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Outline for a Better America

I first wrote this as an outline in 2008 while the country was entering the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  This was to serve as my personal outline/manifesto for what I believed to be the most prudent arguments for regaining our country’s economic might and as a possible outline for blog posts to write stating my personal political and economic philosophy.  While the economy seemingly started improving, I let this fall to the way-side; however, with the emergence of the Tea Party, this summer’s deficit debate and the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the time is finally right to start exploring some of these ideas and ideals.

Many people on the left and right of the political divide affectionately label the history of US Constitutional government an “experiment” in democracy.  Our Founding Fathers had a dream and a vision for what their ideal country should look like, yet there was a great deal of uncertainty as to the exact shape it would take.  The Constitutional set the framework and outlined the principles for the foundation of a democratic society, and the very idea itself and the structure of the document allowed for a dynamic and iterative process.  Indeed the path for a young America to even call for a Constitutional Convention was dynamic and experimental, and in the eyes of some, illegal pursuant to the Articles of Confederation—the prevailing federal law of the time.

What seems clear to anyone at the time, and should be clear to all today is that the very idea of the Constitutional itself was and very much is progressive.  There was no real framework upon which to work, and many questions remained unanswered, left to be sorted out by an evolutionary and process-oriented democracy.  Progressivity, rather than the “curse” word it has become in politics today was the answer.  Through time and events, this very fact seems lost on society today—the fact that we are at essence a progressive democracy, ultimately on the path towards righteousness, freedom and equality, but never quite there.  Today, countervailing forces—those opposed to progress—are stronger, more organized and better funded than ever, and it’s about time that people themselves—the very heart of democracy—retake our real Manifest Destiny.

With that in mind, here are some of the issues I would like raised and tackled by the Occupy Wall Street movement:

Reshape discourse.  Discourse should be people driven, and in the interest of people.  Further, discourse should be free and open, rather than defined by increasingly meaningless labels.

  • Free speech is the FIRST Amendment for a reason and open discourse is fundamental to a free and fair democracy.
  • The Cold War is over, yet the terms of the Cold War still define our economic and foreign policies to the detriment of prudent and logical governance.   Slippery slopes are logical fallacies that need not get in the way of good ideas.  Time has proven that a Hayek’s “slippery slope to socialism” does not exist.  Stop using it in policy discussions and start focusing on reason.
  • Stop talking about everything in absolutes and extremes.  Policies should be discussed on their merits, and not whether they meet some cookie-cutter definition of black or white.  Less ideology, more rationality.
  • A free market of ideas should be as important as a free market.

Government can and should invest in society to good effect.  This country would not be where it is now without constructive government-backed initiatives, just as we cannot move forward without the same.

  • Government investments include, but are not limited to the following: the Louisiana Purchase, the Homestead Act, the New Deal, the National Highway System, Medicare/Medicaid, the bailout of the auto industry
  • We have invested in the infrastructure of other countries in the name of anti-Communism, yet when we try to invest in the U.S. today it is derided and dismissed for being Communist.  This is destructive and wrong for many reasons.  Foreign investments include the Marshall Plan in Europe and the Alliance for Progress in Latin America.

Change the metrics through which society is judged.

  • GDP is not a good metric for growth, as it only talks in gross terms about economic growth.  The choice of GDP as the metric for progress is in itself subjective.
  • GDP growth is particularly misleading because it does not show how that growth is being divided amongst the various stakeholders in society.
  • The Quality of Life Index, incorporates growth, but adds health, family life, community life, material well-being, political stability and security, climate and geography, job security, political freedom, and gender equality.  While some of these elements are subjective, they do enable objective quantifications of changes in quality of life.

Neither government, nor corporations are the enemy.  The enemy is inefficiency.  Inefficiency is bad whether public or private, yet we have been governing under the operating belief that governments are inherently inefficient while markets are efficient.  This is wrong.

  • There have been massive private sector “inefficiencies” that did as much, or more damage than any redundancies in government.  These inefficiencies hurt the private sector, hurt government, and worst of all, hurt people.  Examples include Enron, WorldCom, United Airlines, Lehman Brothers and General Motors, to name a few.
  • This “government is inefficient” belief has our country focusing on limiting government, rather than having government operate in the most efficient way possible where necessary.  The very belief that government is inefficient increases, rather than decreases, many governing inefficiencies.
  • Government programs that run smoothly breed success, and further confidence instills success.  Leaders of government should be in government because they believe in the potential and importance for good governance, not because they deride any and all government.
  • Corporate governance is no more or less efficient that political governance.  There are some good corporate governors, while there are some bad ones, just as there are good public politicians and bad public politicians.

Free markets lead to a free society, but market forces cannot be left uninhibited.

  • Free markets for commerce are the best way to allocate scarce resources that we as a society know of.
  • Our government is premised on the idea of checks and balances and that principle should be applied to markets with equal rigor.  Unchecked markets are as dangerous as centrally planned markets.  We need balance, not arguments that are borne only in black and white terms.
  • Externalities are where government must involve itself in markets.  Bad externalities are when a market agreement between two parties causes harm to a third party.  Government must do all it can to restrict such negative externalities.  There are also some good externalities.  Government should do as much as it can to promote good externalities.  There is a distinction between mustand should here because the negative externalities are far more objectively determined and harmful to society, while the positive externalities tend to be harder to identify in advance.
  • Incentives are central to the idea of economics.  When the incentives of market participants are not aligned with society at large, we must question the role of markets in that particular domain.

An educated and healthy society is essential to breed success.

  • The performance of America’s youth on exams, particularly science, is alarming and must be addressed.
  • Markets are supposed to allocate scarce resources efficiently.  Private corporations are supposed to maximize profit.
  • Education is one area in particular that privatization is an awful idea yet it is being tried in many places.  A private company’s incentive is to maximize profit, while the incentive of an education system must be to maximize the quality of education.  An education need not hemorrhage money; however, we should also not allow profit to be extracted from the system.  Any profit derived off of education should be funneled back in to more education.
  • Education is not, nor should it be a scarce resource.  We should take steps to make it overly abundant, therefore market economics are not the proper lens through which to think about educating America’s youth.
  • Education must be a right, not a privilege, because without education there is no equality of opportunity—a fundamental right—therefore there is no equality without education.

Invest heavily in science and technology.  They are the foundations of American excellence and they will be the future.

  • The periods of America’s fastest expansions of per capita wealth all come with technological advancement and innovation.  The reasons are twofold: innovation itself creates wealthy, and innovation improves the quality of life of all, fostering greater constructive risk-taking.  That is why innovation tends to snowball.
  • Innovation is not an issue of public verse private sector, it is an American issue.  Our greatest innovations have all been thanks to the cooperation of public and private enterprises.  A public/private cooperate is the most effective path to innovative prosperity, as it provides the proper incentive structure through which to aim high, while affording the proper risk tolerance to reach our goals.
  • We should prioritize science and technological innovation, especially in contrast to financial innovation.
  • Invest heavily and aim high.  Many great inventions are made when the inventor is seeking something completely different than their end result.  Invention requires experimentation and risk, and is very capital intensive. Only with government help can the degree of experimentation necessary for progress take place.  With lots of investment and high goals, we don’t know exactly what we will find and learn, but we will learn something of value.

Finance and banking should be a utility, not growth business in our economy.

  • Finance is the “lubricant” of capitalism—it enables the efficient flow of capital, yet somehow it has become an area of growth over the past half-century.  When finance grows, it either does so in harmony with society, or at the expense of society, it is NEVER the leader forward in constructive progress.
  • The aim for growth in finance can only succeed by leaching off of other areas.  Many of the easily facilitated efficiency gains have already taken place.
  • Science and technological innovation actually create capital, while financial innovation just decides how best to use it.  Since the Dot.com bubble, there has been too big a void in investment innovation.  The financial sector is far too focused on investing in financial assets and commodities as investment classes, instead of innovation itself and government has been scaling back itself.

Abolish corporate personhood.  At the very basic level, corporations are a legal fiction and they have no existence without the State.

  • Discourse in the United States has been coopted by corporate personhood.  The very idea of corporations as people is a legal fiction that has gone too far.  The First Amendment in particular is a sacred right for people.  Clearly this protection should not also be afforded to corporations.
  • Corporations owe their very existence to the State.  Historically, this required a legitimate public purpose.  Now corporations are thought of purely as profit-seeking entities, yet they still cannot exist without an organized State.  This connection means that ultimately people are sovereign over corporations and can and should be able to control what corporations collectively can and cannot say.
  • Corporate entities want to be people when it comes to positive rights like speech, but they do not want to be people when it comes to negative rights like paying taxes.  When it comes to taxes corporations complain about “double-taxation.”
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  1. October 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm

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