Democracy in action: vital new legislation passed, but none knows what it is!

The House passed important new legislation on June 26.  The subject was climate change, but it will affect America in a million impossible to anticipate ways. Of course, Congress does not care.  They have not bothered to read the bill, all 1,092 pages, nor has there been any serious studies to anticipate its consequences.  Two years of research and modeling might not suffice to understand its likely effects on the vast, complex US economy.

Nor, of course, has the field of climate science recieved the funding and staffing required to provide a basis for trillion-dollar impacts on the US economy.  It’s as if the Apollo project was conducted out of a garage in Palo Alto, CA.

About HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009

This is like Lord of the Flies, children pretending to be a government.  It ended badly for them, and will probably end badly for us.  Such large process errors in the operation of our government might eventually prove lethal for our peace and prosperity.  Perhaps for the Republic itself.

Anthropogenic global warming might be a servere threat.  This bill might be wonderful, perfection in legislation.  We don’t know, and don’t care.  It’s an odd way to run a nation. Links to past posts about climate change appear below the fold.

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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For more information

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:

18 thoughts on “Democracy in action: vital new legislation passed, but none knows what it is!

  1. For a point of comparison, look at the National Labor Relations Act.

    It doesn’t matter what you think of the NLRA, it has been on the books and has been reasonably effective for seventy-odd years now. My point is just to point out its bulk size in contrast to this latest bill.

    Caveat: the NLRA has been amended several times over the years; so what you are viewing is not the original Wagner Act.

  2. I can’t argue with your point, FM. It’s almost cruel, like laughing at someone disabled. Of course no one could read this bill. I couldn’t even read one sub-sub-section of it. But someone did have to write it. Who could that have been?

    William Grieder’s Who Will Tell the People? gives a good account of the way legislation is routinely written. Basically, most of it comes pre-packaged as “briefing papers” from lobbyists and think tanks. The one sub-sub-section I did read, dealing with the timetable for introducing emission standards on old coal-fired electricity plants, clearly had industry finger-prints all over it, allowing ten years from the present to reach a reduction of 50%, with unspecified penalties in case of failure.

    But it’s always been this way. However we would like to believe in the liberal ideal of a government of neutral experts, the government is really just like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz — if it only had a brain!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: We have very different views of this.

    “It’s almost cruel, like laughing at someone disabled. … the government is really just like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz”

    The government is an abstraction; it’s just a group of people. In this sense, calling them “diabled” or “lacking a brain” is like calling bankers stupid. Both the senior elements in government and banks profited handsomely from their “stupid” behavior. We are the marks, the little people who pay dearly for these events. So who is stupid?

    “But it’s always been this way.”

    Perhaps. But it need not always be this way. That is the key point.

  3. Since unionization has effectively been made illegal throughout America, the NLRA proves as meaningless as legislation forbidding the wearing of hoop skirts. So discussing the NLRA proves wholly irrelevant.

    We’re dealing with global impacts on a global economy which produces global climatic change, and most of the carbon emissions will soon come from the third world — specifically, China. The success or failure of the American economy in controlling its carbon emissions therefore has little relevance to global warming.

    In the book Human Scale (1980), Kirkpatrick Sale pointed out that when systems grow too big, they collapse of their imponderability. The same thing may be happening to the U.S. economy and political system. It has certainly already happened to the U.S. military establishment. Beyond a certain size of government, bureaucratic sclerosis sets in. Congress doesn’t read the bills it passes because its members don’t have time: too many other agencies of the government bombard them with too much information already. In any organization, the number of interactions increases as the square of the number of people, and by the time the House of Representatives hit 500 people, it became unworkable. Perhaps when the United States reached 330 million people, it became unworkable too.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: To say “unionization has effectively been made illegal throughout America” seems quite exaggerated. First, the examples of so many unionized industries collapsing has probably played a role in union elections, as have the too numerous to mention examples of union corruption. Second, unionization continues to advance among government employees (slowed only by the fact most are already in unions).

  4. I’m not sure how many bills they ever read, aren’t they just told what to vote for?
    As you said the impact on the vast and complex US economy is the great unknown, there are perhaps a handful of congressmen who could grasp the full implications of the bill, the vast majoraty of the rest have to take advise from there party and there own policy advisers.
    Whatever your feeling on the issue at hand, it is not realistic for a congress man to read every bill that passes his way, at the end of the day it is to local issues that he is responsable, does this bill screw my district? no, good, is my Party for it? yes, Ok, briefing team, is there anything thats going to blindside me on this, no? ok, rubber stamp that, what next on the agenda! I’m not sure how you would improve on it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Whether the bill has been adequately analyzed is the key point. That nobody in Congress has bothered to read the bill is just a way of explaining this carelessness and irresponsibility to the public.

    “I’m not sure how you would improve on it.”

    You appear to take the position that analysis of legisation’s impact is either impossible or unnecessary. The first is clearly false; the second is nuts.

  5. Senecal in comment #2: “It’s almost cruel, like laughing at someone disabled. … the government is really just like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz”

    FM reply: “We have very different views of this.”

    If you weren’t laughing, you were expressing contempt or Olympian amazement at the idea that Congress could pass a major bill without reading it. That’s about the same, in my view, as saying Congress is a joke.

    Let me expand on my idea that the government lacks a brain: 1) a newly elected Congressman rarely knows much beyond his own district’s concerns; 2) few congressmembers have technical knowledge in fields like climate change; 2) cabinet secretaries are routinely chosen from the businesses they are supposed to regulate, Treasury being an obvious example. This is not necessarily wrong, and in some senses natural — who else could structure a complex financial intervention than someone who knows the area from the inside?

    Under Roosevelt (both) the idea of the government as a neutral third party, a body of experts, refereeing between business and the public interest, was born. In my view, it’s more accurate to see government as merely the managerial agent of the business class — the business class’s legal arm. In that sense, the government has no brain — no deliberative faculty separate from the interests of its employer.

    I once asked my own Senator (Boxer) what sources of news she relied on (hoping she might mention one or two internet sources). She hesitated a minute, then said “well, the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, and, um, our own great paper, the Marin Independent Journal.”
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    Fabius Maximus replies: No, I said exactly the opposite.

    “That’s about the same, in my view, as saying Congress is a joke.”

    If so, it’s not funny. Your theory that congresscritters are like “disabled” people is IMO cracked. They have prestige and power while in office. Few retire after even a few terms poorer than they arrived. The retirement benefits are beyond anything enjoyed except by senior officials of large corporations. We should all have such disabilities.

    “Let me expand on my idea that the government lacks a brain:”

    You are suffereing from a serious case of reification. The government is, in the sense you use it, an abstraction. It is just a group of people. Despite your contempt (not shared by me), they are doing just fine. The civil servants in general earn adequate salaries with great benefits (vs. private sector peers), with the VERY valuable benefit of high job security. The senior folks do far far better. You might be dissatisfied with the result, but I doubt that they care.

    “In my view, it’s more accurate to see government as merely the managerial agent of the business class”

    I believe that is an oversimplification. It is controlled, like almost everything else in America, by our elite. That is, different factions exercise control over different sections of the government. For some factions, control of parts of the government are their primary source of power. It’s a complex network, but largely operating with little citizen control. We have TV, video games, fast food, and dope. Many Americans consider that adequate.

  6. Comment #4: “I’m not sure how you would improve on it.”

    FM reply: “You appear to take the position that analysis of legisation’s impact is either impossible or unnecessary. The first is clearly false; the second is nuts.

    I meant how can the congressional system of reviewing legislation could be improved, I’m not sure that it is possible without fundamentally altering the way congress works. It is a political process, not peer review, if we want more considered legislation we should develop a technocracy held in check by a powerful judiciary.
    Otherwise the comedy duo of rep/dem is all we got.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The framework exists today in the CBO and CRS. We lack citizen involvement and higher standards for the legislature. In that sense I agree that “fundamental change” is necessary.

  7. Let me expand on Senecal’s idea that the government lacks a brain, looking at the executive. The newly elected President knows almost nothing beyond his own district’s concerns. Few Presidents have technical knowledge in fields like climate change or medical care strategy. Presidents are typically chosen for their ability to “inspire”, not for their competence in any particular practical area relating to governing.

    The President is told what to think by those who program his teleprompter. Beyond that, there is really no need.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I suspect that this is not the rule. FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan — all of these had strong policy preferences, which they imposed on their administrations.

  8. We are witnessing the beginning of a collapse of our political system. First, they destroyed our industrial base, to evade the successes created for our working people. Then they destroyed our balance of payments to preserve the integrity of Big Oil — you know the Trust we “broke up” around 1905. Then they destroyed the financial system by allowing the Congress to fix the mortgage market. Now they are going to enroll us all in payment for global warming while assuming control of our healthcare. Certainly, they are We and we had better get moving on removing taxing authority from Washington and restoring our federal system of government. If we do not, this country will be ruled by gunmen at midcentury.

  9. At the end of “The Great Bubble Machine” by Matt Taibbi, as referenced in an earlier post on this site, the author lays out a case that Cap-and-Trade will be the next speculative bubble to be arbitraged by the likes of Goldman Sachs.

    Perhaps this helps explain why Congress is applying the same in-depth scrutiny that it has to the various financial sector “bailouts.” Legislation like this is pre-sold inventory, no need to spend a lot of time as for a custom order . . .

  10. When I lived in Baltimore, a plumber was working in my apartment through a hole in the wall. He had to discontinue working because roaches were falling onto his hands at such a high rate, he couldn’t see the work. They had to bring in a fumigator to beat down the roach population enough for him to finish.
    That’s how I view the congress. They are so infested by the political equivalent of cockroaches, they simply cannot function. It’s time to bring in the fumigators and get the roach count down to where serious work can resume.
    I enjoyed this link to {a video of} an honest discussion of how regulatory capture affected Great Britain. “How did we get into this mess?A lack of historical understanding, feelings of euphoria and the overwhelming complexity of the banks’ products are to blame for the financial crisis.”, The Guardian, 26 February 2009.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The dyanmics of regulatory capture have been well understood since the 1950’s. We just prefer to pretend that it does not exist, expressing repeated surprise at each failure of regulatory agencies. “Let’s pretend” is not a good way to run a nation.

  11. FM: “Mohammed a warrior, a conqueror.

    I dont think thats quite correct , at least in implication.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have evidence that the standard history is incorrect? The Wikipedia summary states more-or-less the consensus version. See sections 4.2.2 to 4.3.2.

  12. And the pretense of legitimacy slips down another rung. Beware, don’t stand near an officer who might “feel” threatened. “Candidate to confront deputies over raid“, Union-Tribune (of San Diego), 29 June 2009 — “Host, guest arrested at Busby fundraiser.” Excerpt:

    Francine Busby says she will demand an explanation from the Sheriff’s Department about deputies breaking up a fundraising party held for her in Cardiff and arresting the host. … It ended with Barman {the host}, 60, being arrested and jailed on suspicion of battery on a peace officer, and resisting, delaying and obstructing a peace officer. Pam Morgan, 62, a Rancho Santa Fe resident and one of the guests, also was arrested and taken to the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station, where she was cited for resisting, delaying and obstructing a peace officer. Other partygoers were doused with pepper spray, and seven deputies, a sergeant and a helicopter were dispatched to the neighborhood of expensive homes.

    Busby, Barman, guests at the party and a Sheriff’s Department spokesman provided varying accounts of what happened. Busby, 58, a Democrat seeking the 50th Congressional District seat in 2010, said she will meet with Sheriff Department officials today to find out who made what she called a “phony” noise complaint.

  13. Who writes these bills? The staff do. They also reduce the bill to a nice one page summary that their boss can review in between fundraisers. Of course when they are not writing / analyzing bills these mandarins get dirt on one another and use that to peddle influence in Washington. For a far better analysis on this please see “‘Kooks,’ Blue-State Republicans, Rick Moran, and the Messaging Problem by R.S. McCain:

    This “ambition gap” is what really divides the elite from the grassroots, and it explains why foreign policy and winning the White House are inextricably linked as twin obsessions for the GOP elite. The power exercised by Congress is great, but the most prestigious congressional staff position — the Chief of Staff, of whom there are 535 on Capitol Hill — is essentially a behind-the-scenes management gig.

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    Fabius Maximus replies: This procedural details are important, but IMO symptomatic of a larger and more important problem — these bills are thrown together, with far too little analysis of their effects. Like a group of both generalists and specialists designing a car from scratch over a weekend. The CBO and Congressional Research service reports are useful first steps, but nothing remotely close to what would be required for effective legislation for matters such as carbon credits and national health care.

  14. OK, I’ve been shot down in my efforts {in comment #1} to cite the NLRA as effective yet brief legislation. So let me try again. Here’s the Sherman Antitrust Act. Warning, if this is not good enough, I will follow through with a link to Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: IMO you were not “shot down” about the NLRA, as Mclaren’s “unionization has been made illegal” is absurd (comment #3), for reasons I described in my reply.

  15. Passage of this bill makes clear the absolute contempt with which Congress regards the People. Clearly, our “representatives” feel no obligation to do their jobs—some aspects of which are to write comprehensible and sensible laws, to think about the implications of proposed legislation (especially the unintended consequences), and to hold forth in public debate about these matters. Worse, they believe we are too stupid to notice their misfeasance, or they do not care about our outrage.

    Whatever the unknown details of “Cap and Trade” may be, its fundamental intent is clearly to expand the powers of government vastly and to increase taxes. It is, of course, worrying that we don’t know the magnitude of these effects, because we haven’t been told (and our “representatives” can’t even claim to know themselves). Most worrisome of all is that this increased burden is being dropped upon us from on high at a time that could not be more inauspicious. Our financial and economic structures are already teetering. This blow may very well prove fatal.

    Here is a question that has been troubling me: Is this an unintended consequence?

  16. Duncan: I, too, thought your example a good one. This is truly as complex as laws should ever get. Indeed, this is positively lapidary prose, compared to what’s concocted by our Congress in more recent times. (For something really short and sweet, try U.S. Code : Title 10 : Section 311.)

    Excesses like Cap and Trade make one ponder draconian solutions. If I were to write a constitution for a hypothetical new republic based upon principles of rational government, I would include something like this:

    “There shall be no more than 200 laws in effect at any one time. No law shall be composed of more than 1000 words. Before being passed, a randomly chosen statistically significant sample of citizens must be impaneled, given opportunity to read the law, and examined as to their understanding of it. If less than 90% of the citizens fail to comprehend the proposed law, it cannot be passed.”

    They say maybe Mars can be made habitable…

  17. Well, thanks for the support folks. That bolsters my faith in democracy or something.

    Anyhow, I have been citing all these horse-and-buggy statutes from a bygone era, which might suggest in today’s high tech, Michael Jackson-oriented society, more involved rules are just plain necessary.

    To rebut that suggestion, I will present the Rotterdam Rules. These are a set of proposed international rules for the shipping industry. They are causing a big stir if the carriage trade. I haven’t read them, don’t really want to, but probably some day will have to. The point is that they are 39 pages long, so that would be feasible.

    And they’re brand new.

  18. On the contrary: the statement that unionization in America has effectively been made illegal is not only not absurd, it’s now universal throughout private industry. Whichever industry you look at, you see unions banned, for all practical purposes. Wal*Mart, the largest private employer in America, shuts down any store in which a union starts. Unions have systematically been shut down throughout the private sector in America — only public sector unions are permitted in America now.

    The evidence is overwhelming and FM is simply uninformed about the staggering scale of corporate anti-union efforts. See the report “Corporate anti-union behavior is widespread,” also see 1 in 5 union organizers gets fired for trying to unionize workers, also see Union-busting firms profit from corporate fear of workers’ rights, also see America exports ugly union-busting. In addition to outright overt union-busting, outsourcing is systematically destroying unionization in America as third-world workers who cannot unionize get the jobs formerly held by unionized American workers. See Outsourcing the American economy: A greater threat than terrorism. See this video of lawyers showing companies how to evade the law so as to replace legitimate U.S. workers with non-unionizable 3rd world H1B visa workers.

    The Sherman Antitrust Act has been gutted just as badly as the NLRA, so citing the Sherman Act as model legislation is an even worse idea. Once again, the evidence is overwhelming. In 1996 there were 18 major ISPs in America, today there are only 9. 20 years ago a dozen giant corporations competed to publish books and release movies and CDs, today only 4 giant media monopolies control the movie industry and the book industry and the music industry. Wherever you look, monopolies and dupolies and tetrapolies conspire to dominate the corporate landscape. Microsoft controls 90% of the computer market for operating systems, WestLaw has a monopoly on legal citations, most Americans face a duopoly when choosing broadband internet service (phone company / cable company their own 2 choices), and of cable TV companies have long abused their monopoly power to raise prices far beyond the rate of inflation.

    The result of Monopoly Capitalism in America has been skyrocketing prizes and deteriorating quality. Microsoft Vista costs $400, yet is riddled with bugs and consumers don’t want it: U.S. broadband internet service is the slowest and most expensive in the first world. The list goes on and on. The Sherman Antitrust Act is useless, worthless, pointless, ineffective, and for all practical purposes does not exist.

    Citing these kind of colossally failed pieces of legislation as examples of how to legislate is like citing the voyage of the Titanic as an example of how to run a successful cruise line.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Even if all of this is true (IMO some is, some is not, some is debateable), none of this shows that unions are illegal. “Illegal” means that the government uses its police power to surpress unions, and you show zero evidence of this. The current labor-management balance is tilted against unions, after the decades-long New Deal tilt in favor of unions. But that public policy does not mean unions are illegal.

    “Unions have systematically been shut down throughout the private sector in America”

    Do you have any evidence of this? Unionized industries have proven uncompetitive — esp vs. those employing illegal workers or facing foreign competition. But how many have been actually “shut down”?

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