Enough analysis! America is broken. Here are some ways to fix it.

Summary: So many posts on the FM website have discussed our problems in depressing detail. Today let’s discuss solutions. How can we reform American’s politics? This post summarizes my dozens of posts on the subject. See tomorrow’s post “Organizing for successful political reform.” {1st of 2 posts today}

“Everything is very simple in politics, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction, which no man can imagine exactly who has not seen politics.”
— Chapter VII of On War by Clausewitz, slightly paraphrased.

Fire of the Soul

Contents

  1. Our problem
  2. The path to a better America
  3. Where we are today
  4. The road ahead
  5. Building an organization
  6. When do we get to do protests?
  7. For More Information

(1) Our problem

Strictly speaking, there is no problem with America’s political regime. The American people have the right to choose how they are governed. If we choose to be passive, allowing power to pass into the hands of the 1%, that’s our inalienable right.

So our challenge is to reawaken our fellow citizens. We want rights and liberty, but lack a willingness to work for it — and to carry the burdens of self-government that accompany rights and liberty. For more about this, see How can we arouse a passion to reform America in the hearts of our neighbors? and Can we reignite the spirit of America?

(2)  The path to a better America

My series about America has sparked many comments, mostly elaborate reasons why surrender and apathy are our best options (see some examples). My opinion about ways to reform America is simple. The formula is deliberately non-partisan. Left or Right, I believe more citizen activism will put us back on our true path.

  • We are in this together.  America is a ship; we are its crew (not passengers).
  • Individually we are weak.  Collectively we are strong.
  • Our reluctance to take personal responsibility for the Republic is our greatest problem.
  • What are the odds of success at fixing America?  It does not matter; nobody cares about the odds. Our forefathers didn’t. Our descendants won’t listen to our excuses.

 

(3)  Where we are today (the bad news)

“Choice. The problem is choice.”
— Neo, The Matrix Reloaded.

America cannot reform today.  In fact we’re losing, and have been for decades. The 1% has planned, mobilized resources, and built organizations to reshape America. Now they earn the just results of their investments and effort. After decades of slow progress, the 1% power has entered the steep part of the “S”-shaped growth curve. See these posts describing the bad news…

Power Button
Build an organization, then press the button.

(4)  The road ahead

We are weak and losing. That is not cause for despair (go here to learn why), but recognition that we have yet to take the first step on the long road to a new politics for America.

A long road lies ahead of those who choose to participate in this project. It will take years or decades of work to convince our fellow Americans to again accept the burden and responsibility of self-government. Perhaps years more after that to regain control of America.

What will success look like, since it will probably create a polity different than ours? For example, will it take the form of a revitalized Second Republic (that built upon the Constitution), or has that regime exhausted itself — so that we must build the Third Republic?

(5)  Building an organization

“Perhaps you should forget logic and devote yourself to motivations of passion or gain. Those are reasons for mass political action.”
— Advice of Shras (Andorian Ambassador to the Federation) to Spock in “Journey to Babel”, slightly paraphrased.

No matter what the result, the process advances by organizations built upon recognition of the problem and dedicated to a solution. That requires overcoming the atomization of society — reducing us to powerless individuals. Not only have the organizations that produced collective action collapsed (e.g., unions and mass political parties), but both Left and Right have become actively hostile to organizing anything tighter than a street party.

The first step must be to build organizations. Protests and attempts to institute reforms are useful as a means to organize, but otherwise waste time and resources (we’re too weak, too atomized to accomplish much today). That means finding common grounds to form alliances rather than seeking a remnant of doctrinal purity. Seeking political reform rather than utopia.

The resulting coalitions need not agree except in broad details.  When seeking independence the Founders did not agree on the form of the new government, nor did abolitionists have one vision for the fate of slaves after abolition. For more about our situation see these posts…

Building an organization requires recruiting, motivating, training, and retaining a cadre of people — then they mobilize far larger numbers. It’s among the most complex and difficult of social processes. For more about this see these posts…

(6)  When do we get to do protests?

Left and Right, everybody loves protests! The rush of marching on the streets, waving placards, getting on TV, feeling part of a greater whole that’s doing great deeds. They’re an effective tool of an organization (or coalition), a means to display power and gain support. They’re no substitute for organization. Movements with weak organizational backbones are easily co-opted (e.g., the Tea Party) or crushed (Occupy). For more about protests see these posts…

An empowered Individual

(7)  Making us individually more powerful

There’s much talk these days about the ability of technology to make us more politically powerful, empowered or even super-empowered. I’m skeptical. But without high tech there are many things we can do as individuals. See these 5 suggestions.

Political movements often ask people to make some change in their thinking or actions. I suggest asking people to see the world more clearly, to break free of tribal truths. Be skeptical and remember our past (aka learning).  For more about this see these posts…

(8)  For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts Reforming America, steps to a new politics; this includes posts about arousing anger to drive reform and how to use music.

 

 

26 thoughts on “Enough analysis! America is broken. Here are some ways to fix it.

  1. Excellent. However, in your observations about the odds of success of the reform movement (section 2) you say that “nobody cares, not our forefathers, not our descendants.” Not true. Our descendants definitely will care, a lot. For that matter, our forefathers are probably turning over in their graves at what has become of their grand experiment.

    1. chsulka,

      Thanks for pointing to that amiguity in that paragraph. I “nobody cares” to refer to the previous sentence. I rewrote it:”What are the odds of success at fixing American? It does not matter; nobody cares about the odds. Our forefathers didn’t. Our descendants won’t listen to our excuses.”

  2. Fabius,

    Good content, only thing I would add to it is that you should mention that this process is iterative. Our first organizations will peter out and fail. Our first shouts of outrage will be dismissed. Our first attempts to upset the status quo will be nullified.

    The trick will be taking what worked the first time and using it again. Discerning what works and does not as we relearn this process.

    PF Khans

    1. PF Khan,

      “Our first organizations will peter out and fail.”

      Why do you say that? History suggests that the first organizations in reform movements often take a leadership role even as others grow. I agree the social reform process is iterative, one of trial and error.

      America’s first anti-slavery group, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, was founded in 1775. It became the model for others, was a leader in the antebellum years, and exists today doing good work.

      The big four civil rights organizations all remained effective through the 1960’s civil rights era which accomplished their goals: the NAACP (1909), Congress of Racial Equality (1942), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1960). Each was the first substantial group tapping their community.

      In Britain the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed in 1787, and remained large and effective until superseded by the still broader Anti-Slavery Society in 1823.

    2. Fabius Maximus,

      That’s kind of a deterministic view. Yes, the successful organizations that started and continued to exist continued to exist. But the NAACP, for example, was originally called the Niagra Movement and disbanded after 5 years before reforming again. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Association_for_the_Advancement_of_Colored_People Regardless, I think the essential question about this, is do you think that the only people who organized about slavery in 1775 were the Pennsylvania Abolition Society? Ditto during the Civil rights movements? I think it’s far more likely that there were at least dozens of groups of like-minded citizens who felt that these issues warranted attention, made an attempt to build something and failed. Jesus’ parable of the sower comes to mind. Some never hear His word, some hear it and have it choked out by life, and some hear it and blossom.

      Additionally, I think it’ll be harder for us now. The organizations that you’re describing are coming from people where organization was a fact of life and essential to everyday survival. Churches, community groups and businesses existed because they had to exist. Transferring skills and lessons learned from those activities to ones of public interest were easier than, I assume, from today’s organization of choice, the “startup” company.

      PF Khans

    3. PF Khan,

      “I think the essential question about this, is do you think that the only people who organized about slavery in 1775”

      It is a well-documented fact that they were the first, which was your point.

      “from today’s organization of choice, the “startup” company.”

      You’re reading too much from the business press. Most American startups have as much contact with “startup companies” (in the Silicon Valley sense) as with SHIELD. I would want to see some evidence that “organization was a fact of life” more for the people of late 1700s and early 1800s than today. It sounds unlikely to me.

    1. Peter,

      First, there are few ideas “untried in history”. One of the two examples you give — a debt jubilee — appears in Leviticus 25:8-13. Second, I doubt that successful political movements often appear around such narrow ideas as a debt jubilee or “to give power to central banks to transfer cash in equal amounts to all households.”

      Please support your assertion with some examples from history.

    2. Marxism is everyone’s favorite example of a powerfully influential idea. Unfortunately it was flawed as an intellectual construct thus a fail with respect to my two criteria stated above. Another was civil rights which gained political adherents because it was both intellectually sound and a new idea who’s time had come.
      I believe the time is ripe for new macroeconomic thinking and important policy changes that flow from same. For a long time we have assumed that economies are intrinsically stable, that shocks and perturbations occur but market forces always act to calm the economic waters eventually. This notion is attributed even to Keynes, but he was not so sure of this.
      Here:
      http://ecologicalheadstand.blogspot.ca/2011/02/self-adjusting-economic-system.html?m=1
      Is Keynes musing about this question.
      An out take:
      “Meanwhile, I hope we shall await, with what patience we can command, a successful outcome of the great activity of thought among economists today —- a fever of activity such as has not been known for a century. We are, in my very confident belief —- a belief, I fear, shared by few, either on the right or on the left —- at one of those uncommon junctures of human affairs where we can be saved by the solution of an intellectual problem, and in no other way. If we know the whole truth already, we shall not succeed indefinitely in avoiding a clash of human passions seeking an escape from the intolerable. But I have a better hope.”

      I believe we are in or are entering such a time again, only this time our tools are much more powerful. Our increased understanding of non linear systems combined with the computing power to simulate them places us at the threshold of a new world in economic thinking. The old guard; Krugman, Delong, are ill equipped for this, but others are blazing these new trails. These are exciting new ideas who’s time has come.

    3. Peter,

      (1) Marxism

      Obvi. I believe almost everyone knew that Marxism is quite flawed somewhere between 1970 and 1990.

      (2). “For a long time we have assumed that economies are intrinsically stable, that shocks and perturbations occur but market forces always act to calm the economic waters eventually”

      That’s vaguely stated but wrong. Mainstream economists have not believed that in any meaningful sense since the 1930s. That is, there are multiple equilibria (I.e., depressions might knock an economy down to a lower but stable level of activity) — or long periods of recovery (I.e., Keynes comment that “economists set themselves too easy a task” …).

      You really need to read an Economics 101 textbook. Your comments are largely wrong, in ways a sophomore could correct.

    1. Elle,

      Nothing unusual, the standard mass movement model used in the abolition, suffragette, and civil rights movement. However the comments here strengthen my suspicion from reading the news: the clock might be too early to even start that. We might be at the early stage — linking like-minded people into small networks. Like the Committees of Correspondence in the early 1770s or the British abolitionists in the early 1780s.

      It’s vital that we have realism about our situation, to avoid premature hopes dashed by reality. We’re losing. We’re going to continue losing for years. The key now is to lay the groundwork for winning later. That means copying what previous reform movements did in their infancy — not what they did in the later stages when winning. The early stages make the latter stages possible.

    2. Elle “Based on your analysis, what type of an organization is most urgently needed?”

      One of the reasons Students for a Democratic Society was successful in organizing a base against the Vietnam war in the mid to late 1960’s was that it had established a network of local chapters at many University campuses across the country, These groups carried on education campaigns about the nature of the war on these campuses and in many instances were able to build coalitions with liberal faculty, newly emerging campus black power groups and to a limited extent, local church/community groups in some college towns. College campuses were also relatively easy places to find recruits for membership in local chapters.

      By late 1968-1969 SDS on a national level was turning into a disaster when its Weatherman faction staged a coup at its national convention, severing its linkage with its campus base and choosing to pursue a Leninist/underground strategy. Consequently the development of an alternative political vision that could appeal to a majority of Americans was never even attempted.

      Once the civil rights movement moved out of the South (where it had relied for its success on local churches/businesses/community support) and began to try to organize in northern cities, it too was never able to formulate a successful organizing strategy for structural reform that was capable of creating the necessary alliances and discipline to maintain the moral high-ground and create an alternative political vision that might appeal across ethnic and class lines.

      The organizing failures of the New Left and the Black power movements of the 1960s/early 1970s continue to plague us in 2015..

    3. Jim,

      I agree on all points. But these spectacular collapses usually have multiple causes. In addition to the problems you mention there is a second level — deeper causes: both movements fulfilled their goals. Re-energizing a movement with new goals is difficult, especially without strong leadership.

      By 1968 the civil rights movement had achieved most of its original goals (formulated in the 1940s and 1950s), focused on ending “Jim Crow”, restrictions on voting, and legalized discrimination. Also, the assassination of MLK on 4 April 1968 eliminated their wisest and best-known major leader.

      During the 1968 campaign Nixon promised to end the draft. On 27 March 1969 he commissioned the President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force. On 19 September 1969 Nixon cancelled the November and December draft calls, announced future calls would be far smaller as he “Vietnamizated” the war. These measures gutted the anti-war movement — which was largely rooted in the self-interests of male college students and their female friends. This left the structure weak and open for the take-over by elements who had larger goals.

    1. Elle,

      Thank you for the kind feedback. These posts don’t feel wise to me. Or even deep, just statements of the obvious. There are so many people who understand these matters so much better than I — from perspectives of history, theory, operational dynamics, and current affairs. I don’t know why there are no many articles saying these things, in a superior way.

      Perhaps this is what its like to be a guy with one eye — a myopic astigmatic eye, with a cataract — in the kingdom of the blind?

      Alternative solution: they’re not saying these things because they’re smart. This message is unpopular. Bad box office.

  3. Fabius, you write a lot about this concept, and please forgive me, but can you say more about this (or point me to the link I’ve not read thoroughly where you flesh this idea out): “The first step must be to build organizations. …That means finding common grounds to form alliances rather than seeking a remnant of doctrinal purity. Seeking political reform rather than utopia.”

    I ask because I can’t even begin to understand how this can come about. How can such an organization form or exist and have any ability to effect change? What kind of organization will be able to attract enough interest to make something like that happen?

    I think of the organization No Labels, which describes itself as “a growing citizens’ movement of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving.” Have you heard of it? Has anyone else on this blog heard of it? Is it, or another organization like it, having any impact? I was excited about this group when I first learned about it years ago, but after two presidential elections, continuous political gridlock, and not much to show for it, I figure it is just more pie-in-the-sky/wishful thinking rather than an organization that really makes any fruitful changes to our political system.

    In short, I agree with your thesis, but I don’t understand how it can be implemented. And from what I read on this blog, I am not sure you know how either, though I applaud you for advocating on its behalf. I am pessimistic that it is possible, because human nature, and tribalism, tie us into behaviors that we have a very hard time resisting.And I don’t want to be pessimistic about this, but frankly I’m very discouraged that anything can change. The 0.01%, those who control the economy of the world, have so many effective tools to distract the masses. Which means there will be no real rising up, no real revolution, no change. If it won’t change without a revolution, it seems that too is either doomed to fail, like the kind in Les Miserables, or is co-opted by the powers that be, like every other revolution ever.

    Same as it ever was, same as it ever was…

    1. gbutera,

      I think you are looking at the end of reform movements, not their beginning. That’s where we are now.

      The Pennsylvania Abolition Society was founded in April 1775 by 24 men. The Testonites, one of Britain’s first antislavery societies, was founded in the early 1780s by a small group of people. The Committees of Correspondence were small groups in each colonies, of a dozen or so.

      As PF Khan said, the beginnings of reform movements have many small groups — amidst which new ideas ferment, and the best grow and combine. Big things have small beginnings.

    2. “I think of the organization No Labels, which describes itself as “a growing citizens’ movement of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving.” Have you heard of it? Has anyone else on this blog heard of it? Is it, or another organization like it, having any impact? ”

      I remember “No Labels”. Did you ever look at web site, its founders and “leaders”? It was **entirely** a creature of professional Beltway hacks. It’s only redeeming virtue was that it was so obviously hackish that it attracted pretty much zero interest from anybody who wasn’t himself a political consultant, and so it faded into a swift and well-earned oblivion. Maybe while it lasted it garnered some tax dodges and consulting fees for the tapeworms, ahem, sorry, “citizens”, in its org chart.

      Can you cite a single tangible proposal from “No Labels”? “Problem solving” tells me absolutely nothing if there’s no mention of what exactly is considered a “problem”.

  4. I’m not looking at the end of reform movements, or wasn’t suggesting that as my focus in my comment. I even listed a relatively newish organization that started to try to change the way things are developed in political institutions in America. My point is that I don’t believe that such an organization will be effective because tribalism and human nature are powerful forces.

    My point is that despite the post including “and here’s how to fix it” in your title, I don’t see you discussing any real way to fix it.

    I’m not sure your example of the pennsylvania abolition society becoming a larger and successful movement is a relevant model here either. In that case, small organizations came together to change one distinct and very clear policy — to end slavery. Your post is about how to fix all of America. The problems needed to do that are numerous and diverse and the potential solutions, losers and winners are manifold. Just saying that we need to come together in new organizations, while nice and all, isn’t really a starting point if there isnt a likely chance that anyone will agree on anything.

    1. gbutera,

      I suspect we have a miscommunication here. I’ll try to be more specific in replying to the points you raise.

      (1) “I’m not looking at the end of reform movements …”

      By that I meant using end-state movements as your standard of comparison for early stage groups (like No Labels). No early stage movement meets your standard of “Have you heard of it?”

      (2) “I don’t believe that such an organization will be effective because tribalism and human nature are powerful forces.”

      So why have other reform movements won?

      (3) “I don’t see you discussing any real way to fix it.”

      Perhaps we have different definitions of “fix”. What do you believe this post discusses?

      (4) “Your post is about how to fix all of America.”

      Not at all. As the summary says: ” How can we reform American’s politics?” That’s a far narrower question, one of political science. Not philosophy, economics, sociology, or psychology.

      (5) “isn’t really a starting point if there isnt a likely chance that anyone will agree on anything.”

      The history of the West is one of successful political reform movements. Sometimes narrow, sometimes broad. Sometimes they start on a narrow issue, then move to larger issues (e.g., suffragettes, unions). Movements start as a minority, then produce operational majorities.

      “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
      — Speech by union leader Nicholas Klein (1918).

  5. Your Jedi baiting mind tricks will not work on me FM. Multiple equilibrium is indeed what passes these days for nonlinear analysi by the economics profession. This is not the new thinking to which I refer. I refer rather to the the emerging use of nonlinear dynamic systems modeling techniques which began with chaos theory in the early eighties.
    My graduate adviser was Steve Davis. He was editor of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics and all of us grad students were doing some variation of this exciting new way of dealing with nonlinear dynamical systems. The tools were phase plots of chaotic orbits around strange attractors and perturbation method applied to testing multiple solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations to see which were stable. None of these techniques ever migrated into economic modelling until Steve Keen first applied predator-prey type coupled nonlinear first order differential equations to model stocks and flows in a dynamic economy.
    I stand by my assertion that citadel keepers like Krugman and Summers are ill equipped to understand this approach. This is why the demur when challenged to debate by men like Keen. It’s an old and vexing problem. Old guys who’d rather insult the intelligence and knowledge of new creative thinkers rather than look at the data and listen to what they are saying.

    1. Peter,

      When I point out a glaring error you just ignore it (calling that a “jedi mind trick” is silly). Try reading my comment and replying to what I said. Making more stuff up is not an answer. Your inability to respond to contrary facts prevents you from learning. It’s sad to see.

  6. “I believe almost everyone knew that Marxism is quite flawed”
    I agree.

    “That’s vaguely stated but wrong. Mainstream economists have not believed that in any meaningful sense since the 1930s. That is, there are multiple equilibria (I.e., depressions might knock an economy down to a lower but stable level of activity) — or long periods of recovery (I.e., Keynes comment that “economists set themselves too easy a task” …).”

    This is not what Keen (or me) is saying. Keen is saying that economies require no shocks to move from one equilibrium to another. They can spontaneously move from one phase plot orbit to another due to intrinsic instability and those loci in phase space are not static equilibria themselves but rather orbits around attractors in that phase space. This would be technobabble to Krugman and Summers. Incomprehensible because the words themselves; phase space, attractor, dynamic, have no meaning inside the citadel of the orthodoxy that remotely matches their meaning among for example physicists. For example dynamic stochastic general equilibrium is not dynamic (as used in applied mathematics i.e. dynamic systems state variables have non zero time derivatives) and does not describe static equilibrium (all time rates of change equal zero) nor dynamic equilibrium (stable orbits around a fixed point in phase space) as used by physicists. That doesn’t mean there is no revolution occurring in economics. It simply means they, and you apparently, will not see it, no matter how much evidence builds in favor of the new ideas.

    Here:
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevekeen/2015/04/20/keep-it-simple-and-complex-stupid/

    Is Steve Keen using these new (to the orthodoxy) words. Not one of them means to Keen and to other applied mathematicians what they mean to PK sitting in his isolated orthodox citadel if they mean anything at all.

    “Lorenz’s model of atmospheric turbulence allowed us to visualize how an incredibly complex dynamic can emerge from an incredibly simple model—with just three variable and three fixed parameters. That sounds like a pretty simple system—which it is—and you might expect it to display equally simple behaviour—which it doesn’t. Instead, an incredibly complex dynamic results—as Figure 1 indicates. Crucially, with realistic parameter values, all of its 3 equilibrium points are unstable. The favorite activity of economists—working out the conditions that apply in equilibrium—is irrelevant in this model, because it will never be in any of its equilibrium states (working out the stability of the equilibria, on the other hand—an activity that Neoclassicals routinely ignore—is a worthwhile endeavour).”

    What I find sad and pathetic is how orthodox economists cover their ears and willfully ignore these new ideas rather than man up and spend the time to understand what guys like Keen are saying. Surely this will require great effort. It’s Like learning a foreign language plus some math but really, that is their job.
    If you read Keen at the link provided I trust his words will make no sense to you either, largely because you will make little effort to make sense of them. I find that sad.

    1. Peter,

      “Keen is saying that economies require no shocks to move from one equilibrium to another.”

      That’s a legitimate theory. But it is NOT what you said, which was “For a long time we have assumed that economies are intrinsically stable, that shocks and perturbations occur but market forces always act to calm the economic waters eventually”. I objected to the last clause, about “market forces”.

      You write these VERY long (and I suspect totally unread) comments, often in rebuttal to your reading FAILs. It’s not a good use of your time. Also, this isn’t a useful place to advocate for Keen’s theories. It’s too narrow a topic; I doubt many readers have any interest in them. You’re talking to yourself.

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