The uncommon wisdom of the common folk

Introduction: Smile, folks, its your birthday !

With the Cold War over and Neo-liberalism firmly in the saddle, the thesis is that social problems will take precedence over international conflicts. We never had it so good, but we can make it a lot better still, if we deal with some of the aggravating factors in our society which seem to stem more from apathy and ignorance than malice.

1. Shaking the (Court)House down

Common folks can no longer afford the costs of litigation. Therefore, arbitration by lawyers must become the court of first resort in civil matters. A decision should be rendered within 30 days, and the successful party should not incur any costs.

2. Trial by Ordeals

Settling labour disputes by strikes and lock-outs is a "Might is Right" approach reminiscent of the Dark Ages. The rule of law must prevail in labour relations. Fair guidelines must be established, and decisions of credible, independent mediators must be mandatory and final.

3. Welcome back, Doc !

Health care should be built around the doctor-patient relationship. Every citizen should register with the GP of his choice and be free to switch at will. The GPs, working in teams, should be paid by the State a monthly amount based on the number of their registered patients. Hospitals, equipment, specialists should be available to the patient through his GP.

4. A time for guidance

With modern access to knowledge, we no longer require magisterial teachers but real educators who will take responsibility for guiding and coaching a cohesive group of closely-bound students through the years it takes to attain a diploma. A diploma which only the State will deliver, on the basis of a comprehensive test. Programs and educational facilities should be put at the disposal of the educators and their groups.

5. The &laqno;two-strikes» rule

An overwhelming majority of violent crimes are committed by people who have already committed one. A second major crime should mean a life sentence. Jail conditions, however, should reflect the purpose, which is not to castigate the culprit but to protect society.

6. A home to call your own

The best way to promote home ownership, and the consequent social stability, is to give financial assistance to the tenants who want to buy the very dwelling where they have been living for sometime.

7. That's my game!

Sport attendance is a modern ritual of bonding and belonging. It should be promoted and it should be free. A smart use of the advertising potential of large gatherings could pay for the whole operation - and sponsor sport and physical fitness to boot.

8. It's only money ...

We better face the fact that modern technology is turning forgery into such an easy trick that electronic money will have to take over very soon. We should hasten the transformation, since it has positive consequences: "black" money will not be laundered easily, tax evasion will be more difficult and theft will become close to impossible.

9. Stamping out nonsense

Putting a fax in every Canadian household once for all would be cheaper than operating trouble-ridden Canada Post during one single year. Let's do it now, and let us train to some useful purpose the human resources (60 000 !) made available by this move .

10. To rule ... and obey

Political parties should be elected on the basis of a precise program: a contract with the people. M.P and MNA. should not be party-bound, but independent watchdogs of the party in power with the right to impeach a government which would not abide by the terms of its contract with the people.

11. Out of mischief

Most non-violent petty crimes, representing the bulk of illegal activities, are perpetrated by people who are more undisciplined and disorganized than evil, by people who need supervision. To provide them with a proper support framework would make it unnecessary to put these people in jail, and it would prove a tremendous social and economic plus for society.

12. Arts &laqno;à la carte »

The State should not sponsor the artists themselves, but the consumption of the Arts by the common people. Thus, we would use the people's money to develop Arts that would match what the people want rather than the fancy of self-proclaimed experts.

13. The Brain Futures

No investment, over the last three decades, yielded a return that can compare with what would have accrued to an investor sponsoring the education of surgeons or successful lawyers and obtaining in return a significant share of their future income. Investing in people is the investment of the future... and it is a no-nonsense way to finance higher education at the same time.

14. A loaf of Bread, à jug of Wine...

No reason to tolerate homelessness in a country like ours. Everybody should be fed and have a bed to sleep. We are talking very small money, but an enormous step forward for society itself.

15. Work for the asking

The tools are there, now, to identify each worker and each job and to facilitate the match. It is the State's most obvious responsibility to put everybody to work. Nobody who can work, however, should receive assistance unless he is ready and willing to work in return.

16. Protection rings

Individuals should be encouraged to join with friends in micro mutual insurance groups whose coverage would be 90% underwritten by larger groups, and these groups in turn by larger groups still. To have a significant part of the loss covered by friends makes people more prudent, and more honest. Natural disasters, on the other hand, should be covered by the State, as a manifestation of our solidarity as a Nation.

17. Truth and consequences

Information about new products and technologies should be made available free to all households. Private advertising, on the other hand, should be bound by law to substantiate its allegations. If you say it's better, say why and prove it... or else...

18. Spacesharing

In our society, more and more people do not have lasting family links. The way to scratch out the best standard of living from of a given income may often lie, now, in sharing facilities with others. Such is the case with students, single-parent families, senior citizens... It would satisfy a huge social need to help these people meet together and organize into common households.

19. Follow the guide

It is harder and harder, for the individual, to make head or tail from both the opportunities offered and the obligations imposed by the State, from income tax reports to small business loans. Every citizen should have free access to a professional guide, paid by the State to steer him through this labyrinth. It would greatly reduce the need for Civil Servants, be more efficient, give back control to the tax-payer and prove cheaper than the present system.

20. Conscience coming of age

The State has its hands full with protecting the lives and property of Canadians and preventing violence; it should leave it to individual morality to deal with so-called "victimless crimes" - gambling, prostitution, addiction, assisted suicides - making sure, though, that each individual decision is taken freely by a reasonable adult, and that children and third-parties are not harmed.

21. Treadmill magic

A tax on capital is more dynamic than a tax on income. Controlled inflation is a reasonable and efficient tool of monetary policy, particularly if it goes hand in hand with a tax on real estate and if a safe haven from inflation is offered to in-vestors through indexed instruments.

22. Dons in coveralls

The best way to train people for work is on the job site. This, by the way, is the German way. We must organize a new, more efficient system of vocational training, to prepare the manpower we need and re-train the people whose professional abilities are now obsolete.

23. A grip on your dear life

Given the foreseeable continuing growth in health-caring procedures and the ex-ponential costs of medicine, it will be necessary that a significant part of the tasks of today's physician be handled by paramedics and that the educated part of the population, trained to that end, be ready to lend a helping hand.

24. Your turn at the mike

The future of democracy rests on information becoming an interactive process. The media must give the people their turn at the mike, lest the tremendous breakthroughs in psychology and communications make democracy a mere exercise in manipulation.

25. The end of the Age of Toil

Jobs are a creation of the Industrial Age. The new conditions of work, in a post-in-dustrial society require creativity, empathy, entrepreneurship, and do not fit the job structure. Therefore, a new framework must be designed to put a net of guaran-teed income below workers, most of whom will be self-employed. But nothing should be given to an able worker who does not hold himself available to supply a useful work input.


Method and rationale

Let me tell you, in a nutshell, about the method and underlying rationale which led to this book being written the way it was.

In July 1990, 100 persons selected at random were asked to list a minimum of ten (10) of the most significant problems our society would have to resolve to make our daily life easier. 81 problems were identified at least 10 times.

30 (other) persons selected at random were asked to indicate on a scale of 1 to 5 the importance of these 81 problems in their own life

The 25 problems with the highest score were identified, and hundreds of people (unfortunately, the exact number was not kept), from September 1990 through March 1991, were asked to comment and provide bits of their own solutions to these problems.

A synthesis was made of each set of solutions, and these syntheses in turn were shown to people and modified until a solid majority (>70%) would agree with the solution as proposed. In six cases, it was impossible to reach a consensus of this magnitude, so no solution was proposed*. Six other subjects were then developed to replace them, and a consensus was also reached**.

The result was published in March 1992, and a second edition in May. Fifty-two (52) media reviewed the book with positive comments ranging from "innovative" to "inspiring" coming from most Quebec's French media, with more than a dozen TV interviews and page-length features in top newspapers, including the City's most popular "Journal de Montréal".

[N.B : Progress has caught up with some of these proposals. Faxes are now commonplace, Interac is operational, and Internet is giving everyone his " turn at the mike". The transformation of Health care, Education, Vocational training , Employment and Law Enforcement are still very much an issue, though.]

* Quebec's Sovereignty, Indian affairs, Immigration policy, future of the Army, public debt, Canada's role in the Third World.

** Natural disasters (16), Electronic money (8) and the Mail Strike (9) were then very much in the news; I doubt they would score so high amongst to-days' concerns. Items # 5 and #11 result from a split to achieve consensus. # 20 and # 25 are composite items.


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Index Section 1


"Crisis and Beyond"