"Gardens of Democracy" and the "Role of Government"


by JDoolin
Tags: gardens of democracy, role of government
JDoolin
JDoolin is offline
#1
Mar6-12, 08:52 AM
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What should the role of government be in the United States? I've been reading a book with some suggested answers to these questions, and I thought it might spur a good discussion. Have other people read this book? Are there other good books to read that have good suggestions along these lines?

In Gardens of Democracy, by Eric Liu, and Nick Hanauer, the writers suggest the role of government should be more like that of a gardener, and less like a machine. "A gardener does not make the vine climb or the rose bloom. But he does decide whether it will be vegetables or flowers. He does plant accordingly. He does distinguish between good growth and bad, between a wanted tomato and an unwanted weed. Most of all, he knows that if he doesn't do the work in the garden, no one else will."

What follows is a highly condensed, and probably imperfect synopsis of their ideas.

Big What includes
  • Setting strategic goals for the community; nation state, city, and to do so with an implicit moral opinion that some outcomes are preferable to others.
  • Equipping every citizen with the greatest possible capacity and equal opportunity to join in the pursuit of those goals.
  • Generate trust and encourage cooperation--not just a personal ethic of honesty but a collective condition of reciprocity generated by shared experiences. This is why national service matters, and why it should be mandatory.
  • Sustain true competition and break up concentrations of wealth and power that are unearned and self-perpetuating.

Small How includes
  • Radically re-localize" Provide robust funding for those local means and intentionally link up all the local experiments. Pushing authority ever downward. Forming national, even global networks to allow the local experiments to learn from one another.
  • Be the citizen's hardware store; provide the resources to enable locals to act robustly and to be networked with one another.
  • Be a smarter prime contractor; Government bureaucracies are generally incapable of providing high-quality, low-cost services that adapt to the changing requiremnts of citizens. We are calling on government, like an effective foundation or venture investor to get far better at running competitions. It has to develop more competence to assess performance, replicate successes, and fire failures."
  • Create and amplify positive feedback loops. "Governing to anticipate socially destructive feedback loops like financial bubbles or storms of fraud is a central role. But a modern government should also seek to crecate hurricane-like storps of pro-social activity as well."
  • Offer pounds and pounds of prevention "In the last 20 years urban policing has moved this way, as shown by the emergence of national coalitions of cops and children's advocates like "Fight Crime, Invest in Kids"
  • Design more nudges: "government should not be neutral--it should be very clear and vocal--about pro-social goals and activities."
  • Tax more strategically--and progressively: Allowing the accumulation of uncoordinated tax breaks to release a corporation like GE from paying any taxes whatever is profoundly irresponsible. Letting over a third of the nation's wealth "clot" among just 1 percent of our people--as we will do if the next 30 years are like the last 30--is national suicide. Progressive taxation is the only way for a society to create the virtuous circle of ever-increasing shared prosperity.
  • Create incentives and rewards for over-performance "There should be challenge awards like the X prize in every part of government. in building codes, early learning, health care, car gas mileage. The strategic recognition and rewarding of over-performance is the fastest way to set off cascades of innovation in the public sector.
  • Weed relentlessly: When the evidence says a program has failed or outlived its usefulness, it should end. And government should be looking continuously to end things.

But in order to implement any of these things, we have to "push through an agenda to decalcify the processes by which government in America operates:"
  • Reform redistricting Congressional districts should be drawn independently of the parties, and optimized for a mix of voter viewpoints rather than incumbent protection
  • Restrict money in politics
  • Stop the revolving door. (Government officials and regulators going straight into jobs for the companies they are regulating.)
  • Reform the filibuster (A single secret vote can prevent voting without a supermajority)
  • Reinvigorate voting (Make it mandatory. Get everyone a voter-ID.)
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mege
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#2
Mar6-12, 05:31 PM
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Isn't "picking winners and losers" the cornerstone of crony-capitalism which (I believe) most reasonable people are trying to steer our government away from? All of the premises below are basically ways that the government can be more involved into decisions and homogenize choices of the populace - that seems fundamentally contrary to a free society.

The one thing that I agree with:

Weed relentlessly: When the evidence says a program has failed or outlived its usefulness, it should end. And government should be looking continuously to end things.
Jimmy Snyder
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#3
Mar6-12, 05:42 PM
P: 2,163
You've focused on the only item that has anything to do with gardening. I'm surprised there was no item about spreading a lot of fertilizer.

JDoolin
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#4
Mar7-12, 09:02 AM
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"Gardens of Democracy" and the "Role of Government"


Quote Quote by mege View Post
Isn't "picking winners and losers" the cornerstone of crony-capitalism which (I believe) most reasonable people are trying to steer our government away from? All of the premises below are basically ways that the government can be more involved into decisions and homogenize choices of the populace - that seems fundamentally contrary to a free society.

The one thing that I agree with:
I don't think so. Crony-capitalism is a matter of picking winners based on personal gain, while I the idea here is to pick winners based on the gain of the whole of society.

If you don't like crony-capitalism, this could be a good example of
Setting strategic goals for the community; nation state, city, and to do so with an implicit moral opinion that some outcomes are preferable to others.

We would set goals for the community with an implicit moral opinion that crony capitalism is BAD, and then set up an environment of transparency and clarity. For example, we could make it a matter of public knowledge where every penny of public works dollars is going, and what was accomplished with it.

Now what other solutions do you have to eliminate crony-capitalism?
mege
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#5
Mar8-12, 12:52 AM
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Quote Quote by JDoolin View Post
I don't think so. Crony-capitalism is a matter of picking winners based on personal gain, while I the idea here is to pick winners based on the gain of the whole of society.

If you don't like crony-capitalism, this could be a good example of
Setting strategic goals for the community; nation state, city, and to do so with an implicit moral opinion that some outcomes are preferable to others.

We would set goals for the community with an implicit moral opinion that crony capitalism is BAD, and then set up an environment of transparency and clarity. For example, we could make it a matter of public knowledge where every penny of public works dollars is going, and what was accomplished with it.

Now what other solutions do you have to eliminate crony-capitalism?
The ultimate problem is: who gets to decide what is the best for the whole of society? If we could agree on what is best for society already, then I don't think we'd be having this discussion ;)

To fight crony-capitalism I think that, as a society, we need to embrace a touch more flexability in the political sphere. Crony-capitalism, IMO, stems from having legalists and career policy-writers as our only legislators. In our country's effort to become more specialized, we've allowed a few select professions take over Congress (and most elected positions). If we had more 'subject matter experts' I think that crony-capitalism would go away on it's own. Now, appropriately trained lawyers are subject experts in writing policy, sure - but that doesn't make them the best for 'making' policy (if that distinction makes sense). The problem is lack of incentive (or too much disincentive?) for "non-legalists" to enter in public service. I think that this is the same problem with the American secondary education system, we have 'educators' as teachers when IMO we should have subject matter experts, so this 'over specialized' issue isn't just an issue with our political system. I'm going to do a touch more research (a few initial searches don't come up with anything substantive), but I'd wager that aside from JDs and MBAs the next largest catergory of 'background' for our congresspeople is 'Entertainer'. Where's the engineers, doctors, historians, sociologists, etc? I think that more diverse backgrounds in our legislative bodies would remove the incentives for crony-capitalism without actually marking it as BAD and essentially picking self-interested individuals/groups as 'losers'.

I don't have a good way to mandate that this type of shift occurs and it is one of the so called 'problems with democracy', but I have a hard time buying into democracy being about electing officials that make decisions for me. I elect officials to make decisions in the best interest of the entity that they're running.
JDoolin
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#6
Mar8-12, 12:21 PM
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Quote Quote by mege View Post
The ultimate problem is: who gets to decide what is the best for the whole of society? If we could agree on what is best for society already, then I don't think we'd be having this discussion ;)

To fight crony-capitalism I think that, as a society, we need to embrace a touch more flexability in the political sphere. Crony-capitalism, IMO, stems from having legalists and career policy-writers as our only legislators. In our country's effort to become more specialized, we've allowed a few select professions take over Congress (and most elected positions). If we had more 'subject matter experts' I think that crony-capitalism would go away on it's own. Now, appropriately trained lawyers are subject experts in writing policy, sure - but that doesn't make them the best for 'making' policy (if that distinction makes sense). The problem is lack of incentive (or too much disincentive?) for "non-legalists" to enter in public service. I think that this is the same problem with the American secondary education system, we have 'educators' as teachers when IMO we should have subject matter experts, so this 'over specialized' issue isn't just an issue with our political system. I'm going to do a touch more research (a few initial searches don't come up with anything substantive), but I'd wager that aside from JDs and MBAs the next largest catergory of 'background' for our congresspeople is 'Entertainer'. Where's the engineers, doctors, historians, sociologists, etc? I think that more diverse backgrounds in our legislative bodies would remove the incentives for crony-capitalism without actually marking it as BAD and essentially picking self-interested individuals/groups as 'losers'.

I don't have a good way to mandate that this type of shift occurs and it is one of the so called 'problems with democracy', but I have a hard time buying into democracy being about electing officials that make decisions for me. I elect officials to make decisions in the best interest of the entity that they're running.
Well said.

Yes, the distinction between "writing policy" and "making policy" is a good one. Also, I think this relates to the "revolving door" where the policy writers go and work for the companies they are regulating, or vice-versa. A strong incentive for crony-capitalists to enter politics is the massive accumulation of wealth they can receive for just making a few policy changes to benefit a few companies.

Meanwhile, most experts would rather work in the field that they are experts in. If I went to school to become an engineer, or a doctor, etc, I probably intended to get a job as an engineer, or a doctor, etc.

But perhaps more importantly, am I delusional in thinking that there are pretty powerful and dangerous forces at work trying to keep the real experts out and the cronies in? Is this a "nothing to fear but fear itself" situation, or are there real evil forces at work in our economy? When we see these guys in government do these things that look grossly incompetent and stupid, is it really just incompetence, or is it greed, or is it fear? Probably a combination of all three, but I'd wager the worst part is fear.

In the U.S. this fear may be more of humiliation by the media than fear of being physically harmed, but it is still something that most rational people want to steer well clear of. (It also occurred to me that the one group who are more-or-less immune to humiliation are entertainers. Imagine a comedian in Anthony Weiner's shoe, who could have easily been able too turn around the issue and embarrass the media, instead of resigning.)

How do we get real experts more involved in the decision making? And how do we get the crony-capitalists away from the decision making?
Dotini
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#7
Mar8-12, 03:59 PM
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Quote Quote by JDoolin View Post
What should the role of government be in the United States?
Somehow, I'm stuck at the old-fashioned notion that the role of government, at least at the federal level, is defined by the Constitution in this country.

I think it's great to have ideas and discussions about what government should do, but they should be amended into the Constitution before enactment.

I do not think it's okay to ignore the Constitution.


Respectfully submitted,
Steve
Gokul43201
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Mar8-12, 05:01 PM
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Quote Quote by mege View Post
The ultimate problem is: who gets to decide what is the best for the whole of society? If we could agree on what is best for society already, then I don't think we'd be having this discussion ;)
Do you believe that it is not the government's rightful role to "promote the general welfare"? If you believe it is, how do you interpret the words 'general welfare'?
mheslep
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Mar8-12, 05:49 PM
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Quote Quote by mege View Post
...
The one thing that I agree with:

Weed relentlessly: When the evidence says a program has failed or outlived its usefulness, it should end. And government should be looking continuously to end things.
That's indicative of the flaw with overall prescription. Nobody needs to be told that programs should end when they outlived their usefulness, yet they never do. That is, the authors misunderstand what government is to the point of being ludicrous. Government is something always seeking more power, something dangerous, that is required unfortunately because people are not angels.

Quote Quote by Ronald Reagan
...a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!
mheslep
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Mar8-12, 05:50 PM
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Quote Quote by JDoolin View Post
...
Now what other solutions do you have to eliminate crony-capitalism?
Shrink the size of the state. No crony capitalism with no cronies.
MarcoD
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#11
Mar8-12, 06:07 PM
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Quote Quote by mheslep View Post
Shrink the size of the state. No crony capitalism with no cronies.
I wonder why people associate cronyism with the state, whereas I would -and I think lots of other people too- associate it with companies?
mheslep
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Mar8-12, 07:22 PM
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Quote Quote by MarcoD View Post
I wonder why people associate cronyism with the state, whereas I would -and I think lots of other people too- associate it with companies?
The phrase refers specifically to the relationship between the state and private buisiness. 2 to tango
Dotini
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Mar8-12, 07:28 PM
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Quote Quote by MarcoD View Post
I wonder why people associate cronyism with the state, whereas I would -and I think lots of other people too- associate it with companies?
The association of the state with companies conjures up the fearful term "fascism".

Cronyism puts the politest possible face on it.

Respectfully,
Steve
MarcoD
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Mar8-12, 07:48 PM
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Ah, I looked it up. You're right, still didn't get the definition right.
mege
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Mar9-12, 12:05 AM
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Quote Quote by JDoolin View Post
But perhaps more importantly, am I delusional in thinking that there are pretty powerful and dangerous forces at work trying to keep the real experts out and the cronies in? Is this a "nothing to fear but fear itself" situation, or are there real evil forces at work in our economy? When we see these guys in government do these things that look grossly incompetent and stupid, is it really just incompetence, or is it greed, or is it fear? Probably a combination of all three, but I'd wager the worst part is fear.
From my experience and perspective - much of what is considered 'crony-capitalism' is not done with malicious intent. I think quite often there is a 'we all win' type of mentality. Many business owners and lobbyists are in their positions because they feel what they're doing is a great good for society. They're also good 'salesmen' and good at presenting their product/service in the best possible light. The legalists/lawyers/etc that are in our legislature have to make a decision based on the given information - so ultimately there becomes a bit of selection bias based on best salesmanship on the part of the company trying to gain favor. So I think your statement about 'incompetence' in the government is accurate, but I don't think it deserves as negative of a connotation that comes with it (for the most part).

If anything is done in greed on the part of a legislator, I think that it is done out of self-preservation. This is tricky because it's a double edged sword: the legislator is there to act on behalf of their electorate (so they want to remain popular, right?) but what if ultimately what is popular isn't what is right? I think that this is probably the (malicious-looking) driving force for more policy decisions than any sort of cloak and dagger backroom dealings that are associated with cronyism. IMO A good example in current politics: the auto-bailouts. It would have been seen as a slight to the unions to not bailout GM and Chrysler (disclosure: I was working, non-union, for GM service engineering when the bailouts occured). Noone wants to peeve-off that large of a crowd, so the bailout decision (I feel) was made in a very large part as a gesture to placate the UAW, et al (and any attempt to question it was politically unfeasable, so the full impact wasn't really evaluated).
ThinkToday
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#16
Mar9-12, 09:19 AM
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Quote Quote by mege View Post
The ultimate problem is: who gets to decide what is the best for the whole of society? If we could agree on what is best for society already, then I don't think we'd be having this discussion ;)

To fight crony-capitalism I think that, as a society, we need to embrace a touch more flexability in the political sphere. Crony-capitalism, IMO, stems from having legalists and career policy-writers as our only legislators. In our country's effort to become more specialized, we've allowed a few select professions take over Congress (and most elected positions). If we had more 'subject matter experts' I think that crony-capitalism would go away on it's own. Now, appropriately trained lawyers are subject experts in writing policy, sure - but that doesn't make them the best for 'making' policy (if that distinction makes sense). The problem is lack of incentive (or too much disincentive?) for "non-legalists" to enter in public service. I think that this is the same problem with the American secondary education system, we have 'educators' as teachers when IMO we should have subject matter experts, so this 'over specialized' issue isn't just an issue with our political system. I'm going to do a touch more research (a few initial searches don't come up with anything substantive), but I'd wager that aside from JDs and MBAs the next largest catergory of 'background' for our congresspeople is 'Entertainer'. Where's the engineers, doctors, historians, sociologists, etc? I think that more diverse backgrounds in our legislative bodies would remove the incentives for crony-capitalism without actually marking it as BAD and essentially picking self-interested individuals/groups as 'losers'.

I don't have a good way to mandate that this type of shift occurs and it is one of the so called 'problems with democracy', but I have a hard time buying into democracy being about electing officials that make decisions for me. I elect officials to make decisions in the best interest of the entity that they're running.
I'm a little mixed about "crony capitalism" being tossed around. This can be as simple as supporting those that supported you. I actually went to look it up to be sure, but the definition of crony is “A longtime close friend or companion “. As long as it isn't a significant detriment of one’s constituency, I'm fine with it. Politics has inherent winners and losers. If “you” support the “other guy”, don’t complain to me if you’re not at the top of my list. That’s the way it has always worked. Whether it’s right-to-life, PETA, or Planned Parenthood, they all have their hooks into someone or some power group, and it will never change, nor should it. We pick sides and there are winners and losers. It’s one way we make decisions we must live with.

As for more “subject matter experts”, those are the folks that are needed to provide input, but not necessarily those that should write the rules. My doctor should have technical input on medical care, but I don’t want him/her deciding how much and what will be paid for. There is an obvious conflict of interest. The system works ok now, IF the congress would actually heed the advance. How many “budget” and “deficit” committee reports have numerous Presidents just said “thank you” and shelved? Additionally, those that write the law need to have a clear understanding on the limits placed on government by the people (Constitution). IMO, any elected legislative job should have education requirements that must include the history of this country. IMO, there needs to be some anchor by which all things are buoyed (the Constitution), and if you don’t understand what was written and in the context it was written, we will be adrift. I don’t want any more Like Rep. Hank Johnson that thought the island of Guam would flip over from the weight of an expanded naval base www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNZczIgVXjg . You wouldn’t believe this person would make it to a position of power, but he did.

I look at legislators a bit different. If this guy where at a compariable skill, ethic and knowledge level in medicine, would I let him operate on my family member? If this women was a builder with a compariable skill, ethic and knowledge level in construction, would I let them build my house. We all went to school with some popular people, but can you say you'd unquestionably hire them? Some yes, some hell no. Elections seem to be popularity contests.
ThinkToday
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#17
Mar9-12, 09:29 AM
P: 172
Quote Quote by mege View Post
From my experience and perspective - much of what is considered 'crony-capitalism' is not done with malicious intent. I think quite often there is a 'we all win' type of mentality. Many business owners and lobbyists are in their positions because they feel what they're doing is a great good for society. They're also good 'salesmen' and good at presenting their product/service in the best possible light. The legalists/lawyers/etc that are in our legislature have to make a decision based on the given information - so ultimately there becomes a bit of selection bias based on best salesmanship on the part of the company trying to gain favor. So I think your statement about 'incompetence' in the government is accurate, but I don't think it deserves as negative of a connotation that comes with it (for the most part).

If anything is done in greed on the part of a legislator, I think that it is done out of self-preservation. This is tricky because it's a double edged sword: the legislator is there to act on behalf of their electorate (so they want to remain popular, right?) but what if ultimately what is popular isn't what is right? I think that this is probably the (malicious-looking) driving force for more policy decisions than any sort of cloak and dagger backroom dealings that are associated with cronyism. IMO A good example in current politics: the auto-bailouts. It would have been seen as a slight to the unions to not bailout GM and Chrysler (disclosure: I was working, non-union, for GM service engineering when the bailouts occured). Noone wants to peeve-off that large of a crowd, so the bailout decision (I feel) was made in a very large part as a gesture to placate the UAW, et al (and any attempt to question it was politically unfeasable, so the full impact wasn't really evaluated).
Agreed. I would use the Keystone pipeline as an example. Do you tic off the environmental supporters or the labor supporters? Hmm, we'll just punt and say we didn't have enough time. Problem is the Canadian NEB approved the project in 2010, and although I don't know how long it took them to approve the project, I'm guessing it was studied for at least a couple years. The Obama administration makes it sound like this just got dropped on them without warning, but seriously, they had to know this has been cooking since he became president. And, why is it the State Department holding it up for environmental issues, isn't that the EPA's responsibility?
mheslep
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#18
Mar9-12, 09:57 AM
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Try the definition of cronyism:

partiality to cronies especially as evidenced in the appointment of political hangers-on to office without regard to their qualifications


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