This will be a short rant, as we prepare to head off to celebrate the birth of our nation with fireworks, barbeques, and the usual trappings of summer.
In spite of the celebratory mood, I am troubled by the unrelenting incompetence of the U.S. Congress. Its inability to pass even the most basic legislation is beyond baffling.
Case in point: College students who use new Stafford loans to pay for the 2014-2015 school year will see borrowing costs rise 21 percent. As of July 1, interest on new student loans rises to 4.66 percent from 3.86 percent last year, with future rates potentially increasing even more. This comes as interest rates on mortgages and other consumer credit hovered near record lows. For a comparison, the rate on the 10-year Treasury is 2.6 percent. Congress could have imposed lower limits on student-loan rates, but chose not to.
This is but one example out of thousands of an inability to perform the basic duties, which includes helping to educate the next generation of leaders and productive citizens. It goes far beyond partisanship; it is a matter of lack of will, intelligence and ability.
There are three groups to blame for the gross dereliction of duty we have seen from this do-nothing Congress. The first, paradoxically, is the Federal Reserve. Its monetary policies have allowed some small measure of recovery, giving cover to Congress's failure to manage our fiscal policies. I will address this in greater detail in the near future.
The second group is the Supreme Court. Its campaign of replacing our Jeffersonian democracy with a corporatocracy -- sponsored by and sold to the highest bidder -- continues unabated. The entire left-right debate is no longer relevant -- it's over, and has been replaced with a new paradigm: you versus the corporation. It isn't unthinkable that a century from now, the Roberts court will be vilified like none before it.
But the group most to blame for the sad state of Congress is you, the American voter. Or, more accurately, the American non-voter.
The U.S. has among the lowest voter-turnout rates of any democracy. We are a wealthy nation, fat and happy, and that has led to a decrease in citizen participation. As Fair Vote has observed, “Voter turnout in the United States has never risen to levels of most other well-established democracies.” In the midterm cycle, less than 40 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. In the primaries, it’s a tiny fraction of that number.
Compare that to countries with compulsory voting. Democracies such as Australia, Belgium and Chile have voter turnout of almost 90 percent. In Sweden and Italy (without compulsory voting) turnout rates are about 80 percent.
Look no further than the recent primaries to see the impact. Extremists from both major parties determine who runs for office. Hence, we end up with a Congress that has the lowest rating in American history returning to office with a 98 percent re-election rate.
Something is wrong with this picture.
Confidence in Congress dropped to 7 percent last month. To put this into some context, Congress is rated below lice, cockroaches, traffic jams, and replacement refs during the National Football League officials' strike.
This weekend, while you are celebrating being an American, let me remind you that you have failed to perform your most basic civic responsibility: Being an informed citizen who goes to your local polling place and votes.
Sure, most of the candidates are idiots, unqualified to hold a real job. But that’s your fault for not insisting on better. Unfortunately, until Americans start voting in larger numbers, the influence of small numbers of political extremists and big-dollar donors will have an outsize impact on who gets elected.
I don’t expect Americans to recognize they are frittering away the precious gift of suffrage until things get much, much worse.
So enjoy the holiday weekend. Have a beer, grill a burger or two, watch some fireworks. My July Fourth wish is that we get a better Congress -- a legislative body that is worthy of America.
We deserve better than what we are getting from this one.
To contact the author of this article: Barry Ritholtz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at email@example.com.