What Will Replace Democracy?

Southwest Key Programs was founded in 1987 as a non-profit. For years it provided after-school programs and community support for underserved Hispanic neighborhoods in Austin. Dr. Juan Sanchez, its founder and CEO, steadily expanded the organization’s role, adding a series of state contracts. As the venture grew, it shouldered more and more of the public service burden abandoned by a dysfunctional state government.

A decade ago they began delivering public charter schools. Now they run 26 shelters along the border, some of which house children punished by the Trump administration by being torn from their families. Sanchez explained the organization’s purpose in a recent interview, “When we started, our mission was to keep kids out of jails.” Now they run internment camps for kids.

It was possible not long ago to imagine that liberal democracy had triumphed, becoming the de facto standard for successful government. Though that status is no longer assumed, there remains today no clear alternative. At least, not yet. The strange evolution of Southwest Key Programs may offer a hint what’s next.

We tend to think  of history as a progression. Monarchy is better than tribalism. Nation-states are better than fiefdoms. Liberal democracy is better than monarchy. There’s a truth to this notion of advancement, but only in the sense that each of these successful social adaptations helped a society master a particular evolutionary environment. An adaptation can be so successful that it changes the environment, thereby creating a need for new adaptations. There is no perfection in nature. There is no end.

The triumph of liberal democracy, sometimes called the “End of History,” changed the environment in which the triumphant liberal democracies must operate. Habits and norms that made liberal democracy dominant will not sustain it in a new environment. Simple evolutionary forces seem to be pressing us toward a post-democratic order. No one seems to be making plans for what’s Next, yet Next is arriving on its own timeline. Forces that molded a young immigrant, Juan Sanchez, from a community organizer into a private prison warden are at work all around us, shaping our future for good or ill. What’s Next after democracy may already be ascendant.

Two evolutionary developments that powered liberal democracy to global dominance may now be eating at its foundations: massive parallel processing, and competition. Southwest Key demonstrates both traits, highlighting the failure of traditional government institutions to adapt to either.

The term, parallel processing, is borrowed from computer science, but can be seen in retrospect in earlier examples. Henry Ford’s first factories manufactured their own parts from raw materials. It was most efficient manufacturing process ever invented, but it was basically single-threaded, a sequential series of steps leading to an outcome.

Ford quickly recognized the value of parallelizing their manufacturing lines, separating a unified process – building an automobile in a single factory – into a parallel process, many factories and eventually many companies all feeding their manufacturing processes into a single output. Today, more than a hundred companies all over the planet are involved in producing a single Ford automobile. Automobiles, like every other complex modern product, are produced through massive parallel processing.

Competition feeds and regulates this accelerating parallelization. British economist, Paul Seabright, was responsible for entertaining a visiting Soviet bureaucrat in the late eighties. His visitor’s highest priority was to meet and learn from the man responsible for London’s ample bread supply. He was baffled by the news that there was no such person. Parallel processing is possible on a massive scale thanks to the power of competition to reward success and punish failure. When was the last time you saw an AMC, Saturn or a DeSoto vehicle on the road? No one held a public vote to eliminate them. The President was not consulted. No laws were passed to eliminate them. An atmosphere of relatively free competition allows disruptive forces to develop and spread with a speed that can’t be matched by authoritarian or rule-bound decision-making. Operating together with few constraints, parallel processing and competition form an accelerating cycle. Nothing is spared from this dynamic or destruction and creation, not even government.

Part of the genius of liberal democracy is its limited reach. Restraining government power left space available in which competition and innovation could flourish. Liberal democracy invented the private sector. As businesses and other private entities master new methods of parallel processing, they create pressure on other, slower entities, like the government itself.

Growth fostered by liberal democracy has spawned new public needs, almost unimaginable when our nation was founded. Demand for schools, medicine, pollution control and transportation infrastructure were already straining the narrow capacity of democratic government in the industrial age. Seabright’s claim that no one was responsible for London’s bread supply was misleading. Britain, like any modern nation, had extensive controls in place to ensure the safety and quality of their food supply. Competition and parallelization foster mass production, but they do little to stop industrial bakers from cutting costs by using cheap, dangerous ingredients. They won’t stop producers from using child labor or slaves, or from deploying violence or sabotage against competitors. The market won’t stop producers from dumping their waste in your water supply. In fact, the market will reward these practices which eventually swallow the market itself. Government may use a light hand in a liberal democracy, but without its effective and careful involvement things fall apart. Economic and social complexity that blossoms under liberal democracy places strain on the relatively slow and static infrastructure of government under rule of law. That strain can reach a breaking point.

A political system premised on rule of law and the wisdom of the masses is relatively smart and agile compared to totalitarian systems. However, relative to the kind of private sector institutions that emerge in a free society, even democratic governments are slow and desperately short on expertise. Globally, both democratic and authoritarian systems are steadily shrinking, outsourcing critical functions to fill gaps in their capabilities. That brings us back to Juan Sanchez.

Sanchez will earn more than $1.5 million this year from his charity work running kiddie concentration camps. That’s double last year’s take and four times what he was earning in 2013 in the same role in the same organization. Meanwhile, the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, appointed by the President and approved by Congress to oversee a billion-dollar budget and 80,000 employees earns a “Level 2” federal salary of $165,000, roughly a tenth of Sanchez’s haul. Why?

Southwest Key was able to provide critical services to the state and federal governments at a speed and cost that public institutions could not match. Operating in a competitive market, they delivered the parallelization that was impossible under the hierarchical, law-bound structures of a government agency.

Sanchez did not plan to become a millionaire entrepreneur in the migrant jail business. Addressing needs that rule-driven, single-threaded institutions simply could not manage, Sanchez found himself in a unique evolutionary niche. No one has formed a plan to replace liberal democracy. Its replacement is gradually emerging out of the evolutionary jungle.

HHS and the rest of the executive branch infrastructure lack the parallel processing necessary to meet rapidly emerging public needs. As their creaking decision-making model grows antiquated, central government agencies are losing much of their influence, shrinking down into a grant disbursement role. This new model is emerging not because government is unimportant, quite the opposite. Our political model is failing because we need more from government than our system is designed to deliver.

Donald Trump did not destroy our political system. He emerged from its collapse. This does not imply that liberal democracy was anything other than a triumph in its time. Forces of competition and parallelization that are straining our democracy today ripped through older authoritarian systems decades or even centuries ago. Pressure to adapt never relents. Next is arriving, with or without a plan.

***

This is the first in what will be a series of pieces exploring what’s next after liberal democracy and what we should do to prepare. Much of this material was covered in The Politics of Crazy, though from the perspective of a more optimistic era. The work fits better as a whole, but reading through a 6000+ word piece on a computer seems impractical. When these are complete I’ll gather them into a series of links on a single page.

68 Comments

  1. We’re rapidly approaching something probably called “Representative tribal Oligarchy”. Candidates aren’t chosen by popular votes. Candidates are supplied by the Party (tribe) leaders, sponsored by Oligarchical donors that grant campaign dollars, and the false choice offered to the public for final approval before the tribe on election day.

    A representative democracy requires negotiation and compromise on behalf of the representatives, and we’re a good decade past the point where both stopped.

  2. So, guess we will see really soon whether democracy is indeed dead in the U.S., thereby opening the door to see what follows.

    4 hours ago the puppet tyrant confessed via Twitter to conspiracy against the United States for everyone but himself. We no longer need to wait for the Mueller investigation to conclude that. The only question Mueller can answer is if the traitor himself knew about the meeting, as Cohen has said.

    Either way, the “election” results of 2018 are illegitimate. All laws and appointments in the past 20 months are fruits of a poisoned tree. We shall now see if enough people in the U.S. actually believe in democracy enough to rise up and remove all shreds of this regime from power. And clearly, that goes well beyond any election in 2018. All people in power will have to be removed by any means necessary.

  3. I’m actually a lot more upbeat about liberal democracy beating parallel-processing private entities (at least in theory; America isn’t doing so hot right now).

    Even as a Bernie-style socialist, I have no problem with allowing the private market to supply a public need, as long as a) that’s truly more efficient than the govt b) appropriate regulation is implemented. That’s why, e.g. I support Medicare-for-all: the private system of providing health*care* in America is the best in the world. The private system of providing health *insurace* is the worst in the world. Therefore, nationalizing the insurance system to better provide the functions of insurance (security from financial catastrophe, universal coverage, and structuring financial incentives to improve overall health) while leaving the actual provision of health services firmly in the private sector, is fine with me.

    The problem is that, at least in America, and at least since Reagan, the decision of private vs. public provision of services has been an ideological decision, not a technocratic one. When public services are sold to the highest bidder (or highest lobbyist) with no care as to whether they’ll actually do a good job (e.g. the parking meters in Chicago), then it’s no wonder that such services function poorly. The fact that, despite the evidence that every single country in the world has proven that public health funding is superior to private health funding (actually, it’s true even in *our* country: we already have Medicare-for-all. We just restrict to to the elderly), we still are unable to do it, is purely ideological.

    Even in the halcyon days of liberal democracy, much of the actual provision of public services was done by contracted private entities. The NIH & NSF are funding organizations that disburse billions of dollars to private entities for health and science research. Even the decision as to what to fund is made by committees of scientists. The only role Congress has is allocating overall amounts for each institute within the NIH, and appointing the NIH head (and setting up regulations). Literally everything else is run by the private health research industry. It works well.

    The problem with kiddie concentration camps isn’t that they’re privately run. It’s that they exist at all, which is a problem of policy-making, not efficiency.

    You might argue that in public entities, ideology will always get in the way. That’s true, but anyone who’s worked in a big corporation will agree ideology can be just as bad in the private world. It’s what made Xerox dismiss all the innovations coming from its own research center (PARC) (“We’re a copier company! What’s all this computer stuff you’re talking about?!”) until Microsoft and Apple stole their ideas and killed them off.

    You might be quick to point out that that’s exactly what parallel processing does: Xerox died off from its mistakes, and MS and Apple took over. Well, sure, we allow that in relatively non-critical areas like computing (back in the day). What happened to private Wall St. banks that were so incompetently (and fraudulently) run that they nearly tanked the world’s economy? Even the ones that went “bankrupt” e.g. Lehman Brothers didn’t really go bankrupt. A merger was arranged, greased with plenty of public dollars, such that guys like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs came back with record profits just a few years later.

    So this parallel processing, evolutionary style of rapid adaptation is only allowed to happen in places where failure doesn’t lead to massive social consequences i.e. in the periphery. Which is not 90% of the unglamorous, unsexy, hidden parts of the economy which keep our country going. When was the last time a private military contractor went bankrupt due to competitive forces? Even as their costs and delays escalated, and their products were found to fail their original requirements? Do you think Exxon will ever be allowed to go bankrupt? Or any of the national telecom companies? For your mention of AMC, I’d return with GM, which we bailed out just a decade ago, and should have, by any measure, been dead well before that.

    I’d also pushback on the notion that private companies are necessarily more agile and effective than public companies, even for complex tasks requiring lots of specialized skills. For a given size and complexity of a problem to be managed, the public entity frequently does better. It’s not fair to compare the HHS, with its numerous massive mandates, to a private entity that’s focused on a very small, narrow goal. You have to compare apples-to-apples. So let’s do that:

    Previously, I mentioned that the British EIC, despite being run as a private entity, completely mismanaged its primary asset. Under its management, India went from being one of the leaders of the global economy to a basket case, ultimately requiring the EIC to be bailed out by the government of Britain, which had to spend increasing parts of its own wealth just to keeping India alive (literally; starvation and famine were big problems), which is the reverse of what a colony is supposed to do for you. Since independence, for all its warts, its chaotic, socialist, corrupt democracy, with large parts of its economy nationalized, poorly run, and ossified (the term “license Raj” comes from there), and a huge chunk of its electorate illiterate and riven by caste, religious, and ethnic divisions that frequently lead to deadly riots, has managed to rebuild India’s economy far better than the EIC ever did.

    Corporations’ fundamental weakness is they don’t look at long-term outcomes, and their decision making is less subject to pressure from their customers than you think. While politicians may only look to the next election cycle, CEOs usually only look to the next quarter. And when was the last time a disgruntled United customer had an actual vote on who their next CEO will be? How about a solitary United shareholder? Large corporation’s governance has less turnover than a soviet politburo, and is subject to less “evolutionary pressure” from its customers than a democratic govt.

    I’d use the example of renewable energy as a recent positive example: solar and wind were felt to be the future of our world’s energy for decades and decades. Companies ignored it, preferring to focus on their cash cows of oil, gas, and coal. The only work done was by small companies kept alive by government grants and subsidies. They received a big boost with the election of Bill Clinton, who made a larger change in our energy policy than any government or private entity before. He also turned it around far faster than most companies ever do, despite the plodding govt bureaucracies. It turned again when GWB came into office and favored his texas oil buddies. And turned again when Obama came into office.

    And now, thanks to that constant government foresight about the future of energy, and despite private energy companies’ stubborn refusal to see it, we’ve built a renewable energy economy that is just beginning to compete against fossil fuels without any subsidy. In a decade, coal will be gone, natural gas will feel the pinch, and (if electric transportation ever takes off), oil will be primarily used for plastics and other chemicals.

    At this point, the industry is strong enough that even if Trump removes all subsidies, all private research funds, etc., the renewable industry will survive, compete, and win against fossil fuels. Heck, BP now sells wind systems. You can say this is a triumph of the parallel-processing nature of the private world, but that would ignore the fact that it was the government which saw the future, turned on a dime, and retooled our energy policy to better serve our needs.

    Another example, this one somewhat paradoxical: in the race to the moon, ironically, it was America that used a fully public, top-down approach. Everything was done by NASA. Private contractors, to the extent they were used, had narrow mandates, and were frequently limited to very small, noncritical parts of the mission (like developing Tang :-). In contrast, the USSR used a public-private hybrid similar to our modern military acquisitions process: multiple private design bureaus (equivalent to prime contractors) who managed their own complex private supply chains, and ostensibly competed to provide what the Soviet space agency Roscosmos specified. To be fair, a “private” company in the USSR was not exactly the same as a “private” company in the USA, but the idea of parallel processing, competition, etc. were espoused more by the Soviet effort than ours; in contrast NASA was a model of Soviet 5-year planning. Guess which one managed to land a human on the moon?

    So I think the critical error in your thinking, Chris, is not comparing similar functions. You can’t look at a single entity running a few camps and extrapolate to massive functions like managing our nation’s health. Are private roads managed better than public roads? Are public universities like Berkeley, Michigan, etc. any worse than the top private universities, while charging less tuition? If this trend towards increasing complexity continues, could it be possible that it would actually favor public institutions, which are much more comfortable with such expansive roles, filled as they are with disparate stakeholders, competing mission priorities, nebulous, long-term outcomes, etc?

    I’m not trying to be a pollyanna. I’m worried about the same forces you’re worried about. But I’m a little more hopeful that we still have the ability to deal with them (or maybe I’m just less hopeful that private entities can do a better job. I am a Bernie-bot after all 🙂

  4. Yes, the Federal Government is dysfunctional at this time, but it was not always so. On the other hand, in many areas of the country liberal democracy is functioning well. True, there are problems, but that is always the case. In my location in Seattle, I feel that overall our state, county and local governments are generally functioning satisfactorily. We do have difficulties, but the voting public is generally able to apply corrective measures. Maybe there is a lag, but overall the system is functioning. At the moment, we do have difficulties with our City Council, but the people will hopefully take care of some of the problems in the Council elections in 2019.

    Regarding the Federal Government dysfunction, I feel that mostly it is due to the compromises made during the Constitutional Convention required to get the delegates from the several states to approve the proposed Constitution. The Federal Government as originally structured by the Constitution is hardly a liberal democracy. In general, it was a limited democracy of the the elites.

    Some of the areas where the original structure failed the liberal test are:
    1. Slavery was permitted.
    2. Senators were selected by state legislatures.
    3. President was selected by the electoral college.
    4. Women were not allowed to vote.

    These are just a few of the deficiencies; some have been corrected over the years, but many remain. Let us remember that if election of the president was direct, Trump would not have won. He was able to take advantages of one of the Constitutional deficiencies.

    Earlier, I mentioned the compromises required at the Constitutional Convention required for approval. Those were primarily due to the different outlooks of the various regions in the United States. Those are still prevalent. I recently finished an excellent book, ‘American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America’ by Colin Woodward, 2011. It is a little out of date having been published in 2011, but still applicable. He recently published a guest opinion in the NY Times, linked below. This article provides an update to include the 2016 elections, and partially addresses the urban-rural divide that has been much discussed. That happens to be the major difficulty in his analysis, in my opinion. The article also summarizes the divisions rather nicely. See:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/30/opinion/urban-rural-united-states-regions-midterms.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytopinion&login=email&auth=login-email

    This is a longer post than intended, but I’ve refrained from writing a reply to this thread, wanting to watch how Chris develops his concept of the failure of liberal democracy. In summary, I feel that that liberal democracy is not failing, but it does need some structural revisions, particularly in the United States. Many of the dysfunctions are traceable to the compromises required at the Constitutional Convention due to the regional cultures in the US.

    1. ***Yes, the Federal Government is dysfunctional at this time, but it was not always so. On the other hand, in many areas of the country liberal democracy is functioning well. ***

      There’s more coming here, but first a few thoughts.

      I am hypothesizing that the dysfunction we’re all witnessing in the federal govt, and in democracies in Europe and much of Asia, is more than a blip. It’s not that govts were always bad or slow, but that circumstances have changed in ways that render rule of law-driven institutions too cumbersome to adapt and thrive. Those institutions may still be “good” and desirable, but they may also be so slow and resource-intensive that most people in most places lose the ability to sustain them.

      But democracy works great where I live. Perhaps that’s true. Many countries still have monarchies and aristocracies. You can still find parts of the world where one’s tribe or clan affiliation is the most important element of their lives. Even if that hypothesis is correct, it doesn’t mean democracy will disappear – it means it will be eclipsed by other, cheaper, more efficient and adaptable forms of social organization.

      In America’s richest enclaves, liberal democracy on a local scale might outlive many changes at the macro level. However, if you look closely at the state of democracy all over the country at the local level, you find wide swaths of the country that are utterly and horribly dysfunctional. The water crisis in Flint happened because local government was wrecked in a proto-Trumpian implosion almost twenty years ago. The city still doesn’t control most of its core services because it can’t. Stockton, CA is still trying to rebuild its local govt, though being in California (and in striking distance of SFO) still helps.

      Local politics in my hometown, Beaumont, TX ground to a halt in the 80’s over racial tensions. They are unable to perform the simplest tasks. Very little is left but a taxing authority and a few functioning bureaucracies. A quick counts shows nearly as many schools closed as still open. Suburban areas are slightly more cohesive, but only by a narrow margin. There just aren’t enough people left there who can spell big words, while the demands continue to accelerate.

      As for downstate towns here in Illinois, it’s hard to know where to start. Cairo has been getting a lot of press lately, but it’s hardly alone. Yes, these places are short on cash, but they’ve never exactly been tons of cash in these places. They’re just consistently dysfunctional, in the way we used to talk about hopeless urban slums or third-world countries. There’s no one there with the wherewithall to help them turn things around.

      I suspect that affluent areas will weather this trend, to the extent that they want to, but places short on resources may be quickly overwhelmed.

      1. I will follow your series, with considerable interest. I do however feel that the examples you cite are really due to two problems.

        1. Failure to support the commons: “…circumstances have changed in ways that render rule of law-driven institutions too cumbersome to adapt and thrive. Those institutions may still be “good” and desirable, but they may also be so slow and resource-intensive that most people in most places lose the ability to sustain them.”

        If there is not rule of law, then inevitably there will be rule of the fittest and the wealthiest. That has inevitably over time led to very good situations for the wealthiest but for most that translates to mass misery. That was the situation in the antebellum South.

        Perhaps, the inability to pay for these requirements is that the wealthier portions of the country, will not devote enough resources to support the commons. That has historically been a problem that has led to the collapse of several societies as Jared Diamond has outlined in his work. Additionally that was the central conclusion that Piketty reached in “Capital ….”.

        2. Racism: This is a big issue that has plagued the U.S. since its foundation and is one of the issues that is plaguing Europe. The common tendency of humanity is to identify with a tribe or clan has in turn led to the demonization of others. This issue is the underlying issue that caused the disaster in Flint, in that it’s population was largely the lower classes, in Beaumont, TX as you mentioned and combined with the failure to support the commons, is most likely the driving force in Stockton.

        I am frankly grappling with these issues as all of use are. But, I do not feel that liberal democracy is the causative factor. As I mentioned earlier, the U.S. is actually more of an example of a limited democracy for the elite, than an example of a liberal democracy. So it will be interesting and stimulating to follow this series.

      2. tmerritt,

        Thank you for joining the conversation.

        I suggest racism is generally a combination of an excuse to blame “the other” combined with the inherent desire to feel superior even if it requires making other lives worse. Relative position tends to be more important than actual state of livelihood and comfort,

        As to the “Failure to support the commons”, it might be time to bring in Game theory.
        https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gametheory.asp (see Prisoner’s deli

        As long as a lack of cooperation for the “common good” results in a better outcome for one side, that side will continue to be uncooperative. When society devolves into a state of chaos, where no one is happy, THEN the players might start cooperating.

        My two cents

      3. Yes, I understand the prisoner’s dilemma situation. That is exactly the way that the U.S. has operated throughout its history and why no significant change occurs in the U.S. until there is a crisis as I mentioned in my earlier post (below) regarding the Generations Theory as outlined by Howe and Strauss.

        To this add the quandary created by the regional cultures in the U.S. that Colin Woodward discussed in ‘American Nations’ and summarized in the NY Times article to which I linked. As I interpret Woodward’s concept, there are two regional cultures in the U.S. that tend to strongly consider the ‘commons’; those are Yankeedom and the Left Coast and to a lesser extent The Midlands. El Norte, though being the oldest culture, has had a minor role until recently. However, there are indications and its history so indicates that it may be supportive towards the commons. Accordingly, it is really too early to determine its outlook towards the American Commons. The other significant cultures, Deep South, Greater Appalachia and the Far West, tend to be far more individualistic.

        The challenge we have as a nation is to develop far more communication between the various regional cultures, so the assumption of no communication upon which the prisoner’s dilemma is based is not valid. Unfortunately, that communication is continually decreasing, with the dysfunction in D.C. This blog helps to increase that communication.

        As you can no doubt tell from my writing, I am a left coaster, though I was raised in a Far Western environment.

      4. But it’s easy to show that an iterated prisoners’ dilemma (with the number of rounds being a random variable or at the very least unknown – otherwise the analysis doesn’t work) supports cooperation. There’s not much incentive to cheat when you’ll only come out ahead for one round, before your opponent starts defecting every round.
        I totally agree about relative position mattering more than it should to some people though. Not that it never matters – see the other popular game theoretic experiment, Ultimatum.

      5. TMerrit,
        I think we are mostly in agreement. As you wrote in a reply below

        “These are the existential crises as described in the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss, mentioned earlier by Daniel. I am quite familiar with their work, having read all their books. I periodically Google Neil Howe to see if he has published any recent updates. In ‘Generations’ they did predict that an existential crisis would occur in the time frame of 2020 to 2025. That does seem to be developing. I have been thinking about what form it would take, have some ideas and will write a comment (or even a post, with Chris’ approval) after I more fully formulate my thoughts.”

        JonCr,
        If I am understanding Howe and Strauss correctly, they are suggesting the generations forget and relearn the lessons of the prisoners’ dilemma once every 100 years (approximately).

      6. Yes there is little substantive disagreement.

        However, the generational sequence periodicity as discussed by Howe and Strauss is more like 80 – 90 years. They worked with a typical generation being 22 years; some shorter and some longer. The current sequence began with the Boom Generation starting in 1943, when the corner was turned in WWII. After that point post war planning began in earnest and the survival of the U.S. was no longer at stake. The actual hostilities formally ended in 1945. Hence the timing of the next crisis being approximately 2025. That is where I got the range of 2020-2025 for the next crisis. Following the 9-11 attacks Howe wrote an article stating his opinion that we were now in the ‘fourth turning’ of the present generational cycle. I believe he has dated last birth year of the current Millennial Generation, which is the Civic Generation, comparable to the GI Generation, as circa 2003. Again adding 22 years to that, we have 2025.

        In ‘Generations’ they did speculate that the longer life active life spans might have some impact on the Generational Cycles, but did not really discuss that. In the past there have typically been 4 active generations. Now we seem to be entering a period where we have 5 active generations. There are many members of the ‘Silent Generation’, which followed the GI Generation and preceded the Boom Generation still civically active. There are even members of the GI Generation who are still active. Good examples are Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, although both are definitely aging.

        ‘Generations’ was copyrighted in 1991. Subsequent books have been published including The Fourth Turning, Millennials Rising, and The Graying of the Great Powers. William Strauss died several years ago. Neil Howe himself occasionally posts in Forbes magazine. I have not read his postings regularly in a few years, so I am a little behind the curve.

        But, in general the concept of generations forgetting what went before is correct. Also the priorities of the generations change as they move through life. This is where having more elders active, might make a big difference. I am now retired being one of the first cohorts of the Boom Generation and I find that true for myself.

      7. Thanks for your insight. I had not heard of Howe and Strauss’ concept, but it makes sense to me.

        I suggest we of the BOOM generation are holding up well considering the drugs and lead poisoning. 🙂

        Until the next interesting topic comes up.

  5. Chris,
    One of the problems with your basic assessment that “government is creaking and unable to do the job” is that Republicans (and some Democrats but mostly Republicans) have been systematically sabotaging and hobbling government agencies for decades. It’s a well-known con. Argue loudly that “government doesn’t work” and quietly pass laws that ensure it can’t.

    How can one separate inherent weakness in the government’s ability to perform these roles, and deliberate sabotage?

    1. Vandervecken,

      I think everyone is struggling with the vicious circle.

      It is no secret the rich elite want to hobble the government.

      Remember this Norquest gem?
      “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
      https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Grover_Norquist

      …and Duncan pointed out this Brandels’ quote…
      “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
      https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/louis_d_brandeis

      Can democracy survive this overt sabotage or most it evolve into something better and stronger?

      The current occupier of the White House lost the popular vote by 3 million.

      Some people still have hope in the power of the people. Some are pointing to current and future generations.

      I think we are going to suffer a societal collapse before real change can happen.

      I hope I am wrong.

    2. Vandervecken and Dfcord, I concur with both of you. See my comment above. Additionally, sadly I concur that a social collapse will likely be required prior to real change occurring. Unfortunately, that is the history of the U.S. A major crisis seems to be required to get the various sections of the U.S. to compromise enough to accomplish structural reform. That was the case leading up to the Constitutional Convention, the case leading up to the Civil War, the case leading up to the Great Depression and WWII and may be the case at the present time.

      These are the existential crises as described in the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss, mentioned earlier by Daniel. I am quite familiar with their work, having read all their books. I periodically Google Neil Howe to see if he has published any recent updates. In ‘Generations’ they did predict that an existential crisis would occur in the time frame of 2020 to 2025. That does seem to be developing. I have been thinking about what form it would take, have some ideas and will write a comment (or even a post, with Chris’ approval) after I more fully formulate my thoughts.

    1. I read coverage of the rally in the Seattle Times from an article by the Associated Press this morning. That article stated there were “thousands” at the rally and the accompanying picture made it appear as if the venue was jam packed. Yet the YouTube video clearly shows numerous empty seats. It appears as if the “thousands” (more than 2,000) were carefully packed in near the podium to maximize the favorable news coverage. The AP bought that ‘hook, line and sinker’.

    2. I just read coverage of the Wilkes Barre rally yesterday and noticed the same phraseology of “thousands”. This was in Politico. I wonder if this is a formulation that the press corps has settled on to make poorly attended rallies appear to be much larger than they are to avoid having their credentials pulled or otherwise disciplined by the Trump press operation. After all getting a thousand or more people for a presidential rally is not that difficult.

    3. After thinking about this phraseology, I contrasted it to my grand daughter’s high school graduation in June. It was held at Memorial Stadium in Seattle, with a seating capacity of 12,000. The Main Stands were nearly full. So with that background, I could say that “tens of thousands attended her graduation” and still technically be true. Maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but that is what Trump is demanding of the press, otherwise it becomes fake news :-).

  6. Corporatocracy as depicted in Rollerball looms closer.
    Apple bumped up in futures trading.
    If the numbers hold, Apple will open with a market value of 976 billion. A trillion is in sight.

    A few other companies:
    Google: 843 billion
    Amazon: 866 billion
    Microsoft:815 billion
    Disney: A paltry 168 billion
    There will most certainly be two trillion dollar companies by year end, Apple and Amazon. Google won’t be far behind. PetroChina when it hit the market opened at over a trillion, but has fallen way way back.

    Imagine the true economic combined power of Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon if they actually acted in concert. Almost 4 trillion in market cap. They can most certainly “buy” a small country.

  7. Hi JonCr

    The problem with that “hypothesis” – that too much screen time is bad for the kids
    Is that all of the actual DATA points the other way!

    The latest – most screen bashed – generation is by every measure much BETTER than it’s less screen bashed predecessors

    The older generation has ALWAYS criticized the youngsters – right back to Roman times

    More recently the Newspaper, the Book, The Telephone, the TV, have all been going to ruin the next generation

    1. But what data? As in, is there a study that isolates screen time as being good for development in some area?
      Lower rates of promiscuity and pregnancy could be caused by greater responsibility, but we could also be looking at social ineptitude.
      But what I’d really be interested in seeing is comparisons of how informed each age cohort has been over time, how prevalent the “backfire effect” and using research as a means of confirmation bias are, how polite discourse has been, etc. And while every group at every point in time no doubt ranks poorly on these metrics, I think it’s been getting worse.

      1. Hi jonCr
        I looked up
        Pew Research Centre – Trends in party affiliation among demographic groups

        Democrats enjoy a 27-percentage-point advantage among Millennial voters (59% are Democrats or lean Democratic, 32% are Republican or lean Republican). In 2014, 53% of Millennial voters were Democrats or leaned Democratic, 37% tilted toward the GOP.

        It is quite clear educated people prefer Democrats as do Millenials

        So you can add smarter political choices to the sex drugs and pregnancy

        So the millenials are behaving SMARTER on every measure I have ever seen – but

        “I think it’s been getting worse” – maybe it’s your perception?

        Here is another one – I looked at “Landing a Man on the Moon: The Public’s View”

        “One assumes that it is young Americans who are least likely to remember Armstrong, since they were not alive at the time of the historic mission. Is this true?
        No, exactly the opposite is true. Those who are now 18-29 years old, and thus who were not yet born in 1969, are most likely to be able to name Neil Armstrong. The older one gets, the less likely he or she is to name Armstrong, culminating in the fact that only 29% of those 65 and older can name him”

        It’s us aged boomers that can’t remember the most significant single event in the history of man – even after we lived through it!
        But the young whippersnappers do!

      2. Not specific to any one age group – though it does say the young were slightly harder hit – but I found that the average attention span has decreased. https://www.medicaldaily.com/human-attention-span-shortens-8-seconds-due-digital-technology-3-ways-stay-focused-333474
        Part of what jumps out is that this study was done by Microsoft, though that ties in with Si Valley techies restricting their kids’ use of the very devices they design.
        Every historical discussion of new technologies goes the same way: much of what detractors feared came true, but unanticipated benefits arose as well.
        It’s strange that more can be less, but the Internet made ideological bubbles possible to an unprecedented degree.
        I might be putting my foot in my mouth here with a weekend philosophical generalization – but capitalism is excellent at catering to our basest instincts. I worry that we are sculpting a landscape that makes money by pleasing in the short term and in which … looking for the right phrase.. deeper/more fulfilling pursuits are waning. (Note this is a comment on culture and not economic systems per se.)

        Millennials are the most educated generation, but I don’t consider this a positive trend. (I’m still in school so this issue is near and dear to my heart.) The flaws surrounding higher education could be the topic of several books, but one that doesn’t have much of a political coloring to it is the hypothesis that college doesn’t teach critical thinking or awareness – at best, they select applicants that already have those traits, and at worst education is a key factor in making class hereditary (see the “9.9%” article shiro posted).
        Then there’s highly ideological programs that give out debt but no job skills and competition for students leading to grade inflation and low standards. The Rs might not be correct about much, but we could use more vocational training and less liberal arts degrees.

  8. Hi dfcord

    I said
    (1) Liberal Democracy is working – but did not add – Here! – I had assumed that as Liberal Democracy is working in most of the developed world that you would understood

    (2) AS the later generations (I used millenials as an example) are less brain damaged than us old buggers – THEN – that gives us hope in the medium term

    And used the examples of Teenage Pregnancy, Drug Abuse, Crime, – as evidence that the Millennials ARE better than we were

    (1) and (2) are not necessarily linked – except for the idea that a smarter generation would choose a better way

    1. Fair Enough.

      Thank you for your explanation.

      It was wrong of me to fall into the trap of being overly-focused on the American experience. I apologize.

      Unfortunately, I suggest we haven’t hit the bottom yet. Hopefully, we are close. However, those who voted for Brexit, the European right-wing extremists, the Russian Oligarchs and the Trump Supporters aren’t going to go away peacefully.

      1. Leonhardt’s opinion piece offers well-trod ground in understanding the demographic side of “what comes next for Democracy?” In order to presage the future, we need to have a clear understanding of our starting point. In following the excellent commentary to this question (great job all…really interesting posts), it is clear that we are headed for very uncertain and unsettling times. As we can all relate – just when we think things can’t get worse, they do.

        There are two articles I’d like to share. One speaks to the fact that Republicans understand the critical threat they face in mid-terms and in 2020. Republicans are not going out with a whimper. Count on the next two years being mind-blowingly tough politics. Democrats better get their S**T together or their supposed “blue wave” will never materialize nor will the critical bulwark of a Democratic House majority. Petty infighting, focus on issues that aren’t hard currency, and abysmal lack of leadership are turnoffs to a base notorious for low mid-term turnout. Leonhardt speaks to this point succintly.

        It is sad for me to see our country slowly degenerate into a mere shadow of the great country it was during my lifetime. (I’m 74 so I’ve been watching things change for a lot of years.) Clearly, America is at a critical junction. We all want better, more humane, ethical, and efficient government, and most of us are working hard to be agents of change from the status quo. But, as Chris points out, what if we can’t? What if the forces of change are simply too strong? Then, what happens to Democracy? Call it whatever term you like, if Democracy morphs into a system that relegates working class people into total subservience to powerful, wealthy interests, whoever/whatever they might be, it will not be “better” for the vast majority of people who have benefitted from democracy even as they have failed to protect it.

        https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/31/opinion/columnists/race-republicans-democrats-trump.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion-columnists

        https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/gop-volunteers-hit-streets-save-house-blue-wave-n895546

      2. “However, those who voted for Brexit, the European right-wing extremists, the Russian Oligarchs and the Trump Supporters aren’t going to go away peacefully.”

        But they are! – every year more and more of them just die!
        The demographic that is the most extreme is the old Baby Boomers – the ones that were most damaged by lead in childhood – the ones that doubled the murder rate as we went through the “crime ages” – and we are just starting to die off in significant numbers
        The lead damage was not restricted to our brains – we are dying of heart disease and other causes at higher rates than our fathers

        The real worry is that Lead was insidious – the effects were really only noticeable after the fact – is there a new “lead” just waiting to bite later generations?

  9. A question. Does money have the importance that we give it in elections? What was it’s importance in 2016? Shouldn’t Jeb Bush have won the primary? Hillary outspent trump.

    I know 2016 was different because of trump in many ways and I realize that taking an unknown to winning an election requires some money, but do we overemphasize money’s importance?

    1. Money is important because it influences political decisions.

      Having a lot of money doesn’t guarantee a win.

      However, not having enough money will practically guarantee a loss.

      Many politicians intentionally maintain a War Chest to scare off would be challengers.

      1. On a practical level, money pays for campaign signs and other canvassing materials. It pays for office space where the campaign is coordinated. It can pay for people “to” canvass…going door to door handing out materials. It pays for marketing services that help get one’s message out. Money alone will not win the majority of elections, but running a major campaign at the state or federal level requires adequate funding to compete.

    2. Money’s important, but Americans have overhyped it to hell and back (ie Citizens United). Nothing beats an informed and active citizenry that engages through good ol’ fashioned grassroots politics, and the oodles and oodles of money that the Koch Bros, Mercers, vast array of special interests and others throw in to try and get their desired outcomes is no less than what’s necessary to equal that power.

      1. Yes, I’m thinking that other things being equal, if a candidate has enough money to get in front of the voter a couple of times, that millions from big donors don’t matter. And this could happen through public financing or just small donors. In other words, money can’t replace message.

  10. Here’s an interview with economist Dani Rodrik that seems to be arguing that much of the problem can be traced to impotence of national governments in the face of globalist economics, and that capitalism itself must adapt, as it has many times in the past. https://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/whats-wrong-system-global-trade-finance

    “We say we wonder how the people that benefit from the system, the multinationals, the high tech companies, will ever be willing to change, but we forget where these people get their idea of what their interest is. They operate with a particular narrative. The way to change the way they act is to change their ideas of what their interests are.

    I think this might be a moment where this is happening. They are seeing the process they believed was perfect is not so perfect. And they see that if nothing is done, there are going to be a bunch of rightwing populists and nativists and xenophobes who are going to gain in power.

    So I think the powerful interests are reevaluating what their interest is. They are considering whether they have a greater interest in creating trust and credibility and rebuilding the social contract with their compatriots. That is how to get change to take place without a complete overhaul of the structure of power.”

    This is also the main thrust of a book I’ve recommended before, “Reclaiming the State” by Mitchell and Fazi.

  11. Liberal Democracy is alive and well
    It works – simple as that
    The USA is having problems with it’s version – but even that would work if you simply reduced the power of the rich

    There is another reason to be confident about the medium term

    The brain damaged older generation will naturally die off (lead in petrol)

    The replacement is looking a LOT better
    Millennials are characterised by
    Lower rates of sexual experimentation
    Lower rates of teenage pregnancy – down 80%!! since 1991
    Lower rates of crime
    Lower rates of drunkenness drug abuse drug abuse 34% down since 1993

    The data is clear

    Millennials are more sober, more law abiding, less sexually promiscuous, and more careful than previous generations

    I had included links to all of those studied but apparently we can’t post links – very stone age

    1. Hey Duncan,

      Thank you for your comment, it gave me a good laugh this morning.

      Having lived through the sixties I have some first hand knowledge of what was going on.

      For starters, I suggest the Millennials’ practice of sexting provides a hint as to their actual promiscuity. Having a sex drive is normal and natural. A lot of what the 60’s was about is to rebel against the hypocrisy and lies. Of course the incredibly immoral Vietnam War provided a significant motivation for that.

      What would the Millennial generation have done in the face of friends and family members being shipped off to be killed while the elite managed to get deferments for their children (e.g. Bone Spurs)?

      As for pregnancy rates, hopefully you do realize access to contraceptives and abortion may have a something to do with it. Roe v Wade occurred in 1973.

      As for drug use, how many people were arrested for Marijuana just because they were hippies and deserved to be arrested?

      Finally, you don’t help your Millennials-are-superior meme when you would rather complain about not being able to provide links instead of figuring out how to do it…

      link

      But, hey, it’s all cool man. 🙂

      1. I’m not a Millennial but the data is pretty clear that compared to Boomers and Xers they simply are behaving much better. Of course nothing happens in a vacuum, meaning they have been benefiting from better parenting and a more concerned society than we Xers got, but nonetheless they have through their choices made huge gains in reducing a number of social pathologies.

      2. Daniel,

        Hopefully, this subject is safe enough to explore more deeply.

        First, we need to agree on definition of terms. From this
        Pew Research Link
        “Millennials, whom we define as ages 20 to 35 in 2016, numbered 71 million, and Boomers (ages 52 to 70) numbered 74 million.”
        …is this an agreeable definition?

        So far both you and Duncan have voiced opinions which are different than mine.

        I think it is important to test one’s opinion. I could be wrong, but I’m not about to be swayed by hand-waving claims.

        If you want to talk about a promiscuous generation, clearly, the generation which literally birthed the “baby-boom” was a baby-making machine by comparison.

        On a per-person basis, the baby boomers were quite conservative in that department.

        This topic is relatively benign compared to the other real problems in the world.

        Besides, it should be simple for representatives from the younger generations to best a representative from the “brain damaged older generation”.

        Frankly, I am encouraging Duncan to at least try to stand behind his assertion. It would give me more hope for the future.

        I will be looking up links in preparation to defend my assertions.

        Will will see which generation is up to the challenge.

      3. Hi dfcord
        Why does my aging boomer brains inability to sort out how to post a link have anything to do with how competent the Millenials are?

        I’m sure a smart guy like you could replicate the Google searches that found the data – it only took me two minutes

        My point about “Liberal Democracy” being live and well is because I live in one – one that is doing very well (NZ)

        The American model is deeply flawed – other models are one hell of a lot better and much more robust

        But even the US model would work a lot better if you paid any attention to

        We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.
        Louis D. Brandeis

        The American model of democracy does not have a lot of the built in safeguards against the oligarchs that Parliamentary systems do

        Even if the US model is fatally flawed – and I have a horrible feeling it is – Liberal Democracies aren’t

      4. Hi Duncan,

        Thank you for replying.

        Pointing out that Liberal Democracy is doing well in New Zealand is a reasonable argument in support of the statement “Liberal Democracy is alive and well”.

        However, the fact that teenage pregnancies have been steadily falling for more than 50 years is not.
        https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db89.htm

        Either you need to better explain the connection or apply Occam’s razor so we can move on.

    2. But how, dfcord, would Roe in 1973 cause a huge drop in teen pregnancy between 1991 and now? 🙂 And how does less police action around marijuana decrease rates of drunkenness? (Numbers on drugs and alcohol probably come from surveys rather than analysis of crime data anyway, and I for one trust self-reporting to track trends.)
      Whether or not Millennials are smarter or more emotionally stable than other generations I don’t know, but I suspect the opposite is true. I’m reading Tom Nichols right now and he (like everyone else) talks about a paradox where the rise of new information in the form of TV and Internet has made us stupider. In particular, he mentions a 1990 Pew study which found that for the first time, young people (under 30) were not at least as well informed as their elders.

      1. IonCr,

        Thank you for your input.

        I am willing to concede a possible, even probable, reduction in teen pregnancy but I have still haven’t been provided a link or links to substantiate the claim.

        Furthermore, I am not quite sure how this is relevant to the Duncan’s original point “Liberal Democracy is alive and well”.

      2. I don’t intend any generation bashing. Each has its good points and bad points, and each has a role to play. That said, I don’t see anything wrong in pointing out areas where one excelled compared to others. Also, I don’t quite agree with Pew’s definitions. I instead go by the definitions arrived at by social scientists Neil Howe and William Strauss. Their breakdown of the living generations is as follows.
        GI generation 1901-1924
        Silent generation 1925-1942
        Boom generation 1943-1960
        Generation X 1961-1981
        Millennial gen. 1982-200?
        Homeland gen. 200?-20??
        The question marks for the end year for Millies is because they are still going through their coming of age period, and it will be sometime, maybe another decade, before we know where to draw the line between them and the next generation, which is still being born.

      3. Thank you for the Howe and Strauss reference. The wiki entry looks to be rather good…


        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss%E2%80%93Howe_generational_theory

        The interesting part is that it appears Howe and Strauss suggest a historical cyclical rise and fall every four generations (Saeculum periods of 70 to 120 years),

        The latest Saeculum being composed of…
        Baby Boomers 1943-1960
        Generation X 1961-1981
        Millennial Gen. 1982-2004
        Homeland Gen. 2005-present

        I am willing to accept these definitions of generations we are discussing.

        I will reserve judgement as to whether or not Howe and Strauss is right about history generally repeating itself every 100 years.

        However, I am inclined to believe each generation thinks they are unique and not a repetition of history when the opposite is usually true.

      4. @dfcord
        From Health and Human Services:
        https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/reproductive-health-and-teen-pregnancy/teen-pregnancy-and-childbearing/trends/index.html
        Teen pregancy was at .0618 in 1991, and down to .0203 in 2016. So, I would eyeball that as being around a 65% drop, which is still quite large.
        The point here, as Daniel says, is not to bash anyone but to look at these differences and try to determine what sort of sociological, political, and technological conditions led to them.
        But I am, in general, quite skeptical of the narrative that youth will save America. (Disclosure: I don’t like the part of the political spectrum associated with the spouting of this narrative.) It always seemed cynical and hateful to suggest that we don’t need to win arguments because we just need to wait for somebody to die. I also don’t think it’s going to be very effective. Gay marriage became accepted not because of generational change, but because the movement won over the citizenry. Or, to use another example, hoping that Republican identity politics will alienate the growing Latino population into your arms runs the risk of Republicans eventually re-inventing themselves, or of Latinos simply being unimpressed that your argument for their vote is based on their ethnicity.

      5. IonCr,

        It sounds like you and I agree more than we disagree. The fact that teenage pregnancy has been on the decline is probably not relevant to the discussion (unless someone can make the connection).

        The title of this thread is “What will replace Democracy?”.

        Some are suggesting nothing because “Liberal Democracy is alive and well”

        I am challenging this view.

        I believe history will repeat itself and we are destined for a reformation of some kind.

        Will it be just another blip as Howe and Strauss suggest? This would mean the reformation would be in the generation after the Homeland Gen.

        Or will if be a corporate nirvana as envision in several science fiction books.

        Or will it be another dark ages similar to what followed the fall of the Roman Empire.

        I hope I am wrong, but I think there is a good chance of the last scenario, possible started by some kind of nuclear exchange.

  12. Chris, if you are looking for the NEXT, I think you might want to examine a these articles, then think back to the 1600-1800’s.

    In short, Google plans on taking an industrial “wasteland”, bulldoze it, and build from the ground up (actually, starting underground), a city within the city of Toronto. It will be the most “wired” area on the planet. Lots of CCTV cameras, just like London, or China wrt to the dialogue on your last essays.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-41414872

    https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/03/02/the-risks-of-becoming-a-google-city.html

    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/googles-guinea-pig-city/552932/

    So let’s take that to the next logical step.

    So what would happen if Amazon announces tomorrow. “Yeah, about us choosing a new site for that 2nd HQ; We have done the math and we figure we have a better option for Amazon. We just purchased 25 square miles out farmland outside of Raleigh, and are going to build our own suburb/city.

    We will also own the fire dept, police dept, hospital, utilities, everything, or we will sub-contract out all those services privately. We have cut a deal with North Carolina so Amazon can also impose “service fees” on all citizens and corporations of Amazon City to pay for all the infrastructure in lieu of the the standard county tax.

    Oh, and we plan on wiring it so much it will make that Google City in Toronto look like some farmer’s field in Iowa, so we can keep track of all our citizens, for their safety.”

    Do you think any politician in the U.S. would raise his hand and say “Maybe this is not in the public’s best interest.”?

    We also had the The British East India Corporation, and the Hudson Bay Corporation, which owned far far more than a single city. I think history is indeed repeating itself. Now, when I say history is repeating itself, I know both those companies eventually lost the vast majority of their power and wealth, essentially by government decree. But they lost that power and wealth only after centuries of dominance. Are we seeing this happen again? I also know that both those companies were essentially proxies of the British government.

    So is this time different?

      1. I suggest there have been many companies thought to be too big to fail. In the ’60s GM and IBM were thought to be such companies.

        Here is a video from the ’64 World’s Fair…

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-5aK0H05jk

        It seems to be human nature to be strive to be better than others to the point of being like crabs in a bucket. To many, the fact others suffer makes them feel superior.

        To the question…
        Do you think any politician in the U.S. would raise his hand and say “Maybe this is not in the public’s best interest.”?

        Absolutely they would say that if for no other reason than to hold on to power.

        Dave

      2. EJ

        Both the VOC and the EIC eventually needed huge government (and military) bailouts when their corner-cutting approach led to social problems too large for them to handle.

        There’s a lesson in that, I think.

  13. Chris,
    I think you are on to something here.
    I may not like it, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t correct.

    I was listening to TED on NPR today which was discussing the need to listen to things we disagree with.

    It got me thinking that just about everyone is realizing we have devolved into tribalism and generally feeling the need to be a cheerleader for a particular side. Being the eternal optimist, we even Red State discussing the problem with trying to “own the libs” more people might realize this is unsustainable.

    The question is can we evolve and move forward or are we destined to repeat the mistakes of the Roman Empire?

    I suggest there are significant parallels, the US spends an inordinate amount of attention and resources on the military and the rich own politicians by buying them.

    My two cents to the conversation.

  14. Two things:

    Your essay has an organic flow to it, an ebb and flow that suggests the things you describe were all certain to happen.

    But maybe there were actions, proposed and rejected, that would have led to different outcomes.

    And maybe those past actions offer ideas for future acts.

    For example, from the FCC, the fairness doctrine, the equal-time rule, the personal attacks rule.

    I believe broadcast media attacks on government and government officials played a significant role in getting us to where we are now. Words matter.

    It’s as if the ebb and flow system you present so fluidly was in fact being constantly mauled by sharks.

    If government is indeed desperately short on expertise, what role did years of public degradation by celebrity sharks play in that? Can it be reversed?

    I also wonder about regulating CEO pay in relationship to the pay scales in their companies.

    If it had been required, would many of today’s workers be in better financial shape than they are? I think so.

    Item number two is corruption. As you investigate different political systems, I hope your checklist will include a corruptibility scale.

    In the U.S., we’ve incorporated capitalism into our legislation as if it is an unfettered good. It is not.

    But it does seem to create more opportunities for corruption by contractors and lobbyists for large corporations. Maybe corruption never goes away. Can it be kept in check?

    Looking forward to your posts.

    1. As I dug into this it started taking me places I really didn’t want to go. Several times I thought about just abandoning the idea. Frankly, I’m still not so sure about posting some of this stuff.

      You’re describing a fairly reasonable response to the declining effectiveness of democracy. Curb some of the disinformation and opportunism eating away at its margins and quality will improve. Perhaps, but it’s not likely enough to keep pace with competitors.

      Here’s one of the most upsetting things I noticed as I picked away at the story of Southwest Key – they are doing a better job than the institutions that came before them in practically every sense. They are faster, cheaper, and (don’t choke on this) more humane than govt run institutions in similar settings. Do all the fixing you want on the mechanics of democracy, you still face the emergence of non-governmental institutions on governments’ margins that can outclass official institutions at almost any task. And I’m not talking about Uber or Google. This seems to be true even of unimpressive, unsophisticated, rattletrap operations like Southwest Key.

      Ordinarily, backing up to take a wide perspective on current events is a calming exercise. Placed in the wide sweep of history, current events seem less upsetting. This is not having that effect on me. It’s making me a little ill. Help me be wrong about this.

      1. I have trouble with global statements like this —

        They are doing a better job than the institutions that came before them in practically every sense. They are faster, cheaper, and (don’t choke on this) more humane than govt run institutions in similar settings.

        — and the assumption of universality.

        I say this is as a former government sub-contractor of 15 years.

        Congressional critters often talked about the assumed cost-reductions associated with NASA’s use of contractors and sub-contractors, that NASA’s own operations would be so much costlier except for those plucky capitalistic contractors.

        It wasn’t true. Contractors are required to use the same pay scale the government uses for specific jobs.

        And they did. Their employees just didn’t receive the same benefits that governmental employees did.

        They didn’t receive the same awards which can mean a lot at NASA, the same bonuses, not even the same holiday schedule, even though they did the same work.

        The owners of contracting and sub-contracting businesses are the chief beneficiaries.

        Please don’t get too discouraged.

        If we want a democratic system, we’ll get a democratic system.

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