Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Networked Computing As a Model for Government

LaVarr Webb has a marvelous essay here that should be required reading for everyone involved in politics at any level. Webb postulates that the job of President of the United States has become too big for one person. He then artfully explains why this is so.
“We’ve come to demand and expect so much out of the federal government that the reality is it will never meet our needs and wants. We want government to take care of us from cradle to grave, handle every disaster and emergency, feed us, house us, educate us, provide us health care, make sure our caps cover our ears, button our jackets, tie up our little booties and wipe our noses. And do all of these things without ballooning the federal debt or taxing us too much. With those expectations, the job of leading this country is simply not doable.”
As a computer professional, I can relate to the solution Webb proposes because he uses the metaphor of networked computing. He likens the federal government to an old overloaded mainframe computer that has all of the power and performs all of the functions, albeit, poorly. That would make local governments equivalent to dumb terminals sending requests and waiting for responses.

The computing world has moved away from the old mainframe architecture because it was unwieldy, expensive, and extremely limiting. “The age of the mainframe computer, with all control and power at the center, has long been replaced with intelligent networks of PCs with intelligence and capacity dispersed out on the periphery, but networked together for plenty of interaction and collaboration.”

Webb says that this is how our governmental entities throughout the nation should work. “Just as in a computer network, states would have to agree on standards and protocols to deal with complex interstate issues. But the motto ought to be ‘national standards, local control,’ not top-down, bureaucratic dictates from a one-size-fits-all central government.”

What Webb is suggesting is actually the government envisioned and implemented by our founders, where the national government is limited to only the powers enumerated in the Constitution while state and local governments have indefinite powers.

Webb admits that our world is incredibly more complex than it was when the Constitution was written, and that it would be nearly impossible to implement his vision. However, he provides the success of moving welfare back to the states as an example of how we might go about doing this. Perhaps it needs to be done one piece at a time. Webb calls on our political leaders to start discussing how to accomplish this.

I agree with Webb. We need to start devolving power away from the wasteful central government. Not only would this make the federal government more manageable, it would make state and local governments more manageable and responsive to their citizens. It’s time to give our bureaucracy in D.C. a break and start shouldering the responsibility for our governmental needs closer to home.

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