How would you change the U.S. Government?
A friend of mine recently posted the question on facebook "If you could change one thing about our government, what would it be?"
I think it's a wonderful question, and really enjoyed reading other peoples answers, as well as coming up with my own. I have more than one answer myself, and I also feel like the ways in which I agree and disagree with some other people's suggestions reveal some interesting principals about how I think.
How I would change the government
Instant Runoff Voting
I think the most critical change I would make is to alter ALL elections to use Instant Runoff Voting (Also called Ranked Choice Voting or RCV ) instead of our current "first past the post" system. Heres how it works:
Instead of voting only for a single candidate, voters in IRV elections can rank the candidates in order of preference. Ballots are initially counted for each elector's top choice, losing candidates are eliminated, and ballots for losing candidates are redistributed until one candidate is the top remaining choice of a majority of the voters. When the field is reduced to two, it has become an "instant runoff" that allows a comparison of the top two candidates head-to-head. --Wikipedia
This sounds like a sort of small change, but it has really huge effects. The first and most obvious is that there is no longer such a thing as a spoiler candidate. If the Communist Party of America were to run someone way to the left the Democrats candidate, and they got 20% of the vote, it wouldn't mean that the Democratic candidate would loose. It's pretty safe to assume that the CPA voter would put the Democrat as their "second choice" and when it became clear in the counting that the CPA candidate wasn't going to win.
This means that voters can vote their hearts and not throw their vote away, it means that third parties, and their candidates, become viable, and it most likely means an end to the two party stranglehold on the American political system.
There is a second effect, and perhaps a more critical one. Once there are several candidates in a IRV election, it causes the tactical best move to be appearing "kind and cooperative" with your opponents, rather than running an attack style campaign. This effect ranges from simply curtesy to actual policy positions, but mudslinging gradually becomes ineffective. Though it was probably an extreme case, in one election in Minneapolis (which uses IRV) the eight candidates Literally all hugged and sang "Kumbaya" on stage during the debate. I'm not saying that's going to be normal in IRV, but it's the direction it moves people in.
It's not just a matter of having friendlier debates though, it also means that there is a premium on not portraying your opponents base in a negative light, and on finding policies that satisfy as many voters as possible, not just a razor thin majority.
Dissolve the Senate
I lean towards dissolving the Senate because it seems the less democratic institution of the two as it doesn't represent people in a "per capita" way, but that my reflect my liberal bias. The key thing though, is that this bicameral legislature thing has to go. When the constitution was written there were two massive compromises, both of them disasters. The first was slavery and the 3/5ths rule. This lead to the civil war, and untold human suffering. The second was the bicameral Legislature and the presence of the senate, which I believe lead to a great portion of the mess we are in now. The net result of having two legislative bodies is that the already high level of political gamesmanship is take to a new level. Every layer of additional complexity also creates less practical accountability to the people for our elected representatives. Every time your congressman can say "I tried to do it, but I had to compromise with the senate" it provides more cover and confusion.
Like the Hereditary Peers in the UK, this is a vestige that works directly counter to the theoretical ideals of a representative democracy.
On a related note, I don't think that the electoral college needs to be removed, but only that we need to go back to the original and intended way in which it was designed. States should place their electoral votes in proportion to the votes in their state. It doesn't matter too much that Wyoming and Hawaii are a little over-represented. It matters a LOT that Texas and CA go 100% to one candidate even though they are typically spit around 40/60 each. It would, however, probably be better to get rid of the electoral college for compatibility with the previously advocated "instant runoff voting"
Campaign Finance Reform
This is a tricky one, and I think largely can't be tackled with a single change. It's more of a "patch 50 leaky holes" kind of deal. Some of the best suggestions I have heard on this include:
1) Campaign finance vouchers: Basically everyone gets a $50 voucher which can only be used to spend on supporting a politician. This would lean a lot more of the funding into small money donations. (Suggested in book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0016O7RFU )
2) All campaign donations are anonymous: Basically when you want to donate to a candidate, instead you donate to the Elections Commission, who pass your donation on the the indicated candidate. This prevents candidates from being beholden to their doners. (My donors are saying "get it done or don't ever call me again" This suggestion was also brought up in the book mentioned above.
3) Indirect advertising, of the sort discussed in "Citizens United" and which eventually became "Super PAC"s is a little trickery. Free speech and money are, at some level deeply intertwined, and it can be really had to separate them.
Is buying an ad free speech? What about buying a newspaper like the Washington Post, and directing its editorial policy? What about buying a newspaper that is failing, but you happen to agree with just so it doesn't go out of business? What about printing up a few million fliers for handing out? a few thousand? 10? What about ordering a $1,000 banner to hang on the side of your house? What about a $10 sheet of cardboard? Does it matter if you are a corporation for each of these? a union? Does it matter if you put your name on it? Does it matter if you are a citizen?
At the same time, just because we can't get something perfect doesn't mean we can't do any better. It does seem like the Citizens United ruling, while I'm sure it was a careful consideration of the laws and constitution as written, was bad as policy. I can't be mad at the SCOTUS for this since they aren't supposed to be doing policy, but I would say that something like the struck down "prohibition of any corporation (or labor union) from making an "electioneering communication" (defined as a broadcast ad reaching over 50,000 people in the electorate) within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of an election, or making any expenditure advocating the election or defeat of a candidate at any time" probably needs to be put back in place.
I do also feel the need to mention the For the People Act of 2019, which seems, at first glance, like a clumsy but earnest attempt to address several of these issues, as well as gerrymandering, and a few other far more contentious problems. I don't expect a lot of success, but from what I have read so far I support it. If your into this you can support it by faxing your representative
Capital Gains to be included in income
Currently there are two dramatically different tax systems: one for money that is earned as income and one, which is much lower, for money that is earned through investment. The maximum tax rate for money earned as investment is considerably lower (20%, but realistically 15% ) while at the same time being almost exclusively the province of the wealthy. If Capital gains tax were simply treated like any other gain than those who were drawing out their investments at a high rate would pay a high amount. Conversely the old retired couple who are drawing out their investments at a poverty level would only pay taxes at the lower rate that their small income from savings entailed.
There are legitimate concerns that Capital Gains Tax already lowers the efficiency of the economy because is discourages people from changing their investments. I'm honestly not entirely sure that I buy this idea (As far as I can tell, the stock market and the typical investor is marked by too much velocity, and being too short sighted) but if that is the primary concern then it seems reasonable that a rollover clause also be added allowing for re-investment of assets with deferred tax collection.
Much Higher maximum tax bracket
I'm going to say something pretty amazing here... I think that the maximum tax bracket should be 100%. In my opinion the tax system should be set up so that the very last dollar of the person with the very highest income in any given year falls into the 100% bracket. In addition they should get a medal, and the option of public recognition for their contribution. In general, the higher tax rates should be much higher. As I mentioned in my previous post Mark Zuckerberg probably earned about $10 Billion dollars a year for about 3 years in a row from 2012 to 2014. That's the sort of person who belongs in the 70% + tax bracket. This reform specifically is designed to be combined with the "capital gains count as part of income" reform mentioned above.
Would this discourage people from working harder to earn more money? I largely think not, those with incomes above a few million almost always the beneficiaries of casino capitalism. The labor market very rarely produces results of this sort when it's functioning based on any measurable metric. (Probably the best example is sports superstars. We regularly hear of them getting contracts for north of $100 million, but those are also very often 8-10 year contracts, so thats much closer to a $10 million annual income, about the same as an average fortune 500 CEO)
I'm really curious what other people around me see as critical changes to the governmental structure here in the united states. What worries you? How would you change things? What am I totally wrong about? What is critical that I missed?