Have you noticed how often simplistic solutions are offered, and generally accepted by the public, for even the most complex problems? “Cap ‘n Trade” for climate change, “austerity” for economic depression or “tests” for troubled schools, for example.
Maybe it’s our human inability to hold more than five or six variables in our minds at one time. It’s true that most of the problems we face – climate change, health care, financial inequality, security, war – are hugely complex systems with millions of decisions and daily interactions. Where do we start? What constitutes a workable solution?
But additional factors at work below the surface reveal our broken system of decision-making.
First, the people are manipulated. Those with vested interest in the status quo, or a particular ideology, feed us simple solutions they think will appeal to most people. Think of the “War on Terror” and NSA surveillance of all Americans’ Internet traffic. Shallow reasons to invest billions in private companies.
Second, the people are ignored. Hundreds of polls are taken, but whatever “we the people” think about an issue has little bearing on how it is eventually decided. Take the new Asian trade pact: private corporations are spending billions to lobby Congress to get their way, regardless of what that will do to our environment or our society. The finished product is set to favor the special interests and privileged elites, not America’s workers.
Third, there’s no action. There’s a lot of discussion these days about key issues, but very little real change. Nobody advocates “inequality.” But nothing is being done to reverse course economically.
Nobody wants climate changes that hurt us, but no manufacturers or petro companies are changing what they do. Everybody wants a good education for their children, but no one is shifting power or money toward students and teachers.
Fourth, money trumps solutions. Every policy decision has a bait-and-switch move: the goal is money, not solving problems. Take the Affordable Care Act debate. We all want good health care at an affordable price, and it’s a complicated system. But each player in the game is focused only on solutions that bring the wealth of that system their way. So “Obamacare” is a political football between the billionaires and the Congress they control. Score the points, get the votes, bag the profits, fast and easy. But change? Whoa! Not so fast!
So what can we do about this situation?
Step one: We need to revive the custom of our revolutionary forebears wherein public discussion was held in public spaces by real people discussing their understanding of the day’s important issues. Gathering in churches, parks, city halls and other public spaces can renew community participation in governance at the local and regional levels.
Step two: Create new channels for developing local consensus and candidates for office. We need new public places to meet for dialogue that develop national public policy directly from ordinary people in the local settings. We need a new political party structure as a mechanism for electing public officials who are not under the corporate (or any other) thumb. We also need new ways to translate popular public policy initiatives into viable legislation.
Step three: Thanks to 40 or more Supreme Court decisions over the years, corporations are considered “people.” We must now press actively for reducing the status of corporations to below that of sovereign citizens. We should revise the process of chartering these organizations, not in perpetuity, but for defined, and very much shorter terms.
If we get busy and actively participate in the process, we can turn the ruse of simplicity into the reality of solved problems.
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