Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Democracy: The Math of Counting Everyone

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
October 20, 2023

Father Time is undefeated. This is true today, tomorrow and for another two thousand tomorrows. Just as time has been present through every social, economic, political and generational transformation, so has the need to help our fellow man and woman. You do not need to step on a few rakes to know that dispassion, corruption and meanness are harmful and counterproductive in public service. One need only recognize that each instance complicates every opportunity to access our full humanity.

Public service is a decision predicated upon equal representation. It is not guesswork. Operationally, it manages human needs and conditions through the act of organizing and disseminating public goods and services. Democracy is a feature of government that allows for a political settlement of debates regarding political inequality. Political inequality is possible when societies fail to calculate the value of all of its citizens. If democracy clarifies ownership then public service is the natural pattern necessary to do so.

Democracy can conjure up images of columns, rocky cliffs, old rooms and large dusty books. That is a fair image. Democracy has seen every trend, every scene and every variation of government structure to date. What democracy is not is a freeze-dried ideology. While it brings to mind the traditional elements of election, representation and inclusion, visually, democracy is even more. Democracy’s framework allows for great and impressive transformation in voices at all of the tables of government. Further, it allows public service to structurally wean out the exploitation of human and capital resources because for it to work it demands the inclusion of new paths (new governments) that are balanced by the consistent return to the founding rule of equal representation. This rule is non-negotiable and without it a government is little more than a fragile house of cards.

Public service is as situational as it is generational. The United States did not always have 15 Federal Departments with each of its separate budgets in the tens to hundreds of billions. In its salad days, from 1789 to 1816, the United States had much fewer states than the present 50 and the only departments established at the time were State, Treasury, War, Navy and the Post Office. Over the centuries, situational and generational changes have been captured through the amending process and in the growth of departments and agencies that better reflect the time, the needs and the number of citizens served under the Constitution. The original precedent for the federal government’s current Continuing Resolution was one of the first Continuing Resolution’s passed by Congress in 1816. So, even the founders understood that budget discussions would not always be settled by session deadlines. Oddly, it is a centuries-old practice that continues to be practiced and employed today.

Debate is an essential part of democracy because democracy is always questioning intent. That intent is quantifiable beyond debate and usually centers on a policy or a program’s numerator (total number of people actually helped) and its denominator (total number of people budgeted to help). After a program is implemented, the numerator becomes the new planning point and a new count (up or down) informs the budget process. This may sound too simplistic, but it isn’t. Expenditures in the local, state or national budget tell us where needs are in specific departments and agencies and indicate where additional employees may be needed now or in the future. Without knowing the numerator, outlays may be underspent or overspent—and either can impact the level and quality of public service delivery.     

The usefulness of public service can never be overstated. It is a basic fundamental condition of democracy and is essential in addressing the institutional circumstances that lend themselves to the need for order and equality. Democracy’s record is not perfect, but it is impeccable. Its faults are found in the performances of those who have based decisions on embedded and unequal sentiments. Time has shown us the folly in those decisions and luckily we have had the wisdom and the courage to do better. Time has traveled the path of democracy and public service with each of us, offering consultation from past speeches, large dusty books and notable pamphlets and articles. Public service should be a space where the appetite for positive and constructive assistance is never satisfied. The story of public service is not about you. The story of public service is about us.

The @ Counting Counts image was taken and titled by Lisa Saye.

Author: Dr. Lisa Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. She also served as Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities and as Associate Professor of Public Administration at American University Afghanistan. Dr. Saye can be reached by email at [email protected].

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *