Sunday, August 31, 2014

America in decay?

Francis Fukuyama is a Big Thinker. He famously label the end of the cold war and the emerging global consensus on liberal democracy and market economies as "the end of history," using a term from Hegel. Now he has written a gloomy piece in Foreign Affairs [gated] lamenting "America in Decay."

Strangely, he starts to build his case not with foreign policy problems but what he sees as the decline of the U.S. Forest Service because of the conflicting pressures it faces in promoting conservation, fighting wildfires, and providing timber resources. He broadens his focus to the increased power and reliance on the courts as a means of governance. He decries the American political system as a "gift exchange" system, almost as bad as direct bribery. He wants to promote a parliamentary system but says that the once great British system is also decaying.

When he reaches the last page and feels compelled to offer solutions to the many problems, he sees "No Way Out." Somehow there has to be a coalition of "out-groups" because the in-groups have captured the political system and we also need "to roll back some of the would-be democratizing reforms."

Most of his complaints are the conventional wisdom, and his recommendations are both too weak and too radical.

We have a political gridlock because the Framers designed our system to make rapid and major changes close to impossible, and the voters are not angry enough to punish those who campaign but refuse to make compromises necessary to govern. I don't accept Fukuyama's pessimism because I have seen the system work; I have seen politicians become statesmen and make the tough choices on major issues, from war powers to constrained budgets. On the other hand, I'm not especially hopeful that we'll take corrective action soon.

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