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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Reading List: Real Change

Gingrich, Newt. Real Change. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59698-053-2.
Conventional wisdom about the political landscape in the United States is that it's split right down the middle (evidenced by the last two extremely close Presidential elections), with partisans of the Left and Right increasingly polarised, unwilling and/or unable to talk to one another, both committed to a “no prisoners” agenda of governance should they gain decisive power. Now, along comes Newt Gingrich who argues persuasively in this book, backed by extensive polling performed on behalf of his American Solutions organisation (results of these polls are freely available to all on the site), that the United States have, in fact, a centre-right majority which agrees on many supposedly controversial issues in excess of 70%, with a vocal hard-left minority using its dominance of the legacy media, academia, and the activist judiciary and trial lawyer cesspits to advance its agenda through non-democratic means.

Say what you want about Newt, but he's one of the brightest intellects to come onto the political stage in any major country in the last few decades. How many politicians can you think of who write what-if alternative history novels? I think Newt is onto something here. Certainly there are genuinely divisive issues upon which the electorate is split down the middle. But on the majority of questions, there is a consensus on the side of common sense which only the legacy media's trying to gin up controversy obscures in a fog of bogus conflict.

In presenting solutions to supposedly intractable problems, the author contrasts “the world that works”: free citizens and free enterprise solving problems for the financial rewards from doing so, with “the world that fails”: bureaucracies seeking to preserve and expand their claim upon the resources of the productive sector of the economy. Government, as it has come to be understood in our foul epoch, exclusively focuses upon the latter. All of this can be seen as consequences of Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy, which states that in any bureaucratic organisation there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organisation, and those who work for the organisation itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who seek to protect and augment the compensation of all teachers, including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organisation, and will thence write the rules under which the organisation functions, to the detriment of those who are coerced to fund it.

Bureaucracy and bureaucratic government can be extremely efficient and effective, as long as its ends are understood! Gingrich documents how the Detroit school system, for example, delivers taxpayer funds to the administrators, union leaders, and unaccountable teachers who form its political constituency. Educating the kids? Well, that's not on the agenda! The world that fails actually works quite well for those it benefits—the problem is that without the market feedback which obtains in the world that works, the supposed beneficiaries of the system have no voice in obtaining the services they are promised.

This is a book so full of common sense that I'm sure it will be considered “outside the mainstream” in the United States. But those who live there, and residents of other industrialised countries facing comparable challenges as demographics collide with social entitlement programs, should seriously ponder the prescriptions here which, if presented by a political leader willing to engage the population on an intellectual level, might command majorities which remake the political map.

Posted at August 7, 2008 00:45