Citizens are customers too, and more!

OK, while this blog is typically about how to improve the customer experience, I am writing this week about some news I came across citing estimates that spending on this year's political campaigns will set a new record high for mid-term elections.

Ok, boys and girls, "R" doesn't stand for "Recession" any more, "R" stands for "Raisin' funds."  Now I'm not a politician, so my spin skills are suspect, but I'll just try to relate this week's blog entry to the customer experience by saying that citizens are customers too, and as such, our citizen experience right now kinda sucks.

I have the benefit of being an almost-lifelong independent voter, which I vigorously defend as being a member of the "right to think" party.  It may be genetically explainable someday that I lack the "likes to be in a crowd" gene, I don't know.  But I have two thoughts for the week that indicate that any hope for the future prosperity of our country will almost certainly come from outside of the Democratic or Republican Parties.  Here they are:

1. Today, many politicians in whatever party you choose to praise are really swearing their allegiance first to the party, or more specifically, their perception of what the party can do for them to gain fame, power, wealth, and a little nookie on the side.  That's it.  Their publicly pledged allegiance to Country, or any doctrine, philosophy, or faith for that matter, is little more than expediency. We see faint glimmers of bi-partisanship only when it either benefits or does no harm to the self interest of each political party and politician involved.  That is not putting Country first, it is simply a momentarily happy situation where Party concerns do not force its officials to act in blatant contempt of Country.
I have no doubt that some are so good at wearing this mask, that they start to believe their artificial persona is a proxy for a true creed. For example, when you take the money (and voting blocs) out of an issue like gays in the military, we find out that to many in Washington it is really not that big an issue, and a little more display of tolerance might make it a little more comfortable at Thanksgiving when they sit down with that gay cousin. As recently as 1994, when the "Don't ask, don't tell" politically expedient compromise was arrived at, members of both parties feared losing their gravy train.  Hence, it was not expedient until recently to say, "why not, gays have been serving in the military since, uh....Alexander the Great anyway, and its not like we are saying if we make it legal that they can start wearing Johnny Weir outfits to boot camp."

2. The Old Watergate adage, "Follow the Money", could never be more true. OK, no one in 2010 still believes in purely rational markets, but we can probably agree that in general it is rational to invest only when you have a probability of return as good or better than your other options. So, despite our economy getting its butt kicked, the "rational" corporation or wealthy individual sees that getting quid pro quo from our elected politicians beats many other uses of those funds, such as retooling, retraining, entering new markets or launching new products. However it is not rational for us citizens to not hear a "giant sucking sound" behind all those dollars going into politics these days. 
As citizens, we have a responsibility to use means such as prosecution, boycott, reform, voting out of office, and exposing practices so that those returns do not look so good anymore.  It is also not rational for us to believe that these two parties will change in any meaningful and lasting way - the self-serving, country-be-damned approach, along with the ever-present finger pointing that the other guy is who is screwing up the country, is a progressive, terminal illness for our two political parties.  I don't really care that its a terminal illness for the parties, but the problem is that it will be terminal for the U.S.A. health as well, unless we the citizen-customers do something about it.  

Back on the money topic, the bigger the federal government is, the more "deals" it has the power to broker or influence. The corruption that goes along with that is my top reason why an expanding federal government is a problem, not because my taxes will go up, or out of fear that its a socialist conspiracy, but because we will continue to see less and less real service and quality of life from our taxes at whatever tax rate.  In business school, we called these agency costs - assets are never administered 100% efficiently and honestly - the waste in administering an asset under a particular system is its agency cost.  And its a tricky problem, because the amount you spend to police corruption in order to reduce it is ALSO counted as an agency cost.  Keep in mind an unethical politician can cost us much more than his salary in agency costs, because they are the trustees of many public assets as well as hold influence over budgetary spending.  With each dollar going in to campaigns and lobbyists and meals and well...let's not go there, there is quite often an expectation of financial return coming out, and that is how each dollar you pay in taxes is skimmed to provide less and less.  Now, wouldn't that be a substantive way to look at health care?  For any given level of care, what system results in the lowest agency costs?  But instead we just hear these tired "philosophical" positions.

My conclusion?  Our form of government is still the best in the world, but the two-party system that controls the actions of our elected officials is broken, is no longer serving the needs of current and future citizens, and will increasingly become a burden to our nation's prosperity.  It is a universal, immutable law that the same elements that are THE PROBLEM cannot also provide the solution. Powerful beasts do not walk away quietly, getting rid of both the Democratic and Republican Parties is as daunting as it would be for Michael J. Fox to fight a cage match against both Mike Tyson and Dog the Bounty Hunter (not sure where that came from). But there is no alternative, we need to turn the Citizen Experience back to a positive.