On fixing the government… or at least making it a little better.
Government “reform” is something we hear a lot about and always have. Let’s quit listening… The guiding principle of government is to exercise power over the governed. The driving force of government is to acquire more of that power. No “reform” is going to eliminate these governmental mainsprings.
We can, with our electoral powers, limit government. We can, with our Constitutional rights, resist government. What we cannot do is reform government in the dictionary definition sense of “reform”… to make better by removing faults and defects.
Government is a fault and a defect.
In a perfect world, where mankind is good and the universe is beneficent, there would be no need for government.
That isn’t the world we live in.
Mankind being “notso hotso” and the universe being a harsh and unforgiving place, maybe it’s only to be expected that most government reforms make government worse.
Consider the following commonly proposed, modest (that is to say, not on the scale of Obamacare) government reforms. Note how they would tend to deform rather than reform our government and our society.
Deform No. 1: Campaign Spending Limits (And Its Evil Twin, ‘Publicly Funded Elections’)
This is a bad kind of reform, and calls for it are a waste of bad breath. Stricter campaign spending limits simply won’t happen.
First, as it were, there’s the First Amendment – protecting campaign free speech like Cerberus the giant three-headed dog guarding the gates of Hades.
Attempt any real limitation of that campaign free speech and one of Cerberus’s three heads – the executive, the legislative, or the judicial – will bite your ass.
Second, there is a law of physics. As the journalist Jonathan Alter, a self-confessed liberal/progressive, put it in a 1997 article in Newsweek, “Money in politics is like water running downhill: it will always find its way, even with a constitutional amendment.”
And what if we did manage to strictly limit campaign spending, including spending by issue-oriented groups supposedly not endorsing a specific candidate? Then the loudest cheapskate candidate with the dumbest, meanest slogan would win. “Soak the Rich!”
With campaign financing, as with so many distasteful aspects of politics and government, the best we can hope for is a bit of transparency in the disgusting soup. If some candidate is getting billions of dollars from “The Inter-Galactic Association of People Who Have Been Abducted by Aliens,” I, for one, would like to know.
Deform No. 2: Balanced Budgets, Spending Freezes, Debt Caps, Etc.
No law concerning such things will ever be written without some provision for nullification during a “National Emergency.” And, within days of the law’s passage, we’ll have a “National Emergency.” (The national emergency will probably be something on the order of discovery of invasive Asian carp in Lake Michigan.)
The government controls the supply of the money government spends. Government has too many ways to replenish its supply of spending money – taxing, borrowing, and printing more of the stuff. As for stopping the government from spending that money, see the Jonathan Alter quote to the left.
Deform No. 3: Term Limits
Yes, the career politician is a problem. And so is every other kind of politician.
More so because politicians – especially at the municipal and House levels – tend to be elected by pressure groups that dominate their constituencies. If the pressure group elects Clarabell and Clarabell limits out, the pressure group will elect Bozo. And when Bozo can’t run anymore, Pennywise from It will be ushered into political office.
“Outsider” candidates, with no political experience, aren’t a perfect answer, either. (We’ve got one now, in very high political office.) Do you want a dog that knows where the bones are buried? Or do you want a dog that digs up the whole yard?
Deform No. 4: Increasing Federal Aid to Public Education
In the mid-1960s, the federal government became involved in local public schools with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” And the federal government has been getting more and more involved ever since.
Here, from the College Board’s own SAT test figures, is the evidence for how helpful federal government involvement has been:
Average SAT Scores
It’s not a partisan matter. Republican aid to public education has been every bit as bad as Democratic aid.
For example, take George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind.” What if they deserve to be left behind? What if they deserve a smack on the behind? A nation-wide testing program to determine whether kids are… What? Dumb? You’ve got kids. Kids are dumb.
And so is the government. Yet there seems to be no way out of dumb (to the tune of $40 billion a year) federal aid to public education.
Imagine the fate of the politician running for national office who stood up and said, “No, I can’t fix public education. The problem isn’t funding or overcrowding or teachers’ unions or voucher programs or lack of computer equipment in the classroom. The problem is your damn kids!”
Deform No. 5: Passing ‘Living Wage’ Legislation
Nice idea. But why stop at a paltry $15 an hour? Why not make the minimum wage $500 an hour, like the billing rate at “White Shoe” law firms? We’d all be millionaires the way fancy lawyers are.
Oh, voters would perceive a problem with that? They’d realize that a $5.99 Big Mac Meal would cost about 55 times as much? They’d think $329.45 was a lot to pay for a burger, fries, and a Coke?
Then it’s time for voters to realize that the same problem applies to a $15 an hour minimum wage. The law of supply and demand means that you cannot raise the price of labor above what people are willing to be paid to work.
The difficulty is not so much that an overly high minimum wage will destroy small businesses with marginal profit rates and increase unemployment. (Which it will.)
The real problem is that people who are willing to work for less, and businesses that can’t pay more, will be driven under the table. They’ll become a part of the black-market economy.
A black-market economy makes otherwise innocent people into criminals, produces no tax revenues, and leaves everyone involved – including employers – without the protection of rule of law.
Note what happened during Prohibition. Note what’s happening in the illegal drug market now.
Five Real Reforms We Could Get Started On…
But let’s not despair. There are ways government can be “made better by removing faults and defects.” Some of the faults and defects are so obvious that even government itself could remove them.
Real Reform No. 1: Tax Reform
Don’t get your hopes up. Sweeping tax reform will probably get swept away by continued partisan brawling. But there is the federal corporate tax rate.
This could be fixed by giving one love tap to the tax code. Consider the following…
The U.S. corporate tax rate is 35%. (The highest in the industrialized world.)
The worldwide average corporate tax rate is 22.96%.
Europe’s average corporate tax rate is 18.35%.
Ireland’s corporate tax rate is 12.5%. (Is the Irish economy’s amazing recovery from the Great Recession a mere coincidence?)
China’s corporate tax rate is 25%. (But can be discounted to as little as 15% for “government encouraged” industries. Can you spell D-U-M-P-I-N-G?)
Is the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35% competitive? Were the Detroit Tigers competitive in Major League Baseball post-season play?
Real Reform No. 2: Tort Reform
Four possible quick fixes that would help us say goodbye to “Litigation Nation:”
Institute a “Loser Pays” tort system. The loser of a lawsuit pays the legal fees of the winner, plus all court costs. This should make people think twice before they sue Dairy Queen for the pain and emotional distress of getting “brain freeze” due to DQ’s ice cream being too cold.
Eliminate class action suits. We’re a nation of individuals, not a Marxist country full of “classes” at war with each other.
Limit damages to what can be materially proven. The “brain freeze” was so bad that you dropped your ice cream. For your damages, you receive a melted sundae. (If the jury insists on punitive damages because the defendant is a very terrible person, corporation, or institution, the money should go into the taxpayer kitty.)
Limit lawyer fees to 5% of materially proven (not punitive) damages awarded. Being a lawyer is horrible, but it’s only 5% as horrible as being badly injured enough to bring a tort suit under conditions 1-3.
Real Reform No. 3: Kill the Gerrymander
Too many seats in Congress and state legislatures are “safe seats.” They’re always held by either a conservative Republican or a liberal Democrat, because the voting districts are shaped like something that lives under a rock. The voting districts slither all over the map to make sure they include a majority of one kind of voter. The other kinds of voters never have anybody to vote for. As a result, we have no opportunity for real (“small d”) democratic debate.
Math is the answer! Get a panel of math geeks and make sure they have no interest in or knowledge about partisan politics by asking them two questions.
If their answers are…
“Trump, a playing card of a suit that ranks higher than other suits during the playing of a hand in a card game.”
“Hillary, Sir Edmund, born July 20, 1919, died January 11, 2008. In 1953, he and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest, which is at the altitude of 8,848 meters or 29,029 feet.”
Then we’ve got the right folks.
Instruct them to redraw all U.S. voting districts to include the same number of voters each within the most compact and regular possible two-dimensional Euclidean geometric figures.
Real Reform No. 4: Regulatory Two-For-One
On January 30, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order requiring that for every new federal regulation instituted, two must be rescinded.
And that’s an order!
Real Reform No. 5: Ourselves
Then there is what’s ultimately at the root of every bad thing about government. Those who are in charge of the political system will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve and expand their power. Every government is a “parliament of whores.”
The trouble is that in a democracy, the whores are us.