The difference I hear Libertarians wheeze about, that the United States is a Republic Not a Democracy™, is practically irrelevant. My conservative friends and I should agree that the much greater problem is that we are not a democracy but an oligarchy. Research says so:

study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, "Who governs? Who really rules?" in this country, is:

"Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, ..." and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that, "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy" [Eric Zuesse, "US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study," Common Dreams, 2014.04.14].

A PDF draft of the paper Zuesse cites, by Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin I. Page, is available online. Gilens and Page anticipate the possible objection that perhaps wealthy elites are better at making policy than the masses, and they dismiss that objection in favor of faith in the demos:

A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect.50 Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status. Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one's own interests or a determination to work for the common good.

All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own interests than any feasible alternative [Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," draft, Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming Fall 2014; posted online at Princeton 2014.04.09].

For hope against research, I look across the border to Canada, where citizens of Kitimat just voted against a Big Oil alternative to Keystone XL:

In a vote cheered as a victory for democracy, one community in British Columbia has given a flat rejection to a proposed tar sands pipeline.

Over 58 percent of voters who headed to the polls in the North Coast municipality of Kitimat on Saturday said "no" to Enbridge's Northern Gateway project.

That project would include a pipeline to carry tar sands crude from near Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat.

..."The people have spoken. That’s what we wanted — it’s a democratic process," Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said in a statement following the vote. "We’ll be talking about this Monday night at Council, and then we’ll go from there with whatever Council decides" [Andrea Germanos, "In Small Canadian Town Democracy Wins, Tar Sands Loses," Common Dreams, 2014.04.14].

Voting can beat money. Democracy can beat oligarchy. But we have to work at it. Fellow citizens, keep hope alive.

21 comments

KELO radio talker Greg Belfrage caught heck from some Republicans for endorsing Democrat Mike Huether for re-election as mayor of Sioux Falls. (Huether won yesterday, 55% to 45%, over Republican Greg Jamison.)

Now in response to yesterday's election results, Belfrage is sounding like an outright socialist:

Sioux Falls is a growing community. People realize that facilities and large commercial developments need to go someplace. They can't all be relegated to the rural outskirts of town.

There seems to be an understanding that sometimes things may not be best for us individually, but they're best for the community [Greg Belfrage, "City Election Had No Big Surprises, But Loud Message," KELO-AM: The Daily Dose, 2014.04.09].

Hee hee.

Seriously, in an earlier post, Belfrage enunciates a profoundly important point about how party labels don't matter at the local level:

As I read through the comments of those criticizing me (Republican) for supporting Huether (Democrat), I couldn't find a single reason for their scorn other than party label. Not a single person has yet to articulate to me how Huether's liberal political ideology has negatively affected Sioux Falls.

...This is precisely why Sioux Falls has tried to keep city races non-partisan. Because for some... all thought processes stop when they hear the word "Democrat" or "Republican" [Greg Belfrage, "My Huether Endorsement Draws Blistering Criticism," KELO-AM: The Daily Dose, 2014.04.07].

We hear that stoppage of thought processes all the time when we hear the media trying to boil important and complicated policy issues into thin political soup.

Belfrage goes on to admit that his conservative ideology doesn't translate to the local level:

Admittedly, you may not find me to be very conservative when it comes to local government. I often support large public projects that I feel will benefit the community, such as the Denny Sanford Premier Center. I'malso in favor of spending money on conveniences like snow gates, which I feel will improve the general quality of life during winter, especially for seniors and the disabled [Belfrage, 2014.04.07].

I've seen this disjunction before between national-level political squawking and local community improvement: when we need to pay teachers, pave streets, and put out fires, all the hollering about socialism and Obama and liberal-foisted dependency doesn't amount to a hill of beans. We just want our city councils and school boards to get stuff done. We work together through those governments to fix problems.

Belfrage defends his federal conservatism/local liberalism (that is what it is, isn't it, Greg?) dichotomy by saying we citizens can better hold our local governments to account than we can the federal government.

Is Belfrage's fine distinction really all conservatives and liberals have been arguing about? Belfrage seems to be saying, "Government is not inherently bad. At the local level, vigorous government is good! Liberalism is really a good model for managing a community; it's just tougher to ensure liberalism works in larger communities, like nations." Is liberalism superior philosophically, requiring only the practical check of conservatism at scale?

So if we could come up with a means to promote more transparency and accountability in federal government, if we could keep special interests from co-opting the federal government with big money (McCutcheon, Ravnsborg! McCutcheon!) and empower regular citizens to exert control over their federal government similar to what they can exert over the Sioux Falls City Council and the Madison Central School Board, would we agree that we should go with liberalism instead of conservatism as our primary governing philosophy?

67 comments

Wait wait wait! Joe Lowe and I were wrong, and Dennis Daugaard was right: we can't rely on the federal government to keep funding the programs that South Dakota relies upon for its economic livelihood.

As IP notes and RCJ reports, the United States Air Force is looking to cut its roster by 5%. That cut includes a willingness to shed a quarter of its workforce at Ellsworth Air Force Base:

Col. Kevin Kennedy, commander of the 28th Bomb Wing, said that a little more than 1,000 airmen, including officers, have been given the opportunity to accept a cash payment and voluntarily separate from the wing.

...If not enough airmen do so, Ellsworth and other bases may need to terminate airmen involuntarily.

However, Kennedy stressed that the 28th Bomb Wing wasn't going to lose 1,000 airmen. If terminations are needed, he said, the total number would depend on how many chose to voluntarily separate across the Air Force and which career fields those departing airmen belonged to.

Ellsworth currently has 3,350 active duty personnel and 572 civilian employees [Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, "Ellsworth to Shed Jobs in Air Force Restructuring," Rapid City Journal, 2014.04.05].

The Air Force is downsizing and cutting other programs thanks to sequestration, brought to you by Rep. Kristi Noem, Senator John Thune, Senator Tim Johnson, and your Congress. Consider that at the polls this year.

9 comments

There are some Democrats out there who think Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether is just peachy. I suppose if the former bank executive were running against Dennis Daugaard or Kristi Noem or Mike Rounds, I'd have to think about voting for him.

But I might have a hard time pulling the lever for Huether, because sometimes he comes across as a hair-splitting jerk. Consider Mayor Huether's appearance at the Sioux Falls Democratic Forum on Friday, March 14. Jennifer Holsen notes that after evading a question from Bruce Danielson about the city's selective effort in educating people about ballot measures, the former bank executive rather snootily shot down a comment from a fellow Democrat about government not being a business:

Audience member: Government is not a business. It was never made to be a business, it was never made to be run by a business. Businesses can do things behind closed doors. Businesses can be [inaudible]... Businesses can fire at will without any excuse or obligation [inaudible]... Government is not a business.

Mayor Mike Huether: And guess what: I never said that it was. You weren't listening strong enough. I never said... I said... we will run government LIKE a business.... I said we should run government more and more LIKE a business. That is exactly right. I've seen the trails and tribulations fo being in government and how different it is than [sic] business. I've seen it. I understand it. I understand that you've got more checks and balances. It takes longer. But where we can run government more and more like a business and ultimately get more and more things done, I think that we should [Sioux Falls Democratic Forum, 2014.03.14].

No, Mayor Huether, the woman in the audience is listening plenty "strong", as am I, as is anyone else who hears your rhetoric and concludes that you think you should run City Hall the way you ran Premier Bank.

Read Mayor Huether's campaign website. He doesn't position himself the way he momentarily pretends in his "you're not listening" response. He doesn't emphasize that government is different from business and celebrate the checks and balances of democracy (and notice that even when he talks about the differences, he seems to address them with disdain—oh, woe, the delays and inefficiency of checks and balances!). He looks for every opportunity to emphasize the need for more business-y practices in City Hall to justify keeping his all-business brain in the Mayor's chair.

Mayor Huether won't win this argument or justify his put-down of a constituent by putting like in a bolder font. It's like when I hear some political friends tell me that Democrats need to run more like Republicans—tack center, drop the Affordable Care Act, don't speak up for abortion rights. When I respond, "But we are not Republicans!" I am not saying that my interlocutor said we are Republicans; I'm making the point that running like Republicans is fundamentally incompatible with our nature and our goals.

In saying, "Government is not a business," the woman in the audience was not attributing a quote to Mayor Huether. She was attributing a mindset, a misguided, pro-corporate mindset. In snarkily semanticizing, Mayor Huether reinforced the woman's point, that he is committed to a mindset that is anti-democratic... and anti-Democratic.

Of course, Sioux Falls voters' only other choice for mayor is a Republican businessman. Can anyone tell the difference?

20 comments

But Feds Smallest Component of SD Government Jobs 

Mr. Epp notes that South Dakota depends on federal funding more than any neighboring state. From 2008 to 2011, the percentage of South Dakota's budget covered by federal funds during increased from 36.2% in 2008 to 44.9% in 2011. Governor Dennis Daugaard's proposed FY2015 budget brings that percentage back down to 39.7%. Yay, self-reliance!

Mr. Epp also notes that from 2007 to 2012, saw one of the largest increases in state and local government employment. Here are full-time equivalent government positions for 2007 and 2012, state and local, from the Census Bureau, compared with federal jobs for those years as counted by the South Dakota Department of Labor:

2007 2012 change
state FTEs 13,897 14,971 7.7%
local FTEs 29,524 30,677 3.9%
federal jobs 11,079 11,449 3.3%

Even including the Daugaardian austerity of FY2012, state government employment grew at twice the rate of local government employment. The Rounds-Daugaard administrations grew state government employment even faster than the number of feds stationed in South Dakota. Yay, smaller government!

At the end of FY2012, there were about 426,000 jobs in South Dakota. Comparing jobs and FTEs is a little apple-and-orangey, but the 57,097 government jobs and FTEs listed above constitute 13.4% of that workforce. So a little more than one in eight of your South Dakota neighbors put food on the table by teaching, policing, managing your sewer, issuing your license plates, studying the weather, or carrying out other government functions.

11 comments

Hat tip to David Newquist for irony of the week!

Joop Bollen has made a living by coordinating government intrusions in the marketplace. For nearly twenty years, as director of the South Dakota International Business Institute under the Board of Regents and as boss of private contractor SDRC Inc., he has marshaled state and federal resources to secure foreign investment in favored businesses.

But let local government express a desire in stimulating activity in a business sector where Bollen has a stake, and Bollen suddenly views government as a sloppy, ill-informed interloper that has no business challenging his market position.

Aberdeen has had a tough time providing housing. A November 2010 housing study found a need for more income-based and low-income rental housing. A study completed last month finds the need persists. To address this need, the Aberdeen Housing Authority would like to build a 40-unit subsidized apartment building to serve low-income folks in the over-55 age range.

Joop Bollen, who lost his economic development contract with the state in September and now must rely on his extensive rental property holdings to keep him and his wife Charisse jetsetting, is raising all sorts of objections to this effort to help Aberdonians find decent places to live. He tells the Aberdeen City Council the housing study must be flawed:

Joop Bollen who owns various properties in Aberdeen, including the Fifth Avenue Apartments, said he is concerned with the validity of the study.

“I’m very concerned that the study is skewed,” Bollen said questioning whether the study takes into account recently constructed apartments in Aberdeen and the recent closure of the beef plant.

“You should review the study and make sure it’s accurate,” Bollen said. “If you sign off on that letter, you state you’ve seen the study and feel there’s a need. My concern is whether or not there’s a real demand” [Elisa Sand, "Landlords Disagree with Need for Housing Authority Request," Aberdeen American News, 2014.02.19].

Giggles turn to guffaws when Bollen turns on his old profession and declares his private market off-limits to government subsidy:

In addition to concerns about the study, Bollen also questioned whether it’s the city’s role to subsidize public housing [Sand, 2014.02.19].

Mayor Mike Levsen can't leave that silly assertion alone:

“The idea that government has a role in housing is established policy for the past 50 years,” Mayor Mike Levsen said [Sand, 2014.02.19].

David Newquist finds both irony and self-serving counterfactuality in Bollen's protest:

Many students, especially single parents, found help in subsidized housing, which made it affordable for them to attend college.  The real complaint that some landlords have about subsidized housing is that they may have to lower their rents to compete.  City housing makes it possible for many people to live decently, something that is of no concern to the private rental market.   The study shows that there is a 3.9 percent vacancy rate in Aberdeen.  The private landlords want to be subsidized by eliminating the competition provided by the city [David Newquist, "Watch Out: Here Comes a Huge Load of Irony," Northern Valley Beacon, 2014.02.19].

Bollen has raised alarms of convenience against government intervention in his marketplace before. In 2008, Aberdeen code enforcement officer Mike Holsten found a plague of rental units in abominable conditions. When the city proposed a plan for annual inspections, Bollen leapt to opposition:

However, some local landlords think the ordinance is too drastic. Joop Bollen, who owns more than 300 rental units, said requiring annual inspections would be a logistical nightmare and might not be as necessary as the city thinks.

“From a management standpoint, who's going to be there to do these inspections?” Bollen asked. “Do I have to take time off work? What if (the tenant) isn't home?”

Bollen said he can't form an opinion until his questions are answered. He also thinks paying for more than 300 annual inspections could be a financial burden. The city should first determine whether there is a problem, Bollen said.

Anyone can create a slide show portraying a big problem - just choose the worst pictures, he said [Jackie Burke Grumish, "Rental Housing Horrors," Aberdeen American News, 2008.02.03].

If Joop Bollen is sincere about his free-market conservatism, he should go apologize to the small dairies he's put out of business, the workers whose hopes he raised and dashed, and the foreign investors whose millions he made disappear with his rabid promotion of government intervention in the market with the EB-5 visa investment program.

8 comments

At our Saturday-night telephonic Madville Times editorial board meeting (how else would you run a blog?), Toby and I discussed House Bill 1219, a proposal to require towns and school districts to hold their elections in conjunction with the November general election.

SDCL 9-13-1 sets the default date for municipal elections on the second Tuesday in April, with the option for locals to set a different date. SDCL 13-7-10 allows school elections may take place between that second April Tuesday and the third June Tuesday. HB 1219 says nope, everybody votes for everybody on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.

HB 1219 demonstrates yet another instance where Republicans throw local control overboard when it conflicts with their agenda. Given the conservative pedigree of this bill—the prime sponsor is recklessly ALEC-happy Rep. Hal Wick, and the co-sponsors include many righter-than-right wingnuts—one might assume that HB 1219 is saying local election control is less important than fiscal restraint. Fewer election days mean fewer hours that locals have to pay election officials to watch, check, and count. Those savings could fund an additional day of snow-shoveling—rock on!

But could there be a political angle? Could radical righties like Rep. Jenna Haggar, Rep. Betty Olson, Senator R. Blake Curd, and Senator Ernie Otten see a way to boost their theocratic designs by tying local school board and city commission candidates to partisan general election fervor?

My blog co-author Toby Uecker suggests that folks trying to stack their local school boards with creationist fetus idolatrists wouldn't want the school board election to happen during the general. The smaller off-general elections have lower turnout. Their outcomes are influenced more by highly motivated ideological voters, as we see in the primaries. If you have a moonbat candidate and a hundred motivated friends, you're more likely to get your local Lyndon LaRouche elected to your school board than during a general election when a much larger number of sane voters will be paying attention.

Of course, attention is a precious resource during an election. Local candidates may have a hard time being heard above the din of Senate, House, and gubernatorial candidates and big ballot measures, not to mention their county commission candidates. Maybe HB 1219 has the good intention of increasing turnout and giving local officials a larger voter mandate... but is that mandate any larger if voters aren't really paying attention to those names at the bottom of the ballot?

More important complications for HB 1219 lie in the timing for both candidates and budgets. First, consider the campaign calendar in Madison. Madison school board and city commission candidates must submit their petitions by the last Friday of February. The campaign then lasts for about six weeks, until the April vote. Moving the local election onto the general ballot requires Madison school and city candidates to submit their petitions by the second Friday in August, so their names can be included on the general election ballot. HB 1219 thus doubles the length of the campaign. Local candidates aren't required to launch their campaigns early, but as a former school board candidate, I can attest that it's nice to keep the campaign season short for everyone.

HB 1219 also complicates government timing. We elect members of Congress and the Legislature in the fall, just prior to the beginnings of new sessions. Our current spring school board elections allow us to seat new board members in the summer, when school is out, at the beginning of the academic and fiscal year. In those cases, new members get to "start fresh." (For city councils, the election date arguably does not matter in the same way, since municipalities conduct business continuously.) HB 1219 doesn't mandate when local school boards have to seat their new members, though hanging onto ousted board members for an eight-month lame-duck period seems unwise. HB 1219 thus makes it likely we would see management churn in school districts while school is in session. Is that really the best time for changes at the top?

HB 1219 appears to have misassigned to House Education when it seems to fall more within the purview of House Local Government, which has tackled other bills affecting local elections. HB 1219 has yet to receive a hearing date.

9 comments

Tell Republicans that businesspeople have to respect civil rights, and they go all "Free market! Free speech!" But sell one Republican a fritzy laptop, and it's time for government intrusion in the marketplace.

Senate Bill 136 comes to us from an all-star cast of noisy conservatives: prime sponsor Senator Al Novstrup of Aberdeen is joined by Senators Begalka, Jensen, and Lederman and Reps. Latterell, Craig, Jenna Haggar, Olson, Stalzer, and Stevens, all Republicans. SB 136 requires that manufacturers offering warranties on electronics, appliances, and farm equipment "containing embedded software" make replacement parts and service manuals available on the market for at least seven years after the manufacture date.

SB 136 seems a remarkable prioritization of consumer desires over business owners' rights. Suppose you make computers. You've been building laptops and offering one-year warranties. You see the market changing and decide you want to drop your laptop business and focus on tablets. You faithfully service your remaining laptop customers through their warranty period, then devote your resources to tablet manufacture and service. But Senator Novstrup would force you to maintain costly inventory for another six years. You'd have to keep production equipment and expert staff handy in case you ran out of spare parts before the seven-year mark and had to make more.

Good grief! To recoup those lost profits, you might have to sacrifice your religious liberty and do business with all those gay couples that Senators Jensen and Begalka said you could discriminate against!

I can only imagine that this legislation springs from the outrage of some legislator who found he or she couldn't get a replacement part for a five-year-old computer or fridge. I don't really mind this effort to combat planned obsolescence. But when government dictates economic decisions like manufacturing and inventory, isn't that socialism?

Senate Bill 136 may be good for consumers. But it also demonstrates Republicans' very selective commitment to keeping government out of the free market.

17 comments

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