An mp3 of my radio show on "the failure of political parties" is attached to this post.
The show set a record with six callers. I also had five emails before or during the show and couldn't get to any of them. Several more messages have come since. Several agreed with me, but had specific modifications. Only one seemed tense or upset with me. I was reluctant, as you'll be able to tell by listening to my voice, because I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I understand the attraction of partisanship, and I think most of the partisans I know are good people, who believe they're doing the right thing.
I didn't have time to fully elaborate my position. We have roughly 42 minutes on air each week. After callers, there just wasn't time to expand on several points. However, I’m not interested in returning to the issue for a second episode at this time, so I'll share more of the points I wanted to make below.
The theme of my next show is "What the DC Downsizer movement needs most." A hopeful, energetic friend once told me, "People are walking around with signs on their chest saying, 'Give me something to believe in.'" And the Bible says that a people without vision, perish. I want to provide a positive vision. I believe DownsizeDC.org offers just that.
In the pervious show we talked about the dangers and pitfalls of partisanship. One danger is confirmation bias
. In addition to that problem, the two major parties have a duopoly, and these parties agree on far more than they disagree. As a result, they offer little prospect for change. So, do we turn to third parties?
Jim's Third Party Theorem
I don't think so. In the episode attached below I shared "Jim's Third Party Theorem: Productive activism does not equal equity." I demonstrate this theorem in the following way:
* If you become deeply involved in a political party and make great things happen, this doesn't translate to more shares in the "company/party" and greater influence over its direction.
* Someone "just off the street" has the same number of "proxies" you've "earned." You may have proven your competence, but all your great ideas must still receive the approval of a committee that includes inexperienced new-comers, "Know-Nothings," and "Do-Nothings."
* Having to constantly fight with Know-nothings and Do-nothings causes successful activists to quit. The Know-nothings and Do-nothings then unravel all the progress the successful activist made.
* The succesful activist is then blamed for the failures of the Know-nothings and Do-nothings who undid what the succesful activist accomplished.
* The Know-nothings and Do-nothings have no incentive not to wreck the successes of the superior activist. Since they too own no shares in the "company/party," they suffer no real consequences for their bad behavior.
All political parties, but especially third parties, suffer from the "tragedy of the commons." Things owned in common are really owned by no one, and no one has sufficient incentive to protect the collectively owned property. This is a well-known economic principle, and political parties suffer from it in a major way. Political parties are collectively owned and politically managed. This is a recipe for disaster. And disasters tend to be what political parties produce best. If a political party could be entrepreneurially managed, it might work; but it can't be, so it won't.
I also shared a corollary to Jim's Third Party Theorem: “You can't predict what a third party will do next, but you can be fairly sure it will be bad for them. Even successes turn out badly in the end, because successes breed envy and resentment on the part of the Know-nothings and Do-nothings, who have just as much say as the Know-somethings and Do-somethings. The Know-nothings and Do-somethings always seek revenge against those who succeed, and revenge turns out to be the one thing they can do really well."
I know of two minor political parties that are coming apart at the seams. The issue in both cases is "Purity."
* The Libertarian Party, which has been in dramatic decline for several years because of self-destructive disputes over proven, successful strategies, is now furthering its decline because of a dispute over redactions in the platform.
* The Constitution Party is divided over the continued affiliation of a state party that has taken a less-than-100%-pure-position on the abortion issue.
Because no one owns these parties, their members can have a nasty, hurtful, verbal brawls, and not only be unconcerned about paying the tab for the destruction that follows, but also forgo any worry about being asked to leave. In fact, the result of these feuds is a variation of Gresham's Law: Bad activists drive out good ones. Interestingly, these kinds of intense faction fights tend not to happen in organizations with clear ownership positions, where people take a real hit to their bottom line for engaging in destructive behavior.
We've structured DownsizeDC.org to diminish these kinds of problems. We are forced to organize in a non-ideal way because of the tax laws, but we've still been able to protect ourselves from most of the problems that cause minor parties to fail. We are not a membership organization. We are not collectively owned or politically managed. We are entrepreneauraly managed, and we view every DC Downsizer as a cherished customer, to whom we must provide a valuable service in order to succeed. In this way we hope to avoid "the failure of political parties." How a political party might protect itself from these problems, I cannot say, because to me, they seem inherent to the nature of the beast.
Fortunately for my sanity, with the creation of DownsizeDC.org, I've been able to put these problems behind me and move forward into an increasingly bright future. I welcome all who wish to make this journey with me.