Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fixing Government

This started as a conversation between two friends of mine over an article from Harvard Business School.  One of them sent it to me for my take. 

Here is the original article,  which you may interpret for yourself:

The following tidbit from Harvard Business School about world rankings of countries may inject a little reality into the basic political belief system of many (or maybe its too late):
… While the U.S. enjoys the second highest per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $45,336, it ranks in an underperforming 16th place overall [world rankings]... The U.S. ranks 70th in health, ... 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation and 31st in personal safety.

More surprising is the fact that despite being the home country of global tech heavyweights Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Oracle, and so on, the U.S. ranks a disappointing 23rd in access to the Internet. “It’s astonishing that for a country that has Silicon Valley, lack of access to information is a red flag,” notes Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, which oversees the index.

If this index is an affront to your sensibilities, the U.S. remains in first place for the number of incarcerated citizens per capita, adult onset diabetes and for believing in angels.
New Zealand is ranked in first place in social progress. Interestingly, it ranks only 25th on GDP per capita, which means the island of the long white cloud is doing a far better job than America when it comes to meeting the need of its people. In order, the top 10 is rounded out by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Denmark and Australia.
Unsurprisingly these nations all happen to rank highly in the 2013 U.N. World Happiness Report with Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden among the top five.
So, what of the U.S? In terms of happiness, we rank 17th, trailing neighboring Mexico.
We find ourselves languishing for the very fact we have allowed corporate America to hijack the entire Republican Party, and some parts of the Democratic Party. This influence has bought corporations and the rich a rigged tax code that has redistributed wealth from the middle class to the rich over the course of the past three decades. This lack of shared prosperity and opportunity has retarded our social progress.
America’s rapid descent into impoverished nation status is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. Not a single U.S. city is included in the world’s top 10 most livable cities. Only one U.S. airport makes the list of the top 100 in the world. Our roads, schools and bridges are falling apart, and our trains — none of them high-speed — are running off their tracks.
With 95 percent of all economic gains funneled to the richest 1 percent over the course of the last decade, and a tax code that has starved the federal government of revenues to invest in public infrastructure, America will be a country divided by those who have and those who have not… 

My friend Ed Coleman’s take on it:

This is a tough story to read . . . but believable.  I do not blame the entire sad state of affairs on big business and rich people.  I suggest some of the problems belong to the conservative evangelical religious people, political ideologues of all persuasions and the out of mainstream media folks. The cable and internet has become an outlet for extremists, liars and haters.  The sad part is the public seems very vulnerable to these organizations and people.  I have no simple solution and can only hope that this too will fade into the past.

Ed Coleman 

My friend Byron Hinderer’s take on it:


I agree with you to a degree. .

However, I believe the disaster began with the greed plus economic power of big banks, big business and power brokers. 

The disaster has been and is being supported by their using the mainstream media to so effectively propagandize so many well-intended but economically gullible persons into believing in the bogus religion of "ultra-conservatism/Libertarianism".   

The propaganda of this religion is incredibly convincing and enticing to persons who have no real clue about banking, big business or macro economics -- but think they do. 

What the ultra-conservatives/Libertarians have been conned into believing does not even begin to solve the nation's problems. Instead, it exacerbates the disaster! 

Sadly, so many persons in the US today believe ultra-liberalism and ultra-conservatism/Libertarianism are the only two viable philosophies. That is not now and never has been true.  

The ultra-liberals in our society are just as disastrously far off base -- but in an entirely different way.  This fact, however is not a valid or even logical reason for supporting the economic disaster that is ultra-conservatism/Libertarianism.  

One of the saddest and most dangerous of all human foibles is the one of a person not being aware of what they do not know, but deeply believe they really do know.  


My take on it,  sent to both:

I think you're both right.

I gauge people's beliefs (in an admittedly distorted sampling) by perusing the letters to editor in the local paper.  Around Waco out of dozens of chronic letter writers,  there's 1 or 2 so-called liberals,  and the rest so-called arch-conservatives/libertarians.  If you want to use those very misleading labels.  What they seem to believe about the hot button issues is almost always arrant nonsense.  

Each seems to believe in the associated political "touchstone" agendas,  lock,  stock,  and barrel.  Which is sad,  because those touchstone belief systems are partly right,  mostly wrong,  and for the most part entirely irrelevant,  on both sides.  The net effect is that voters on both sides are very dangerously misinformed / uninformed about what is really happening.  

This trouble extends to all arenas,  not just politics,  because everything,  even things about science,  have been super-politicized and made items of political belief instead of truth.  That's where the other groups Ed cites come into the picture.  All these different belief systems end up allying with one or the other political group in the quest for money and power (those two go together in any system where there are no controls on greed).  You cannot be a group member if you don't believe in every agenda item,  no matter how wrong it may be.  We've all seen it.  

I think the overall top-level "sketch" of what has happened devolves merely to extreme and uncontrolled greed,  and where the money is and goes ("follow the money").  We live in a corporate welfare state run for the benefit of the top several gigantic corporations. They have bought most or all of the elected and unelected government officials,  who work for them,  not us.  

Our government has degenerated into nothing but a pickpocket function to move cash from the rest of us to their pockets.  A few rich pirates have made economic slaves of all the rest of us.  Our situation is not unique,  this is a very widespread problem in both space and time.  We've seen this problem before,  in all wide-open market societies,  for at least 10 millennia.  Probably much longer than that.

This trouble is inevitable if you do not control the influence of big money in your politics,  regardless of the type of government you choose (only one example:  Russia,  both Soviet and post Soviet).  Unfortunately,  this was left out of our experimental revolutionary government design by the founding fathers.  They,  too,  suffered from it,  although they did not realize it.  It was the fundamental cause of the Burr-Hamilton duel,  among many other problems unrecognized as warnings back then.  

In two+ centuries of neglect since then by the rest of us,  that "cancer" has spread essentially everywhere in our society. It may well be fatal,  as the only feasible "cure" I see for the government portion is armed revolution.  Our government is now so wholly owned by these pirates that it is virtually impossible they would ever vote for anything to change that ugly status quo.  


Byron commented back on what I sent my two friends:


Well stated. 


My closing comments here:

There are many things the British did,  and still do,  with their politics and type of government that are objectionable to us Americans.  That is why we had a revolution a little over two centuries ago. 

But,  there are two things the British do,  that I wish we would adopt,  adapt,  and improve.  Doing this might avert a second American revolution,  but as stated above,  I see vanishingly-small probability of ever getting this done peacefully,  within the system we have.

Here are the two things:


The Brits do not allow private monies to be used in election campaigns.  Everyone gets the same tax-supported budget with which to run for office.  That means the common man can actually run for office,  something which disappeared long ago here in America.  Anyone caught campaigning with private money goes to jail,  and they really do mean it! 

The net effect is that their government is not wholly-owned by private interests,  the way ours is.  We would have to implement this at both the primary and general election levels separately,  in order to root out all the evil. 


The Brits severely restrict the time window in which the political campaigning for an office can occur.  That window is “proportional” to the importance of the office and the size of the constituency.  Anyone caught campaigning outside that window goes to jail.  Even the prime minister only has a few weeks to make his case for election. 

This has the effect of keeping their elected officials on-the-job the vast majority of their term in office,  instead of out on the campaign trail not doing their jobs nearly the entire term,  the way our system has corrupted itself.  Again,  we would need to implement this at both the primary and general election levels. 

What we face:  

Either we amend the Constitution we have and correct the corruption that has overwhelmed us,  or we have a revolution and start over with a new Constitution which includes these changes.  Or else we and our descendents all die as the economic slaves that we already are.  Either way,  it is critical to eliminate private money from our politics and our government.  I’d like to do it peacefully,  from within the system.  There’s less mess to clean up afterward. 

But,  as I said above,  I fear there is essentially zero probability of ever getting it done without a real blood-in-the-streets revolution.  An awful lot of people would have to wake up and reject all the lies and propaganda they’ve been believing,  for peaceful change to happen.  

Hope springs eternal,  though.  Please wake up out there!

Update Easter Sunday 4-20-2014:   Happy Easter to all!

This conversation about corrupted government and its potential cures continues in the comments.  Feel free to peruse them.  

In the Easter Sunday 4-20-14 Waco "Trib" is an article by Jim Dunnam about the influence of corporations vs people in our government and our public life.  It would seem that some others have noticed that we all live in a giant-corporate welfare state.  That is encouraging.  


  1. The core of the problem, IMO, is the failure of the electorate to vote in its own interest. However, there also seems to be a lack of vision for where we should be going, similar to the current lack of vision for our human space program.

    But, to me, the solutions are pretty simple:

    1. We need to end unemployment in the US by-- Federally mandating-- a 32 hour work week coupled with up to six weeks of payed vacation if an employee has worked for a company for at least six years.

    2. We need to dramatically reduce the government and private cost of health insurance and health care in this country with a Federal government and private employer funded single payer system-- with a significant medical savings account component-- to finally put pressure on the health care industry to reduce cost by providing the best health care services at the cheapest cost.

    3. We need to reduce corporate taxes in the US down to just 10% while more than making up for the lost revenue by reinstating a transaction tax on purchasing stocks (Wall Street needs to start paying its share again like it did back in the prosperous 1960s!)

    4. We need to Federally mandate, with heavy penalties, that at least 50% of the electricity generated by a utility in the US must come from carbon neutral resources by the year 2020, 90% by the year 2030. This could easily be done with nuclear and renewable resources and would create millions of high paying domestic jobs over the next few decades.

    5. We need to Federally mandate that at least 10% of the transportation fuel sold in America comes from carbon neutral resources by the year 2020, 50% by the year 2030 and 90% by the year 2040. The technology to do this already exist. We already know how to make gasoline from urban and rural garbage. But we could produce up to five times a much if hydrogen produced from nuclear, wind, or hydroelectricity is added to the mix.

    6. NASA needs to prioritize establishing a permanent human presence on the surface of the Moon and Mars over the next 25 years using its $8 billion a year human spaceflight related budget. The budget should be larger, IMO, but it can still be done with just $8 billion a year.

    7. A national and international space lotto system should be established by the Federal government to allow billions of people around the world to risk a dollar or two every year for a chance to travel to a private US commercial space station aboard a private US spacecraft. Such a lotto could extend all the way to the lunar surface, if private habitats are established there.

    I believe such simple policies would create a new level of prosperity and technological advancement for America without the need for any micromanaging from Federal or local governments.


    1. Hi Marcel:

      I hope no one gets me wrong here. I do believe in market-based economy solutions where possible. The free market is the most powerful engine of creation ever devised by man. Government fiat as a way of providing things pales into impotence, as the communists have learned (once again) to their chagrin, as the latest of many examples.

      But (a really big "but") the free market has to have rules for fair play for everyone, or else it devolves into piracy and economic slavery rather quickly. Greed unfettered by rules always turns to selfish evil, as any preacher in any of the major religions has told us for some two+ millennia now.

      What I am trying to say is that a free market is absolutely not the same thing as a market free of rules. The term "free market" is very much abused these days by equating it with "market free of rules" as a political slogan. That's wrong.

      Similarly, the term "socialism" is also widely abused, by people who really need to consult its definition in a real dictionary. Government's function is to provide those things that the market cannot do, or that a central function can best provide. And make no mistake about it, there are things in that category besides a military establishment.

      The problem that makes me pessimistic is the pervasive substitution (by the majority of the folks around me) of false belief systems in preference to actual fact, as the basis for making decisions. I'm not talking religion here, so much as party politics. Facts need to trump belief.

      I do think that any particular specific proposals to fix specific ills are less significant than correcting a major structural defect in our way of governance. Do that, and specific prescriptions will follow.


  2. We're never going to get good governance in this country, IMO, until we have parties that truly reflect the American population. We need a real conservative party in this country, and a real liberal party in this country, and a true moderate party in this country.

    Three distinct parties could significantly increase voter turnout. And three parties could finally end the paralyzing polarization between the right and the left, allowing politicians and the electorate to focus on the real issues and to pass rational legislation that could move this country forward.

    Marcel F. Williams

    1. Marcel, you'd get your three parties if the tea party ever actually split from the GOP. The real reason they haven't already done so, is because then they'd both be outnumbered by the Democrats that way.

      Yet, the bought-elections problem persists, even with three parties. Something has to be done about politicians working for whoever bought their offices for them, instead of we who elected them. That's the fundamental problem, largely independent of the number of political parties.

    2. If the ultraconservative Tea Party split from the moderate Republicans, I suspect that many moderate Democrats might join a more rational Republican Party. Such a Republican Party might also get a lot more support from independent voters.

      As far as political funding is concerned, providing matching Federal funds for political donations from private individuals that total $100 or less could significantly mitigate the financial influence of the wealthy few.

      The revenue needed for these Federal matching funds could be generated by simply taxing political donations and the cost expended for political ads.