One of my observations about the Occupy movement was that while it highlighted the growing disparity between rich and poor in this country, it didn’t have any practical suggestions for dealing with it. But that wasn’t entirely true. There was no agenda for directly addressing the problems, but there were two practical suggestions:
- Get money out of politics;
- Reform the banks.
These items were between the lines in a lot of discussions about the Occupy movement, and were a frequent subtext of many protesters’ placards, but never got much play in the media.
They’re worthy goals, although I can’t say that I agree with the methods the Occupiers would suggest to address them.
The essential concern of those who would want to get money out of politics is that, right now, we have politicians in the image of those who fund them: the very rich and the bankers. I completely agree.
The usual solution is for government funding of campaigns. But that won’t change the reality that politicians reflect their funding. So instead of having politicians in the image of the bankers, we have politicians in the image of the previous government. I’m not sure which is worse.
The bigger problem is the quality of political candidates. In 2009, I was disappointed with Mayor Bloomberg. He had finagled a change to the law enabling him to run for a third term. He was actually doing pretty well, and had a decent shot at succeeding in a referendum to abolish term limits if it had been attempted in 2008.
But I voted for him anyway, because the other candidate, William Thompson, was worse. Thompson represented the traditional approach to city government: raise taxes and pay off the unions.
A similar thing is happening now in the Presidential campaign. The different Republican candidates all have their strengths and weaknesses. But none of them is a compelling alternative to Obama, although some of them represent the lesser of two evils. OK, maybe Ron Paul, but the party establishment seems to consider him an embarrassment.
Until we get better candidates, I’m not sure changes to campaign financing will help.
As far as reforming the banks, it sounds like a good idea: the regulated banks of the latter 20th century helped to make us prosperous, and when the regulations were removed, the banks promptly drove themselves into the ditch. And indeed, new bank regulations were enacted into law this year.
But the regulations don’t seem to do very much, other than nibbling at the edges of minor inconveniences (like not having three weeks to pay one’s credit card bill), and making it harder for smaller banks to function (so that they can get swallowed by bigger banks). Unfortunately, bank reform is in the hands of our… politicians.
Real bank reform, unfortunately, will have to wait for politicians capable of executing it.