Military Review

The Decline of American Political Institutions ("The American Interest", USA)

11
The Decline of American Political Institutions ("The American Interest", USA)

Many political institutions in the United States are in decline. This is not the same as the general phenomenon of the decline of society and civilization, even if this topic has become extremely politicized in the discourse about America. Political decay in this case simply means that a particular political process, and sometimes a separate state institution, becomes inoperable and fails to cope with its duties. This is the result of intellectual inertia and the growing influence of politicians entrenched in their positions, hindering reforms and rebalancing. This does not mean that America has irrevocably embarked on a constant course of decline and decay, or that its power and influence in relation to other countries will necessarily weaken. But reforming institutions is an extremely difficult thing, and there are no guarantees that this can be achieved without major upheavals in the political system. Therefore, although weakening and collapse are not the same thing, discussions on these topics are still related.


There are many diagnoses for today's American troubles and misadventures. In my opinion, there is no one single reason for institutional decline, nor is there any more extensive idea about it. However, in general, the historical context in the analysis of political events in America is too often the wrong attitude on the verge of complete disregard. If we look closely at the American history and compare it with the history of other liberal democracies, we note three key structural characteristics of the US political culture, well developed and effective in the past, but facing major problems in the present.

The first feature is that, in comparison with other liberal democracies, the judicial and legislative branches (including the activities of the two leading political parties) still play an unreasonably large role in the American system of government to the detriment of the executive branch with its bureaucracy. The traditional distrust of Americans to the government creates such conditions when administrative problems are resolved by judicial order. Over time, this has become a very expensive and inefficient method of managing administrative processes.

The second feature is that the proliferation of groups with special interests and the influence of the lobby distorted the democratic processes and made it impossible for the government to work effectively. What biologists call sibling selection and reciprocal altruism (preference given to relatives and friends with whom services are exchanged) is two natural kinds of human connections. It is to this type of relationship that people turn when modern impersonal power disintegrates.

The third feature is that under the ideological polarization of the federal management structure, the American system of checks and balances, which was originally intended to prevent the executive power from becoming excessively strong, turned into a power of prohibitions, which can be called vetocracy. The decision-making system has become too porous and too democratic, which is detrimental to it. Too many participants have found tools to deter adjustments in government and public policy. We need more powerful collective decision-making mechanisms, but because of the excessive role of the judiciary in management matters and because of the overblown importance of groups with common interests, we are unlikely to be able to acquire such mechanisms in the absence of a systemic crisis. In this sense, all three of the above structural characteristics are closely intertwined.

Three key categories of political institutions, which include the state, the rule of law and accountability, are embodied in the three branches of the power of modern liberal democracy: executive, legislative and judicial. The United States, with its long tradition of distrust of state power, has always emphasized the importance of deterrence tools, which include judicial and legislative power, giving it greater importance than the state with its legalized basic priorities. It came to the point that in the 19 century America was called the “state of courts and parties”. Those government functions that the executive bureaucracy in Europe performed in the United States were given to judges and elected representatives.

Creating a modern, centralized, based on the merits of a bureaucratic apparatus capable of exercising jurisdiction throughout the country, began only after 1883, when Pendleton's law was passed. The United States began to more or less resemble a modern European state only towards the end of the Second World War, but as for the size and scope of state functions, the United States both was and remains an anomalous phenomenon. In the United States, spending on the state apparatus in relation to GDP, as well as the total amount of tax revenues in relation to GDP, is still lower than in most countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Although US state power is smaller in size than in most European countries, in absolute terms, it has increased rapidly over the past half century. However, the seemingly irreversible process of increasing the American state in the 20 century hides the decline of its quality. In turn, the decline in the quality of state power has seriously complicated the struggle with large budget deficits. The problem of quantity cannot be solved until at the same time the problem of quality or power is solved.

The deterioration in the quality of US government is directly related to the “state of the courts and parties,” which over the past fifty years has returned to the center of the stage. Courts and legislatures are increasingly usurping the powers of the executive branch, due to which the activities of the government are becoming increasingly incoherent and ineffective. Due to the steady transition to the sphere of judicial power of those functions that the administrative bureaucracy performs in other developed democracies, there has been a sharp increase in costly legal proceedings, the decision-making process has slowed down, and law enforcement has become extremely inconsistent. The courts, instead of restraining state power, have become an alternative tool for its expansion. Paradoxically, the United States, fearing to endow with an “big state” excessive powers, eventually created a very large state, which became less accountable because it was mainly in the hands of no-one elected courts.

Meanwhile, special interest groups, having lost due to the adoption of Pendleton’s law, the opportunity to directly bribe the legislature with bribes and feed their clients, found new, completely legitimate ways to conquer and establish control over legislators. These groups distort the system of taxes and expenses, and raise the overall level of the deficit due to their ability to manipulate the budget to their own advantage. Sometimes they use the courts to achieve these and other benefits, as well as degrade the quality of public administration due to the many and often conflicting powers that they use to receive support in Congress. A rather weak executive is usually unable to stop them.

All this led to a crisis of representation. Ordinary people feel that the supposedly democratic government no longer reflects their interests, but instead serves the interests of various shadow elites. In this phenomenon, there is one peculiarity, consisting in the fact that such a crisis of representativeness occurred mainly due to the reforms designed to make the system more democratic. Both of these phenomena — the usurpation of the powers of the executive branch of the judiciary and the spread of influence of groups with special interests — undermine the credibility of the state, which perpetuates itself and is self-isolated. Mistrust to the executive bodies calls for additional legal means of deterring the administration, which further reduces the quality and effectiveness of power, undermining the autonomy of the bureaucracy. This may seem paradoxical, but a decline in the autonomy of the bureaucracy in turn leads to the appearance of an inert, bound by many rules, inconsistent and refusing to innovate power. Ordinary people may blame officials for these problems (as if they like to work under the burden of numerous and very detailed rules, court orders and complex regulations emanating from courts and legislative bodies over which they have no power). But they are wrong. The problem of American power is rather not in an irresponsible bureaucracy, but in a common system that gives administrative powers to the courts and political parties.

In short, the problems of the American government stem from a structural imbalance between the strength and competence of the state, on the one hand, and institutions that were originally designed to contain the state, on the other. There is too much law in the country and too much “democracy” in the form of intervention by the legislature in comparison with the state’s capabilities. Some historical examples will help clarify this statement.

One of the greatest turning points in American history of the 20 century was the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown’s case against the education department when the court declared the 19-century decision in the Plessy case against Ferguson, which had been segregated in schools, unconstitutional. This decision marked the beginning of the civil rights movement, which over the next ten years managed to eliminate formal barriers to racial equality and guarantee the rights of African Americans and other American minorities. Earlier, the courts began to acquire the first experience in the struggle for the organizational rights of trade unions. New social rules based on these rights became a model for subsequent social movements at the end of 20, from the environment and women's rights to consumer safety and same-sex marriage.

This heroic story is so familiar to Americans that they rarely realize how exceptional it is. The main driving force behind Brown’s case was a private voluntary organization called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Of course, such an initiative could be put forward only by private organizations, because the state authorities in the South were under the control of the forces that advocated segregation. Thus, one of the most important changes in American public policy was not due to the fact that Congress voted for it as the representative power of the people of the United States, but because individuals started the process through the judicial system, seeking to change the existing rules. Later changes, say, the law on civil rights and the law on voting rights, eliminating discrimination in these matters, were the result of congressional action. But even in these cases, enforcement was carried out by the courts at the request of private parties.

No other liberal democracy works that way. In the second half of 20, all European countries went through a similar process of change in the legal status of racial and ethnic minorities, as well as women and homosexuals. But in Britain, France and Germany, these results were achieved due to the fact that their national ministries of justice adopted relevant acts on behalf of the parliamentary majority. Changes in legislation could well be caused by pressure from the public, but the authorities themselves, and not private parties acting together with the judiciary, carried out these changes.

The origins of such American features lie in the historical sequence in which three types of institutions were developed. In France, Denmark and Germany, the law first appeared, then the modern state, and after them democracy. In contrast, the path of development in the United States was such that in it the tradition of common English law was introduced at the very beginning in thirteen colonies (who signed the Declaration of Independence and initiated the creation of the United States - approx. Transl.). Then, as a result of independence, democracy emerged, and only later the modern state began to emerge and develop. In fact, many argue that the American state in its basic structure remains the same as during the Tudor dynasty (it was during them that America began to be colonized by England - approx. Transl.), That this structure was firmly imprinted in the American institutions during the early settlers . Whatever the reasons, the American state has always been weaker and less capable than the states of Europe and Asia. Notice also that distrust of power is not a conservative monopoly; Many leftists are alarmed by the fact that national institutions are enslaved by powerful corporate groups and prefer to achieve the desired results at the expense of lower levels through the courts.

As a result, in America after the civil rights movement, what law researcher Robert A. Kagan called “antagonistic legalism” arose. Lawyers have always played an exorbitant role in American public life, but this role has expanded many times over in the turbulent period of social change in the 1960 and 1970 years. At this time, Congress passed more than twenty important laws on civil rights and environmental protection - from food safety and toxic waste treatment to private pension funds and occupational safety and health. This represents a colossal expansion of the regulatory state authority, born in the Progressive Era and during the New Deal, which American business and conservatives so much like to complain about today.

This system is very cumbersome and clumsy, but not because of the number of legal provisions, norms and rules, but because of the legal formalities with which it is implemented. Congress decided to create a great many of the most diverse federal agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health, etc., but he does not want to clearly and clearly endow these departments with those powers to establish rules and enforcement that government agencies in Europe and Japan use. Instead, he instructed the courts to monitor compliance with the law and to seek its implementation. Congress specifically contributes to the expansion of legal proceedings, increasing the number of parties entitled to go to court, and extending this right even to those whom this or that rule concerns only indirectly and remotely.

For example, federal courts rewrote Section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “turning a weak law, which focused on deliberate discrimination, into a bold order to seek compensation for past discrimination”. Instead of providing federal officials with adequate powers to enforce law enforcement, “Republicans in the Senate ... essentially privatized the functions of the prosecution. They have made private lawsuits the basis of the enforcement of Section VII, creating a mechanism that, over time, has generated an unimaginable amount of lawsuits on the claims of individuals and parties. ” Everywhere, the number of such cases increased from less than a hundred in a year at the end of 1960 to 22000 by the end of 1990. During this period, the cost of lawyers increased sixfold. Not only the direct costs of legal proceedings, but also indirect costs, soared due to the slowing down of the process and the uncertainty of the outcome of the cases under review, rose sharply.

Thus, those conflicts that are resolved in Sweden or Japan through calm bureaucratic consultations between the parties concerned are transformed into battles in the form of court sessions in America. And this creates a number of adverse consequences for public administration, which include “uncertainty, procedural complexity, duplication, lack of completeness and high transaction costs”. Separating law enforcement from bureaucracy, the system also becomes less accountable. In the European parliamentary system, a new rule or decree issued by government officials is subject to scrutiny, debates are held on them, and they can be changed by means of political actions at regular elections. And in the US, politics is fragmented during a highly specialized, and therefore non-transparent process, with the participation of judges who are not elected by anyone and who usually sit in their place for life. In addition, if one of the parties loses the battle in the court, it can continue to fight through the courts until the moment of execution of the decision. This was the case with the law on affordable health care, known as Obamacare.

The immense possibilities for litigation gave access to legal proceedings, and therefore the power of previously excluded from the population groups, starting with African Americans. It is for this reason that progressive leftists zealously protect and defend legal proceedings and the right to it. (For the same reason, the lawyers formed a special group with common interests, which is closely related to the Democratic Party.) But all this is fraught with enormous costs in terms of the quality of public policy. Kagan cites as an example the case of dredging in the harbor of Auckland.

In 1970, the port of Auckland called for developing plans to dredge the city harbor in anticipation of the emergence of a new, larger class of container ships. However, this plan had to be approved by a number of government departments, including the engineering troops of the US military, the Department of Hunting and Fisheries, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the relevant departments at the state of California. The courts have begun to consider a variety of lawsuits against numerous options for dredging plans and the removal of toxic materials from the harbor. Each such plan as a result faced with numerous delays and with appreciation. The Environmental Protection Agency, in response to these processes, took a defensive stance and was passive. The final dredging plan came into effect only in the 1994 year, and the total costs of its implementation exceeded the initial estimate many times over.

You can find many other examples in various fields of activity of the American state. Their result was that the courts, together with Congress, brought the matter to a huge increase in state bodies, but at the same time their efficiency did not increase. One example of the hundreds are special education programs for mentally handicapped children and children with disabilities, which since 1970-s began to grow like mushrooms in size and cost as a result of the emergence of extensive powers, legally approved by Congress in 1974. These powers, in turn, emerged on the basis of decisions of the federal district courts that children with special needs have “rights” that are difficult to compare with other public goods and for which it is difficult to work out cost-benefit criteria. Moreover, the congress relegated to the courts the right to interpret these powers and their implementation, although these are far from those bodies that can act within budget constraints and complex political compromises.

The solution to this problem does not necessarily have to be what many conservatives and libertarians offer it. And they propose simply to abolish regulation and destroy the state bureaucracy. The tasks that the state apparatus solves, for example, ensuring the observance of civil rights and protecting the environment, are often very important, and the private market will not be able to cope with them if left alone. Conservatives often do not understand that it is precisely distrust of the state that makes the American system turn to administrative management on the basis of judicial decisions, which is much less effective than in those democracies where executive power is strong. But American progressiveists and liberals are also complicit in the creation of such a system. They were suspicious of government officials who had created segregation in schools in the south, or were caught up in the interests of big business, and so they were happy to involve un-elected judges in the process of developing public policy when the legislature did not support them enough. Each had its own reasons, and these reasons together gave rise to large-scale inoperability.

Such a decentralized, law-based management approach is closely related to another distinctive feature of the American political system: its susceptibility to the influence of special interest groups. Such groups are able to pursue their goals by acting directly through the courts against the authorities, as was recently the case when retailers filed a lawsuit against the Federal Reserve System regarding transaction fees from payment cards. But they have another, much more powerful channel, which has much more powers and resources. This is an American congress.

American politics in the 19 century was largely based on the principles of close ties and bribery. Politicians enlisted the support of voters, promising them individual benefits and advantages, sometimes in the form of small services, courtesies, and even direct cash payments. But most often these were offers to give jobs in public institutions such as a postal department or customs. Such opportunities to form support had serious consequences in the form of corruption in power, when political tycoons and members of Congress remove the cream from those resources that are under their control.

These historical forms of corruption and bribery were put to an end (mostly), starting with the 1880s, when the movement for reform in the public civil service began to operate. Today, at the federal level, old-fashioned corruption, which operated according to the principle of “walking around money”, is rarely found. Important diplomatic posts are still distributed among the main donors to election campaigns, but American political parties no longer distribute government posts to their loyal political supporters and individuals donating money to election campaigns. But the trade of political influence in exchange for money returned to American politics, and returned in a big way. This time it is completely legal, and it has become much more difficult to eliminate it.

Criminal bribery in US law is narrowly defined as a transaction in which the politician and the private party explicitly agree on an exchange implying a particular service-by-service. But the exchange of gifts, as a specialist in antiquities can call them, is something else. Unlike an impersonal market transaction, if someone gives someone a gift and immediately demands a reciprocal gift, then the recipient of the gift will surely feel insulted and refuse to receive it. But even if there is no such demand, the recipient will still feel morally obligated to the other side, and therefore will certainly respond with courtesy to the courtesy elsewhere and at another time. The law prohibits only market transactions, but not the exchange of courtesies. And the American lobbying industry is built on the basis of this exchange.

I have already noted that related selection and reciprocal altruism are two natural kinds of human connections. These are not the acts that are learned; they are genetically encoded in our brains and emotions. In any culture, a person who receives a gift from another member of society feels morally obligated to give himself away. The first states, Max Weber (Max Weber) called "hereditary patrimonies" because they were considered the personal property of their ruler, who filled administrative posts with their relatives and friends. Such states were built on the basis of natural forms of human connections.

Modern states create strict rules and incentives to overcome the tendency to prefer family and friendships. They include the practice of conducting examinations for admission to the public service, qualification assessment of merits and merit, rules regarding conflicts of interest, and laws against bribery and corruption. But the power of natural human relationships is so great that they constantly make themselves known, they constantly return. And to counteract this, one must always be vigilant.

And we have lost vigilance. The American state has become a true hereditary patrimony. In this regard, the United States is no different from the Chinese state in the late Han dynasty, from the Mamluk regime to their defeat by the Ottomans and from the state in pre-revolutionary France. The rules of opposition to open protectionism and nepotism are still strong enough to prevent the widespread spread of such patrimonial behavior, but in Washington the reciprocal altruism has grown to alarming proportions. This is the main channel through which groups with common interests corrupt and bribe state power. These groups can influence the members of Congress in a completely legal way, for which they simply donate money, and then wait for some unspecified return services. In other cases, members of the congress themselves initiate transactions for the exchange of gifts, showing a preferential attitude to certain circles in the expectation of receiving remuneration at a later date, be it donations for the electoral campaign or other chips that can be cashed later. In many cases, such an exchange is non-cash. A congressman participating in a conference on the regulation of secondary securities, which takes place at a luxury resort, will hear a lot of presentations on how the banking industry should or should not be regulated. But he will not hear any valid alternative arguments from the outside, not from the banking sector. Politics in this case is not captured with money (although money in such cases is spent a lot), but intellectually, since he (or she) will have only positive impressions about the point of view of such a group with special interests.

The rapid growth of such groups and lobbying forces in Washington is astounding. In 1975, there were 175 registered lobbying firms there, and ten years later, 2500 became them. by 2009, the number of registered lobbyists increased to 13700, and they spend 3,5 a billion dollars annually. The devastating effects of such activities on US government policy can be traced to a wide variety of areas, starting with tax laws. In principle, all taxes reduce the ability of markets to allocate resources efficiently. But the most effective types of taxes are those that are simple, uniform and predictable, as they allow businesses to plan their activities and invest their capital. But the American tax code is the complete opposite of simplicity, uniformity and predictability. The nominal corporate tax rate in the United States is higher than in most other developed countries. But in reality, only a few American companies pay taxes at such a rate, because corporate business has negotiated a lot of benefits, exemptions and privileges. Often, these privileges take the form of loopholes that allow profit to be brought offshore and into various arbitration schemes.

Some political analysts argue that all this money and lobbyist activities have not led to noticeable changes in policy in accordance with the wishes of the lobby. A smaller number of political analysts say that the huge amounts spent on election campaigns do not have a noticeable effect on the election results. Such arguments seem implausible from the outset, taking into account the amounts that are allegedly “wasted”. Their authors ignore the fact that business circles and lobbyists often seek not to develop new policies and rules, but to distort existing laws with regulatory piracy methods at the bureaucratic-administrative level, which does not fall within the line of sight of politicians.

The US legislative process has always been much more fragmented than in countries with a parliamentary system and disciplined parties. Confusion with congressional committees, in which powers often coincide and overlap, often leads to conflicts and duplication. So, in the national law on affordable housing from 1990, there are three different proposals on the essence of the problem that this law is intended to solve. There are many authorized ways to implement a clean air law. Congress wants the federal government to procure goods and services cheaply and efficiently, and no less a subject, it introduces an extremely cumbersome set of rules for all government procurement agencies, known as the “Procurement Rules for Federal Needs”. Unlike procurement in the private sector, government procurement should be carried out in accordance with a strict procedure, and the right of appeal almost always applies to them. In many cases, individual congressmen directly intervene in this work, seeking to ensure that purchases are made to their voters. This is especially true of the large and expensive purchases of the Pentagon, which actually become employment programs. And distribute emerging jobs to those members of the Congress who are more lucky.

When a congress empowers someone with complex and often contradictory powers, government departments are largely deprived of the opportunity to make independent judgments and make sensible decisions based on common sense. Such a disruption of administrative autonomy creates a downward spiral. Facing the inefficiency of the bureaucracy, Congress and society are beginning to condemn "wastefulness, deception and abuse" of power and are trying to solve this problem by introducing even more detailed restrictive rules, which ultimately leads to higher costs and lower quality.

Examples of such a downward spiral and destructive interference by the congress can be cited almost indefinitely. But some of them are especially noticeable and obvious. Thus, the law on affordable health care, which the Obama administration pushed through Congress in 2010, has become a monstrous mess in the legislature as a result of numerous concessions and side payments to groups with special interests - from doctors to insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. In other cases, such groups seek to block laws that harm their interests. The simplest and most effective response to the 2008-2009 financial crisis and to unpopular assistance to large banks at the expense of taxpayers could be a law firmly restricting financial institutions in size or significantly increasing the requirements for the amount of reserves, which essentially gives the same Effect. If there were a limit on the size, banks going to a foolish risk would go bankrupt without causing a crisis in the whole system, and the government would not have to rescue them. Like the Law of Glass-Stigoll of the Depression, such a law could be written on just a few pages.

But at the congressional hearings on financial regulation, this possibility was not even considered. Instead, the Wall Street Reform and the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act were born. These measures, though better than the complete absence of regulation, are written on hundreds of pages of laws, and numerous detailed rules are attached to them (many of which have not yet been written). All this leads to huge costs of banks and, accordingly, consumers. Instead of simply designating the size limit of a bank, the law created the Federal Council for the Supervision of Stability, which was assigned a gigantic (and probably impossible) task to assess and manage institutions that create systemic risks. In the end, this will in no way solve the problem of banks that are too big to go bankrupt. We may not see evidence of a link between bank campaign donations and the voting of individual congressmen. But it is simply impossible to believe that the legions of lobbyists in the banking industry did not have any influence on the final version of the Dodd-Frank law and on how its provisions are interpreted in various norms and rules.

For ordinary Americans, the influence of business and their congressional money is a powerful repugnance. The perception that the democratic process is perverted or stolen, exists not only at both ends of the political spectrum. Both the Republicans from the tea party on the right flank and the liberal democrats on the left consider that special interest groups whose views they do not like have an undue political influence in trying to make a profit by any means. It turns out that both are right. As a result, the confidence in the congress fell to a historic low, and now the level of support is measured in single digits.

There are many historical and sociological analyzes in support of such views. The late Mankur Olson (Mancur Olson) emphasized the malignant consequences of actions of groups with common interests for economic growth, and ultimately for democracy in his book The Rise and Decline of Nations, published in 1982 year. Considering, in particular, the long-term recession in Britain throughout the 20 century, he argued that democracies in a peaceful and stable time tend to create all new special interest groups that instead of doing economic activities in order to create material benefits they use political a system for extracting benefits and privileges for yourself. All these privileges and privileges in the aggregate are unproductive and costly to society, but the problems of collective action prevent victims from organizing and competing with, say, the banking industry or with corn producers, who unite their efforts to defend their interests much faster. As a result, society becomes more passive, and only a powerful shock, such as war or revolution, can stop this process.

On the other hand, although this analysis seems plausible and reliable, there is a much more positive understanding of the benefits of civil society and voluntary organizations for the health of democracy. It is well known to say that Americans are very predisposed to creating private societies and organizations that are the “school of democracy”, because they instil in people the skills of uniting for public purposes. People themselves are weak; and only by uniting for a common purpose can they, among other things, resist the power of tyranny. This tradition was promoted at the end of the 20 century by such a scientist as Robert Putnam, who claims that this very predisposition to self-organization (“social capital”) is useful for democracy, but at the end of the 20 century it was in danger.

President James Madison was also quite sympathetic to groups with common interests. Of course, he remembered the harmful potential of the so-called “factions”, but this did not worry him very much, because there were too many such groups in America that one of them began to dominate all. As Professor Theodore Lowi (Theodore Lowi) notes, the “pluralistic” political theorists of the mid-10th century agreed with Madison, speaking out against critics such as C. Wright Mills. A wide variety of groups with special interests interact, generating public interests - how competition in the free market creates public benefit through people who pursue their narrow interests. Further, it is impossible to justify the state governing this process, since there are no sufficient grounds that put the “public good” above the narrow interests of certain groups. The Supreme Court, in its decision on Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United, essentially approved a favorable interpretation of what Lowy calls “common interest groups” liberalism.

Alas, “groups with common interests” and “private organizations” are just two names of the same essentially phenomenon. So how do we combine these diametrically opposed points of view, the first of which is that groups with common interests corrupt democracy, and the second is that they are necessary for the health of democracy?

The most obvious way is to try to distinguish a “good” organization of civil society from a “bad” group with common interests. First, if you use the terminology of the late Albert Otto Hirschman (Albert Otto Hirschmann), driven by passion, and the second interests. The first may be a non-profit organization advocating the construction of housing for the poor, or a lobbyist organization defending public interests by protecting the coastal environment. And the group with common interests is a lobbyist organization defending the interests of, say, sugar producers or large banks, and its sole purpose is to ensure maximum profits for those companies on whose side it stands. In addition, Putnam tried to distinguish between small associations with the active participation of their members and “affiliates”, in which the main thing is the payment of membership dues.

Unfortunately, both of these distinctions do not stand up to scrutiny. The announcement of the organization that it acts in the public interest does not mean that it is so. For example, a medical organization that wants more money (such as AIDS) to fight a certain disease can actually distort public priorities, taking away the money that is needed to fight the same deadly, but even more common disease. And she will achieve this only because she is better able to influence public opinion. On the other hand, the presence of self-serving goals of a group with common interests does not mean at all that its statements and demands are illegal and unreasonable, that by definition it cannot advocate for the public good, or that it does not have the right to be represented in the political system. If a poorly thought-out norm or directive causes serious damage to some industry and its employees, this industry has the right to file a complaint with Congress. Whether someone likes it or not, lobbyists are often an important source of information about the consequences of certain state actions. In long battles between environmental organizations and corporations, environmentalists seeking to defend the public interest are not always right with respect to the trade-offs between sustainable development with regard to future needs, profits, and jobs. This clearly demonstrated the case of dredging in the harbor of Auckland.

The main argument against numerous groups with common interests is associated with a distorted view. Political analyst Elmer Eric Schattschneider (Elmer Eric Schattschneider), in his famous book The Semisovereign People, published in 1960, argued that the real practice of democracy in America has nothing to do with its popular image as a state "of the people for people and the name of the people. " Political results rarely correspond to popular preferences due to the very low level of participation of the people and their political consciousness. And the real decisions are made by a much smaller group of organized people with common interests. A similar argument lies in the work of Olson, since he notes that not all groups are equally capable of organizing themselves for collective action. Therefore, those groups with common interests that seek the attention of the congress do not always represent the entire American people. Rather, they represent the most organized and most affluent (which is often the same) part of American society. Such bias is not accidental, and it almost invariably contradicts the interests of poorly organized masses, who are often poor, poorly educated and are marginalized.

Political analyst Morris Fiorina (Morris Fiorina) also showed that the American "political class" is much more polarized than the American people. Most Americans have moderate or compromise positions on many controversial issues, from abortion and the budget deficit to prayer in schools and same-sex marriage. And party activists are invariably more ideologized and more often take extreme positions, both on the left and on the right flank. But the majority, standing on the position of centrism, defends its opinion without much passion and enthusiasm; he has difficulty with collective action, and it is mostly not organized.

Yes, indeed, non-representative groups with common interests are a product of corporate America and the right-wing forces. The most influential organizations in democratic countries are trade unions, environmental organizations, women's organizations, societies for the protection of the rights of gays, the elderly, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples and virtually all other sectors of society. One of the reasons why the American public sector is so difficult to reform is the resistance of the trade unions in this sector. The theory of pluralism says that the accumulation of all these groups, competing with each other, is a democratic public interest. But due to the fact that narrow interests are represented excessively, this cluster often deprives representative democracy of the opportunity to express genuinely public interests.

There is another problem for groups with common interests and a pluralistic point of view, regarding public interest only as a combination of separate private interests. Such a connection undermines the possibility of discussion and ignores the ways in which individual preferences are shaped by dialogue and communication. In classical Athenian democracy and at meetings in the New England city halls that Tocqueville glorifies, citizens speak directly to each other. It is easy to idealize a small-scale democracy and minimize the real differences that exist in large societies. But any organizer or group for a thematic survey will tell you that people’s point of view on hot topics can change in thirty minutes of discussion with people of other views, if they are given more information and establish the rules of politeness and correctness. Few of the fighters for certain narrowly targeted goals will argue that his work is more important than all other good and important matters if he is told directly about other interests and needs. Thus, one of the problems of a pluralistic theory is in the initial premise that interests are constant, and that legislators are only meant to be a driving belt for them, and not to defend their own views, which can be formed in the process of discussion with other politicians. and with society.

This is not just rhetoric. Many very precisely note that today no one in the American Congress is already holding any discussions. The “debate” in the congress boils down to a series of theses intended not for colleagues, but for an audience of activists who will gladly punish a congressman who deviates from their agenda and goals as a result of discussions and the acquisition of additional information and knowledge. And this leads to bureaucratic powers, which are developed by groups with common interests, and which restrict the independence of officials.

Moreover, in well-functioning public administration systems, discussions often take place more in the bureaucracy rather than in the legislature. Officials do not just talk to each other; This is a complex sequence of consultations between government officials and companies that do not involve actors, service providers, public organizations, the media, and other sources of knowledge about public interests and opinions. Congress wisely authorized mandatory consultations in its landmark 1946 law on administrative decision-making, which requires regulatory authorities to publish proposed changes to the rules and invite people to speak on them. But these deliberative procedures were very bureaucratic, and turned into an empty formality; and decisions are now made not on the basis of real consultations and discussions, but as a result of political confrontation between well-organized groups with common interests.

The transfer of administrative functions to justice and the influence of interest groups on congress is an example of political decline in American politics. These phenomena are deeply rooted in the political culture of America, as well as in fairly new political realities, such as the extreme polarization of the two main parties. One of the sources of decline was intellectual inertia. Other democratic countries do not always share the idea that lawyers and lawsuits should be an integral part of government, but this practice is so ingrained in the United States that no one simply sees any other options. Strictly speaking, this is not an ideological question, but a political tradition, with which both the left and the right agree. Similarly, although many are outraged by the disproportionate influence of groups with common interests in Congress, the elite (starting with the Supreme Court) do not even see this problem.

The underlying causes of political decline, such as intellectual inertia and the influence of elite groups, are characteristic of democracies in general. In fact, there are problems that all states face, both democratic and not. The problem of excessive participation of justice and special interest groups in government also exists in other developed democracies. But the degree of impact of groups with common interests very much depends on the specific institution. There is a big difference in how democracies build the structure of incentives and incentives for politicians and their organizations, which makes them more or less susceptible to the influence of such forces. The United States, as the world's first and most developed liberal democracy, is suffering today from the problem of political decline in a much more acute form than other political systems of democracy. The traditional distrust of the state, which has always been characteristic of American politics, has led to an imbalance of state power, which weakens the chances for the necessary collective action. And this situation leads the country to the vetocracy.

By vetocracy, I mean a process in which the American system of checks and balances makes it very difficult to make collective decisions based on the electoral majority. To a certain extent, any system that duplicates power on many levels and gives federal agencies, state bodies and local governments management authority in broad areas of public policy risks creating a situation where different components of state power interfere with each other, blocking each other’s activities. But under the conditions of political polarization, when the leading parties enjoy approximately equal popularity (or equally unpopular) among voters, the tension increases many times over. That is the situation we are in today. The cessation of government activity and the crisis that arose in October 2013 due to the debt ceiling is an example of how a minority position (tea party movement in the Republican Party) can deprive all governments of the ability to function. It is for this reason that the American political system of the beginning of the 21 of the 20th century was unable, among other things, to solve its colossal budgetary problems.

Polarization happens. She has been in American politics before. Once she became the cause of civil war. A good political system mitigates such polarization and promotes the adoption of such measures and decisions that are in the interests of the majority of the population. But when polarization comes into collision with Madison's system of checks and balances, the result is extremely destructive. The reason is that there are so many forces that can veto a solution that can fix the problem.

A large number of such veto holders become obvious if you look at another centuries-old democracy, such as the United Kingdom. The so-called Westminster system, which emerged after the Glorious Revolution, is one of the most decisive systems in the world of democracy, because in its pure form it generates far fewer players with veto power. Britain is a democracy because its citizens have one very important formal opportunity to influence state power: they periodically elect a parliament. (There is another important factor - the British tradition of free media, which are not part of the official political system.) But in all other respects such a system concentrates power, but does not spread it. This system creates a state power and government with much more extensive powers than in the United States.

Such a determination of the system can be clearly seen in the process of formation, approval and execution of the budget. In Britain, the national budget is not Parliament, but Whitehall, where the government bureaucracy sits, where professional civil servants from the Treasury Department act in accordance with the instructions of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. Then the Chancellor of the Treasury (which corresponds to the position of the Secretary of the Treasury in the United States) submits the budget to the House of Commons, which decides on its approval (or rejection) by voting. This usually occurs within one to two weeks after its publication by the government.

In the US, the process is completely different. According to the constitution of the country, the main budget powers are granted to Congress. The president proposes a draft budget, but this is only a proposal and a wish, and it has little resemblance to what appears in the end. The Administrative and Budgetary Administration has no formal authority to approve the budget, and is essentially a lobbying organization that supports the priorities of the president. The budget passes through a whole chain of committees, and this process takes several months. As a result, ratification in two chambers is the product of numerous transactions with their individual members, which are concluded with them for the sake of getting support (this process is further complicated by the difference between allocations and approvals). And since party discipline in the US is weak, the leadership of the congress cannot force its members to support their preferences, even if these members are from the same party as him. It is clear that the development and approval of the budget in the United States is an extremely decentralized process, in which there is no strategy in contrast to Britain.

The openness of the budget process in the United States and the lack of time limits give lobbyists and special interest groups plenty of opportunities to exert their influence. In most parliamentary systems in Europe, a group with common interests does not make sense to influence individual members of parliament, because the rules of party discipline do not allow or almost do not allow them to influence leadership positions. Unlike in Europe, in the American system, the position of chairman of an influential committee gives him enormous authority to make changes to legislation, and therefore he becomes the object of powerful lobbying.

The budget process is not the only aspect of the activities of the American state that is seriously different from other democratic countries in terms of the possibility of imposing a veto. In parliamentary systems, a significant part of legislation is developed by the executive branch, where many technocrats from among the permanent civil servants work. Ministries report to parliament, and ultimately to voters, through their heads of ministers. Such a hierarchical system has a strategic vision and creates more coherent and coherent laws.

But it is completely alien to the political culture of America, where Congress jealously protects its right to legislative activity, and special-interest groups diligently improve their skills to bribe it. The lack of consistency and internal consistency in the legislative bodies in turn generates a huge, constantly expanding and often unaccountable state apparatus. The regulatory powers in the financial sector, for example, are divided between the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Ministry of Finance, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Bank Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Administration of Credit Unions, the Commodity Exchange Commission, the Savings Institutions Directorate Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Federal Reserve Bank of the City of New York, and state prosecutors who have expanded their Zorn powers over the banking sector. Control over federal departments is carried out by various congressional committees, whose members do not want to part with their power and give it to a more coherent and united regulatory body. At the end of 1990, this system was easily persuaded to reduce government regulation of the credit system of financial markets, but it was much more difficult to introduce measures of state regulation after the crisis.

The American political system is gradually declining, because its traditional mechanism of mutual restriction of power has increased and become much more inert. During times of acute political polarization, this decentralized system is less and less able to represent the interests of the majority, but it overrepresents the views of groups with common interests and activist organizations, which even in their totality do not constitute an independent American people.

The United States of America fell into a trap of destructive equilibrium. Since Americans have long distrusted the state, they usually don’t want to delegate power to him. Instead, we see how the congress sets up complex rules that curtail government autonomy and make the decision-making process slow and costly. Therefore, the government acts ineffectively, thereby confirming the initial mistrust of people towards themselves and towards the state. Under such circumstances, the majority of Americans do not want to raise taxes, fearing that the state will simply squander them. And although resources are not the only, and often not the main source of state inefficiency, without them the authorities cannot even hope for proper functioning. Therefore, distrust of power turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Can we stop this decline trend? Probably, but on our way there are two separate obstacles related to the very phenomenon of decline.

The first hurdle is a simple policy question. Many American politicians and political forces recognize that the system does not work very well, and yet they are interested in maintaining the status quo. None of the main parties have an incentive to cut off access to money for groups with special interests, and these groups fear a system in which influence cannot be bought with money. As in the 1880s, a coalition of reforms should now emerge that will unite groups that are not interested in the current system. But it’s very difficult to get collective action from these groups. This requires skillful and patient leadership with a clear program of action. And this is not and is not expected. And all this will not automatically appear. You may also need a major shock or series of shocks that will shake the system. In the end, it was precisely such upheavals that led to the formation of a progressive movement: the assassination of President Garfield, the need for America to become a world power, the entry into a world war and the crisis of the Great Depression.

The second obstacle is the problem of knowledge, which is related to ideas. The system of mutual restriction of the authorities, which attaches unlawful importance to groups with common interests and is unable to unite the interests of the majority, cannot be corrected by several simple reforms. For example, the presidential system faces the temptation to solve the deadlock problems of the legislature by creating new executive powers. Thereby, it generates as many problems as it solves. Under the conditions of political polarization, the abandonment of limits and the strengthening of party discipline may even make it difficult to find extensive legislative compromises. Using courts to implement administrative decisions is a highly inefficient option, but in the absence of a strong and cohesive bureaucracy there is no alternative to this. Many of these problems can be solved if the United States moves to a more unified parliamentary system of government, but such radical changes in the institutional structure of the country are simply unthinkable. Americans consider their constitution an almost sacred document. It is hardly possible to persuade them to reconsider its basic dogmas and principles, since this may seem to them a complete collapse of the system. So yes, we have a problem.
Author:
Originator:
http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2013/12/08/the-decay-of-american-political-institutions/
11 comments
Information
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must to register.

I have an account? Sign in

  1. makarov
    makarov 17 December 2013 07: 55 New
    +2
    Interesting review material, as well as the author’s own point of view. Laconic, it sounds like this: - In the United States, a process occurs when the political bureaucracy is EATING the political bureaucracy, the result will be visible ahead ...
  2. mirag2
    mirag2 17 December 2013 08: 01 New
    +1
    But what can I say! It’s not in vain that in the States they have oiled coffins! If we had this?
    And it’s not a matter of coffins; in America they are waiting for a crisis from the beginning of the 2000s.
    The crisis - the end of the "American way of life" - which they defended while still butting with Khrushchev in the Cold War.
    Now they clearly understand both their dependence on China (that is why they removed production from there), and their dependence on cheap energy (gas + oil) - therefore, a "shale" bubble is now inflated (and already quietly blown away), and a new oil bubble is being inflated.
    Cheney said that they have very little time to gain access to the remnants of energy resources.
    Therefore, the devil knows what is happening in Venezuela (amers were put up from there).
    And hydrogen energy ... This would only divert people's attention from the problem, because in order to extract energy from hydrogen, you need to spend more calories than you get.
    So it is with ethanol, in order to get it from bioresources, these resources need to be grown, again it comes out more expensive.
    While there is no alternative to gas.
    The United States receives 15% of the gas it needs from Canada, but this is all the gas that Canada can produce.
    And the fact that the United States is now producing hydrocarbons is a very purely political move, so that the dollar would be supported (to restore production at home), and other countries would export the hydrocarbon exporters (eat them while they are weakened).
    By the way, many American experts say that the amount of production is overstated.
    And in order to at least somehow make shale gas more profitable, the state is providing these companies plague support-listing a long time, starting with exploration ...
  3. Rurikovich
    Rurikovich 17 December 2013 08: 10 New
    +4
    For me personally, the United States is a parasite on the planet’s body at the moment. And he is characterized at least by the fact that he enforces the so-called democracy (that is, the power of the people) around the world, but the people themselves have the most archaic and backward electoral system, where it is not the people who elect the President ...
    1. alone
      alone 17 December 2013 19: 17 New
      0
      Quote: Rurikovich
      For me personally, the United States is a parasite on the planet’s body at the moment. And he is characterized at least by the fact that he enforces the so-called democracy (that is, the power of the people) around the world, but the people themselves have the most archaic and backward electoral system, where it is not the people who elect the President ...


      laughing Do you think that everywhere and everywhere presidents are elected by the people and only in America the president is not elected by the people? Yes, the opinion of the common people is only one place for them. Whoever needs it is chosen. And believe me, there’s no reason
  4. Sterlya
    Sterlya 17 December 2013 08: 31 New
    +2
    Yes, let at least all of America go under water. nobody will cry. on the contrary, it will soon be a worldwide holiday. such states are supposedly destroyed by Mr. Time himself.
    Any parasite lives, (of natural origin) parasitizes. But. lets live to whom it parasitizes. and even helps in something.
    Not the Americans. they parasitize. Yes, and seek to kill him on whom parasites. it doesn't happen that way. at least learn from real parasites
  5. demotivator
    demotivator 17 December 2013 09: 21 New
    +2
    Of course, things in America are exceptionally bad, well, there’s simply nowhere worse. But what is this for us? Is it better here? But we live in Russia. So let's look at how we are doing this year, so to speak, to summarize the year. In September 2013, Minister of Economic Development of Russia Alexei Ulyukaev admitted that Russia’s economic development practically does not exist, the country is in stagnation (zero economic development rate). The main reason for stagnation is the outflow of capital. Over a year, about 70 billion dollars are flowing out of Russia. As a result, the number of jobs is reduced, prices are rising, wages are not rising. Over the past 20 years, about 1 trillion has flowed offshore from Russia. dollars.
    According to the Minister of Economic Development Alexei Ulyukaev, the industry showed zero dynamics, investments are in the negative border. The growth rate of the economy is below the global average and will remain so in the short term. The country's leadership is preparing the people for “tightening their belts”: reducing the number of jobs, reducing salaries, rising prices. This is despite the fact that our minimum wage is about 10 times lower than in Europe. The quality of medical care, according to the head of the Accounts Chamber, Tatyana Golikova, will deteriorate sharply since January 2014 (although much worse) due to a change in the health financing system. According to the UN, Russia ranks first in the world in:
    - the size of the population decline;
    - the growth rate of the number of dollar billionaires;
    - the number of suicides of older people and children;
    - the number of abortions and abandoned children;
    - the death toll from alcohol and tobacco;
    - heroin consumption;
    - the number of air crashes (13 times more than the average - world level);
    - mental illness.
    The above facts show that the country is on the verge of an economic disaster. Well, what do we care about the upcoming American disaster? Here we would survive.
  6. Ivanovich47
    Ivanovich47 17 December 2013 09: 58 New
    +2
    Last week, the world media told the story of a first-grader of one of the American schools. It turns out that the kid kissed the hand of his classmate. Local authorities considered this to be "sexual harassment". And they forbade the kid to attend school. What absurdity will American Themis still reach?
  7. negeroi
    negeroi 17 December 2013 10: 07 New
    +1
    What a charming nonsense. Debriefing the hose with pressure, using the installation instructions for tower cranes. It is depressing in the USA that this whistle of falling from the moment of occurrence, and thin fyu, whistles melodies and symphonies today. In short nonsense and nonsense! The United States created one of the most effective political mechanisms in the history of mankind. It was this mechanism that led the United States to world domination. It was this mechanism that was originally designed as a mechanism for transition from crisis to crisis. And that is why crises are not afraid of it. Although there are no eternal mechanisms, this one will also break. In one, the author is right, often mechanisms fall apart at the peak of favorable conditions. conceived as a fire extinguishing system when counteracting many opponents. What doesn’t mean at all that the mechanism breaks down, why would it? (oh yes, the author popularly explained why byak kirdyk). The American political machine is perfectly tuned for many tasks that it successfully copes with, processes that replace obsolete should not be considered grave diggers of the system itself. The American political machine has repeatedly proved its viability in difficult conditions and crises. In short, don’t give a gop. I have no reason to love America, but I also believe that it itself is here it will bend, there are no reasons either.
  8. Grbear
    Grbear 17 December 2013 12: 17 New
    0
    Decline. But about what? Fouling with "shells" is an inevitable process. And the question is not in the thickness of the shells, but in the strength of the hull and the cleaning system. With this they are all right.

    And so, the article is interesting.
  9. Standard Oil
    Standard Oil 17 December 2013 12: 44 New
    0
    We must not forget that the United States was formed not as a single state, but as an alliance of 13 different states, or as they then called (states) against Great Britain, and at first the first time of its existence, the United States was a confederation, where shit between the states happened on almost any occasion. Hence, all these decisions give as little power as possible to the federal government, spreading rot on it for any reason, and creating a counterbalance to it in the form of a judicial system, both at the federal and local levels, until the civil war of 1861-1865 there, in general, the laws of the federal government were executed only in in accordance with the legislation of the state itself, and to hell with it, we will do our own thing. It is clear that in order to bring all this chaos to at least some semblance of order, the federal government had to fiddle and dodge, creating all kinds of committees and subcommittees, and to this day the moment the devil himself will break his leg in these wilds. But I must also say that the American system is surprisingly tenacious and over and over again shows the ability to change and adapt to both external and internal conditions. Therefore, I am against throwing ridicule at the Americans and "early funerals", and they have their own clowns and heroes, let's see what happens next, the Americans are clearly planning something ...
  10. chunga-changa
    chunga-changa 17 December 2013 12: 59 New
    +2
    We wish further success to the American bureaucrats and politicians in the destruction of the country. With all my heart with you!
  11. ZU-23
    ZU-23 17 December 2013 14: 41 New
    +1
    American political institutions are falling apart for the collapse and seizure of other countries, for which they fought for it and ran into it. The main thing is they don’t want to embark on the true path, continue to harm the world and themselves, continue to arm themselves, continue to propagate LGBT, a lot of problems and exclusivity does not allow reformatting.
  12. kelevra
    kelevra 18 December 2013 14: 18 New
    0
    What is surprising, the general decline of the American "regime" is going to decline! Did they really think that democracy, which by the way, does not really exist, will last longer than socialism, which had more sound and sober views on things, development paths and the potential for growth? ?! It was quite logical to look at National Socialism and Communism in order to understand that the one-polar world and all kinds of democracies will not exist forever, not a single country will have enough resources and strength to support all this for a very long time, as Hitler wanted ; 1000th Reich! America acts very irrationally and stupidly when it saw the reasons for the collapse of other "systems" in other countries and in what way they helped to destroy the USSR and try to create its own new "system", "system" of democracy on the same basis. Here is a blind belief in the exceptionalism and talent of Americans! Which is also very wrong and not true!