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Practical Democracy, Abstract

Abstract

When we speak of government by the people, 'the people' is not an amorphous mass. It is an abundance of individuals: some brilliant, some dull; some good, some bad; some with integrity, some deceitful. To achieve government by the people, we must sift through this diversity to find the individuals with the qualities needed to address and resolve contemporary public concerns.

In a truly democratic political process, the entire electorate will participate in defining the issues the government must address and selecting the individuals best equipped to resolve those issues. The size of the electorate and the varying level of interest in public affairs among the populace make the matter of including everyone a challenge.

This paper describes a method of dividing the electorate into very small groups and letting each group decide which of their members best represents the group's interests. Those so chosen are arranged in similar groups to continue sifting through the electorate to identify the individuals most motivated and best qualified to address and resolve the people's concerns. The described approach functions free of the influence of money and ensures that candidates for public office are carefully examined by their peers before they are chosen as the people's representatives.

Practical Democracy: overview

The realities of life, particularly our economic needs, tend to distract us from serious thought about public concerns. These circumstances have allowed the political infrastructure in the United States to gradually deteriorate until, as Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page1 conclude:

America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

That should not be surprising. Justice Louis Brandeis is quoted as saying 2:

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.

Organized political power and concentrated wealth feed off each other. The political process in the United States epitomizes this relationship. If we wish to change our entrenched system, we should start by heeding John Dewey's guidance3:

The old saying that the cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy is not apt if it means that the evils may be remedied by introducing more machinery of the same kind as that which already exists, or by refining and perfecting that machinery.

Creating new machinery that differs from existing machinery in important ways requires an understanding of the flaws in the existing machinery. We examine five of them.

Flaws in the existing machinery

Creating new machinery that differs from existing machinery in important ways requires an understanding of the flaws in the existing machinery.

Here are five:

Flaw 1) Party Politics

Democracy is not a team sport. Even though partisanship is natural for humans, political systems built on partisanship are destructive.

George Washington warned us, in his Farewell Address1, that "Political factions would enable cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government". In spite of his warning, those "cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men" created top-down political organizations that let them set the agendas and choose the candidates for which people may vote.

When the people are only allowed to choose from party-chosen options, the ability to vote for one of them is neither free nor democratic. On the contrary, since those who control the options control the outcome, it shows that the people are subjects of those who defined their options. As Robert Michels pointed out 2 "... the oligarchical and bureaucratic tendency of party organization ... serves to conceal from the mass a danger which really threatens democracy."

Over two hundred years experience with party politics informs us that, when politics is based on partisanship, the partisans form oligarchic power blocs that become an end in themselves and ultimately transcend the will of the people. National Socialism and Russian Communism had features that attracted broad partisan support throughout a national expanse and both degenerated into destructive forces because their partisans gained control of their governments.

The danger in communism and National Socialism was not that they attracted partisan support; it was that the partisans controlled the government. In general, partisanship is healthy when it helps give voice to our views. It is destructive when it achieves power. All ideologies, whether of the right or the left, differ from communism and National Socialism only in the extent to which their partisans are able to impose their biases on the public.

Party politics is a potent tool for those with a thirst for power but it does not foster government by the people. It disenfranchises non-partisans and results in government by a small fraction of the people. For the people as a whole, the flaws in party politics are devastating. Their cumulative effect victimizes the public by the most basic and effective strategy of domination - Divide and Conquer.

In spite of the dangers inherent in partisanship, we must recognize that it is a vital part of society. People differ, and it is essential that they should, because we advance our common interest by examining conceivable options. Differing people seek out and align themselves with others who share their views. In the process of doing so, they hone their views to help form a consensus. That is the way they give breadth, depth and volume to their voice.

Such alliances are not only inevitable; they are a vital part of society - provided they are always a voice and never a power. The danger is not in partisanship, it is in allowing partisans to control government.

Mandate 1): New machinery to support a democratic political process must incorporate partisanship without letting partisans control the political process.

Flaw 2) Political Campaigning

Campaigning is the process of selling political candidates to the public. It is a top-down technique and is conceptually unsound in any political system that purports to be democratic.

Campaigning is the antithesis of open inquiry. It is a training course in the art of deception. Candidates must continually adjust their assertions to appeal to the diverse groups whose votes they need for their election. In the process, they become expert at avoiding direct answers to questions and diverting attention from unwelcome topics. The result is one-way communication centered on deceit, misdirection and obfuscation.

Political campaigning incurs high costs. Those who supply the money are not altruists; they demand a return for their money. The only product the political parties have to sell is the laws their candidates will enact when elected. This relationship is a major stimulus for the corruption that is destroying democracy in America.

Mandate 2): New machinery to support a democratic political process must function without political campaigns.

Flaw 3) Passion Versus Intellect

Political parties mount, finance and staff campaigns designed to inflame the passions of the electorate. There is no genuine attempt to consult the public interest. Instead, surveys are conducted to find "hot buttons" which generate a desired response and professionals use the information to mold "messages" which the candidates and the parties feed the public. It is a rabble-rousing technique.

Intelligent decisions require discourse; assertions must be examined, not in the sterile environment of a televised debate, but in depth. The electorate must be able to examine candidates and discuss matters of public concern, and, with the knowledge so gained, make decisions. In the existing political environment, they have no opportunity to do so.

Mandate 3): New machinery to support a democratic political process must enable and encourage dialogue and deliberation on political issues among the electorate.

Flaw 4) Incumbency

Few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives winning reelection. With wide name recognition, and usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats... 1

It is reported that incumbents in the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives are returned to office over 90% of the time even though Congress has an approval rating of less then 15%. 2 This circumstance obtains because the people have no options.

What choices are available to the voters when the only names on the ballot are those chosen by the parties? When the dominant party repeatedly chooses the same candidate and the opposing candidate is an unacceptable alternative, the people have no way to bring new minds to their government. Systems that let organized groups decide who can be a candidate for public office are profoundly undemocratic.

Dynamic systems require fresh minds. The current and emerging problems facing the electorate change constantly. The inability to select new representatives equipped to resolve contemporary issues injures the entire community. In addition, rot thrives in a closed environment. Just like with apples in barrels, corruption flourishes when incumbents are repeatedly returned to office.

Mandate 4): New machinery to support a democratic political process must include a way for the people to change their representatives, as they deem appropriate.

Flaw 5) Exclusivity

Political parties are top-down arrangements that are important for the principals, the party leaders, financiers, candidates and elected officials, but the significance diminishes rapidly as the distance from the center of power grows. Most people are on the periphery, remote from the centers of power. They have little or no influence, as shown by Gilens and Page.1 As outsiders, they are effectively excluded from the political process.

Party-dominated political infrastructures deny the people the right to decide the issues they want addressed and the right to select the candidates they want to address them. As a result, the people's political skills atrophy because the system gives them no meaningful participation in the political process.

The challenge of democracy is to find the best advocates of the common interest and raise them to positions of leadership. To meet that challenge, given the range of public issues and the way each individual's interest in political matters varies over time, an effective electoral process must examine the entire electorate during each electoral cycle, seeking the people's best advocates.

Machinery that gives the entire electorate a voice in the political process must accommodate the fact that the desire to participate in political affairs varies from one individual to the next. Some have no desire to participate, some will participate for altruistic reasons, some will participate to advance their self-interest, and some will be indifferent. To reconcile this diversity, a democratic process must be open to all, without coercion.

We cannot know what treasures of political ability will be unearthed when people are invited to deliberate on their common concerns - with a purpose. Some, who start out unsure of their ability, will, as they learn they can persuade others of the value of their perspective, gain confidence in their ability to influence the political process. In doing so, the people gain the internal goods that can only be attained through the practice of politics. That, as Alasdair MacIntyre2 explained, benefits the entire community.

Mandate 5) New machinery to support a democratic political process must be inclusive. It must be a bottom-up arrangement that lets every member of the community influence political decisions to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability.

Creating New Machinery

Political systems are always an embodiment of human nature. Since we cannot divorce our political institutions from our own nature, the new machinery to support a democratic political process must harness our nature. It must make the qualities needed to represent the common interest desirable attributes in those who seek political advancement.

Given the wide range of desire and ability among the members of society, an inclusive environment must be arranged to encourage the greatest participation. Esterling, Fung and Lee show that deliberation in small groups raises the knowledge level of the participants and their satisfaction with the results of their deliberations.1 Pogrebinschi found that: 2


[...] policies for minority groups deliberated in the national conferences tend to be crosscutting as to their content. The policies tend to favor more than one group simultaneously...

If we are to create an environment for effective political dialogue, we must create a framework in which all citizens are encouraged to discuss their political concerns with their peers. Such inclusiveness can be achieved by arranging the voters in small groups where people with differing views discuss issues that concern them.

Since public issues are inseparable from the people who resolve them, the groups must identify the individuals in their group who best represent their interests. The people so chosen can deliberate with the choices of other groups to identify the community's most pressing issues and the individuals best suited to address them.

The inclusivity of the process depends in great measure on the size of the groups in which the people meet and discuss their concerns. Groups must be large enough to make a decision and small enough to encourage those who are not accustomed to the serious discussion of political issues to express their views.

If we examine the dynamics of such a process, we find that, when a group of people meet to select one of their number to represent the others, there will be three kinds of participants: those seeking selection, those willing to be selected, and those who do not want to be selected.

If none of the participants are willing to be selected, the group will not make a choice and will drop from the process in accordance with their own wishes. Among groups that make a selection, those who are selected will be somewhere on the continuum from those willing to be selected to those seeking selection.

For simplicity, we will assume that the desire to be selected is equivalent to a desire for public office (as the people's representative) and that the people we mention as examples are at one end of the wish-willingness continuum or the other. The reality is infinitely more complex, but the results will differ only in degree from what we learn by thinking about the people who are at the hypothetical extremes.

The purpose of the process is to advance the best advocates of each group's perspective on contemporary problems, in a pyramidal fashion, to deliberate with the selections of other groups. In such an arrangement, it is reasonable to think that active seekers of advancement will be chosen more frequently than those who only advance because they are willing to be selected. For that reason, after several iterations of the process, we can anticipate that all group members will be individuals seeking to persuade their peers that they are the best suited to advance.

When persuasion occurs between two people, it takes place as a dialogue with one person attempting to persuade the other. In such events, both parties are free to participate in the process. The person to be persuaded can question the persuader as to specific points, and present alternatives. Under such circumstances, it is possible that the persuader will become the persuaded.

However, when persuasion involves multiple people, it has a greater tendency to occur as a monologue. The transition from dialogue to monologue accelerates as the number of people to be persuaded increases. The larger the number of people, the less free some of them are to participate in the process. In such circumstances, the more assertive individuals will dominate the discussion and the viewpoints of the less assertive members will not be expressed.

Viewed this way, we can say that when selecting representatives of the public interest, a system that encourages dialogue is preferable to one that relies on a monologue, and dialogue is best encouraged by having fewer people in the "session of persuasion". Under these circumstances, the optimum group size to ensure the inclusion of, and encourage the active involvement of, the entire electorate, is three.

  • 1. Esterling, Kevin M., Fung, Archon and Lee, Taeku, Knowledge Inequality and Empowerment in Small Deliberative Groups: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment at the Oboe Townhalls (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1902664
  • 2. Pogrebinschi, Thamy, Participatory Democracy and the Representation of Minority Groups in Brazil (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1901000

Practical Democracy: the Method

Realization Procedure

Table of Contents 

Step 1

Divide the entire electorate into groups of three randomly chosen people.

a) The random grouping mechanism must insure that no two people are assigned to a triad if they served together in a triad in any of the five most recent elections. At the initial level, it must ensure that no two people are assigned to a triad if they are members of the same family.

b) At any time up to one week before the process begins, people may declare themselves members of any interest group, faction, party, or enclave, and may create a new one, simply by declaring membership in it. People that do not declare group membership are automatically assigned to a set of people with no affiliation. Triads will be created from members of the same interest group, as long as more than two members of the group exist. When a group has less than three members, the group's remaining candidates are merged with the largest set extant.

c) For the convenience of the electorate, triad assignments shall be based on geographic proximity to the maximum extent practical, subject to the foregoing conditions.

Step 2

Assign a date and time by which each triad must select one of the three members to represent the other two.

a) Selections will be made by consensus. If consensus cannot be achieved, selection will be by vote. Participants may not vote for themselves.

b) If a triad is unable to select a representative in the specified time, all three participants shall be deemed disinclined to participate in the process.

Step 3

Divide the participants so selected into new triads.

Step 4

Repeat from step 2 until a target number of selections is reached.

For convenience, we refer to each iteration as a 'Level', such that Level 1 is the initial grouping of the entire electorate, Level 2 is the grouping of the selections made at Level 1, and so forth. The entire electorate participates at level 1 giving everyone an equal opportunity to advance to succeeding levels.

Elective and Appointive Offices

The final phase of the Practical Democracy (PD) process, electing candidates to specific public offices, is omitted from this outline because that task is implementation-dependent. Whatever method is used, it is recommended that participants who reach the highest levels but do not achieve public office become a pool of validated candidates from which appointive offices must be filled.

Organization and Execution

An Electoral Commission conducts the process. It assigns the participants of each triad and supplies the groups with the text of pending ordinances and a synopsis of the budget appropriate to the group. In addition, on request, it makes the full budget available and supplies the text of any existing ordinances. This enables a careful examination of public issues and encourages a thorough discussion of matters of public concern.

The public has a tendency to think of elections in terms of just a few offices: a congressional seat, a senate race, and so forth. There are, however, a large number of elected officials who fill township, county, state and federal offices. The structure outlined here provides qualified candidates for those offices.

As the process advances through the levels, the life of the triads (the amount of time the participants spend together) increases. At level 1, triads may meet for a few minutes, over a back-yard fence, so-to-speak, but that would not be adequate at higher levels. As the levels advance, the participants need more time to evaluate those they are grouped with and to research, examine and deliberate on the issues concerning them. (See: Time Lapse Example).

Face-to-face meetings in three-person groups eliminate any possibility of voting machine fraud. Significantly, they also allow participants to observe the non-verbal clues humans emit during discourse and will tend to favor moderate attitudes over extremism. As Louis Brandeis said1:

We are not won by arguments that we can analyze, but by tone and temper; by the manner, which is the man himself.

The dissimulation and obfuscation that are so effective in campaign-based politics will not work in a group of three people, each of whom has a vital interest in reaching the same goal as the miscreant.

Thus, the advancement of participants will depend on their perceived qualities and demeanor as well as the probity with which they fulfill their public obligations.

PD is a distillation process, biased in favor of the most upright and capable of our citizens. It cannot guarantee that unprincipled individuals will never be selected - such a goal would be unrealistic - but it does insure that they are the exception rather than the rule. More than that, they achieve selection alone, not as part of an organized faction. Once elected, acts they seek to inspire must attract the support of others over whom they have no partisan control.

Simplified Illustration

Simplified Illustration

This table illustrates the process for a community of 25,000 voters. For simplicity, it omits interest group considerations and assumes each triad selects a candidate. The process is shown through 7 levels. Those who implement the process will determine the number of levels necessary for their specific application.

                         Selected
                         Randomly
                           From
               Full  Over Prev.  Total People
Level People Triads Flow Level Triads Chosen  Days
   1   25,000  8,333   1    0    8,333  8,333    5 (1)
   2    8,334  2,778   0    0    2,778  2,778    5
   3    2,778    926   0    0      926    926   12
   4      926    308   2    1      309    309   12
   5      309    103   0    0      103    103   19
   6      103     34   1    2       35     35   19
   7       35     11   2    1       12     12   26 (2)

1) If the number of candidates does not divide equally into triads, any candidates remaining are overflow. Level 1 is a special case. When there is overflow at Level 1, the extra person(s) automatically become candidates at Level 2. Thereafter, when there is overflow at any level, the number of people needed to create a full triad are selected at random from the people who were not selected at the previous level.

2) To avoid patronage, appointive offices, including cabinet positions, must be filled using candidates that reached the final levels but were not selected to fill elective offices.

Time Lapse Example

To give a very rough idea of the time lapse required for such an election, we will hypothesize triad lives of 5 days for the 1st and 2nd levels, 12 days for the 3rd and 4th levels, 19 days for the 5th and 6th levels, and 26 days thereafter. To illustrate, we will start triad lives on a Wednesday and have them report their selection on a Monday. In a 7-level election (like the one shown above), the process would complete in 98 days:

     Level  Start    Report  Days
       1  01/07/15  01/12/15    5
       2  01/14/15  01/19/15    5
       3  01/21/15  02/02/15   12
       4  02/04/15  02/16/15   12
       5  02/18/15  03/09/15   19
       6  03/11/15  03/30/15   19
       7  04/01/15  04/27/15   26

Practical Democracy: Properties

Practical Democracy: Summary

The described process provides the sorting and selecting mechanism required to implement Jane Mansbridge's "Selection Model" of Political Representation.1 It yields self-motivated representatives whose gyroscopes are aligned with the objectives of the people who select them. It lets the people advance the individuals they believe have the qualities necessary to resolve public issues into ever-more deliberative groups to work out solutions from broadly differing perspectives.

PD focuses on selecting representatives who will resolve adversarial encounters to the advantage of the commonweal. During the process, participants necessarily consider both common and conflicting interests, and, because PD is intrinsically bidirectional, it gives advocates of conflicting interests a continuing voice. At the same time, it encourages the absorption of diverse interests, reducing them to their essential element: their effect on the participants in the electoral process. There are no platforms, there is no ideology. The only question is, which participants are the most attuned to the needs of the community and have the qualities required to advocate the common good.

Bi-Directionality

The process is inherently bi-directional. Because each advancing participant and elected official sits atop a pyramid of known electors, questions on specific issues can easily be transmitted directly to and from the electors for the guidance or instruction of the official. This capability offers those who implement the process a broad scope, ranging from simple polling of constituents to referenda on selected issues and recall of an elected representative.

Cost And Time Consumption

The cost of conducting an election by this method is free to the participants, except for the value of their time, and minimal to the government. The length of time taken to complete an election compares favorably with the time required by campaign-based partisan systems. Even in California, with a voting-eligible population of about 22,000,000, the process would complete in less than 12 levels, or about 230 calendar days.

From the perspective of those not motivated to seek public office, it is worth noting that, as each level completes, two-thirds of the participants can resume their daily lives without further electoral obligation. At the same time, they retain the ability to guide or instruct their representatives to the extent and in the manner provided by those who implement the process. (See: Bi-Directionality.)

Harnessing the Pursuit of Self-Interest

The initial phase of the PD process is dominated by participants with little interest in advancing to higher levels. They do not seek public office; they simply wish to pursue their private lives in peace. Thus, the most powerful human dynamic during the first phase (i.e., Level 1 and for some levels thereafter) is a desire by the majority of the participants to select someone who will represent them. The person so selected is more apt to be someone who is willing to take on the responsibility of going to the next level than someone who actively seeks elevation to the next level, but those who do actively seek elevation are not inhibited from doing so.

As the levels increase, the proportion of disinterested parties diminishes and we enter a second phase. Here, participants that advance are marked, more and more, by an inclination to seek further advancement. Thus, the powerful influence of self-interest is integrated into the process.

The pursuit of self-interest is a powerful force. Allowed free rein, it can produce an anti-social menace. However, when it is an advantage for an individual to be recognized as a person of principle, one's natural tendency to pursue one's own interest is more than adequate to avoid improper acts. The PD process gives candidates a career-controlling incentive to maintain their integrity. Their own self-interest provides the motivation.

Those who actively seek selection must persuade their triad that they are the best qualified to represent the other two. While that is easy at the lower levels, it becomes more difficult as the process moves forward and participants are matched with peers who also seek advancement. The competitors will seek out any hint of impropriety and will not overlook unsuitable behavior. Thus, Practical Democracy harnesses the pursuit of self-interest by making integrity an absolute requirement in candidates for public office.

Practical Democracy: Concept

Practical Democracy springs from the knowledge that some people are better advocates of the public interest than others. In Beyond Adversary Democracy[12], Jane Mansbridge, speaking of a small community in Vermont, says 1:

When interests are similar, citizens do not need equal power to protect their individual interests; they only need to persuade their wisest, cleverest, most virtuous, and most experienced citizens to spend their time solving town problems in the best interests of everyone.

The fundamental challenge of democracy is to find those "wisest, cleverest, most virtuous, and most experienced citizens" and empower them as our representatives. PD does that by giving every member of the electorate the right to be a candidate and the ability to influence the selection process, while ensuring that no individual or group has an advantage over others.

PD makes no attempt to alter the structure of government. We have the venues for resolving adversarial issues in our legislatures and councils. However, since the solutions that flow from those assemblies cannot be better than the people who craft them, PD lets the electorate select the individuals they believe will resolve adversarial issues in the public interest.

Peoples' interests change over time. To achieve satisfaction, these changing attitudes must be given voice and reflected in the results of each election. The PD process lets particular interests attract supporters to their cause and elevate their most effective advocates during each electoral cycle. Advocates of those interests can proclaim their ideas and encourage discussion of their concepts. Some will be accepted, in whole or in part, as they are shown to be in the common interest of the community.

Most people expect their elected officials to represent their interests. The difficulty is that communities are made up of diverse interests and the relations between those interests can be contentious. Constructive resolution of political issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to recognize the value in the various points of view, from the people's perspective. That is impossible for legislators elected to represent partisan interests.

Democracy's dilemma is to find those individuals whose self-interest encourages them to seek advancement and whose commitment to the public interest makes them acceptable to their peers. Such persons cannot be identified by partisan groups seeking to advance their own interests. They can only be identified by the people themselves.

  • 1. , Jane J. Mansbridge, The University of Chicago Press, 1980 Beyond Adversary Democracy, p. 88

Practical Democracy: Implementation

It is hard to achieve democracy because true democracy has no champions. It offers no rewards for individuals or vested interests; it gives no individual or group an advantage over others. Hence, it offers no incentive for power-seeking individuals or groups to advocate its adoption.

The best chance for something like the Practical Democracy concept to develop will be if it is adopted in a small community. In May of 2015, the people of Frome in the U.K. rejected all party candidates and elected an independent city government.1 They might welcome a mechanism like Practical Democracy to ensure the election of independent individuals in the future.

Why Practical Democracy Works

Practical Democracy gives the people a way to select Mansbridge's "wisest, cleverest, most virtuous, and most experienced citizens". At each level, voters deliberate in small groups, where "... face-to-face contact increases the perception of likeness, encourages decision making by consensus, and perhaps even enhances equality of status." 1

Academic studies have shown the value of deliberation in small groups. The PD process builds on these phenomena. It lets people with differing views deliberate and seek consensus on political issues. When triad members are selected to advance, those selected are the individuals the group believes best represent its perspectives. This necessarily adds a bias toward the common interest.

PD works because it atomizes the electorate into thousands, or, in larger communities, millions of very small groups. Each provides a slight bias toward the common interest. As the levels advance, the cumulative effect of this small bias overwhelms special interests seeking their private gain. It leads, inexorably, to the selection of representatives who advocate the will of the community.

  • 1. Beyond Adversary Democracy, Jane J. Mansbridge, The University of Chicago Press, 1980 p. 33

Practical Democracy: Conclusion

Practical Democracy is an electoral process through which the people actively participate in the conduct of, and impress their moral sense on, their government. It creates a unique merger of self-interest and the public interest. It completes more quickly and with less public distraction than existing systems, however large the electorate.

We have no shortage of competent, talented individuals among us. The PD process gives us the machinery to sift through all of us to find the individuals with the qualities needed to address and resolve contemporary public concerns. It lets the public discuss substantive matters - with a purpose. It gives participants time for deliberation and an opportunity to understand the rationale for the positions of others.

PD is a bottom-up process that lets every member of the community participate to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability:

Achievements:

  1. it incorporates partisanship without letting partisans control the process, and
  2. it functions without political campaigns or the marketing of candidates;
  3. it enables and encourages dialogue and deliberation on political issues among the electorate;
  4. it includes a way for the people to change their representatives as they deem appropriate; and
  5. it is a bottom-up arrangement that lets every member of the community influence political decisions to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability.

That is the essence of a democratic political process.

Questions I've Answered

Do Representatives reflect constituents' views better than Senators?

I must begin my response with a disclaimer: I have no personal, direct knowledge of this topic. All I can offer is my opinion, and, as with all opinions it should be taken cum grano salis (with a grain of salt).

It seems to me this question must be answered on two levels: In theory and In reality.

In theory, yes, the Representatives in the House reflect the view of their constituents more closely than the Senators do. This is true for two reasons:

  1. Representatives only represent the constituents of their electoral district while Senators represent all the constituents in the state. In this sense, Representatives are 'closer' to their constituents, hence more reflective of their view.
  2. Representatives are (re)elected every two years, Senators are (re)elected every six years. Thus, the constituents in the Representative's electoral district are able to express their approval/disapproval of the Representative with greater frequency than they can with their Senators. Given the dynamism of public affairs, this greater frequency makes Representatives better reflecters of the view of their constituents better than Senators.

That's the theory.

In reality, neither Representatives or Senators reflect the views of their constituents - they represent the views of their party. Those who seek to meet their elective responsibility are kept in line by a 'Party Whip' who ensures that all elected officials do what they're told.

In the words of an acquaintance who was elected to represent the constituents of his district, he was "pushed to 'fall in line' if I ever wanted to get anything for my district - or if the bills I personally cared about were to get any traction."

The only difference between this person's experience and that of another acquaintance in a different state is that the latter was also told if he intended on being reelected, he would do as he was told. Otherwise, the party would put up an opponent that would be heavily financed to defeat him.

If you ever wonder about the gutting and repeal of Glass-Steagall, or the unconscionable expansion of so-called 'intellectual property rights' that enables the perpetual gouging of the American people, or how our tax structure, which levies progressive taxes on the humans among us while taxing corporations on their 'profits' (a mythical construct that makes the transformation of profits into expenses a fine art), you need only ask yourself where the money that underwrites your Senator's and Representative's election comes from. Directly or indirectly, it comes from their party.

Political parties are conduits for corruption. For those who think I overstate the case, consider the definition of 'soft money' from Wordnet:

"noun: political contributions made in such a way as to avoid the United States regulations for federal election campaigns."

Are Americans too stupid for Democracy?

Sadly, this question perpetuates a faulty assumption that goes back at least as far as Plato: the notion that the people (American, or otherwise) are an amorphous mass that can be categorized as a single unit rather than, as is so obviously the case, a multitude of highly differentiated individuals: some good, some bad; some skilled, some unskilled; some with integrity, some deceitful; some leaders, some followers; some sociable, some unfriendly; some brilliant, some dull.

In fact, the people constitute a vast pool of talent containing individuals with the ability to resolve public issues in the public interest. The problem we face is finding those individuals and raising them to leadership positions. As with any complex problem, the key to solving it is to break it down. Politics is no different. The challenge of democracy is to sift through the many types of individuals among us, select those those best suited to serve as advocates of the common interest, and raise them to public office.

The tragedy of thinking the people "too stupid for Democracy" is that it leads to the fallacious notion that the people are a formless throng whose only political right is to vote their approval or disapproval of choices made by the vested interests that control the nation's political infrastructure.

In the same way that we gradually came to acknowledge the earth is not flat, we will someday see the people, not as a formless bunch of dullards, but as a pool of individuals, some with the leadership qualities that benefit society. Devising a means of selecting them and elevating them to leadership positions is a challenge we have so far failed to meet.

We can not wait for a champion to arise and ordain such a process for us because true democracy offers no rewards for individuals or interests. Instead, the concept must find fertile soil among the people, take root, be cultivated, and grow in a process of gradual evolution. The seeding and cultivation of this vital crop falls to those who envision a better future for society.

Can we venture outside our shell of unreason to conceive a means by which all the people participate in the political process to the full extent of their desire and ability, while prizing factions without ceding the control of government to them? Can we devise a plan that provides a proper cure for the sick political system we presently endure?

Not only do I believe we can, I don't even think it's difficult, but it does require seeing the potential that's all around us.

Can we get out of the corrupt political system in the US?

The request for "an honest idea to get us out of the corrupt and useless political system we live in (US)" is a tall order. To be valid, such an idea must show that it addresses the causes of our present condition. However difficult the task, we must make the effort if we are to avoid civil disorder. My greatest fear is that we'll find ourselves in the throes of that disorder before we've done our homework - before we've reasoned our way to a sound political system that is free of the corruption and ineffectiveness that plague our present system.

Any discussion of the "political system we live in" must exmine the idea of democracy. A significant but seldom noted feature of democracy is that it implies a bottom-up organization of the political infrastructure. In the U. S., that is reversed. The political system is organized in a top-down fashion. This allows the political inbreeding that lies at the heart of the corruption and ineffectiveness of our system.

Corruption pervades U. S. politics because the parties control the selection of candidates for public office and because the high cost of election campaigns makes the electoral process susceptible to the influence of money. Soliciting funds to finance political campaigns is inherently corruptive; it invites demands for laws that favor the financiers. The result is a circular process that intensifies over time:

  • Candidates for public office cannot mount a viable campaign without party sponsorship, so they obtain sponsorship by agreeing to the party's terms.
  • The party, assured of the loyalty of its candidates, attracts donors because it can promise that its candidates will enact the laws that the donors demand.
  • From the donors, the party obtains the resources it needs to attract appealing candidates and bind them to the party's will.

This cycle makes political parties conduits for corruption. Vested interests give immense amounts of money and logistical support to political parties to push their agenda and to secure the passage of laws that benefit the donors. The political parties meet their commitment to the donors by picking politicians who can be relied upon to enact the laws and implement the policies the donors desire. The politicians so selected are the least principled of our citizens, but are the only choices available to the American people in our "free" elections.

The idea that we can't remove corruption from our political system because people are corruptible is nonsense. We know that 'the people' is made up of a multitude of individuals with a wide variety of personal traits. The vast majority of them are honest and principled; they have to be for society could not exist otherwise. The problem is not the people; it is a political system that elevates unprincipled individuals by design. The task of representative democracy is to sift through these many types of individuals and elevate those best suited to represent their peers.

Another cause of our political distress is the campaign-based nature of our electoral process. Campaigning is the antithesis of open inquiry, it is one-way communication centered on deceit, misdirection and obfuscation. It is a training course in the art of deception. Through campaigning, politicians gain expertise in avoiding direct answers to questions and diverting attention from unwelcome topics. Furthermore, the incessant lionization by their supporters and their repeated proclamations of their own rectitude have a corrosive effect on a candidate's character. Since morality is a top-down phenomenon, a process that raises manipulative political leaders to public office has a destructive effect on society.

Two of the causes of our present disorder, then, are (1) the top-down organization of our political infrastructure, which creates a political system that renounces virtue and is ruled by cynicism, and (2) a campaign-based electoral process, which favors the candidacy of unscrupulous individuals. To correct these flaws, we must conceive a bottom-up electoral process that does not rely on political campaigning.

The question asks for "an honest idea to get us out of the corrupt and useless political system we live in (US)." One such idea is here on Minguo. It describes ways to increase public participation in the political process. It describes an electoral process that

  • is bottom-up, sifting through the entire community to identify the concerns of the people and to find the individual(s) best suited to address those concerns.
  • ensures candidates are examined by people with a vital interest in finding any flaws in the candidate. This makes integrity an important character trait in those who seek public office.
  • makes campaigning unnecessary.
  • encourages the formation of special interest groups, factions and parties, and gives them a way to elevate the best advocates of their perspective.
  • completes in less time than campaign-driven elections.
  • imposes no costs on candidates, except the value of their time.
  • lets every member of the electorate, whether or not they have a party affiliation, participate in the electoral process to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability.

This links to the full Practical Democracy description.

When we make probity a primary concern of the candidates in our electoral process, we will reduce the corruption in government and the pervasiveness of dishonesty in our society will diminish, as well.

Although the request was for an idea that would improve our national political system, we should note that the Practical Democracy concept can be adopted, and its validity proven, in local communities, before it is adopted nationally.

How can American democracy become more egalitarian?

This question was followed by the following explanation:

With thousands of lobbyists in Washington and untold sums of money being given to Super PACs by anonymous donors, there is a real sense that American democracy is not quite as egalitarian as it should be.

Please note that while these are the examples that prompted this question, I am not looking for answers that are solely focused on removing the influence of money.

Any and all ideas that could make American democracy more egalitarian are welcome here.

For the purpose of this question, egalitarian means:

Of, relating to, or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.

When speaking of equality, we must be careful to differentiate between political equality and economic equality. Political equality means we all have the right to participate in the political process to the full extent of our desire and ability. Economic equality is a different matter.

When considering political equality, the most powerful force we can use to make democracy more egalitarian is our minds - but we may have to change them a bit:

  • We think of 'the people' is a single entity.
  • We are sure the people can't resist media manipulation.
  • We are sure the people want to choose sides on political issues.
  • We are sure voting means visiting polls and casting ballots.
  • We are sure active political participation for all is impractical.
  • We are sure politics is a dirty business.

COMMENTS:

  • We speak of 'the people' as a single entity. Plato, if not others before him, felt democracy could not work because 'ordinary people' are 'too easily swayed by the emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians'. He failed to note that not all people are 'ordinary'. Yet, Plato's faulty view of democracy survived and still dominates political thought.

    We could look at 'the people' differently. We could see them not as a single entity but as a multitude of individuals: some good, some bad; some skilled, some unskilled; some with integrity, some deceitful; some brilliant, some dull; some sociable, some unfriendly; some excellent advocates of the public interest, some egocentric manipulators. From this, we might conclude there is no shortage of individuals with the integrity and ability we want in the people who represent us in our government, and decide we need an electoral process that lets us sift through the multitudes to find them.

  • We are sure the people can't resist media manipulation. Yet, when we look at ourselves, we see we can resist some (if not all) of it, particularly when it panders to a view we abhor. Media manipulation works because it is one-way communication, designed by professional behavioral scientists to inspire an emotional reaction. Emotional reactions are personal and unthinking. Our resistance to manipulation increases when we think about the assertions and discuss them with our peers because we expose the deceptions and obfuscations that characterize such material. This might lead us to integrate a way for the people to discuss political issues - before they vote - into our political infrastructure.
  • We are sure the people want to choose sides on political issues. We might consider an alternative, the idea that the people want to advance the common interest. A few academics are starting to look at the possibility that the people actually prefer seeking consensus. Esterling, Fung and Lee found that when people discuss political issues in small groups, the discussion raises both the knowledge level of the participants and their satisfaction with the results of their deliberations. Pogrebinschi found that "... policies for minority groups deliberated in the national conferences tend to be crosscutting as to their content. The policies tend to favor more than one group simultaneously ...".
  • We are sure voting means visiting polls and casting ballots for options chosen by political parties. When we look at voting from a different perspective, we see such a conception is enslaving because those who control the options control the outcome. This may inspire us to devise a voting method in which the people discuss their political concerns among themselves and decide the issues on which they will vote.
  • We are sure active political participation for all is impractical. When we approach the matter from the perspective of finding the jewels among our peers, the problem is less intimidating. Such an alternate view allows us to imagine a process that, knowing the jewels are among us, sifts through all the people to find the best advocates of the public interest.
  • We are sure politics is a dirty business. When we step back, we can understand why. We can see that corruption pervades our political system because the parties control the selection of candidates for public office. They choose candidates who have proven they will renounce principle and sacrifice honor for the benefit of their party. When we add to this the corrosive effect of political campaigning on a candidates' character, we begin to see it's not politics that's dirty, it's the infrastructure that poisons those who seek public office. That may encourage us to think about an electoral process based on careful selection by thoughtful people rather than the corruption inherent in a system based on campaigning for votes.

When seeking equality, we must recognize that we do not mean equality of action, for that depends on the nature of the individual, we mean equality of opportunity. Perhaps, when we think a bit more about these things, we may be able to conceive a political process that lets every member of the community participate in the political process to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability.

How can organizations avoid the Iron Law of Oligarchy?

The question was followed by the following explanation:

From Iron law of oligarchy:

Any large organization, Michels pointed out, has to create a bureaucracy in order to maintain its efficiency as it becomes larger - many decisions have to be made daily that cannot be made by large numbers of disorganized people. For the organization to function effectively, centralization has to occur and power will end up in the hands of a few. Those few - the oligarchy - will use all means necessary to preserve and further increase their power.

That is, organizations tend to form an elite whose interest is to keep themselves in power rather than advance the goals of the organization. How can organizations mitigate this tendency?

I don't think it's easy to mitigate the Iron Law of Oligarchy, but it can be done if the organization recognizes the danger and takes steps avoid it. That's difficult because those who had the assertiveness, energy and ability to form the organization can be expected to oppose provisions that challenge their leadership.

An early step is to understand that the qualities required to lead a dynamic, vibrant organization change with time and circumstance. Those who found the organization may not be the best people to make it productive. Traditionally, this problem is addressed by having the membership vote on candidates for leadership positions, a method that has achieved such sanctity its weaknesses are dismissed.

There are at least two reasons the traditional 'voting' approach leads directly to the creation of an oligarchical structure. One is the fact that those who stand for election are the most assertive individuals in the organization and another is that, since such elections are popularity contests, the incumbents have an enormous advantage.

The only way to counter these flaws is to devise an electoral process that sifts through the entire membership to seek out those individuals with the qualities needed to meet contemporary challenges and raise them to leadership positions. In doing so, those who seek to avoid oligarchy must recognize that, within their organization, are many people who are unaware of their leadership talents because they are never placed in a situation that allowed their exercise. Some of them, when they discuss current and prospective organizational issues with their peers, will blossom. They may start out unsure of their ability, but when their reason is consulted and they learn they can persuade others of the value of their ideas, they gain confidence. In doing so, they grow and benefit the entire organization.

[Those interested in the philosophical underpinnings of this approach can check out Edward Clayton's excellent description of the Political Philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.]

To eliminate oligarchs, the leadership selection method must ensure every member can participate in the process to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability. That raises the immediate question of how to give every member of a large group meaningful participation in the electoral process without chaos. One method is to create very small groups of randomly chosen members and build a pyramid-like structure based on their will.

Mitigating the Iron Law of Oligarchy is, first of all, a matter of recognizing it is an inevitable result of the traditional method of selecting leaders. The only way to prevent it is to change the way the leaders are chosen.

Thereafter, like any other large problem, it can be solved by breaking it down. The resulting process must guarantee that those who are not accustomed to the serious discussion of organizational issues are placed in circumstances that allow and encourage them to participate meaningfully. The biggest hurdle will be overcoming a flood of misdirection and obfuscation flowing from those proclaiming the sanctity of the traditional method.

If America's government collapses, what will replace it?

That's a wonderful question. Unfortunately, I don't have the answer. My guess is that the replacement will be very unsatisfactory for the simple reason that we are not thinking carefully about alternatives.

Before the American Revolution, the people in the towns formed Committees of Correspondence that identified the evils the people were subjected to and co-ordinated a common response. Now, even with all the advances in communications we've realized in the intervening years, we have nothing like that.

Oh, we have plenty of groups on the internet, each proclaiming the rectitude of their answer to our political problems, but it's all noise and bluster. There's no focus. Taking sides and spewing hatred is not going to solve the problem.

We must define the problem before we can correct it. Since our current problem is the government, itself, we must start by recognizing that government cannot be better than the people who man it.

The people we allowed to take public office created a corrupt system that allows the devastation of our environment, the plundering of our natural resources, the growth of monstrosities they call "Too Big To Fail", and the impoverishment of our people. It should be obvious, even to the most obtuse, that there's a flaw in the way these people are chosen.

If we want a better government, we must select and elect better people to run it. If we don't devise a way to do that before the current government collapses, we'll endure havoc.

I'm ready to work with any open-minded person who is willing to consider ideas that are necessarily different than what we're used to.

Is democracy the best form of government?

Before answering the question, we must understand the meaning of "democracy". It is a word whose significance has been buried under a mountain of misdirection and myth.

I take "democracy" to mean "rule by the people", but what is not made clear by that definition is how, exactly, the people practice their rule.

In the United States, the people have been persuaded that voting for a candidate nominated by a political party is democratic.

It's not!

In fact, that is the most outrageous political myth we've endured since the people were told that kings rule by Divine Right.

Democracy is not a team sport. When one votes for a candidate put forth by a political party, they are giving support to a group of cynical, unprincipled, power-seeking individuals, backed by vast sums of money, who make the decisions that affect our lives. Voting for a party candidate simply confirms the right of a small group of people to control and run the country.

The tragedy is that this myth is broadly accepted throughout the world. It creates a dangerous atmosphere that helps the U. S. export its political system to other countries, thus expanding the power and influence of the people who control the American political system.

If we are to have democracy, the people - all of them - must have an opportunity to participate in the practice of politics, in choosing the issues they want resolved and the individuals they think best able to resolve them.

Some people take this description of democracy to mean that everyone must be able to vote on every issue, a process they call Direct Democracy. Appealing though that concept may be, it fails to recognize the ease with which the people, when called upon to vote en masse, can be manipulated through the media. They don't see that the people, when acting as individuals and discussing issues with their peers, are much more critical and thorough in their examination of the issues.

The challenge of democracy is not to have everyone vote on every issue or to divide the people into parties that compete for the power to rule. The challenge is to find the best advocates of the common interest and raise them to positions of leadership.

To meet that challenge, given the range of public issues and the way each individual's interest in political matters varies over time, an effective electoral process must examine the entire electorate during each election cycle, seeking the people's best advocates. It must let every voter influence the outcome of each election to the best of their desire and ability, and it must ensure that those selected as representatives are disposed to serve the public interest.

If we are to have democracy, if the people are to rule themselves, we must conceive, validate and adopt a political process that lets the people select, from among themselves, representatives with the integrity and the ability to advance the public interest.

When we are able to do that, democracy will be the best form of government because it will be conducted by representatives of the people chosen for their ability to resolve contemporary problems to the benefit of the entire community.

Is it everyone's civic duty to vote?

Absolutely not!

You have no obligation to vote unless you have a voice in choosing the issues and individuals you are voting on.

You would not let me set options that affect your life and tell you your only choice is to pick one of them. It is no less ridiculous to let political parties tell you who you can vote for.

Those who control your voting options tell you voting is a civic duty. They want to make you feel guilty and force you to choose sides in a system that intentionally divides the nation.

That is not a good thing!

Political systems should serve the interests of all the people. Until we adopt a truly democratic system where each of us has the ability to participate in the selection of our representatives, the appalling failures of the party system will continue to wreak havoc on us and our environment.

Who will join me in designing a better way to select our political leaders?

Is the U. S. a true democratic country?

I take this question to mean, "Is the U. S. governed, as Abraham Lincoln famously said, by the people?". I will answer from that point of view. It is a vexing question because reality differs from perception.

Many Americans perceive the U. S. to be democratic. For those who believe, that perception is their reality. They don't want to hear they are wrong, in part because the belief is gratifying to those who hold it. There is pride in saying "My country is democratic." More than that, the perception is embedded in our people with innumerable tentacles of habit and myth that have a firm grip on their minds - but that does not make them right.

For those who believe America to be democratic, they are merely accepting 'facts' that 'everyone knows'. Many, particularly those injured by such a belief, will say they (those who hold the belief) should have known better. That's silly. It's like saying Nebuchadnezzar should have known the earth was round. Eradicating incorrect beliefs requires knowledge and reason; two hard-earned qualities.

I am as prone to incorrect beliefs as anyone. When I am able to overcome them, it's because I've made a conscious effort to apply reason to my experiences. One instance involved conquering the belief that the party-based political system in the United States is democratic. Not only is that incorrect, it is a powerful belief that lets a few people control our nation.

It took me a long time to realize that, when partisan groups tell me who I can vote for, they deny me the right to help select my own representatives in government. Gradually, I learned that by controlling the choices I could make, the parties controlled my destiny. Finally, I understood what George Washington meant when he warned us that political parties would become "potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government".

When the so-called "people's representatives" are controlled by the party that enables their election, it is foolhardy to think they represent the interests of the people who elected them. Our early political leaders created the illusion that letting the people vote for one partisan power-seeker or another was a democratic process. That myth has become one of the most destructive tools in the bag of political manipulation.

No, the U. S. is not a democratic country. Democracy is a bottom-up concept and party-based systems are always top-down. The U. S. won't be democratic until we find a way to let the people select the issues they want resolved and choose the representatives they believe best able to resolve them. That will be government by the people.

For those who wonder about the feasibility of a truly democratic government, I have described one possible way to accomplish it. It is built on the work of prominent academics, like Jane Mansbridge, Archon Fung, Stafford Beer, Daniel Ortiz, Robert Michels, Drew Westen, Mostapha Benhenda, John Rawls and a multitude of others. It's called Practical Democracy and is available at: http://en.minguo.info/book/fredgohlke

Your criticism of the concept will be welcome.

Is voter suppression effective?

Are qualified voters being kept from determining the outcome of elections?

I don't feel competent to answer the question as asked. I have no personal knowledge of voter suppression at the polls and cannot judge its effectiveness.

However, in a broader sense, voters are suppressed in the United States because they have no mechanism by which they can proclaim their own political choices. This form of voter suppression is exceptionally effective.

In America, the issues and candidates the people are allowed to vote for are controlled by political parties, and a party-based political system is profoundly undemocratic. It expresses the people's status as subjects of those who define the options they may vote for; they are subjects of those who control the political parties. As long as parties control the choices on which the electorate is allowed to vote, the people are helpless because 'those who control the options control the outcome'.

In such a political environment the question of whether or not qualified voters are "being kept from determining the outcome of elections" is moot because they have no effective participation in the selection of the choices on which they vote.

Until qualified voters have a way to participate in the selection of their representatives in government, their participation in maintaining the existing power structure can have no validity. Until we enact an effective means for the entire electorate to participate in the selection of issues and candidates, to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability, we cannot stop the immense financial interests that control our political process from plundering us and our environment.

People say democracy has failed, what is your alternative?

[The question was accompanied by this explanation: A lot of people believe that events like Brexit prove that democratic system is broken and provide examples of Athens executing Socrates, Election of Hitler etc, saying that old/uneducated/white/conservative people shouldn't have the right to vote. What exactly do they offer instead of status quo?]

I think it unwise to use Brexit to judge the efficacy of democracy. It is not uncommon for the losers in any contest to denounce the process by which they lost. In this case, 48% of the British voters can make a fairly loud noise. If, as I suspect, international bankers wanted the UK to remain in the European Union, we should not be surprised by the volume of their anguish.

Brexit was a referendum, a form of Direct Democracy. The susceptibility of Direct Democracy to manipulation through the media is well known. Brexit may have confirmed some of the fears about Direct Democracy, but it didn't add anything new to the discussion of democracy.

I can't comment on the death of Socrates, it was before my time. The election of Hitler occurred during my childhood and is a clear example to the danger of party politics; the elected members of the Nationalist Socialist Party in the Reichstag gave Hitler dictatorial power.

As far as folks who say "old/uneducated/white/conservative people shouldn't have the right to vote" are concerned, they are entitled to their opinion. Mine differs.

As far as people who say democracy has failed, I'd say we (in the United States) have yet to achieve democracy. What we have is a top-down arrangement (i.e., government by those who control the political parties) passing itself off as a democracy, which is absurd because democracy is a bottom-up concept (i.e., government by the people).

The alternative is straightforward. Let the people decide the issues they want addressed and select the individuals they want to resolve them. Simply use our immense data processing capability to arrange the electorate into very small, randomly chosen groups, and let each group select one of its members to represent the others. Then, arrange those so selected into new groups and let the process continue, in a pyramidal fashion, until the desired number of representatives have been chosen.

There are many advantages to this approach. It is completely bottom-up. It lets every member of the community participate, to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability. Advocates of every ideology can proclaim their ideas and encourage discussion of their concepts. Some will be accepted, in whole or in part, as they are shown to be in the common interest of the community.

The process is faster than the never-ending manipulative nonsense that burdens us now. There is no campaigning, so it eliminates the need for money. Individuals that advance are examined, carefully and repeatedly, by their peers, BEFORE they are chosen.

Now, THAT's an alternative.

Fred Gohlke

What forces fight against the progress of democracy?

The primary force fighting against democracy is human nature. Whether or not you consider human nature a 'political force' is an open question, but it's the place to start. The progress of democracy is sporadic because learning to harness human nature in a productive fashion is difficult.

Democracy will be more successful when we devise a method of selecting political leaders that makes integrity an important character trait - to those who seek public office and to those who select them. The candidate selection process must ensure that office-seekers are carefully examined by peers seeking the same office. When that happens, the candidates will have to exhibit not only their ability but their probity, if they want their peers to elect them.

In such an environment, it is in the candidates' best interest to maintain their own integrity. That is the way we can harness human nature to improve democracy and benefit society.

What is the root problem in US politics?

Walt Kelly described the root problem in US politics best when he had Pogo say, "We have met the enemy, and he is US."

If we are concerned about politics in the U. S., we must look at ourselves - with as much objectivity as we can muster. There are at least two aspects of our nature that lay at the core of our political problems, our tendency to pursue our own interest and our tendency toward partisanship.

We can examine the pursuit of self-interest in political relationships most easily by thinking about simple societies. In pre-historic times, we can imagine that small groups of people decided their leaders by consensus - they followed the individual they thought best able to keep them fed and safe. They did not did not think of themselves as being equal. They considered their leader better able to advance the interests of the group than they could, given whatever qualities they possessed. They did what was best for the group by doing what was best for themselves.

While every member of the group was pursuing its own best-interest, the leader was better equipped to do so than the other members of the group. Those with the ability took more of the available resources than those less able. That has not changed through the centuries. All that has changed is the rewards the leaders have taken by reason of their position.

Physical prowess is no longer the prime test for political leadership. Leadership has come to be decided by financial resources and the ability to manipulate the people. If we want to improve our political existence, we must learn to harness our tendency to pursue our own interest by devising ways to make probity and the ability to resolve public issues the traits required to achieve leadership positions.

Another issue at the root of our political problems is our tendency toward partisanship. Partisanship is an essential ingredient in the evolution of society. It provides the force by which change is accomplished.

Thoughts that move beyond accepted dogma emerge from the cauldron of our ideas and attract popular backing. We align ourselves with others who share our views. Through them we hone our ideas and gain strength from the knowledge that we are not alone in our beliefs. This gives breadth, depth and volume to our voice. As our ideas coalesce into an acceptable framework, society moves forward.

Unfortunately, partisanship is also dangerous. It is a tool used by cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled individuals to Divide and Conquer the people and take the reins of government for themselves.

Partisans seek the power to impose their views on those who don't share them. Russian Communism and National Socialism showed these tendencies. Both had features that attracted broad public support throughout a national expanse and both degenerated into destructive forces because their partisans gained control of their governments.

The danger in Communism and National Socialism was not that they attracted partisan support; it was that the partisans gained control of government. In general, partisanship is healthy when it helps us give voice to our views. It is destructive when it achieves power. All ideologies, whether of the right or the left, differ from Communism and National Socialism only in the extent to which their partisans are able to impose their biases on the public.

Partisanship is a vital part of society, provided it is always a voice and never a power. The danger is not in partisanship, it is in allowing partisans to control government. If we want to improve our political existence, we must devise a political process that incorporates partisanship without partisan control.

The root problem in US politics is us. To improve, we must devise a political process that recognizes our weaknesses and tames them.

What is your ideal economic and political system and why?

Political System

The best form of government is democracy, but not the party-controlled system we endure right now. Democracy will be the best form of government when every member of the community is able to participate in the political process to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability.

The size of the community makes that sound difficult, but it's less intimidating when you consider dividing the people into groups that select one member to repesent the others and continue the sifting and selecting until the best advocate of the public interest is raised to public office. I've described one way to do that at:

http://en.minguo.info/book/fredgohlke/practical_democracy_abstract

and Dr. Marcus Pivato of Trent University in Canada described another at:

http://www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol5/iss1/art8/

The gradual evolution of democracy has already started in Frome in the UK, where the electorate, in May 2015, rejected all party candidates for town offices and elected independents to the mayorality and the town council. Exciting as this circumstance is, the process is very slow. It will probably take more than a century to spread wide enough to benefit most of us.

Economic System

The best economic system is capitalism, but not capitalism as we know it now. One excellent example of the flaws in the present system is the existence of gigantic corporations that are called "Too Big To Fail". Fortunately, that flaw is not fatal.

Economic systems are the slaves of political systems. Our present, party-controlled system lets those who provide the money the parties need buy the laws they want (for example, the repeal of Glass-Steagall). As our political system gradually becomes more democratic, we will take the obvious steps needed resolve this problem of excessive greed.

We must not forget that competition is the leavening force in a capitalist system. The quest for profit, though vital as a driving force, does not justify the elimination of competition. Competition is a necessary ingredient that ensures quality products and fair pricing. It is unwise to pay lip service to capitalism by endorsing profit while ignoring acts that diminish competition.

Controlling the Excesses of Capitalism

Throughout nature there are moderating influences to inhibit excessive growth; living organisms of all kinds are kept in check by competition for foodstuffs, predators, disease, aging, and a multitude of other controlling factors. In the case of corporate growth, there is, at present, no limiting factor.

The best way to resolve the problem of massive corporations is to make excessive size a burden. One simple, direct and obvious way to do that is to impose a progressive tax on gross receipts. Such a tax makes no judgment about the operations of an enterprise. It is absolutely and totally objective in its application, and in its effect. If an entity grows to a size that exceeds its value to society, a progressive tax acts as an umbrella, increasing the rogue's cost of operation and giving its competitors a cost advantage which prevents their suffocation.

A progressive tax on gross receipts will revitalize our economy by ensuring competition, it will improve our employment by preventing the suffocation of the small businesses that have long been known to provide greater employment; it will allow the surviving companies to maintain their own direct employment as well as the indirect employment of the support services that supply them and their employees. It will spread prosperity by preventing the obscene concentration of wealth that marks our present system; it will inhibit the inflation that has such a vicious effect on the poorest people - and it will encourage companies that are "Too Big To Fail" to break themselves up.

A side effect of a progressive tax is that it makes inflation unacceptable. The more roguish an enterprise is, the more 'pricing power' it has. The evils of inflation are reserved for those at the lowest end of the economic ladder. Humans never have 'pricing power'. A progressive tax will eliminate the curse of inflation by enlisting the major corporations in the fight to maintain a stable economy.

Clearly we cannot expect to enact such a tax while our political process is controlled by the money flowing from the very rogues we seek to inhibit. It must await a change in the way we select our representatives in our government.

Fred Gohlke

Who uses our right to vote to control us.

In Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, he spoke of "government of the people, by the people, for the people". What is the mechanism by which 'the people' provide 'government of the people'? The standard answer is that the people have the right to elect their own representatives in government and thereby govern themselves. That would be fine if the people did, indeed, elect their own representatives - but they don't.

When the people vote, what choices are available to them? The only choices they have are candidates selected by political parties. Thus, control of the government is vested, not in the voters, but in the parties. This arrangement is clearly flawed.

As Robert Michels explained one hundred years ago, political party organizations are subject to the Iron Rule of Oligarchy; they form oligarchic power blocs that become an end in themselves and ultimately transcend the will of the people. When choosing from candidates selected by political parties, voting is an oligarchic exercise, not a democratic one.

A party-based political system is the antithesis of democracy. Instead of uniting the demos - the people - and organizing them to advance their common interests, parties incite antagonism among the people. They dominate by the most basic principle of domination: Divide and Conquer.

Political parties use our right to vote to control us.

Constructive resolution of public issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to recognize the value in the various points of view from the people's perspective. That is impossible for legislators elected to represent partisan interests.

The U.S. is politically divided because perspectives differ. The challenge of democracy is to blend those divergent points of view into a consensus that serves the common good. The purpose of democracy is to elevate the best advocates of the common interest as representatives of the people. Unfortunately for the humans among us, genuine democracy has no champions; it offers no rewards for individuals or groups.

Politicians stepped into the void. They have long known that the path to power lays, not in seeking the best interests of the people, but in building a power base. To aggregate power, they formed political parties that thrive on confrontation. George Washington recognized the danger in this approach and warned us, in his Farewell Address, that parties are "potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government". That is precisely what happened in the United States.

The divisiveness of U.S. politics flows from letting politicians build a party-based political process that intentionally splits the people into opposing groups instead of building a truly democratic process that lets the entire electorate participate in defining the issues the government must address and selecting the individuals best equipped to resolve those issues.

The inadequacy of voting for choices made by others is apparent in our lives. The ability to choose from options provided by others does not give us 'control'. When we're offered options that affect our lives, options that we've had no voice in defining, the ability to choose one of them is neither free nor democratic. As long as our parents control the choices we can make (as, indeed, they should), our choices are not our own. The essence of maturity is learning to make our own choices.

Voting for choices made by others expresses our status as subjects of those who defined our options - in the United States, that's the political parties. That is unacceptable, and yet, thinking it through and trying to convince our peers that it's a problem is tough.

In a representative democracy such as ours, the most vital element is not the right to vote but the right to select the people and the issues on which we will vote. The question is, "How do we accomplish that?"

The key to solving any complex problem is to break it into its elements. Politics is no different. We should not think of 'the people' as a huge amorphous mass which must be 'ruled', we must recognize that 'the people' is a large number of individuals, some of whom are better qualified to represent their peers than others. The moment we see that, it's easy to see that we must devise a way to identify those 'better qualified' individuals and raise them to public office.

Practical Democracy might work. Check it out.

Why do voters elect corrupt representatives?

We elect corrupt officials to represent us because political parties dictate our electoral choices. George Washington warned us of the danger of factions in his Farewell Address. Yet, factions (parties) grabbed power because we, the people, didn't understand how easily they are corrupted.

Instead of uniting the people and advancing our common interests, parties incite antagonism among the people in order to divide the electorate and increase their power. They rule by the most basic principle of domination: Divide and Conquer.

Candidates are not chosen for their integrity. Quite the contrary, they are chosen when they prove they will renounce principle and sacrifice honor for the benefit of their party.

Candidates for public office cannot mount a viable campaign without party sponsorship; they obtain sponsorship by agreeing to a party's terms. The party, assured of the loyalty of its candidates, gets money from financiers because it can promise that its candidates will enact the laws the financiers want. That's how the parties get the immense amounts of money they need for campaigns. This system corrupts the candidates and makes the parties conduits for the corruption.

Democracy is supposed to be a bottom-up concept; political power is vested in the people and rises, by their choice, to the officials they elect. We have yet to achieve that arrangement of our political existence because Washington's "cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men" were "enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government". They created top-down political organizations that let them set the agendas and choose the candidates for which the people vote. These structures corrupt the democratic process because Those who set the options, control the outcome!

Not many people realize that letting political parties select the candidates for public office is profoundly undemocratic. We must help them see that, as long as the parties choose the candidates, they will select people who advance the party's interest, not ours.

If we want to elect officials who will represent us, we must start by devising an electoral process that lets each of us participate in the selection process to the full extent of our desire and ability.

Other Writings by Fred Gohlke

Thoughts from the perspective of an American citizen

There is an enormous difference between what Abraham Lincoln called "government of the people, by the people, for the people", and the pseudo-democracies that engulf us.

The pseudo-democracies are actually oligarchies because the governments are controlled by political parties and the parties are controlled by a small number of people. These institutions are profoundly undemocratic. They raise unscrupulous people to public office by controlling the options the people are allowed to vote on, and those who control the options control the outcome!!! This travesty works because we have been taught to believe political parties are right and are inevitable.

We've been misled.

It's true partisanship is natural. We align ourselves with others who share our views. Through them, we hone our ideas and gain courage from the knowledge that we are not alone in our beliefs. Partisanship is healthy when it helps us give voice to our views. It is destructive when it achieves power. All ideologies, whether of the right or the left, differ only in the extent to which they can impose their biases on the public. The danger is not in partisanship, the danger is in allowing partisans to control government.

If we are to achieve democracy, the first step must be to understand how parties pervert politics. A major factor in the perversion is political campaigning. Campaigning is a very expensive process and the costs corrupt the process. The parties need immense amounts of money and raise it by selling their only product - the laws we endure.

To make matters worse, campaigning has a corrosive effect on the candidates. It is a training course in the art of deception. It is centered on deceit, misdirection and obfuscation rather than integrity and commitment to the public interest. Furthermore, campaigners are lionized by their supporters and suffer the insidious effect of repeatedly proclaiming their own rectitude. These things have a debilitating effect on the candidate's character and a destructive effect on society.

The result of this corrupt process is corrupt politicians. They cannot resolve national debts. They led the U. S. into war with fictitious threats of WMD, Weapons of Mass Destruction. They maintain laws allowing the growth of huge corporations that suck trillions of dollars out of the world's economies to the detriment of the humans among us. They gut and repeal laws that protected us from monstrous banks and then called them 'Too Big To Fail'. They are, as Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana said, unable to conduct the people's business, and, as Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware said, under the suffocating influence of money.

To attain the alternative we seek, we must help people understand how and why the systems that claim to be 'democracies' fail to serve the people. Until a nation understands its political distress is caused by what we've been taught is 'the best system on earth', the people will not support a change.

Then we must devise an electoral process that seeks out the individuals best suited to resolve the issues of the time. The process must let those who do not wish to participate step aside, while advancing individuals with the integrity, the intellect, the energy to serve the public interest.

Don't scoff.

There is no shortage of such people among us. What we lack is the means of seeking them out and raising them to public office.

Thoughts on Belief

We all have beliefs, and they have a significant influence on our lives. They are intensely personal, but they are also a tool that is used to subjugate us. It may be difficult to understand why we hold certain beliefs, but we need to question their validity.

To begin with, we humans have natural inclinations that guide us (if not compel us) to our convictions. They include tendencies toward provincialism and a will-to-believe. We must look at these traits to understand how we form our opinions.

Discussing the will-to-believe risks being side-tracked into the questions of predestination and free-will. Neither is germane. Not only have they been debated for centuries without resolution, they are partisan issues, used to bolster a point of view; they add nothing to the search for truth. In the context of the will-to-believe, they are meaningless.

The significance of the will-to-believe is not readily apparent, yet it ranks close to the will-to-survive in its influence on our lives. The will-to-believe is not a doctrine, it is a human trait. It is a part of what we are. Since we can't know everything, we believe what we are told about matters beyond our ken. Current instances abound, but more remote examples illustrate the force of this trait with greater clarity, thus:

  • If we are that told our emperor descends from the sun god, we believe it.
  • If we are told to dance in a certain way to please the rain god, we dance.
  • If we are told our king rules by divine right, we accept that doctrine. Not all of us, perhaps, but enough of us that the force of our combined belief is palpable.

Why do we believe these things? We don't believe them because they are self-evident, we believe them because they are not. We believe such things because they are given to us as explanations for some of the inexplicable phenomena that surround us. We do not understand the phenomena ourselves, but we are willing to assume others more gifted than ourselves do understand matters that baffle us. We accept their assertions, in part, because we haven't the knowledge to refute them.

You may not, in 'modern' times, believe in an emperors' divinity, or the power of the rain dance, or the divine right of kings. But you do know that such ideas had a profound influence when they were in vogue. To understand why they were so influential, you must imagine yourself living when these ideas were accepted dogma.

If you had lived in the American Southwest 600 years ago, would you have danced for the rain god? Were you a Japanese citizen in 900 A.D., would you have worshiped your emperor? Were you a Parisian in the 14th century, would you have accepted the divine right of kings? In each case, almost certainly so.

More than dance or worship or endorse, you would have believed. You would have 'known' the customs and beliefs of your time were right and proper. If your dance failed to bring forth rain, you would have been sure, not that your belief was wrong, but that you and your people had failed to please the rain god.

The strength of a belief is not dependent upon the soundness of the precept but on the intensity of the will-to-believe. While one may quibble with the label 'a will-to-believe', I've been unable to find a better term to explain the driving force behind Nazis, witch hunters, jihadists, followers of the Reverend Jones, Kamikaze pilots, and those imbued with religious fervor.

The will-to-believe is not only powerful, it is strange. It tends to be accompanied by an absolute certainty that which is believed is also true. We start exercising our will-to-believe to fill the gap formed by our lack of knowledge, and then leap directly from ignorance to absolute certainty.

It is even stranger that this progression from lack of knowledge continues on through absolute certainty to destructiveness. For it would be hard to imagine greater destructive force than that wielded by Nazis, witch hunters, jihadists, followers of the Reverend Jones, Kamikaze pilots, and those imbued with religious fervor.

The result of their terrible certainty is havoc and death; the destruction of themselves and the destruction of others. In fact, the most destructive words in any language are:

I BELIEVE!!!

Another trait affecting our attitudes is provincialism; we tend to adopt the mores of our time and place. People rarely stray far from their heritage, and then only with great effort. In fact, the effort is so great they are much more likely to yield to their provincial bias and let their will-to-believe solidify their convictions.

In the rain dance analogy, if dancing didn't bring forth rain, conventional wisdom would hold that you failed to please the rain god. As you matured, you may have questioned the efficacy of the dance but that would be unlikely, unless you examined your bias. And, even if you were willing to examine it, it would have been a frightening struggle to do so.

When the welfare of your people depends on rain and your culture hypothesizes a rain god, suggesting there is no rain god would be blasphemous. Most of us would dance as long as there was the slightest possibility the dance might summon rain, because of the huge penalty for offending the rain god - if one exists.

When examining the nature of belief, examining religious beliefs offers the advantage of being a topic that is widely divergent yet commonly held. Sadly, such examinations can be very, very difficult.

This is starkly portrayed when we consider, for example, Moslems and Christians. Both are influenced (if not controlled) by their heritage. Both believe they worship the One True God, both quote sacred scripture to support their convictions, and both go to extreme lengths in the name of their vision of God. As a result of their provincialism and their will-to-believe, they are both infused with an absolute certainty, not only that their belief is right, but that all other beliefs are wrong.

The human characteristics which form our convictions are not, in and of themselves, religious. They are traits. They only attain religiosity when we endow them with the force of our egos. When they do become religious, however, the 'terrible certainty' which is the genesis of so much horror and destruction, blooms.

Religious examples make the role of belief easier to see, but the real danger to society lays in the belief we put in our political systems. Belief is a powerful machine for political control. We see this frequently, but often don't recognize the role public belief played in it.

One obvious example is the belief in National Socialism generated in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. We lay the tragedy that followed at the door of a dictator, but that looks right past the fact that the dictator could not have gained power if the majority of the people had not believed in his teaching.

In the United States, the people's belief that their country is democratic blinds them to the fact that their government is controlled by the small group of people who finance the major political parties.

Evidence that the U. S. is an oligarchy is available, but the commonly accepted believe is, "It's our government. We voted for it." as if voting for candidates selected by political parties gave the people real choices. The people accept it, not because it's true, but because they have a will-to-believe it. This circumstance lets huge concentrations of money control the nation's political system with barely a murmur of discontent.

Difficult though the task may be, if we want to improve our world, we must begin by looking at ourselves. We must start the very difficult task of examinng our belief in our own political system. We must face the bitter truth that, no matter how strongly we believe we live in a democracy, we don't.

Over one hundred years ago, Robert Michels warned us that party organizations "conceal from the mass a danger which really threatens democracy." At last, even academia is re-examining its views. In a 2014 study, Gilens and Page found "... that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts."

If we are to free our government from the control of big money, we must recognize how big money is using our belief in our political system to control us. We must understand that we won't have government of the people, by the people, for the people until we build a bottom-up political infrastructure that lets the people actively participate in the conduct of, and impress their moral sense on, their government.

Thoughts on Corporate Operations

Corporations are entities formed to exploit the physical and human resources of a community. They provide a means of attracting large amounts of capital to finance large projects. Some are beneficial and some are a detriment to the society that hosts them, but it is not easy to tell which is which because of the myths surrounding their operations.

The myth that corporations exist for the benefit of their shareholders is false; shareholders merely hope to profit from the operation. Corporations exist for the well being of those who control them; the individuals who benefit from the airplanes, three-martini lunches, yachts, season tickets and luxury boxes at sports venues, limousines, chauffeurs and plush offices afforded corporate executives, free of taxation and passed off as business expenses.

Corporation are not taxed like humans and are allowed to become "Too Big To Fail" because, since the inception of the income tax, sophistry and corporate money have successfully influenced our lawmakers.

Corporate taxes are passed on to the consumer. That is why, if corporate tax rates increased as the gross receipts rise, the most predatory corporations would price themselves out of business when they grew beyond a justifiable size. A progressive tax on corporate gross receipts would provide an umbrella that prevents the suffocation of smaller businesses and their employees.

Significantly, a progressive tax on gross receipts would force corporations to fight inflation, which is so destructive for the humans among us.

Thoughts on Corporate Personhood

Corporations are entities formed to exploit the physical and human resources of a community. They provide a means of attracting large amounts of capital to finance large projects. Some are beneficial and some are a detriment to the society that hosts them, but it is not easy to tell which is which because of the myths surrounding their operations. Not the least of these myths is the Supreme Court's decision that corporations are persons.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the court "gave birth to corporations as persons" and that "There could be an argument made that that was the court's error to start with ... [imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics."

In looking for sense in the modern world, we must not overlook the fact that, whatever the judicial rationale supporting the decision that corporations are persons, corporations are not human. There is no limiting factor to prevent them from perpetuating themselves. They have no natural life-cycle of birth, adolescence, maturity, and death. They have no morality except that of pursuing their own interest and no concept of a future beyond their own existence. They have no sense of right and wrong, so the adverse effects of devouring resources at a prodigious rate and polluting the environment have no meaning for them. For corporations, the ability to suppress immediate gratification for the future benefit of others, particularly when the welfare is of generations yet unborn, and the threat to their welfare is based on reason rather than experience, is non-existent.

The law may consider them 'persons', but we humans must provide their moral compass.

We can say that those who direct the operations of corporations are human and should want to avoid using up resources and polluting the environment, but when those worries are set against the almost incalculable benefits of power and recompense corporate executives reap, such concerns are miniscule.

Probably the most difficult thing to accept is that these executives are not vile persons. Most of us would act as they do, however much we would like to believe otherwise. The pursuit of self-interest is universal. The ability to suppress immediate gratification for future welfare, particularly when the threat is based on reason rather than experience and the welfare is of generations yet unborn, is not abundant. It exists in sufficient quantity to benefit humanity, but is widely dispersed. We've yet to devise a means of aggregating it and applying it to the bodies of corporate persons.

Thoughts on Corporate Taxation

Taming Our Monsters

Dismantling "Too Big To Fail"

Organizations that become Too Big To Fail are uncontrollable. In a column titled "Too Big to Jail" in the March 11, 2013 issue of Barron's (a financial newsweekly), Randall Forsyth reported that Attorney General Eric Holder told Iowa Senator Charles Greeley he was "concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when (...) it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy."here

Holder's concern is borne out by Jack Willoughby's report in Barron's on March 23, 2013, describing how the Securities and Exchange Commission, in an abject failure to meet its obligation to protect the public interest, exempted UBS Securities from a mandatory 10-year ban on its activities after it was found guilty of securities crime.here

Corporations will not stop their criminal activities when they know they can't be punished.

Corporate Personhood

Whatever the judicial rationale supporting the decision that corporations are persons, corporations are not human. There is no limiting factor to prevent them from perpetuating themselves. They have no natural life-cycle of birth, adolescence, maturity, and death. They have no sense of right and wrong, so the adverse effects of devouring resources at a prodigious rate and polluting the environment have no meaning for them. The law may consider them 'persons', but we humans must provide their moral compass.

How Big Is 'Too Big'?

Size is a descriptive term, it is neither good nor bad. Some firms, like public utilities, must be larger than others because of the nature of their business, so we have no yardstick to define proper size. Our lawmakers enacted laws that enable corporate growth but failed to enact (and enforce) laws to protect us from corporate gluttony.

Corporations, like other organisms, consider self-preservation the first law of nature. Self-preservation is generally applauded as "survival of the fittest", but carried to extremes, it can destroy the preserved entity's habitat. Throughout nature there are moderating influences to inhibit excessive growth; living organisms of all kinds are kept in check by the cycle of life, competition for foodstuffs, predators, the force of gravity, the need for mobility, and a multitude of other controlling factors.

There are no such natural constraints on corporate size and our society has yet to provide one. Beneficial though Darwinism may be in a purely theoretical sense, if our society and our environment are the specifics being destroyed by cancerous growth, we must do what we can to stop it.

Competition

Competition is the leavening force in a capitalist system. The quest for profit, though vital as a driving force, must never be allowed to eliminate competition. Competition is a necessary ingredient that ensures quality products and fair pricing. When corporate giants are allowed to absorb or suppress their competitors, we lose the only control a capitalist system provides and the only protection for the people.

Adverse Effects Of Excessive Size

When I was young, we had a small knitting mill in our town. That mill, in addition to employing 50 or so of our townspeople, supported an uncounted number of other small businesses; the sandwich shop on the corner where the mill hands had lunch, a couple of local pickup and delivery services, the bank, of course, and the shops and services patronized by the mill's employees.

That may seem like pretty small stuff - and it was - but it was typical of thousands of small businesses that were the mainstay of a multitude of communities throughout the country. Over the past 50 years or so, those small companies have been absorbed or driven out of business by corporate giants. The jobs they provided and all the support services that depended on them disappeared, too. To feed their families, the people could only find employment by commuting, depleting natural resources and polluting the atmosphere in the process.

The Bell System is a good example of the danger inherent in market domination. When it was young, dynamic and growing, it was a boon to society. After it matured and began perpetuating its own existence (something all of us would like to do, but are prevented by the cycle of life), it became injurious to society by suppressing alternatives. As soon as the Bell System was broken up, alternatives mushroomed and the market blossomed with diversity.

In another example, giant brewers eliminated the small local breweries throughout the country. In 1950, the top 10 brewers produced 38% of the beer. By 1980, the top 10 brewers controlled the market and produced 93% of the beer. Not only did we lose the local employment of those small brewers, we also lost the multitude of jobs offered by the providers of goods and services that supported them.

These losses, which seemed local and not very significant, pervaded the country. Every industry consolidated to increase the economic clout of the industry leaders at the expense of the self-sufficient communities that once made up our country. The auto manufacturers, seeking control of their markets, eliminated generic parts, ruining thousands of auto supply stores and small maintenance shops that helped maintain vibrant communities. As they eliminated their competition, they raised their prices to consumers so that it now costs $100 to replace the ignition key for my car.

How It Happened

The seeds of our predicament were sown more than 100 years ago. By the early 20th century the die had been cast; big business had learned to manipulate our political process to its own advantage. In his State of the Union Address on December 3, 1906here, Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th President, warned us about the "unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics".

By this time, party organizations around the country had became so powerful and so corrupt, they inspired widespread calls for political reforms. However, since the parties controlled the executive and legislative branches of the state and federal governments, the 'reforms' they enacted were merely cosmetic. New names were invented for old practices. In some cases, the lawyers who helped write the laws also drafted memos explaining the loopholes written into themhere, In spite of lip service to 'cleaning house', nothing changed. The unholy alliance continued to develop and is now so imbedded in our political system that big business writes the laws it pays our legislators to enact.

At the inception of the modern income tax, that unholy alliance of corrupt business and corrupt politics introduced a dichotomy into our tax structure that favored corporations over people. Humans were subjected to a progressive tax on their gross receipts while corporations were only taxed on what they called 'profits'. This travesty led to our present crisis.

Limiting Excessive Growth

Growth requires nutrients. We provide corporations with physical and human resources and a legislative environment that supports their operation. It is our right, indeed our duty, to see that these resources are not abused. When we let corporations become 'Too Big To Fail', we fail to meet that obligation.

To re-establish economic equilibrium, we must exercise our right to prevent abuse of the nutrients we provide. We can do that by making excessive size a burden; by levying a progressive tax on gross receipts, without reserve or allowance.

We need a gross receipts tax; a fee for the use of the resources we offer entrepreneurs to develop their ideas. The tax is not concerned with the profitability of the taxpayer. Whether or not the enterprise is profitable does not change the amount of resources it exploits in its operation.

If, by the nature of its business, an enterprise must be large, it is not injured by the gross receipts tax because all competing businesses must attain a similar size and will pay a comparable tax. However, when a company attains unjustified size by manipulating the rules in its own favor or dominating its competitors to the detriment of the public, the tax adds a cost to its operation.

When a corporation grows to a size that exceeds its value to society, the gross receipts tax acts as an umbrella, increasing its cost of operation and giving its competitors a cost advantage that prevents their suffocation.

Competition is critical to a free market economy and a progressive gross receipts tax enhances competition immeasurably by preventing the suffocation of smaller businesses. This allows the surviving companies to maintain their own direct employment as well as the indirect employment of the support services that supply them and their employees.

The Gross Receipts Tax

The gross receipts tax is levied on the annual gross receipts of all taxable entities, animate or inanimate, from all sources and for all amounts received in their name by entities they control (including franchises), less amounts paid to external vendors in which the entity has no managerial, directorial or financial interest of any amount or kind.

The tax is progressive. Assuming inception of the tax at $1,000,000 and a base rate of 2%, 2% is added to the rate each time the receipts increase by one decimal position, with the tax rate increasing proportionally from one order of magnitude to the next.

           Annual Gross Receipts   Tax Rate
                      $1,000,000      2%
                     $10,000,000      4%
                    $100,000,000      6%
                  $1,000,000,000      8%
                 $10,000,000,000     10%
                $100,000,000,000     12%
              $1,000,000,000,000     14%

Public Benefits

A Progressive Gross Receipts Tax has a number of beneficial aspects. It is gentle because it only becomes burdensome when companies exceed their benefit to society. It lets taxpayers pursue their own interest in their own way and leaves size decisions in the hands of management. It benefit stockholders because management is encouraged to pay profits out in dividends instead of funding voracious, anti-social growth. It makes huge corporations provide revenue for the government that nurtures them. It eliminates "Too Big To Fail" companies without additional regulation.

In addition to allowing the dynamic growth of small businesses, with the attendant direct employment of our people and the rebirth of the supporting businesses that are the cornerstone of vibrant communities throughout our country, this tax will eliminate inflation. Right now, huge corporations with 'pricing power' benefit from inflation because it adversely affects their smaller competitors. People and businesses at the lower end of the economic ladder never have pricing power. For them inflation is an unmitigated evil. The progressive nature of this tax makes inflation bad for large companies because their tax rate increases as their gross revenue rises. The progressive gross receipts tax will encourage large corporations to fight inflation.

Enacting the Tax

If we are going to get a progressive tax on gross receipts, we are all going to have to stand up and be counted. This is not something we can accomplish exclusively by classical non-violent means. Protesting and letters to the editor are not going to get those who control our political system to loosen their grip. We're going to have to 'invade' Washington.

All the people who gathered to spread the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street message are going to have to gather again, and they're going to have to bring all their friends and relatives.

When our public officials see that we, the people, are serious and that we are going to get this law enacted, we'll get their attention. We may be met with force, as was the Bonus Army during President Hoover's administration, and we may have to fight back!

Our best hope for a peaceful settlement will be if our President has the courage and the integrity to order the police forces and military to stand down and respect the wishes of the people. If we get that kind of support from our President, our Congress will enact this simple, obvious, and desperately needed protection for the people.

Do we have the courage to fight the "unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics"?

Let's find out!!!

Thoughts on Government

There are, in my view, three fundamental flaws in our government: the way we maintain our laws, the way we tax, and the way we select our representatives. Until we improve the way we select our representatives, we cannot sunset bad laws or improve our tax code.

  1. The Way We Maintain Our Laws: Nothing in our Constitution requires that laws be sunsetted. As a result of that omission, a law passed by a bare majority of our representatives (and, possibly, desired by a minority of our citizens) stays on the books ad infinitum. A less lamentable method would be limits on the life of a law based on the lowest percentage of approval by which it passes either house of Congress (or the various legislatures). For example:
    Less than 52% approval, a life of  1 year
       52% to 55% approval, a life of  2 years
       55% to 65% approval, a life of  5 years
         Over 65% approval, a life of 10 years

    Revisiting laws passed by a small majority lets the people express their approval or disapproval based on their experience with the law.

  2. The way we tax: Taxes should be proportional to the benefits the taxed entity realizes because of its citizenship. Taxes should not be preferential; they should allow no exemptions or exceptions.
  3. The way we select our representatives: At present, political parties have usurped the right to name the candidates for public office, and those who control the options control the result. The people's only recourse is to vote for a candidate selected by a party. Since the goal of parties is to advance their own interest, they choose unscrupulous people by design. If we are to improve our government, the first step must be for the people to select the best of their number to represent them in their government.

Thoughts on Ideas

Ideas are at the core of problem resolution. No-one has a monopoly on ideas. They are constantly popping up, all over the world, in all fields of endeavour. Some of the best ideas come from the least expected sources.

Ideas, by their nature, cannot be controlled. They are malleable little balloon-like things that bounce off people, sometimes adjusting their shape as they go. Ideas are the essence of freedom -- and they never explode because someone disagrees with them -- they only shatter on the jagged points of reality.

New ideas are described with as much clarity as the thinker can muster and submitted to 'peer review'. They are not universally accepted. Some are rejected on a rational basis (This won't work because ...), some are rejected for a variety of other reasons, not least of which are that they tread on the toes of an existing authority on the subject. But some, sooner or later, are seen to have merit and are honed and accepted.

Initially, ideas are almost formless. As we ponder them, they gradually take shape. When we finally get a decent outline of an idea, we try to share it with others -- but our communications skills are weak and we're only able to describe the vaguest skeleton of our idea. The person we discuss it with questions some parts of it and fills in other parts.

From that point on, the idea takes on a firmer shape. Each person who participates brings their own putty to fill in, and solidify, the idea. They also bring their own questions, or lack of understanding, which must be answered and explained, to the benefit of all. So the smallest question may produce the most distinguishing feature of the notion.

Ideas are fun, and I hope everyone will enjoy them. As we work together, here on Minguo, we must recognize that everyone's ideas are important, but that no one person's ideas are more important than those of another. We must urge everyone to participate. The success of the effort depends on the generation, adaptation and integration of all of our ideas. Some will not fit, others must be modified. Fitting them all together into a useful contribution to society will be slow and difficult, but it can be done.

Thoughts on Inflation

It is amazing how openly our government exploits our people for the benefit of mega-companies. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, and the extension of so-called Intellectual Property Laws that enable corporations (which have no intellect) to impose a perpetual tax on the people by overpricing products long after the producers have recovered the cost and a decent profit for developing those products, are but two examples of the victimization of the American people for the benefit of corporate giants.

Another, even more outrageous example is the continuing efforts of the Federal Reserve Board to systematically steal from the people. The Federal Reserve Board target of 2% inflation is criminal because it constitutes a perpetual tax on the people that only benefits the gigantic corporations that are sucking us dry. Inflation is always at the expense of the poor whose meager assets dwindle over time, for the benefit of the rich, whose real and fixed assets are swollen by inflation and grow with each passing day.

Big businesses are the only beneficiaries of inflation. The evils are reserved for those at the lowest end of the economic ladder. Inflation is a perpetual tax on the people. It only benefits those who take in current dollars and pay out future (inflated) dollars, like banks and insurance companies, and those who exploit non-renewable resources like real estate and oil.

The Federal Reserve Board wants the people to bear 2% inflation, and tells us this is healthy and normal. Why does no one talk about the burden this places on the people - ALL THE PEOPLE - who must bear this persistent increase in their cost of living? What benefit do we - the people - gain from inflation.

None!!!

In addition to raising the costs we must pay, inflation bloats companies until the government deems them "Too Big To Fail" and uses the people's money to bail them out when their excesses jeopardize the world economy. This is only a tiny fraction of the economic repression of the masses that our government has institutionalized to a point which not even Lenin could have foreseen.

The more unscrupulous a business is, the more "pricing power" it has. The evils of inflation are reserved for those at the lowest end of the economic ladder. Humans never have "pricing power". The only constant is that the people lose; they endure deadly inflation that sucks their economic blood,

When I was a kid, we paid 5 cents for a cup of coffee, a penny for a stick of candy, and haircuts were a quarter. Those days are long gone, not because the costs have increased but because the government has used inflation to create an illusion of prosperity by helping to build multi-national monstrosities..

We're told a 2% inflation rate is healthy. That's poppycock. Since inflation compounds, it is devastating for the humans among us. With a 2% inflation rate, a dollar we have today will only be worth about 81.71 cents in ten years - the other 18.29 cents will have been given to corporate giants.

We have become so accustomed to inflation we don't even question it any more. The tragedy is that there's an easy way to prevent it that has several good side effects, like breaking up companies that are Too Big To Fail and increasing business competition - the only leavening force in a capitalist system. Sadly, I'm not finding anyone willing to endorse the method or explain why we should not demand its immediate imposition.

Thoughts on Lobbying

A serious problem in American politics is the attack on elected officials by vested interests. In a representative democracy, representatives are not required to have any special knowledge or training. They are selected because they are believed to have the intellect and disposition to assimilate the information necessary to make sound decisions in the best interests of the people.

Since laws passed by a legislative body apply to the community, we anticipate that all interested parties will present their arguments for and against pending legislation. Our legislatures hold hearings to facilitate this presentation of information. Since the hearing rooms will not hold all the people with an interest in the matter, interested parties designate agents, called lobbyists, to present the information for them.

The theory is that our representatives will weigh the information presented by lobbyists objectively, enact laws that benefit the community and reject laws that are harmful. However, at present, it doesn't work like that. Although hearings are held, they are merely for show. The actual decisions are made by our lawmakers outside the hearing room, under the influence of lobbyists.

It is the free access lobbyists have to our lawmakers that defeats a very sound concept. The lobbyists wine and dine lawmakers, provide them with exotic vacations, hire members of their family, promise them future employment and, by more subterfuges than I can relate, influence the people elected to represent the public interest. These circumstances contribute to the political cesspool we currently endure.

If we are to eliminate this kind of corruption, we must deny lobbyists free access to our legislators. Our elected representatives are in service for the length of their term -- just like members of our armed forces -- and like members of our armed forces, they should be maintained at a government installation. The facilities at the installation can be as palatial as need be, with golf courses, marinas, and all forms of educational and entertainment facilities, but access to the facility should be restricted. Those wishing to affect pending legislation should present their arguments, publicly, in hearing rooms provided for the purpose -- and that should be the absolute limit of their personal contact with our elected representatives.

Do we have the stomach for such a solution?

We sequester juries in important cases. Should the conduct of our government be deemed less worthy of objectivity?

Thoughts on Mental Growth

I understand the notion that people don't grow much after the age of 20, but I'm not sure the similarity of physical and mental stature is valid. I'm more inclined to think Alasdair MacIntryre (a professor at Notre Dame University) has it right:

"Human beings, as the kind of creatures we are, need the internal goods that can only be acquired through participation in politics if we are to flourish." [Taken from Edward Clayton's, "Alasdair MacIntyre", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

In it's present state, our political infrastructure does not accommodate public participation in the political process. We have no way of knowing how our intellectual capacity will expand when we institutionalize meaningful public participation in the political process. We can be sure that a portion of the people, perhaps a large portion, will not participate productively, but some of them will blossom when their reason is consulted and they learn they can persuade others of the value of their ideas.

(Note that voting isn't "participation in the political process". On the contrary, it expresses our status as subjects of those who defined our options, because those who control the options control the outcome. Voting is an emotional experience, not an intellectual one, and we suffer badly because of it.)

So, while I agree that many people "remain stupid their whole life. They have no concept of self-improvement, personal growth, perpetual learning...", I believe a factor contributing to that circumstance is that they have no venue for intellectual growth. I also believe society will benefit when we create a political infrastructure built on the minds of the best of our peers.

Thoughts on People and Myths

I've spent a few years in the Realm of the People. During those years, I've learned that not everything is as it appears. Part of the cacaphony bellowing from the media are myths that affect our lives. They are so powerful they influence us even though they contradict reality. I believe recognizing the influence of these myths may help us improve the way we relate to each other; in a word, our politics. But, in attempting to understand them, we must avoid the notion that they are always created with malevolent intent. Sometimes, they're not.

When we are poor, we have hopes and dreams. They inspire us, they give purpose to our lives. Our joy is more in the striving than in the accomplishment. We all know the stereotype of the 'starving artist'. It may be a stereotype, but there's a grain of truth behind it.

It is the ability to create that brings joy. It's the creation that's the reward. Although its an annual battle and the work is hard, there is great pleasure in a good crop of beans, or corn, or wheat. When they're harvested, we have a sense of accomplishment and the comfort of a period of security.

When we become affluent, our car - which was once a means of conveyance - becomes a symbol of our status. Our house becomes a badge of our success. Our lives come to be marked by the number of badges we exhibit. Our work, which was once a source of occasional frustration and frequent joy, becomes drudgery, endured for the sake of showing more badges.

There has to be a reason why The Great Depression, which was a period of pervasive poverty was marked by such upbeat songs as

I got plenty of nothing
And nothing's plenty for me
I got no car - got no mule
I got no misery

Folks with plenty of plenty
They've got a lock on the door
Afraid somebody's gonna rob 'em
While they're out amaking more -
what for?

and

I can't give you anything but love, baby
That's the only thing I've plenty of, baby
Dream a while, scheme a while
You're sure to find
Happiness and I guess
All those things you've always pined for

and

Got no diamonds, got no pearls
Still I think I'm a lucky girl
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night

Got no mansion, got no yacht
Still I'm happy with what I've got
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night

Sunshine gives me a lovely day
Moonlight gives me the Milky Way

Got no checkbooks, got no banks
Still I'd like to express my thanks
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night

And with the sun in the morning
And the moon in the evening, I'm alright

Got no silver, got no gold
What I've got can't be bought or sold
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night

Sunshine gives me a lovely day
Moonlight gives me the Milky Way

Got no heirlooms for my kin
Made no will but when I cash in
I'll leave the sun in the morning and the moon at night

And with the sun in the morning
And the moon in the evening, they're alright

and

Every morning, every evening
Ain't we got fun
Not much money, Oh but honey
Ain't we got fun

The rent's unpaid dear
We haven't a bus
But smiles were made dear
For people like us

In the winter, in the Summer
Don't we have fun
Times are bum and getting bummer
Still we have fun

There's nothing surer
The rich get rich and the poor get children
In the meantime, in between time
Ain't we got fun

You may not be able to appreciate those lyrics without their melodies that still ring in my mind, but maybe, if you can imagine being out of work with no hope of getting a job, often dependent on the largesse of friends and relatives just to survive, you might get a glimmer. The point is, we humans have an ability to accept what is and make the best of it - and that ability is the springboard from which other myths can be launched.

The relationships that underlie human happiness are so deep, so complex that it's difficult to get a handle on them. The music of the Depression years was inspirational. The war generated its own kind of music, some martial, some nationalistic, some the blues of loneliness. In the period after the war, the music slowly took on a different tone. It lost its suggestion of personal joy. As our circumstances improved, we found that acquisition seemed important. Individuals bought homes and cars, and used them to show how successful they were. But not everyone could "keep up with the Jones" and, for them, unhappiness ensued.

At the same time, the rapid growth and spread of communication media fostered the mushrooming of marketing, which, in the ensuing 50 years, was able to completely divorce price from cost. This phenomenon feasted on the growing acquisitiveness. Sneakers, which once cost less than a dollar, sold for prices well over $100.00 a pair.

The Great Depression spawned the Swing era, which was decidedly upbeat. People with nothing found joy in hope. Could their music suggest that affluence has an adverse effect? No, that's too simplistic, but somewhere in there lays the germ of an important idea.

Somewhere in the midst of all this bustle and noise, we may be getting a clue that affluence is not the answer, but what can we learn from our experiences? How can we use our knowledge to create a better society. That may be a question worth pursuing.

If you think about your acquaintances and friends, you'll find the influence of a manipulative media has created innumerable tentacles of habit and belief that have a firm grip on their minds. They have, for example, a firm belief that their political system is democratic, yet the only way they can participate in it is by choosing from options offered them by a small group of elites.

Academics are slowly coming to realize that the United States is more an oligarchy than a democracy, but it will take time to loosen the grip of the democracy myth on the people. While, once, it was to our personal advantage to turn a blind eye to our own poverty, we must learn that it's not wise to blind ourselves to our status as subjects of the elites that control our government.

Thoughts on Political Candidate Selection

One reason many people don't vote in the United States is that the game is rigged. Why should they bother? It makes no sense to vote when the only choices are candidates committed to serving vested interests.

The political parties arrogate to themselves the conduct of our government; they write the rules by which the government functions, sell legislation to vested interests, and choose candidates committed to enact the laws written for them by the people who underwrite their election campaigns.

That's a clear case of setting a fox to guard the hen-house!!!!

Although it is outside the United States, we would do well to study the Report of the Commission on Candidate Selection (a board composed of the leaders of five large political parties in Great Britain). It describes "a picture of a narrow group of representatives selected by a tiny proportion of the population belonging to parties, for which ever fewer members of the public vote and for whom even fewer people have any feelings of attachment."

In the United States, voter participation is limited to picking one of the blackguards chosen for them by the corrupt political institutions that run the country. It would be hard to imagine an arrangement more destructive of the common interest. As long as money controls our political parties and the parties control the nomination of candidates for public office, attempting to influence the government by voting is futile.

Political scientists laud the confrontational nature of our political system saying it lets partisans aggregate power to accomplish their goals. They ignore the destructiveness of the process; it divides the people instead of uniting them to solve common problems.

Confrontation inhibits public participation in politics because interest in adversarial relationships diminishes rapidly as the distance from the principal contenders grows. This is evident in all conflicts from sports and games to politics and war. Adversarial systems leave most people on the periphery, remote from the process. Their interest lags and they don't participate. This is the reality that lets politicians Divide and Conquer our nation.

It is not as if the evils of our system are hidden. Our first President warned us, over 200 years ago, that parties were likely to become "potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government". At the start of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt warned us of "the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics". In 1915, Robert Michels explained why political parties become an end in themselves and ultimately transcend the will of the people.

We know how parties operate. We know about the 'soft money', 'party bosses', 'pork barrels', 'party loyalty', 'slush funds', 'party whips', and the whole lexicon of political manipulation. We know these things, but we can do nothing about them for the simple - and obvious - reason that the parties control our access to our government.

There is no hope of achieving a democratic government in the United States until the people have meaningful participation in the selection of candidates for public office and the definition of public issues.

Thoughts on Protecting My Work

The purpose of a copyright is to encourage and protect authors and inventors. It is a powerful and important tool. I do not, however, wish to avail myself of this protection.

I'm grateful to Minguo for offering me the opportunity to express thoughts I think important. Thoughts are not owned. They are malleable little balloon-like things that bounce off people, sometimes adjusting their shape as they go. They are the essence of freedom -- and they never explode because someone disagrees with them -- they only shatter on the jagged points of reality.

If anyone wants to use the material I present here, I hope they will, without worrying about attribution. They don't honor me by using my name, they honor me by applying my thoughts. It's the thoughts that are important and, in a few years, I won't care who uses them. I can only hope they will be used to help create a better society.

I place the material I contribute here in the public domain. Please use it as you see fit, with or without attribution.

Thoughts on Representative Democracy

A sound implementation of Representative Democracy must capitalize on the differences between people. Plato, if not others before him, felt democracy could not work because 'ordinary people' are 'too easily swayed by the emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians'. He failed to note that some folks are more easily swayed than others, and that some individuals are not swayed at all. Yet, Plato's incomplete view of the people has survived through the ages and forms the cornerstone of political thought today.

The weakness in this concept is twofold. The first is the notion that the only proper view of democracy is as a condition in which all the people make all the decisions. The second is the failure to recognize that 'the people' is made up of many individuals: some good, some bad; some skilled, some unskilled; some with integrity, some deceitful; some brilliant, some dull; some sociable, some unfriendly; some interested in politics, some not. The task of representative democracy is to sift through these many types of individuals and elevate those best suited to serve as advocates of the common good.

The public perception of the value of voting is flawed. The word "voting" invokes an image of individuals visiting polls and expressing a preference for one or another of the options made available to them by political parties. We need to recognize that voting is not limited to that vision; we can vote in many ways, some more powerful than the ballot.

When the people vote for candidates chosen by political parties, the government is controlled, not in the voters, but by those who choose the candidates. Voting for options provided by others does not give the people control of their government; it is neither free nor democratic. It is top-down, not bottom-up, and, as such, is the antithesis of democracy. It expresses our status as subjects of those who defined our options.

Another flaw is the influence of one-way communications. In Plato's time 'the emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians' was spread by orators. Although the technology of communication has advanced since then, its effectiveness has not improved because such communication, whether the printed word or the broadcast word, is uni-directional - from an author or an announcer to an audience. One-way communications propagate the inadequacies and biases of the source.

We know, intuitively, that true knowledge cannot be attained unless assertions are challenged and the underlying concepts examined. In other words, the acquisition of knowledge requires discourse. It is, and must be, a multi-directional undertaking. At present, our political infrastructure does not encourage public examination of public issues.

To correct this shortcoming, we need a political process that lets everyone participate. Dr. Alasdair MacIntyre of Notre Dame University, feels:

"Human beings, as the kind of creatures we are, need the internal goods that can only be acquired through participation in politics if we are to flourish."

Another flaw in the current implementation of Representative Democracy is the influence of lobbying on the law-making process. This is discussed in detail in the section Thoughts on Lobbying.

Government cannot be better than the people we elect to run it. The challenge of Representative Democracy is to seek out and elect representatives that advocate the common good. Dr. Jane Mansbridge, in a paper titled, "A 'Selection Model' of Political Representation", said:

"As a general rule, the higher the probability that the objectives of principal and agent may be aligned, the more efficient it is for the principal to invest resources ex ante, in selecting the required type, rather than ex post, in monitoring and sanctioning. If these objectives are well aligned, citizens will be better served by a constituent-representative relationship based primarily on selection than by one based primarily on monitoring and sanctions. From a normative perspective, the selection model also tends to focus the attention of both citizens and representatives on the common interest."

Representative Democracy, a bottom-up concept, has been forestalled by a top-down political mechanism. It should not be too difficult for thoughtful people to conceive a political process that lets every member of the community participate in the selection of representatives whose objectives are aligned with their own.

Thoughts on pure democracy

The term 'pure democracy' is imprecise. If the term means public issues are resolved by having everyone in the electorate 'vote' on proposed solutions, the economic circumstances do not matter. The organizations most expert in exploiting the media will sway public opinion to the advantage of the vested interests they represent, at the expense of the people.

If the term means the people have a mechanism by which they can select their wisest, most virtuous, and most experienced citizens to lead them, pure democracy will work equally well in times of growth and times of depression. The people will choose leaders for their ability to address the circumstances and resolve the issues that face them.

Thoughts on the Evolution of Politics

Politics originated the first time two individuals found it necessary to negotiate an interaction between them. The stronger of the two pursued his own interest, whether or not it was to the advantage of the weaker. The political system that currently dominates world governments evolved from that point. Political leaders have always been the individuals that were able to amass the power necessary to pursue their own interest, even if it was at the expense of their contemporaries.

In America, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, remarkable men in their own right and honored as they should be for their contributions to our nation's founding, are also the men who cultured the germs of our present disease by pursuing their own interest without regard for the destructive potential of the political system they established. Certain that their own view of the issues facing the new nation were superior to anyone else's, they built organizations to help them aggregate the political power they needed to impose their views on the nation.

George Washington sat amid these strong personalities, and, as long as he was able, mediated the matters that concerned the country. As he did so, the dangers that awaited us were so apparent to him that he used his Farewell Address to warn us "in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party". He called partisanship an unquenchable fire that "demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume", and predicted parties were likely to become "potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government".

I stand in awe of the clarity of Washington's vision and his ability to master the passions that surrounded him. What an uncommonly strong character he must have had. As I've learned more about him, I've wondered why so little attention is paid to his political insights - until I realize that he was warning us against the very people who control our nation today - and they're not going to call attention to the evils Washington foresaw.

Hamilton and Jefferson and their followers invented political parties and institutionalized their advantage by creating rules in the several states to preserve them and aid their operation. The problem is, partisan systems, by definition, exclude non-partisans. In doing so, they exclude those who put the public interest ahead of party interest. Instead, they vest political power in a small portion of the people at the expense of the rest.

Proclaiming 'democracy', and telling the people they have a voice in their government because they are allowed to vote for a candidate chosen for them by the vested interests that control party operations, has been incredibly successful. Gigantic finanacial interests, recognizing the power of the approach, have supported the mushrooming of party-based political systems around the world.

Political parties are not democratic; they favor power-seekers who form oligarchic power blocs that become an end in themselves and transcend the will of the people. Such systems fail to meet the needs of the people for the simple (and obvious) reason that their primary concern is retaining their power by favoring the portion of the electorate that supports them. In modern times, that support comes from big business (i.e., big money) and big business is favored equally by both parties, whatever lip-service they pay to democracy.

We have ample reason to know that party-based governments fail. Some fail cataclysmically like National Socialism and Russian Communism, others fail through corruption. They all fail because, without exception, parties put their own interests ahead of the interests of their nation. Parties are an irrational basis for a political system.

Our political system in the U. S. failed, not because of our Constitution, but because we allowed those "cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men" to build the party-based monstrosity that controls us. If we can conceive a better political system than the one that brought us to our present pass, it might be possible to avoid the emotional (and possibly violent) rejection that is likely to ensue. History is strewn with similar periods of excess, all marked by some form of greed (usually greed for power), and all ending in revolution.

In spite of my disillusion with academia, I think scholarly discourse is the best way to avoid a disastrous end to our country. If we are to correct the evils that crush and exploit us, we must open our minds. We must examine the ideas that dominate our political thinking. We must understand why vesting power in political parties is insane.

Unfortunately, accomplishing that turns out to be difficult. The 200-plus years of our nation's existence have created innumerable tentacles of habit and belief that have a firm hold on our minds. To loosen that grip we must pry back its fingers, one by one, with irrefutable logic.

The fingers can be pried back through a thoughtful critique of politics by people holding different points of view, who wish to determine the best form of government. Ahhh, but who among us has the will, the intellect, and the open mind necessary to undertake such a task?

Fred Gohlke.

Thoughts on the Separation of Powers

Thinking about the Separation of Powers is important because it helps us understand how the "cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men" George Washington warned us about in his Farewell Address were able to "subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government".

Basically, the Constitution provided two Houses of Congress to write the nation's laws, an Executive Branch to enforce those laws, and a Judicial Branch to ensure that the laws enacted by the Congress were constitutional. It assumed those Branches and Houses would be independent of each other. This assumption was undermined by the formation of political parties. Washington foresaw the problem, but was unable to prevent it.

Nothing in our Constitution expresses or implies the need for political parties. They are an extra-Constitutional invention, devised by power-seekers to advance their own interests. The danger of political parties was well understood by the framers of our Constitution. As Professor John F. Bibby wrote:

"When the Founders of the American Republic wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they did not envision a role for political parties in the governmental order. Indeed, they sought through various constitutional arrangements such as separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, and indirect election of the president by an electoral college to insulate the new republic from political parties and factions."

In spite of these efforts, a party system developed in America because our early leaders used their standing to consolidate their power. They invented parties and institutionalized their advantage by creating rules in the several states to preserve them and aid their operation.

Political parties are quasi-official institutions designed to acquire the reins of government. They sponsor candidates for public office by providing the resources needed to conduct a campaign for election. As a condition of their sponsorship, they require that the candidates support the party, thus giving the party ultimate control of the elected officials.

The party system is in no sense democratic. The prime movers, those who control the party, are not elected by the American people, they are appointed by their party. We, the people the parties are supposed to represent, have no control over who these people are, how long they serve, or the deals they make to raise the immense amounts of money they use to keep their party in power.

The U. S. Constitution separated the powers of government in such a way as to operate as checks upon each other. Among the methods used were the definition of separate Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, and the further division of the Legislative Branch into two distinct bodies, each intended to represent a different constituency, namely, the interests of the several states and the interests of the people of those states. This Separation of Powers, which is lauded as a cornerstone of our Constitution, has been turned into a myth by party politics.

Political parties persistently attack the Separation of Powers. They use their immense resources to maximize their power by forcing our elected officials to vote as instructed by their party on crucial issues (if you doubt it, ask yourself, "What, exactly, is the purpose of the Party Whip?") This unilateral power makes a mockery of the safeguards we rely on to protect our freedoms.

When a group of people with common interests succeeds in controlling multiple branches of our government, it is ludicrous to imagine we have a system of checks and balances.

When we allow political parties to usurp the power of governing our nation, it is foolish to imagine that we retain the power bestowed on us by our Constitution. It is a tragedy that so few of us recognize (or are willing to acknowledge) that we have relinquished our right to govern ourselves to unknown people who proclaim themselves our agents.

The only rational remedy for the evils of party politics is to create a non-partisan electoral process, a process that lets every member of the community participate to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability. That is not difficult. The difficulty is in getting the people to recognize the need for it. Perhaps by thinking about what party politics does to the Separation of Powers, folks will get a better understanding of how our homeland, brilliantly conceived to empower our people, has been so callously gutted and turned into a cesspool of corruption.

Thoughts on the World Trade Center Attack

These thoughts were written to a friend in Japan who had expressed horror about the World Trade Center attack:

14 Sep 2001

Thank you, so very much, for writing to me. You have already said all there is to say: "We are still killing each other."

It is sad.

It is terrible.

It is unacceptable.

But, it is true.

The horror of what happened on Tuesday is so bad that it is hard to think about. People are very angry. They want to "Pay Someone Back" for this terrible thing.

But, that is just more of the same.

What we Americans seem unable to do, is to look at ourselves. We refuse to look at our own corruption and greed and cynicism, and realize how terrible we are, in the eyes of many people in the world.

We, who want to claim we are the "leaders of the world", are so greedy and corrupt that we can't stop the flow of drugs, traded openly, in schools and on street corners. We have degraded ourselves to the point that we have "porn" shops on every street. We encourage huge corporations to exploit as much of the world as they can. We export our "way of life". We dominate or eradicate entire cultures in the name of "business". We let insurance companies dictate our laws and our social behavior. We grant the privileges of traditional families to same-sex marriages. Our laws let our advertisers take over our computers and intrude in our homes. Our media distorts reality until it is unrecognizable.

We are a sick, sick nation. We are the product of greed, allowed to reign unchecked.

Your country had it's huge organizations, the Mitsubishi's and many others. All countries have had them, but they were never able to take over the world. It is America that perfected that horror.

Does this justify what someone did last Tuesday morning, at the World Trade Center.

Absolutely NOT!!!

But, it does give us a tiny clue as to where we have to look for a solution.

We have to clean our own house.

If we want to be a "leader of the world", we need to lead. We need to set an example ... an example of love, and support, and help for humans all over the world ... an example of love and respect for the nature which surrounds us and nurtures us and makes our existence possible ... an example of humility and modesty and gentleness.

Yes, we should seek out those who perpetrated this outrage. If we can prove they were responsible, we should punish them.

But that will do nothing to improve the situation. It will not stop the horror and the grief and the pain Tuesday's incident inflicted on Americans, and the rest of the world.

The only thing that will ever help will be to find ways to limit greed. We can't stop it, but we need to find ways to make it less productive.

There's an easy way to do that. It's not painful, or even unpleasant. But I doubt that the American people have the political will, and the courage, and the understanding to ever do it. If I knew anyone who would listen, I'd describe it. I sent it to a senator once, but he really didn't want to hear it.

One other thing, Eri. Never lose sight of the power of the American "media". Their ability to manipulate public opinion is incredible. The fact that this happened in America does not make the people any more dead than bombings in London, or the horrible poisonings in the Tokyo subways.

We have managed to turn a terrible catastrophe into a "media event". And, for me to even mention how cynical and callous these people are, makes me a terrible person. I'm not sure how much of it you were able to see (or, should I say, forced to watch) but the public officials rushing to take advantage of the "photo ops" (photo opportunities), the announcers with their fake worry and concern (which will have a new target as soon as this one is done), the companies getting their names on the air and in the paper with their "donations", make me physically ill. Those were real people that died, it is real families that have been left in pain and grief. People who capitalize on such a horrible event are disgusting. And, that, dear Eri, is what excess greed has done to my country.

No, Eri. Killing more people will not solve anything. And you're absolutely right, innocent people are bound to killed and maimed in any conflict. It certainly will NOT make a better world.

Right now, world peace does seem like it is far away.

But maybe, just maybe, this terrible event will allow one tiny seed of good-will to sprout and grow.

All we can do, I think, is talk. Talk to our friends, talk to anyone who will listen, and try to persuade them that, if they want to cure the problem, they MUST look at it's cause.

I'm sorry, Eri. I rushed in writing this, and it is not very well done. I know I should take my time and compose it with a lot of care and thought, but I was anxious to respond to your letter.

Thank you, again, for writing.

I wish I knew the secret of your personality. If only other people could absorb your gentleness, the world would quickly become a better place to live.

Whither Democracy, a Commentary on the American Political System

We are undergoing a troubling period in our political history. As Jane Mansbridge points out, "trust in government is plummeting in most developed democracies." Why is our political infrastructure a shambles that produces so few trustworthy candidates for public office? The answer lays in the foundation of democracy and the edifice we've built on that foundation.

Democracy In America

Democracy is a slowly evolving structure of government.

Centuries ago, Plato thought democracy could not work because 'ordinary people' are 'too easily swayed by the emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians'. He failed to note that some folks are more easily swayed than others, and that some individuals are not swayed at all. Yet, Plato's faulty view of democracy dominated political thought at the inception of our nation and still governs political thought, today.

In the United States, our governmental system is defined by our Constitution. When it was written, although the details of elections were left to the legislatures of the several states, considerable effort was devoted to protecting the people from the adverse effects Plato thought inevitable. In Political Parties in the United States, John F. Bibby wrote:

"When the Founders of the American Republic wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they did not envision a role for political parties in the governmental order. Indeed, they sought through various constitutional arrangements such as separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, and indirect election of the president by an electoral college to insulate the new republic from political parties and factions."


Hence, nothing in our Constitution expresses or implies the need for political parties. They are extra-Constitutional, quasi-official inventions designed to acquire the reins of government to advance partisan interest.

"In spite of the founders' intentions, the United States was the first nation to develop parties organized on a national basis and to transfer executive power from one faction to another via an election in 1800."

The Party System

A party system developed because our early leaders used their standing to consolidate their power. They created top-down political organizations that let them set the agendas and choose the candidates for which the people vote. In the process, they disenfranchised the people and corrupted the political process because those who choose the options, control the outcome!

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson did not seek the answers to contemporary problems among the people, nor did they entrust the people with the right to choose the individuals they thought best suited to lead them. Instead, certain that their own view of the issues facing the country were superior to the public's, they built organizations to attract people to support their point of view.

George Washington sat amid these strong personalities, and, as long as he was able, mediated the matters that concerned the country. However, the dangers that awaited us were so apparent to him that, in his Farewell Address to the nation, with remarkable foresight, he sought to warn us "in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party". He called partisanship an unquenchable fire that "demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume", and predicted parties were likely to become "potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government".

We stand in awe at the clarity of our first President's vision.

Hamilton and Jefferson and their followers invented 'political parties' with party names, voter loyalty, newspapers, state and local organizations, campaign managers, candidates, tickets, slogans, platforms, linkages across state lines, and patronage. They institutionalized their advantage by creating rules in the several states to preserve them and aid their operation.

These features advance party interest at the expense of the public interest. They show how political parties are an embodiment of human nature; they put self-interest above all other considerations. They function precisely as a thoughtful person would expect them to function.

Oligarchic Party Structure

The political parties that control all political activity in the United States are in no sense democratic. As Robert Michels explained in Political Parties, when politics is based on partisanship, the partisans form oligarchic power blocs that become an end in themselves and ultimately transcend the will of the people.

The American people do not elect the prime movers, those who control the parties. In fact, most Americans don't even know who they are. They are appointed by their party and serve at the party's pleasure. We, the people the parties are supposed to represent, have no control over who these people are, how long they serve, or the deals they make to raise the immense amounts of money they use to keep their party in power. They constitute a ruling elite above and beyond the reach of the American people.

When we allow those who control our political parties to usurp the power of governing our nation, it is foolish to imagine that we retain the power bestowed on us by our Constitution. It is a tragedy that so few of us recognize that we have relinquished our right to govern ourselves to unknown people who proclaim themselves our agents. Yet, party systems acquire a color of right because they are built on partisanship.

Partisanship

Partisanship is natural for humans. We seek out and align ourselves with others who share our views. Through them, we hone our ideas and gain courage from the knowledge that we are not alone in our beliefs. Partisanship gives breadth, depth and volume to our voice. In and of itself, partisanship is not only inevitable, it is healthy.

On the other hand, partisans have a penchant for denigrating those who think differently, often without considering the salient parts of opposing points of view. They seek the power to impose their views on those who don't share them, while overlooking their own shortcomings. Communism and National Socialism showed these tendencies. Both had features that attracted broad public support throughout a national expanse and both degenerated into destructive forces because their partisans gained control of their governments.

The danger in Communism and National Socialism was not that they attracted partisan support; it was that the partisans gained control of government. In general, partisanship is healthy when it helps us give voice to our views. It is destructive when it achieves power. All ideologies, whether of the right or the left, differ from Communism and National Socialism only in the extent to which their partisans are able to impose their biases on the public.

Partisanship is a vital part of society, provided it is always a voice and never a power. The danger to the American people is not in partisanship, it is in letting political parties control the government.

Disenfranchising Non-Partisans

According to National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections, in 2004, which, at the time I did this research was the most recent presidential election year for which all data is available, 79% of the voting age population (VAP) was registered to vote and 55.3% of the VAP actually turned out to vote.

Using the numbers provided by Pew Research Center Publications to get a very rough estimate of what this means in terms of democracy in the United States, 35% of registered voters in 2004 were Democrats, 33% were Republicans and 32% were Independents.

Thus, in the 2004 election, 55.3% of the voting age public actually voted, and the likely distribution of those voters was about 15.3% (79% * 55.3% * 35%) registered Democrats and 14.4% (79% * 55.3% * 33%) registered Republicans.

Since the Republicans 'won' the 2004 election, we can see that when the winners took office, 100% of the people were ruled by the party of 14.4% of the voters. Furthermore, since the actual political decisions of any party are made by a small portion of the party members (Michels' oligarchs), the result of partisan elections in the United States is disgracefully undemocratic.

Corruption

Corruption pervades our political system because the parties control the selection of candidates for public office. Candidates are not chosen for their integrity. Quite the contrary, they are chosen after they demonstrate their willingness and ability to dissemble, to obfuscate and to mislead the electorate. They are chosen when they prove they will renounce principle and sacrifice honor for the benefit of their party.

The result is a circular process that intensifies over time:

  • Candidates for public office cannot mount a viable campaign without party sponsorship, so they obtain sponsorship by agreeing to support the party.
  • The party, assured of the loyalty of its candidates, attracts donors because it can promise that its candidates will support the objectives set by the party, i.e., the goals of the donors.
  • From the donors, the party obtains the funds it needs to attract appealing candidates and bind them to the party's will.

This cycle makes political parties conduits for corruption. The organizations they target for funds are not altruistic. They demand - and get - the laws they demand in our state and national legislatures in return for providing the resources the parties need. Businesses, labor unions and other vested interests give immense amounts of money and logistical support to political parties to push their agenda and to secure the passage of laws that benefit the donors.

The political parties meet their commitment to the donors by picking politicians who can be relied upon to enact the laws and implement the policies the donors' desire. The politicians so selected are the least principled of our citizens, but are the only choices available to the American people in our 'free' elections.

The result is a system that renounces virtue and is ruled by cynicism.

None of this is a secret. The parties conduct their business with our knowledge and tacit approval. We know, full well, how they operate. We know about the 'party bosses', 'pork barrels', 'party loyalty', 'slush funds', 'party whips', 'soft money' and the whole lexicon of political manipulation. Since we know these things exist and do not prevent them, we are responsible for the very corruption we decry.

The Corrosive Effect Of Campaigning

The high cost of election campaigns makes party-based political systems susceptible to the influence of money. Even worse than the inherently corruptive nature of soliciting funds to finance a campaign, which invites demands from the financial backers, is the corrosive effect of campaigning on the candidate's psyche.

Candidates must appear to stand for something but, to attract support, they continually adjust their assertions to appeal to the diverse groups whose votes are required for their election. Their personal beliefs must be subordinated to the interests of their audience. By campaigning, they gain expertise in avoiding direct answers to important questions and diverting attention from unwelcome topics.

Campaigning is the antithesis of open inquiry, it is one-way communication centered on deceit, misdirection and obfuscation rather than integrity and commitment to the public interest. That is why the term 'politician' is pejorative. The process of campaigning produces people adept at appearing to champion some idea while standing for nothing but their own success. Political campaigning is a training course in the art of deception.

To make matters worse, candidates are incessantly lionized by their supporters. This, coupled with the insidious effect of repeatedly proclaiming their own rectitude seduces them into believing their own press clippings. These things have a debilitating effect on the candidate's character, and, since morality is a top-down phenomenon, choosing political leaders by this method destroys society.

It is frustrating that the people already know these things but have come to believe them unavoidable. If we wish to improve our political systems, we must acknowledge the adverse effects of campaign-based politics and devise a better way to select our political leaders.

The Myth Of Corruptibility

Some people say we cannot remove corruption from our political systems because humans are corruptible. Why should we believe such a canard? We are misled by the high visibility of deceit and corruption in our culture. The idea that it is inescapable leads to the self-defeating notion that trying to correct it is futile.

The reality is that the vast majority of humans are honorable, law-abiding people. They have to be, for society could not exist otherwise. By far, the greater percentage of our friends, our relatives, our co-workers and our neighbors are trustworthy people.

The reason our political leaders are corrupt is that party politics elevates unscrupulous people by design. Since the goal of a party is to advance its own interest, it rewards those who do so unfettered by the restraints of honor. Once these unprincipled people achieve leadership positions, they infect our society because morality is a top-down phenomenon.

The idea that we can't remove corruption from our political systems because the people are corruptible is nonsense. It is a myth. The problem is not the people; it is a political system that intentionally seeks out and elevates unscrupulous politicians. The vast majority of our peers are honest, principled people. When we make probity a primary concern in our electoral process, the pervasiveness of dishonesty in our society will diminish.

Separation Of Powers

The U. S. Constitution separated the powers of government in such a way as to operate as checks upon each other. Among the methods used were the definition of separate Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, and the further division of the Legislative Branch into two distinct bodies, each intended to represent a different constituency, namely, the interests of the several states and the interests of the people of those states, and the Electoral College to insure broad-based support for a successful Presidential candidate. Separation of Powers is lauded as a cornerstone of our Constitution. I'm unaware of any substantive disagreement with this view of the intent of our Founders.

Political parties persistently attack the Separation of Powers. They use their leverage to force elected officials to vote en bloc on crucial issues, making a mockery of the safeguards we rely on to protect our freedoms. When one party succeeds in controlling multiple branches of our government, it is ludicrous to imagine we have a system of checks and balances.

Passion And Intellect

Partisan political systems divide and conquer the people by a destructive confrontational method that thrives by inspiring emotional (rather than reasoned) responses to the challenges facing the community. Political parties appeal to emotion by applying the principles of behavioral science to manipulate the public. They mount, finance and staff campaigns designed to inflame the passions of the electorate.

Communications during election campaigns are one-way. There is no genuine attempt to consult the public interest and the serious issues are seldom those raised during a campaign. Instead, surveys are conducted to find 'hot buttons' which generate a desired response and professionals use the information to mold 'messages' which the candidates and the parties feed the public in a flood of misinformation. It is a rabble-rousing technique.

Intelligent decisions require dialogue; assertions must be examined, not in the sterile environment of a televised debate, but in depth. The electorate must be able to examine candidates and discuss matters of public concern, and, with the knowledge so gained, make decisions. They have no opportunity to do so.

Carefully reasoned decisions are anathema to political parties. They will do everything in their power to prevent the ascendance of reason as a basis for political decisions. Their strength is based on their ability to inflame the passions of their constituents. They are expert at doing so.

Obstacles To Achieving Democracy

A major deterrent to the advance of democracy is the fact that democracy offers no rewards for individuals or vested interests. It is easy to pay lip-service to democracy, but it is more difficult to advocate it in a meaningful fashion. Political activists declaring democratic intent are invariably seeking power for some out-of-favor ideology. Since democracy seeks to empower all the people rather than the adherents of a particular ideology, it has no champions.

Another deterrent is the frequent assertion that the people are an amorphous mass of dullards. Such an attitude a disservice to humanity. The weakness in Plato's opinion of democracy, and the weakness that curses democratic theory to this day, is the failure to recognize that, even though many citizens are not interested and informed enough to participate meaningfully in the democratic process, we still have among us a multitude of citizens who do have those qualities.

The reason our talented people do not rise to leadership positions is that our modern pseudo-democracies do not permit meaningful public participation in the political process. The people have no practical way to influence the policies of their government or the choice of candidates for public office. They have no incentive to improve their knowledge and awareness because, unless they are ready to sacrifice their principles for the sake of one of the major parties, they have no hope of public office.

Alasdair MacIntyre has theorized that the people need participation in the political process to achieve their fullest potential, and Esterling, Fung and Lee have shown that deliberation in small groups raises both the knowledge level of the participants and their satisfaction with the results of their deliberations. Our political institutions do not allow such participation.

The real challenge of democracy is to devise a political system that lets every member of the electorate participate in the political process to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability. We must construct an infrastructure that lets the people find, among themselves, those individuals best equipped to advance the public interest when resolving the issues of their time and place, and raise them to positions of political leadership.

Seeking Improvement

The 200-plus years of our nation's existence have created innumerable tentacles of habit and belief that have a firm hold on our minds. To loosen that grip we must pry back its fingers, one by one, with irrefutable logic. Doing so is a challenge. The difficulty is increased enormously because vested interests have usurped the reins of our national and state governments. They will not yield their power easily.

Since partisanship is the one human trait corrupt politicians can rely on to manipulate the people, they will use it to divide and conquer us. We can eliminate this devastating use of a natural, healthy human trait when we have a practical way to deliberate among ourselves to:

  1. determine the issues that concern us and
  2. select the people we believe best suited to resolve those issues in the common interest.

Constructive resolution of political issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to extract value from competing points of view. The challenge of democracy is to sift through the multitude of individuals to find those with the wisdom to accept the best parts of competing opinions, the ability to integrate them into productive proposals, and the persuasiveness to motivate others to adopt solutions that advance society.

Given the range of public issues and the way each individual's interest in political matters varies over time, this can only be done by examining the entire electorate during each election cycle and letting every voter influence the outcome of each election to the best of their desire and ability.

This approach has two drawbacks. One is the seeming difficulty of sifting through the huge number and broad diversity of the populace. When examined, we find that problem is no different than harvesting grain. It is simply a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff. That is neither difficult nor time-consuming, if we use the right sifting mechanism.

The other drawback is more difficult. We cannot achieve democracy until we achieve humility. We must be able to admit (at least to ourselves) that there are others whose perspectives are better suited to address common concerns than our own. For the least capable among us, that's a pill they may find hard to swallow.

Conclusion

Political parties, in their omnivorous quest for power have, during my lifetime, gone a long way toward destroying the greatness of my homeland. Unrestrained, they will succeed.

It need not be so.

Those who seek good government need not tolerate the corruption of party politics. We do not need an adversarial political process that sets one faction against another to achieve power; we need to let the American people select from among themselves those individuals with the qualities required to advocate the common interest and resolve matters of public concern. In other words, we must change the way we select our representatives.

We have the technological ability to support a more democratic method; the big hurdle is to get people to acknowledge the need for change. Many fall victim to the common malady of believing our press clippings. We've been told so many times through so many years that our political system is the best in the world, some of us can't admit it is a cesspool of corruption, funded by special interests that buy the laws we endure.

Most Americans assume political parties are legitimate centers of power under our Constitution. They're not. Nothing in our Constitution authorizes, institutes or enables political parties, they were created by what George Washington called, "cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men". We now see what they have done to our country. We must take back the power they usurped.

The difficulty lies, not in our Constitution, but in our will. There is no Constitutional bar to devising a more democratic process; the only impediment is ourselves. We must want to build a political system that puts public interest above partisanship, a method that responds to vested interests but is not controlled by them.

Political systems are always an embodiment of human nature. Since we can not divorce our political institutions from our nature, we must learn to harness our nature. The political process we build must make virtue a desirable attribute in those who seek political advancement. That is best done by having candidates compete with each other for advancement; they will not overlook their competitors' flaws and, knowing that, will have to maintain their own integrity.

Once one transcends the arrogance of those political theorists who are so blinded by their own brilliance they are unable to see the wealth of talent around them; once one realizes that the human race has no shortage of gifted people with integrity, the road to a viable democracy is less unclear and we can start to sketch a few basic requirements for a democratic political process: It ...

  • must let every member of the electorate participate in the process to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability.
  • must let those who do not wish to participate opt out.
  • must provide a practical way for the people to select, from among themselves, the individuals they believe have the qualities needed to resolve the issues of the time.
  • must recognize that the individuals chosen for public office at one time may not be the best individuals to address the public concerns of a different time.
  • must ensure that candidates for public office are examined by people with a vital interest in the selection process and who are in a position to influence their acceptance or rejection.
  • I would like to work with those who see the need to create a better political system.