Column Date 2008-05-16

Let's hear it for Sark, the world's newest democracy

Sark is a little island in the English Channel.

It is a mile-and-a-half wide and three miles long. There are no cars on the island, no paved roads, and no airstrip.

It has been a fiefdom for over 450 years, ever since Queen Elizabeth I established a feudal society there in 1565.

That all changed last month, when Sark became the world's newest democratic government.

I think the 600 residents of the island deserve a big round of applause.

And, since they're the new kids on the block, it is incumbent upon us in America to give them a few tips, based on our 232 years of experience with Democracy.

So here goes:

First of all, keep religion out of your government. Official state religions cause problems that nobody needs. Remember the Crusades (Christians v Muslims)? The Inquisition (Catholics v Everybody Else)? The Second Sino-Japanese War (Shinto v Everybody Else)? Jihad (Muslims v Everybody Else)? You get the picture.

Don't go overboard on capitalism. Remember what we sometimes forget -- that some folks are better at capitalism than others. So you have to provide a safety net for the less capitalistically talented. You don't want people to go hungry, or not have medical help, do you?

Free trade is a nice idea -- if you can find a country that actually does it. Every country you trade with vigorously protects its own favorite industries, or farmers, or whatever. To survive, and bargain, you need to protect your own people. Consider legislation right now.

And, by the way, make sure that all your elected officials pass reading and comprehension tests. Too many laws in our country (see the "Patriot Act") are enacted before anybody actually reads or understands them.

Limit your political campaigns to 3 or 4 weeks and give each candidate two hours of free TV time. Who in his right mind would want to listen to a politician for longer than that?

Forgive the people who have been ruling your island as a fiefdom, even if you have grudges against them. After all, your local rules have changed – it's now legal for every citizen on the island, not just the Lord of the Manor, to keep pigeons and to have an unspayed bitch.

Speak softly and carry a big stick. (We used to do that once.) So make sure there's enough money in the budget to defend your island. (Note: Sark has had its share of invasions, the last one by an unemployed French nuclear physicist who single-handedly tried to take over the island in 1990. He was arrested by the island's part-time police officer while sitting on a park bench, changing the magazine of his rifle.)

Finally, do something about your soccer team. Your 600 people need something to cheer about, to pull them all together. And, as I'm sure you painfully remember, the last time Sark played in a tournament, you lost to the Isle of Wight, 20-0.

All of us here in America hope this advice helps.

Democracy isn't easy, you know.

©2008 Peter Tannen