Conclusion

Invest in Political
Innovation

We started this book by describing some key distinctions, first and foremost that the political-industrial complex is a private industry within a public institution. Such a distinction reveals the root causes of the situation in which we find ourselves—no longer confident in the “shining city on a hill.” No longer believing the American dream is possible for all. No longer certain the great American experiment will endure.

And yet, we are still in love. In love with America. With being American. With our fellow Americans. With the idea of America. With the possibility of America—imperfect yet striving.

What do we do with this love of our breaking country? We put it to work.

We start with elections-machinery innovations. Pass legislation for Final-Five Voting in every state in the country. This action will again make our federal elected officials accountable to us and restore the connection between getting results in the public interest and getting reelected. Next, we must reinvent from scratch a healthy, nonpartisan congressional legislative system—a model, modern legislature—that advances compromise and problem solving. Together, these political innovations will return healthy competition and compromise to politics, realign our system with democratic principles, and unlock the critical outcomes we all desperately need. I like to call it “free-market politics.”

But there’s another distinction to make before we conclude (and call you to action). Although the American politics industry as currently engineered is a problem for most Americans, nearly every citizen lacks the personal agency to fix it—at least at the outset. To have agency is to have the ability and the access to change the structures that surround you. Social scientists have long argued about which is the chicken and which is the egg—does agency dictate structure, or structure dictate agency? But putting this question aside, we know that decades of democratic, economic, and social decline have widened not only America’s wealth gaps and opportunity gaps, but also our agency gaps.

Many Americans live hard-fought lives. Rare are the citizens able to risk their livelihoods by deploying their agency to challenge the institutionalized structures towering around them. And for those with enough nerve, tickets to the arenas in which agency and action can actually be converted to tangible change are now the most prohibitively expensive in town.

But maybe not for you.

In hearing from the followers of our work, Michael and I have a sense of who you are, dear readers. Whatever your career trajectories, be they business or technology or philanthropy or even politics, you probably have at your fingertips actionable levels of agency and access—some combination of time, expertise, resources, or network, through which you already influence the world around you. More than likely, your active investments of agency are predicated on some expectation of a return: an increased graduation rate, a decreased carbon footprint, a modern regulation implemented, or an outdated one retired—something tangible that validates your commitment.

Historically, most people have not viewed politics as an attractive investment. Those who do view it this way often invest in the people and parties of the entrenched duopoly (or, to a much lesser degree and symbolically, in the spoilers and independents stuck in political purgatory). Some investors play the game and see their investments materialize into “wins”—you get your tax cuts, or your judges, or your new social programs. Other investors in politics commit a portion of their agency to good-government reform efforts, many of which we support, at least in principle.

But as this book makes clear, many of these popular good-government reforms are either not powerful enough, not achievable, or both. And such policy “wins” should be at best cold comfort, because in the aggregate, we’re all losing.

You have a choice to make. You can continue applying your agency elsewhere, indirectly perpetuating the political-industrial complex that undermines the very causes you are prioritizing separately (and nobly, to be sure). Or you can redirect your agency to further catalyze a twenty-first-century wave of political innovation to break partisan gridlock and save our democracy; in which case you’re advancing every cause. Without a sea change, our political system will continue to do more harm to education, the environment, the economy—you name it. A transformation of the politics industry can do more than we can do on our own to help those sacred corners of America.

“From those to whom much is given, much is expected,” my father started telling me when I was a young girl in Wisconsin watching him a build the company that I would someday run. For so many Americans, barely enough opportunity is given. Barely enough to foster neighborhoods and families. Barely enough to lead this fight. For most Americans, the consequences of our runaway, behemoth political system are faits accomplis. The livelihoods and futures of the moms and dads and sons and daughters and friends and coworkers who make up the great, multicolored fabric of America are the only justification for the years we have put into this work. But asking them to redirect their limited personal agency to catalyze political innovation is as unfair as it is impractical.

It is your agency we hope to redirect.

When I first redirected mine, people would ask me about my plans. After describing for them the contours of my political-innovation agenda, I’d often get a similar tongue-in-cheek response: “Good luck with that.” And it was easy to laugh along with them; the water of resigned acceptance is warm for those of us with means.

But this work is deadly serious, generations-of-socioeconomic-failure serious, national-security serious, global-trajectory serious. If talking about and fighting for political innovation is too risky, I’m sure our soldiers overseas, our teachers and firefighters and single moms with two jobs who are the backbone of every city in America might have something to say to me about risk—not to mention suffering critics.

So would Teddy Roosevelt, after whom I named my son, who slept newborn on my lap for weeks as I typed the last words of our first report on politics in the summer of 2017: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I am calling on you to answer a simple question: will the dysfunctional politics industry continue to determine the health, prosperity, and security of America, or will you? If the answer is you—and I hope, almost desperately, that it is—consider how best to enter the arena and invest your agency in political innovation.

How to Invest: Evangelize, Join, Found—and Fund

Investing in political innovation begins by evangelizing its benefits. It grows to joining innovation campaigns in your state. If no effort is under way, you can take the critical step in founding one yourself.

Evangelize

This book drops a stone in the political waters. For the message to ripple, you need to drop one, too—especially around the powerful individuals to whom you have access. If you know your governor, hand this book to her. If you know the editor of your local newspaper, submit an op-ed in support of Final-Five Voting. If you donate to candidates, tell them the money stops unless they fight for political innovation.

Many people are disgusted by politics but wrongly think they can’t do anything about it. You need to tell them there’s a solution. Whenever politics comes up in conversation—which happens more and more as the crisis worsens—speak up and say that it doesn’t have to be this way, that the dysfunction has been engineered, and that we have the power to design a new system that delivers better outcomes. Talk, tweet, email, repeat. Visit www.political-innovation.org, and share anything and everything we provide, from articles to podcasts to videos.

You must not be muted by the fear of being politically correct. Perversely, political correctness now protects against political conversation itself. Remember that the aversion to political discussion is based on the polarization the political-industrial complex creates. Your words are antidotes. And your evangelism will have more impact than any book could ever have on its own.

Consider this: if you had a close friend or family member in a terrible situation, and you became aware of a solution, you would stop at nothing to deliver it for them. Our democracy demands the same passion. It’s time to talk politics again at family gatherings, business events, cocktail parties—everywhere, really. I have a 100 percent success rate (almost) with every airplane seat neighbor in the last year. Don’t let a captive audience pass you by.

Join

If you live in one of the twenty-six states in which direct democracy is an option, you can throw your support behind nonpartisan ballot measures to adopt top-five primaries and ranked-choice voting in general elections as soon as the next election cycle. If you live in one of the other twenty-four states, you can organize a coalition and lobbying effort using collective citizen power to demand that officials pass these reforms legislatively.

You will not be alone. After years of important work that many of us have known little about, a political-innovation industry has formed and continues to grow. On our website, you can find a resource guide detailing the array of incredible organizations working nonstop across the country to implement these innovations. Michael and I are associated with several of them, including Unite America, Leadership Now, Business for America, and Democracy Found. Many of the larger groups have state chapters, so innovators are likely to already be at work in your community. This nascent political-innovation industry is remarkably fluid, with new organizations and new campaigns popping up all the time. To keep up to date with the latest developments, to identify organizations that work in your state, to find ways to get involved, and for a robust and evolving FAQ, visit us at www.political-innovation.org.

Found

If your state does not have an active campaign for Final-Five Voting—which is likely because we’re at the early stages here—create one yourself. As we discussed earlier, every campaign must start with a group of dedicated local leaders. You can be that local leader. As a motivated citizen, you are more powerful than the political-industrial complex would lead you to believe. Many of the national reform organizations, such as Open Primaries, FairVote, and RepresentUs are happy to provide support to startup efforts. An increasing number of individuals and organizations, such as the Unite America Fund (on whose board I sit) and the Arnold Foundation, are actively looking for political-innovation campaigns in which to invest. Just remember the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Connect with us at www.political-innovation.org and we can help you get started.

Fund

America has a great philanthropic tradition. Since Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates created the Giving Pledge, hundreds of the world’s wealthiest individuals have pledged to donate at least half of their wealth to charitable causes, adding up to hundreds of billions of dollars. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Annual charitable donations from all Americans reached $410 billion in 2017—and that doesn’t count the time and energy Americans volunteered to countless causes tackling a wide array of social challenges. But as substantial and heartwarming as philanthropy is, it’s a pittance compared with federal and state government spending. Together they spent nearly the same amount—roughly $405 billion—every four weeks during the 2017 fiscal year.1 Philanthropy is no substitute for effective government.

Melinda Gates, who runs the largest charitable foundation in the world, has experienced this firsthand. “One of the first lessons we learned when we started our foundation,” she said, “was a humbling one: Our resources are only a drop in the bucket compared with the needs around the world, and only a small percentage of what governments spend each year to help meet those needs.”2 Just how small of a percentage? To put this into perspective, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has an endowment of over $50 billion. This seems like a lot of money, but as Bill Gates notes, “California spends more than our entire endowment just to run its public-school system for one year.”3

Today, our political system is the single greatest impediment to achieving economic and social progress in America. As problems mount and we fall further into division and crisis, we can’t rely on the same old approaches. We need a new kind of philanthropy—political philanthropy. Political philanthropy offers the greatest potential return on investment available today. The reason is simple: huge leverage.

Any good hedge-fund manager will tell you that leverage is a force multiplier. Rather than breaking our backs trying to solve all of society’s problems with private donations alone, we need to leverage our limited resources by using political philanthropy to unlock better government outcomes. As David Crane, cofounder of Govern for California, argues, improving government operations, policy choices, and policy implementation would make spending far more effective. These improvements would have a major impact on the country’s progress in health care, public education, antipoverty efforts, and countless other areas that make a real difference in citizens’ lives.4 Now is the time for concerned donors to redirect a portion of their philanthropic resources to the cause of revitalizing our democracy.

Now is also the time for business leaders to stand up and be counted in this cause.

The irony is that just as businesses feel the negative effects of declining US competitiveness, the public often blames business for this decline. But let’s not let business off too easily. Many in business have contributed to the national decline by playing both sides of this partisan game.

But here’s the thing: a functioning, healthy democracy is a public resource greater in its value than our infrastructure, education system, or the environment, because each of these critical dimensions of the American experience rise and fall with the trajectory of our politics. Businesses and business leaders are uniquely positioned to grapple with this critical relationship and help protect this sickly public resource.

Who better than business to evangelize for innovation? Who better to understand the power of healthy competition—and the perils of the inverse—and convert that expertise into agency? Who better to vouch for the value of organizational practices designed to support problem solving and accountability?

Business leaders who may have believed, before reading this book, that the most they could hope for from Washington, D.C., was a favorable line item in the omnibus bill, might now have a different view. We hope they now know that they can play another role—a more inspiring and transformational role of founding, leading, and funding campaigns for political innovation.

The best news is that by publicly and energetically supporting the structural political innovations proposed in this book, and by joining the burgeoning coalition for corporate civic responsibility—a movement for new standards and best practices that we are also encouraging—business leaders can simultaneously help fix our broken politics for the good of all citizens, improve the overall business environment, and confront the popular consensus that business-owned special interests are the root cause of our problems.

It is time for a new role for American business, one that moves away from single bottom-line thinking and toward a more holistic balance sheet that includes the health of our great nation, writ large.

And business leaders and political philanthropists need not limit themselves to their own states’ efforts. As discussed earlier, the benefits of Final-Five Voting will materialize long before it is implemented in all fifty states. It only takes a handful of states restoring healthy competition to create a fulcrum of congressional problem solvers who can shift the outcomes our political system produces. Political philanthropists can add their resources to the national fund at Unite America or look elsewhere across the country for the most promising political-innovation campaigns, and join the local residents to fund them. As they say, put your money where the movement is.

Everybody asks me what it’s going to take. It is an important question. I believe that political philanthropy—a “special interest for the general interest”—offers the absolute best potential return on investment of any philanthropic investment out there today, in part because the dollars actually aren’t prohibitive.5

Let’s scale the investment. The cost to deliver Final-Five Voting runs anywhere from approximately $5 million for legislative action in a small state to $20 to $25 million for a ballot initiative in larger state like California. An aggressive average of $15 million across twenty states gives us $300 million. This $300 million is less than five percent of the billions spent in the 2016 federal elections. And $300 million to spread Final-Five Voting is far more likely to sustainably impact the effectiveness of $4 trillion of total government spending and transform the trajectory of our democracy. That’s powerful and achievable. If you’re interested in becoming a political-innovation philanthropist, let me know at [email protected].

.  .  .

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. My enthusiasm for the future aside, I can’t help but reflect on another period of critical American innovation in our past.

In the summer of 1787, dozens of delegates gathered in a hall in Philadelphia, where just a decade earlier many of them had declared our nation’s independence. Although the location was the same, the mood was different. America, having only a decade prior accomplished the impossible and triumphed over Britain, was now on the brink of disintegration.

Our federal government was broke, and there was no process for raising the money needed to pay off the debts that had been accumulated to finance the war. The states faced similar crises. Some tried issuing new money and inflating away their liabilities, but that ended up creating chaos instead of prosperity. Other states increased taxes and were met with armed insurrections. As problems mounted, more and more states raised the drawbridges and blocked trade with their neighbors. Protectionism within America only deepened the depression, which was even worse than the Great Depression it preceded. Whether the young nation would survive was an open question.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention knew that the problems lay in the design of the political system. The Articles of Confederation, hastily drafted in the midst of the Revolutionary War, were failing to keep the colonies together, let alone move the new nation forward. For four months in a sweltering Philadelphia summer, the Framers debated, fought, and compromised.

As the final draft of our Constitution was signed that September, Benjamin Franklin, the convention’s oldest delegate, gazed on the engraving of the sun on the back of the arm chair where George Washington had sat. Franklin remarked, “I have … often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.”6

Franklin knew, though, that unlike the morning sun, America’s continued rise was no sure thing. After the ceremonies ended, Franklin, crippled by gout, limped out of Independence Hall, where a crowd of onlookers had assembled to get a first glimpse of their new Constitution, which had been written under a veil of secrecy. A woman asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?” Slow on his feet but quick with his wit, Franklin replied, “A republic—if you can keep it.”7

Can we? That is the challenge of our time.

Together, we must meet it. Michael and I are all in.

Are you?

—Katherine Gehl

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