The most important of topics aren't always the most interesting. That's why, instead of writing a textbook on the subject of "how government policy goes bad," James Payne decided to craft a series of four storybooks.
The heroine, Princess Navina, is the heir apparent to the throne of the Duchy of Pancratia, and her father, the king, wants her to learn how best to govern by seeing how governments are run in other countries. So in each book Princess Navina visits a different country, four in all, and in three out of four instances, her visit serves only to teach her how not to govern. These big, bad governments are scary, hurtful... and familiar. And, of course, that is the point: Payne is using Princess Navina to teach teens how in the real world many government policies, even those implemented with the best of intentions, can be oppressive and harmful.
Princess Navina visits Malvolia
by James Payne
54 pages / 1990
In the opening book the princess visits the country of Malvolia, where the ruling magog tells his visitors that in his country "rulers have one principle and one principle only, and that is to make everyone as unhappy as possible." The princess finds this a shocking ambition, but more shocking is the clear parallel between the magog's policies, introduced with the worst of intentions, and our own government's policies, which were passed with the best of intentions.
For example, the magog offers generous benefits to those in misery, but his intent isn't to help, but rather to sap their initiative, and to foster sloth. This in turn made the recipients surly and discontent, much to the magog's delight!
Our intent is quite different, but when people turn to the government to provide for their retirement income, healthcare needs, unemployment insurance, rent assistance, food stamps, and much more, the government largesse does sap our initiative. Why would a Canadian look for a cheaper healthcare provider when the government is footing the bill? Why would an unemployed American take the first decent job they can find if their unemployment insurance is going to last them half a year?
The princess also learns of the country's "prosperity fines," meant to vex the wealthy by fining them more and more the richer they become. It is, the magog crows, an excellent way to discourage "production, innovation and saving."
"The manner in which we collect the prosperity fine," he continued, "adds a further nuance of frustration. We require that each person calculate his own fine, which might not be too difficult except for one thing." He paused, his eyes brimming with sneaky delight. "Except for the fact that the rules and regulation for computing the fines are immensely complex and illogical! This means that everyone has to work long and hard to try to figure out what their fine is, always haunted by the fear of doing it incorrectly and going to jail."In the end the kind-hearted princess can't hold back her outrage, but manages to escape from the magog, and continue on her journey.
Princess Navina visits Mandaat
by James Payne
55 pages / 1994
The next country on her world tour is Mandaat, where "legislation is the leading industry, and, as a result, they have a plentitude of laws." The princess's tour guide is happy to explain how their laws are crafted:
"...we weigh all our legislation here. That is how we evaluate our progress. Last year the Salon approved twenty-nine point three tons of laws, up by nearly a ton over last year...."
"Are these gentlemen able to read the law they are approving?" asked the princess. "Why that pile alone must be four feet high."
"Of course not," replied the doctor. "No human being could read so much."
"But should they understand the laws they are approving?"
"My dear, that would never do. If they waited until they knew what they were voting on, they would never get anything done."