Sunday, November 15, 2009

Achieving National Goals

I'm happy to report that I'm making decent progress on writing the book proposal for "I Pledge Allegiance: To What? -- The Paradox of 'Me.' " Herewith, a draft of the summary of the volume's last chapter:

"Chapter 9 describes several strategies that could enhance the achievement of America's fundamental values. First, we must decrease the attention given to pure economic measures (e.g. GDP) and highlight more meaningful social indicators. (The President, for example, could even include a status report in the State of the Union message.) The successful non-profit model should be used more extensively to engage in activities that promote our stated objectives (thereby reducing the ubiquitous and sometimes deleterious profit-at-any-cost motive). Educational programs should incorporate, alongside "pure" academic instruction, modules on cooperation, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and increasing the skills required to cope with personal adversity. The Constitution should be amended to provide for additional representatives and senators, with publicly financed national elections, for the purpose of reducing parochial interests and promoting the common good. Corporations should be legally charged with the public responsibility to take the long-term welfare of all citizens into account, even as they strive to earn profits for shareholders. Inter-cultural exchange programs should be vastly expanded to increase the sense of "family" Americans feel for each other, regardless of geographic, ethnic, and religious differences. Finally, voters should be encouraged to select leaders on the basis of critical thinking ability and the willingness to take counter-intuitive, bold positions when doing so will enhance the pursuit of happiness, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure a nation and a world conducive to the well-being of our posterity."

Sorry -- long paragraph I know.

If any readers have additional ideas about how to achieve our fundamental values, as espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution, I'd love to hear them!


  1. Regarding your constitutional amendment proposal: why should we believe that a larger congress would be less corrupt? I think there's a case for the opposite being true, where the large size makes it less likely any particular member would be exposed to broad scrutiny on a national level.

    On the question of public financing, how do we reconcile that with freedom of the press? Freedom of the press means that I have the right to produce and publish materials saying whatever I'd like, and to pay any amount I'd like for that production and publication. Note that the use of the term "press" to refer to professional media is a much more recent phenomenon than the 1790s, and the founders were talking about the freedom to literally use your printing press to write whatever you wanted.

  2. Peter, thanks for your comment. In both cases, I was constrained by the fact that this is a summary from fully explaining the concepts. For that, you'll have to read the book! :)

    In regard to the first issue, I don't propose it as a method of reducing corruption. I propose it as a method of increasing the number of votes governed by national, as opposed to parochial (local), interests. A nationally elected Senator (especially one who can count on public financing in the next election, thereby reducing the influence of special interest lobbyists) does not have to "bring home the bacon" with millions of dollars in earmarks and does not have to represent the interests of any one state. Presumably, this could free such a person to vote on the basis of what is best for most Americans and/or the nation as a whole. Naturally, no system can ever be perfect, and I don't claim this one is, because systems are devised and implemented by people. As I said in "Operation Capitol Hill" (page 273), "the history of modern civilization is essentially the story of the never-ending attempt to conceive a form of government that approaches perfection despite the imperfections of the people who create it."

    Freedom of the press? Well, I think the Supreme Court has already ruled on that one, because the presidential candidates of major parties can, if they wish, accept public funding for their campaigns. Yes, this does preclude campaigns from accepting direct contributions from individuals and corporations. However, to the best of my knowledge, it does not preclude you as an individual from printing up a storm, distributing flyers on street corners, mailing them to your friends, taking out ads in the newspaper, etc. Your personal freedom is not abridged by public financing -- only the freedom of organized already-wealthy special interests to essentially buy the elections and then control the politicians once they are elected by threatening to withhold their support in subsequent elections if the "public servants" don't vote "correctly."


  3. Actually, my personal freedom to print fliers and spend my own money on an election IS constrained by federal law. If I spend over $50 of my own money to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate for federal office, I am required to form an organization and register with the FEC. Failure to do so is a criminal offense. I have a huge problem with this law, and think it is wildly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to it in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

    As to the issue of lobbying, any constraint on lobbying in my view falls afoul of the petition clause of the first amendment. "Congress shall make no law...abridging...the right of the petition the government for a redress of grievances." Unless you want to change the first amendment, my view of the matter is that speech to Congress is given the most explicit constitutional protection possible, and can't be constrained in any way shape or form.

    The constitution does not always say what one would like it to say (there are many clauses I would like to change myself). It does, in this case, lay out a very clear guideline. In no way shape or form can the federal government constrain the speech of anyone with regard to elections and actions in Congress.

  4. Peter, I have a few questions for you. 1) Does the fact that you haven't commented on many of my other suggestions mean that you agree with them? 2) How well, generally speaking, do you think the US is doing in achieving its stated goals (e.g. establish justice (for all)...the latter words being derived, of course, from the Pledge) and (corollary question) what objective measurable indicators should we pay attention to in answering this question? and 3) Unless you disagree with the position that lobbyists for the corporate sector have essentially acquired veto power over the legislative process (and given the extensive literature on the subject, I don't see how you could disagree), what do you propose, if anything, be done about it? Or is this the America envisioned by Jefferson, Washington, Adams, etc.?

  5. 1. No. I am just most familiar with constitutional law, and decided to comment in that regard.

    2. I think that the idea of broad and vague goals for policy is a very bad premise to follow from, since they don't provide a real standard to measure against. The pledge itself was written in the 1890s, revised to add "under god" in the 1950s by McCarthy, and is an institution I'd rather abolish. As to real measures to look at, I'd say examining the realm of liberty afforded by the government, as well as the physical security of persons from violence and fraud are two good metrics to begin with.

    3. I think lobbying is a problem. I think however that the only way to actually solve that problem is wildly unconstitutional, and requires taking an ax to the first amendment. I think you need a better reason than "people I don't like are getting unwarranted political favours" to justify mucking around in the Bill of Rights.

    Jefferson, Washington, and Adams all had pretty different visions for the country by the way, so the answer to your last question would be "no" regardless of what American politics and society looked like.