Democracy and the Common Wealth: Breaking the Stranglehold of the Special Interests is a 2010 book by urban designer, policy analyst and artist Michael E. Arth. Arth attempts to expose what he calls the "dirty secrets" of America's electoral system, and provides a list of solutions that he believes will result in a "truly representative democracy." This democracy would be led by effective, trustworthy leaders, who would be elected by a majority, and who would not have to spend their time raising campaign funds, or catering to paid lobbyists.
It also tells the story of the first year of Florida's 2010 gubernatorial race, from his point of view as an outsider, lacking in personal wealth or party backing. In the main text, and in the postscript, Arth writes about how he became an independent candidate for governor after being "frozen out" of the "undemocratic" Florida Democratic Party for not having millions of dollars, and for suggesting that campaigns be about issues instead of money.
The first edition of the book has 480 pages including 72 illustrations and charts and was first published in both e-book and print in May 2010. The e-book version also includes a postscript about the BP Oil Spill and energy policy, and a section on Arth’s switch to No Party Affiliation.
The first sixteen chapters are about how to break up the "oligarchy" and make "a more perfect union" that creates what Abraham Lincoln called a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." To do this, he writes, would require trading the winner-takes-all voting system for ranked choice voting in single member elections, and replacing single-member congressional districts for multi-member congressional districts, which would use proportional representation and a form of ranked choice voting called single transferable voting. It would also require doing away with private campaign financing, paid lobbyists, and most campaign advertising; and replacing influence-buying and propaganda with highly regulated public campaign financing that would cost a tiny fraction of what is spent now. "Pre-voting," by the electorate, with publicly financed micro-payments during the campaign, would determine both placement and ranking on the ballot in order to simplify the process and get voters more involved in thinking about the issues.
In this chapter, Michael “Biking Mike” Arth wrote of his plan to bicycle from Key West to Pensacola in the course of his campaign, and to bring focus to non-polluting energy self-sufficiency. The trip was at least half finished by early July 2010 and became the subject of Arth's ongoing blog and campaign web site.
According to the author, “Part II is a step-by-step guide to the kind of equitable and rational policies we should expect following electoral reform.” In researching this book, Arth drew from 16 years of research from his two-volume work-in-progress, The Labors of Hercules: Modern Solutions to 12 Herculean Problems, his experience rebuilding an inner city slum, and his 2009-2010 run for governor of Florida.
Calling his hometown of DeLand, Florida a “microcosm” of the rest of the country, he describes how problems in his own town have developed in the same way they have elsewhere. He tells the story of how he bought up 32 homes and businesses and cleaned up a slum neighborhood called “Cracktown," which subsequently was the subject of an award-winning 2007 documentary, New Urban Cowboy. From his previous research, in combination with direct experience in rebuilding the slum, he became convinced it would take fundamental, institutional reform to solve most governmental problems.
Over several chapters, Arth gives a survey of economic policies and theory and concludes that the fractional reserve system should probably be ended, as created boom/bust cycles and contributed to the highest combined private and public debt-to-GDP ratio in US history, now twice as high as 1929, just before the Great Depression. Having a full reserve system could reduce the Federal Reserve to a check-clearing service, which could be integrated into the United States Treasury. Money could be spent by the Treasury into existence on noninflationary, productive things related to infrastructure, energy self-sufficiency, social services, information technology, rebuilding the cities, and creating jobs. He believes nonproductive and destructive expenditures associated with the military-industrial complex should be vastly reduced.
Under his plan, the budget would be balanced and the national debt would be retired, with the help of progressive taxation and a wealth tax on the super-rich, as Warren Buffett, Donald Trump, and others have proposed. The trade balance would be restored with import certificates, which balances imports with exports, and would function like a tariff, but be based on supply and demand. Treasury securities would no longer be issued because the government's own money would be spent into existence at a rate that would keep inflation at a low rate, and help prevent new debt from being created.
Arth also proposes a small securities tax and other measures to rein in high-frequency trading (HFT), which is trading done with supercomputers using proprietary algorithms and a form of insider trading called flash trading. Over 70% of all trades are now done with HFT for the benefit of a financial elite. Arth blames governmental policies for allowing special interests on Wall Street to use the common wealth for their own private gain. He sees that as only one example of how plutocrats create and preserve unfair advantages, which could easily be regulated if there were a more responsive and representative democracy.
The longest chapter, "Prohibition Failed!," is about the War on Drugs, something the author has intimate knowledge of as a result of living in a slum, and waging his own private war on drug users and dealers. Arth proposes legalization, regulation and taxation for a wide range of illegal drugs—especially cannabis, for which there has never been a single documented overdose death. He compares drug dealers to fire ants. "You can get rid of them in one spot and they just pop up somewhere else," he writes. "In fact, we cannot even keep drugs out of prison, which is all the proof we need that prohibition will not work, even in a police state."
Arth asserts that legalization would reverse the popular contempt for the law that results from prohibition; eliminate the 800,000 American gang members and global drug cartels; and reduce the incarceration rate in the U.S., which is now seven times higher than Canada. He cites a Rand Institute study that shows treatment to be seven times more effective than incarceration, but states that politicians are afraid to reverse the 40-year "war on the poor" that was started by Richard Nixon as a "racist and cynical campaign ploy" to win over the white majority.
A self-driving, or driverless car is an autonomous vehicle that can drive itself from one point to another without assistance from a driver. Arth believes that autonomous vehicles, which have already been extensively demonstrated in prototypes, have the potential to transform the transportation industry while virtually eliminating accidents, and cleaning up the environment. Arth claims, both in this book and elsewhere, that self-driving electric vehicles—in conjunction with the increased use of virtual reality for work, travel, and pleasure—could reduce the world's 800 million vehicles to a fraction of that number within a few decades. He writes that this would be possible if almost all private cars requiring drivers, which are not in use and parked 90% of the time, were traded for public self-driving taxis that would be in near-constant use. This would also allow for getting the appropriate vehicle for the particular need at any time, subject to market demands. (For example, a bus would be much cheaper than a car for getting people from a football game). A bus could come for a group of people, a limousine could come for a special night out, and a Segway could come for a short trip down the street for one person. Children could be chauffeured in supervised safety, DUIs would no longer exist, and 41,000 lives could be saved each year in the U.S. alone.
This chapter tells the story of Major General Smedley Butler, the most decorated U.S. Marine in American history at the time of his death in 1940. Arth attempts to make the case that Butler was "swift-boated" by privately controlled print media on account of his views that the military existed primarily as a corporate tool, and for testifying in 1934 about the Business Plot to launch a fascist military march on Washington and a coup d'état against Franklin D. Roosevelt. Butler subsequently renounced his role as a "racketeer for capitalism" and published a 1935 tract titled "War is a Racket," which Arth believes still describes the military-industrial complex (MIC) that President Dwight Eisenhower also warned about in 1961.
Subsequent chapters on Iraq and Afghanistan document claim that the U.S. went to war in those countries to further geopolitical ambitions, and to help American oil companies expand their profit base. The primary motivation for invading Afghanistan was to depose the uncooperative Taliban so that oil companies could build oil and gas pipelines from their Caspian Basin holdings in Kazakhstan, across Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Arabian Sea, in order to access growing Asian energy markets.
This chapter describes how one of the "most primal and comforting images" for humans, enclosed gardens, and community-based villages, should be the basis for cities built for humans. Arth founded New Pedestrianism (NP), a more ecology and pedestrian-oriented version of New urbanism, in 1999. NP is based on completely separating cars from pedestrians and cyclists by putting them on two different networks. Cars are usually relegated to rear streets, while pedestrians and cyclists share a mixed use "pedestrian lane" in front. In this way, someone on a bike or walking could travel through a neighborhood and business district without having to interact with cars. The pedestrian lanes function like linear parks and greatly enhance public life and the common wealth.
Other subjects include:
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