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100 ?’s for Government: What is government for?

February 2, 2013

This is Question 6 from “100 Questions for Government” series

You would hope a nation whose President once stated:
“…and that government: of the people, by the people,
for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”[1]

would feel comfortable that government is for the people and by the people. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to make a case for this underlying tenet of the US system falling by the wayside, or at least being a little murky in its application. Evidence for this would include:

  1.  Only 61.6%[2] of eligible voters chose to do so in the 2008 election[3]
  2. 77.7% of Minnesotans voted but only 50.8% of Hawaiians
  3. Many corporations donate campaign funds to both parties
  4. Over $3.5 billion was spent on lobbying politicians in 2010[4]
  5. Total contributions by individuals to the 2008 election was $1.33B[5]
           a) Approximately half of this could be attributed to less than 400,000 individuals[6]
           b) The remainder could be attributed to about 5.7 million other people[7]

If  “avoiding the look of impropriety” is important to our representatives within the political system, the current power and influence of lobbying groups seems disproportionate to their supposed voting power (which is none). Similarly, even on an individual level only about 3% of eligible voters are financially participating in the political process. It could be argued this looks like:

  1. Some entities without votes have more influence than individuals who do
  2. Some individuals votes have influence well after the election

Many people have argued for the separation of church and state (we’ll address that later), perhaps there should also be some discussion of separating the economic system and the state as well. Capitalism may be facilitated and promoted by government but what evidence is there that financial success should increase your influence on the political system?

Obviously, it could be argued that the financially strong have earned the right to spend their moolah in any way they see fit. However, unless they are unusually philanthropic, there’s an excellent chance their disproportionate influence on legislation would ultimately lead to the system facilitating them and not the less fortunate. Evidence of the political system being unduly influenced in this manner might take the form of:

  1. Significant increases in income inequality over the last 50 years[8]
  2. Historically low tax rates or effective tax rates on high income earners
  3. Industries enjoying unreasonable assistance and limited regulation
  4. The top 1% of income earners netting 24% of all income[9]
  5. Everyone earning over $350k doing a little dance

Until we see some of these things occurring, I’m sure our political system is “by the people, for the people.”

Initial Opinion:

There’s considerable anecdotal and factual evidence to suggest our political system is increasingly run by “some of the people, with obligations to certain people and legal entities.” This is not necessarily an indictment of the participants – it may be more reflective of the realities created by the current political system. However, the first step to any solution is to admit we have a problem. America’s ability to lead, and even compete, effectively in the 21st century is in question. It could be the system merely needs a few basic tweaks or maybe a radical overhaul. However, there can only be one conclusion – it’s not perfect and it’s time to ask some questions.

[1] Abraham Lincoln – Gettysburg Address

[3] This was the highest voter turnout in some time

[6] Calculated using total donations/lowest donation in tier

[7] This assumes lowest donation range averaged $100 – further accuracy is welcome

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