Is Our Democracy Failing Us?

Charles Hugh Smith at the Of Two Minds blog identifies some troubling trends among our elected representatives:

Representative democracy has an enduring fatal flaw: the small body of representatives can be "captured" by highly concentrated centers of wealth and power. Ironically, the rise of mass media has had a perverse effect on the process of getting elected to public office: in order to afford the "media buys" needed to reach a mostly disinterested citizenry (less than half bother to vote in the U.S.), the candidates must raise vast sums of money.

This gives the Power Elites the lever they need to effectively "buy" the candidates' attention and loyalties.

…extreme concentrations of power act as positive feedback loops: when their power reaches a certain threshold, they are able to cancel out any counteracting forces and thus add to their power. As a result, their wealth and influence becomes more concentrated and their control of the poltical agenda and process becomes stronger, which feeds and protects their perquisites, tax breaks, income streams and political power.

As they ceaslessly work to protect their fiefdoms, then adaptation, evolution and innovation are stymied, leading to economic and institutional stagnation. Phony "reforms" which leave their power intact are trumpeted in the corporate media while armies of lobbyists craft legislative bills which run to the thousands of arcane pages, as there are now many fiefdoms, Elites and power centers to feed and protect.

That this process has become dominant shows that the state government in California is so supremely, systemically dysfunctional that the representative democracy of the Legislature has been reduced to a body whose only task is dividing up the tax revenues amongst the various fiefdoms who own the legislators.

Defenders of representative democracy claim that the citizenry is not up to the task, and that "professional" staffers, lobbyists and legislators are uniquely competent to sort out the complexities.

I think California shatters this defense completely, and offers evidence that the opposite is true: that "professional" staffers, lobbyists and legislators are uniquely qualified to destroy the state. Quite honestly, the citizenry could not do worse even if they set out to do so.

The "insoluable problem" is the capture of representative democracy by extreme concentrations of power and wealth.

The entire point is to reduce the influence of concentrations of wealth and power. Right now, legislators are beholden to small constituencies who fund their campaigns, and who hold the threat of financing an opponent's campaign next election. This system has led to dysfunction without end and the corruption of democracy.

Economic Solutions at the Local Level

Charles Hugh Smith at the Of Two Minds blog sees economic disaster from over-borrowing and over-spending. In the excerpt below, he describes some solutions that will work without a federal bailout.

Link: oftwominds

So here is a short, semi-random list of solutions which don't depend on Federal borrowing and largesse:

1. Every small business owner who vacates a tiny $3,000/month storefront and hastens the bankruptcy of the commercial landlord who "needs $3K" from the space to pay an inflated mortgage is part of the solution. When the building is sold later for a modest sum, spaces can be rented for what a struggling business might actually afford, i.e. $300/month.

Please note:

Nobody needs to start or operate a small business. You cannot coerce anyone to take the risks of entrepreneurship, hire workers, rent space and pay taxes. Every entrepreneur can opt out at any time when the risk-return ratio turns negative. High rents, high taxes and lower revenues have turned the ratio extremely negative.

2. Every parent/guardian who teaches a child (by their own example) to unplug electronics which are not in use and all those energy-hogging inverters/rechargers is part of the solution.

Q.: What percentage of household electricity in the U.S. is lost to appliances that are turned off?

Saturday Quiz: Energy Lost on Electronics Standby (May 24, 2008)

According to The U.S. Department of Energy, there are 2,776 electrical generation plants in the U.S. That means 140 power plants do nothing but generate the electricity wasted by DVD players, TVs, answering machines, stereo systems, xBoxes and computers plugged into wall sockets while not in use. One easy solution: put as many of these devices as is practical on power strips which can be turned off with one switch.

Although I'm a bit rushed right now and can't look up the statistic, I think 140 power plants burn over a million tons of coal a year. That's a lot of coal to keep your TV and computer speakers on standby.

3. Everyone who focuses not on losing weight but on becoming fit and feeling better via refusing to consume junk food and garbage fast food is part of the solution. Changing the goal from weight loss to well-being is a solution for the individual and for our society as a whole.

4. Everyone who consciously chooses to prepare a home-cooked meal rather than buy a toxic-waste fast food meal is part of the solution–and a revolutionary to boot: "A healthy homecooked family meal and a home garden are revolutionary acts."

Please don't email me that "real food" is unaffordable; beans and rice and vegetables from the Asian or Hispanic or Halal markets are much cheaper than fast food. Please click on the "What's for Dinner?" tab at the top of the page for an analysis which proves this. When it comes to fast food, what we have can be boiled down to one word: excuses.

5. Everyone who forms or helps sustain a community garden is part of the solution: "Food is wealth, health is wealth, energy is wealth; all else is illusion." (For more aphorisms, please scroll down this page.)

6. Everyone who starts bicycling, insulates their water heater, or installs solar panels, etc. is part of the solution. The cheapest energy "source" is conservation. Installing solar panels isn't just a metric of which energy source costs "less"–as measured by what? What if the energy is priced in gold, or oil, or air quality?

There are dozens of other solutions which we control and which don't require unsustainable Federal borrowing and largesse.