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Elected Elites?

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In a recent Linkedin story written by Richard Branson, the billionaire of Virgin Atlantic fame, he defends Democracy and calls on Democracies everywhere to consider looking at successful businesses and their structures as a role model presumably for better government.  He makes note of China’s speedy economic growth and how they are able to move quickly and without gridlock. He then goes on to suggest government could cut costs by eliminating so many representatives we have now, and instead paying the remaining  fewer representatives more money.

 

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According to Branson:

 “..Research has shown paying politicians more improves quality, and a talented, diverse new generation of people who would be attracted to positions where they could make a difference.”

First off I am not sure what research he is referring to but that sounds like a terrible idea. If anything we already pay politicians particularly US Congressmen far too much for too little return on investment. I fail to see how having less representatives somehow gives people equal or more representation than they already have now. It would appear Branson would like to see power concentrated into the hands of just a few representatives and given a freer hand to get things done. What “things” would remain to be seen, but you can be sure you and I won’t have a say in it if he gets his way.

Also, how does offering more pay for abysmal performance make for better representatives? For far too long we have elected people whose self-interest was the primary motivating factor for going into public service. You want to really start fixing things you have to change this paradigm. Political office currently attracts those seeking power, influence and money. How does that equate to good representation for the people? In the private sector money attracts more talent but does the type of person drawn to money, power, and influence make the best representatives of people who come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and economic conditions?

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In today’s society once these money and power hungry people take office is it rational to believe that they will somehow shelve their own personal interests that have driven them their entire lives, and expect them instead to suddenly become altruistic and put their country and constituent’s needs first? I don’t think so. Offering more money like Branson suggests to attract a new diverse generation will only attract different sharks to the same pool, not better representatives.

We have drifted from the principle ideas of true representative government, perhaps out of ignorance or apathy I don’t know but we have grown too comfortable electing and putting our blind faith and trust in these type of people. The very same kind that thinks it’s okay to spy on you, lie to Congress, and ignore the Constitution.

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In my view the compensation for any elected politician should be primarily the opportunity to serve the people. That should be reward enough. A small salary plus costs reimbursement should be in place but that’s it. Also there should be cumulative term limits for all those in public service. After eight or ten years in public life,  that’s it, you’re off the public dole and you have to go find a real job or start a business of your own. The days of career politicians should be numbered.

The Congress is supposed to be a snapshot of the American people. All of them not just the successful power hungry ones that come from five or six different career professions primarily. One of the major problems I have noticed and have written about in the past is the demographics of the USA and the demographics of Congress are dramatically different.

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In John Adams’s Thoughts on Government, Adams wrote about Congress saying

“..It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.”

Ask yourself the question, do our current Congressmen and woman think, feel, and act like you? They probably don’t and most of you would probably have little in common with them.

I wonder what kind of people would then be attracted to public service if pay for elected office was nominal, had little perks, and service was required to end after a few years. Would we be better off represented by Joe Citizen, the plumber, the baker, the teacher, or the software guy who took four or six years off from his live to “serve” a bigger purpose? Would we get a better return on our investment than leaving it in the hands of the “political professionals”? Would people step up and do the job? I think they would despite what other political hacks might think.

Lastly, while I oppose government bureaucracy just like the next guy, some gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing, despite what Richard Branson, the business mogul thinks. Our system of government was built with gridlock in mind to prevent hastily written laws that have bad consequences later. The intention was not to put laws in place that could easily be changed or circumvented at the whim of the people, businesses or political influences of the moment. The government was structured so that the passions of the people and various special interests were to be given time to cool off, and rational discussion and input from all interested parties could follow before legislation was to be enacted.  As Justice Scalia once said in support of the argument that the Constitution should be interpreted as the framers intended  “If the Constitution means whatever we think it means today, why have a Constitution. Just have a legislature.”

In summary Branson’s off the cuff idea would further disenfranchise the average American citizen and would concentrate more power into the hands of an elite few and keep it there. I think he should stick to his business and leave We the People’s business alone.

 

 

Representative government?

Just how representative is our representative government?

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Before John Adams came to be the 2nd President of the United States, he played a very influential role in shaping the ideas behind Constitutional government. In his “Thoughts on Government” Adams explains, government which “communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree is the best.” To Adams, influenced by such great English philosophers as John LockeEmbed from Getty Images Republican government was the best form of government.

Adams went on further to say “..In a large society, inhabiting an extensive country, it is impossible that the whole should assemble to make laws. The first necessary step, then, is to depute power from the many to a few of the most wise and good. But by what rules shall you choose your representatives? Agree upon the number and qualifications of persons who shall have the benefit of choosing, or annex this privilege to the inhabitants of a certain extent of ground. The principal difficulty lies, and the greatest care should be employed, in constituting this representative assembly. It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them. That it may be the interest of this assembly to do strict justice at all times, it should be an equal representation, or, in other words, equal interests among the people should have equal interests in it.”

This is a noble idea but in practice it has not always been the case. If we look at today’s make up of Congress I would suggest that a great many of the problems we are experiencing right now are due in no small part to the fact that our representatives do not really represent us. I am not only referring to their demonstrable lack of representation for the will of the people i.e. Obamacare, but their actual demographic make-up.

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Here’s some interesting statistics regarding the 113th Congress as of January 2014:

  • 93% of House Members and 99% of Senators have at least a bachelor’s degree this compares to roughly just 28% for the general public (US census 2010 data)
  • The average age of Members of the House of Representatives is 57 years and of Senators 62 years. As of 2010 the median age of US citizens was 37.2.
  • The majority occupations come from just four groups: business, education, law and public service.
  • The majority are White and Protestant.
  • A record 102 women (18.8% of total membership) serve in the 113th Congress as of December 2013.
  • Additionally there are 44 African American Members of Congress (8.1% of the total membership) 37 Hispanic or Latino Members or 6.9% of the total membership and thirteen Asian/Pacific Islander Members (2.4% of the total membership There are also two American Indian (Native American) members. 
  • According to Measure of America, median earnings for members of Congress are $174,000. According to the 2010 US census however  the median income for all Americans over age 25 with earnings was just $32,140.
  • The US census as of 2010 shows 50.9% of Americans are women, 72.4% of Americans are White, 12,6% are black, 16.4% are Hispanic or Latino, 4.8% Asian, .9% are Native American or Alaskan native and .2% are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Congress is supposed to represent the people of the United States but just a quick examination of these demographics illustrate clearly, sociologically speaking, women and minorities are not well represented in Congress as compared to the general population of US citizens. Similarly there are great disparities in age, education and income. So how then can we expect Congress to understand us and represent our real interests when they don’t share much in common with us?

According to a January 2014 Gallup poll Congress has a 13% approval rating from the public. That is appalling when you think about it.

So ask yourself what has the Congress done to change that approval. Nothing, it’s still business as usual in Washington. As has been said before by many political commentators and especially Mark Levin, radio host and vocal critic of the current administration, “Congress is not going to fix itself”.


Fundamental changes have to take place. The status quo must be challenged. New ideas need to be proposed and the old ways of doing things rejected. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Want to keep things the same, keep voting for Democrats or Republicans. Want change than look to people who believe that the country is dying and that reversing course is necessary. It looks risky but so is doing the same thing over and over again.

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Both houses of Congress and the White House need to have people who believe in true Republican democracy and not crony capitalism or centralized government. One hundred plus years of progressive/socialist ideology needs to be reversed. The fundamental ideals of the Republic like independence need to be rekindled. Elitism too needs to be addressed. The average American needs to have a voice. It has been suggested that term limits be imposed but I do not think that will work. Perhaps another house equal in stature to the Senate and House of Representatives needs to be added to Congress, a house of truly common people. Where plumbers and dock workers and teachers and students are represented, populist in nature it would accurately reflect the demographics of the country and be filled with volunteers who are not compensated and prohibited from receiving any benefits. It could act as another check to power that currently is misrepresented. It’s a crazy thought I know but something has to be done before people start really thinking government is best left to the “experts.”

“It does not take a majority to prevail…but rather an irate tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” -Samuel Adams

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