Outlook: 'Comprehensive reform is overrated. For real change, Washington must think small.'

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Michael Lind
Monday, July 12, 2010; 11:00 AM

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Michael Lind: I look forward to your feedback and questions.

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Rocks in the road for small steps: You write accurately that FDR's "accomplishments were the result more of ceaseless trial and error." Your editorial doesn't mention the element of hyper-partisan positions in Congress, but can't this atmosphere add to legislators thinking that they have only one chance, so they had better seize that chance and do it all in one big bill?

Rocci Fisch:

Michael Lind: Even so, I thinkt that comprehensive reform will seldom succeed, for the other reasons I discussed.

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Limited bills, each with different sets of supporters: An interesting article: I was reminded of the concept of Kaizen, which was popular during Japan's economic heyday.But the idea of passing a series of more limited bills, each with different sets of supporters, has it limitations when politicians recognize, or believe they recognize, a distinct direction or purpose in number of smaller bills put foreward by rivals, and eventually endeavour to derail the perceived greater purpose.The process is longer but there's still no guarantee that the pieces will eventually be all put together in a meaningful way.

Michael Lind: Salami tactics work only if the opposition doesn't maintain a united front in rejecting every piece of the salami.

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Dallas, Tex.: While the premise is nice, how much does the process of a comprehensive bill some into play on this? I mean, how many riders, projects and pork are slipped into these large bills as part of the negotiation process? And if it takes such a long time to pass a bill, why not do it all together? However, your article raises a great point, why have credit card reform (for consumers) in the same bill as derivative reform (for investment bankers)? Thanks.

Michael Lind: But you can raise fuel efficiency standards without passing cap-and-trade and you can outlaw pay-day lending abuses without waiting for national agreement on the Volcker Rule or the tax treatment of carried interest in the case of hedge fund managers.

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Reform and Congress: Thank you for doing this chat, Mr. Lind, and for your response to this question submitted in advance. I noticed your column in Sunday's Post neglected to mention the modern concentration of congressional power in the leadership of the two parties and in the Appropriations committees of the two houses. This is bound to make legislative progress toward a larger number of smaller reforms more difficult than it was when legislative responsibility was more broadly dispersed. Why is it logical to expect multiple small reform bills to emerge from party caucuses under constant pressure to maintain party discipline for or against the president? As Congress operates now, a smaller number of more comprehensive reform bills is probably easier to pass.

Michael Lind: As long as we're stuck with first-past-the-post electoral rules, we need to have two looser parties, which are really coalitions of several informal parties, instead of two disciplined parties imposing party lines that only a liberal minority and a conservative minority completely agree with.

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Comprhensive and what it means to a voter: It seems to me to mean a bill longer than the Bible or War and Peace, which is indigestible to the public and therefore creates suspicion rather than support. What to you think?

Michael Lind: The French bookseller sneers, "We do not sell periodical literature."

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Education: One topic that you didn't cover that would lend credibility to the issue of whether comprehensive reform does not work is in education where the Congress in at least 1965, 2001 with No Child, the current Race to the Top and other initiatives has tried to improve the lot of education in the U.S. and, regardless of what has been done, it doesn't seem to be getting better.

Michael Lind: As long as members of Congress announce that they are imposing new conditions on the pittances they dole out to public schools, they're just grandstanding for the cameras, in my opinion.

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Lincoln: You have written about Lincoln. I find it interesting that Lincoln acheived comprehensive reform, yet it took the background of a Civil War where his opposition was not participating in the decision that led to the comprehensive reform. Even the Emancipation Proclamation was a political documet as it had little immediate effect (although it would have major effect after the Civil War was over). The border states were exempted, so they would not switch allegiances to the Confederacy, the Northern states had already banned slavery, and the Southern states were at war. Is this analysis accurate or have I missed some points?

Michael Lind: Which reinforces my point--if it's hard to accomplish comprehensive reform during a civil war, it's infinitely more difficult during peacetime, even in a Great Recession.

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Michael Lind: All the best,Michael Lind


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