Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Suggestion for Occupy Wall Street Demands

So, though the market action has been highly interesting lately and the drama in the Eurozone is extremely compelling I would like to take some time today to lend a hand to the marginally important though highly amusing Occupy Wall Street movement. The movement is emotive if incoherent not unlike the Tea Party. There has been some concern lately that while they are unhappy about a great many things they have little in the way of concrete solutions or even demands. A website affiliated with them did publish a draft of potential demands but it obviously cannot be taken seriously because, like the movement itself, it has virtually no understanding of how the world actually works and therefore cannot address itself to the root causes of the problems which vex them so.

So I have decided to publish what I consider to be a more reasonable list of demands that I think would actually go a long way toward resolving many of the issues which face them. My views on the solutions to the economic ills facing the country are so counter to the thoughts of the OccupyWallStreet crowd that they require a separate post. However, fundamentally I agree with the protestors that the influence of well financed special interests has totally undermined the Democratic process and largely captured the state.  

First I will list some assumptions:

  1. Corporations and people respond to incentives, the key element in controlling behavior is not to simply enact rules but to enact rules and laws which consider second order effects, that is the ways in which individuals and groups will respond to them. The key is to focus on final outcomes, not initial rules.

  2. Money in politics is here to stay. If you are going to tax and regulate business, business is going to seek to influence those taxes and regulations. If you make it illegal to donate to campaigns then you'll move to a revolving door regime such as we have with regulators and administration officials or corporations will find some other means to influence policy. The rewards to it are simply too great. The key therefore is not to eliminate money from the political system but to alter the political system in such a way as to minimize the influence that money can buy.

    So with that in mind, here are my suggestions:

  1. Quadruple the number of members of House of Representatives. 

    The average member of the house current represents about 650,000 people. This is such a large number that the only way for Congressmen to communicate with the voters is through mass media. Mass media is expensive. If you lowered the number of people that Congressmen had to win over in an election to a more manageable number then you would diminish the necessity of mass media buying and you would therefore also minimize the influence of money in elections.

    As a second order effect, instead of having to pay off 435 Congressmen, large well financed special interests would have to pay off 1740. You would be raising the total cost of influencing national policy but simultaneously lowering the costs for any individual citizen to actually run for office. This would have a substantially dilutive effect on the role of money in elections and would make Congressmen as in touch with their constituents as the mayor of a medium sized city.
  1. Double the number of Senators

    Same reasoning as the above.

  2. Change the term of a house member to five years and a Senator to fifteen.

    When the Constitution was originally written life expectancy in the US was about 40 years of age. Therefore a two year congressional term would constitute about 5% of the life span of the average person living in the country at the time. It was therefore a very serious time commitment and few people thought they would run more than a few times. Now that people live much much longer, most politicians plan on running for election several times. This is extremely expensive and makes fundraising a virtually constant demand on the time and attention of all public servants. The moment they are elected they have to be thinking about raising money for the next election. Why not take the pressure off, by making the term of office a similar life commitment to what it was in when the Constitution was first framed. Think about it, for several years, while there was no imminent election, it would be extremely difficult to influence the political system with money.

  3. Implement non-partisan redistricting

    This is absolutely essential. Today many Congressional districts are drawn up by partisan committees which basically divide up the districts so that many of them are “safe” for one party or the other. Basically the parties largely decide between them what their proportion of seats in Congress will be. This has some very pernicious effects on governance. The most important is that in “safe” districts the candidate really only has to win the primary. Imagine a Congressional district with 650,000 residents. Of these lets say 300,000 are registered voters. Of these 150,000 will vote in the general election. Lets say that 85,000 of them are Democrats, and 65,000 of them are Republicans because this was designated a “safe” Democratic seat through partisan redistricting. Let's say that 20,000 of the most hard-core Democrats are going to vote in the primary to choose which Democrat actually gets to run against the Republican who is almost certain to lose. First of all, the Rep has to only appeal to the most committed of that 20,000 in order to “represent” them and the other 630,000. Keep in mind, the people who vote in primaries tend to be VERY committed to their ideology which is why they pay attention to the primary.

    This kind of thing has a HUGE influence on policy. Imagine you are a Tea Party Republican. You may think its reasonable to include some tax increases in some kind of compromise. Of the 650,000 people in your district about 400,000 probably agree with you. But, only 20,000 voters actually count because if you don't win the primary you're out of the game before it starts. Let me assure you than on the Republican side those 20,000 guys don't want to hear ANYTHING about raising taxes. So you're sure as hell not going to raise them.

    Non-partisan redistricting is not perfect but it would go a long way toward breaking the stranglehold of the extremes on the right and the left over the political process and would return power to the more pragmatic and centrist elements of the political system.

So, that's my suggestion for a platform for the Occupy Wall Street crowd. You can't get the money out of politics but you can dilute its effect and refocus our elected representatives on serving the needs of the entire public rather than their special interests and ideological masters. 


Anonymous said...

hmm.. focus on the outcome not the influence.. it seems that your recommendation is simply driven by a selfish motive to increase your own expected chances of one day becoming a senator or congressman. We all know your true ambitions have always pointed towards serving in public office. Also, for the record, I would VOTE for you and think you would do a fantastic job.

The occupy wall street klan is not even smart enough to develop a real identity behind their cause. They just plagarize bits and pieces from the movie, V for Vendetta. This is super pathetic. It makes me want to go out and start my own I-Bank and call it, J.T. Marlin.

Ken said...

Not sure who this is but I don't plan to run for public office for a great many years. Let me know if you want some help starting your own I-bank though, I could be up for that.

Polish Mama on the Prairie said...

I can't agree with Suggestion III simply because there has never been any safety in human history of someone running for office with a long term, in terms of them not being able to push in harsh unethical laws and it being hard for the masses to stop that person. Whereas the idea of a short term office means that if the person does a horrible job, he can quickly be replaced.

I still support the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy America movement. I get what they are saying.

Ken said...

Short terms have not protected us from harsh unethical laws but they have allowed well financed and well organized groups to use their money and organization to inflict those laws on their opponents with less money and with less organization.

My objective here is to minimize that influence and I think the only way to do that is to make officeholding more of a life commitment rather than a constant exercise in fundraising. And remember, all I am doing is making being a Congressman the same kind of commitment relative to life expectancy that it was when the Constitution was written.

In my opinion, if you read what they are actually saying it's kind of impossible to support them. If items 1 and 11 of their platform were implemented enough people would starve to death to enable the rest of the platform to be implemented.

Brendan said...

I think as a matter of organizational science increasing the number of House representatives and Senators would make it more difficult for the government to act and in general weaken government. Are there examples of well-functioning legislative branches with that many members? A parliamentary system that concentrated more power in the hands of leaders would solve that problem.