Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Waste Not, Want Not

“But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal.”

—David Brooks, writing in the NYT about the governing incompetence of the far right.

“Could confiscation be so unfathomable? And once confiscated, will the government transfer that wealth, or keep it. I think we both know the answer to that........It all starts by assigning too much virtue to the political classes.”

—David Clayton (my brother), worrying about the long (redistributionist) arm of the left.

It’s official. We’re polarized. A good thing in sunglasses. Not so much in politics.

Compromise is a thing of the days of the arm-twisting of Lyndon Johnson and the Irish bonhomie of Ronald Regan and Tip O’Neill. No more. Shut her down.

The source of our current sorry state has been probed ad nauseam. But it’s not complicated: we don’t trust each other. The left thinks the right is a bunch of selfish libertarians who are happy to play Hunger Games. The right thinks the left is a bunch of lazy takers who want to feed out of the public trough.

Both sides have their points.

The problem with trying to compromise in this overheated and moralizing environment is that it’s just not gong to happen. Not on the issues before us: health care, welfare, taxes. The battle lines are drawn. No one is coming out of their foxholes.

What is needed is compromise of a different kind: A new platform for going forward. A new OS, to use a tech analogy. The old code of government bureaucracy is corrupted. We need to start over. 

Remember the ACA website? So well intentioned, so badly designed. The whole thing had to be thrown out and re-coded by people who knew what they were doing. Now it works great.

The right doesn’t trust the government with their money. They’ve got a point. The government is hugely inefficient and not a little corrupt.

But the left doesn’t have any way to achieve its redistributionist agenda except through the taxation and spending power of government.


There’s an easy way out of this. Easy conceptually, anyway. Make the government more accountable, transparent and efficient. 

That would mean a lot of changes, a lot of upending of entrenched bureaucratic interests. Government is our Augean Stable. 

Could we clean it up? I think so. We brought in the tech wiz kids from Silicon Valley to fix the ACA website. Why not do something like that for the whole government? The secret to accountability, transparency and efficiency is data. We have to know what’s going on to monitor it and make it more efficient (and less corrupt). That sounds like something for the same folks who fixed the ACA site. Set up a dashboard, monitor the systems, report what’s happening, repeat.

We spent a lot of money fixing the ACA website. It was worth it. We would have to spend many times that to achieve the broader objective of streamlining the entire government and making it more transparent and accountable. But that would be worth it too.

So I say this to my fellow progressives, to Democrats of all stripes. Let’s open up the books. Let’s let everyone (including ourselves) see what we’re doing with their money. In something like real time. Without bookkeeping mumbo jumbo or hocus pocus.

Maybe then we could earn the trust we must have if ever we hope to come together on the great issues facing us. I don’t think many on the far right are cruel. I don’t think they want to see people go without enough food or education. They just don’t trust us to spend their money wisely.

Let’s do something to earn that trust. 

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