Discover more from Panocracy
“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” - Douglas Adams in Mostly Harmless
I try to say something philosophical about the panocracy at the start of each post and this time we're going to say a little about hardening it (a military term!) against foolishness and deliberate attack. All democratic peoples are subject to constant attempts to usurp their freedoms and in modern times these have originated not from external agents but from within civil society itself. We can put much of this down to plain old incompetence but whatever its basis it has been much more corrosive to our society than external aggression, which tends to bind a people together. Our panocracy would still have to deal with this as incompetence and dogma won't just go away! The good news is that protection against foolish and irresponsible behaviour and those who would impose their own intolerant political or religious dogmas on us is built in to its basic structure.
Recent events involving current and previous US presidents have been interpreted as attacks on democracy itself – mainly by those camps whose leader was in the firing line at the time. Whether history will judge the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago or the January 6th protest at the Capitol as 'attacks on democracy' is still unknown. We'll look into legal and policing matters within the panocracy in later posts but at the moment it appears these institutions are sometimes dangerously close to politics.
The panocracy will insulate institutions from party political influence as there will of course be no professional politicians. Institutions and agencies have only an administrative function in our panocracy – political and religious motives are explicitly excluded from any actions they might take. Public agencies, like the police, will have to account for their actions to the electorate and so, for example, if your police force starts to misbehave, it will quickly become a matter of public concern, and one in which the public will have its say.
“The ghastly thing about postal strikes is that after they are over, the service returns to normal.” - Richard J. Needham
As we in Britain are about to have a few postal strikes, I thought it might be an idea to look at the British mail service. Now you would think that a postal service would be a pretty uncomplicated thing. Someone hands a package to a postman and for a fee he takes it to the address that's written on it. It's virtually the simplest service you could think of.
Royal Mail is Britain's postman and is an institution that started in the 17th Century. It provides delivery services (that it now likes to call 'products') to every corner of the British Isles for private and business customers. It's an example of how an organisation can start as something local, simple and effective, evolve into something with national reach, become generally respected by its users, be emulated around the world, and then sink into ignominy. Before going any further I have to say that in my experience as small online business owner, the people who do the hard physical work in Royal Mail – the postmen and women – have provided excellent service. They're not the problem.
There had been private postal services for a long time in England before the public postal service started in 1635. At that time the receiver, not the sender, paid the postage. And it was expensive, starting at two pence for a local delivery (about £1 in 2022 money) and 4 times as much for national. This was when horseback was the quickest method of transport.
In 1840 Roland Hill's penny post arrived and the cost fell to 1 old penny - roughly £0.50 in 2022 money - which was around half the 1635 price. (Inflation over those 2 centuries had been essentially zero so a 1635 penny would buy the same as an 1840 penny.)
In 1844 a letter to the London Evening Standard suggested the addition of a letter-box to every door and so it was that it became a standard feature in British front doors. It's notable that this idea came not from the Royal Mail but from a private citizen and is the kind of thing we'd expect to happen a lot in our panocracy.
1968 saw a second class (cheaper) service start up, and in 1974 the rollout of national postal codes was completed. The system was getting a lot more complex. Mail now had to be sorted by class increasing the costs and opportunities for error. Address errors had to be resolved where the postal code didn't match the address or was simply missing or unreadable. All this needed more resources and more technology. As the operation of the mail service had now been devolved from government control, delivery targets were imposed and, of course, someone (i.e. a lot of people) had to be employed to monitor performance and rap knuckles when necessary.
In the meantime the digital age had started up with online shopping a rising star. It's hard to see why Royal Mail with its delivery monopoly didn't clean up in online package delivery when others did.
The service was de-nationalised and converted into a commercial concern with a public share issue in 2013. In 2022 a 100g letter costs 95p or roughly twice as much in real terms as it did in 1900. The price of a letter stayed the same for about ¾ of a century from 1840 nearly till the First World War; it has doubled in the past decade.
Maybe the service is twice as good? By the late 19th century, there were between six and twelve mail deliveries per day in London, meaning that correspondents could exchange multiple letters within a single day! People were able to correspond by letter in much the same way as they do today by email or text. Even up to the late 1980s here in Dumfries, Scotland it was possible to post a letter in the morning and receive a reply by letter the same afternoon. I know this because I did it.
What about today? The second post was stopped in the noughties and in most places there isn't always even one post per day. Royal Mail have been set a target of 93% of their 1st class post being delivered the day after it's sent. Well, they didn't get anywhere close in the year starting May 2021 which is why they're now under investigation by the postal regulator, Ofcom, a QUANGO (see panocracy 8) . Will that stop the rot? I think you already know the answer.
So the question is: why has Royal Mail's service deteriorated so much while prices have skyrocketed? Why don't we have as a good service now as it was over a century ago? Why in an age when more and more people are buying online does a well-established company with a delivery monopoly and effective workforce find itself kicked out of the FTSE 100?
Obviously none of RM's well-remunerated CEOs can work out why. Perhaps it's management's apparent belief that customers can be treated like dirt; the smell of big bonuses driving ever more financialisation; of saddling the workforce with safetyist, woke culture; of ever-increasing rules and regulations; of its uncomfortable and ambiguous commercial status.
We can't say exactly what Royal Mail would look like under a panocracy but we can say that (1) it would probably not have become a for-profit company, instead being directly accountable to the public it's supposed to serve (2) its management would have had to respond to increasingly negative RFCs (see panocracy 5) as the service deteriorated and prices were hiked (3) its workforce would have been able to make their voices heard via RFCs and so wouldn't now be about to engage in a national strike (4) its customers and external specialists would have effectively questioned its strategy
Next time we'll try to clarify the relationship between our panocracy and bureaucracies such as those we see beleaguering our lives. These include so-called health regulators. As new revelations about the dubious activities of these institutions emerge, faith in them ebbs away. The current approach to this seems to be deception by commission and omission in the hope that people don't look too closely. It should bother us that this is happening because the reality lion will certainly bite and it's we who have our heads in its mouth.