American government is in steep decline because its institutions are failing to adapt to changing circumstances. That’s the thesis of an incisive piece in Foreign Affairs by AI chairman Francis Fukuyama looking at the root causes of America’s political dysfunction. As he did in his AI piece, “The Decay of American Political Institutions,” Fukuyama focuses on two trends: the rise of a “vetocracy” in Congress, in which special interests can prevent any and all progress towards reforming the system or fixing serious problems; and excessive delegation to unaccountable executive bureaucracies. More:
The U.S. political system has decayed over time because its traditional system of checks and balances has deepened and become increasingly rigid. In an environment of sharp political polarization, this decentralized system is less and less able to represent majority interests and gives excessive representation to the views of interest groups and activist organizations that collectively do not add up to a sovereign American people […]
The United States is trapped by its political institutions. Because Americans distrust government, they are generally unwilling to delegate to it the authority to make decisions, as happens in other democracies. Instead, Congress mandates complex rules that reduce the government’s autonomy and cause decision-making to be slow and expensive. The government then doesn’t perform well, which confirms people’s lack of trust in it. Under these circumstances, they are reluctant to pay higher taxes, which they feel the government will simply waste. But without appropriate resources, the government can’t function properly, again creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Read the whole thing. It’s a brilliant analysis of the crisis of confidence facing the U.S. government. Fukuyama ends the piece on a pessimistic note, suggesting that some great external shock to the system will be necessary to prompt any kind of real reform. Perhaps reform is possible without a crisis, but either way, understanding the origins of the sclerosis in our government is the necessary first step to potentially reversing it.