Can we ever create a government that works well?

When was that ever a thing in any western government? Seems like total fantasy land to me, given what I know of past presidents (I admittedly don’t know much about senators, governors and representatives in that regard, but I can’t imagine it’d be astoundingly different).

If “doing stuff” is your yardstick, a dictatorship is a far better government than any sort of democracy.

No “chicken and egg” about it – the idea of American Exceptionalism goes back to Thomas Jefferson …

According to Tucker and Hendrickson (1992), Jefferson believed America “was the bearer of a new diplomacy, founded on the confidence of a free and virtuous people, that would secure ends based on the natural and universal rights of man, by means that escaped war and its corruptions.” Jefferson sought a radical break from the traditional European emphasis on “reason of state,” which could justify any action, and the usual priority of foreign policy and the needs of the ruling family over those of the people.
American exceptionalism - Wikipedia

And its substantial flaws have been well elucidated; for example (from the same source):

… The third idea of American exceptionalism, superiority, has been criticized with charges of moral defectiveness and the existence of double standards. In American Exceptionalism and Human Rights (2005), the Canadian commentator Michael Ignatieff treats the idea negatively and identifies three main sub-types: “exemptionalism” (supporting treaties as long as U.S. citizens are exempt from them); “double standards” (criticizing “others for not heeding the findings of international human rights bodies but ignoring what the organizations say of the United States”), and “legal isolationism” (the tendency of U.S. judges to ignore other jurisdictions).

If you think that is my yardstick, they you haven’t understood anything I’ve said. None of the nations I cited in my examples are “dictatorships”. They are functional democracies that have successfully implemented progressive social programs with the support of a majority of the electorate; programs like universal health care and gun control that the US has failed to achieve, largely because it isn’t a functional democracy but is ruled by a self-serving moneyed oligarchy. It has utterly failed to enact most progressive initiatives, and those few that have been enacted have been against fierce opposition that was overcome by a few exceptional statesmen, like Lyndon Johnson signing Medicare into law in 1965, or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Remember Ronald Reagan’s “Operation Coffeecup” campaign railing against Medicare, and warning everyone that if Medicare was enacted it would be “the end of freedom in America”? Yeah, that’s the sort of stuff that has major traction today, more than ever. Here’s a reminder from Ronnie:

I’m afraid i read this comment as an example of Wolfpup’s Point 1, above:

Government is a decision-making structure, and as we move in the direction of increased equality and the rule of the people rather than the rule of the leaders, government necessarily has to be a communications structure.

Rather than propose a specific governmental structure at this point, I’d like to propose a funded experimental lab. Hand 5000 different groups some funds to play with the most egalitarian decision-making structure they can come up with and see who can make it work, and compare notes and let’s see what we can learn.

To a large degree, what the US ended up with is the beta-test version of democracy. Yes, we were early adopters, and that counts for something… but we still have all of the bugs that later adopters, learning from our example, have fixed. I mean, our founders managed to not even anticipate something as basic as political parties. Our government recognizes them now, because it’d be impossible to be a functional government without doing so, but it does so in a spaghetti-coded patched way, not built into the system like most democracies that came after us.

I understand the idea dates back a ways, but I don’t see any evidence that this is the reason why we’ve rejected ideas that came from other places. America does seem special and unique in many ways, even if it’s only in the way the rest of the world looks at us like we do Florida. Is it at all possible that maybe we don’t do things the way a lot of other countries do because we’re actually different?

No, indeed (the collective) you have got a whole lot of similarities in your intransigence.

Which reminded me of Frantz Fanon’s commentary on the shoe-banging incident at the UN in Oct 1960. “And when Mr. Khrushchev brandishes his shoe at the United Nations and hammers the table with it, no colonized individual, no representative of the underdeveloped countries laughs. For what Mr. Khrushchev is showing the colonized countries who are watching is that he, the missile-wielding muzhik, is treating these wretched capitalists the way they deserve.”

…in the Afghanistan threads after America pulled out, there was an idea that prevailed that essentially it was the right thing to do, because things were always going to go back to the way things were, because that’s just who they are.

I disagreed with that premise back then. And I still disagree with it now.

But I can’t help but look at the United States of America and when I look at the question “Can SDMB create a better form of government?” the answer is obviously “yes”, but would that ever be something that America would even consider, or be doable?

And the answer, short of a revolution, is no.

Because, and I hate to say it, this is just who you are.

The problems here are foundational. America is built on the premise of white supremacy. And it permeates every level of society. The justice system. Housing. Prisons. Policing. Financial institutions. The government.

And one of the other things about America, one that hardly ever gets talked about because people prefer to believe the fiction over the reality, is how fundamentally corrupt American society is.

I remember when I used to play Sid Meier’s Civilisation, which was a fantastic game, but this was how it described democracy:

And I think back to how I just kinda accepted that premise, as I think that we all did, and that’s why “American Democracy is good” and “socialism [nee communism] is bad”.

America is probably one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. It exist on every level, from the government to the police forces to the industrial prison complex to the stock market to the gig economy.

I bring this up all the time here but it boggles my mind that America incarcerates more people per capita than anywhere else in the world, and if we were to release half of everyone locked up in America right now it would still have over twice as many people (per capita) that are currently locked up in Australia.

Twice as many.

And nobody really cares. You so much as mention something like “bail reform” and you get called a “dirty socialist” and they drum you out of office. America will never make a dent in the prison populations. Not in my lifetime. Not for generations. Not short of a revolution.

Because America, fundamentally, is racist and corrupt. And too many people with power are making money out of the prison industrial complex and the people have been conditioned to think that this is entirely normal.

So can America ever create a government that works well?

Short of a revolution, no.

America is too fragmented: by State, by County, heck, even by School Zone. There are 17,985 police agencies in the United States. In contrast, the UK only have 43, ultimately answerable to the Home Office. But in the United States? They are effectively a law unto themselves. The LAPD literally has their own gangs. The NYPD is out of control. And this year you’ve given billions more dollars than you ever have given them before. Billions. America is a country of mini-empires, from the highest tiers of government to the local home-owners association.

You actually have a government that “works well” in this environment. That’s what you have. It works well enough to keep the lights on (most of the time), that keeps the trains moving (by forbidding the workers from going on strike).

The government is perfectly suited to maintaining the status quo.

So what is a “better government?”

I think a core principal needs to be the independence of the people and organizations that control and run the elections. That would need to be the starting point.

But I can’t, short of a revolution, see how this could conceivably happen. There is no pathway to this. You wouldn’t even get beyond the debate on whether this should be lead by the Federal government or lead by the States.

First of all, I don’t know anyone over the past couple years who thinks the NYPD is “out of control”. If anything, New Yorkers feel that it’s crime that is getting out of control.

Secondly, American government is fragmented by design. Everyone seems to think that if we had some highly efficient monolithic government, it would reflect the people’s will and we’d create some sort of progressive liberal paradise. Well I hate to break it to you, but Americans are fucking selfish stupid jerks. I would argue that extends to most people in most countries. The whole reason we have checks and balances is to make government inefficient so change happens slowly. Even if it is slower than people might like.

You know who had an efficient government? The Nazis.


From literally today:

That time the NYPD orchestrated an attack on hundreds of protestors.

That time the Sergeants Benevolent Association doxxed the Mayor’s daughter.

The NYPD has a budget of over 5 billion dollars. The Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget paid out $175.9 million in civil judgments in 2019. $4 million in pre-litigation. The NYPD has “intelligence officers” stationed in 13 different offices overseas. 750 million dollars went to overtime payments, orders of magnitude over budget (73%!), a scam that is so well known that its got it’s own name: “collars for dollars.”

The NYPD is corrupt as hell. And if you hadn’t noticed, and if you don’t know anyone who thinks they are out of control, and if you genuinely believe that New Yorkers feel that its actually crime that is out of control, then yeah, you’ve pretty much proven my thesis to be correct.

Firstly: I’m well aware that American is fragmented by design.

Its just that from a design point of view, the design absolutely sucks.

Everyone doesn’t think that. What makes you think that everyone thinks this? This isn’t even remotely close to anything I’ve said.

I’m sorry, but what exactly is it you are “breaking” to me again?

Did you not read my post? The one where I said multiple times that short of a revolution, nothing is going to change?

There are indeed selfish stupid jerks in every country in the world. But when it comes to white supremacy and corruption, America is pretty exceptional.

Checks and balances?

The Supreme Court of the United States consists of 9 unelected wizards who are accountable to absolutely nobody and they convene a regular Council of Elrond where they make some bullshit up, take a vote and take away womens right at the stroke of a pen. “Checks and balances” is very much an illusion.

Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a district judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, issued a nationwide order vacating the mask mandate and that order was actioned immediately. Masks came off mid-flight.

The system isn’t “slow.” That isn’t a feature. It can move lightening fast when it needs too.

You know who didn’t argue in this thread for a more “efficient government?”

Banquet Bear.

The problem with fragmentation isn’t “efficiency”. It’s accountability.

I’ll go back to the number of police agencies. America has 17,985 different police agencies, ranging from Federal to State to Local departments all with their own rules, all with differing levels of oversight. Some of them are even elected.

We talk a lot about ways to reform the police in America. But honestly: where do you even start? In the UK they all come under control of the Home Office. You’ve got over 40 different agencies in the UK, but ultimately they all come under the oversight of the ministry.

So how do you reform over 17 thousand different police agencies?

The answer is: you can’t.

You can talk about it a lot. You can say things like “we can’t defund, we must reform” and then give them another few billion dollars more in funding. But there will never be any serious attempts at reform. Because its pretty much impossible.

And that, as you rightly point out, is by design.

Short of a revolution, nothing is ever going to change. You aren’t ever going to get a “better government” than the one that you have. It will forever be-in the best case scenario-kinda mid.

(And for the worst case scenario? Look at the last word that you wrote.)

The idea of a government is to take a whole bunch of people with different views, opinions, and desires, and try to find a way of getting them all to work together.

A government will always be a compromise, and no one will ever get everything that they want. So, before you can answer how to get a government that works well, you have to answer the question, “Works well at what?” What metrics do we judge by? Who is supposed to benefit from government action? If the DOW is high and gas is low, does that mean the government is working well?

IMHO, the best government is the government that gives the most voice to the people, and that would involve having much more proportional representation. I’m for bringing the House of Reps back to 30,000 residents per congressperson, as well as making the Senate more proportional representation as well.

I question this. I don’t feel China particularly wants to see the Chinese government imitated in Taiwan. China wants to see the Chinese government gaining control of Taiwan.

I feel the same is true regarding Russia. Putin and his regime have no interest in seeing equivalent regimes set up in other countries. They just want other countries to come under the control of Russia and the Putin regime.

Interesting thread. I think there are lots of things we can do to make national government function better - uncapping the house, proportional representation, etc - but the constitution itself itself (democracy’s “beta”) impedes most serious progress not only by design but also with the complicity of those who are made most powerful by it.

We’re pretty much a mess and will remain so until the monied elite and those fearful of change are such a small minority that they can’t use the inertia encouraged by the system to stop it.

Fuck “traditional” single man rule forever.

Ultimately the problem is that a significant number of people, maybe most of them, don’t want to work with views, opinions, and desires that are counter to their own. And a lot of people’s views, opinions, and desires are selfish, stupid, and / or dangerous. But once people get into a position of power, they tend to look to their own interests. But if power can’t be centralized to some extent, nothing will get done.

The art of politics is to find areas where we can work together on things that we agree upon, and to find acceptable compromises in the areas where we don’t.

Anything else is tyranny.

It is a balancing act. The best government would be a omnibenevolent, omniscient dictator. Such doesn’t exist, and even if someone was found that was close enough, they will die eventually, and now you have to find a way to pick a new one.

The more power is decentralized, the less efficient it is, but the more it is centralized, the more opportunities and temptations exist for corruption.

My take on it is to balance it, by centralizing the decision making power as much as possible, but decentralize those choosing who the decision makers are as much as possible.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

― Winston S. Churchill

Switzerland seems to be doing quite well. They put up almost everything to referendums and don’t even have a capital city. Decentralization, baby. However, maybe also much easier in a somewhat homogenous country (ethnically, geographically) limited in size and population (just a little under 10M).
Singapore might be considered a quasi-democracy in that the economical possibilities seem to be endless, whereas the possibility of political influence is somewhat impeded.
Both are very rich countries.

Which brings me to the following: liberty or democracy? Is it possible to have both? Because democracy can easily turn into the tyranny of the majority, should the majority decide that e.g. freedom of religion shouldn’t really be a matter of choice. On the other hand, should liberty allow for child labor, prostitution, gambling, no laws regarding what, to use a nebulous word, ‘harmful’ substances?*

Is it even possible to effectively combine both in larger countries (both geography and population) such as the U.S. China, India, Brazil, Russia? I think there’s an upper limit to achieving what Singapore and Switzerland have managed: The territory can’t be too big. Bigger countries need to be subdivided into smaller parts (I am am aware of the Swiss cantons) and these subdivision can/will drift apart to form what are essentially different countries, cf. California and Florida. And with a large population, governing on a national level gets exponentially harder. All those freedoms Americans cherish, also means that the country is almost quantized in ever smaller sub-divisions, each demanding their rights.
China manages this by actively suppressing anyone who isn’t Han. Turkey does this with the Kurds and managed to wipe out the Armenians over 100 years ago. India is increasingly moving into sectarianism with Modi turning a blind eye or discretely encouraging violence against non Hindus. I het the impression that certain groups in the U.S. wouldn’t mind a similar development.

Back to the OP: Yes. But with caveats. It will depend on location (because geography), population (and how it is comprised) history/tradition (America will never throw out its constitution, no matter how archaic it will become).
You will never be able to import Social Democracy to the U.S. Look at where it thrives (Northern Europe) and where it survives (the rest of Western Europe to larger or smaller extent). And nowhere else. I don’t think the Singapore system can be implemented outside South Asia, and maybe only in geographically small countries. Switzerland is an anomaly - again geography - that is basically impregnable. In many ways Canada (and to an extent Iceland) is the same. The only threat to Canada that is physically possible is from the U.S. and why should Americans even want that?

So you have to work with what you’ve got and make the best of it. Who decides what is ‘the best?’ Therein lies the rub.

*Libertarians tend to argue this or similar opinions. They always also imagine themselves at the top of the food chain, being insulated to the horrors of what true libertarianism would entail.

I think the bigger “issue”, if you want to call it that, is that our States have a LOT of sovereignty relative to the Federal government.

Everything at the Federal level is more or less concerned with the States, not the individual people, because the States set the election laws, districts don’t cover parts of two states, and so forth.

The House of Representatives is about as proportional as you can get under that system, and even if you somehow emasculated the Senate with a stroke of a pen, the States would still have a LOT of influence.

Plus, the vast majority of laws are outside of Federal jurisidiction. I mean, the Feds have no actual legal way to mandate a national speed limit, for example. Or outlaw the death penalty, short of some sort of proof that it violates the Constitution or Federal law.

And I’m not sure all that’s a bad thing. It’s a fundamentally different exercise to try and govern 300 some-odd million people spread out over almost 4 million square miles. What works for New Zealand (5 million people / 100k square miles) might work for somewhere like Oregon or Colorado (both comparable in terms of population and land area), but won’t necessarily work on a national scale.

Personally I think the biggest flaw in our system is that our electorate is apathetic and ignorant. 99% of our problems would blow away like a fart in the wind if our electorate was informed and engaged. As it stands, there are a handful of groups that routinely vote, and they dominate the political discourse as a result. Meanwhile whole groups are left out in the cold- they’re lazy, they’re structurally precluded from voting, they’re discouraged because of historical voting restrictions, and whatever else you can think of.

Our system was great back in the day at representing the people’s will, as long as “the people” was a specific segment of middle aged or older,. white middle (or higher) class people. The trick is how to extend that sort of operation to everyone. Right now, young people vote disproportionately less frequently than others, minorities tend to be structurally excluded by way of extremely inconvenient polling places/hours, and so on.

The other issue is that our system allows for too much (IMO) influence of money- both in the media, and to candidates. Some industry or person with a lot of cash can disproportionately influence elections and candidates and stay wholly within the bounds of the law. Let’s say that Elon Musk (the billionaire villain of the moment) decides he’s against something. He can spend a LOT of money in the media to push that viewpoint everywhere, and he can contribute to candidates’ elections who espouse that view, and by that both aid them, and incur a sort of debt once they’re elected.

I’d agree that we’re one of the most corrupt if you limit it to actual democracies, but the actual democracies are outnumbered by pseudo-democracies and authoritarian regimes of various stripes (monarchies, dictatorships, failed states, etc.).

As for the whole “democracy is good, socialism is bad” idea, they can’t really be compared because they’re on orthogonal axes. Socialism contrasts with capitalism, democracy with authoritarianism of all kinds. The biggest reason socialism / communism gets a bad name is because the early adopters like Stalin and Mao were bloodthirsty tyrants. Capitalism got the benefit of having George Washington as the trailblazer (at least among the democracies, since capitalism did exist under the authoritarian regimes prior to the modern re-invention of democracy).