Gridlock

While reading Bureaucracy As Active Ingredient it struck me that there is a parallel here with the design of our federal government.

The article essentially explains that the cost of working through a bureaucracy is part of the design of a system that requires a high cost. Makes sense. A different kind of cost perhaps better suited to healthcare than simply charging more money.

I remember in my high school government class being taught that our federal government was designed to “check the best and worst impulses of man”. I’ve searched for this quote and while I seem to remember it coming from Thomas Jefferson, I can’t find any sources to back that up.

Nonetheless, I think this explains a lot about our current politics. What we have is essentially gridlock. And while that frustrates many people, I think it’s very important to remember that this is not a flaw. This is a design choice.

The framers saw the downside to a federal government with lots of power that was able to move quickly. And they wanted to make sure that anything really worth accomplishing passed the same sort of bar that Slate Star Codex describes in healthcare today.

And, remember, even if the majority of the population wants something accomplished, that shouldn’t actually be enough to simply allow the government to proceed. They’ve also got to watch out for the minority opinion, to keep their voices from being snuffed out.

(Coincidentally, I also think you can look at the electoral college through the same lens. The frequent calls for its abolition seem similarly misguided to me — it’s by design that the President isn’t elected by a direct vote.)

This is one of the reasons that I (personally) don’t really expect the government to accomplish anything for me. Expecting it to move fast and get things accomplished goes completely against the design of the system and the intent of the framers.

However, if enough people really believe that something ought to be done, then it’s possible for them to band together, strategize, and get it done. And if they are successful in working through the gridlock, then the results of their accomplishment will endure. For decades if not centuries.

If you haven’t seen the movie Lincoln, I can’t recommend it enough. Aside from being entertaining and dramatic, it’s also a terrific reminder of how difficult it was to get anything of meaning accomplished in the federal government, such as abolishing slavery! One of the reasons I love the movie so much is because the important characters never once complain about the government or about politics while working incredibly hard to get something of immense meaning accomplished.

They still believed in the system even though much of the country (in their eyes) was so very wrong about their attitudes.

For my money I can’t think of a better clip to share than this:

Weekly Round-up

Favorite links from this week:

I abandoned The Rise of Victimhood Culture 15% through. I think it makes many good points, but also contains a lot of weak arguments. And, it could be a blog post or article instead of a 278 page book. I did highlight a lot.

I also finished reading Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities that gave me a lot to think about w/ regard to non-SV startups.

Forget About It by Corey Robin

History is doomed to repeat itself. I’d place myself fairly in the center of the political spectrum, but still, this is one of the better articles I’ve read about the current climate in recent memory.

When Trump became a contender for the White House, I saw him as an extension or fulfillment of the conservative movement rather than a break with it. Almost everything people found outrageous and objectionable about his candidacy — the racism, the contempt for institutions, the ambient violence, the hostility to the rule of law — I’d been seeing in the right for years. Little in Trump surprised me, except for the fact that he won.

Whenever I said this, people got angry with me. They still do. For months, now years, I puzzled over that anger. My wife explained it to me recently: in making the case for continuity between past and present, I sound complacent about the now. I sound like I’m saying that nothing is wrong with Trump, that everything will work out. I thought I was giving people a steadying anchor, a sense that they — we — had faced this threat before, a sense that this is the right-wing monster we’ve been fighting all along, since Nixon and Reagan and George W. Bush. Turns out I was removing their ballast, setting them afloat in the intermittent and inconstant air.

Historical consciousness can be a conservative force, lessening the sting of urgency, deflating the demands of the now, leaving us adrift in a sea of relativism. But it need not be, as Lincoln discovered in his second inaugural address.

Yet, if God wills that it [the Civil War] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Telling a story of how present trespass derives from past crime or even original sin can inspire a more strenuous refusal, a more profound assault on the now. It can fuel a desire to be rid of not just the moment but the moments that made this moment, to ensure that we never have to face this moment again. But only if we acknowledge what we’re seldom prepared to admit: that the monster has been with us all along.