America is like a car (see the previous post): a complex assemblage of interacting parts, within an environment. America’s environment is the world. Within that system are subsystems: education, the economy, international policy, the military. Even the government is just another subsystem, or part, fueled by taxes, fees, and borrowing.
What are the main functions of America and its government? Here’s where ideology and politics have their say; but not entirely, from a systems standpoint. A system’s function isn’t what a car salesman or politician tells you. It’s what that system actually does. If our classic car were instead a late-model Cadillac, its function, or purpose, would be more than getting you to work. It would get you to work in luxury.
Look at America’s most notable characteristics, and you’ll find its critical functions. For example, we have a dominant military, the largest economy (including international corporations and the most innovative sole proprietorships), we generate the most patents, we invented the iPhone and online shopping (and the Internet, for that matter), boast the most advanced research universities, and make the most popular music and movies. Given these traits, you might say America’s key functions are to be powerful, rich, innovative, and creative.
So what is the function of our federal government? Our politicians’ rhetoric would lead us to believe that the government exists to keep us safe from terrorists, foster job creation, and reduce inequality, depending on which party they represent. These are legitimate political issues, and you could argue that each problem could lower the nation’s performance as the world’s dominant power and economy. But, since we’re looking at the government as a subsystem of a larger system, we need to step back and see whether the politicians are talking about the biggest flaws in the American system, whether those flaws are fixable, whether the fixes are the right ones, and whether they screw up another subsystem.