America’s Budget Solution

So-called sequestration began yesterday. That turn of law entailed cutting the government’s discretionary budget across the board, and served as an alternative to the government deciding how to reduce the budget deficit.

For how boring the media painted it (as if the federal budget made runner-up for Carlin’s famous Seven Words (Wikipedia: Seven dirty words)), the sequestration grew from a laudable history in action films: the time bomb. They gave themselves months and months of fuse, but still could not defuse that sucker.

But did they really try? Sure, they tried to trace the red wire and green wire. Which one was the ground? Is that the primary charge? They tried a few specialist bomb squads, with the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Wikipedia: National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, aka the Simpson-Bowles commission) and the Gang of Six, but the best they could decide was to take a weed-whacker to the bomb and hope for the best.

I think they even called up their friends at the Military-Industrial Complex, asking for a drone, a robot, some sort of sniffing dog, anything.

They never tried doing their job. That was the problem. If they would merely do their job, to legislate based on the facts, not based on the whims of special interests and lobbyists, we would be done with this sort of time-bomb nonsense.

How do I figure? You have this notion that the government is fine except it costs too much. Or in the case of the Republicans, it’s also too big and smells bad. But that’s not the truth. There are structural changes needed, both large and small, to a variety of programs and laws. The tax code, health care, retirement, prisons, financial regulation, welfare, environmental protection, agriculture, military contracting, immigration, communications, energy, infrastructure…

But they aren’t addressing them. They’re trying to put the cart so far before the horse, the horse hasn’t been born yet. Either they are naive enough to not know that major work is yet to be done in the ongoing mission to perfect our government, or they don’t plan on being the ones to do it. In either case, they show their ineptitude.

Worse, it’s highly likely that if they would begin to address these structural deficits instead of the mere fiscal one, the deficit they’re so enamored with would shrink enough to make it an easy fix.

Fix the tax code, for example, and the revenue picture changes drastically. Fix health care, the deficit picture changes too. Fix immigration, the economy improves.

The broken structures of our system are akin to inflammation in the body. In recent years more and more medical studies have shown the detrimental role of inflammation in overall health. The body expends energy to try to keep the chronic problems in check, which leaves other systems vulnerable.

It reminds me of the film Synecdoche, New York, the character Hazel purchases a house that’s on fire. If you lived in a house that was on fire, you would never get around to dusting or mopping, because you’d spend all your spare time keeping the fire under control. That’s the nature of our current system of government. That’s the attitude our government has taken: we can’t fix anything, we have to keep the fire in check. But they can’t put it out, because the disarray of the remainder of the house continuously stokes the fire.

The media, for their part, scarcely bother with tough, basic questions. Like, “why aren’t you guys governing anymore, but you haven’t resigned?” Or, “are you planning to retire anytime soon?”

Oh well. A fire can’t last forever. Either it will burn the whole mess down and we’ll just start over, or maybe they’ll eventually go back to governing and we can watch the fire die from lack of viewership.

America Lets Ohio Choose 2012

The upcoming Ohio-elects-the-president election is upon us. But do not lose heart, there are plenty of predecided races in your area to choose from!

Take where I live, for example. I can vote for the known winner or known loser for congress! I can vote for the unopposed candidate in 21 races (of 39 total; more than half are unopposed, and the only race with more than two choices (excluding write-in) is for president).

Ain’t democracy grand! I can vote up or down on a total of 11 amendments to the state constitution, none of which will actually force it to be rewritten in whole.

For the presidential election, my prediction is either 303-235 or 290-248 with Barack Obama winning a second term.

For the senate, 54-46 for the Democrats (with Maine’s Angus King, running as an independent, caucusing with the Democrats).

For the house, between 234-201 and 230-205 for the Republicans.

How to: Run for the US Presidency and Win

Should You Run?

Questions you should ask yourself before you decide to run include:

  1. Am I a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution?
  2. Have I attained the age of thirty five?
  3. Have I been fourteen years a resident within the United States?
  4. Did my relative (mother, grandfather, husband, etc.) run for president and win?

Run Unopposed

This is tricky. In fact, there’s not been a single campaign to pull it off.

Not even the [illeg.] Richard Nixon ran unopposed, and in 1972 he won in a landslide, only losing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to George McGovern and a single Virginian electoral vote went to John Hospers thanks to a faithless elector. That was 40 years ago.

Ronald Reagan holds the world record for highest number of electoral votes; in 1984 (28 years ago) he won 525 electoral votes to Walter Mondale’s 13 (Minnesota narrowly went for Mondale). But Reagan was opposed.

The popular theory is that there are two political parties, so running unopposed cannot be done, but the unpopular fact is that no one has really tried.

So, consider running unopposed.

The Next Best Thing

Aerial Warfare

If running unopposed doesn’t pan out, do the next best thing. Don’t run against your opposition. In modern wars, the USA and allies have complete air dominance. They don’t have dogfights. Although the opposition shoots at the planes and helicopters, they mostly miss.

Fly above your opponents. That means inventing new media forms that your opponents can’t touch.

While your opponents are busy printing bumper stickers and running television advertisements, you should be building trebuchets to deliver buick-sized pleas to your potential voters. You should be building tiny robots that will crawl onto their shoes while they’re waiting for the bus and stitch “Vote for [Your Name]” onto their shoelaces.

No Partisanship

Your opponents will expect you to align yourself with canned views. Don’t fall into this trap. Instead, base your campaign around debating scientists and field experts on a variety of issues. They can be partisans or independents, but they should be experts. Don’t be afraid of being wrong. Give your best arguments, and if they convince you otherwise, admit it.

You should pick your running mate out of the pool of those you debate. Showing you’re willing to work with those you debate means you’ll be able to give opponents a fair shake in governing.

No “When I’m President”

Too often, candidates only propose legislative and regulatory changes that would be enacted if elected. Why they stop there is a mystery. If you have a truly good idea, it should be put to use as soon as possible. This applies not only to your platform, but your opponents’ platforms.

If an opponent has a good idea, call for it to be enacted without delay. The 26th Amendment (giving the vote to all over 18 years of age) was an idea that should have taken no thought or delay to enact, and an equally potent idea, wherever it arises, should be enacted.

True Economy

Don’t restrict your ideas to policy. Call for sane extra-political business activity. Call for open markets where they are closed. There are many, and they could be generating massive economic growth. There’s an overwhelming reluctance to be critical of business unless it means new regulation. That’s ridiculous.

We do need some regulations, including some new ones, repealing others. That doesn’t mean regulatory knobs can solve the problems. Calling for better management of private interests is perfectly acceptable.

As an aside, a recent interview with Valve Software’s Gabe Newell revealed that Valve is adding three meter support to its Steam client software so that others can include Steam support on their own platforms. This is a great, forward-thinking economic decision. It’s the kind of thing a presidential campaign can and should highlight.

Open Mics

Give average people a chance to speak, both for and against your candidacy. If a heckler has something they really want to say, let them say it. Schedule a nice block before and after any speech to give people open mic access.

If the heckler speaks out-of-turn, tell them to wait for the open mic. If they won’t relent and they have to be removed from the premises, give them the option to return to speak during that time.

Conclusion

The current methodology of presidential campaigning reflects the current methodology of business and government. That is, a somewhat broken semblance of the real deal. As I mentioned Valve Software, there’s a need to have government, business, and campaigns operate in more modern and enlightened ways, just as Valve does.

That’s not to say Valve is perfect, but they are entirely willing to depart from the norm if they believe it’s advantageous. Most companies, politicians, and governments are entirely unwilling. To their detriment. Most won’t even entertain the idea!

If you run for president, you should eschew the mainstream candidacy practices. You probably won’t win, but if you run an innovative, revelatory campaign, you may be defeated, but you will not lose.

Competition vs. the US

Look at what you are wearing.  Did it all come from the same store?

Look at your feet. If you are wearing shoes, are they brand-matched with your socks?  Does the brand of your belt match your pants?  Do your pants use a patented belt loop system that makes them incompatible with other belts?

These days, the barriers to entry are rising faster than Jesus beats it out of the tomb on Easter to get himself a (preternaturally kosher) green eggs and ham sandwich.  Even a seemingly mundane industry like farming has Mount Anto scrambling to bind the farmers’ hands and brand their hides.

It’s the same story almost everywhere you look.  Businesses trying to subvert the marketplace in favor of their own profits.  It’s a recipe for disaster.

Subverting the marketplace is the economic equivalent of deforestation.  In the short term you get tons of cheap wood and farmland, but in the long term you have tossed away some of your greatest resources for stability in favor of a few years of profits.

Even our leaders can’t help themselves, though.  They have long blocked any real competition for governance, savoring their cushy seats so much that they now increasingly risk their oligopoly due to the ever-escalating war of words they must rely on to keep their constituents in a frenzy rather than letting them calmly pore over the issues.

But it’s harmful.  The creation of commerce depends upon diversity and choice.  When industries couple themselves together, they remove choice from the market, and they decrease the overall creation of commerce.  More precisely, they usurp the individual’s choice and act as a proxy for it.

You might prefer one firm’s shoelaces, and another firm’s shoes, but without the choice to relace the shoes, you must decide which is more important.  If the barriers to entry are low, that’s fine, because the firm that’s losing can simply improve on their faults.

But when barriers are high, and many choices are coupled, it’s much harder.  Consumers are making thousands of tradeoffs and only choosing amongst a few firms in doing so.

The USA currently has lackluster competition in a variety of key areas (including the political markets), resulting in subpar economic performance.  Until that changes, consumers get inferior goods, investors get inferior returns, and stability will remain more fragile than it needs to be.

Understanding the Occupation

Since its inception, the Occupy movement has been ridiculed and drawn sideways dog heads from the establishment. That’s kind of cute, in that it shows exactly how baffled the establishment is, which is exactly why the Occupy movement exists! The Occupy movement represents the fact that the establishment is completely out of touch with reality, so I guess it’s acceptable and expected that this is the reaction.

The Why

I will now quote the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. […]

Now, one piece at a time, of what I think are the most essential parts there:

[…] That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men […]

Why government exists. To allow an orderly state in which we can live without constantly having to assert our rights through violence.

[… Governments] deriv[e] their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed […]

How government exists. It is by the agreement of the people that allows the government to exist, and the reason above is why the consent is given.

[…] that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it […]

Follows logically from [1] and [2] above. Given the goal, and the method, if the method is not moving toward the goal, it should be improved or replaced with one which will.

[…] to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. […]

Expands on [3]. The manner of choosing the replacement or the improvements should be according to reason.

This is why the Occupy movement exists. The government is hampering the goals that are the impetus for its very formation and existence. It must either be reformed or replaced. The old guard is unable to grasp this.

What they want, of course, is what they’ve always had. They want Occupy to step up to the microphone and say, “we want an end to the war,” which lets the establishment drag their feet, beat their chests, and blow their noses, then end the war and carry on with the old guard way of doing things.

They want something they can sell back to Occupy.

That’s worked in the past. I’ll claim that every major political struggle in the USA has actually been equivalent to Occupy, but that every one so far has been bought out by the establishment, with the possible exception of the founding of this country.

The How

The case I’ve made here is the motivation for Occupy, and it points to what is truly desired. These protests represent a dire call and strong desire to see the establishment reformed into a useful institution. The movement has no specific demands, because it’s not about specific changes, but general changes that restore the power to the people to participate. To know that their voices count, even if their exact outcomes aren’t the ones that are implemented.

Let’s take an example, briefly, with the social programs. These need to be changed for a variety of reasons, including costs. Those that oppose changes don’t actually. They oppose destroying these programs. They don’t want a vacuum to replace them, or a corrupt system that is even more dysfunctional. But they really don’t oppose changes that strengthen them while leaving the basic benefits intact.

The list is very long, though. Improving environmental protection, internalizing market externalities, improving education, improving the culture of work/life balance, improving regulation in general, improving contracting processes, and many more.

The solution is much simpler. There are two basic problems with our government:

  • Lack of populist representation in the legislature
  • Lack of scientific process in producing and executing legislation

The House of Representatives

In the first case, the Senate bestows equal representation per state, while the House of Representatives is supposed to provide representation proportional to the population of the country.

The original twelve amendments proposed in what became the Bill of Rights included as its first proposed amendment the rule that the House of Representative would increase in membership in proportion to the size of the population. That would have protected the purpose of that body.

Without it, that body has become a second Senate.

To wit:

Wikipedia: Bar Graph of US House Apportionment

Since 1911 the number of Representatives has remained constant, but the population of the United States has roughly tripled over that time (Wikipedia: Demographics of the United States shows that the population in 1910 was around 98 million, and in 2010 it was 308 million). That has diluted the value of your representation in the Congress, which means there’s less and less reason for your representation to care what you think.

They are your representative in the collective governance of our country, and when they don’t have to care about you, the government is broken. That’s their purpose for their position to exist: to represent your interests.

Science in Government

There are a variety of fields that use scientific principles to improve outcomes. The field of accounting, when practiced properly. The military. Actual scientific inquiry and research. Business, to some extent.

The techniques in question are meant to preclude corruption and bias and error. They are things like separating the power that people have, so that one man can’t turn and lose a war for us all. They are things like double-blind experiments, to prevent bias or error.

Our government even has some of this built in. The three branches represent an example of separation of duties/powers. The FDA does require some amount of double-blindness in drug testing. Many of the other scientific parts of the executive branch use these techniques, too.

But our legislature does not, and our contracting processes do not. The bidding process know which company is bidding, and political favors can be used. The SuperCommittee didn’t put out their proposals, get them ranked, and then vote based on the outcomes. Likewise, they didn’t separate the pieces of proposals, and take a closed ballot to decide which provisions were live options, then form those into a proposal for evaluation by the CBO.

Kids in school learn about the government, they learn about the lauded Separation of Powers. It escapes me (but apparently not the establishment) that this good idea, which, I reiterate, is praised and learned in school, is not properly expanded to its maximum usefulness throughout our government.

Conclusion

I don’t think my ideas here are particularly radical. But I don’t think they’ll be implemented anytime soon. I hope they will be. I don’t think our government is a bad idea, I just think we have neglected the good parts.

Maybe someone needs to write a short book about our government akin to Douglas Crockford’s JavaScript: The Good Parts. There are some good ideas, they just haven’t been taken to their logical conclusion. And, as in the case of the apportionment of the House, some of them have been torn down.

The establishment doesn’t get it. Big surprise. If they got it, Occupy wouldn’t exist. Take that to your bank, withdraw your money, and put it in the vault of someone that gets it.