fixing politics

Fixing Politics

This is sub-chapter #12, of Chapter #3, Politics, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World. Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


FIXING POLITICS

Since we are stuck with the obsolescence of politics for the foreseeable future, here are some solutions, though I’m sure they are many more, that aim to make gaming the system more difficult if implemented, and allow a freer society for a longer period of time.

Granted, this will not stop the political subterfuge that seemingly always, undermines the democratic system. (Politicians are a creative bunch.) It merely serves to make the process much more difficult, and thereby allow a greater functioning of democracy on a longer time-scale, which will allow the making and creation of the science and technology that will eventually rid us of this insidious process that is retarding our progress (I’ll elaborate more in the last chapter). Please forgive me any generalizations in this chapter, though it is hard to find an honest politician these days, I’m sure a few exist somewhere.

“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” ~ Winston Churchill (Former Prime Minister of GB)

Career Politicians

The career politician (CP) is a virus in the democratic system, and his or her major concern is re-election. Thus, their every decision, policy, and recommendation is acted upon in context to their re-election chances and not necessarily to the people’s or nation’s benefit. They may have started out with the best of intentions, and with a big heart, but people are mortal, and the leviathan (the government as named by Thomas Hobbes) is all-powerful in the bewildering eyes of a mere mortal.

The CP rarely, if ever, leaves his or her bubble distorting their view of reality, much as a goldfish living in a curved fishbowl believes that everything travels in an arc instead of a straight line. Politicians are human goldfish, observing things that seem real and committing words to paper that rarely fix them, when often times, the best solution is to let the super-organism that is society self-correct. (This is usually the best course of action for recessions.)

As a result of being in the game for the long term, they are beholden to the people (and to the political game itself), for the choices they make. But the people, like most people everywhere whom are not well versed in all matters of running a society—hence the need for democracy in the first place—end up looking to their own short-term interests. (An evolutionary mechanism where for 99.9% of our hominid history, our only concerns were food, water, shelter, and sex. If only modern society were so simple.) Likewise, since a politician cannot develop, write, read, or legislate on their own, they are dependent on their fellow politician and staff, in a system that favors ideology, and breeds resentment, distrust, subterfuge: which are ideal conditions for short-term decisions that generate political capitol, even, if not especially, to the detriment of long-term planning. All this does is handicap the CP’s toolkit.

As with most things, we earthly beings have a tough time of grasping the bigger picture, and the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are usually personal in nature. Politics, politicians, and elections generally get thrown into this mix, when they eventually roll around, inconveniencing our day-to-day lives.

Since idle brainpower is usually spent entertaining one’s self outside of work, we often make the quick, easy, and emotional decision when it comes to electing a person for office. Politicians are elected based on how likable they are, how catchy their sound bites are, or how opposed to their opponent’s policies they are and various other trivial, non-important factors that excite us and make us like that person. Politicking is an emotional event, not the logical and rational event the Athenians intended it to be.

This personal decision to elect a politician is usually based on how the politician personally benefits the voter, or how emotionally pleasing they are, instead of to the nation, for it is easy to forget there are others who are also in trouble. How quickly do you forget about starving children in Africa after you watch one of those commercials? How much easier do you think it is when you live in a relatively advanced democratic nation where you don’t see those people starving and entertainment only shows you the high life? It’s so very easy to lose focus today.

It’s hard to blame any one person, as we spend most of our adult lives providing for ourselves. It’s second nature and a paradigm in itself. But therein lays the major problem with politics: we should not look for the person who excites our emotional self, but to someone who strains the limit of our rational self, and who requires us to think and come to a logical rational conclusion of his or her own abilities, as their ability to govern will affect our future wellbeing. The media doesn’t help but they just give us what we want; negative, short-term, often irrelevant, and anecdotal news.

Due to this self-serving, short-sighted nature, CPs, even when genuine, end up having a tough time doing their jobs because they do not have the leeway to make the tough decisions that need to be made to move society forward, neither to say the things that need be said, as an ignorant populace can and will remove them from office if the ramifications of their decision affects them negatively; even if it might be beneficial to the nation in the long-term. The majority of voters rarely take the latter into account. Again, it’s emotional instead of rational. It’s always, me and mine, instead of ours and yours, or here and now, instead of there and then. In most nations, most people are for universal healthcare and looking out for each other, but in order to do that, a government and nation must be fiscally responsible and prudent in order to provide that economic foundation which allows them to spend the money to look after everyone. To not allow politicians to fix broken entitlement systems, or raise or lower taxes (whichever is necessary), then they cannot provide proper services and benefits for those few issues where everyone does agree. It’s akin to driving to another city…without gas. Your car will run on fumes for a while, but it will conk out far too short of your destination. Or Wile Coyote running out over a cliff, unawares he’s running on air, looking down, giving us the viewer, a sad face, and falling to his temporary doom. Wile Coyote is the government hoodwinked by the public, and the Road Runner is where society wants him, but won’t allow him to be. This is the story of todays economic; a debt , governance, and austerity cacophony.

This often has the consequence of politicians catering to the lowest common denominator of the varying social groups, doing the minimum necessary, staying away from controversial issues even if they need to be overhauled or addressed, and rarely, if ever, straying outside of this niche for fear of the ramifications. (Farm subsidies, War on Drugs, the Military Budget and so forth. Though occasionally, ideology or flat-out bribery, I.e., lobbying, will inculcate the public-fearing goldfish against any protests such as the bailouts, the republican war on women, and batting on behalf of the rich and un-needy, though notice none of them ever benefit society at large. How rather pathetic.)

But here’s what people seem to forget. Politicians are there to manage the big picture and they are supposed to be smarter than us, and routinely, when they have to make those hard decisions that require short-term pain but will result in long-term gains, we punish them. Effectively saying we demand the best of now and the best of then—which in all but theory, and probably even in theory, is impossible. So the politicians give you exactly what you want, except by giving you the now that you want, they ignore your future, and you still have to live it.

With this conundrum gaining strength as time progresses in every democracy since the Athenians invented it to the present day, the caliber of politician, in time, is reduced as people who talk a lofty game and who pander to the now crowd are voted in, and the future slips ever further away.

Life isn’t that simple. Politicians are but an extension of society, and they reflect the society from which they came—the needs, wants, and the aspirations of that society. It’s a very sobering thought when put into perspective. We are responsible for our politicians, as thieving, conniving, lying, ignorant, and arrogant as a lot of them may be; they are there because we created the right conditions for their prospering.

“That which starts sweet, ends bitter; and that which starts bitter, ends sweet.” ~ Unknown

The Fix:

Politicians should be limited to one term of five years. (Differing term limits may be justifiable based on continuity purposes and requirements, but I’m an idiot and prefer simple answers like five.) This is enough time to settle into a very difficult job; access, analyze, and study the socio-economic picture; implement programs that benefit the nation or eliminate programs that are a detriment; and then get the hell out of office without need of pandering, lobbyists’ money, or playing Mr. Nice Guy with the media and populace. An individual can only run for office once in his or her life, and upon running, their immediate family is precluded from running. Politics should not be about pandering, but doing what needs to be done, they should absolutely have their feet to the fire, but in overdoing such reactiveness as it is done today, they will merely shy away from fixing issues that do need fixing.

Much like jury duty is a requirement of a just republic, so power cannot be consolidated into too few hands; the political process should almost be mandatory, and taught in schools as our children grow up so they can understand its significance and importance, much as we teach them now of jury duty. and if not mandatory, which would be a tough sell, limited as I have just outlined.

A one-term politician can lend itself to abuse and this will be addressed soon with ‘Social Science.

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” ~ Plato (Philosopher)

Revolving Door

The revolving door between big business, or businesses of any kind to be fair, and government has to be stopped, as it creates biases and prejudices that influence the equal rule of law that should be, though often isn’t, the law of the land.

When I worked in Saudi Arabia, my contract had a government-mandated stipulation, a clause that stated that should the company and I part ways, I could not work for any other company inside Saudi Arabia for a minimum of two years. While in the private sector this is a silly rule and should be left individually between each company and employee (and even then it’s harmful, but hey, free-market), in the revolving door between public and private sector, this is extremely necessary and long overdue.

All too often, you see officials from big companies with huge influence in the halls of power, moving into regulatory positions overseeing the industry, which the corporation they just came from resides in. This puts them in a position of power to provide favorable circumstances for their recently departed company. Oftentimes, they will re-join that company after their stint in the government, provided their time in office proved fruitful for said company. Examples here are too numerous to list, though it is especially prevalent in the biotech and military industrial sectors.

This is unacceptable and creates a clear conflict of interest. Another strategy that lobbying firms apply is to offer government employees high-paying jobs once they finish their time in the government. This effectively puts the government employee in the pocket of the firm, as they will rarely do anything to risk a multi-million-dollar job that is waiting for them on the outside.

This practice simply must stop. A two-year gap between any private sector switches to a government position that oversees regulations of the recently departed corporation will help reduce such circumstances. Obviously, there would need to be qualifying conditions for this, and not an outright ban, and it should be handled by the Justice branch, not by another government office.

The Fix:

Both of the following conditions must be met for a two-year gap to be enforced:

From Private Sector to Government

i) The corporation lobbies the government, or has spent money doing so in the past two years
ii) The government position in question will have some part in regulating or overseeing the industry from the corporation the individual recently departed from

It should still be illegal to provide the government official any type of gift to sway him or her, in any capacity, present or future, and the loopholes that allow some gifts should be removed.

Social Science

Politicians by their very nature are disconnected and cut off from the rest of us. They get free travel, free healthcare and many other perks, and invariably, they are lawyers and business majors instead of scientists and technologists. As a result, they never really feel the effects of recessions and other pains that we normally feel, some of those pains because of their policies. This develops in them, a certain laissez-faire attitude to introducing new regulations and laws to fix perceived ills in an economy, the national budget, or the business world instead of just letting the economic dislocation play out and reset. As they say; to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail, even apparently, people.

They always have a need to fix things, even though it may have resulted from their policies to begin with, and by doing more, may only exacerbate the situation further. But they do it anyway for fear of being labeled ‘idle,’ or maybe because they do not understand the notion of ‘cause and effect,’ but I put my money on the former, and that’s usually the fault of the public.

Counter to this, the people they are exposed to tend to be the rich, politically connected folks who lobby for their time. This means that they are really only exposed to new and different ideas by the folks with the means, money, and power to get audiences with them, and who, like us, are self-serving in nature, caring or thinking little of others.

So it is no wonder that most regulations and laws are created at the behest of this politically connected class of people. We tend to act like and become like those who we surround ourselves with, a basic human function that evolved because of social interaction.

A nasty byproduct of this human condition is that a lot of the laws and regulations that are passed are influenced by those who stand to gain from them and who don’t have the greater good at heart. Whether or not they are intended to be destructive to the rest of us, most of the time, is unknown, but a majority of regulations end up doing just that, especially when an industry or country is overloaded with regulations. Eventually, it stifles and suffocates that which it touches. For example, it costs twice as much to install solar power in the US than in Germany, and this price differential is solely government red-tape. Think about how much more solar power would be prevalent if that red tape was reduced, and how much more competitive solar would be against other forms of energy by now?

Politicians have carte blanche to introduce any kind of bill they want, and with political maneuvering it’s possible to get many kinds of bills passed in the ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine next time’ manner that seems to work so well in politics, and coincidentally, in groups of chimpanzees.

This is arcane, scarcely different from kings and queens of old enacting anything that they wanted. It is only more difficult to do so now, but all too possible and getting increasingly easier as more and more funding comes from big business, and politicians become ever more isolated from us, and the people clamor for more government intervention.

The Fix:

In almost all countries, there are dozens of universities that do hundreds of studies each year on all matter of subjects far and wide to educate their students and make the world a better place, not mentioning the scientific institutions that could use more funding and science at the same time, but I’ll continue using only universities to make my point.

For each program that a politician wants to implement, three randomly assigned universities must carry out the relevant social, economical, engineering, and statistical studies on the impact of the program/s in question to the general population, national budget, and attempt to assign a statistical risk to eventual outcomes so that contingency plans can be drawn up.

At least two of the three conclusions should be in agreement for the bill to be presented to Parliament or Congress, and perhaps even a follow-up study to find out why the outlier did not conform. The universities’ bills should be paid with tax money, and this would have the added bonus of creating a sense of accomplishment and achievement in aspiring young adults to learn more about the functions of their countries in an unbiased way, protecting them for decades to come from unsubstantiated political propaganda (as well as perhaps going some way to reduce tuition costs, though this may be wishful thinking).

For example: if a politician wants to implement a program that at face value wants to impose a tariff on a foreign product to support a local industry that creates a similar product and save jobs in that industry, then three different economic teams from three different universities selected at random will study the proposed plan and all possible outcomes. None of these three teams will be aware of the other two teams, so collusion cannot be possible and will be illegal, much as it is for a jury to discuss a trial outside of the courtroom.

The teams, in this case from what little I know of economics, would more than likely come to the conclusion that the imposition of such a tariff would simply drain consumers’ wallets as a cheaper, equally well-made product is taken off the market and an uncompetitive industry is propped up at the expense of people’s savings, essentially taxing some consumers, and keeping the employees of said industry from being let go and put to greater use in a competitive industry that would need their labor to compete for those extra savings that the consumers would have, without the tariff. Death begets life, in nature and in the free market.

“Death is very likely to be the single best invention of life because death is life’s change agent.” ~ Steve Jobs (Businessman)

Yet bills like these pass all the time, as the members of the senate/parliament/house are economically illiterate (well, at least at this late-stage cycle of democracy, the founding fathers knew all too well the dangers of government involvement in an economy, which is why they went to so much trouble to limit the powers of the federal government in such matters—not that it worked; politicians are a crafty bunch).

We don’t all have the time to study economics in university, but we can easily have universities help us, which they would be happy to do (because they’d get more funding: it’s in their best interest too). This applies to all cross-sections of a nation. No one person is an expert on everything, but everyone is an expert on at least one thing. We can recruit the smartest people from the best colleges to give us the best, most relevant, most up-to-date and need-to-know information so that the nation can move forward.

The names of the universities, and the research teams would be kept secret from all until the conclusion of the study, and the outcomes of all three studies should be published to the public domain, warts and all, to remove doubts of bias and allow rational discourse and further peer-review from others.

Lobbying

With the inclusion of the social sciences into politics, lobbying has no place and would probably disappear all by itself. If a donor was to donate millions to a politician in exchange for, let’s say, deregulation in a certain industry, the politician would not be allowed to simply push it onto the floor for voting; a study would have to be done that actually verifies the potential outcome and whether that outcome is positive or negative. All of a sudden, you would find that nefarious bills pushed by the corporate world would all but disappear. Donations should stay legal, capped to a certain number per individual, and since corporations are ‘people,’ they shouldn’t be able to exceed that limit, though of course they do, because some ‘people’ are more equal than other people.
Artificial Intelligence

We are entering the boom-time of artificial technology (AI). Before I begin to discuss the role that AI may take, let us see in reality just how difficult it is to know everything at one time, especially with the gargantuan set of laws that the US government has implemented. The current code-of-laws of the United States of America, clocks in at two-hundred-thousand pages. The US tax code alone clocks in at 3.8 million words (four-times the length of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and sonnets). How could any one politician, or even 435 representatives, or one-hundred senators with all their support staff ever manage to unwind, let alone understand, such complexity?

So while I routinely disparage politicians in this book, by way of their corruption, shortsightedness, and idiocy. It’s really a byproduct of the real cause; an unyielding and unending complexity of words and actions that no human being could ever fully know. It is all but impossible to not take shortcuts through the endless complexity and nuance of language, and in relation to events. This doesn’t forgive politicians, due to the reason for their existence being to overcome as best as possible this shortcoming, but they, like us, are creatures of habit, and being such creatures, always look for the most bang for their buck (shortcuts) on how to do more with less, and this is what sets them astray. Considering we cannot change human nature, we should do what we’ve always done when faced with a human limitation. That is inventing technology that alters the environment in the process alleviating said limitation. A cavemen once co-opted a stick to reach an unreachable branch. Early civilizations invented the wheel to take heavier or more numerous objects further in less time and effort. We invented agriculture which used less energy than hunting and gathering food every day—which led to the creation of cities and civil society. Today, we are creating AI’s that can remember everything and understand the meaning and nuance of language at the speed of light, but most importantly, objectively.

In 1978, CBS, embroiled in a case with the Justice Department, had to examine six-million documents at a cost of $2.2 million (almost all for the cost for lawyers and paralegals). In January of 2011, Blackstone Discovery, helped analyze 1.5 million documents for $100,000 in a fraction of the time. The latter was done with software parsing through the documents and extracting relevant keywords inserted by a much smaller team of lawyers, perhaps only a handful, in a process known as E-discovery. In 2011, an AI, Watson, beat the best two human players in the world on the game-show Jeopardy, a game based on the nuance of human language, using as his brain, wikipedia and a few encyclopedias. He wasn’t taught what any of the information meant and had to figure it out on his own, which he did by assigning probabilities to outcomes based on his inputs—which is what we do by the way though we are not aware of it. The AI techniques are capable of both linguistic (keyword and phrase analysis) and sociological (deductive) reasoning. Another company, Clearwell, has developed software to search for concepts rather than keywords, so searching for ‘dog’ will also yield results such as ‘man’s best friend’ and ‘walk’. It’s estimated that one lawyer with these powerful softwares can do the work of five-hundred lawyers from decades prior. (Not to mention that the work of hundreds of lawyers barely result in an above-average accuracy of just sixty-percent. All that money for slightly better than a coin toss in the words of Mike Lynch, founder of Autonomy.) Together, with these powers combined, Captain Planet is born! Actually, the field is called ‘legal informatics.

Clearly, the same problems that impacts the world of law, impacts even more so the world of government, where even more considerations have to be taken into account: foreign policy, citizen responses and other nations (what actions they took as a result of this and that), and so forth. I imagine E-discovery, coupled with general AI, like that of Watson, will be used in the political sphere in the coming years (perhaps decade or two). This is not too say that an AI will make decisions, but will provide objective analysis and statistical possibilities infinitely better than even an army of experts could do. And the politician, who, now able to see the myriad possibilities a law, regulation, or action may take, or how similar laws effected change in the past, will be better informed to make the right choice.

Think of the significance of this. All too often, our economic forecasts take into account only first and second order events, which are highly visible and which favor shortsighted policies so that politicians can point to it as proof of their success. But third, fourth, and fifth order effects such as reduced quality-of-living, rising prices, under or unemployment, and dozens of other factors wallow in the background along with all the noise of society, and which usually outweigh the first and second orders, are ignored, though work tirelessly to demoralize and upend society on longer timescales. Let’s use an economic example, namely, the deterioration of per-capita wealth: In 1791 (using the price of gold as a barometer as it’s less susceptible to inflation), per-capita GDP was 2.6 oz. per person per year (PPPY). It doubled by 1811, reached 12 oz. by 1892, climbing to 23.6 in 1916, sailed past 41.1 in 1929, and hit a peak of 139.5 oz. in 1970. Then a disastrous economy policy of fantasy started with Nixon who uncoupled the dollar from gold, then hitting its doltish stride with Reagonomics, culminating in the simple-minded policies of Dubya (George W. Bush), America is now at 28.4 oz. PPPY.

Watson trained as an economist, having total recall, with the deductive powers of a Milton Friedman on steroids (and since it is an Information Technology, doubling in capability every year), and trillions upon trillions of bytes of data points could immediately inform the politician of all the destructive benefits of any such law (or in this case, economic fantasy dressed up as nonsense), perhaps offering up alternatives backed up by empirical research, instead of wishful thinking.

We already use AI’s in airports, planes, finance, fraud detection, security, warfare, and many other areas in which a human being could not adequately manage the multitudes of information and these areas have boomed as a result. I see the same happening for politics, though just as in warfare, the trigger man will always be human. But unlike in warfare, everything a politician does is a matter of record. As more and more of the world is going digital—a trend otherwise known as Big Data—we will gain unprecedented insight into the human condition, and gain the ability to track causes and their effects, backwards with ever-increasing accuracy, and forwards with statistical probabilities. Think of a politician who is warned by their Watson that passing a certain legislation will increase the likelihood of a recession, that will put millions out of work, but ignores his artificial assistants warning and proceeds with his gut instinct. Then the forecasted outcome does indeed happen, and now Mr. Goldfish is on the record for the world to see, and for his citizens to demand his resignation off (or to turn the election to his opponents favor). What will happen on that day? That will be an interesting day…
In conclusion, I’m sure that even if all these were adopted, there would still be some way to game the system. There always is. That’s why after two-thousand years of democracy, it always ends in failure and dictatorship. However, the above conditions are intended to make it more difficult to engage in the necessary connections, power plays, and the scheming that negatively affects a country over all.

Democracy is still the best governmental model we’ve come up with so far, but that is much like saying that riding a three-legged horse is preferable to riding a two-legged horse. Either way, you’re falling over. If we were falling forward, that would be fine, but we’re not, and a recently released study by Cornell University psychologist David Dunning in 2012 has shown just that, that we are too dumb for democracy; namely, because we are inherently inept at assessing other people’s competence and expertise. This results in most political leaders, in terms of competence and intelligence, registering barely above-average from a cross-section of the public. The one redeeming factor of democracy is that it usually limits less-than-average candidates from being elected, though occasionally they slip through the cracks.

In the internet and information age, the role of politics in a society must evolve, there is no way around that. With our global problems today being unmet by our politicians: climate-change, pollution of the air, water, and land, and resource management, the political system has to evolve, and Big Data in an increasingly digital world is making all the difference, illuminating once dark corners of the governmental (though it may be more prudent to label it the human) sphere. We do not live in a static society, but a dynamic knowledge-building society, and our government must reflect this.

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