Social Question

6rant6's avatar

Which system is the most broken in the US?

Asked by 6rant6 (13690points) April 4th, 2012

You hear people all the time talking about how “broken” the systems of our society are. “The educational system is broken.” “The election system is broken.” “The judicial system is broken.” “The penal system is broken.” Really, it’s amazing anything ever gets done.

Of all these systems that you see as broken, which one do you think is in most dire shape?

__(This is a different question than asking which one you would like most to see worked on.)__

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50 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

I suppose it must be the political system, which keeps making these pronouncements without doing anything about them.

josie's avatar

See @SavoirFaire The government creates “systems” most of which are corrupt and fucked up beyond all recognition. The systems that still work are the ones which are not systems at all. They are the normal interactions of humans who act in accordance to their nature. Government “systems’ are all broken, since all governments are to one degree or another, corrupt.

john65pennington's avatar

Right now, it’s our economic system.

Did you hear about the $150 million dollar airport that was built in Pennsylvania and never used but very little? This Congressman got his way with our tax dollars for no reason at all.
It’s still in operation and Congress has just appropriated more money to keep it operating.

You have to ask yourself…..why??

josie's avatar

@john65pennington You just made my point. Except it is not the economic system. Who got the tax dollars that were used for nothing? You do not have to ask yourself why. You have to vote to get rid of “This Congressman”.

Cruiser's avatar

The election process. We need big time campaign reform first and foremost before we can realistically create a workable bipartisan political climate we need to get things accomplished in Washington. Bulldoze “K” Street and let the healing begin.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Considering that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, I would say that our “justice system” AND our penal system are broken. We now have private entities running ‘prisons for profit’ & Judges who are complicit with them in sentencing almost all who end up in court to the private prisons so they can receive kick-backs.

CaptainHarley's avatar

IMHO, the stats testify to the fact that the educational system is broken almost beyond redemption!

dabbler's avatar

Election financing, voodoo voting machines, f’d up Supreme Court electing a president (GWB), PACs…

Corporations are not people and should just shut up with their damned money.
The people who own and run them each have a vote with which they can do what they want.
End of frickin’ story.

Voting machines used by the public for public elections should be owned by the public lock, stock and software. Not by some sneaky incompetent corporations. End of frickin’ story.

What’s with a case that stopping a recount in Florida would do “irreparable harm” to GW? What about the harm to the other candidate? What about the harm to the public? What about state’s rights to run their election as they see fit.

Districts that are so gerrymandered that they guarantee re-election of the reptile currently in office.

Anonymous PACs shoving overwhelming amounts of junk in front of us. Stop being cowards and show yourselves! Maybe we can’t do anything about your crap but we’d know from where the stink comes.


Trillian's avatar

Every system and community is part of a web of interconnectedness. You cannot separate one out and say “I’m going to fix this” because of overlap. You can’t fix the judicial system without fixing unemployment, and rehabilitation for felons and self care education, and community awareness. How do they expect a felon to integrate without work? Without self respect? How can a teen, unwed mother better her own situation? Social services can’t come close. How do you prevent unwanted teen pregnancies in the first place? Better education. How can you improve education for EVERY kid in America? More funding, better pay for teachers, better programs, access to all the benefits that now are enjoyed by a select few.
You see?
Start anywhere with any problem in our society and follow it through, back to the root cause. You’ll find other factors that also need to be fixed.

YARNLADY's avatar

^ ^ ^ I agree.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Implicit in the idea that the systems are broken is that they are supposed to behave in some other way. They aren’t. The “education” system is doing just fine creating a functionally retarded and largely unquestioning workforce. The military industrial complex is doing just fine exerting U.S. hegemony over the planet. The financial sector is doing just fine concentrating wealth. Etc.

JLeslie's avatar

Healthcare. Healthcare is the scariest to me at least. It is the one thing that actually makes me think about moving somewhere else.

Sunny2's avatar

It’s depressing to think about. What’s the worst of the worst? I think it’s the politics of our government. Getting re-elected takes precedent over solving problems. Sticking together as a political entity and holding power is more important than working as a compromising collective entity that is our legislative body. It makes me very sad.

DaphneT's avatar

I think the system most broken is the communication system. We rely on the media to communicate accurate facts and haven’t chastised them sufficiently for interpreting the facts for us. Because we tolerate lies at the most obvious levels of our society, we have become more complacent about accepting them at the personal level. We are living within a nasty whirlpool and need to come up with a way to get to the edge to get out. But we can’t just get ourselves out, we need to end the whirlpool and get everyone out or the whirlpool will engulf all of us.

And that’s just the free press, there’s all the persons in positions of responsibility and security who withhold basic information under the auspices of thinking for our own good.

ETpro's avatar

@6rant6 Yours!

And therein lies the problem. :-)

Qingu's avatar

Definitely penal system, which I guess branches out to our overall justice system.

No other country comes close to incarcerating such a large percentage of its population as the United States.

The US incarcerates 753 per 10,000 people. The next highest country on the list is Rwanda. They do 539 per 10,000.

The level of abuse and loss of dignity that many prisoners suffer in the United States is certainly in violation of international law.

I honestly don’t think the United States can legitimately talk about human rights with any sort of moral authority until we at least try to fix this.

Nullo's avatar

@Qingu Have you taken into consideration the possibility that perhaps, we have more criminals? We’ve got a lot of people, and a sort of every-rat-for-himself attitude pervades the populace. Not going to help the figures at all.

Qingu's avatar

@Nullo, Pakistan’s incarceration rate is 40/10,000. Do you seriously believe that Pakistan has, proportionally, almost 20 times fewer criminals than the US?

likipie's avatar

All of them are messed up, it doesn’t matter which is more broken. That’s the same (in different context of course) as saying one child deserves an education more than the other. They all need worked on, they’re all screwed up.

Nullo's avatar

@Qingu I might. Statistics can be funny like that. If we have a critical mass of crime begetting crime, it could happen easily enough.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

The political system as it is responsible for most other systems.

Qingu's avatar

@Nullo, wow. Here, take a look at the whole list.

You say you “might” believe that this list actually reflects rates of crime by country. This just seems like an extraordinary assumption to me. That the institutions in every single country on that list are able to fairly arrest and imprison the proper number of criminals. Do you really want to follow this rabbit down the hole?

Jaxk's avatar

One of the few times I have to agree with @Qingu. We have more people in prison for drugs than for violent crimes. And their sentence is virtually as long for possession as it is for violent crimes. We pass mandatory minimum sentencing, laws like 3-strikes, which can give you life in prison for any felony, and hate crime laws that significantly increase prison sentences. Prosecutors are incented to prosecute questionable offenses and gain longer and longer sentences. We virtually guarantee repeat offenders since once convicted, it is impossible to find a job. The Justice system is out of control.

Trillian's avatar

We also would need to address the underlying cause(s) of criminal behaviour in the first place. So, as I stated earlier, it is not only the penal system which would need to be fixed, but the factors contributing to the use of the judicial system.

Qingu's avatar

@Jaxk, I also think it’s important to add that our privatized prison systems incentivize increased incarceration to a large extent. Not sure you’d agree with that though.

JLeslie's avatar

@Trillian Both are important. Our penal system focuses on punishment, not rehabilitation, and we have more and more private jails, which I think is just awful.

JLeslie's avatar

Oops, jinx @Qingu.

Jaxk's avatar


Your skepticism is warranted. I don’t think the privatized prison system has any significant role in this. I would place a much larger role on the way we incentivize prosecutors. That is a travesty.

And I might add that the whole notion of stopping citizens to evaluate them (they call it sobriety checks) then throw them in jail if they don’t check out, is rememiscent of Nazi Germany.

Trillian's avatar

@JLeslie right, punishment. One real problem is that we don’t have a commitment to real rehabilitation. We’re not sure how to go about it, and are unwilling to spend the money. Look at every poll out there, we don’t want our money “wasted” on felons. As if we’re can separate ourselves from them. But without a real, holistic approach that addresses every aspect of criminal behaviour and complete integration into society, we have half assed, incomplete and ineffectual “rehab” and a larger and larger group of marginalized, disenfranchised individuals who have absolutely NON non criminal way of earning a living.
Yet we ask on applications if you are a convicted felon. Why? Because we don’t want to hire them, work alongside them, or have them waiting on us.
So how do we expect them to become self fulfilled, contributing members of society?
Interconnectedness. You can’t escape it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jaxk Supposedly there is some corruption (surprise) in the system, kickbacks maybe from the private prisons. People in the court system get rewarded for putting kids in jail, the jails get money from the government, it’s a racket. The biggest concern is young people who are in jeuvy or prison and then they get a prison mentality, wind up returning every time they are let out, because that is familiar to them, and they don’t know any different. Making prison a profitable business means there is incentive to lock people up. The prisons want people to be criminals, that’s how they make money.

Qingu's avatar

I actually do not have a problem with sobriety checks. And I don’t think sobriety checks are reminiscent of Nazi Germany. The whole thing with Nazi Germany was more about, you know, systemically murdering millions of people for insane reasons. Not so much testing for DUIs.

Drunk drivers should be thrown in jail.

Jaxk's avatar


All the same arguments can be made for prosecutors. There is an incentive to lock people up for as long as possible. The only difference I see is that prisons aren’t in the business of arresting and trying those people. I know there is one case where the prison company was actually bribing judges but that is illegal and people went to jail for it. I don’t see a single instance of bribery as a systemic failure.

Jaxk's avatar


There is a connection. The process of stopping everyone to check them out is the beginning of the process.

Qingu's avatar

There’s also a “connection” between high defense spending and Nazi Germany. There’s a “connection” between a privately owned enterprise economy and Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, it would be pretty stupid to invoke Nazi Germany when criticizing our bloated defense budget, or privately owned enterprise.

I don’t think Nazi Germany should be invoked lightly. It’s tacky at best.

Jaxk's avatar


Nazi Germany is merely the most obvious and easily understood example of a police state. At least for most of us.

Qingu's avatar

I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

And to my knowledge, prosecutors do not normally spend millions lobbying Congress to enact laws that would lead to more incarcerations, like private prisons do. Liberal source, but the data is there.

And I’m also not sure what you’re advocating in place of state prosecutors. But I do strongly agree there are excesses and the justice system’s overzealousness is part of the problem.

YARNLADY's avatar

We trade control of our citizens for freedom.

In Sweden, for instance, everyone has an identification number and it must be used for every transaction. They need a license to get a TV and the government controls the content of the shows. The ID number is used by buyers and sellers so the government can track every purchase. The products are limited to government approved items.

Jaxk's avatar


I see nothing in your link that would indicate a problem. Yes the prison industry would like to take over more prisons, same as any other industry would like to see more business. There is no connection in your article between prisons companies and any attempt to incarcerate more people or extend sentences. They would merely like to run more of the prisons. Not much different than unions want to organize more companies.

Just to make my position clear. I really don’t care who runs them. I have done some research on the operation of private vs government run prisons. There seems to be little difference in either cost or quality between the two. If there was a marked difference I would feel differently but as it is, there seems to be little incentive to lean one way or the other. At least for me.

dabbler's avatar

The privatized prison system is absolutely connected to the rate of incarceration.

Like I said before “Elections”.

Judges get elected. They run campaigns. The private prison industry is a huge contributor to the campaigns of lock-em-up judges.

Publicly owned and operated prisons have different motivations.

Qingu's avatar

@Jaxk, what you said makes no sense. The prison industry just wants to take over a static supply of prisons from those operated by the government?

You really don’t see how increasing that supply would help the industry? You don’t think the industry’s huge financial support for laws that would directly increase the rate of incarceration might be connected to that?

If you really are that naive, your faith in the good will of the free market is almost charming. I don’t think you are, though.

I agree that private prisons are probably not more or less abusive overall than government-run ones; at least I am not familiar with any evidence to that effect. My problem is incentivizing incarceration. It’s the exact same issue you have with prosecutors. The system should not reward people on the basis of imprisoning citizens. But use your brain. The free market is a system. That system rewards private prisons with increased profits if the supply of incarcerated citizens increases.

Jaxk's avatar

@Qingu & @dabbler

The difference is that prisons are not directly involved with the incarceration process. If the city here in my neighborhood opened discussions on a contract to supply gasoline to all city vehicles (police, fire, etc.) I would lobby strongly for that business (I own a gas station). That doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong, illegal or immoral.

Judges and prosecutors are gauged by their conviction rates and length of sentence. The more convictions, the longer the sentences, the better they look. Justice which is what the prosecutors are supposed to seek, plays no part. Until we come to the conclusion the jailing our citizens isn’t the solution for everything, we’ll continue to have a problem whether private or public. I don’t see that happening soon.

Qingu's avatar

To my knowledge, prosecutors are not paid more money for higher incarceration rates. Private prisons are.

Your gas analogy is more apt than you realize. Because of course the oil industry does lobby Congress immensely to create laws that incentivize increasing the supply of gas. The profits you personally make from selling gasoline doubtless shape your denialist views about global warming and your support for politicians (the GOP) that support your business interests.

And I do think it’s immoral to monetarily incentivize higher incarceration rates. I think this is a fundamental difference between us. You assume that any incentives derived from market competition are moral because you have a religious faith in the invisible hand of the market. I don’t. I see capitalistic market competition as a system just like any other system of power and control, a system that needs to be kept in check by humans based on moral principles.

6rant6's avatar

@Jaxk “The more convictions, the longer the sentences, the better they look.”

Just so you know, we don’t all think that way.

Jaxk's avatar


That provides a little comfort.

Jaxk's avatar


Promotions or advancements (and subsequent pay increases) are directly linked to a prosecutors conviction and sentencing statistics. I’m somewhat disappointed that you don’t see that. Probably your religious faith on the good of government.

Just for the record, my views on politics and the oil industry have not changed since I became a gas station owner. Actually I have considered removing the gas pumps and would do so if it wasn’t so expensive to get rid of them. If you want to get off oil, you need to have an alternative. We don’t. Wind won’t power your car. Solar can’t be used for asphalt or plastics. And neither one will have any impact on our consumption of foriegn oil. As gas prices rise to $4 and above, our economy deteriorates. If oil companies want to increase the domestic supply, that’s a good thing. It keeps about $300 billion/yr in this country, rather than shipping it overseas to spur the economy of country that would seek to do us harm. We are using the oil either way (again, no alternative), why not use our own resources.

Qingu's avatar

@Jaxk, that’s a fair point about prosecutors. And I believe I had agreed with you in principle. I certainly do not think prosecutors’ pay and status should be tied to incarceration rate alone—they should be tied to competence, which probably overlaps incarceration rate to some extent, but not the same thing.

And I don’t have “faith in government.” I want a well-functioning government with limited powers—the same as what I want from the market. It’s the knee-jerk privileging of one system over the other that I disagree with.

I think we would both agree that there should not be systems in our society that incentivize incarceration.

I don’t disagree that high gas prices are an economic drag, that was not my point. I don’t think this is the place to discuss oil or global warming, though I’m always happy to.

Jaxk's avatar

It sounds like we’re fairly close to agreement. At least as close as we’ll ever be.

Qingu's avatar

It’s a Passover miracle!

tacres's avatar

The systems are all broken because we as people are broken. We see all this stuff as separate entities. They are not. They are us. We elect PEOPLE to run our lives then get pissed when they behave like PEOPLE. Sorry but you treat PEOPLE like they are stars or demigods & then are totally amazed when they turn on the population. Here’s a suggestion stop treating these politicians, & bureaucrats like they are anything but what they are. PUBLIC frigging employees.

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