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Our political system is NOT broken... it is working as designed

Updated: Jan 21

Our popular press suggests the U.S. political system is broken:

  • "Our immigration system is a broken system."

  • "Obamacare is a failure."

  • "Our current tax system is broken."

  • "Our healthcare system is broken."

  • "I want to see a new system. I believe that the credit scoring system is broken."

  • "Like you, I'm fed up with business as usual in Washington. Send me to Congress, and I won't tweak our broken system. I'll shut it down."

Selected results, google search: "our system is broken"

These quotes are from politicians or political candidates. But is it broken? This article's premise is that our political system is working exactly as designed, with key political agents acting as expected and in their own self-interests. To be fair, people may not like the habits, behaviors, and outcomes of our political system. But this is not the same as "being broken." Once we admit the challenge with our system is a rule design flaw, then we can get on with the work of correcting the design flaw.

While these quotes speak of change, change rarely happens. These passages are really just slogans as part of the political theater. They are intended to build an emotional reaction and to help the candidate get elected. Much the way advertising is meant to build an emotion leading to a product sale. However, unlike consumer products, there is no "truth in advertising" law to regulate the politician products unable to deliver on their political advertising claims.

History has much to teach us about the path to authoritarianism. The path includes slowly subverting democracies, one rule at a time. The path also includes using political power to "pack the court" or other neutral agencies. The apologue "Boil The Frog" is fitting. People may not recognize we are in the political system's hot water until our democracy has lost its life. Daniel Ziblatt wrote an empowering book that researches how other countries have lost their democracies. Dr. Ziblatt teaches us that...

The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy—gradually, subtly, and even legally—to kill it.”

The next graphic shows a perspective on how to change our system from the inside. Systems are just a set of rules. Change the rules and you change system outcomes. This is a different approach. We do not discuss hot-button issues like the health system, guns, or immigration. We consider those as unfortunate symptoms. Sadly, those symptoms may be leveraged for political theater. While addressing these concerns could be helpful, we consider them as addressing symptoms .... not the systemic root cause itself.

changes in Washington start with normal people taking back the vote

To enable zooming, double touch or click the picture

We offer a political system's view and solutions to help resolve America's legislative branch systemic vote-weakening crisis. If we correct the system's rules, the symptomatic issues will naturally improve.

Political systems are tricky. We live in them so we naturally come to embrace them as "normal." Even if we recognize something is wrong, it is a challenge to understand how to change the system. We also naturally align ourselves with the systems of our life. Our biology is geared toward tribalism. Our tribalistic nature desires affiliation. This systemic affiliation may make us feel like we are somehow being disloyal when questioning a system. Frankly, our politicians leverage this feeling of loyalty.

As it stands today - a minority of political party insiders with little incentive to change are controlling the very large group of normal people that are desperate for change.

In our article, Your vote does not matter as much as it should! we address our weakening vote as the systemic root cause keeping us from making effective legislative branch-enabled changes. In this article, we address America's founders' intent regarding political parties, consider our own neurobiology, and investigate the impact of social media. We discuss "game theory" and how economists consider system or "game" rules to determine game theoretical equilibrium outcomes. Armed with this context, we then explore the 1972 McGovern-Frasier Commission recommendation to implement the primary and caucus system. We show how the primary and caucus system is the great unintended catalyst enabling political parties to cede our voting power for over 50 years. We show how the voting system created by McGovern-Frasier has elements of biological systems leading to cancer. We present the data that clearly shows the party-line congressional voting changes after the primary and caucus system was implemented.

U.S. primary and caucus system - the unintended consequences leading to weakening of our vote

We need to take our vote back. James Madison, John Adams, and the other founders fought to make our vote the cornerstone of our society. The vote is the foundation of a well-functioning democracy. A strengthened vote enables:

  • Accountability of our elected officials to consider, debate, and implement new laws to strengthen the U.S. and

  • Reduce the divisiveness impacting our legislative branch's effectiveness.

In a 2020 article by the Brookings Institution [i], they suggested an approach to recast the primary and caucus system. The recommended approach enables the parties to act as a means of quality control. The parties would serve to vet the candidates to ensure they are fit for the primary or caucus process. This seems like a reasonable root cause-focused suggestion. It aligns with the balancing system architecture such as our 3 branches of the federal government or our bicameral legislature.

“[T]wo filters are better than one. Electoral and professional perspectives check each other’s excesses and balance each other’s viewpoints[.]”

Political systems reinforce general social inequality. Political systems and general social inequality are like two sides of the same coin. Their interaction creates a reinforcing feedback loop. Those politicians with motive and opportunity to increase the power and wealth of the political party participants change rules causing more income inequality for the general population. Robert Solow is a Nobel laureate economist. Solow said:

"Great wealth attracts great political power and a society that tolerates extremes in inequality of wealth also tolerates extreme differences in political activity and political power.... It’s the interplay between economic inequality and political inequality. You start with some economic inequality. It generates political inequality. Well, the holders of political power, the beneficiaries of that political inequality, are going to pass laws and cultivate customs that help themselves."

The following graphic demonstrates the feedback loop between political and social inequality. It also shows the starting point for increasing political inequality and the reinforcing of social inequality. It all began in 1972 with the McGovern-Frazier Commission's recommendation to create the caucus and primary system.

Growing social equality as reinforced by growing political inequality

Please check out our Empower Your Vote article series.



Infographic sources and comments:

1. The primary and caucus candidate selection change in 1972 source and comments:

We provide the analysis demonstrating the relationship between congressional party-line (aka - party unity) voting and the time period before and after the primary and caucus system was implemented in 1972. We also provide a reference to our primary data source called "Vital Statistics on Congress" as is provided by the Brookings Institution.

Please see:

Previously, we show a visual describing the difference in the political system motivation between the former party selection process and the primary and caucus system implemented in 1972. History shows the primary and caucus system implementation as a case of "Throwing the baby out with the bathwater" overreaction to prior party candidate selection practices.

For an in-depth discussion of the impacts of the McGovern-Frasier Commission recommendation to implement the primary and caucus system, please see:

Levitsky and Ziblatt, How Democracies Die, 2018

2. Normal people v political industry participants' source and comments:

In our infographic appearing at the beginning of the article, we suggest "the vast majority" of people are "normal" with the remaining "small minority" being political industry members. This is intended to suggest most people are "middle of the road" when it comes to most issues, with a small portion at ideological extremes. In other words, most people would accept legislative solutions, appreciating some negotiation between reasonable people working in good faith to develop those solutions. The political industry members are more likely to take hard positions, supporting party positions over good faith solutions. As it stands today, the small minority of political insiders without incentive to change are controlling the vast majority of normal people desperate for change.

This "minority controls the majority" split is loosely based on Pew Research data for the 2018 midterm election primaries.

3. Minority rule and renormalization source:

The misalignment of interests between the minority and the majority is at the heart of the challenge to change the polarizing legislative environment. Renormalization is a word with a deep history in physics and quantum electrodynamics (QED). Renormalization more generally means "causing to conform to a normal state again." N.N. Taleb explores renormalization as the scientific basis for minority rule in the following book:

[i] La Rja, Rauch, Voters need help: How party insiders can make presidential primaries safer, fairer, and more democratic, The Brookings Institution, 2020

4. Income inequality source:

The Gini coefficient a common measurement of income inequality within countries captures the ratio between the most and least wealthy in a country with zero equating to zero inequality and one indicates complete inequity.

Editors, World Bank Poverty and Inequality Platform – with major processing by Our World in Data, 2022

Solow's quote:

Levitt, Ninety-Eight Years of Economic Wisdom, interview with Robert Solow, People I (Mostly) Admire, 2023

Please note: Dr. Solow died shortly after this interview. R.I.P. Dr. Solow. The world is a better place because of you.

Business and Political profile

For full transparency, please see the author's political disclosure and business profile.


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