Sunday, January 06, 2013

546 Smart People

President, Vice President,100 Senators, 435 Representatives, & 9 Supreme Court Justices.  546 people.  The population of the United States is roughly 314 million people.  Just one percent of that total is still 3 million people.

Watching the news this week I have been hearing a lot about civic issues, predominantly about the next "cliff" which is raising the dept ceiling.  As part of that coverage is the obligatory explanation that raising the debt ceiling isn't about increasing the amount of money we can spend but rather just permission to borrow enough money to pay bills we've already run up.  Congress actually has ample time to make sure we don't spend more money, after all they control the budget, they control what is "on budget" and what is "off budget," they control what money goes where, and they control how much we pay in taxes.  If Congress wanted to not borrow more money they could simply agree not to spend more money.  But they can't, so they don't, and then some percentage of members decide that the only solution is to say "we won't pay" regardless of what that means to world financial systems.

Those Congressmen are often subject to analysis on TV news shows and the other day I was watching one of those shows when the commentator singled out a group of legislators and called them stupid.  They weren't being called out for having fringy views or for being uncooperative or uncivil, they were being singled out for being dumb, for not having the mental acumen to be able to understand the issues they were voting on.

I have to say that watching the news for the last couple of election cycles has had me wondering about the aggregate intelligence of our leaders.  People held back very little from criticizing the mental horsepower of Sarah Palin, but in doing so almost never remembered that she was a previously elected Governor of Alaska.  The last couple governors of Illinois have wound up in jail.  There are members of the House Science and Technology committee that not only don't believe in Evolution but also not about embryology and The Big Bang.

Whenever I see this sort of thing I am struck by one thought: how is it we can't get together 546 smart people to run the country?  I guess it is really more than that, right?  It'd be nice if there were at least two qualified candidates for each job, so then we're talking about something like 1100 people.  And that doesn't really count mayors and judges and Cabinet officers and department heads, and generals and ambassadors.  So figure maybe 100 times 1100 - On the order of 1 million smart people.

Figure the type of folks I am talking about represent the top 10% of their high school classes.  I would say college, but lets aim low.  If there are 300 million people in the US and lets say that 35% of that number are of electable age, that's a pool of 105 million people.  Taking the top 10 percent of that we get a pool of like 10 million.

Why can't we seem to elect 1 million out of that 10 million?  That still leaves 9 million people to be academics and captains of industry.

I'm sure the math there is wrong, and I know political elections are not decided on demonstrated brainpower.  but maybe we ought to try to do something so that the people that are running our country are dependably smart people.

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