As the presidential election cycle begins to heat up we’ll be hearing lots of ideas to address problems with the economy, the environment, foreign policy, income inequality, social issues, and so on.
But, a lot of the ideas will be the same ones we always hear and never adopt. Isn’t it time for some new approaches? Isn’t it time for some new ideas?
It’s surprising how little demand there seems to be for new ideas when it comes to addressing big problems. It’s equally surprising how little attention is given to the research and ideas that are already around that might prove beneficial. In particular the field of behavioral economics includes many useful insights that could be directly applied to many social policy questions.
But, like all areas of politics, if the electorate does not know about this material there is no way they can demand that politicians know about it and take it into account. The same goes for economics, history, or any number of other areas of knowledge that ought to be in the domain of any serious politician. Why do they not seem to know these things in sufficient detail? Could it be because the electorate, being insufficiently knowledgeable, cannot demand this knowledge from politicians?
Many pundits are making the argument that politicians are simply beholden to the 1% and do not listen to the general public. These same pundits argue that the rules of the game are rigged against the middle class or poor people.
Well, when government gets into the business of deciding who should get money and from whom this money should be taken the of course the people with money will take a strong interest in what politicians do and try to influence them. Combine this with a gross ignorance about the fundamental purposes of the federal government (which were never to be in the business of money transfers) and you get the situation we are in now.
It is foolish to think that politicians will argue for a way out of this system. It benefits them too much. Even ones who pay lip service to arguments in favor of strengthening the middle class, helping the poor, and reforming the system often do so knowing that they will neither be inclined or able to carry through on these promises once in office.
In a recent article on Salon.com, Elizabeth Warren made the point this way: “The only way we get change is when enough people in this country say I’m mad as hell and I’m fed up and I’m not going to do this anymore.” She’s right. But, will this happen? Not unless there is a renewed interest in learning about what is going on, thinking about ideas, and a willingness to hold politicians accountable.
History, even very recent history, shows that enough motivated people can create powerful social movements and effect real change. Just look at what is happening with same-sex marriage. Surely, the same could be done with other important social issues. But, we need a critical number of people willing to learn about the issues, take an interest, and then do something.