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Harvard | Mr. Aspiring FinTech Entrepreneur
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Stanford GSB | Mr. Fill In The Gaps
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McCombs School of Business | Mr. Texas Recruiter
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Berkeley Haas | Mr. Entertainment Agency
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Chicago Booth | Mr. Quant
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HBS Professor, CEO Co-Author Redouble Call For Systemic Political Change

Katherine Gehl speaking at the Commonwealth Club on March 29, 2019, as Michael Porter looks on. James Meinerth photo

It’s an election year, and that always brings with it a sort of urgency about a whole host of issues. Is that what you mean when you say that this is a window for sweeping change? That it’s an election year?

Katherine Gehl: Yeah, as the frustration reaches a crescendo, then people are paying attention. Our goal with this book is to draw a market share of attention toward the political system and not just keep all the attention on the current drama and the current issues, as important as they are. We can give whole presentations and never say the words “Trump” or “Biden.” We don’t need to say those things because our theory applies to the political system and the results before any particular politician, and this type of behavior and lack of results will endure after. I think what I want to focus on for a moment is the real important piece of our work, which is less the analytical framework and explanation of what’s wrong — although we’re very proud of that, and we ourselves remain fascinated by it. The purpose of the analysis of The Politics Industry and how competition works in politics was to identify the points of leverage where we can act best in reality — not theoretical changes, not aspirational changes, but realistic, achievable changes that would alter the system powerfully enough to change the results the system regularly delivers. So, our proposal, our prescription is not about changing who gets elected. It’s about addressing what whoever is elected to Congress has the freedom to do.

And so we look at the rules of the game and our prescription is moving from unhealthy competition to a free market politics, where we can get results, innovation, accountability — the best of what free markets deliver to the American economy in every industry, which is innovation, results, and accountability, are the same things we need to incent and create in our political system. Free market politics does that, and that’s not what we have right now. We have a protected duopoly.

I remember you talking at length about that last year. I look forward to reading the book, but when I read the book, I’m going to come away with some actual prescriptions, right? I’m going to come away with solutions.

Katherine: The prescription is called Final Five Voting, and it says, “Let’s change the rules of the game for how we vote.” We change the primary, we change the general election, and then that automatically changes the incentives and creates a connection between solving problems and getting reelected, where currently there is none.

Michael Porter: I think it’s also important to say that the book talks about how you would go about doing these things. How would you get these prescriptions to happen? There’s some very important things that Katherine has been a real leader on that most citizens don’t know — that to change the system, the action is really in the states. It’s not in Washington.

The system is changed state by state. At the state level, in many states, there are opportunities to do that by citizens, without the need even to go through the legislature. What we’re seeing, and Katherine’s deeply involved in this and a real leader in America in this, is this movement is happening. Is it done? No, but it’s quite stunning how much change there is and how many activities are going on in how many states. So I think we have to give the American people the sense that this is not a crazy idea. It’s not a pipe dream. It can happen, there’s a way to go about it. There’s nobody that can block it against citizen desire and pressure, and there’s really progress already being made. We’re going to see things on the ballot across the country in November that we would never have seen before. So, that’s very encouraging, to me in particular.

Congratulations again on the book. I appreciate your time twice now in two years, and maybe we’ll talk again next year once we’re on the other side of this election. I’d love to hear your thoughts then.

Katherine: Yeah, we’ll be able to talk then about these movements and the campaigns that are happening in every state. And I predict that Final Five Voting, and what I think of as its close cousin, Final Four Voting, is going to displace the movements for redistricting reform and campaign finance reform within the next 18 months as the preeminent focus for political system change in the country. We’d love to talk about how that is playing out anytime you want.