I’m a patent attorney, and my livelihood depends upon a creative and innovative society. Because of this, I’m very interested in the conditions that make a society creative and innovative. I’ve read a lot about the transformation of Europe from the Dark Ages to the modern world, which is when Europe transformed itself into the most creative and innovative society on earth. This is a story that runs through the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and into the Industrial Revolution which created the modern world. This history teaches us a great deal about what makes a successful modern society.
The first lesson is that science is the foundation of the modern world, and of the modern economy. The world we live in today is the product of modern technology, from automobiles to space travel, from the telegraph to the cell phone, from the printing press to the internet. Each of these technologies began as a scientific principle. And each of these technologies is now a key component of the modern economy. So it baffles me that we have politicians, and a large segment of the Republican Party, that are deeply and fundamentally hostile to science. Quite simply, modern business relies upon science. So I find it amusing that the Republican Party, which holds itself out as the champion of business, is opposed to science. At the state level they oppose the teaching of science in public schools, and at the federal level they are trying to stifle the ability of the federal government to support scientific research. This despite the amazing track record of success of government support for science, which includes such things as the micro-chip and the internet.
Scientific advancement relies upon an open, honest, and freewheeling debate. Each scientific advance depended upon what came before. As Isaacs Newton said, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Science, of necessity, is open to new ideas and diverse viewpoints.
But this broad based debate extends far beyond a discussion of scientific principles. In fact, science rarely advances in a closed society. The history of the modern world shows that science advances fastest in the most open and tolerance societies. This openness extends to new ideas, new people, and new ways of looking at the world. Typically the most scientifically advanced societies are also the most socially diverse, and culturally creative.
These societies frequently also have the most open and tolerant governments. It may be hard to believe that of the Borgias and Medicis of Renaissance Italy, but it is true. Put simply, tolerance, openness, and acceptance of diversity are the foundations of science. So, in order to have a vibrant, creative and innovative society, and a growing economy, we need a tolerant and open society.
We can see this as we look around the world. Those societies that are the most advanced – culturally, scientifically, and economically – are the most open and tolerant. Those with the most dynamic economies, and with the highest standards of living, are typically the most open and tolerant. Perhaps the best example is Silicon Valley, which is the nexus of the modern computer industry, and effectively the center of the modern world economy. It is no coincidence that Silicon Valley is part of the San Francisco metro area, which is arguably the most diverse and tolerant city in the nation, if not the world.
I know some will point to the economic growth in China and India to question this assertion, but anyone who has been watching those countries knows that as their economies improve, their people’s desire for freedom grows. The two operate hand in hand.
Business understands this. Most Fortune 500 companies have active diversity programs and strong anti-discrimination policies. They have these policies because it’s good for business. They know that they need to sell their products to the widest range of consumers, and to do this they know that they need to have a workforce that reflects their consumers, which is the most diverse workforce possible. And so they recruit, and work hard to retain, this diverse workforce. Discrimination in any form is no longer tolerated in the modern American workforce. Put simply, tolerance is good for business, and tolerance is a key component of a successful economy.
This is another area where Republican policies are diametrically opposed to business interests. Throughout the campaign I’ll discuss the importance of science, and tolerance, to the economy. Obviously there are many other challenges facing the economy, and I’ll address those as well.
But openness is more than just cultural, social, and economic; it’s political as well. Machiavelli existed in the same society that produced Dante and de Vinci, but also accounting and bookkeeping. The political theorists Hobbes, Hume and Locke were the product of the same society that produced scientists like Newton and Watt, and artists like Shakespeare and Gainsborough.
Unfortunately as the modern American economy stagnates, our political system has ground to a halt. The engine of our government has blown a rod and locked up. And worst of all, our political debate has devolved into little more than sound bites and vituperation. One of my goals in this campaign is to avoid this debased form of debate. My intent is to discuss ideas in an informed and honest manner. As the campaign progresses, I plan to present detailed analysis of many of the issues that face the nation. This will be my attempt (hopefully not futile) to create a more open and honest political debate.
The solution to our political ailments goes far beyond a few candidates attempting to rise above the petty froth. Some suggest that the solution is to be less partisan. But the solution, in my opinion, isn’t less partisanship, but more.
Scientists and engineers don’t solve a problem by looking at it from one position, or even two. They approach a problem by looking at it from every possible perspective. In stark contrast, American politics looks at any problem from two, and only two, sides. And unfortunately each side is convinced that the other side is blind. So each refuses to allow the other to move, and as a result Washington is frozen.
Before I went to law school I was a navigator in the Air Force. In nav school we learned to locate our position by taking sightings from three stars. Each sighting produces a line, which was a distance from a set point, and the three lines intersected to create a small triangle. Our position was generally somewhere in that triangle. The goal was to make the triangle as small as possible, and if you were good you could calculate your position within about a mile. It was possible to take a sighting during the day, using the moon and the sun, but that produced only two lines, and the intersection was only a very rough estimate of position. The lesson is that more information produces better results.
In American politics we have only two positions, and they rarely intersect. The two parties are at loggerheads because both have come to believe that the other is incompetent or worse. The only way to get past this, in my view, is to introduce other views, other opinions, and other ideas. And this will only happen with new political parties. We need to take steps to encourage the creation of viable third (or fourth, or fifth or sixths) parties to get us past this partisan gridlock.
I’ll flesh out my proposal for doing this in much more detail later, but here is a quick overview. First, we should set the number of representatives based on population and not on an arbitrary number. The number 435 was set in the 1920’s, and it has long outlived its usefulness. I would suggest one Representative for every 300,000 people. This would increase the size of the House of Representatives to just over 1000. This may seem large, but the British House of Commons has over 600 members representing a population less than half of ours. Under this plan Kentucky would increase from six Representatives to fifteen. Every other state would grow as well, so no state would gain an advantage. Second, each state would be broken up into multi-Representative districts with modified proportional voting from a slate of candidates. A group of candidates would be on the ballot, and the three with the most votes would be elected. In this system a candidate that gets as little as 20% of the vote would be elected to office. Under this proposal Kentucky would be split into five districts, each selecting three candidates. This might mean that a district could elect a mainstream Republican, a Democrat, and a Tea Party Candidate.
This would allow third party candidates to run, and in some cases get elected. And this would introduce new parties, championing new ideas, into government. But more importantly, the presence of candidates from more than two parties would minimize the effectiveness of winning by demonizing an opponent, which would be a good first step in reducing the nastiness in politics.
This may seem like a radical change, but that may be the only way to fix our broken system.
There will be two sides to my campaign: (1) structure: policies to alter the current deadlocked political system, and (2) substance: policies to address other concerns like improving the economic climate. Both are important, and as I hope I have shown, both are two sides of the same coin.
In the next few weeks I will put together a campaign web site. In the meantime, you can learn more about me, and read some of my previous writing on politics and other issues on my web site www.michaelcoblenz.com. This is a remnant of my first unsuccessful political campaign. There are also a number of essays on this blog involving a wide variety of political issues, including introductory drafts of my plan to reduce partisanship, as well as essays attempting to explain how American politics became so bitterly divisive.