Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity | Latin: subsidium means “help” or “assistance” – an organizing principle of devolving decisions to the lowest practical level. Thus, smaller, more local, or “lower”, human associations have proper social functions which should not be assumed by larger, or “higher” associations (i.e. performance on a higher/macro level should only be warranted in the pursuit of assisting a lower/micro level to fulfill their functions).

Conventional decision making, based on existing zoning practices in the United States, front loads the timing of decisions regardless of the aspects of size, market, intensity, and time. Based on the size of a given piece of property and its associative market absorption time period, different methods for managing and regulating must be considered and undertaken in order to minimize errors in decision making based on who should make a given decision and when particular decisions are necessary.

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To incorporate a stronger and healthier decision-making process the principle of “subsidiarity” needs to be infused into the creation of land use policy. Subsidiarity is a principle of both social and political organization which, by definition, means that decisions are best made by the most competent group (closest to the impacts of the decision), at the most local level, and at the latest practical moment possible. In doing this a system for decision making can ultimately be undertaken which can directly account for both WHO makes particular decisions and WHEN those decisions are made based on their need and timing. 

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The process associated with the creation of zoning policy needs to propose a path for subsidiarity related decision making which clearly highlights both the WHO and WHEN. The aspects of WHO are delineated between Legislative and Administrative bodies, while the WHEN is addressed by required steps that are taken and the grouping of decisions associated with those steps.  Thus allowing the aspect of time and prior decisions to more fully inform the later decisions which still need to be made.

 Subsidiarity addresses the aspect of WHO should be making particular decisions recognizing the principle that decisions should be made at the lowest level possible. When this principle is used it then behooves higher levels of association to empower and assist the lower levels to make the necessary decisions and also to implement.

The aspect of time (WHEN) is a critical element to ensuring wise decision making. The aspect of time in the equation consists of four key components for the implementation of decision making which are rooted in Subsidiarity:

1.  Decision making system requires sensitivity to when a
    decision is actually needed

Because of the sensitivity associated with subsidiarity-based decision making there can be a much higher level of confidence for allowing decisions to be made at the point in time when the decision is needed. There tends to be a natural tendency to want to pull aspects of the decision making process as close to the present as possible, regardless of the fact that the need for a particular decision to be made may be months, or even years, into the future. When this becomes the standard for making decisions it should be easy to recognize that the opportunity for mistakes to be made increases exponentially.

2.  Decision making should recognize external forces
    which will impact the outcomes and execution of the
    decision

Within the role of government it must be better understood that regulatory policy is typically not the only external force which causes conformance in the decision making process. Yet, when it comes to seeking legislative or administrative approval on a particular item government seems to believe they are the only factor at play. When this is the case, decision making can be compromised to the detriment of all involved.

For example, within the arena of land development government often fails to recognize the role of the market in “regulating” a developer’s actions. Having to answer to the market requires a high level of sensitivity for the element of time because aspects of the “regulatory” demands of the market are directly tied to the present. This is not the case with government regulation, which is more reactive to the past and trying to prevent future mistakes. Ironically, the typical ignorance of the market’s role, relative to the present, often increases the rate of failure which leads government to further perpetuate their flawed cycle.

3.  Consideration must be given to the time horizon that is
    impacted by the decision outcome

When accounting for the aspect of time in the decision making process one must remember to fight the natural tendency to make decisions ahead of when the decision is actually needed. The element of time is often considered an enemy in the process, but when leveraged correctly time can actually be positioned as an ally. To do this one must remain aware of when the decision is actually warranted, and then use the available time to validate the potential decision options in order to find the most effective solution. Inefficiency is created when decision making occurs too far ahead of when the decision outcomes are actually needed.

4. Consideration for the impacts when decisions are made
    too early

One cannot afford to execute a short term mindset on a long term decision. The time horizon of a decision must be considered against all long term implications, followed by measurement against short term execution, until such time as a given decision truly needs to be made if success is to be achieved within the period of time in which a given decision is needed.

Time should be viewed as a friend, rather than an adversary, in the decision making process. While time does draw aspects of uncertainty into the process, it must also be recognized that it also provides clarity when allowed to work within a system that accounts for its application.

The decision making process which future zoning codes should attempt to wrestle with the age-old debate between developer and government regarding the balance between flexibility and certainty. Developers are constantly arguing for more flexibility while government’s focus is typically tied to certainty. Both are needed, but how can both be provided? Zoning codes should work to integrate both tying back to the principle of subsidiarity by proposing flexibility which is wrapped in an allocated level of certainty, relative to the overall decision making process. The degree of flexibility being allowed must be provided only within the context of the level of certainty which surrounds it. 

Subsidiarity and its Protection of Agency

A while back I was in a meeting with a city council person from a Wasatch Front municipality.  We were having a discussion regarding some land entitlement efforts that I was working on as part of my job responsibilities.  I had been working on this particular project for about three years at the time – working specifically to develop a system of entitlement that would not only address issues of land use policy (which the city would administer) but also a system of land management (which the property owner would administer).

As we discussed the work that was being done and the objectives associated with this project this city council person sent my jaw crashing to the floor when the accusation was made that what we were doing was trying to implement the United Nation’s Agenda 21 in their city.  I could not believe what I was hearing.  One, because of the innuendo being made in the comment and its reference – two, because the work being done instead was meant to insure and protect the rights associated with both choice and free will.  Ultimately, the work being done had the full intent of instituting the principle of SUBSIDIARITY (more on this to come).

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If you are unfamiliar with Agenda 21 here is a quick explanation: Agenda 21 is an action plan that was developed during the UN Conference on Environment and Development which was held in Rio de Janiero in 1992.  The intent of this action plan was to establish executable principles focused specifically on sustainable development practices.  On the surface one might think work towards sustainable development practices would be a worthy goal.  Agenda 21 has met fierce opposition in the United States, specifically from the Tea Party movement which believes that it is a global conspiracy to strip individuals of their property rights (among other things), which are protected under the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

In principle, Agenda 21 has some good reasoning behind it – I believe it actually means well.  It is rooted in delivering principles of sustainability, including a poignant definition of sustainability that is difficult for anyone to argue against – meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  However, Agenda 21 is fatally flawed in its approach of delivery and implementation, because in its roots are a top-down, socialist structure that strike at the heart of many U.S. citizen’s fears.  To go so far as to call it a global conspiracy (as many do) is simply paranoia (again, my opinion), but it does have legitimate problems which impede its principal acceptance in the United States.

I use Agenda 21 as an example to serve as the counter to the earlier mentioned principle of subsidiarity.  Subsidiarity is a term that is more correctly rooted in the American view of how governmental leadership is intended to work.  The principles behind subsidiarity are meant to place decision making authority at the level where it is the most practical for a given decision to be made.  With this understanding comes an identification of responsibility of higher orders and the associative limits to their “power” when dealing with lower orders.  It should not be the role of government to impede lower orders and take decision making authority away from them.  Rather, government’s leadership role should instead be to assist in the empowerment of lower orders to make decisions where it is the most applicable and appropriate for the decision to be made.

Thomas Jefferson spoke of the principles associated with subsidiarity quite eloquently when he said:

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

“It is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected.  Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority. Every state again is divided into counties, each to take care of what lies within its local bounds; each county again into townships or wards, to manage minute details; and every ward into farms, to be governed each by its individual proprietor. Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread. It is by this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed for the good and prosperity of all.”

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln also spoke of the principles of subsidiarity in government by saying:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves in their separate and individual capacities. In all that the people can individualistically do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.”

Pope Pius XI

Pope Pius XI

During the 20th Century the Catholic Church was extremely vocal on the topic of subsidiarity.  Back in 1931 Pope Pius XI said:

“It is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.” 

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II

In 1991 Pope John Paul II said:

“The principle of subsidiarity must be respected: A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”


Lastly, LDS Church leader Ezra Taft Benson made subsidiarity references when speaking to an audience at Brigham Young University regarding the proper role of government:

Ezra Taft Benson

Ezra Taft Benson

“The Constitution provides that the great bulk of the legitimate activities of government are to be carried out at the state or local level.  This is the only way in which the principle of self-government can be made effective.  The smallest or lowest level that can possibly undertake the task is the one that should do so.  Only if no smaller unit can possibly do the job should the federal government be considered.  This is merely the application to the field of politics of that wise and time tested principle of never asking a larger group to do that which can be done by a smaller group.  The smaller the governmental unit and the closer it is to the people the easier it is to guide it, to correct it, to keep it solvent, and to keep our freedom.”

What is demonstrated in these quotes, coming from both government and religious leaders, is the understanding of how leadership should be posed to operate within society.  The purpose should never be to dictate through top-down edicts. Rather, the role of leadership should instead be to empower from the bottom-up.  The role of subsidiarity is critical from this standpoint because of what it ultimately represents in the lives of individual human beings.

Subsidiarity is a critical principle to understand, in part, because without understanding its principles infringement is potentially not far behind.  To disregard subsidiarity is a dangerous precedent that must be guarded against because of what it ultimately means to the rights granted to individuals by the U.S. Constitution.  Whether a person is religious or not it is a fact, that all must clearly recognize, that the rights the Constitution establishes for the United States are rooted in Christian principles associated, in part, with man’s agency which has been granted by God (based on biblical teachings).

I am a strong believer in the rights and privileges associated with a person’s ability to exercise their ability to choose (in other words – free will or agency).  With the responsibility associated with choice is an understanding that one does not have the right to infringe on another’s equal rights to choose through an improper execution of choice.  This leads to a necessary understanding that mistakes will sometimes be made as one exercises their free agency – but this is also a critical and necessary part of the learning process in making choices.  To the degree that mistakes are made, which don’t infringe on the rights of another, experience is gained and improvements in later decisions can be achieved.  If this process is short-circuited by the rights of choice being stripped by higher levels of authority then growth cannot occur and agency is impeded.  The correct execution of leadership, rooted in the principle of subsidiarity, allows for free will to remain intact.  This relationship, between subsidiarity and the proper use of free will, has been given to us by God.  The closer a decision is made, at the level of the individual and/or family, the more intact one’s agency stays.  The greater the separation between a decision and those a decision may impact leads to an individual becoming a creature of circumstance, rather than a creator of it.

It is imperative that, on an individual level, we understand the principle of subsidiarity and ensure that it is intact within each area of governance that touches us.  We have a God given right to make choices through the agency that we have each been granted.  Any system which may strive to take agency away, rather than work towards assisting in the correct execution of agency, must be challenged.

Individual – Family – Street – Block – Neighborhood – City – State – Nation – World

 

Subsidiarity and the Application of Time

Andres Duany

Andres Duany

As previously touched upon, subsidiarity addresses the aspect of WHO should be making particular decisions recognizing the principle that decisions should be made at the lowest level possible.  When this principle is used it then behooves higher levels of association to empower and assist the lower levels to make the necessary decisions and also to implement.  As I think about this I picture in my mind the WHO aspect of subsidiarity as being on a vertical axis.  The horizontal axis of subsidiarity would then be recognized as being the WHEN in the decision making process.

Andres Duany identified the need to incorporate time when he said: 

Subsidiarity proposes that a decision is best made by the smallest competent group,
at the most local level and at the latest practical moment.

The aspect of time is a critical element to ensuring wise decision making.  As I have contemplated the aspect of time in the equation I have identified four key components for the implementation of decision making which is rooted in Subsidiarity:

Decision making system requires sensitivity to when a decision is actually needed

Because of the sensitivity associated with subsidiarity-based decision making there can be a much higher level of confidence for allowing decisions to be made at the point in time when the decision is needed.   There tends to be a natural tendency to want to pull aspects of the decision making process as close to the present as possible, regardless of the fact that the need for a particular decision to be made may be months, or even years, into the future.  When this becomes the standard for making decisions it should be easy to recognize that the opportunity for mistakes to be made increases exponentially.

Decision making should recognize external forces which will impact the outcomes and execution of the decision

Within the role of government it must be better understood that regulatory policy is typically not the only external force which causes conformance in the decision making process.  Yet, when it comes to seeking legislative or administrative approval on a particular item government seems to believe they are the only factor at play.  When this is the case, decision making can be compromised to the detriment of all involved.

timeswirl.jpg

For example, within the arena of land development government often fails to recognize the role of the market in “regulating” a developer’s actions.  Having to answer to the market requires a high level of sensitivity for the element of time because aspects of the “regulatory” demands of the market are directly tied to the present.  This is not the case with government regulation, which is more reactive to the past and trying to prevent future mistakes.  Ironically, the typical ignorance of the market’s role, relative to the present, often increases the rate of failure which leads government to further perpetuate their flawed cycle.

Consideration must be given to the time horizon that is impacted by the decision outcome

When accounting for the aspect of time in the decision making process one must remember to fight the natural tendency to make decisions ahead of when the decision is actually needed.  The element of time is often considered an enemy in the process, but when leveraged correctly time can actually be positioned as an ally.  To do this one must remain aware of when the decision is actually warranted, and then use the available time to validate the potential decision options in order to find the most effective solution.  Inefficiency is created when decision making occurs too far ahead of when the decision outcomes are actually needed.

Consideration for the impacts when decision is made too early

One cannot afford to execute a short term mindset on a long term decision.  The time horizon of a decision must be considered against all long term implications, followed by measurement against short term execution, until such time as a given decision truly needs to be made if success is to be achieved within the period of time in which a given decision is needed.

Time should be viewed as a friend, rather than an adversary, in the decision making process.  While time does draw aspects of uncertainty into the process, it must also be recognized that it also provides clarity when allowed to work within a system that accounts for its application.