How to Solve the Ukraine Conflict
|April 27, 2014||Posted by Fred Foldvary under Editorials|
Elections are supposed to achieve social peace by providing a government that represents the people. But voting has not brought peace to Ukraine. Many people distrust the honesty of the elections, and many in Ukraine have disagreed with the policies of the government, both when policy favored association with Europe and when it favored association with Russia. The fact that many voters in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine favor union with Russia, or else independence, shows that many there do not feel well represented.
The coming election in Ukraine will not solve the governance problem, because it is just a continuation of the same system that some are rebelling against. Ukraine needs a new structure of government and democracy. The solution is to shift political power from the central government to the people as individuals. When a citizen of Ukraine holds power equal to that of all others, he will have nothing to rebel against.
Individual sovereignty can best be represented by a neighborhood council. The neighborhood should have a small population, such as a thousand residents. That is small enough for the people to personally know the candidates and for someone to be elected with little cost. The government of Ukraine can begin the decentralization by establishing neighborhood or village election districts. If the neighborhood population is a mixture of ethnic Ukrainians and Russians, and the people wish to have a council that is aligned with one of these groups, or other interests, then the residents may regroup their districts and have councils that best represent their individual interests. This is the level-one level of governance.
In the Russian language, “Soviet” means “council”. The Soviet Union was supposed to be a union of elected councils, and there was indeed a structure of bottom-up multi-level soviets, but in practice, the Communist Party ruled top-down. Ukraine should resurrect the old Soviet system, which actually derives from the 19th-century anarchist concept of associations of voluntary communities. The Bolshevik slogan was, “All power to the soviets!”, but instead they perpetuated the dictatorship of the proletariat, usurped by the party oligarchs.
The power of the neighborhoods has to be constrained by a constitution that recognizes and enforces natural rights. In most countries, constitutions that proclaimed liberty have failed to be implemented, mainly because the structure of mass voting facilitates plutocracy, with policies that transfer wealth from workers to the moneyed and landed interests, resulting in poverty that gets remedied by trickle-down government welfare.
But with the bottom-up system of genuine soviets, the government would much better represent the people, and constitutional rights would be more strongly protected. As the level-one councils elect level-two regional councils, and these elect the supreme soviet or national parliament, the structure would prevent the usurpation of power from the top. The president would be elected by the parliament and easily dismissed if the people are dissatisfied. Any council member could be recalled by the council that elected him.
Decentralized government gets hampered by centralized tax collection, such as an income tax or value-added tax imposed from the central government. Decentralized governance is suitable to decentralized public finance, and the source of public revenue best suited to local power is the tapping of the area’s land rent or land value. Taxing wealth and investment invites capital to flee, hide, or else it shrinks from the burden. But land cannot hide, and it does not run away, nor does land shrink when taxed. Revenue from land-value taxation can be applied by the level-two councils, with revenues sent to both the level-one and level-three governments.
Ukraine needs two things: better governance and strong economic growth. The replacement of the current complex of market-hampering taxes by taxes on land value and pollution would give the economy such a comparative advantage that investment would pour in, wages would rise, the government would be able to pay off its debts, and the economic misery that fuels much of the unrest would be replaced by an economic joy that would eliminate the economic motivation to join Russia.
With small-group voting, the residents of eastern Ukraine would have their own local Russian-speaking councils, and probably ethnic Russian level-two councils representing some 25 thousand persons. The constitution of Ukraine should devolve most government services to the level-two councils, including local security, education, and public works. The ethnic Russians would no longer feel alienated from the government, and the government of Russia would find it difficult to control the local governments, because the council members would come from the people.
As to the situation of takeovers of government buildings in eastern Ukraine, the national government should surround them with walls of troops while establishing new centers of administration in other guarded buildings. But a lasting solution needs to replace the current government with councils that people feel represents them. The one good thing about the old Soviet Union, the bottom-up multi-level system of soviets, was the element that was most discarded without any debate. Ukraine: bring back the soviets, only this time, make it “all power to the people” as individuals and their chosen councils.