to the principles
of the United States of America
and to the republic
that holds them true
one nation, indivisible
with liberty and justice for all
These reasons are actually closely related, as becomes clear when the idea is examined. It's true that congestion pricing affects drivers. But the flip side of this is that congestion pricing raises revenue for roads. This isn't a raise in taxes but a shift in taxes from the general population to the people who actually put a strain on the road network. That means that there is more room in the general budget for other projects, or for a drop in taxes if people decide that's a better policy. Congestion tolls are an avoidable tax, because people always have the option to use mass transit. Tolls also direct government taxation at a smaller group of people, and acknowledge the usefulness of markets, making them superior to general taxes and policies based on mandates rather than incentives. Those opposed to a high degree of regulation should be happy to support an alternative that reduces regulation. Modern tolls can avoid slowing down traffic by using cameras to identify vehicles, sending a bill every so often to the owner of each vehicle. These cameras are no more intrusive than the transportation cameras that are already in use in most cities.
That leaves the question as to how much public transportation is required for congestion pricing to work. Cities with poor public transportation provide few options for commuters, most of whom will have no choice but to pay the toll, move, or change jobs. Most will simply pay. But that's not a bad thing. Even in a city with no public transportation, tolls represent a fairer way to pay for road maintenance. They encourage people to move closer within the toll boundary, or to get a job closer to their home, completely outside the toll boundary. In either case, transportation is made more efficiently. As for bringing better public transportation, by shifting road costs to tolls, more money is available in the budget of cities to improve mass transit.
Only if the toll is so onerous that it impacts the overall economy of a city is it a bad idea. So setting the level of the toll is important. The toll should encourage more efficient use of roads and increased use of mass transit without being an economic burden. One way to ensure this is to exempt certain vehicles from the toll, such as trucks delivering freight to and from major ports. Another is to start with a relatively low toll, measure the effect, and then modify the toll based upon the results on traffic and economic development.
Here's what I envision for Seattle. The city of Seattle is geographically constrained, particularly on the north, west, and east. While the worst traffic areas might be in the downtown core, it's actually easier to set tolling cameras based on geographic features. The Lake Washington Ship Canal is crossed at only six points--I-5, SR 99, Montlake, University, Fremont, and Ballard. The two floating bridges are the only points in from the east. Most of the west side of the city is on Elliott Bay, except for West Seattle across the Duwamish. There are two bridges that cross here--the West Seattle Bridge and the bridge for SR 99/509. Boeing Field takes up most of the rest of the city to I-5, and toll cameras at the correct points on East Marginal Way and Airport Way, and northbound I-5, complete the tolling system on that side of the city. The southeast part of the city is a little more difficult, but a close look at the map shows that putting in four cameras along the four major roads that cross at or near Henderson Street north of the Rainier Beach neighborhood is sufficient to cover every route into the city.
Seventeen cameras. WSDOT already has cameras in the right spots north and southbound on I-5, on I-90, on 520, and several close to other locations, and it would not be difficult to upgrade these cameras for tolling purposes and add fourteen more in the other locations. Beyond that, all that is needed is an administrative system to mail bills and collect tolls.
Set the toll to start at $1.50, which matches the one-zone peak fare for Metro and Sound Transit buses. Reduce or eliminate the tolls for off-peak and low-congestion hours. Incorporate the existing local MVET (motor vehicle excise tax) fees into this toll, to simplify local taxes. When the light rail trains open, make sure that the toll is at least as high as the light rail fare. Direct 50% to road maintenance and 50% to transit.
If the early system is successful, add an additional dynamic toll above the flat congestion price rate that rises and falls with congestion on each major regional highway, and signs in key locations that advertise the current price. This way, motorists can choose the cheaper and less congested routes based on live information about traffic. This increases efficiency of the roads while raising even more revenue for road and transit projects.
Finally, as state and federal carbon mandates are introduced, adjust the system to ensure compliance with those mandates. If there's a carbon tax, it will be possible to distribute the tax according to road use, if that's allowed. If there's a carbon cap and trade, the tolls can be used to reduce the city's use of greenhouse gases and possibly generate carbon credits that can offset the additional tolls. During economic downturns, the tolls could be adjusted downward temporarily to help ease the impact on lower-income commuters and encourage short-term economic growth.
When I briefly outlined this idea over at the Slog, I was told that this was tantamount to banning cars from the city, and that I was better off voting for Kucinich and Nader in 2008. To the contrary, I think this is an achievable and moderate step that could be sold politically, while also actually making a difference for the city of Seattle.
To protect these rights, the UN needs power and funding corresponding to each right:
After establishing rights of individuals and nations, and creating a legal system, the next step would be planning for legislation and administration. The legislative function of the UN would have powers both to raise money and to define international standards and regulations for all member nations. The scale of what the UN can accomplish and how much power it can wield is in large part determined by its funding. To acknowledge the scope of global problems, its budget should at least be on par with the typical nation state. I'd like to see the UN funded relative to member GDP, and fixed at 1% of global GDP, so that each member nation would direct 1% of its GDP to the UN. With current global GDP of over $60 trillion (using PPP figures, for those who care), that would work out to a budget of $600 billion per year, some 30 times the current budget. Jeffrey Sachs has estimated that .7% of world GDP would be sufficient to eliminate global poverty by 2025, leaving some $120 billion for other UN projects.
The structure of the decision-making bodies of the UN is the next big question. Currently, there is a General Assembly of UN ambassadors from each country that has little formal power at all, and a Security Council that can act on security matters alone with the consent of all permanent, veto-wielding nations, and a clear majority of the whole Security Council, which also includes 10 rotating members.
I do think the power of the UN should remain limited by allowing vetoes. However, I think the vetoes should be balanced by population, by wealth, and by regional distribution, and that each veto should be exercised regionally and not by a specific member nation. Each region would then decide how to select a representative to wield its regional veto (or affirmative vote), through a process of discussion and election among the UN ambassadors for each nation in the region. So the Security Council of today would be superseded by Regional Councils of Nations and an Executive Council. Each member of the Executive Council could propose resolutions suggested by members of his or her Regional Council.
To counter the power of the councils, the General Assembly would be made up of popularly elected representatives, each representing a similar number of people (say, 1% of the population, or currently about 70 million people.) The General Assembly could submit resolutions to the Executive Council, and ratify the election of UN officials including the UN President. It could also override one or more Executive vetoes by a margin representing double the population represented by the vetoing regional councilors.
The exact implementation details are not important, though the apportionment should consider both population and GDP of regions and attempt to roughly balance them. Here's one quick take on the Executive Council:
Americas (Currently the US slot): One position, over 850 million people, $16-17 trillion GDP.
Europe (Currently the French slot): One position, almost 500 million people, $12-13 trillion GDP.
Asia, including Australia (Currently the Chinese and Russian slots): Two positions, 4 billion people, $18 trillion GDP.
Africa (Currently the UK slot): One position, 900 million people, $1.6 trillion GDP.
Another approach would be to add more veto slots, with some representing combined national populations in a region, and other representing combined economic zones.
Another alternative would be to grant vetos to the highest population and/or wealthiest countries, enable each veto-holder to form a voting coalition with other nations including other veto-wielding nations, and then weight the vetoes or votes according to the combined population and/or weight of each coalition. Because veto overrides would require a number of General Assembly members representing twice the population and wealth of the nations represented by the veto, it's OK if the weight of each voting coalition is different.
Top five countries by GDP, representing over 68% of the world's production:
Top countries by population, representing over 52% of the world's people:
That's six countries, four of which are on both lists. If an even ten was preferred, the next countries on the list would be Brazil, Russia, and two of the following: Pakistan, Bangladesh (by population), Canada, Mexico, South Korea (by GDP).
If we start with the current veto holders and then expand based on these stats, we'd have something like:
Final three to make 10, based on population:
And finally, selecting next on the population list so that Africa is represented:
Interestingly, this same list of eleven countries can be generated by considering the top eleven nations by population alone, as Japan is the 11th most populous nation. These ten nations represent the top ten nations by both GDP (European nations considered separately) and top eleven by population (EU considered as one), and every continent on Earth. They represent 73% of GDP and almost 65% of the world's population. On every vote, each of these countries could wield its veto or affirmative vote alone, or with the added weight of other countries. Because each nation would tend to have more ties with regional neighbors, regions would often join together in a bloc. By continent, then, including only the ten veto-wielding countries, the regions would be:
In practice, the countries in the first three regions would be able to wield their vetoes as a group and even individually in some cases without soliciting the help of smaller nations. South America and Africa would be better off forming semi-permanent continental blocs, or even a combined bloc. South America as a whole has 5.6% of the population and 4.3% of GDP. Africa as a whole has 13.7% of the population and 2.7% of GDP. Together, at 19.3% population and 7% GDP, they represent a formidable force, particularly if GDP is removed from the equation.
In terms of people on the ground, each nation should be responsible for committing a percentage of the overall effort proportional to the percentage of its population. This would be true both for peacekeepers, and for non-soldier employees in the field.
Getting from here to there is the hard part. I think it actually makes sense to start with reworking the veto, and then once the balance of power is changed, work on increasing funding and the scope of operations. In short, these are the steps: