Reply to a Joe Brewer Facebook post on political polarization

crassusMarcus Licinius Crassus from Wikipedia

Joe posted this on Facebook:

Watch our two party system evolve dynamically toward increasing polarization… this is the expected outcome of any dynamic system with winner-take-all outcomes and only two viable end points.

Multi-party, parliamentary system anyone?

My comment was trending too long (way too long) so I thought I would reply this way.

Joe, I would disagree that it is the expected outcome of our politics. I think that there is a negative feedback here that pulls us away from such a dead end. Essentially a step function that realigns things no matter what the political system is. 

I would suggest it happens mostly when non-political players game the system for their own benefit. Changing the political game will not remove their influence. The battle is between authoritarians driving the system to their ends and people in favor of civil liberties driving their ends.

A parliament does not remove this dynamic, it may simply make the transitions seem a little smoother.

As long as money and economics drives our parties, then polarization will remain. Adam Smith told us in Wealth of Nations”

All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

He thought that capitalism would be run by moral and ethical people. Trouble arises every time we forget this and think just anyone should be allowed to run a free market without strong regulations to keep them moral and ethical.

We have been polarized before and fixed things to remove the polarization without creating a new system of government. It was done by Americans fixing the problem from the bottom up, not from imposing a new system from the top, down.

We did it by throttling the power of the non-political players (mostly plutocrats). And we often did it by fracturing of political parties forming new coalitions, something that would happen in important parliamentary elections also.

The solution will not be changing political systems. I think that attacks the wrong thing. The problem is the increasing control of government by authoritarian plutocrats (what Adam Smith was remarking upon). This is a continuing battle every democracy has been fighting against, including us. 

The data show that the increasing polarization is being driven by financial interests for their ends, just as has happened during previous periods of intense partisanship.

And, just as happened during previous periods in our history, the people can make change happen by restricting the financial interests.

Polar housesenate difference

An excellent site that is devoted to this stuff is (some their historic data on polarization since Reconstruction is above). They use data from every voice vote from every legislator going back to the first Congress. What is fascinating is that since the first Congress, 93% of the time every legislator can be placed along a single axis based on their vote.

Fourteen million choices by the 12,000 members of Congress. All those complex personalities voting on all a multitude of bill. And the best fit for how they voted occupies a single dimension!

American politics is so simple. Economics drives everything.

Because that axis is between liberal and conservative economic views.

Since our founding, our politicians separated themselves mostly by economics, not ideology. Even before there were parties. And, polarization such as we see today, simply enlarges the range along this single economic axis.

This is all about money, not politics. A new system will not change something so fundamental to the US.

They have some data showing that the polarization in the House is mostly coming from the Republicans. Since 1976 the GOP has become much more conservative than at any time since Reconstruction while the Democrats are pretty much the same as they have ever been.

Polar house means

Mining the data further shows that the level of polarization in America seems to almost exactly follow the increasing impact of money on campaigns, income inequality and dropping tax rates. 

The conclusion is that polarization is being driven by the monied classes for their own gain (mostly in the GOP but some can also be seen in the Democrats), not for ideological reasons. They want a non-functioning Federal government with low taxes. It explains why the people are actually not nearly as partisan as their representatives, who are bought and paid for by their plutocratic campaign donors.

Looking at the historical data demonstrates that highly partisan periods occur in American history when the monied interests control things (now and during the Gilded Age). Party polarization drops when the corporations and Wall Street are more tightly regulated (following Teddy and then FDR). Loosening those restrictions almost exactly follows the current stretch of polarization of the GOP by financial interests.

But it may take more than that now. We may be at a nexus where simple regulation will not happen easily.

Only 93% of all the votes can be placed along the economic axis. What about the other 7%? They can all be placed along a second axis, one that only appears to be important during certain times in American history. From 1829-1851 and from 1937-1970, for example

What is different about these times? I would suggest that both are periods where bottom-up, populist pressures were driving politics, not purely economics, especially dealing with the rights of Americans (slavery and civil rights). These may be the times when authoritarians are in retreat and civil liberties hold more power. And both periods essentially ended with a destruction of party coalitions, a fracturing of the political parties and the reforming of new coalitions.

Just as what happens in important parliamentary elections.

Our government has altered tremendously when the American people wanted it to. The parties may retain the same name but they are very different.

That is what happens when the second dimension becomes activated.

And, guess what, that second dimension is beginning to reappear. The American people are beginning to reassert their power and are pushing their representatives to vote in ways that are not driven by the economic power of the plutocrats.

I think we will decease polarization, wrest control of government away from the non-political players and recapture a functioning government

The American people will, as has happened before, form new coalitions of their own along this second axis (OMG, I actually agree more with Rand Paul on these issues than Diane Feinstein!) If the parties do not follow, they will fracture, as they have in the past, reforming around the new political coalitions formed by the people.

Of course, it will not stop the drive for non-political players to game the system. hat battle seems to be a primary piece of what makes us human.

I do not think we need to change the whole system (and parliamentary systems are not immune to this sort of distortion either). I think if the people really do fight back against the 1% (and remember that many in the Tea Party hate Wall Street) this could be fixed.

The plutocrats want us to be as partisan as can be. It makes it easier for them to control things. But Americans need to come together on what we can all agree on. Congress needs to be run for the people and not for Wall Street, the 1% or corporations.

Americans are really on the same side here. If we can fix that, we can then get back to normal.

If we don’t, then we go the way of the Roman Republic, where the financial interest and the state became one.