One of my weaknesses is that I tend to have too much confidence in people’s ability to change. You know how it is: one thinks, “we talked it over, things will be different now”. Maybe, but usually not. Most people just don’t change their behavior unless you create incentives and penalties to force and cement the transition. You pay managers on different metrics. You take the TV away from the child.
When I recognized this weakness early in my professional life, it forced me to develop a sensitivity to broken systems and processes. In any situation where people are not doing what is expected, I always ask myself, “what is the structural reason for this behavior?” It’s a valuable skill. Who has the wrong incentives? Who has a job that is undefined? Who is taking advantage of weak or inconsistent penalties? How can we change the systems that drive human behavior?
There is no greater system of broken processes, mismatched incentives, and ineffective penalties than the system by which Americans govern themselves and their economy. Concentrations of economic power have created concentrations of political power and private citizens, particularly in the lower and middle classes, hold less of that power every day. There are structural reasons for this: too much money in politics, underfunded government agencies, gerrymandering of congressional districts, voter suppression, and a weak-kneed media — among others.
But don’t just take my word for it. Most of my thinking on the structural weaknesses in the American political process and economy come from Robert Reich’s excellent book Saving Capitalism (and particularly the first two-thirds of it). Seriously, even if you don’t agree with my politics, read the book for a very interesting take on how the rules of the game have gotten away from us.
So what are we going to do about it? At some point we have to stop electing even highly qualified people to play the same old roles in the same old broken game. We need to change rules, processes, and penalties to shift more power back into the hands of working people. There is only one candidate for President who is talking about this kind of revolution: Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senator Sanders earned my vote tonight at the Utah Democratic Caucus (March 22nd).
For the record: Sanders earns my support because he recognizes that we have common strategic and structural problems underlying almost everything we wish to change in the American political process and economy. I think universal health care (not health insurance) is a valuable pursuit; I think the cost of college education needs to come down and down to zero would be ideal. But what excites me about these proposals is that they could be outcomes of fundamental and persistent structural reform and not just tactical wins. They would be outcomes that show we truly govern ourselves as “we the people”.
Yes I know:
- Hillary Clinton is highly qualified to be President, perhaps the most qualified candidate in decades. If she is the Democratic nominee I will be there for her in November.
- Hillary Clinton has had a lot of dirt thrown at her and perhaps some of it has been justified. I don’t consider that stuff in my support of Sanders.
- Donald Trump will probably be the Republican nominee and a Trump presidency is so horrifying that progressives need to aim for the strongest possible candidate. I think either Sanders or Clinton will beat Trump badly.
To be fair, I don’t believe that a Bernie Sanders presidency is the best way to achieve the kind of revolution that he and Reich talk about. What we really need is to energize progressive voters in mid-year elections and on down-ballot positions like Senators, Congressmen, state legislatures, and governors. Only then will we turn this country’s politics and economy into the kinds of systems that work for all Americans. But let’s at least start with the presidency and go from there.
On to the general election!