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Editorials 2018-October-19

Ideas for the next youth summit

THERE is no shortage of summits, conferences or other gatherings that aim to teach the youth about government and how it supposedly works: the lawmaking process, the executive and judicial branches, the relationship between the territorial/state and federal governments, etc., etc. It’s all good.

However, to provide the youth a more complete picture of government, they should also learn how it actually functions all over the world and throughout recorded history: its many failures, its built-in ineptitude, and seemingly unappeasable itch for “solving” problems that usually result in the creation of new and bigger problems.

Such a summit should discuss the laws now on the CNMI statute books and how they were actually implemented, if at all, and what the actual results were compared to the avowed goals. For example, the anti-littering law enacted in 1989 which had to be amended 27 years later because littering continued unabated. Perhaps discussion on the new and improved anti-littering act could be held while the summit participants conduct a cleanup in public areas where they must also avoid the stray dogs that were supposed to have been “controlled” by a 1995 law.

The summit will likewise discuss how lawmaking has fared since the Garden of Eden, Moses and Hammurabi. Here, moreover, are three other lines of argument that the youth summit participants can chew on:

  • • “The incentives for good management in government are very weak. For instance, even though lawmakers are expected to pursue the ‘public interest,’ they make decisions that use other people’s money rather than their own. This means that their exposure to the risk of a bad decision is fairly limited, and there is little to no reward for spending taxpayers’ money wisely or providing a service effectively or efficiently. Furthermore, because each voter bears a very small part of the cost of these bad decisions, and they have their daily lives to manage, voters lack the incentives to sufficiently monitor the government.”
  • • “Someone who buys a car typically wants to be well informed about the car he or she selects. That is because the car buyer’s choice is decisive — he or she pays only for the one chosen. If the choice is wise, the buyer will benefit; if it is unwise, the buyer will suffer directly. Voting lacks that kind of direct result. Therefore, most voters are largely ignorant about the positions of the people for whom they vote. Except for a few highly publicized issues, they do not pay a lot of attention to what legislative bodies do, and even when they do pay attention, they have little incentive to gain the background knowledge and analytic skill needed to understand the issues.”
  • • “We only need to ask what laws have been doing for a long time past to see that the terrible evils complained of are mostly law-made.”

Other topics for discussion:

Where does the government get its funding? What is the relationship between the state of the economy and the government’s financial condition?

Of course no discussion about government would be complete without acknowledging what it does so well. These include creating government jobs, hiring people to fill those jobs, imposing fees and taxes, collecting and spending them, and telling businesses and people how to run their businesses and lives.

The CNMI government should organize and host such a groundbreaking youth summit. Why? Because it is more than likely that it will be funded by the federal government — the same federal government that allotted $15 million for a “research on the effectiveness of golf equipment in space,” and allowed the Los Angeles Unified School District to divert “more than $158 million of federal School Lunch Program funding to other uses including buying lawn sprinklers and paying the salaries at the district’s television station.”