Who watches the technocrats?
September 28, 2011 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Peter Orszag (previously of Obama's OMB) argues that circumventing democracy is the best way to save it, but Catherine Rampell isn't sold, and Uwe Reinhardt points out that technocrats base "science" on moral values.
posted by klangklangston (91 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I liked how Andrew Gelman put it: "Bigshot establishment dude Peter Orszag thinks bigshot establishment dudes don’t have enough power."
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:49 AM on September 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Krugman's response was good as well, and I'm sure one could dramatically expand his list of technocratic policy failures.
posted by Grimgrin at 11:01 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


ive been seeing a lot of talk about krugman lately. is he smart/legit or a faker?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:08 AM on September 28, 2011


I mistakenly read that at "circumcising democracy" and I was like, huh, hadn't thought of that before.
posted by etc. at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


the country’s political polarization was growing worse—harming Washington’s ability to do the basic, necessary work of governing. If you need confirmation of this, look no further than the recent debt-limit debacle, which clearly showed that we are becoming two nations governed by a single Congress—and that paralyzing gridlock is the result.

First of all, this is by design. Look up "checks and balances".

Second of all, Congress was not polarized after the 2008 election. Dems had complete control...and failed to use it. Which resulted in an apathetic Left in 2010. (Why vote for someone who proves they aren't going to do the right thing with it?)
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on September 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


I've been having a crisis of faith regarding democracy, lately. We're seeing the dangers posed by so-called "low information voters" in the Tea Party, and as our institutions and policies grow increasingly complex in order to contend with increasingly complex problems, the pool of low information voters will continue to grow and wreak increasing havoc.

The persistent cliche of intelligence and education being two of the more effective forms of birth control is, as always, steadily eroding our ability to effectively self-govern. Our imploding social programs' waning ability to fund competent education for the greater public isn't helping, either.

Dictatorships and republics alike are subject to massive amounts of corruption (the latter inevitably becoming de facto plutocracies, as we're seeing in the US right now), so there's no help there, either.

Frankly I don't see any solutions to the question of "how then shall we be ruled?", just varying degrees of suck.
posted by Ryvar at 11:14 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


On a similar note, Governor Bev Perdue (D-North Carolina) suggested that "we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years" in order "to have more ability from Congress, I think, to work together and to get over the partisan bickering and focus on fixing things."

While her aides later argued that Governor Perdue was joking, audio of the remarks may suggest otherwise.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:16 AM on September 28, 2011


Orszag didn't bother to find out that John Adams would consider democracy and technocracy pretty much the same thing.
posted by michaelh at 11:18 AM on September 28, 2011


I have long held that if some unassailable third power - aliens, say, or god - appointed me Imperator of the United States, I'd be able to fix a lot of what's wrong pretty quickly. There are still some thorny issues, such as the deficit, but dealing with those would be made a lot easier by fixing all the super-easy stuff.

Yes, I'm serious.

Anyway I mean I don't think anyone can argue that a democratic, parliamentary system is all that efficient or effective. If everything is perfectly checked and balanced, then not only do you rein in the excesses of government, you rein in the necessities as well. The problem with benevolent dictators is that they eventually die, and the power transfer process tends to be "war". Also they don't exist.

I do think that getting rid of simple majority elections would help a LOT. The electoral college is also dumb. Popular votes with a runoff voting system would do the country no end of good, but no one in either party will suggest them, since they'd do a good job of demolishing the bipartisan stranglehold on power.
posted by kavasa at 11:22 AM on September 28, 2011


What we need, then, are ways around our politicians. The first would be to expand automatic stabilizers—those tax and spending provisions that automatically expand when the economy weakens, thereby cushioning the blow, and automatically contract as the economy recovers, thereby helping to reduce the deficit. A progressive tax code is one such automatic stabilizer.

So he goes on for a page about the need to be undemocratic and how a Civics 101 democracy is untenable and his first proposal is a progressive tax code. In my Civics 101 class (lie:it was a history class) we learnt that in the Athenian democracy the 1200 richest men in Athens had to cover all expenses for building and manning a public warship, sponsoring a four-piece drama, religious festivals/games, the food and other expenses of athletes, as well as providing a meal to their tribe (1/10 of Athens) on religious holidays.

And, courtesy of wikipedia:
One reason that financial officials were elected was that any money embezzled could be recovered from their estates; election in general strongly favoured the rich, but in this case wealth was virtually a prerequisite

Progressive taxation is perfectly democratic.
posted by ersatz at 11:23 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dems had complete control

Except for not being able to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:23 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


David Frum: Why our government is broken
Politics is a contest, limited by certain unwritten rules. And over the past two decades, old rules have broken down.

Under the old rules, there were certain things that political parties did not do -- even though theoretically they could. If one party controlled the Senate and another party controlled the presidency, the Senate party did not reject all the president's nominees. The party that controlled the House did not refuse to schedule votes on the president's budgets. Individual senators did not use secret holds to sway national policy. The filibuster was reserved for rare circumstances -- not as a routine 60-vote requirement on every Senate vote.

It's incredible to look back now on how the Reagan tax cut passed the Democratic House in 1981. The Democratic House leaderships could have refused to schedule votes on Reagan's tax plans. Instead, they not only allowed the tax plan to proceed -- but they allowed 48 of 243 Democrats to break ranks on the key procedural vote without negative consequences to their careers in the Democratic party...

Hard to imagine Speaker John Boehner allowing his Republicans to get away with similar behavior on a measure proposed by President Obama.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:25 AM on September 28, 2011 [15 favorites]


"we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years" in order "to have more ability from Congress, I think, to work together and to get over the partisan bickering and focus on fixing things."

You know what, fuck it, we've got a bunch of buildings with pillars and domes, let's just hold a great big Triumph and shake out an Augustus from one of the larger political families.
posted by The Whelk at 11:27 AM on September 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm very interested in e-government, but rather pressed for time at the moment, so I haven't read the articles yet (I'll probably get to them tomorrow), but one thing does spring to mind:

Does any of the FPP material cover how a legitimate third party might fix/hamper the problems that are outlined?
posted by codacorolla at 11:28 AM on September 28, 2011


Sleeping with other people's wives is also how you can save your marriage.
posted by srboisvert at 11:28 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Except for not being able to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

That's funny, I don't remember the Republicans reading from phonebooks for days and weeks on end to prevent Americans from getting healthcare.
posted by DU at 11:33 AM on September 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


codacorolla: "Does any of the FPP material cover how a legitimate third party might fix/hamper the problems that are outlined?"

There will never be a legitimate third party as long as we have winner take all voting is the rule. Period. Our system is designed to ensure that this cannot happen.

We may as well wonder if perhaps a powerful wizard will come down from the sky and cast a spell which makes everyone a millionaire.
posted by mullingitover at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


David Frum: Why our government is broken

Holy shit. This is the guy who wrote the "Axis of Evil" speech and helped shape the divisive rhetoric of the Bush years where anyone opposing Bush's policies was a traitor or treasonous. Your government is broken because you and your friends played too rough with it, David.
posted by Hoopo at 11:43 AM on September 28, 2011 [21 favorites]


While taking technical decisions out of the hands of the average politician is a good thing, I think a better method would be to present the politicians with a range of options.
That is to say, "you can vote to implement one of these three revenue producing plans". That leaves ultimate authority with the elected representatives, as it should be.
We already have enough trouble with agencies like the FCC routinely overstepping their bounds, I can just imagine the shenanigans an unelected board would get up to.

Also, the commision idea seems to rely on the assumption that the "experts" would be the same experts everyone agrees on. Can you imagine trying to populate, say, a climate change panel with the power to change regulations in this Congress? Forget it.
posted by madajb at 11:44 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


There will never be a legitimate third party as long as we have winner take all voting is the rule. Period. Our system is designed to ensure that this cannot happen.

We may as well wonder if perhaps a powerful wizard will come down from the sky and cast a spell which makes everyone a millionaire.


Thanks for your opinion. Do the articles cover this idea at all?
posted by codacorolla at 11:44 AM on September 28, 2011


Well, this might have been an interesting thread. Schade.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:48 AM on September 28, 2011


Dear god Peter Orszag. The ELEPHANT is RIGHT THERE IN THE ROOM. It's called FOX NEWS, and you dance around it with surprising agility.

It's incredible to look back now on how the Reagan tax cut passed the Democratic House in 1981. The Democratic House leaderships could have refused to schedule votes on Reagan's tax plans. Instead, they not only allowed the tax plan to proceed -- but they allowed 48 of 243 Democrats to break ranks on the key procedural vote without negative consequences to their careers in the Democratic party...

In the long run this is a problem for the Republicans, since now that they've played hardball in nearly the most extreme manner available to them, they have nowhere left to go. The Democrats are unlikely to forget this.
posted by JHarris at 11:53 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Thanks for your opinion. Do the articles cover this idea at all?"

No, but you're invited to read them and double check.
posted by klangklangston at 11:54 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


etc.: "I mistakenly read that at "circumcising democracy" and I was like, huh, hadn't thought of that before."

Foreskin and 7 years ago...
posted by symbioid at 11:54 AM on September 28, 2011


> technocrats ... global warming ... climate change ...

That article from 2010 is about economics, with a quote from health research used in a one sentence slam at climate scientists. It gets reposted fairly often for that single sentence. So for the record, I refute it by quoting Peter Watts, thus: Because As We All Know, The Green Party Runs the World.

Watts writes there, in part:

"No. I don’t think he’s got it right. I don’t think most of these people do.

Science doesn’t work despite scientists being asses. Science works, to at least some extent, because scientists are asses. Bickering and backstabbing are essential elements of the process. Haven’t any of these guys ever heard of “peer review”?

There’s this myth ... in which scientists are ... people who use scientific methodology to tamp down their human imperfections and manage some approximation of objectivity.

But that’s a myth too.... The best we can do— the best science can do— is make sure that at least, we get to choose among competing biases.
...
This is how it works: you put your model out there in the coliseum, and a bunch of guys in white coats kick the shit out of it. If it’s still alive when the dust clears, your brainchild receives conditional acceptance. It does not get rejected. This time.
...
Science is so powerful that it drags us kicking and screaming towards the truth despite our best efforts to avoid it. And it does that at least partly fueled by our pettiness and our rivalries. Science is alchemy: it turns shit into gold. Keep that in mind the next time some blogger decries the ill manners of a bunch of climate scientists under continual siege by forces with vastly deeper pockets and much louder megaphones."
posted by hank at 11:54 AM on September 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


I recommend James C Scott's work as ammunition against technocratic "solutions" like Orszag's. Especially this.

tl;dr - Scott argues that in order for schemes to improve the human condition to succeed, they must take into account local conditions, and that the high-modernist ideologies of the 20th century have prevented this. He highlights collective farms in the Soviet Union, the building of Brasilia, and Prussian forestry techniques as examples of failed schemes.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:56 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


man all of these articles are fucking depressing.

peter orszag's article identifies some problems and then suggests some solutions, somehow not mentioning anything about how bugfuck crazy the republican party has become since the reagan years and how extra-bugfuck the tea party dudes are, and how it is hard even for the Rs to control them.

catherine rampell is appealing to populism in the grossest way ('politics means moral decisions and no amount of relevant training and experience regarding the problems we're trying to solve trumps THAT FUCK YEAH DEMOCRACY!!!!!!')

i have to salute paul krugman's demented audacity in his article - how a dude in his position can ask with a straight face "Whatever caused modern American politics to become so... vicious?" is beyond me, i am going to guess it is because he is a fucking reptoid. however, his proposition of 'unwritten rules' is interesting and i'd like to see someone who i suspect less of eating live mice in a broom closet to speak more about them.
posted by beefetish at 11:59 AM on September 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm very interested in e-government, but rather pressed for time at the moment, so I haven't read the articles yet (I'll probably get to them tomorrow), but one thing does spring to mind: Does any of the FPP material cover how a legitimate third party might fix/hamper the problems that are outlined?

Just save yourself the time and cut straight to the Uwe Reinhart one. you might also enjoy RS Markovits' work on allocative efficiency, which seems to hark back to the Aristotlean concept of the harmonic mean. Also, no.

That's funny, I don't remember the Republicans reading from phonebooks for days and weeks on end to prevent Americans from getting healthcare.

They didn't, and they didn't have to because the rules for the filibuster have changed since then. Ezra Klein summarizes. Wikipedia provides a more detailed explanation. The Brennan Center, a think tank, on the filibuster. Report of the Congressional Research Service. And best of all, 666 pages - yes, really - of testimony to the Senate Rules Committe from from 2010, which is probably the closest thing you'll find to a definitive reference on the subject.

I'm not an American citizen. I can't vote in elections, although I pay taxes. I would take it as a personal favor if more American citizens would pay attention to how your own goddam government works.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:59 AM on September 28, 2011 [19 favorites]


Duverger's Law says that in a first past the post system, you'll eventually end up with two parties.

There's another model (from economics iirc) which says that in market with two companies, they will end up competing in the middle (since the people at the margins don't have alternatives). My undergrad economics prof had an example that involved ice cream vendors on a beach, but it's been a long time and I don't recall the specifics. Nevertheless, it seems to apply to a two-party system to some extent too, certainly in the U.S. where the fictional middle ground and the undecided voter is the target, since the margins have no viable alternatives.
posted by idb at 12:03 PM on September 28, 2011


I don't think he's talking about anything as conveniently inflammatory as establishing Soviet collectives, so much as just having some mechanisms to keep the government from having to deal with the endless daily inanities of "political reality," like pretending that cutting taxes is actually the best way to increase revenues and shrink deficits. Or pretending we aren't destroying the earth at a pace we can't sustain, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that we are. Or pretending only Wall Street has the power to save us from the gay socialist unicorns that want to take our guns.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:07 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


To me, the most interesting idea in this article is the notion of changing what happens when congress does nothing. There is clearly a problem with the situation that voting no on something is identical to creating procedural barriers to a vote. This is combined with a shocking number of things that congress has to vote on in order to just maintain the status quo (So many appointed positions, FAA funding, FEMA funding after a hurricane, etc). I have no ideas how to deal with the pervasive polarization, but something needs to be done to insulate the political process from it. I'm not sure if Orzag's approach is the right one in detail, but something like it needs to be tried.
posted by Schismatic at 12:09 PM on September 28, 2011


That's funny, I don't remember the Republicans reading from phonebooks for days and weeks on end to prevent Americans from getting healthcare.

The filibuster doesn't work that way anymore. This isn't Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:10 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


schismatic - hell of yes
posted by beefetish at 12:16 PM on September 28, 2011


David Frum: Why our government is broken

See Frum, David.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:26 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have no ideas how to deal with the pervasive polarization, but something needs to be done to insulate the political process from it. I'm not sure if Orzag's approach is the right one in detail, but something like it needs to be tried.

I envision a system where you had smaller subdivisions (say...50), each of which was responsible for the things happening therein. Then you could have another body, with limited oversight and authority, just to take care of those things that can't be worked out individually by the subdivisions.

That way, each person living in one of these subdivisions could have more control over the policies they live under, and gridlock in one( or election of loons) wouldn't bring down the whole system.

Half joking, but I do think you bring up a good point. The sheer size of the government creates so many opportunities for obstruction and conflict, it is a wonder anything gets done at all. And with the consolidation of so much into the federal government, if Rhode Island elects a hardliner (on either side), it has a much bigger impact on the rest of us than it really should.
posted by madajb at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let me be more specific in the context of fiscal policy, which was at the heart of the debt-limit debate. Virtually all responsible economists agree that we should be aiming to reduce the deficit in the long-term but not in the short-term. We need an even larger deficit in 2011 and 2012, to support a weak economy—but a much smaller deficit in 2020 and 2050, to put the nation back on a sustainable fiscal course. Yet our polarized political system has proved incapable of reaching a consensus on this common-sense approach.


I agree with him in the sense that any healthy democracy should completely ignore the Tea Party, but his larger point that we should have "independent" commissions oversee many important decisions is very, very problematic in itself.
posted by Hoopo at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is as good as a place as any to introduce Swift's Test of Political Soundness (STOPS):

1) Does the nation function better if everyone in the ruling class suddenly dies? If yes, STOP, you need a new ruling class! If no, proceed to question 2.

2) Does the nation function better if everyone in the ruling class is replaced by random people? If yes, STOP, you need a new government! If no, proceed to question 3.

3) Does the nation function better if everyone in the ruling class is a witch? If yes, STOP, you need a way to detect witches! If no, congratulations, your nation is politically sound.
posted by swift at 12:44 PM on September 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


There's another model (from economics iirc) which says that in market with two companies, they will end up competing in the middle (since the people at the margins don't have alternatives).

That's the Hotelling model, and the political analogy is called the "Median Voter Theorem" by Duncan Black and often associated with Anthony Downs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:46 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't we already kind of have that on the political side though, with all the committees? Often times, the committees have more power than the full legislature. And committee leadership roles are not Democratically assigned.

Not to mention, the committee system means some legislators (mostly the southern ones, it somehow always seems) are actually more powerful than others, so I'm not sure it's really fair to characterize the way congress operates as all that Democratic in the first place.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:47 PM on September 28, 2011


Sorry, that last comment was meant in response to:

but his larger point that we should have "independent" commissions oversee many important decisions is very, very problematic in itself.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:48 PM on September 28, 2011


I have no ideas how to deal with the pervasive polarization, but something needs to be done to insulate the political process from it.

It's not a polarization problem. It's not a partisan problem. It's not a partisan polarization problem.

What it is, is a Republican problem. The problem is the consistent bad behavior on their side of the aisle, down to refusing to vote for their own programs if advocated by a Democrat.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:49 PM on September 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


1) Does the nation function better if everyone in the ruling class suddenly dies?

Unfortunately, there's only one way to answer that question.

Oops! We killed them all and now everything's worse! Who could have guessed that would happen? Maybe the question should've been "Does the nation function better if everyone in the ruling class is locked in the basement for six months?" Then we'd could put them back if the answer turns out to be "No."
posted by straight at 12:55 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't we already kind of have that on the political side though, with all the committees?

Maybe I just picked this up somewhere (and I beg to be corrected), but I heard that they changed the rules on how committees work, and actually that was possible a very strong reason why congress had become more polarized. The story goes:

Once upon a time, committees were structured in such a way that membership would survive changes in overall majority (or something to that effect). People who became leaders of committees had their own little kingdoms, had their own competence and way of doing things, and could be (had to be) appeased separate from party lines. They could even demand things from their own party as well.

Because of this, there was often talk of things getting caught up in committee and people screamed and whined and stomped around about how undemocratic it was, and so forth. And so eventually they changed the rules in some way that made it easier for the overall majority to shake up the membership in committees and install their majority. So much more democratic (and less representative...)!

As a result of that change to internal committee mechanisms, now the committee members have no reason to do anything but vote the way the party tells them. They no longer have a reason to be competent in the area of the committee's knowledge. They have no incentive to allow themselves to be wined and dined because if they betray their party they can be easily replaced. And so the ideal committee member is now a dumb, blind loyalist, and the center of competence has moved from committees into the parties.

Could be this is a bogus just-so story. I'm having trouble finding internet corroboration.
posted by fleacircus at 12:59 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Peter Orszag is vice chairman at Citigroup...

Fuck you Peter, and the revolving door you just went through... just shut-up and grab as much cash as you can before the next crash.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:02 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Any sufficiently advanced technocracy will be indistinguishable from magic.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:03 PM on September 28, 2011


The sheer size of the government creates so many opportunities for obstruction and conflict, it is a wonder anything gets done at all.

Madajb has a point, also my corollary is that once a government, a state, a group of people reach a critical mass, the polarization becomes intense because the other is no longer seen as part of the group. So to a tea partyer, spending on something in Manhattan or San Francisco is tantamount to spending *their hard earned tax dollars* in Borneo or Bamako, Mali. For the tofu eating coasts, spending money on defense (most contractors are in red states, as are most bases) or farm subsidies is similar. It is spending on the other, and psychically not our countrymen/women.

Yet if we can have more than 50 states (since past the East Coast many states were just lines on a map anyway.) each local government would possibly be held more accountable and their actions could be more shitstormable. To wit, let us say Governor Christie decided to privatize the NJ turnpike and it was a disaster! A serious shitstorm in the Garden State, because it is closer to the average person ad thus more real.

So keep it small. Keep it shitstormable.
posted by xetere at 1:10 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mr. Orszag's recomendations will make the problem worse because, as some of you have touched on, the political crisis we're facing is not a systemmic problem. The problem is that a substantial portion of the body politic does not accept the legitimacy of our current system. And yes, I'm referring to the Right wing, the "Movement Conservatives." They believe that they should be able to impose their will, and will use the system to do so, but will not accept results out of the system that they see as opposing their will. Note how they not only have opposed the last two Democratic presidents, hardly radical in the least, but have attacked their very legitimacy. If we were to implement Orszag's proposals, they might very well resort to violence.

Any governmental system will not work unless all parties involved accept the bedrock principle that the system itself is fundumentally fair and that whatever the results, all parties shall abide. When a portion of the body politic, however, decides it has the inherent right to rule, like the Tea Party and its adherents, a truly Republican system cannot stand.

In other words, for the first time since the period immediately before the Civil War, we in the US has an anti-democratic cancer infecting the body politic.

I don't pretend to know what the solution might be, but I fear the end result will be a violent one.
posted by JKevinKing at 1:14 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also I might add that the winner take all system is bad in the US, but how do you know with proportional representation, we won't have small wingnut parties using the leverage they have if a president/prime minister/big honcho needs to make a coalition? Look at how, until Berlusconi, Italy had like a new government every two weeks, or how divided Belgium hasn't had a government in like a year. Look at Israel where Shas an other wingnuts are having a profound effect on peace with the Palestinians. Yeah, yeah, I know Netanyahu doesn't need to be exactly dragged kicking and screaming to a hard right position, but before Netanyahu, it was an issue for any leader who wanted to be PM.
posted by xetere at 1:14 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not a polarization problem. It's not a partisan problem. It's not a partisan polarization problem. What it is, is a Republican problem.

ROU_Xenophobe, you're absolutely right, and thanks for catching me lazily defaulting to the media narrative terms. It was bad form. Republicans are both more extreme and more able to vote as a block, both things the US system (both legislature and the media) handles very poorly. But I don't think one can imagine any feasible structural changes that are purely anti-Republican, and I am certain one couldn't actually implement them. Creating thorough anti-obstructionist shielding is still a pipe-dream, but it strikes me as an interesting one, and one that could at least trickle into something real.
posted by Schismatic at 1:15 PM on September 28, 2011


In the senate, committee assignments are determined partly by seniority. Not sure about the house.

Either way, one man/one vote already breaks down when you consider the committee system. If my district's representative literally doesn't have as much power in the process as someone else's (not to mention that the senate isn't proportionally representative at all), it seems to me the process is already a bit less than fully Democratic.

So keep it small. Keep it shitstormable.

Then why are local and state governments so much more corrupt? Because they are. They are really, really corrupt. A lot of the everyday hassles and problems we blame on the Federal level government are at least partly local in origin. Local governments do not function better than the federal government in my experience, and are actually more corruptible especially under pressure from developers and business interests (which is why Republicans like to push control down to local levels so much while at the same time denying them the budget to operate effectively, forcing them to be more desperate to make deals with the private sector).

Most people I meet in Florida don't even seem to know they have a state legislature. Local control is no panacea. That's not, IMO, the problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Authoritarians hate science because science can prove their beliefs wrong. But even worse, science can prove their opponents' beliefs right. And that right there is an alpha class world view violation incompatible with maintenance of the status quo. And without the status quo, you get change. And change is bad for those in charge.

So what's a patriarch to do but denounce science?

And what are scientists to do but keep trying to bolster their arguments?

If anyone has a better approach that is actually practical in the short term... there's a lot of people who'd like to hear about it today.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:18 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


President Obama has gotten an historically large stimulus bill, a health care bill, and Dodd Frank financial reform -- all in the first 2.5 years of his administration. He's also bailed out the US auto industry, extended jobless benefits for 99 weeks, subsidized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to inflate housing prices, and approved loan guarantees for "green tech" jobs.

If the left is upset over failing policies, I don't think it's been for lack of government action or "too much democracy."
posted by BobbyVan at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not only have people not shitstormed the state legislature in Florida despite nearly 20 years of drastically declining economic conditions, under basically uninterrupted Republican rule of all three branches of state government, they recently doubled-up and elected an even farther right Republican.

I think it's the fact nobody shitstorms things any more that's the problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2011


saulgoodman you are right, local governments are unrelievedly corrupt, but I think that given the interplay of federal and local governments, most people don't even know what the local governments do, and I still think that voters would (if they actually did) be able to pressure a mayor, or even a governor more than the fedgov. Not a panacea no way no how.
posted by xetere at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2011


BobbyVan: You're making my point for me. In Florida, our state governor has refused to even consider enacting many of those policies you would now like to characterize as "policy failures." (He declined most stimulus funding for the state, has refused to even begin planning to implement the HCR, etc). Policies that have never actually been tried and that are being actively undermined at every step of the way by bad faith actors for political advantage can't be ruled policy failures. And in many of those cases, the political failure isn't Obama's.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:26 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


President Obama has gotten an historically large stimulus bill, a health care bill, and Dodd Frank financial reform -- all in the first 2.5 years of his administration. He's also bailed out the US auto industry, extended jobless benefits for 99 weeks, subsidized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to inflate housing prices, and approved loan guarantees for "green tech" jobs.

If the left is upset over failing policies, I don't think it's been for lack of government action or "too much democracy."


He has indeed accomplished a lot, but it's still frustrating for a lot of supporters because the magnitude of the accomplishments doesn't match the magnitude of the electoral mandate. If McConnell had not broken with normal Senate procedure and forced the chamber into endless filibustering for everything, victories like the stimulus or Wall Street regulation or health care reform would have been more sweeping while scuttled policy would have been on the table. Not to mention the government would be more efficient and functional overall without so many vacancies in key positions.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is the guy who went to work at Citibank after leaving the Administration, right? Would he have come up with policies that hurt Citibank and other career prospects as a regulator if he had more power? I kind of doubt it.
ive been seeing a lot of talk about krugman lately. is he smart/legit or a faker?
Well, he won the Nobel Prize in Economics.
i have to salute paul krugman's demented audacity in his article - how a dude in his position can ask with a straight face "Whatever caused modern American politics to become so... vicious?" is beyond me, i am going to guess it is because he is a fucking reptoid.
Are you confusing Paul Krugman and David Frum? Because there's a pretty big difference.

---
The persistent cliche of intelligence and education being two of the more effective forms of birth control is, as always, steadily eroding our ability to effectively self-govern.
What? Seriously? You think the fact that educated people have fewer children is 'eroding' our ability to self govern? Wouldn't that take centuries? People are smarter today then ever. It's a completely absurd theory easily contradicted by the actual facts.
President Obama has gotten an historically large stimulus bill, a health care bill, and Dodd Frank financial reform -- all in the first 2.5 years of his administration.
All when the republicans were almost completely powerless. Since they've taken power he's barely been able to keep the government functioning.
posted by delmoi at 2:06 PM on September 28, 2011


yeah i meant david frum, i got a brain problem. krugman is probably not a reptoid.
posted by beefetish at 2:14 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a completely absurd theory easily contradicted by the actual facts.

It's also actually the premise of Idiocracy, strangely enough.
posted by Hoopo at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2011


fleacircus, the more or less consensus story is more like this.

Once upon a time, the House was almost always Democratic and committee chairs were determined by seniority. Whichever Democrat had been on the committee the longest was the chair by divine right. Because the South had the bad habit of just electing the same jackass for decades on end, this meant that lots of committee chairs were quite conservative southern Democrats.

This kind of worked tolerably well for a while. But by the 1970s, what you or I would think of as regular, normal Democrats got tired of having their committees run (often rather dictatorially) by southern conservatives who were out of step with what they wanted. Instead of being just determined by seniority, committee chairs were elected by the party, and in 1974 several sitting committee chairs lost their chairmanships because they were far more conservative than the Democratic caucus as a whole. This is about when Jamie Whitten had his come-to-Jesus moment, started voting like a northern Democrat, and was later rewarded with the chairmanship of the Appropriations committee.

So, that part of your story is sort of right. But. The change didn't mean that now only the party mattered. Instead, it was a change from the party as a whole mattering not even a little bit, to the party mattering some. Committees and chairs remain strong, powerful, and somewhat autonomous actors in the House. And their competence and information-gathering and -processing capacity remains very important and may well be the source of their influence in the chamber. One reason a bill gets a closed rule is that the committee producing it knows what it's doing.

(see Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House by Dave Rohde)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thank you, ROU_Xenophobe.
posted by fleacircus at 3:08 PM on September 28, 2011


What? Seriously? You think the fact that educated people have fewer children is 'eroding' our ability to self govern? Wouldn't that take centuries? People are smarter today then ever. It's a completely absurd theory easily contradicted by the actual facts.

delmoi, again, you really need to actually read just a little bit before you fire off your screeds at me. People aren't more intelligent, just better fed and educated on average. Testing continues to support the notion of a longterm overall decline in intelligence.

We've been given a temporary reprieve by free public education (the Flynn effect), but the way things are going right now that might not be available in a useful degree forever.
posted by Ryvar at 3:11 PM on September 28, 2011


All when the republicans were almost completely powerless. Since they've taken power he's barely been able to keep the government functioning.

After Democrats lost the 1994 midterms, Clinton pivoted to the center and got welfare reform and a balanced budget passed (with a seriously unfriendly Congress that trafficked in crazy conspiracy theories, many members of which later voted to impeached him).

BobbyVan: You're making my point for me. In Florida, our state governor has refused to even consider enacting many of those policies you would now like to characterize as "policy failures." (He declined most stimulus funding for the state, has refused to even begin planning to implement the HCR, etc). Policies that have never actually been tried and that are being actively undermined at every step of the way by bad faith actors for political advantage can't be ruled policy failures. And in many of those cases, the political failure isn't Obama's.

Unemployment has gone down in Florida every month since Rick Scott took office, except for one. I'm no economist, but it seems to me that not taking certain stimulus funds hasn't had a terrible effect on the state of Florida. And as for health care reform, there are legitimate constitutional issues at stake that the Supreme Court will soon hear.
posted by BobbyVan at 3:20 PM on September 28, 2011


"delmoi, again, you really need to actually read just a little bit before you fire off your screeds at me. People aren't more intelligent, just better fed and educated on average. Testing continues to support the notion of a longterm overall decline in intelligence."

I don't really have any investment in your position or against it, but I have yet to see an usable metric for "intelligence." Especially since almost every such metric is inextricably tangled up with local cultures. Pretty much the only thing you can do, in my experience, is get to know a person and then say "yep, she sure seems pretty smart" or "she's not all that bright". This isn't really usable for any sort of quantified study, though.

I'm also curious how a study determined the fertility of 9000 high schoolers without making moms and dads out of them and seeing how many came up dry.
posted by kavasa at 3:36 PM on September 28, 2011


"Unemployment has gone down in Florida every month since Rick Scott took office, except for one. I'm no economist, but it seems to me that not taking certain stimulus funds hasn't had a terrible effect on the state of Florida. And as for health care reform, there are legitimate constitutional issues at stake that the Supreme Court will soon hear."

Unfortunately, the reality is that the deciding factor when it comes to employment is economic health. You can offer all the hiring tax credits you want, but if the employer can't make money by hiring that person, a $4k discount on their taxable income isn't going to make a difference either way. That's the tragedy of politicians campaigning on promises to create jobs, especially executive politicians such as presidents and governors. The best they can do is do things like improve infrastructure, make sure their constituency has good access to education, so on and so forth. Any results so yielded will probably show up during the term of whoever gets the office next, or maybe the term after that.

It'd be awfully nice if any candidate for anything anywhere actually said as much.
posted by kavasa at 3:40 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


People aren't more intelligent, just better fed and educated on average.
People who are better educated are more intelligent (and of course children who are well fed are better able to learn). You can't say that "people aren't more intelligent, just better fed and educated" because that makes them more intelligent
delmoi, again, you really need to actually read just a little bit before you fire off your screeds at me
I never said that smart people had more children, and nothing in the bullshit Wikipedia article you cited (which lists The Bell Curve as a reference) has any actual evidence that there is any long-term trend in overall intelligence caused by this. Only a few "estimates" by the researchers. In order to be a valid empirical result you would have to show that intelligence is less in younger generations then older ones. But that's the opposite of what's been observed empirically.
Testing continues to support the notion of a longterm overall decline in intelligence.
Again, that's completely false. The Flyinn Effect clearly shows intelligence rising not falling from generation to generation.

So in other words, while some people may have made "predictions" like this: "Vining argued that this indicated a drop in the genotypic average IQ of 1.6 points per generation for the white population, and 2.4 points per generation for the black population." The actual empirical results show the opposite, not only overall but also on a per-race basis as the African American achievement gap closes.
posted by delmoi at 3:49 PM on September 28, 2011


After Democrats lost the 1994 midterms, Clinton pivoted to the center and got welfare reform and a balanced budget passed (with a seriously unfriendly Congress that trafficked in crazy conspiracy theories, many members of which later voted to impeached him).
Obama tried to do this, but the republicans weren't interested in doing anything other then destroying the country so they could blame it on him and retake the white-house.
posted by delmoi at 3:51 PM on September 28, 2011


The inflection point was around 1964-5. The 1964 Goldwater campaign gave the right wing a chance to flip the Southern Democrats into Republicans. Goldwater went down in flames, but his campaign set the stage for the right wing of the Democratic party to cross the aisle and become Republicans. The passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act accelerated the process but it would take a decade and a half before the nature of both parties as mixed coalitions of liberals and conservatives evolved into the present situation of polarized conservatives versus centrists without a reform liberal in sight. Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus is a lengthy exploration of how this operated in 1964.

By 1968, Nixon was able to get enough southern Democratic voters to cross over to the Republican party and complete the "Southern Strategy" which originated with the Goldwater campaign. In the North, opposition to school desegregation and bussing were the way the race issues were framed, but it was mostly about fracturing the coalition of the Democratic party and polarizing the nation's political parties. Perlstein's Nixonland details how Nixon pursued division as a way of gathering all the country's conservatives into the Republican party.

By 1972, a substantial number of southern Democrats in the House and Senate were poised to move as a group to the Republican party, but the move was abandoned when the Watergate scandal broke. A few Southern Democrats, particularly John Connally, climbed onto Nixon's sinking ship, but the sudden transition was aborted. See Godfrey Hodgeson: The World Turned Right Side Up for a brief description of how this crossover almost happened.

I could go on with more detail, but you can fill in the rest up to the present.

The point of this longwinded history recital is to emphasize that the political polarization is not something that occurred all by itself. It is a deliberate strategy to seize and hold power.

Orszag doesn't seem to get this. Since he doesn't get the cause of the polarization, he's in no position to prescribe cures for its effects. What we are experiencing isn't some momentary policy fumble by technocratic wonks, it is a positive-feedback cycle of power politics that began with a conscious strategy of destroying consensus politics.

It's not going to correct itself when "the pendulum swings the other way." There is no pendulum. It's a ratchet and it's how constitutional republics typically turn into authoritarian states.
posted by warbaby at 4:01 PM on September 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


An economist talking about moral judgements masquerading as science, eh?
posted by symbioid at 4:05 PM on September 28, 2011


"delmoi, again, you really need to actually read just a little bit before you fire off your screeds at me"

Ryvar, that article is pretty terrible — it's thin on credible sources, minimizes criticism and ignores falsification of predictions.

Not to get all ad hominem, but by looking at the talk page, you can see that the main author also doesn't believe that they need to read papers before citing them as support, and demands a WP policy decision in every line in order to respond to any criticism. By following over to their user page, you can see that they've been banned several times for rewriting the Evo Psych page to conform with their genetic determinism bias.

While Wikipedia takes a lot of credibility flak for the "George Washington went Jimbo's Gay" style vandalism, blithe misrepresentations with the veneer of science are more dangerous, because otherwise credulous readers turn to them for support, not realizing the humbug they contain.
posted by klangklangston at 4:13 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"George Washington went Jimbo's Gay"

That's not vandalism, that's cold, hard fact.
posted by Hoopo at 4:21 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Then why are local and state governments so much more corrupt? Because they are. They are really, really corrupt. A lot of the everyday hassles and problems we blame on the Federal level government are at least partly local in origin.

The point is not to make it less corrupt, though that is an admirable goal. The point is to make it a type and level of corruption that suits the populace affected.
That is to say, your part of the country can be sold out to developers, while my part of the country can be sold out to the teacher's unions and neither of us needs to deal with the guy who want to teach creationism.

If later on, my part of the country wants to issue every kid a b.b. gun, then it's easier to do that if we don't have to convince some Senator 2000 miles away.
posted by madajb at 4:35 PM on September 28, 2011


The problem with democracy is that most people are idiots, but I'm not sure how to work around that. When I was younger I thought we could use eugenics to engineer a perfect ruling class of philosopher kings, but I realize now that that may have flaws.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:46 PM on September 28, 2011


Lovecraft In Brooklyn: "The problem with democracy is that most people are idiots, but I'm not sure how to work around that. When I was younger I thought we could use eugenics to engineer a perfect ruling class of philosopher kings, but I realize now that that may have flaws."

Hey, it's the tl;dr version of the Allegory of the Cave.

I don't think it's impossible to have an informed populace. However, as in the Allegory of the Cave, people have to be dragged out of the cave, and when they go back they have to be strong enough to withstand the ridicule of their peers. Compulsory schooling goes a long way in that regard, but I think the education system still needs to be improved drastically to get people out into the searing light.
posted by mullingitover at 11:21 PM on September 28, 2011


@delmoi

by "faker" i mean "non-obvious/'crypto' neoliberal"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:52 AM on September 29, 2011


That's a lie BobbyVan. And it's another good example of how bad faith actors can manipulate these systems however they want.

The reason our unemployment numbers seem to keep going down (which, really, overall they've stagnated under Scott) is that Scott passed a bunch of measures to kick people off the unemployment rolls, including mandatory drug testing for unemployment benefit claimants.

He's been tweaking the metrics to show "gains" to the board, just like any two-bit, incompetent corporate executive would in his place.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:23 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Scott passes bill cutting unemployment benefits.

Florida poor submit to drug tests for unemployment benefits.

"Official" state unemployment numbers are derived from the state unemployment benefit rolls. So, yeah, when you pass a bunch of laws kicking people off unemployment or making it harder for them to claim it in the first place, your reported unemployment numbers tend to start looking better.

Meanwhile, as far as actual jobs go, Scott has already directly cost the state tens of thousands of good, middle class public sector jobs, and business owners in Tallahassee at least are in many cases now literally left begging for customers, and offering special state worker discounts because their customer base has been hit so hard.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:45 AM on September 29, 2011


That is to say, your part of the country can be sold out to developers, while my part of the country can be sold out to the teacher's unions and neither of us needs to deal with the guy who want to teach creationism.

Well, in Florida, we just eliminated our central development plan and now leave it up to each county to make development decisions. That does not work in anyone's interests because it means that when a county approves a polluting development on a river that crosses county lines, the county downstream has to deal with the consequences of the decision though they have no influence over it.

Honestly, our county level officials seem more or less completely impervious to public opinion. On the rare occasions they defer to popular concensus, it's always quite clear they see themselves as condescending to do so, with no real sense of public obligation. Local officials routinely hold dog and pony show meetings ostensibly to open up decisions to public comment, but as anybody who's attended such an event knows firsthand, they don't actually listen, and regardless of the degree of public opposition to a proposal, the developers always get the last word, because there's no binding obligation on the commissioners to actually respond to the public will and its the developers who finance their campaigns.

The same big money interests increasingly dominate the local races as do the state and national ones. I guess it's a bargain from a business standpoint. Six figures for a county commission campaign will buy you a county commissioner who can help you rake in millions in money from development projects, while it's still much more costly to get the equivalent bang for the buck at the national level.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:06 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Orszag is kind of just channelling Schumpeter and Weber. I was hoping for something more interesting.
posted by Kurichina at 9:34 AM on September 29, 2011


Honestly, our county level officials seem more or less completely impervious to public opinion. On the rare occasions they defer to popular concensus, it's always quite clear they see themselves as condescending to do so, with no real sense of public obligation.

Oh, I'm not suggesting it's the best solution, only an improvement over the current situation.
At the very least, I'd rather a local company get rich off the taxpayer than a faceless multi-national. That way, there is a chance it'll come back into the local economy. heh.

You are right, though, I have noticed more national money creeping into our local politics lately, mainly because of the tea party folks. On the other hand, the NEA has been influencing school board elections for years, so I guess fair is fair.
posted by madajb at 10:10 AM on September 29, 2011


At the very least, I'd rather a local company get rich off the taxpayer than a faceless multi-national.

Heh--that's optimistic. I think people underestimate how much of the trouble we already have is not the Federal government's fault, but due to local and state failures, and in fact, due to the shrinking role of the Federal government. Here, it's mostly the faceless multinationals that get the development dollars because of tax giveaways at the local level (like, for instance, Wal-Mart, which typically gets waivers from most if not all its local tax obligations when they build a new box store here on the basis of various economic development arguments; small, local companies don't typically get that level of service).
posted by saulgoodman at 10:25 AM on September 29, 2011


A bit more back on topic: I agree with this, too. Orszag does have a serious credibility problem here. He's probably the worst messenger for this kind of message, and it really is kind of stunning how quickly that revolving door spins.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:32 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


oops. I agree with this, too.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:33 AM on September 29, 2011


"Official" state unemployment numbers are derived from the state unemployment benefit rolls.

Kind of. BLS annually calibrates the model-based estimates which use unemployment insurance and the survey-of-employers to the Current Population Survey (call up 50,000 households and ask), so cheating on unemployment doesn't get you that far.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:45 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh, and now I see Scott has been in office less than a year. How time flies.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:51 AM on September 29, 2011


No--Florida's official figures are calculated that way, not the national ones. The figures the state of Florida releases are based on the AWI statistics, not on the Federal numbers for the state.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:09 PM on September 29, 2011


Well, on closer look, I guess those numbers are aligned to these. I was under the impression AWI released them from their own data. Even so, I wouldn't necessarily put too much faith in the numbers gathered at the state level.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:13 PM on September 29, 2011


Unemployment. The estimate of unemployment is an aggregate of the estimates for each of the two building-block categories. The "covered" category further consists of two unemployed worker groups: (1) Those who are currently receiving UI benefits and (2) those who have exhausted their benefits. Only the number of those currently collecting benefits is obtained directly from an actual count of UI claimants for the reference week. The estimate of persons who have exhausted their benefits is based upon the number actually exhausting benefits in previous periods "survived" using a conditional probability approach based on CPS data.

Still, the unemployment numbers are derived from the unemployment rolls. If you never make it onto those rolls, you don't count as unemployed. In his first year, Scott's administration has fast-tracked through major policy changes that have the effect of discouraging people from even filing unemployment claims (mandatory drug-testing for all applicants) and policies that make it easier for employers to fire employees in a way that disqualifies them from unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, he's fired in the neighborhood of 10,000 state employees, and publicly claimed credit for creating roughly 1,000 potential new jobs (in return for generous tax breaks to the companies that are supposed to eventually bring them). Yet the unemployment rate has somehow miraculously gone down and it has nothing to do with his stated policy aim of:
Reduc[ing] unemployment compensation taxes by shortening how long Floridians can collect benefits and making it more difficult for them to be eligible. Scott's office says that will save $630.8 million over two years.
Since Florida's unemployment insurance system already ranks as one of the lowest paying in the nation, it stands to reason he had to get a significant chunk of people off the rolls in order to achieve his budget cutting goal.

Assuming everyone claimed the maximum benefit ($275.00 for 26 weeks), then one person on the unemployment rolls costs the state of Florida $7,150.00. So conservatively, Scott's budget assumed the new unemployment rules would kick roughly 88,224 people off the unemployment rolls (in practice, it would be more, because not everyone qualifies for the maximum weekly benefits). Would that be enough people to account for a significant swing in the reported unemployment rates? I haven't done the math, but if that number is even in the ballpark, it seems to me it would.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:44 PM on September 29, 2011


Ah ha! Found a better figure.

Florida's own estimate was that the new unemployment rules would disqualify 40% of new unemployment applicants in the state.

So, it seems to me that taking roughly 40% of the population that might otherwise have gone on the unemployment roles out of the equation would make a pretty hefty dent, pretty damn fast on the state's unemployment rates, even if there's some sampling based weighting going on. But it's not even clear to me from your link robot that the actual unemployment figures are adjusted in that way, as opposed to the other related monthly labor statistics, like the estimates of the overall workforce and estimates of new jobs).
posted by saulgoodman at 1:06 PM on September 29, 2011


Still, the unemployment numbers are derived from the unemployment rolls.

Sure, within the year. The point I was making was that come January, BLS takes the model-based approach using UI and other reports and calibrates it to the CPS. There should be about 3000 Florida households over the year in CPS, which gets you a pretty accurate direct report of the unemployment rate. I have no idea what the Florida agency does, and their website deterred me from bothering.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:04 PM on September 29, 2011


also david frum is not a reptoid he is a fucking Dero
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:59 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older The descent of the Apollo 11, plotted with Google ...  |  Metafilter has debated the nec... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments