We Need Political and Economic Innovation Again
I love this country. As I describe all of the unacceptable situations, I am not complaining; I am explaining why I believe we need to work together to help the US be all it can be. We need to organize a national movement to redesign and improve the way our democracy works, so that the system allows and encourages the elected officials to actually represent the people who elected them. This criticism applies to all politicians, regardless of their party affiliation. These new-breed elected officials will work together to represent the people who elected them and enact legislation, rules, and regulations that will eliminate poverty in America. Remember, “But at the end of the day, particularly in a rich country like the USA, the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power.” It is our responsibility as voters to ensure that those in power serve the people who voted for them — not those who bought them.
Recent events have generated some momentum for changing the political status quo. The #MeToo movement has already had an impact on raising awareness of the disturbing prevalence of sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination in America. The #NeverAgain movement is currently empowering and activating young voters across the country to participate in politics. And, we had historical numbers of women and minorities successfully running for political office in the 2018 elections. Power and money are still formidable obstacles, but we are moving in the right direction.
The typical existing county governing model considers the broad range of responsibilities to be divisible into compartments (or departments) and then each department works autonomously to solve its particular component — not recognizing the critical interdependencies between departments that they must consider. For example, the county’s highways and bridges are in dire need of maintenance and repair so the county must budget money to pay for fixing them. There is an obvious connection between spending on roads and bridges and creating jobs to stimulate the economy. However, if we look deeper, there are more connections. If more people have jobs paying a living wage, crime will go down. If crime goes down, we need fewer prisons. More jobs also leads to less poverty and homelessness, reducing the need for social safety net programs. Counties look at the costs and benefits of each of these issues in isolation, not considering the larger system affect and potential cost savings to balance some of the spending. Lobbyists focus on only their special interest and encourage the silo thinking that pervades the system because it allows them to fight for their particular issue — without regard for the greater good.
America is renowned for its innovation, creativity, and ability to do big things well. We need to tap into those great innovative patriotic minds and closely examine the current situation to determine where we are failing to produce the results that are consistent with America’s values. For example, according to the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, “Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections.” I would assert that neither the Founding Fathers nor the majority of today’s voters believe that to be the case. The Founding Fathers were brilliant people who produced an amazingly effective document that has served us well for over two centuries. As brilliant as they were, they were not clairvoyant. Literally, nothing is exactly the same as it was when they wrote the original document. Advancements enable us to do things today that were not even within the imagination over 200 years ago. We may need to update the Constitution in order to deal more effectively with the many issues I describe in the book.
According to a recent study by the Harvard Business School:
“The U.S. Political System Has Been ‘Hijacked’
America’s political system was long the envy of the world. It advanced the public interest and gave rise to a grand history of policy innovations that fostered both economic and social progress. Today, however, our political system has become the major barrier to solving nearly every important challenge our nation needs to address. This was the unexpected conclusion of the multiyear Project on U.S. Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, established in 2011 to understand the causes of America’s weak economic performance and rising inequality that predated the Great Recession.
The result: America’s political system today would be unrecognizable to our founders. In fact, certain of our founders warned against political parties. John Adams, our second President, said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” Our founders — and most Americans today — would be shocked by the extent to which our democracy has been hijacked by the private and largely unaccountable organizations that constitute today’s political industrial complex.”
Back when this country was formed and the Constitution was written, elected representatives genuinely represented the people who elected them and worked together to design a system that was fair to all Americans. The reality of today’s system of electing representatives is overwhelmed by the money needed to get elected. I believe that the vast majority of people who choose to run for office have pure intentions to do as the Founding Fathers intended. Then they are struck by the fiscal reality of the system. As a result, America’s middle class, with no-one to represent them, is becoming an endangered species.
One of the major reasons for America’s income and wealth inequality is the diminished role that labor unions have played in recent years. Unions gave strength and a loud voice to the issues that matter to a prosperous middle class. Joe The Plumber needs to regain his voice. The most effective way for that voice to be heard and responded to is if all the other plumbers work with Joe to speak with a louder voice. Unfortunately, and deliberately, management and ownership have systematically weakened labor’s voice.
Fixing our democracy is a major organizational effort — organizing large numbers of people to work tirelessly together towards a worthy goal. Unions are great at that kind of work. As a secondary benefit, by being the visible leaders of the efforts to restore our democratic society, we may also restore the prestige and leadership role of the labor unions. The other major group that can both assist in leading the change and subsequently benefit from it is America’s minority communities. We need a plan for ensuring everyone is politically involved and informed. The outcome of the successful implementation of the plan will be a government that recognizes that it serves all the citizens.
I have attempted to be non-partisan (but not non-passionate) in researching and writing this book. I consider myself an independent (lowercase ‘i’) logical thinker when it comes to political issues. I typically try to explore any issue that interests me and, in the end, I usually lean towards what I feel will be the most beneficial to the largest number of people. I am writing this book during a period when the Republicans are in power. Consequently, many of the current examples will appear to be critical of the Republican Party. This is not because of a partisan approach. If the Democrats were in power, the same or similar problems would likely exist. I believe that we all share an interest in restoring America’s fundamental democratic principles.
In every other aspect of our society, we are constantly improving as conditions change and new technologies make innovation possible. When America won its independence from Great Britain back in 1783, the founding fathers took the opportunity to innovate and design a new set of political and economic frameworks based on democratic and capitalistic principles. Within that framework, the United States grew to the greatest economic power in the world. We also became a political model for democratic freedoms and moral values. The original framework served the country very well for two centuries. Although the last four decades have served some people very well, many Americans no longer see the opportunities that the previous generations had. Recent evidence indicates that we may need to consider some modifications in the rules and regulations that were the basic framework for our success. Opponents of change typically follow any suggestion for change with cries of the horrors of government controls, socialism, and communism.
Let’s get past the labels! Labels are generalizations. Labels divide, not unite, us. What are you? I have friends and family who are both Republicans and Democrats. Are you a Republican or a Democrat? A Liberal or a Conservative? A Progressive or a Libertarian? What does each of those labels mean? How about Capitalist, Socialist, Communist, Marxist, Leftist, and Fascist? Is the United States a Democracy, a Republic, an Oligarchy, a Dictatorship, or a Monarchy? Let’s stop trying to label people. We are all Americans facing problems and working together to find solutions. Affixing labels to people makes the process more difficult.
I consider myself an independent thinking American. For me it was easy. I do not find any of the labels fit my overall way of thinking; and if they stop to think about it, I expect that most Americans feel the same way. However, the labels are very powerful, and people use them to shape our thinking. While you are reading this book, please throw off any self-identifying labels. Try to approach each topic with an open mind and a willingness to listen, learn, and teach. If you allow others to label you, then it will be more difficult to work with others whose apparent labels represent an insurmountable ideological difference. Trump and his team use that tactic to their advantage every day. Trump’s constant divisive and racist Tweets create a toxic social climate that pits us against each other and weakens our ability to unite and fight for the America we want.
There are many models for governing and economies. Who says we have to choose any one of the existing models? If America is the innovator it claims to be, we need to design and implement a new and better-integrated governmental and economic model that the rest of the world can emulate: democracy, republic, plutocracy, federation, communism, socialism, capitalism, feudalism, oligarchy, monarchy, plutocracy, autocracy, dictatorship, and whatever new system we invent.
How Do We Fix Poverty?
Possible elements of a solution:
· Fix the wealth and income inequality issue.
· Pass a major national infrastructure bill.
· Increase spending on public services (Fire, Police, Healthcare, Education, Research).
· Decrease Defense spending.
· Make the minimum wage a living wage.
· Pay for the elements by restructuring the tax code.
Now that we have made the case for the need to fix poverty, let’s explore the many causes and propose some solutions.
This is an excerpt from my book on Poverty — part 19
(Written but not published. If you want a MS Word free copy, let me know.)