Creative Commons image by Kevin Burkett

Congress: A Creativity Crisis?

on Wednesday, Jan. 2nd

Look, I try and steer clear of politics when writing here, but watching the House of Representatives these past few weeks has been nothing short of embarrassing. I’m not going to dig down into the ideologies at work, in part because I don’t think that’s the problem. In fact, what I think is really going on, and the solution to that problem cut against the conventional wisdom. Because I think that what’s wrong with Congress comes down to a creativity problem: one that could be solved by throwing some more brains at America’s problems.

Find out why I’m not crazy, after the jump. 

This line of thinking started when I first listened to Decode DC back in September of last year. In that pilot episode former NPR Congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook reveled a little remembered fact of American history: that what would have been the first amendment wasn’t, in fact, a guarantee of freedom of speech, religion and press but a hardwired ratio of representatives to the represented.

Instead of the 750,000 citizens to each member of Congress we have now we’d have a ratio closer to 30,000 to one. You can hear the history lesson in this podcast.

Now the idea of MORE Congress critters may freak some of you out. After all, to get the ratio to 30k to one we’d have to have something like 10,000 representative. Heck, to have a 100 K to one we’d wind up with 3,000 of the little guys. You’d have a hard time time fitting all those gals and guys under one roof. Too bad it isn’t the 21st Century and we don’t have nigh magical technology that let’s us communicate over vast distances at the speed of light.

Alright, you say, so what if the representatives could connect and communicate with each other? Why would more members of the House make it any better? Wouldn’t that mass of people just have a harder time reaching consensus?

Make no mistake, radically increasing the number of representatives would create a whole new raft of problems that we’d have to find creative solutions to. The sheer numbers could force the creation of alternative legislative meeting spaces spread around the country. Procedures would have to be rearranged and staff budgets would have to be cut to make maintaining a legislative body of that size feasible.

But here’s the real point of this mental exercise: as a culture we’re not bringing to bear the full power of of creativity to the task of running our society. As a democracy we’re concentrating power in fewer and fewer hands. My home state of California has long suffered from a lack of “home rule” at the county and city level. Tax revenue and decisions are shunted up to Sacramento while local voices are powerless to shape their communities.

Our national attention is focused on a few key personalities: President, Speaker of the House, Majority Leaders while the real work is being done by staffers. While power is wielded openly by unelected think tank demagogues.

America is cleverer than this. Which is why these musing belong here on Turnstyle, where we catalog the vagaries of the Creative Economy, the intersection of technology and culture. There’s this key part of our society that is in desperate need of some creative destruction, entrepreneurial distruption and whatever other euphasism for change we come up with by the end of the year. Instead of cedeing the field of politics to the endless cycle of elections we can take the opportunity of an “off” year to start asking the big questions and bring some of the creative spirit that animated the founders back to bear.

Creative Commons image by Kevin Burkett


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