Thomas Jefferson said, “If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour? ”
In the 111th Congress:
TOTAL NUMBER OF LAWYER-LEGISLATORS IN THE SENATE: 54 out of 100 or 54%
TOTAL NUMBER OF LAWYER-LEGISLATORS IN THE HOUSE: 162 out of 441 or 36%
Many of our elected officials’ important duties involve running the economy, allocating resources and budgets, and analyzing policies based on their inputs and expected outcomes, yet lawyers have less experience at this than businessmen and economists (the next most common professions in politics). When it comes to deciding on whether to join a currency union, how to direct a trade negotiation, whether to cut taxes or how to design a social program, lawyers appear dangerously under-qualified compared businessmen and economists.
When we are confronted with the greatest crises in the world today – global warming, disease, energy scarcity – lawyers appear to be dangerously under-qualified compared to scientists, doctors and engineers. Lawyers tend to have little substantive expertise in any of these areas, and it is their skill at “politics” rather than “policy” that seems to have enabled their political success.
Decreasing the domination of politics by lawyers will mean that we have achieved some progress in reigning in the influence of money.
I’ve visited more than 100 countries in the past several years, meeting people from all walks of life, from impoverished children in India to heads of state. Almost every adult I’ve talked with in these countries shares a belief that the path to success is paved with science and engineering.
In fact, scientists and engineers are celebrities in most countries. They’re not seen as geeks or misfits, as they too often are in the U.S., but rather as society’s leaders and innovators. In China, eight of the top nine political posts are held by engineers. In the U.S., almost no engineers or scientists are engaged in high-level politics, and there is a virtual absence of engineers in our public policy debates.
[Elon] Musk echoed the view that most U.S. government contracts go to large companies, in part because there was a tendency, in the way things are set up, to incentivise the contractor to maximise the return. But “what matters is not the contract but what is costs the tax payer,” he said. Instead, it would be wise for governments to move away from “Cost, Plus” contracts and move to the absolute amount and the quality of service. And also to tie payment to performance. He said the contract SpaceX won was “unusual” in that it was fixed price and milestone based.
At a societal level he said many more people should go into science and manufacturing than high finance and the legal system. He also said it was good for people to go back and forth between government and the private sector, as it was something that created a “good feedback loop” and could lead to sensible decisions.
Musk said it was important that societies create an environment where it’s “important it’s seen as a socially desirable thing to be an entrepreneur….” At the same time he bemoaned the numbers of people who have gone into the “Hedge Funds and the law” and not into science and engineering.
Democracy is based on citizens caring about and taking responsibility for both themselves as for the well-being of all. Government is the instrument that citizens use to guarantee protection and empowerment for all. We all, together, provide what is needed for a decent life. Individual accomplishment rests on what other Americans have provided and keep providing.
Building the economy requires public investment — in public infrastructure, education, research, and much more.
Success is much more than money. It is your contribution to America as a whole — whether it is teaching, raising children, providing food, healing the sick, making useful products, guaranteeing our rights and our safety, or running businesses that make life better. America needs us all. And we all depend on each other.