In the Heilongjiang province of northeastern China the bus company recently installed bricks on each bus. Simple bricks. Painted yellow. The bricks are replacing small emergency hammers placed in buses as a safety measure. The hammers were to break the large bus windows, creating emergency exits.
The reason was simple, the “special hammers are expensive and people were always stealing them,” said a company official.
Confronted with the problems of flawed human nature the Chinese bus company found a simple solution: remove the temptation.
I propose a similar solution to the problems plaguing American governments and eroding public confidence in our core institutions.
From the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972 through McCain-Feingold of 2002 to the Citizens United ruling of 2010, American political debate has revolved around the influence of money. The story is the same in every state but perhaps most pronounced here in New York. We have an ever growing number of professional lobbyists and advocates, PAC money, dollars both “hard” and “soft” pouring into coffers, candidates spending more time courting donors than meeting constituents and on and on.
Each session of the New York State Legislature sees about 17,000 pieces of legislation – a full 7,000 more than the federal government. In 2010 6,659 lobbyists registered in Albany, an increase of 800 from 2009. Together they spent over $213 million dollars on lobbying. Political contributions topped $198 million.
No one likes all this influence peddling, so why does it exist?
Willie Sutton famously explained why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is.”
In twenty-first century America, the power is in government. So that is where the power hungry, the favor-seekers, and the influence peddlers go.
The U.S. tax code currently has over 72,000 pages, up from 40,000 in 1995, or 500 pages in 1940. Favors and exemptions are carved out for friends, adversaries are punished with new rules.
If the size, scope, and reaches of government shrank, so would the rush of money subside. Policies could be a simple and ordinary people could read and file their own taxes. No one would try to buy favors if there were no favors to be sold.
A massive corruption of republican government has arisen to steal the government hammer. Replace those hammers with common bricks and sanity can return to our system.