Call me naive, call me an idealist, but generally I think the world is getting a better place. I also think that governments elected under representative democracy are on balance, a force for good. It is this underlying optimism that underpins my whole philosophy and is why I believe in the environmental agenda, redistributive policies, proportional representation (PR) and yes, ID cards.
Looking back through history, it is clear the progressive agenda is winning, things that just 2 decades ago were seen as quite radical and left wing are now mainstream. Gay rights, racial equality, even public expenditure over tax cuts have won the argument.
Despite all this, there is a problem. I'm in a hurry, and although I see progress, like always it has to be fought for continually every bit of the way- it is a two steps forward, one step back process.
The biggest problem is a culture of negativity, which is particularly prevalent in first-past-the-post countries like the US and the UK, exacerbated by the peculiar aspects of an electoral system that rewards negative campaigning.
My biggest worry is the growth of a prevailing negativity about the way we are governed. This rise is easily explained and hardly surprising when we consider the drip, drip, drip concentration of sensationally negative stories in the media, day after day. Next time you go to buy a paper, look at all the front pages and count the negative story to positive story ratio, I found 5 to 1 in favour of negativity.
This negativity has infected our psyche so much that now there is not just mistrust but an almost general hatred of politicians and government. We must try and remember that the government is essentially just a reflection of the people that elect them. The more people become disenchanted and distance themselves from government the less effective government is at reflecting our will. We have to get involved.
Admittedly the representative process is inefficient, as are many aspects of the way we organise government and society. But although PR would make things better, the government still overall reflects general mainstream public opinion.
I'm sure some of you will point out that the danger with any idealism is that it is prone to follow unrealistic aims that can prove quite fundamentally incorrect, but I would argue that without it, progress is on the whole far slower. Yes we must be pragmatic, but without an ideal, we don't even know which direction to head. This is why it is essential.
Overall all I look for in a policy is something that is going to improve the efficiency and quality of life. But not just in the short term but in the medium and long term.
A problem with all democracies is that it is difficult to look more than 5 years ahead due to electoral constraints. This as I have argued here before is even more pronounced in the adversarial politics of FPTP compared to the more consensual PR.
So where am I heading with this strain of thought? Well, when I argue for environmental politics, I am looking 20 or more years ahead. The oil is quite clearly starting to run out, and yet I see huge amounts of energy being wasted with little concern. We could cure most of our problems over the next century just by using our energy more efficiently, let alone using our dwindling resources to develop truly renewable alternatives.
A brief aside here; excellent rebuffing of Simon Jenkins' argument for nuclear power over at Free Speed Nation. There are 10,000 years of reasons why nuclear power is not a viable option for our future. The industry conveniently ignores the cost of storing and disposing of nuclear waste when it compares itself with renewables.
Now, to ID cards. How does this fit in to all this I here you ask. Well quite simply, I think that the looming environmental crisis is so bad that we need to consider carbon rationing. Each individual would have their carbon ration that would be linked to their identity card each time they made a purchase (you could get credits for things like recycling etc.), this would suddenly make the decision to travel abroad using a cheap flight or driving to work while living in the city, an either or situation instead of just reflecting your financial status, the environmental cost would be factored in as well. If you believe this can't be done, read 'How we can save the planet' by Mayer Hillman. In his book he outlines how carbon rationing would work.
Unlike most opponents of ID cards, I have a totally open mind on this subject. I freely admit opponents 'could' be right in predicting big problems in introducing them. But like the impending doom predicted surrounding the millenium bug, I feel they are exagerating their claims somewhat to support their case. I have outlined here many arguments why I think they are wrong in being so pessimistic.
Most of their objections are down to their dislike of government. I don't dismiss all their arguments of course. They rightly point out a number of potential problems, but overall a lot of their doom laden predictions rely on believing that the government have some secret corrupt evil agenda that frankly I believe they have no evidence to support. Arguments against bad government are just that, they are not arguments against ID cards.
I think this impasse is where the argument will be left because, unless they change this underlying belief, there is little we can agree on with this aspect.
I can accept practical problems with the scheme, but nobody has demonstrated to me, why they will be so bad that the scheme will not be worthwhile. Opponents point out problems with database schemes but no-one argues that computer databases and other software haven't brought enormous benefits in efficiency to our society. For example, I was in the bank today, no sooner had I paid some money in, that 30 seconds later I could check on an ATM, and there it was proudly in the system. This is the sort of efficiency we should bring to government in all aspects of our life. Technology is obviously going to keep improving, we should take advantage of this and not bury our heads in the sand.
I believe in efficiency and long term arguments, short term costs and problems will be overcome. I see a parallel with the arguments against ID cards with those used against joining the Euro, which I believe we should have joined in 1999. The short term gains of not joining will be paid for later when we have to catch up with the more efficient Eurozone market they will emerge in the future. It is simple economics. I can hear the sceptical voices now, but you have to look beyond the initial practicalities, without this vision, the EU itself would not exist with all the obvious benefits it has brought to Europe in terms of peace and economic efficiency. Sometimes you have to be brave and make calculated gambles on long term gains.
To sum up, my main arguments here are old fashioned hope, idealism and a non-luddite attitude to new technology which are after all the biggest drivers to real improvements in our life.