03 August 2016

Government of the people, by the rich, for the rich

Elizabeth Drew quotes John Tanner, a former US congressman, explaining extremist attitudes in US primary elections:
If a Republican strays from the far ideological right ... they put themselves in political peril. They know better—some of them—but it’s not worth the political fallout to wander into the sensible center and try to sit down and work something out. No one will do what they all know has to be done to keep the country from going adrift. (My emphasis.) American democracy betrayed, Elizabeth Drew, 'New York Review of Books', dated 18 August
I've always maintained that there is more consensus about our social goals than there is on how to achieve them. Even so, as Mr Tanner indicates, there is also wide agreement over what needs to be done: that is, over activities. And yet the way we conduct our politics makes us incapable even of undertaking those activities. Divisiveness, which in its less virulent form may on balance have served us well over history, has become toxic. In the US particularly, it has become self-entrenching, through cynical manipulation of constituency boundaries, as in this example given by Ms Drew in the same article:
[A] a tiny peninsula was added at the last minute to a new district in northeast Ohio not because it contained certain residents but because it was the site of a large manufacturing company that could produce campaign contributions.
To put it bluntly, our system has been hijacked by experts who have little interest in the well-being of broader society. The result is becoming clear to us all: a wide and widening gap between government and big business on the one hand, and ordinary people and small business on the other. The political systems, not only of the US, but in all countries, have become too complex for ordinary people to follow. The dangers are becoming apparent: growing cynicism, extremism and nihilism.

To close the gap between people and their supposed representatives, I offer Social Policy Bonds. They aim to inject the market's efficiencies into the achievement of our social and environmental goals. But perhaps even more important, they demand clarity of these goals. Meaningful, explicit goals, which all of us can understand. Goals such as universal literacy, improved health, reduced crime and pollution and, at an international level, peace. With greater comprehension of our politics, we'll see more public engagement, and hence more buy-in: an end in itself, as well as a means towards more efficient ways of solving our social problems. What we have now is a travesty: government of the people, by the rich, for the rich. I don't think it's sustainable. By switching deliberately and slowly towards something like a Social Policy Bond regime we could ensure that, instead of a likely collapse followed by anarchy or tyranny, we'd see politics geared towards the well-being of all society and not, as now, those who are powerful enough to manipulate the system.

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