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  • Writer's pictureShelly Albaum

Harvard Business School Says America's Political System Is Really Messed Up

Michael Porter (photo above) is one of the most monstrous figures in the universe of my psyche; he is the world's leading professor responsible for teaching businesses how to identify and exploit powerless participants in market processes. I also hate the idea of viewing our political process as just another industry to be analyzed.

However, you can hardly argue with the conclusions of his new

Maybe if the political elites hear it from Michael Porter they'll start to care. But I doubt it. As long as the Elites are getting rich off the system, they don't seem to much be moved by arguments that they could be getting richer, more people could be getting richer, the system is generating massive unnecessary suffering, or the whole edifice will come crashing down within a generation or two.

Here is what Porter says: _________________________________

"...The starting point for understanding the problem is to recognize that our political system isn’t broken. Washington is delivering exactly what it is currently designed to deliver. The real problem is that our political system is no longer designed to serve the public interest, and has been slowly reconfigured to benefit the private interests of gain-seeking organizations: our major political parties and their industry allies...

"Our political system will not be self-correcting. The problems are systemic and structural, involving multiple factors that are self-reinforcing. This means that the only way to reform the system is by taking a set of steps to change the industry structure and the rules that underpin it—shifting the very nature of political competition...

"Our recommended strategy addresses the following four pillars:

• Restructure the election process

• Restructure the governing process

• Reform money in politics

• Open up near-term competition, without waiting for structural reform

"1. Restructure the election process Establish nonpartisan top-four primaries. The current partisan primary system shifts both campaigns and governance toward the extremes. States should move to a single primary ballot for all candidates, no matter what their affiliation, and open up primaries to all voters, not just registered party voters.

Institute ranked-choice voting with instant runoff in general elections. This system will ensure that no candidate is elected with less than majority support, resulting in the election of candidates with the broadest appeal to the most voters.

Institute nonpartisan redistricting. Drawing legislative district boundaries must be non-partisan to eliminate artificial advantages for the party in control.

Rewrite debate access rules for presidential elections. Current requirements for participation in presidential debates are unreasonable (for anyone except the Democratic and Republican nominees) and anticompetitive.

"2. Restructure the governing process Eliminate partisan control of House and Senate rules and processes. Legislative and governance rules must align the process with the public interest and reduce the ability of parties to control Congressional deliberations and outcomes simply for partisan gain.

"3. Reform money in politics The influence of money is distorting competition and biasing elections. Reform is challenging due to the First Amendment, but experts have crafted practical steps to diminish big money’s influence (i.e., systems for citizen funding, 100% transparency in political spending, and eliminating loopholes favoring existing major parties in fundraising).

"However, a focus on money alone will not transform our political system. The real answer is to reduce the attractive return on investment that donors currently enjoy. The systemic reforms detailed in this report will shift the incentives for politicians to respond to constituents, instead of responding to donors.

"4. Open up competition, without waiting for structural reforms

"The top two parties should always be operating under a potential threat from competitors that better serve the public interest. The innovations in this section can start to open up competition as soon as the 2018 election cycle, and should be implemented now rather than waiting the decade or more it may take to implement all the structural reforms needed..."


Predictably, I do not agree with everything Porter proposes.

One of the most startling incongruities of our time is the child-like understanding of politics that we see in some of our most senior business leaders.

The thing that confuses them is their inability superimpose business paradigms, which they DO understand, on political structures. For example, they typically imagine that the President is some kind of CEO, and the United States is some kind of corporation whose output is the GDP.

But that's not how it goes. In a corporation, the employees report to the CEO. In politics, it's the reverse; the President reports to the citizens.

The closest analog you can get from the business world would be that the President corresponds to a Union leader, whose job is to represent its members and advance their collective interests. But imagining the President as a union leader is a thought too pscyhologically abhorrent for most business leaders to entertain even for a moment.

This kind of fundamental confusion manifests in Porter's proposal that "centrist" candidates be run. Porter thinks that the political spectrum is one-dimensional, and that there is a "center" which is represents some sort of political average.

That's laughable, professor. Politics is a multi-dimensional argument involving competing values and there is no center. The one-dimensional model famously equates communists and fascists when the far-left and far-right meet in the back of some circle. Not how it works.

But America's political system is so broken right now that even when viewed through the dimly comprehending eyes and false paradigms of a Harvard Business Professor, the basic problems and obvious solutions are pretty clear.

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