Katherine M. Gehl is the founder of the Institute for Political Innovation and the CEO of Venn Innovations, which is focused on new thinking about intractable problems. Michael E. Porter is the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School. They have combined their interests and talents in this sturdy and sophisticated primer on the root causes of system failure in what they call "the politics industry and its Five Competitive Forces."
We know they are on the right track when they pose six substantive questions which go to the heart of the beast:
- Why is the United States innovative in so many areas, but not in politics?
- Why is it normal to have limited — and often disappointing — choices at the ballot box?
- Why doesn't Washington, D.C., get anything done?
- Why does an independent candidate rarely stand a chance of getting elected?
- What outcomes should we expect from an optimally functioning political system?
- And, most importantly, what can we do to start achieving those great outcomes?
The political industrial complex serves the needs and demands of the two-party duopoly and not the American people. Note that the public gave Congress a 77% disapproval rating yet a nearly 90% percent re-election rate. How could this happen? One explanation is that during the 2008 midterms the parties spent nearly 2.5 billion to make sure that incumbents beat the competition, relying heavily on negative ads. Although democracy is supposed to allow for diversity of political viewpoint and candidate background, the present system enables both parties to make it nearly impossible for independent candidates to be elected.
Gehl and Porter have plenty of creative and nonpartisan suggestions for breaking gridlock in Washington, D.C., including making representatives accountable and responsive to the people by running a single primary ballot; instituting federal term limits; and passing a constitutional amendment against partisan gerrymandering.
This is one of the best analyses we've read of how the U.S.'s current political system actually operates like a competitive business, a reality that any solutions must take into account. They identify political innovations that have already been tried and present "guiding principles for electoral innovation," such as keep it cross-partisan, localize, and build winning coalitions. They conclude with a persuasive call for investments in political innovation.
Katherine Gehl ends on an enthusiastic note: "I am so excited for the future. Our laboratories of democracy will prove these ideas right — or prove what needs to change to make them right. And we will create the system changes needed to help our government achieve the results that we Americans deserve."