The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Monday, November 19, 2012


I did not vote on Election Day.  Twenty years ago I would have voted for the Libertarian candidate, but that has as much practical effect as buying an Obama doll and sticking it with pins.  When the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November looms near, you can count on some earnest fan of democracy pointing to this or that election that was decided by a single vote.  

Such events have always struck me as being equivalent to finding the face of the Virgin Mary in a pancake:  Improbable, and irrelevant.  So you have a Virgin-Mary shaped foodstuff.  Now what?  So there was some school board member elected by a single vote.  So what?  What was the alternative?  I doubt the losing candidate had proposed to disband the school entirely and send the students to work in coal mines.

In the first post of this series I pointed out that it is very difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  But my example was for a water board election.  Surely when voting for a governor or president, these problems do not exist.  Surely the differences between candidates are significant.  For every email you get urging you to cast a ballot according to your conscience, you receive 50 or 100 urging you to cast your ballot a specific way, lest civilization collapse.  The Republicans are coming to steal your ladyparts!  The Democrats have a secret plan to enslave your children and sell them to the UN!

I mean we need to be delivered from Obama’s socialized medicine, right?  And who better to save us than Mitt Romney, who … had Massachusett’s socialized medicine program named after him.  Oh dear.

Are you concerned about a warlike president targeting and killing foreigners in faraway lands?  Well then, you’d better vote Democrat, because Barack Obama … targets and kills Americans in faraway lands.

And now, a change of subject.

Let us presuppose a failing corporation.  Perhaps your internet company, once the world’s foremost portal, has a second-rate search engine and second-best advertising.  Perhaps your automobile manufacturer finds that its vehicles are no longer in demand.  To avoid getting bogged down in the specifics of internet portals or cars, we will call our example corporation FailCorp.

By a stroke of luck, FailCorp is going to have a new CEO.  And a brilliant one:  Jeff Bezos!  Amazon is doing so well that Mr. Bezos is looking for a challenge.  He’s ready to roll up his sleeves and save FailCorp!

But … FailCorp is not a typical American corporation.  Our new CEO must operate under the following restrictions:

1. He is not allowed to fire or discipline 99% of FailCorp’s employees.  FailCorp employees can be terminated for extreme incompetence or corruption (through a process that the CEO has no control over), but they cannot be fired, or even reprimanded, for failing to execute according to Bezos’ vision.

2. Bezos is allowed to hire his C-level executives, and their reports.  But these executives must be examined in a public process.  FailCorp has a lot of rules and regulations.  If a prospective executive has transgressed one of those rules, even a picayune one, he or she will not be allowed to join FailCorp.

3. It is absolutely verboten for Bezos to give any employee stock options, bonuses, etc. that are tied to the future performance of FailCorp.

4. Our new CEO does not have the power to determine FailCorp’s budget, or the prices that FailCorp will charge.  He can propose prices and a budget, but final approval rests with a separate governing body whose appointment is totally outside Bezos’ control.  Some of them are at odds with Bezos, and all of them will demand that FailCorp do business with their friends and neighbors.

5. For that matter, poor Mr. Bezos does not actually have full power over his products or even the policies around product support, returns, etc.  Officially, control over product and policy is delegated to the same outside advisory body described in #4, with the FailCorp CEO able to propose but not ratify.  Practically, FailCorp employees have a lot of scope to execute their own ideas.    (As we noted in #1, these ideas may or may not be the same as the CEO’s.)

6. FailCorp’s customers are apt to sue at the drop of a hat if they feel that FailCorp is not living up to the terms of its (often vaguely described) obligations.

So … how do you like FailCorp’s odds of a recovery?  I would imagine at this point you are wondering how FailCorp manages to produce any goods at all; even making it to Chapter 11 represents an achievement given the constraints under which it operates.  But of course I am not describing a private corporation, I am describing the federal government.  Electing a particular candidate would not lead to Change even if the candidate were interested in it.

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