Monday, May 12, 2008

The State We're In

In no place are citizens entitled to think they know the ability and motivation of officials in authority, elected or appointed, unless the authorities explain fully, fairly and publicly:

(1) what they intend that would affect citizens in important ways,

(2) why they intend it, stating who would benefit, how, and why they should, and who would bear what costs and risks, and why they should, and

(3) what their intended performance standards would be for themselves and those they oversee, if permitted to go ahead with what they intend.

Only with this knowledge can citizens sensibly act to commend, alter or halt what the directing minds of the authority intend, yet citizens have not yet required it. Obtaining this information and validating the authority’s assertions is called holding to account. It is simply the application of the precautionary principle.

The logical extension of the principle is that if authorities refuse to account publicly, fully and fairly, they should not be trusted. This applies in both democracies and dictatorships. On the other hand, authorities that “default to the public good” can show that they do so through the quality of their public explanations. For example, published financial statements, which are usually the only public accounting required by current law, are only a part of the information needed and are not explanation before the fact,

Simply hoping or writing “urging” letters to officials rather than holding them fairly and relentlessly to account will not assure fairness in society.

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