Cross posted at Better Donkey

In a response to Michael Tomasky’s essay on civic republicanism as a voice for Democrats, Brad Carson writes that we need to move beyond just rhetoric:

The “common interest” is fine as a rhetorical ploy. Tomasky’s “common good” won’t be the Democrats’ grand narrative, though. Because, its linguistic utility notwithstanding, the “common good” lacks any real substance and is incapable of doing the important work of prioritizing among (and adjudicating between) competing ideas. In the first 100 days of a new Democratic president, does the “common interest” dictate that we should first do universal health care, welfare reform, or gays in the military? We’ve been down that road before, and we know the baleful destination already.

I’ve been thinking about this, and I agree, that is as much as putting though into action. So, what would be the political policies of a civic republican agenda?

One idea is the concept of participatory budgeting, or as I like to call it, the Tim Eyman anti-body we should give all our cities and counties. One of the reasons that folks tend to vote themselves tax cuts and demand more service is that there isn’t a connection between them and how their local governments spend money.

Which totally makes sense because local government budgets are written over multiple months, and come to a head during the holiday season.

Participatory budgeting is the opposite of the typical way of developing budgets. It brings citizens close to how decision are made. It opens wide the most basic part of government, and the part that people trust the least.

participatory budgeting has its origins in the radical-left politics of South America. It was first proposed by a political party as part of a platform in the late 80s in Brazil, and first practiced in Porto Algre, Brazil in 1989. The purpose there was to break the lock upper and middle class elites had on the budgeting process.

Here it would be to bring people back into a murky process that we have handed over to elected officials and hired professionals. In Washington there are at least two small examples being played out now in Olympia and Tacoma. Both are limited in scope but have expanded the public dialogue and engagement in budgets.