Positive Feedback Loops For Progressives

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 15:28

Amidst the series of Bush Dog fueled Democratic capitulations in Congress that have become so regular it has become possible to organize around them several weeks ahead of time, it is important for progressive movement types to keep their eyes on the most important legislation and potential legislation facing our movement. No, I am not referring to Iraq or FISA, and to a somewhat lesser extent I am not referring to health care or clean energy either. Instead, I am referring to those key areas of legislation and Democratic Party behavior that have the potential to build progressivism itself. As Matt as discussed in recent length pieces such as Emergence Politics and Rush Limbaugh, and The Broken Market for Democratic Primaries, what progressives need are the creation and institutionalization of "positive feedback loops" that will make America a more progressive place, and thus make all other progressive policy more likely to be enacted.

What are these policies? Here is an incomplete list that I compiled this afternoon:
  • The Employee Free Choice Act, that would, ideally, increase union density and collective bargaining power in America. Union members are much more likely to support progressive economic policies, and to vote Democratic, than other non-union workers. This would effectively create an ideological shift within the American workplace that would favor progressives, as long as it came with union leadership willing to ramp up new organizing efforts.

  • Clean Election Laws. While I am well aware that Democrats have demonstrated an ability to surpass Republican fundraising in Presidential elections, the fact is that progressives will never be able to match corporate PAC money in all federal elections. Until some form of public financing removes this corporate advantage, progressives will always be at an influence disadvantage over Congress.

  • Reversing Corporate Media Consolidation. Using improved ownership regulation of American media to help destabilize the impact of the Republican Noise Machine, and create a more diverse, responsive national media, is another key progressive feedback loop.

  • Progressive Immigration Reform. Securing the ideological and partisan loyalties of expanding demographic groups in America is a pretty obvious key to long-term political success. This remains as true among Latinos and Asians in our current era as it was among Irish, Italian, and Slavic immigrants a century ago. Whoever captures emerging political markets is well-positioned for electoral and legislative success over the next few decades. One of the keys to pulling this off always starts with immigration policy and rhetoric that improve the lives of newcomers to America, and make them feel welcomed. Truly, a no-brainer for long-term progressive success.

  • Colonial Reform. Perhaps I am using overly provocative language to describe this one, but granting full congressional representation to those areas of America not current represented by full voting members in Congress would be a big step forward for progressives. This obviously includes anti-Republican strongholds in D.C. and Puerto Rico, but should also include territories like Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. These are not places that are particularly friendly to the values of the conservative movement, and granting them equal representation within their own country would expand progressive and Democratic power long-term.

  • Re-locating government spending. It isn't a secret that the conservative economy is fueled significantly by government hand-outs in the form of military industrial complex spending, reliance on oil companies, "faith based initiatives," and tax breaks / loopholes for corporations and the wealthy alike. De-funding the conservative economy, and re-locating spending in programs Americans won't want to give up, such as universal health care or cheaper, clean energy investment, would to at least some extent shift the economic balance of power away from conservatives and toward progressives.

  • Voting Reform. Same day voter registration, the end of felony disenfranchisement, and secure voting mechanisms will all help increase voter turnout in ways that favor progressives. When more minorities vote, more young people vote, more people have confidence in the vote, and it is easier to vote overall, the longstanding conservative tactic of voter suppression as a means of winning elections will be significantly reduced in effectiveness.

I am sure that there are more potential positive feedback loops for progressives than these, and if you have more I'd love to see them in the comments. The seven I list here are a mix of good government reforms, spending relocations, and shifts in control over ideological apparatuses that I think would undoubtedly make the country more progressives. This are the low-hanging positive feedback loops, so to speak. I am sure there are others, but I wanted to get these out there as a way of reminding progressives that no matter what the major issues of the day might be in the short term, there are fundamental goals we must always seek in order to build a more progressive America long term.

Chris Bowers :: Positive Feedback Loops For Progressives

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Education? Voting Age? (4.00 / 2)
Just about any progressive reforms that address poverty or education in this country are likely to create a positive feedback loop for progressives. For example, lowering college tuition = more students go to college = more higher education = correlates to more progressive voters.

What about lowering the voting age to 16? It could help boost civic engagement at a young age (a value in and of itself) AND increase the number of young people voting for progressives, since youth are generally more progressive than not.

Feedback loops are SOOOOOOOO key to getting this country headed back in the right direction. I've been arguing for several years that the office of the vice presidency under any new Democratic administration needs to be devoted to identifying and implementing these progressive feedback loops.

Reduce college costs (0.00 / 0)
Anything that reduces the burden of college loans will increase the number of young progressives able to get experience in work that serves the common good. We need an infusion of such people.

Can it happen here?

[ Parent ]
Lowering (0.00 / 0)
the voting age is a great idea.  Not only would it create millions of D trending voters, but I have the feeling that it would boost voting among high school graduates who got into the habit of voting their junior and senior years.

In some ways, we have a down hill battle here, since things are so stacked towards the conservative movement at the moment.  The feedback loop thing was Rove's basic strategy, and the best he could come up with was trying to convince Latinos and white supremacists to be in the same party, and turning us all into "entrepreneurs" through privatizing the most popular social program in America.  And he failed miserably at both.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
looks like a good list to me (4.00 / 1)
If only the Democrats had like, a platform or something...

Strengthening urban areas (0.00 / 0)
The election isn't so much a contest between red states and blue states as between blue urban islands and a red sea.  I do not think this is an accident.  Almost anywhere you go in the world, urban areas are almost always more liberal than the rural areas that surround them. 

This may be in part because liberal people move to urban areas.  But I also believe that urbanization contributes to making a population more liberal.

By their nature, urban areas expose people to others who are different from themselves.  Different ideologies, religions, sexualities, languages, skin colors.  Rural areas are overwhelmingly homogenous.  The exposure, and need to get along with different people makes them more tolerant and accepting.  Most people who live near large Hispanic or gay populations, for instance, are supportive of them.

Also, I think the nature of urbanization makes people more dependent on the government.  You depend on them for your sanitation, protection, and transportation.  There are too many homeless and poor for an individual or small group to assist so you depend on welfare and shelters. 

In rural areas, you can have your own gun, drive your own truck, burn your own garbage.  Churchmembers and neighbors take care of each other. 

Rural areas go about 80/20 conservative, urban areas 80/20 liberal (rough estimate).  Suburbs are inbetween.  They are more homogenous than cities but less so than the country.  They use cars more, they have fewer poor to be concerned with, but still depend on the government for sanitation and protection.  Overall, suburbs have a generally conservative bent, maybe 55/45 or 60/40.

In the last few decades both urban areas and rural areas have been in moderate decline, and have roughly cancelled each other out.  Suburbs have been growing rapidly, and that has given Republicans an advantage.  This has countered the beneficial shifts to an increasingly non-white and non-Christian population. 

It would be extremely beneficial to encourage more urban growth, and discourage suburban growth.  The single best solution would be a gas tax.  In addition to thwarting global warming, air pollution, congestion, obesity, and oil-funded terrorists, it would provide strong incentive to live closer to where you work, go to school, and get entertained. 

Encourage smart growth.  Mixed use zoning laws.  Permit taller and larger skyscrapers, but restrict urban sprawl.  Discourage new housing subdivisions, stripmalls.  Walmart is a particularly nasty villain in causing urban sprawl.  Their modus operandi is to build on the outskirts of town, so they can buy property cheap and pay low taxes.  Growth centers around the Walmart, and mostly in a car-friendly way. 

Encourage public transit, and fewer roads. 

A HUGE advancement would be to eliminate the tax break for mortgage interest.  That encourages people to buy homes, more often than not in the suburbs, rather than rent apartments in the city.  There is no corresponding subsidy for renters. 

In general, do our best to make cities a place where people want to live. 

The role model cities are New York, San Francisco, Portland, OR.  New York and SF have natural limitations (water) that encourage density.  Portland has tough restrictions on development.

The types of city we want to avoid are Dallas, Los Angeles, and Colorado Springs.  Heavy dependence on roads, endless sprawl.  For instance, Colorado Springs and Denver have roughly the same geographical size, but Denver has four times as many people. 

I think encouraging urbanization is absolutely key to a long-term Democratic majority. 

YES (0.00 / 0)
yes yes yes yes yes

[ Parent ]
I would argue (0.00 / 0)
That instead of focusing on urban power or trying to become more economically conservative to fit with the suburbs we should build a urban/rural coalition for our party. Based on economic populism that can unite both urban and rural people. We would have a more willing audience for socially liberal values in the suburbs but economic issues are higher on voters concerns then social issues so I think a rural/urban party would be stronger then a suburban/urban party.

When we focus on economic populism and campaign in rural area's we win. I can't think of one state were economic corporatism is good for the majority of people. Economic populism can win anywhere.

I don't mean to diminish social issues, I care a great deal about them. But if we are to make a lasting progressive Democratic majority then I think we have to build a broader alliance to win.

Good points though.

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

[ Parent ]
A couple of minor points on cities: (0.00 / 0)
1) There are now more poor people in the suburbs than there are in the cities. However, they are more invisible in the suburbs.
2) Gentrification brings smaller households and lower population to represent--though the gentrified population probably has more financial resources to invest in politics.

[ Parent ]
Abolish the Electoral College (4.00 / 1)
The Electoral College is tremendously advantageous to the Republicans, because it heavily overrepresents small states which are mostly conservative.  The most urban (liberal) states are also the largest and are underrepresented.  A voter in Wyoming, for instance, has four times as much influence in the Electoral College than a voter from California.  (A voter in Wyoming also has 70 times the representation in the senate as a voter from California... but the senate makeup cannot be changed, not even by a constitutional amendment.)

A constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college would be very difficult to pass.  More than half the nation's population lives in only 9 states, which means 41 states are at or below the median and are overrepresented, an advantage many states will not be quick to part with. 

But the national popular vote compact could bypass this.  Maryland has enacted it, CA, IL and HI have come close.  If we can get enough states to comprise 270 EVs, it will effectively create a popular vote, and an amendment would then be a formality and would be passable. 

A popular vote would greatly strengthen the influence of urban centers, which would strengthen the cities and in turn further strengthen liberalism. 

Absolutely (0.00 / 0)
The EC has to go.

I think you're wrong that the Senate couldn't be altered through constitutional amendment.  That of course, is insanely unlikely either way, but rules changes within the Senate are much easier.  Eliminating the filibuster and otherwise diminishing the Senate's ability to block legislation would be a step in the right direction, with the eventual goal to be turning it into something equivalent to the British House of Lords.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
The last line of article 5 states: (0.00 / 0)
"...and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate."

Article 5 is the amendment that addresses how future amendments are to be made.  Inexplicably, they specifically singled out this one issue as something that cannot be amended.  So until we discard the constitution, we are stuck with a fundamentally unequal legislative body.  It mandates that be treated equally rather than people. 

[ Parent ]
EC? (0.00 / 0)
Actually, I think most political scientists say it's hard to know who would benefit. On the one hand, you're obviously right that small states are overrepresented. On the other though, in the large blue states we get to make millions of Republican votes worthless. Think about the GOP initiative in California. It would reflect that CA is not 100% Democratic and we'd lose 20 electoral votes in a heartbeat.

Which of these effects would dominate? Impossible to say, especially because campaigning would suddenly change so much.

That said, I think it's a good idea anyway.

[ Parent ]
Helps Democrats more often, and helps cities (0.00 / 0)
I think that although a popular vote would in some scenarios benefit Republicans (like if we had gotten 200k more votes in OH in 2004), it's much more likely to benefit Democrats.  The fact that Republicans waste votes in CA is countered by the votes we waste in the red states.  But overall the system still favors Republicans because of the smalll state advantage. 

Either way it affects the electoral college, there is a more central point.  A national popular vote would indisputably help CITIES.  This is not unfair, because that's where most people live.  More urban power = more liberal power. 

[ Parent ]
Increase the size of the House (0.00 / 0)
Increasing the size of the house gives more proportionate influence to large (blue) states both in the house itself, and in the electoral college.  There was a study done to show who would have won the presidency in 2000 if the house had been larger or smaller... the strong trend was that as the number of representatives was decreased Bush was more likely to win, and as it was increased Gore was.

Many representatvies, of course, would oppose this because it would dilute their power. 

House size (0.00 / 0)
The House was expanded in size continually until it was capped in 1912 at 435.  Up until then, the number of House seats was set at multiples of the least populous state.  Thus Wyoming at 500,000 would have 1 member and California something like 70.  Without this change, we would now have about 600 House members including a larger portion from the more populous states.

There is no reason we can't return to the system thos country followed for most of its existence.  I suspect that "practical" reasons like the size of the Capitol were given back in 1912 but that's a lot of nonsense.  Hold it in a basketball arena or a TV studio or even the internet.

[ Parent ]
Annex Canada (0.00 / 0)
20 new senators and around 70 new represenatives, liberals would never lose again. 

Insular territories (0.00 / 0)
The average population of a congressional district is 700,000.  The smallest congressional district I assume would be Wyoming, at 500,000.

The population of Guam is about 100,000.  The population of the USVI is about 100,000.  The population of American Samoa is 50,000.

Something to think about.

I can imagine giving those representatives seats on certain relevant committees, and giving them real votes on those committees, but I don't think any of those three island groups should get a full vote in the House.  Not when Samoa has a population that is one tenth that of Wyoming.  And especially not when voting membership on key committees could go a very long way towards giving those island groups the real and meaningful representation that they do deserve.

This is an excellent post.  This comment is really a minor objection to a minor element of a very good instance of strategic thinking, so I don't want to kill the mood or anything.  I just wanted to point out the numbers here.

Gerrymander This! (0.00 / 0)
OTOH, if House seats were in multiples of 50,000, Austin would have more than a dozen House seats, and there'd be no way they could gerrymander them all away.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
OMG you're not in Austin are you? (0.00 / 0)
Maybe you're just responding to my handle, and up on the details of the Texas redistricting.

Anyway, I live in SF now, but I lived in Austin at that time and boy was I livid.

Boy were we all livid, I should say.

[ Parent ]
p.s. (0.00 / 0)
Who you callin' insular, dude?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Advertising Tax (4.00 / 3)
I'd love to see a tax on advertising used to pay for public broadcasting. Much of advertising is just propaganda designed to get people to do useless or immoral things that they would not do otherwise (like buy useless junk or vote for bozos). A tax might reduce the amount that we are bombarded by these endless junk messages.

As long as public broadcasting is tied to corporate advertising, it will continue to have a conservative bent). But if publicly funded, there is some chance it could be innovative and progressive.

Both of these are tough changes, but I think worth pushing for.

Great idea (0.00 / 0)
I like the idea of taxing advertisements, regardless of where the money goes, just because they're so annoying.  If we could use it to expand PBS to a BBC-quality organization, that would be fantastic.  It would lead to a more informed, and therefore more liberal public. 

[ Parent ]
A tax on advertising is fucking brilliant. (0.00 / 0)
Talk about a positive-feedback loop.  Less advertising and more public broadcasting, without any ads?  Perfect.

And everyone hates ads anyway.  Who's gonna cry for the frickin TV commercial industry?

[ Parent ]
Universal health care (0.00 / 0)
An excellent list and concept--and post. One of the key positive feedback loops for progressives is creating progams that convince people, conretely, that government can play a vital role in their lives. The conservative movement is built on the converse. Social Security is a vital feedback loop for progressives, and universal health care would be as well. That's one reason conservatives fought it so hard in the 1990s, and why it was, and is, such an important issue for Democrats.

The more popular participation there is in such programs, the better for feedback loops. I can envision a component of universal health care, wellness programs to promote health, in which local communites would democratically establish goals for a more healthy community overall and carry them out, and get rewarded in some way for positive progress. Make it competitive among communities, and not as a personal responsibility, as the right would have it, but as a community responsibility. Reducing smoking, poverty, and pollution, and improving diets are some isues that come to mind in this regard. One effect, of course, would be to reduce health care costs, a positive feedback for support for government progams. 

One avenue to explore in considering what issues should be listed as creating positive feedback loops here is how issues that do not seem at first to fit such loops can be conceived of so that they do so.

Register for class, register to vote (0.00 / 0)
With young people trending Democratic so strongly, another positive feedback loop would be to encourage more voting by young people. What I have in mind is a requirement that any school (high school, college, or university) that receives federal funding (including student loans), which is most of them, be required to establish programs that would encourage or require their students to register to vote. I believe some schools already have such programs, but I don't have specifics.

One way would be to have students, as they register for classes, register to vote at the same time. Or, in high school, make voter registration materials available as students turn eighteen. It might be best to require registration (which is not the same as requiring that people vote) as a civic duty, although I can also see arguments for strongly encouraging it and not requiring it. In any case, federal education funding should have an incentive component, with schools getting a certain percentage more funding depending on what percentage of their students are registered.

Another possibility is for schools to add incentives or rewards for students that not only register but vote, such as a certain number of credits toward graduation depending on how often they vote. The specifics would be up to the creativity of the schools to come up with a variety of such programs.

If schools take registering to vote and voting seriously, it sends a message to students (and their parents) that it is an important civic responsibility. Despite the positive trends in young people becoming more progressive, they still have one of the lowest voter turnout rates as a population group. In addition, of course, anything that can be done to reduce the costs of attending college will also bind young people more to the progressive side.

Another way of identifying positive feedback loops is to consider them in terms of how they will affect certain population groups, and how policies can develop long-term support for the progressive agenda and for a progressive Democratic coalition.


NVH (4.00 / 2)
National Voting Holiday.  I can't understand why we don't have this.  Can a president declare a national holiday, or does Congress have to?

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

Wow. (0.00 / 0)
This has been on my mind for a long time. And it's exactly why I support Obama. He is him and Russ Feingold were the two progressive leaders working on the ethics bill. He also has worked with Feingold on Clean Election Laws that no other candidate has signed onto. He is the chief sponsor of one of the big voting reform bills going through congress right now.

He also offered several progressive amendments to the immigration reform bill.

We need to change the system if we are going to have progressive polices enacted. This is key, and I hope that that's what the OpenLeft community focuses on.

I have a class early tomorrow and so I need to be awake by then but I will have more on this tomorrow for sure.

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

Reduce drug crime penalties (4.00 / 1)
Most people who go to prison for drugs are minorities that tend to vote Democratic.  Drug laws as they stand cause much more harm than they solve.  Reducing penalties would be sensible policy and would help minorities. 

It might also reduce the number of prison jobs, which would take another piece out of the conservative economy. 

Yes (0.00 / 0)
The Prison industrial complex is a HUGE part of the Conservative Economy.

Here's a truly perverse part of it; the disenfranchised prisoners serving in the prisons in Republican districts in upstate New York are counted as residents of the of those districts, not the Democratic urban districts they primarily come from.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
I hate to sound negative, but ... (0.00 / 0)
... there is a MASSIVE logical flaw to this approach.

Yes, the implementation of all of the above would improve the position of progressives.  But do you think the Republicans don't know that?

In other words, to overstate slightly, implementation of all of the above would further the revolution, but in fact it would take a revolution to implement all of the above.

In more other words, if we had all of the above, we would be in a better position to get ALL U.S. troops out of Iraq, but in a realpolitik sense, the drive to get ALL U.S. troops out of Iraq is what would give us a chance to implement all of the above.

The logic is superficially sound, but the fact is that good government stuff does not stir the passions of the masses like Bread, Land and Peace, or in post-czarist terms, Jobs, Healthcare and Peace.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...

There is no reason... (0.00 / 0)
that the next congress, under the right conditions, can't pass at the very least EFCA, Progressive Immigration law, and possibly some of the good government reforms.  What's important then is to have the groundwork laid in terms of activism and ideas, so that as opportunities arise we can push for them.

Your argument would make sense if we were still stuck in the minority, bu the fact is we have the shot here to pass some major legislation, and if we play our cards right we can shift the whole country.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
"There is no reason ... (0.00 / 0)
... under the right conditions."

Just what are the right conditions?  I don't think such conditions will exist soon.

"What's important then is to have the groundwork laid in terms of activism and ideas."  I agree completely.  That's why I keep stressing the difference between raising issues to win them, and issues that can be effective as agitation.  The list above is good agitation.  It's not near-term winnable.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...

[ Parent ]
The right conditions (0.00 / 0)
for the EFCA?  60 Democratic senators and a Democratic president.
For progressive immigration reform?  Less clear, but we could certainly get a compromise bill, hopefully with some type of amnesty, even without 60 senators.

National Voting Holiday?  It's not clear to me that we couldn't get it now. 

Lowering the voting age?  Could be done State by State starting tomorrow.

DC voting rights?  A few more seats in the house... 

You sound almost traumatized by our time in the minority.  The fact that the Republicans don't like the bills we pass doesn't matter once they lose the veto power.

Anyway, as you seem to recognize, some of these are win-win.  If we bring up the immigration issue and lose it, we still bring latinos into the coalition by illustrating clearly that Republicans are a Whites Only Party, giving us a better chance next time.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
I'm not traumatized (0.00 / 0)
The Democrats COULD do a lot of those things if they had a clear direction and party discipline.  But they don't, and they won't in the short term.  Building support for that direction and enough strength at the base to enforce unity is going to take years.  Iraq, Jobs, Healthcare.  Those issues can build the forces to take on the other issues.

I'm wary about quoting polls, but which of these technocratic issues are pulling big numbers as major priorities? 

Let's face it, if the Democrats had more unity and direction, there's a lot they could do right now with their current numbers.  But they don't.  As has been pointed out, the Bush Dogs aren't just scared.  They believe in the crap they vote for.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...

[ Parent ]
Polling (0.00 / 0)
isn't really the issue, and I don't trust it much either. 

The employee Free choice act passed the House already, and got the votes of every Dem senator and Arlen Specter. This means that if we replace 8 Republican Senators next year, it will pass for sure.

Some of these proposals are far less controversial and difficult to implement than that.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]

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