Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Introduction to SLOW Government

In the previous post I wrote about Slow Food, Slow Money, and Slow Living. In this post I propose a new kind of "Slow."

My day job at Yankee Farm Credit involves financing farmers, which relates to both food and money. In recent years we have been seeing more nontraditional farmers, and I coined the phrase SLO agriculture for Sustainable, Local and/or Organic agriculture. My choice of acronym was a deliberate reference to Slow Food and Slow Money. Later I learned about Slow Living, and that all of these movements are part of the larger Slow Movement.

The philosophy of "Slow" has much to offer. Who doesn't think that modern life is sometimes too fast? But for all that it has to offer, the Slow Movement is missing something. It is missing what I call SLOW Government.

SLOW Government is the opposite of fast government. Fast government seeks to use the power of government to solve more and more of life's problems, resulting in more laws, more regulations, more government programs, more government bureaucracy, more taxes to pay for it all, and more government control over our lives.

SLOW Government first asks the question: Is this a necessary and proper function of government? In a country founded on the principle of limited government, this is a question that we too often fail to ask. SLOW Government recognizes the importance of culture and society outside of government.

The inspiration for SLOW Government came from one of the principles of Slow Money: "There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex." (source) I believe that there is such a thing as government that is too fast, too big, and too complex.

A good way to think about SLOW Government is as an acronym, which is why it is capitalized:

S is for Sustainable. Government should be financially sustainable. Current policies are not sustainable. Cash outflows cannot indefinitely exceed cash inflows. Debt cannot increase without limit. We in the Farm Credit System have some experience in this area. We know that excessive debt causes borrowers to fail. We know that excessive debt causes financial institutions to fail. The Farm Credit System itself has had several near-death experiences in its long and storied history. Excessive debt also causes governments to fail. That is a fate to be avoided at all costs because it leads to great misery.

L is for Local. Government should be as local as possible. Centralized administration is the enemy of democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville made this observation in the 1830s in his famous book Democracy in America. On my employer's blog I have written two posts about Alexis de Tocqueville's views on the importance of local government, using New York and China as examples.

O is for Organic. The economy should be as organic as possible. Government should allow the economy to develop naturally, without being forced or contrived. Government's management of the economy should rely as little as possible on subsidies, mandates, grants, tax incentives, stimulus spending, etc. Such artificial devices confuse the price signals that are necessary for the economy to work. Such artificial devices also lead to crony capitalism, which is to be avoided because it causes citizens to lose faith in both business and government.

W is for Wise. Government should be wise. Lao Tzu, the founder of Daoism, said: "To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day." (source) Our government has had so many things added to it that it has become unmanageable. It has become unwise. No one can understand the Byzantine complexity of the endless laws, regulations, programs, agencies, departments, boards, etc. that constitute our government. We need to subtract things from government until it is once again manageable and wise.

One of the intellectual fathers of the Slow Movement is Henry David Thoreau. His influential 1849 essay "Civil Disobedience" begins with this sentence:
I heartily accept the motto,—"That government is best which governs least;" and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.

That perhaps overstates slightly what I mean by SLOW Government, but the sentiment is certainly in the right direction. SLOW Government does not mean NO government. It does mean government that is more Sustainable, more Local, more Organic, and Wiser than our current government.

And with this introduction to SLOW Government, I wish you a happy Independence Day!

UPDATE: Fellow Vermonters have taken the bull by the horns on the "S is for Sustainable" aspect of SLOW Government. Biddle Duke, owner and president of the Stowe Reporter, together with friends Rob Foregger, Steve Silverman, Craig DeLuca, Bob Anderson and Jim Del Favero started a movement that went national in August 2012: Fix the Debt. Sign their petition! Click here for the story of how this movement began in Vermont.

UPDATE: Fellow Vermonters have written the book on the "L is for Local" aspect of SLOW Government. In September 2012 Susan Clark, town moderator of Middlesex, and Woden Teachout published Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home. Read their book! "Slow democracy" means local democracy (and more). Vermont town meetings are an example of slow democracy.

Introduction to Slow Living

In this post I introduce the concept of Slow Living. But first I have to talk about Slow Food and Slow Money.

Everyone knows what fast food is. Slow Food is an international movement founded in opposition to fast food. Slow Food grew out of a protest against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Rome in 1986. Slow Food promotes food that is enjoyable, good for the consumer, good for the farmer, and good for the planet. "It opposes the standardization of taste and culture, and the unrestrained power of the food industry multinationals and industrial agriculture." The founder of Slow Food is Carlo Petrini of Italy. Today the Slow Food movement includes over 100,000 members in 150 countries.

The Slow Money movement was founded in 2008 by Woody Tasch of the United States with the publication of Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. Carlo Petrini wrote the Foreword. The Slow Money movement seeks to "connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises." In 2010 there was a Slow Money National Gathering in Shelburne, Vermont, which I attended.

The Slow Living movement extends the philosophies of Slow Food and Slow Money:
This simple phrase [Slow Living] expresses the fundamental paradigm shift that is underway in this age. “Slow” encodes the transformative change from faster and cheaper to slower and better—where quality, community and the future matter. It’s about slowing down and becoming more mindful of our basic connection with land, place and people, taking the long view that builds a just, healthy, fulfilling way of life for the generations to come. It is about common good taking precedence over private gain. It is about shifting not just consumption but investment to support the local and regional economy.

Last month there was a Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, Vermont, which I attended.

More info (all of the above quotes came from these links):

Slow Food: Wikipedia entry,
Slow Money: Wikipedia entry,
Slow Living: Wikipedia entry,

Well, this is all very interesting. Who doesn't think that modern life is sometimes too fast? But what I find really interesting is something that is missing.

What is the philosophy of "Slow" missing? See the next post.