« Existing Home Sales Rise 10.1% | Main | "Immigration, Wages, and Compositional Amenities" »

Monday, November 23, 2009

"America's Broken Politics"

Jeffrey Sachs says government is broken:

America's broken politics, by Jeff Sachs, Project Syndicate: ...The difficulties that Barack Obama is having in passing his basic program, whether in healthcare, climate change, or financial reform, are hard to understand at first glance. After all, he is personally popular, and his Democratic party holds commanding majorities in both houses of Congress. Yet his agenda is stalled and the country's ideological divisions grow deeper.
Among Democrats, Obama's approval rating in early November was 84%, compared with just 18% among Republicans. ... Only 18% of Democrats supported sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, while 57% of Republicans supported a troop buildup. ...
Part of the cause for these huge divergences ... is that America is an increasingly polarized society. Political divisions have widened between the rich and poor, among ethnic groups (non-Hispanic whites versus African Americans and Hispanics), across religious affiliations, between native-born and immigrants, and along other social fault lines. American politics has become venomous as the belief has grown, especially on the vocal far right, that government policy is a "zero-sum" struggle between different social groups and politics.
Moreover, the political process itself is broken. The Senate now operates on an informal rule that opponents will try to kill a legislative proposal through a "filibuster"... To overcome a filibuster, the proposal's supporters must muster 60 of 100 votes... This has proved impossible on controversial policies...
An equally deep crisis stems from the role of big money in politics. Backroom lobbying by powerful corporations now dominates policymaking... The biggest players, including Wall Street, the automobile companies, the healthcare industry, the armaments industry, and the real-estate sector, have done great damage to the US and world economy... Many observers regard the lobbying process as a kind of legalized corruption...
Finally, policy paralysis around the US federal budget may be playing the biggest role of all in America's incipient governance crisis. The US public is rabidly opposed to paying higher taxes, yet the trend level of taxation (at about 18% of national income) is not sufficient to pay for the core functions of government. ... Powerful resistance to higher taxes, coupled with a growing list of urgent unmet needs, has led to chronic under-performance by the US government and an increasingly dangerous level of ... government debt. ...
Obama so far seems unable to break this fiscal logjam. To win the 2008 election, he promised that he would not raise taxes on any household with income of less than $250,000 a year. That no-tax pledge, and the public attitudes that led Obama to make it, block reasonable policies. ... America, in fact, needs a value-added tax,... but Obama himself staunchly ruled out that kind of tax increase during his election campaign.
These paralyzing factors could intensify in the years ahead. ... A breakthrough will require a major change in direction. The US must leave Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby saving $150bn a year for other purposes and reducing the tensions caused by military occupation. The US will have to raise taxes in order to pay for new spending initiatives, especially in the areas of sustainable energy, climate change, education, and relief for the poor.
To avoid further polarization and paralysis of American politics, Obama must do more to ensure that Americans understand better the urgency of the changes... Only such changes – including lobbying reforms – can restore effective governance.

The opportunity cost of the spending on the war effort doesn't receive enough attention -- Democrats are still worried about the weak on defense label and that has allowed the right to dominate policy -- so it's nice to see the issue raised. But on another topic, I like the filibuster when George Bush is president (even though it wasn't enough to stop all of the right's damaging policies from being passed into law), but dislike it now (we did manage to get health care by the filibuster, but at what cost?). So, here's a question: Is it time for the filibuster to be reformed or eliminated entirely, or does it provide a useful check on the political process? I find myself hesitant to get rid of it, but I can't fully justify that position.

    Posted by on Monday, November 23, 2009 at 11:09 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (120)


    TrackBack URL for this entry:

    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "America's Broken Politics":


    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.