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Last post Author Topic: How can we fix government? (U.S.)  (Read 6080 times)

Paul Keith

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How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« on: June 27, 2010, 01:50:18 PM »
Quora: http://www.quora.com...an-we-fix-government

Quote
I need to disagree with all of the above, unfortunately.  Government is not the elected representatives, 90% of the time.  This is completely opposed to how things should theoretically be, but in the limited time I spent on Capitol Hill, I came to believe that reality does not match the theory.

First off, bills are written by staffers, not the elected officials.  It's obvious if you think about it, but let's follow this chain a little bit.  Who are the staffers?  Generally, late 20s through mid 30s.  Kids and young adults, basically, with little 'real world' experience.  Most are Political Science or Communications majors, meaning they know how government 'works' but rarely about what they're governing.  There are exceptions--like AAAS or NSF fellows--but they are exceptions, not the rule.

Lobbyist reform is important, but not for the reasons people list above.  At worst, lobbyists working at the level described above tweak a bill around the edges.  The health care bill is something like 1500 pages, right?  At this point, lobbyist-driven deals are tweaking a few paragraphs.  It's true that these minor changes can have major effects, BUT think about the staffers writing these bills. 

You're 26, overworked, and your boss is demanding a policy paper on Net Neutrality.  You've got 3 constituent letters that need to get approved that are being written by your interns.  You're working on a constituent response piece dealing with an NRA mailer that dumped 150 angry letters in your boss's office.  You're covering three other major topics--'science,' environment, and Veteran's Affairs, for example.  You're getting this paper done--how? So you turn to a friend, who's working for a think tank that specializes in Net Neutrality.  He or she gets you a bunch of pages that you tweak up to match your boss's position on the issue and deliver that to the Chief of Staff. 

The end result: think tanks, lobbyist groups, and so on have immense power based on their specialization and the overworking of office staffers.  Elected officials are primarily figureheads for the bureaucracy that has run the US government starting during the post-War period.

Long story short: if you want to improve government, increase the tools available to junior and senior staffers that will allow them to quickly sift through massive amounts of information, provide the context in which to understand issues that they were never trained in, and connect them with the constituents that they will affect to properly understand the status quo.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is an excellent tool in this regard, but it's a tool of the 20th century.  The staffers are (extremely) highly trained librarians, skilled at drawing connections between a variety of disparate issues and able to 'dive deep' in explaining the historical context of today's issues.

I'd personally like to see a hyperlinked database allowing staffers and everyday people to dive into the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and United States Code (USC) as you're writing up a bill to understand how the CFR or USC has evolved on the issue you're working to change.  The purpose of new laws is to positively affect the status quo.  I'd like to see a translation of legalese into CBO impact numbers section by section, and new IT should eventually make this possible.

PS - As a quick aside, elected officials generally focus on one or two issues that they'll focus on.  Al Gore, for example, researched and wrote many of his speeches on issues of technology and the environment, according to one of his former staffers.  I get the impression that this is pretty rare, though.

MilesAhead

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #1 on: June 27, 2010, 05:57:58 PM »
Government Reform, if not already in the list of oxymorons, is my candidate.



Gwen7

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2010, 04:55:07 PM »
i would like to suggest in the same way you 'fix' a cat.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2010, 04:57:29 PM by Gwen7 »

JavaJones

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2010, 09:28:14 PM »
i would like to suggest in the same way you 'fix' a cat.

By removing the naughty bits? :D

- Oshyan

Kamel

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2010, 09:32:31 PM »
One of the first things we need to do is fix the voters, which will be nearly impossible to do until the government pisses them off to care. I don't see this happening any time soon, unfortunately. :(

Edit: Oh, and I forgot, not only must the government piss them off, but they must also actually understand politics, which like less than 10% of americans do, and way less than that understand politics well enough to make informed decisions when voting

I stick to my original thought, you should be required to pass a basic knowledge skills test in order to cast any vote.
I'm the guy you yell at when your DSL goes down...
« Last Edit: June 28, 2010, 09:35:27 PM by Kamel »

JavaJones

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2010, 09:43:45 PM »
I don't think you can really "fix" people. If the system is not enabling people to participate in government, it's a system problem, not (necessarily) a people problem. Sure, people could and "should" be more educated, interested, involved, but you can't just "fix" them and force it, you need to incentivize, build value for it into the system. So is that fixing the people, or fixing the system? I'd say it's the system not serving the people, not being setup to allow them to participate properly.

- Oshyan

Tuxman

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2010, 10:59:05 PM »
Government Reform, if not already in the list of oxymorons, is my candidate.
Something with "morons" is my first thought, too, when thinking about the U.S. politics.

steeladept

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #7 on: June 29, 2010, 09:18:14 AM »
I don't think you can really "fix" people. If the system is not enabling people to participate in government, it's a system problem, not (necessarily) a people problem. Sure, people could and "should" be more educated, interested, involved, but you can't just "fix" them and force it, you need to incentivize, build value for it into the system. So is that fixing the people, or fixing the system? I'd say it's the system not serving the people, not being setup to allow them to participate properly.

- Oshyan
I find it fascinating when people insist a system is inadequate because there is not enough incentive, because it isn't user friendly enough, yada, yada.  You can provide all the incentives you want and people will not do something if it requires effort (a perfect proven example is exercise - companies pay for gyms and/or gym memberships that just go unused because it takes effort to use them).  Education can only take you so far, just as incentives.  For this reason, I am not wholly opposed to the test idea, as there are many who would not bother to take the test and, therefore, would be the same who would not bother enough to learn about the system as to actually be able to use it.  It is the same egotistical self-centeredness that these people feel it is up to the system to make itself useful to them rather than making them learn to make it useful to them.

Note, I am not saying anyone in particular is one of these egotistical self-centered persons, including (especially?) posters here, just pointing out a fallacy of this idea that the system is somehow faulty just because fewer and fewer people understand it/put it to use as designed.

ljbirns

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #8 on: June 29, 2010, 12:27:11 PM »
Until our elected representatives are forbidden  to accept more than $ .13  in any shape or form, under pain of , well Gewn 7 said it best, there will never be any  reform.
Money talks and our congress people listen- real hard.
Lew

MilesAhead

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #9 on: June 29, 2010, 05:40:41 PM »
Government Reform, if not already in the list of oxymorons, is my candidate.



Something with "morons" is my first thought, too, when thinking about the U.S. politics.


morons think they'll get smarter by taking lessons.




parkint

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #10 on: June 29, 2010, 08:26:42 PM »
Politics (noun) - Poly from Latin, meaning "many" and tics which are small blood-sucking insects.

Tuxman

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2010, 04:43:39 AM »
Politics (noun) - Poly from Latin, meaning "many"
Nope, it's Greek.

CWuestefeld

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #12 on: June 30, 2010, 01:10:10 PM »
Fixing the way representation works, or anything else really about the democratic process, will not fix it (although I am partial to doing away with gerrymandering). Improving democracy is a red herring. As long as people can vote themselves a ride on the backs of the minority, a government by the majority is destined to failure.

Although we're taught that America was a brave and innovative experiment in self-government, it ain't true. The Pilgrims ran away from the Netherlands -- which was already a representative democracy. Ages before 1776, even pirate ships were run according to democratic principles. Heck, the ancient Greeks had a pure democracy. Nothing new or interesting on that front.

The *only* reason the USA is still a going concern (and arguably the stongest and most stable in the world) is that its Constitution is constructed based on a philosophy of a limited government built of strictly enumerated powers.

We (the Americans) dig ourselves deeper into trouble every time we cede to the government greater authority. They always tell us that a given power is necessary to fix a given problem, and they may even be sincere. However, in the end, these powers always wind up being subverted. Indeed, there's a whole branch of economics (Public Choice Theory) that deals with this. There's a phenomena called "regulatory capture", manifested in things like rent seeking, that describes how the regulated eventually become the regulators -- not through corruption, but through perfectly natural and rational progression.

If you think that things in America are broken, the way to fix it is not to give the government more power to deal with the issues -- that's just digging a deeper hole. The solution is to strip the government of its power, so all those powers that have been co-opted by interest groups are returned back to the people.

steeladept

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #13 on: June 30, 2010, 01:15:59 PM »
If you think that things in America are broken, the way to fix it is not to give the government more power to deal with the issues -- that's just digging a deeper hole. The solution is to strip the government of its power, so all those powers that have been co-opted by interest groups are returned back to the people.
I can agree with this.  My thing is what I think is broken is what someone else thinks is a solved issue.  How do we reconcile this? You already implied that choosing via majority is not the answer, so what is? I have no answer here, just a question to provoke thought.

rgdot

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #14 on: June 30, 2010, 03:02:14 PM »
Broadly speaking...I have two words: Third party

More than two words: Being part of the "two" party establishment means you are done. No matter what catchy slogans you have. Junior staffer, senior general, it's all the same in my opinion.

MilesAhead

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #15 on: June 30, 2010, 08:46:31 PM »
btw reading the subject line it occurs to me the fix was in a long time ago.  For a few laughs read this book:

http://www.amazon.co...277948748&sr=1-1

I got a big kick out of it.  "Hi, I'm Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and they tell me you know where all the bodies are buried!!"

JavaJones

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #16 on: July 01, 2010, 01:09:07 AM »
I find it fascinating when people insist a system is inadequate because there is not enough incentive, because it isn't user friendly enough, yada, yada.  You can provide all the incentives you want and people will not do something if it requires effort (a perfect proven example is exercise - companies pay for gyms and/or gym memberships that just go unused because it takes effort to use them).  Education can only take you so far, just as incentives.  For this reason, I am not wholly opposed to the test idea, as there are many who would not bother to take the test and, therefore, would be the same who would not bother enough to learn about the system as to actually be able to use it.  It is the same egotistical self-centeredness that these people feel it is up to the system to make itself useful to them rather than making them learn to make it useful to them.

Note, I am not saying anyone in particular is one of these egotistical self-centered persons, including (especially?) posters here, just pointing out a fallacy of this idea that the system is somehow faulty just because fewer and fewer people understand it/put it to use as designed.

I'm not saying the system is inadequate for any specific reason, nor because I want to put blame in a more "comfortable" place, or any other bad reasoning. I'm saying it because it's nearly impossible to change *people* on a massive scale without something else (like a "system") that operates on a massive scale. It could be some "viral meme" that makes voting cool, it could be a fundamental change to the voting process, hell it could be a total cultural revolution. But you're not going to change *people* just by wishing or even legislating that they are smarter, more participatory, etc. nor can you do it through education.

Your example of exercise is itself a red herring. Think about it, 100 years ago we didn't really have gyms and fad diets, yet obesity wasn't a problem. Why? Because the system(s) of the time made exercise essentially a prerequisite for living. The system, in this case our lifestyle, is broken and that's why exercise is so hard and people are so fat and unhealthy. Not that things 100 years ago were great, don't get me wrong. It's *not* good to have to put in back-breaking effort 10-16 hours a day every day, not at all. But neither is the option to have a life where you can literally sit around all day, every day (whether on a couch at home or in an office chair).

We are creatures that evolved out of millions of years of living in a fairly specific way. Although the results of that evolution are malleable, particularly due to our intellectual capacity, that doesn't mean it's easy to change. At the very least we need be aware of where we've come from and what our evolutionary circumstances predispose us to (e.g. war - chimps do it too). It's complex though, because it's not enough just to try to "act as we have evolved to" - in many cases our evolved behaviors are not "desirable" to modern people.

It's not an easy question to answer. Sometimes I feel like changes to the system - term limits, campaign contribution controls, instant run-off voting, abolishment of lobbyists (um, yeah, why is this job *legal*??), and removal of rights of personhood for corporations - will be enough, but sometimes I'm not so sure. And even if doing some of those things *were* enough, even just one of them is such a big undertaking that I may not even see a single one accomplished in my life time. *sigh*

- Oshyan

Paul Keith

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #17 on: July 01, 2010, 10:51:50 AM »
Potential related video as far as incentive is concerned:

http://www.youtube.c.../watch?v=qu7ZpWecIS8

steeladept

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #18 on: July 01, 2010, 02:06:48 PM »
Quote
I'm not saying the system is inadequate for any specific reason, nor because I want to put blame in a more "comfortable" place, or any other bad reasoning. I'm saying it because it's nearly impossible to change *people* on a massive scale without something else (like a "system") that operates on a massive scale....
Now you are taking it completely out of context.  You originally stated that the system isn't serving the people and therefore it is the system that is broken.  My reply was that it is not the system that is broken, but the fact that people don't use it.  My example that you claimed was a red herring was just an example of a good system that goes unused, it wasn't a deflection of the topic.  Sure there are a lot of variables and a lot of comparisons that have nothing to do with this; but when you claimed the system was broken, I was just presenting an opposing view.

JavaJones

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #19 on: July 01, 2010, 03:20:29 PM »
I still maintain "the system" is broken. The two party system is disaffecting and alienating for a potentially large proportion of voters, even if many/most do ultimately cleave to a particular party. How many people are *happy* about that choice, and happy with all representatives of their party? This reality contributes to voter apathy, surely there can be little doubt about that. That simple fact alone shows that my original statement is correct. The system is broken.

Maybe we're "talking past each other", and we don't really disagree so much, I don't know. ;) But I think the tendency to blame people alone is just as silly, or more so, than blaming the system. People are just people, if they're systemically bad it's a product of the systems that raise them (culture, society), so that shows another kind of system issue. If they're not systemically bad, yet things still aren't working "right", then the system is also to blame. Either way, some system is at fault. Either that or we're fundamentally ungovernable and should just give up. The other option is to assume that people need to be "fixed" and tell me please how exactly you go about doing that without China-style indoctrination and rigidity...

- Oshyan

steeladept

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #20 on: July 02, 2010, 10:47:09 AM »
Maybe we're "talking past each other", and we don't really disagree so much, I don't know. ;)

I think this is probably quite accurate.  I agree, we probably would find very little difference and, in fact, may be looking at exactly the same thing from two different angles.

Quote
The two party system is disaffecting and alienating for a potentially large proportion of voters, even if many/most do ultimately cleave to a particular party. How many people are *happy* about that choice, and happy with all representatives of their party? This reality contributes to voter apathy, surely there can be little doubt about that.
I would agree with this in general as well, but I do not believe that more parties (and certainly not less!) would fix it at all.  I also don't believe that there will ever be a situation where any given group of people (of a reasonably large size such as a voting block) do not have a significant portion alienated or disillusioned as you pointed out.  It is a given that people in this situation will adhere to the least offensive position as no group will always agree on everything.  The only representation that doesn't have this is when you are representing yourself.

You seem to claim that voter apathy (great word that I have been looking for by the way :up:) is caused by, and a symptom of, the system being broke.  I propose that the voter apathy is the problem that causes the system to appear broke.  It is just the founding premise that we disagree on.

CWuestefeld

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #21 on: July 02, 2010, 11:33:46 AM »
I suggest that this weekend we all remember that we're not just celebrating the "Fourth of July" as it says on the calendar. We're celebrating Independence Day. I hope everyone can spend at least a moment reflecting on what that independence means.

A bit of quotation from The Declaration of Independence
Quote
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Read the whole thing yourself, it will only take a few minutes. I think you'll find a lot in there that will strike a chord today.

Paul Keith

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #22 on: July 02, 2010, 12:28:29 PM »
Quote
You seem to claim that voter apathy (great word that I have been looking for by the way) is caused by, and a symptom of, the system being broke.  I propose that the voter apathy is the problem that causes the system to appear broke.  It is just the founding premise that we disagree on.

I'd like to introduce a third option: Voter apathy is the problem that causes the system to appear more broken than it is which then results in voting apathy. (A situation where a person's vote holds less value to them than their vote on which person becomes the next Reality TV star)

Paul Keith

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #23 on: July 03, 2010, 12:52:00 PM »
Interesting new answer from those who don't keep up with the Quora link:

Jonathan Joseph said:

Quote
I'm going to go a different route here. Campaign finance reform, lobbying restrictions and the other suggestions already in this thread are all good suggestions, but the most effective thing we can do to fix government is to bring private sector principles to the public sector. Yes, shockingly, sort of what W had suggested .

Anyone who has ever worked in a non-public sector job knows that career and financial success are, more or less, directly tied to performing some task a combination of better/faster/cheaper than either other people in your organization or in competing organizations. Managers incentivize employees based on relevant metrics for success and the result is free market capitalism being the Darwinistic engine that has propelled American greatness.

But the government, and any organization funded by the public sector, does not work that way. When you work for the public sector, you can't get promoted faster for doing better work than the person next to you and you can't make any more money for doing a job twice as good as the next guy.

Your performance is irrelevant, all that matters is your place on the annual-budget food chain. Congress allocates $X for your organization this year in the budget. That's how public sector power is allocated, how much budget $ you are allocated. So what's the incentive to do it better/faster/cheaper? All you can do is lose budget, lose power.

I assume that at this point, a number of you are thinking that I am off on a bizarre tangent. So here I'll add that I spent 7 years at In-Q-Tel, making investments in startups that were developing technology relevant to the Intelligence Community. On regular occasions I tried to introduce cutting edge technologies to users at relevant government agencies and was told that there was no benefit to better/faster/cheaper. Or "we don't work that way". I'll spare the government the embarassment of getting into specifics, but trust me you'd be appalled by some of the examples. This is not nickle-and-dime stuff either, we are talking about potentially saving $billions from just what I have seen.

This explains perfectly why every government agency continually grows in size and budget and all are completely inept (FEMA? MMS? SEC w/ Madoff?). It's what they are incentivized to do.

Slap a P&L on every Federal Agency and allow free market-principled compensation for Federal employees (this would need to be done delicately and subject to regulation, however) and you'd see things turn around much faster than anyone thinks. There are easy answers, they just won't work in the current environment.

JavaJones

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Re: How can we fix government? (U.S.)
« Reply #24 on: July 03, 2010, 08:59:29 PM »
So the question remains: where did voter apathy come from? And how do we solve it? Whether it is inherently a system problem or not, we still need to solve it. Unless we want a monarchy, dictatorship, or other form of government which doesn't require popular participation. :D

I generally agree that lack of proper incentive in government is a problem, but honestly I think that's true in the corporate world too. Look at the dot com crash, the prior housing crash, the more recent economic crisis, etc, etc. Many, many businesses *do not* have incentive to do the "right thing". Our system doesn't provide such incentive. So how do we fix that? I don't know the answer there either. ;) But I would not say that applying business principles to business would necessarily result in an overall improvement. Increasing efficiency and effecitveness are critical goals, but the methods we use to achieve them are open for discussion.

- Oshyan