As we are now one month away from the 2016 election I thought it would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on the role of government.

Before continuing I would like any anarchists reading this to immediately stop.

If you are still with me I assume you agree that some degree of government is needed for the six billion humans on this planet to survive. The ancients figured out pretty early on that some kind of order is needed to protect both life and property.

Fast forward to 1776. My understanding of the American experiment is that, for perhaps the first time in history, the ultimate power of government rested with “the people.” Well, at least with, “some of the people.” Rights were considered to be given by God, not received as a benevolent gift from some powerful person who was “in charge.”

I am still waiting for tickets to the Broadway musical Hamilton to really get the inside story on the conflict about “how” we should govern ourselves. At what point does “the greater good” override the “individual pursuits.” That fundamental unresolved question seems to have been with us Americans since the beginning.

Side Note to Canadian friends: Like most Americans, I am too ignorant to speak intelligently about the birthplace of my great-grandfather James Alexander Simpson. James Alexander was born in Ontario and never became a US citizen and lived here undocumented (illegally?) till he died.

My very limited understanding of the differences between our two democracies is that Canadians have a fundamental “right to good government” while Americans have an inalienable right to “ the pursuit of happiness.” The Canadian founding fathers seemed to me to have focused more on the collective good while their American counterparts focused on individual freedoms.

But I digress, as this post is limited to government as I have experienced it here in the US.

Inductive Approach – Bottom Up

Most news and talk we all hear this year is about the federal government and I will get to that, but I would rather start this discussion of government at the bottom and work my way up.

In Seattle we live in a condo and I serve as the treasurer on the board of our home owners association.   This is governmental politics at rock bottom, somewhere in the dirt below the grass roots politics.

In a condo disputes and different expectations between members on the type of governance needed must be resolved in a manner that has the best interest of the entire community as a goal.

Even at this lowest level of governance the decision makers have a direct impact on the quality of the lives of their neighbors in areas like security, aesthetics, social interactions, property values of the shared assets, and expenses. How people feel about the place they live is directly influenced by a few people entrusted with power, limited as it is at this level. People are dependent on other residents who volunteer their services.

I think there are direct parallels (and hopefully some good examples) from these simple democratic organizations and the basis for making decisions that are applicable on the national level.

These areas of governance are:

Rules and Structure

Taxes and Fairness

Management and Solvency

Membership and Access

The Greater Good and Service

These are not all of the functions of the Federal Government. Most notably I am not addressing National Defense. These five areas are, however, essential at all levels of governance.

The basic principles I have personally experienced as a board member on our condo homeowners association have application at the National Level.

Rules and Structure

In a condo it can’t be “every man for himself.” Individual freedom is fine, up to a point.

It is my business what I watch on TV, but when I had the sub-woofer turned way up while watching Game of Thrones and rattled the dishes in my upstairs neighbor’s apartment, I had gone over the line (sorry Laurie, Marianne warned me that I had overdone it on the special effects.)

Fortunately my neighbor respectfully requested I turn it down which I did immediately. In that case there was no reason for her to enforce “the rules”.

Most rules at all levels would be unnecessary if people were just courteous, kind, and respectful.

In our little condo the rule breakers’ indiscretions are pretty minor and most people are good neighbors.

But alas at the national level there are some truly bad apples among us. And there are also basically good people who just put themselves first without considering the impact on others.

So we are stuck with rules and some sort of authority to ensue order when necessary.

The documents governing our little condo exceed 30 pages.

At higher levels of government the numbers of pages of “rules” are beyond counting. But at any level there must be a degree of structure that has law and enforcement as a basis for order.

At the National level I often hear people talk about there being “too much regulation.” I rarely, however, hear the specifics that are essential in determining what should or should not be enforced/included in “the rules.”

And, news flash, this is a big country. And big countries need big government.   There are certainly areas in the federal government that can be improved and cut, but no matter what, with 360 million people, the rules book is going to be “huge” no matter what.

Taxes and Fairness

In the condo we also pay a form of taxes known at “dues” or assessments” that are used to pay for common building expenses. These taxes are assessed using a “fair share” that is based in our case on the size of our individual units – the bigger units pay more, the smaller ones less. My fair share is 2.4%.

This “fair share” was defined when the condo was built and we all knew what the definition of “fair share” meant when we bought our units.

Our condo association has an annual budget of about $90,000. This pays for insurance, a part time manager, utilities and maintenance out of an operating fund. We also have a “reserve” fund to pay for expenses we know we will have to pay in the future, like a new roof or elevator. Infastructure will eventually wear out and will need to be replaced. We need to plan and budget carefully for these future expenses.

“I am paying too much.”

I cringe when I hear simplistic statements like “Taxes (dues) are too high.” Too high for what? Too high for whom?

Talk to me instead about what services we might be able to reduce or curtail. Or identify specific efficiencies that can save money. Just don’t say they are “too high”, it is meaningless without context.

I also cringe when someone proposes spending money without identifying where it will come from. There really is no free lunch.

At the national level nobody really knows what that fair share should be. It seems that some very wealthy individuals who have benefited greatly from our society have contributed very little and in some cases nothing.

Everyone agrees the tax code is unfair, but so far neither party has significantly changed it except to “roll back” taxes as if that does not have impacts down the road. Personally I don’t see the difference between tax loopholes and taking money from one person and giving it to someone else.

Management and Solvency

How the money is managed is key. Even in our little condo there are legitimate questions about the need to spend money. An example is a monthly expense we have for a plant/ flower arrangement we have in the front lobby. There is a good case that the natural beauty of live plants enhances the quality of life in our condo. There is an equally good argument that we could substitute dried flowers for less money. This is a microcosm of the dilemma officials at all levels of government must face – making decisions between competing interests.

At the National level it is not enough to just say “government is too big” or there are “too many regulations.”

Tell me the specifics. Tell me the pros and cons of the alternatives. Compromise. Spend money like we do in the condo – like it was our own money.

Membership and Access

In the condo, every unit owner gets one vote. Citizenship is defined in our governing documents. This basically amounts to ownership being the key. Other people are allowed access to the building to visit members and to come into our condo to provide us services.

At the National level citizenship is a gift of birth or a reward for meeting the standards established to be granted citizenship. It seems pretty clear to me.

We do not, however, have a realistic, fair, or sustainable policy for the persons who we hire to provide us services but who are not citizens. There have been good bi-partisan efforts made in this area (e.g. the comprehensive immigration reform bill of 2013 written by the “Gang of Eight”), but these efforts have been stymied by extremists.

The Greater Good and Service

 As condo board members we have had to take positions that might inconvenience or restrict one or a small number of residents because the decision is best for the organization as a whole.

An example is our enforcement of rules that limit what changes can be made to the structure or exterior appearance of the building or common areas. Enforcement does limit the freedom of the individual somewhat, but the end result is better for all.

I, and I believe my fellow condo board members, try to act in a manner that is for the greater good of the whole organization.

Our national leaders should do the same.

In our condo we serve on the board and in committees. We hire a manager for some tasks, but spend many hours working without pay to ensure that things go well in our building/home. We serve.

Beyond lip service to the military and police, many politicians seem to have little respect for the concept “service” that our government employees provide. It seems popular to be critical of “big government”. I don’t appreciate members of Congress who lambast the VA for not giving Veterans better access to service but then fail to provide the resources needed to hire the staffing needed.  Service means service to others.

National Politics:

 “Where logic, wisdom, and good intentions meet reality, human frailty, and indifference in a win or lose battle.”

I have described some of the key functions of government and addressed how they should be approached, but I have not addressed the issue at hand nationally here in the US which is “Who” should run the government.

Nobody runs for office in our condo as a Democrat or Republican. The issues and solutions are really not “liberal” or “conservative.”

Is it liberal or conservative to “Plan wisely for the future”; “Apply rules justly and evenly”; “Consider how a decision will impact other people”; “Spread costs fairly”; or to “Help out your neighbor in need?”

Of course not. It is totally possible to be frugal and generous and fair at the same time. Both conservatives and progressives have some good ideas and intentions but they have to work together just like those of us at the lowest levels of governance do.

Keeping America Great

We all want the country to continue to succeed but it won’t happen without all of us playing our part.

As noted above, at the national level the idea of the greater good seems to be lost on many as does the concept of service. Rules and Structure seem to be just for “other people. We want it all, but we don’t want to pay our fair share. People want government off their backs, but they sure do like the subsidies and benefits of citizenship. We enjoy having the benefits of cheap foreign labor, but fail to establish a fair mutually beneficial scenario for these people.

My most memorable quote from the last election was a woman who was quoted as wanting the Government to keep “its hands of her Social Security.” And this year it seems like it is “brilliant” to avoid paying anything in federal taxes, as if this would be a good strategy for everyone. Really?

The 2016 Election

And the answer is…

I have always considered myself an independent. I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans for president at different times based on who I thought was the best for the country.

I really think that the best balance of government is when one party controls the White House and the other at least either the Senate or the House.

This division of power helps keep us from straying too far in either direction. I like it here in the middle. I wish there were more in here with me.

People on both sides wail about how we have a “stalemate.” Yes, it does seem that way if you watch the news, but as I look around the country I see much to be extremely happy about. Yes, there are lots of problems, some very serious, but AMERICA IS GREAT NOW. See my previous Blog post titled America if you think we are in deep trouble, we are not.

I’m With Her

Some of you on the right will cringe, as will some of you on the far left, but my vote will be cast for Hillary Clinton.

There is no other rational choice.

My assessment of Hillary is that she is very competent and level headed. She will, as her opponents accurately predict, give us “more of the same,” to which I can only say, “bring it on!” Things are going pretty darn well for the vast majority of Americans.

Hillary, if she works with Paul Ryan and other Republicans, can make incremental progress on a wide range of issues in each of the five areas of governance I described. We don’t need a revolution, evolution will do just fine.

Hillary sure ain’t perfect, nor is she as transparent or as forthright as she should be. And there is Bubba.


The alternative is so much worse to contemplate.

I realize that for some of you voting for Hillary is like kissing your sister, you will do it, but it just feels icky.

However, voting for Donald is like French kissing your sister, it’s disgusting and just plain wrong.

I’ll spare you the details which have been (and will be) amply covered by so many others on why Donald represents a clear and unacceptable risk. I have boiled it down to the fact that he deals in hate and in fear. These two evil sins pose a threat to our great country.

I have seen no convincing evidence that Donald has the skills, or ability to learn the skills, necessary to be effective in government. Skill and experience in business may transfer somewhat in the area of management and possibly structure, but not much at all in the other areas I have identified above. The function and purpose of private enterprise is fundamentally different than those of government. Business experience does not in itself provide the skills needed in the five functional areas of governance that I discussed above, nor even at all in the even more important area of National Security which I did not address here.

My vote likely will not change the outcome for Washington State which is a pretty much a Navy Blue state.

Your vote, however, may make a difference in a state where it might be a close race. Some of my friends and relatives who get this blog live in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Iowa. Your votes will be very important.

When you do vote, please consider who would to the most predictably sound job (if not ideal) in each of these essential key areas of governance I have identified above:

Rules and Structure

 Taxes and Fairness

 Management and Solvency

 Membership and Access

 The Greater Good and Service

Also think about National Security, then vote your conscience.

God Bless America (& the rest of the world too!!)



2 thoughts on “Government”

  1. Another very thoughtful and rational written soliloquy on an extremely relevant subject regarding the times in which we find ourselves.

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