governance to determine, using objective, well defined and publicized standards, whether restitution from one party to the other is to be demanded in a particular case. And, if so, to determine its amount, and the conditions under which it must be provided.

The second kind of dispute concerns a perceived likelihood of present or future harm to one party, resulting from the actions or proposed actions of another party. There are two sub-cases here. The first is where the party tabling the dispute wishes to challenge actions proposed by others. The second is where the party tabling the dispute wishes to take an action, and the other party wishes to block it.

Here, there are at least three possible outcomes. One, the proposed actions might be disallowed, because the damage they cause to others is real and unjust. Two, the actions might be allowed, provided the party taking them provides suitable compensation to those adversely affected. Three, the actions might be allowed to proceed unencumbered.

The decision process in such a case may need to consider wider interests than just those of the immediate parties. A proposal to build a new road comes to mind as an example. But in any case, the result must be objectively just. To everyone affected. In a nutshell, good governance must always come down on the side of truth and justice, not the side of propaganda and politics.

What good governance must not do

Good governance has three functions: peace, defence of rights and just resolution of disputes. But it has only one purpose. And that purpose is to deliver good governance, and nothing else. Yet much – if not most – of the things today’s political governments do are, very much, not proper functions of good governance. Here’s a list of some of them.

It is not a function of good governance to start wars, to commit aggressions, or to agitate for war.

It is not a function of good governance to interfere with anyone’s right to self defence against aggressions, or with their right to associate for mutual defence.

It is not a function of good governance to harm or to restrain innocent people. Under good governance, individuals may only harm or restrain others if it is necessary to maintain peace, to defend others’ rights, or to resolve a dispute justly. Any contemplated harm or restraint, which is claimed to be justified by the auspices of good governance, must be subject to stringent safeguards. And the use of any such harms and restraints must be kept to the minimum.

It is not a function of good governance to treat any individual, in the round, worse than he or she treats others. Nor to violate in any way the rights or freedoms of those who do not violate others’ rights or freedoms.

It is not a function of good governance to subject people to cruel or unusual punishment, or to torture. Nor to punish anyone more severely than their conduct warrants. Nor to levy excessive bail or fines.

It is not a function of good governance to carry out surveillance of anyone, or to block, to intercept or to monitor anyone’s communications, without good, objective and provable evidence that they are a danger to others.

It is not a function of good governance to spy on people. Nor to set traps to catch people out.

It is not a function of good governance to search individuals or their property, or to seize any of their assets, without good, objective and provable cause.

It is not a function of good governance to lie, to deceive or mislead, or to suppress or attempt to suppress the truth. Nor to spread propaganda or “fake news.” Nor to seek to control people’s conduct through manipulating their emotions.

It is not a function of good governance to promote or to enforce any political agenda of any kind.

It is not a function of good governance to make legislation to constrain people’s lives. Nor to forbid any act which neither harms, nor significantly and provably endangers, anyone else. Nor to offer perverse incentives to make people behave in ways that are against their best interests.

It is not a function of good governance to favour some groups or individuals over others. For example, good governance must not discriminate, either against or in favour of an individual, on grounds of geographical origin, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. It may discriminate only according to how individuals behave.

It is not a function of good governance either to reward cronies or to victimize scapegoats.

It is not a function of good governance to control, or to interfere in, the economy. Nor to interfere with any peaceful economic activity, which does not harm anyone against their will. Nor to obstruct anyone’s right to seek, or to carry out, work. Nor to suppress, or to put any obstacle in the way of, honest business. Nor to encourage people to become economically dependent on others. Nor to distort or to suppress the free market in any way, or to restrict anyone’s access to it.

It is not a function of good governance to take away, without their consent, wealth from those who have justly earned it. Nor to redistribute such wealth to those in its own employ, or to its cronies or cohorts, or to third parties (whether through bribes or other payments).

It is not a function of good governance to demand any kind of sacrifices from anyone, unless for a reason which is just, objectively true and provable.

It is not a function of good governance to promote or to discourage any particular lifestyle choices. Nor to impose disincentives on products or services which some perceive as “unhealthy,” “sinful” or “luxuries.”

It is not a function of good governance to take or to use anyone’s assets without compensation.

It is not a function of good governance to provide education, health care, transport or transport networks, emergency services, housing (whether subsidized or not), newspapers (“free” or otherwise), broadcasting, libraries, employment agencies, counselling, charity, insurance or savings schemes. Nor to provide any other goods or services beyond its remit of maintaining peace, defending rights and resolving disputes justly.

It is not a function of good governance to subsidize artistic or cultural works or movements.

It is not a function of good governance to undertake, or to subsidize, projects outside its jurisdiction.

It is not a function of good governance to provide financial instruments such as bonds or loans.

It is not a function of good governance to plan people’s lives. Good governance must always allow everyone maximum freedom to make their own plans, subject only to the effects of their conduct on others.

It is not a function of good governance to interfere with people passing across the boundaries of its jurisdiction. Except that entrants convicted of promoting, planning or carrying out aggressions or other criminal acts in the jurisdiction, may be expelled. And those, that have been convicted of real, non-political criminal acts in other jurisdictions, may be refused entry if appropriate.

It is not a function of good governance to interfere with goods passing across the boundaries of its jurisdiction, unless there is a provable intention to use them in acts of aggression or other criminal acts against people in the jurisdiction.

It is not a function of good governance to promote or to disparage any particular culture or religion. Nor to encourage the dilution or suppression of any particular culture or religion.

It is not a function of good governance to personify itself as “we.” Nor to claim that the people in its jurisdiction form a society. Nor to claim that it has any right to do anything beyond its remit of providing good governance. Nor to claim, or to try to claim, rights it denies to others. Nor to allow immunity to any of its functionaries from being brought to justice for their acts, and punished if they deserve it.

The difference between government and governance

To conclude the first part of this essay. Ultimately, the difference between political government and good governance is this. On the one hand, in a political government, an élite ruling class sets agendas to be imposed on all (except themselves and their cronies), and manages a framework to enforce them. On the other hand, good governance allows everyone to run their own lives in their own ways, within a framework set, not by a ruling class, but by the nature of civilized beings.