Monday, October 20, 2014

Silence or Violence... May we have another choice please?

I received some interesting responses to my last post (BigNews! Elizabeth Warren and the Tea Party Agree) including more than a few from a serial harasser on Twitter.  The emotion that supports both the Tea Party and the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party is palpable.  The more thoughtful responses pointed out that, despite springing from the same dislike for the influence of money on politics, the solutions these disparate elements seek to deploy are far from similar. 

So, I went on a quest to see what Sen. Warren would do to make the federal government more effective.  Other than her well-known proposal to refinance student loan debt, I couldn’t find much that was specific.  She speaks of the importance of the role of government in supporting solutions to society’s challenging problems; however, she hasn’t really outlined how she would have us do that.

A similar quest to find Tea Party solutions was also frustrated, but for different reasons.  As one reader pointed out, it’s difficult to figure out which Tea Party is the real deal.  It’s a very fragmented movement. 

So, is there common ground?

I would like to see that government stop propping up failed banks and supporting corporate interests through subsidies and tax breaks.  I would guess that Sen. Warren’s supporters would agree, as would the Tea Party (I think).

I would also like to see the federal government stop meddling in the education system and stop reengineering the healthcare system from the top down.  I am not sure how that would come out on the Warren-meter.

But there is common ground.  Can that be leveraged into political compromise that would yield a positive result?

When I wrote about the Millennial generation last year (I think I’m turning liberal, I really think so), I expressed hope that the current crop of coming-of-age citizens would move us forward.  I wrote,

Today’s urban youth will continue to be socially liberal.  But, they are unlikely to tolerate the downsides of an unsustainable model that has its roots in the experience of their great grandparents.  A generation of Americans that grew up with the Internet isn’t going to tolerate public institutions that operate on a 19th Century bureaucratic model. Nor will they tolerate a healthcare system that absorbs more and more of our national income without improving outcomes, a social safety net that will collapse of its own weight or an education system that doesn’t match graduates with jobs and careers.”

The oldest of the Millennials turns 35 next year, about the age when they start to have influence on businesses and other institutions.  How?

A Millennial seeking to have an impact is Argentine political activist Pia Mancini, director of non-profit foundation DemocracyOS.  In a TED talk in Rio de Janeiro, she points out that today’s democratic governments are so unresponsive to the populace that we only have two choices – silent assent or violent protest.

Silence or violence – not much of a choice!

She postulates that the 18th Century mantra “no taxation without representation” should be updated to “no representation without a conversation”. Technology has enabled us to have a global conversation on any topic.  Why not include our legislators in the dialog?  Or, conversely, why haven’t they included us?
Pia Mancini
Ms. Mancini and her colleagues have developed software, including a smartphone app that allows legislators to interact with citizens during debates on critical issues.  She has convinced the Argentine government to experiment with it.  She is hopeful.

My concern is that our politicians are too facile.  They use punditry to convince us that simplistic solutions will solve the big issues of the day. 

Do you believe that “income inequality” is a problem?  The President tells us that raising the minimum wage is the solution. 

It isn’t.

Government deficits and debt will burden our children and grandchildren.  Can we resolve those deficits only by cutting non-defense discretionary spending? 

No, we can’t.

Rising ocean temperatures threaten our coastlines.  Will government investment in green technology companies solve that problem? 

No. It won’t.

We have seen masses of people marching in the streets in the last few years – Hong Kong, Cairo, Tehran, New York.  What has it accomplished? 

In the absence of violent overthrow, not much.

Can technology that connects us to our institutional leaders offers the opportunity that Ms. Mancini describes?

I don’t know.

It’s certainly a good place to start.



  1. Rimmer Lankester
    CRM / Operational excellence expert

    I think the US are unfortunately, and through no fault of their own (Duverger's law wasn;t written yet at the time of the constitution), stuck in a political system that doesn't promote compromise...

    The First Past The Post rules that maintain the 2 party system removes compromise because:

    - It make negative campaigning a feasible tactic, making the debate obviously unfriendlier and less on-topic.
    - It systematically ignores huge amounts of "voter-desires" making it unresponsive to what the people want and therefore making people disinterested in it
    - it makes politics black and white, so Warren and the Tea Party are divided, even on fields they agree.

    In a proportional representative system, they could disagree on a great many things, but still find a majority on the things they do agree with and take at least THOSE steps forward...

    In order to "fix" US politics, changing the electoral system is the obvious way to go. But then again, it wouldn't benefit the 2 parties in power, so won't happen... :S

  2. If you weren’t getting some push back you wouldn’t be viewed as credible in your thinking. With both supporters and antagonists, you are proving you are insightful. Keep on writing! Making us all think and enjoying the next editions.

    BTW, historically people have defined a view as either a right or a left, and as a conservative or liberal; in my conversations with people, no one seems to be either one or the other in totality. We are a melting pot of in-the-middles for the most part. I think this exacerbates the confusion and consternation which either leads to silence or violence (in the US most of the violence seems to be passive aggressive or through demonstrations with certain property damage). When you think about it, it helps me understand better Reagan’s insightful comment that there is really no left and right, but rather our focus should be up or down. And as Eleanor Roosevelt told the United Nations, we should always be moving forward to a greater good for humanity, supporting human rights that gradually improve the world’s standard of living for all peoples.

    The biggest obstacle I see in this process of change is the time span of human life and the even more limited time span within that life span that one is conscious of the imperfect societies we have built. Once identified, do people have the patience to endure beneficial change. As I used to say to my sons on those lazy chore-oriented Saturdays, “I know you will get it finished son, but will it be in my lifetime?” I must have been an activist because I routinely rolled up my sleeves and helped ‘em out. J!


  3. John W. Stevens, Jr.
    President & Principal at Synergistic Services, Inc.

    John -- Thought provoking article as always. It would be very comforting to believe that the Millennials will find solutions to our nation's, and the world's, problems. However, I approach such hope with a great deal of cynicism.

    I agree that our bureaucratic institutions are becoming less responsive and relevant to today's issues. The same can be said for our political institutions. Why is that? It is because of inadequate and ineffective representation by our elected "representatives." Today, each US senator has about 3.4 Million constituents, each member of the US House of Representatives has about 780 thousand. A single middle class constituent no longer can meaningfully influence his or her elected representatives?

    Add to the lack of representation that the majority of elected representatives MUST spend a majority of their time raising funds to achieve reelection. This essential focus on reelection leaves little time, energy, or desire to work at being effective legislators.

    Addityionally, consider that all three branches of the US Government have been operating outside the bounds defined by "The Law of the Land," the US Constitution at least as far back as President Abraham Lincoln who went to war to "Preserve the Union," something the president had no constitutional authority to do.

    The US Constitution explicitly defines and limits the powers of the US Government. The Bill of Rights was written to protect the most precious "God-give rights" of the people, primarily from encroachment by the Federal Government.

    With all of that as a preface to your specific issue, I seriously doubt that there is any likelihood of cooperation between the "Tea Party" and the Elizabeth Warren, "progressives."

    Progressives believe that Government is the solution to most problems. Like President Ronald Reagan said, most Tea Party voters believe that Government IS the problem. That is the dichotomy in its most basic form.

    Progressives have little respect for the US Constitution, believing that whatever their ends may be justify whatever means are necessary.

    Tea Party voters believe that our Government must be held to exercising only those powers enumerated in the Constitution -- and not one more. "We" believe that the Constitution provides the means by which the Constitution may be legally amended and that any changes to the enumerated powers must be accomplished through that process.

    Furthermore, I believe that most Tea Party voters oppose activist courts. The constitutional role of the courts is to interpret the law as written, based on an understanding of the original intent of those who wrote the law at the time they wrote it.

    Progressives believe the opposite that the courts' role should be to interpret the law in relation to the current state of the world, incorporating "new" thought, including that of other legal systems and the laws of other nations and the international community. I would say that that is the role of the Amendment process -- to revise and update our laws to reflect the reality of today.

    Many Tea Party voters are libertarians. We believe that individuals should have the maximum possible freedom and liberty from government interference in our decisions and our lives. Thus, we share with liberals and progressives belief in ideas such as gay marriage, legalization of drugs, and so forth. However, contrary to the progressives and liberals, as explained above, many of us believe in the strict interpretation of the US Constitution as it limits the powers of Government. Thus, in my opinion, the US Government should have no compelling interest in approving, not approving, or having any role at all in most personal decisions or actions, as long as they do not concretely infringe on the rights of others.

    1. @John. A thoughtful response as always. Here's another way to think about it.

      The Reagan revolution represents a sea change. Something like that has occurred approximately every 50 years in our history. Such dramatic changes always change trend lines. Any trend is bound to run its course.

      In 2030, our economy will be strapped with the burdens of supporting baby-boomers and equity capital will be very dear. Those constraints on progress will likely generate another sea change.

      Just a theory...

    2. John W. Stevens, Jr.
      President & Principal at Synergistic Services, Inc.

      Continuing on -- To address some of the specific issues in the article:

      Do you believe that "income inequality" is a problem? The President tells us that raising the minimum wage is the solution.

      Income equality is a problem. However, it is not a problem for the Government to solve. There are many causes for income inequality, almost all of which in today's world, are under the control of the individual. Choices made to finish or not to finish High School, to go or not to go to college, to work to excel or not to work to excel, to exercise personal accountability for our choices and our action or not, all impact our earning potential and our actual earnings. Even in cases where all of the "right" choices have been made, decisions to marry, have children, and allocation of time and personal dedication between home and work impact on gender income inequality.

      Many other factors can play a role, few if any of those factors are institutional. Few if any can be corrected using the sledge hammer of Government.

      Government deficits and debt will burden our children and grandchildren. Can we resolve those deficits only by cutting non-defense discretionary spending?

      No, we can't. But raiding taxes is counterproductive, not the solution. I would suggest that there are several obvious solutions to deficit spending and debt issues, but few of our elected representatives have the gumption to implement these solutions. First and foremost, our Government must stop spending money in the exercise of powers the Government does not legitimately have. Abolishing the Department of Education and the Department of Energy are to logical steps.

      Another solution is to abolish "Baseline Budgeting," where the starting point, "Baseline," for each year's budget is last year's budget. Enacting a requirement for Zero-Based Budgeting would require every program, every department, every agency of the Government to justify its continued existence and continued funding every budget cycle. Additionally, overlapping programs, usually created so as to spread power among congressional committees, should be consolidated or abolished.

      Rising ocean temperatures threaten our coastlines. Will government investment in green technology companies solve that problem?

      First, ocean temperatures are not rising globally, they may be rising locally and declining elsewhere. For example, the Antarctic Ice is at its greatest expanse since such measurements have been made. Thus, not to start a separate debate here, but there is no scientific consensus that there is "Global Warming," there is even less consensus that there is any "global" anthropogenic effect on the Earth's climate.

      That said, the best thing the Government can do to encourage technology is to lower corporate taxes, if not abolish them, and to eliminate all but those constraints on technology that are most compellingly needed. At present, the time it takes to bring new technologies or technology solutions to market is extreme, preventing smaller entrepreneurs from bringing forth great new capabilities. Solar energy and wind energy are two such. Solar systems have been delayed and even cancelled over environmental concerns, such as small owls and tortoises. Wind farms have been delayed or stopped by concerns over bird kills and even such things as complaints by wealthy landowners that the towers would damage their "View."

      Environmental impact studies can take years, holding up projects, only to be challenged in court and sent back for reconsideration or complete redo.

      I am out of space so must end here.

      Can technology that connects us to our institutional leaders offer the opportunity that Ms. Mancini describes?

      Perhaps. But while government is seldom the answer, such is true of technology. It usually solves one problem but trades it for another. Only time will tell.

    3. John W. Stevens, Jr.
      President & Principal at Synergistic Services, Inc.

      John C - I suspect you are correct about an eventual Sea-change. By 2030, many of today's politicians will no longer be serving and a new generation will be in power.

    4. David Beemer
      temporarily retired at Home

      I get way too much climate denialism elsewhere, and am getting a little sick of having the argument. Let's just suffice it to say that, just like the federal debt, we are not going to save our way out of the spot we are in.

      Wage inequality has an effect NObody is talking about. It necessarily results in something closely resembling an aristocracy. Minimum wage raise of $3 an hour is too little, too late to stop that, as well. It will merely go into rent increases the next year. One positive effect it might have, if the scale doesn't slide, is taking people off foodstamps who are full time employees. Our system of 'safety nets' has resulted in an exploitable double dipping environment that amounts to subsidization of minimum wage, i.e. low information, workers.

      I personally have a great deal of respect for passive systems of all types - not only detection, but also in terms of using extra sunshine in all sorts of ways. You can use that for generation of electricity directly, or you can grow stuff with it. Interestingly enough, growing stuff sequesters that CO2 into a long term carbon sink in terms of cellulose. We are, however, going the other way right now, and deforesting at record rates.

      Well, change too much stuff, and conservation of matter applies.

      About minimum wage and knowledge workers - you do know, right, that the average IQ in the US is 100 by definition? If you have a 130 IQ, three people have to have 90 IQs to make up for that - it is just math. In a knowledge worker environment, how promotable are those people? 50 years ago, they were shop workerswho turned the same bolt onto the same stud with the same wrench for 30 years and got a retirement for that. I can engineer a great machine to do that for me, and never have to worry about retirement, and that has been done, so that wrench turner, who can't possibly be trained to maintain my machine, which has features that complicate the process.. Extend that argument, and it is easy enough to figure out that there really is a permanent class of minimum wage workers in our economy looking forward.

      If you really want to produce a corporate result, take away the legal protections afforded to people that keep on having to go back for the Greenspan Put. A couple of go directly to jail cards mixed into the get out of jail free card stack would produce some accountability in the system. If you need an example where it did work, you might want to look at how Iceland is doing after they defaulted on their debt. Now, we are not Iceland, not least because we are the commodity reserve currency for the rest of the world, but nonetheless, some accountability is called for.

    5. John W. Stevens, Jr.
      President & Principal at Synergistic Services, Inc.

      David -- You can label people with whom you disagree "Climate Deniers." Certainly makes us sound nefarious. However, I had the opportunity and pleasure to speak at length with several world-class Atmospheric Physicists and Climatologists who confirmed to me that there was no factual basis for all the Global Warming and Global Climate Change rhetoric and that there was even less evidence that mankind was having a measurable effect on Global climate, although there certainly are some local effects. According to the latest information from NASA, Global temperatures have been declining for several years. The ONLY evidence that ever existed in support of "Global Warming" was the results from several climate models. There was an unfortunate problem with those models, however, the farther you went in time from the original baseline for the models, the farther real-world measurements diverged from the model.

      In regard to wages, the US is not a "command economy," and central planning has never been shown to work very well. Government mandates setting "minimum wages," reduce employment and inflate the cost of living such that further increases in the minimum wage are necessary just to stay even. In our "free market" economy, wages should be tied to the value of the work provided and on local market wage competition. Workers who demonstrate through their reliability and hard work that they bring more value than their competitors, other employees, are rewarded with promotions and increases in their wage.

      The majority of supervisors and managers in the fast food and retail business are promoted from within the company based on demonstrated value. I would agree that CEO compensation has gotten way out of line with the value most of them bring to the companies they lead. However, their compensation is determined by the values defined by the boards of directors and stockholders. Until those stakeholders change what is of most value to them, CEOs will continue to be overcompensated.

      No company or individual ever should be too big or too important to be allowed to fail and those responsible for such gargantuan failures should be held accountable, by the directors, stockholders, and ultimately by the law, when laws are broken.

    6. David Beemer
      temporarily retired at Home

      John, I really don't care who you talked with and don't care anymore to have this climate discussion. We went through all that on another thread. You went to look for positions that supported yours, and that is what you got. It is that simple. You ought to be able to get a good deal on Miami real estate, though, in about 40 years. If you are right and everyone else is wrong, go for it.

      1/3 of the US economy is in the public sector. Forget your extreme position on command economy. It is neither a fully free market economy, nor should it even be so ever since we found a need for antitrust legislation a hundred years ago. It isn't anything close to a command economy, either. There is no case to be made even within the realm of government purchasing that there is any command economy going on. There is no linkage inside the system for someone buying chickens at NTC to know anything about someone buying furniture for the barracks at Pendleton.