Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

An Extended Analogy

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After this latest government fiasco where even China’s Xinhua News Agency couldn’t help but be snarktastic about our brand of democracy, it’s hard to say they don’t have a point: If I wanted to watch somebody hold themself hostage, I’d watch a Mel Brooks movie. But in attempting to describe America’s particular style of democracy in a series of online arguments, the best I could come up with was an extended analogy. To wit:

Imagine, if you will, that we have a problem with the rail network. It’s old and needs to be overhauled. It is old and needs to be overhauled, but that’s besides the point. The solution needs to go through two opposing interests: The public sector that wants to improve the service for everybody equally and the private sector that wants to maximize profits for themselves.

Our public sector’s solution is to build a high-tech levitating bullet train that can get from Boston to DC in an hour but ultimately costs twice our annual GDP – mostly due to pork to get it passed in the first place and the illogical need to run as many trains out to Fargo as New York lest the distinguished senator from North Dakota filibuster the appropriations bill.

Our private sector’s solution is to paint the existing trains red and run an ad campaign that cars will kill you.

Democracy loves nothing more than a compromise, so in America that’s what we’d get: The trains would be painted red for the comparatively low price of only half our GDP in private contractors and extended studies to make sure the tracks don’t just cut through the poor Black neighborhoods (a couple will go through some rich Black neighborhoods instead), and the ad campaign will be delegated to our school system as an arts program.

A pretty extended analogy, no? Well, let’s extend it further. In our democratic system, the public sector is the government and the private sector are, well, rich people. It’s then a class division: One is populist and the other is aristocratic. That means that, in a dictatorship, the public sector are the people and the private sector is the government.

So, let’s turn the analogy back to China with the same problem: The rail network is old and needs to be overhauled. Of course, over in China it was overhauled, but that’s besides the point (kinda). The interests are largely the same, but as China is something of an enlightened dictatorship, they’re manifested somewhat differently.

The public sector wants a cheap system with a high capacity to relieve a sorely underserved populace. The private sector just wants all the rabble to stop clogging the planes. So, a surprisingly comprehensive (if somewhat wobbly) system gets built for a larger cost than any major public works project short of the Great Wall mainly thanks to a long series of self-congratulatory political kickbacks, and only a couple hundred thousand people are rendered homeless in the furor. (The rest weren’t registered and thus don’t count.)

This is certainly better than an unenlightened dictatorship, where nine times out of ten you’d just get the same trains as before but all the money that would have gone to red paint is instead tied up in kickbacks and nepotistic favors, and arguably more effective than democracy because they actually get new trains (even if the party brahmins wouldn’t be caught dead using them.)

That was a fun time beating that analogy to death, but if you ask me, as a thought experiment what it highlights is that it doesn’t so much matter what type of government is in place so long as that government is in the business of governing. At some point along the way we forgot to do that, and our great Historical and Future Rivals are having no end of glee pointing that out to us.


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