POLITICS

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

All the material and immaterial things that matter, art and science, family and friendships, medicine and manufacturing, can be swept away or rendered impossible to pursue if we get our politics wrong. History is replete with lessons on just how wrong politics can get if we allow power to become concentrated in the few rather than distributed among the many.

Apocalyptic movies and novels foreshadow the worst ways in which we can get our politics wrong. Some of those ways are man-made and some natural. In apocalyptic fiction, when the disaster is man-made, the world comes to a bad end because a terrorist or a dictator has a mindset rooted in bad politics.

It's not much different in the real world. When people are ruled by prejudice and force, the result is chaos and instability and the loss of liberty and human rights. When government is established with principles and choice, the result is order, stability and individual liberty.

The government of the United States of America is the world's best example of politics based on principles instead of prejudices, people instead of politicians. Democracy is the most efficient, effective way to improve the human condition. It makes every facet of human progress possible because it eliminates the stumbling blocks to freedom. People in a democratic society can pursue life, liberty and happiness in safety, without the violence of anarchy or the chaos of tyranny. Our founding fathers were not saints but they were great statesmen who deserve the respect and gratitude of every American for creating a government that can balance too little authority (anarchy) with too much authority (tyranny).

Democracy requires a free press, the rule of law, a constitution that ensures the peaceful transfer of power and informed citizens. People who have studied history and the lessons it teaches about how to avoid "bad" politics and ensure "good" politics. People who can evaluate local and current issues in terms of global and timeless issues. People able to avoid the "tribal" animosity that polarizes liberals and conservatives into legislative grid lock. People who know the difference between commentators who voice opinions and correspondents who report the facts. The press is not free of fake news if it doesn't maintain neutrality in news coverage.

SOCIALISM

The goal of socialism is to eliminate competition and economic inequality so nobody is poor, rich or in between. The government will provide for your every need from cradle to grave, and it's all free!

The method of socialism is to manage all means of production and distribution of goods and services through price and wage controls. The government owns everything so they can control everything. In a socialistic society, there is no such thing as private property. The government owns your home, your business, your car, your income, your health care... everything!

The results are slow economic growth, little or no entrepreneurial opportunities, and little or no motivation for you to improve your economic well-being. If the State owns everything, you don't own the fruits of your own labor. So the quality and quantity of the things you produce is poor.

Socialism is based on the fallacious idea that wealth is finite so it must be distributed in a zero sum way. If wealth were a pumpkin pie, for example, giving more of the pie to some people would necessarily mean giving less to the others. So the government controls the economy so everyone gets the same-sized slice of pie.

Wealth is not a pumpkin pie. Everyone can earn as much money as they want if they are able to take advantages of opportunities to do so. Those opportunities do not exist in a socialistic society. Wage and price controls upset the balance of supply and demand. The result is a shortage of products and services whether the government sets the price above or below what it would be in a competitive market.

As things go from bad to worse, people begin to starve, go without essential medicines and so forth. The rebellion leads to a black market for essential things like milk, bread, toilet paper and so forth. The rebellion worsens as the government tries to shut down the black market, control riots and so forth. Like all authoritarian governments, it will brook no disagreement. So it seizes control of the press, stifles free speech, arrests dissidents and so forth.

History reveals a tragic irony: every time socialists have over thrown an authoritarian government, they have established an authoritarian regime of their own. Socialists are dumb-o-crats preaching a gospel of envy. Income equality has nothing to do with well-being.

Socialism promises prosperity, equality, and security but delivers poverty, misery, and tyranny. It makes everyone equal, whether they like it or not. In a socialistic country, everyone is equally miserable. It's a kind of pyramid scheme that looks good in the beginning, then collapses because it gives the government totalitarian power to control prices, property and taxes.

Socialism distributes wealth according to need rather than ability, and that stifles incentives. Socialists say, "Give up some of your freedom and we'll give you more security." If you buy that pitch, you'll end up losing your freedom and your security. Capitalism nourishes freedom and security by inspiring and rewarding creativity, thrift, hard work, and efficiency. Socialism looks good to people who are lazy, incompetent and unwilling to work—great until you run out of other people's money!

ELECTIONS

Our democratic way of life is guarded by dozens of checks and balances. Some of them are not, however, democratic; that is, not subject to the direct control of the people. One of those non-democratic checks and balances is the Electoral College. When I first heard about the Electoral College, I asked, "Where is that?" The answer is that it's not a place. It's the process we use to elect our presidents. You and I don't vote for the candidate of our choice. Yes, we place a mark on our ballet next to the candidate of our choice. But what we're really doing is choosing an Elector to vote for us.

Our founding fathers established the Electoral College to prevent, or at least minimize, a tyranny of the majority. They worried that people who did not own property, a majority in colonial times, could vote in ways that would not benefit people who did own property, a minority in the early days of our nation. They also wanted to prevent the tyranny of big states over small states, so they established the Senate to give all states, large and small, equal representation.

Things have changed since then, so it no longer works quite like the Founding Fathers intended. Today, it ensures that presidential candidates draw votes from every part of the country by giving as much voting power to areas of sparse population as areas of dense population. But it makes it possible for the candidate who wins the popular vote to lose the election. So most presidential candidates don't campaign to win the popular vote nation wide. Instead, they develop campaign strategies to win the popular vote in enough states to acquire the vote of a majority of the electors nation wide. Here's how that works.

The number of electors for a state is equal to the total number of its senators and representatives in Congress. Since every state has two senators in the Senate and at least one representative in the House, every state gets at least three electors. Densely populated states have more than three electors. California, for example, has 55 electors. There are currently 435 representatives and 100 senators, plus three electors for the District of Columbia. That's a total of 538 electors. If a candidate wins the popular vote in a state, the candidate has won all the electors for that state. It currently takes 270 electoral votes to win the electoral vote nation wide.

Another aspect of the Electoral College is that candidates spend less time campaigning in states that are likely to vote for or against them. Sounds odd, but In those states, candidates know their campaigning is not likely to change the outcome because those states have a high percentage of either Republican or Democratic voters. With or without campaigning, the vote is a done deal. So candidates spend more time campaigning in swing states where the percentage of Republican and Democratic voters is nearly the same so candidates have a better chance of swinging the vote their way.

So the next time you cast your vote, resist the temptation to vote for a famous, charismatic candidate who lacks the skills, wisdom and experience to be the president. Ask the candidate these five questions:

What power do you have?
Where did it come from?
In whose interests do you use it?
To whom are you accountable?
How can we get rid of you?

You might also consider the value of reading some or all of the books below as a resource for helping you decide what kind of authority you want your government and its representatives to have over your life.

The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson
The Federalist Papers - Essay 10 by James Madison
The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant
Things that Matter by Charles Krauthammer
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Outline of History by H. G. Wells
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Positive Populism by Steve Hilton
The Bill of Rights - James Mason
Rights of Man - Thomas Paine
1984 by George Orwell
***

The King of Mars

Yesterday, while walking my cats, a silver saucer swooped into my apple orchard between a Red Fuji and a Golden Delicious. A little green guy stepped out and in perfect English said, "Greetings from Mars, Earth Man. Take me to your leader, King of the Earth."

After recovering from the shock of losing my two best trees, I said, "Well, Mars Man, some say our leader is the most powerful man on Earth, but he's the President of America, not King of the Earth, and America is only one of several hundred countries on Earth."

"Earth Man, a leader with that much power should be chosen carefully. Our King must be wise and very popular with the People. How is your King chosen?"

"In America, the most popular candidate doesn't always win the election. Sometimes the candidate who gets the most Electoral votes becomes the President."

"Earth Man, this is disturbing news. We have monitored your planet for eons and observed many odd things but not this peculiar aspect of your elections."

"Yeah, Mars Man, it disturbs a lot of people here in America, too. There's a movement to force the Electors to cast their vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote, but not enough States have joined the movement to correct the problem."

"Earth Man, you are giving me a headache."

It must be a bad headache, I thought, because the little green man had a very big head.

"On Mars," he continued, "sovereignty is granted to individuals, not to geographical areas."

"Well, here in America the sovereignty of each State is a big deal. So each State pretty much does its own thing. Not totally, of course, or they wouldn't be very united. But the number of Electors a state gets is set by how many people live there, so the People in some States have more influence over who gets elected than people in other states."

The Mars Man rubbed his narrow green chin as if in deep thought.

"Our founding fathers rejected a pure democracy in favor of a republic in which the few ruled the many an oligarchy where the People are represented by politicians."

His jaw dropped and his eyes, which were already enormous, became even wider. "Why on Earth did they do that?" he asked.

"Because they believed that poor, uneducated people who didn't own land didn't have enough stake in the country or in its government to make decisions that would affect everyone, especially not rich, educated people who did own land."

"Ah!" he replied. "So your Electoral vote is part of the Founding Father's scheme."

"Uh, yeah, I guess so."

The Mars man must have noticed the hesitation in my voice, because he began to explain it in a way I had never heard before. "Of course, letting Electors control who gets elected makes it less likely that the People of your country, who are obviously idiots, could elect an idiot as their president."

Despite being from Mars, this little green guy understood our Presidential elections better than I did. And he was right. In our last election the idiot from one party won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote to the idiot from the other party.

"Earth Man, I must warp back to the King of Mars to give him my report and to verify the accuracy of our discussion."

"You could Google—"

"We do not Google. We only Bing."

"Well, okay, but our voting power really does depend on where we live, and population is how it works. You landed in California, where 12 out of every 100 people in America live, so it has 20 times more Electors than a state like Montana, which is mostly wide open spaces."

"This would not be tolerated on Mars!" he hollered.

I was surprised to hear the little guy raise his voice. Until now he had been calm and objective.

"This compromises the will of the people," he continued "and gives small states less voting power than large states!"

"Yeah, and most of us care more about the influence our vote has in the election than our State has."

He walked to his saucer, then stopped at the shimmering doorway. I can't be sure but it looked like a sinister smile slid across his thin little lips.

"Hey! What about my trees? You burned them to a crisp!"

"You should be more concerned about your planet, Earth Man, than the incineration of your trees. My King will not be pleased with my report. We will be watching your next election."