10 Νοεμβρίου 2014

I) Too Important for Clever Titles - Scientific Study Says We Are an Oligarchy. The U.S.A. is now provably an oligarchy, we are a democracy in name only II) What’s that I hear? Francis Fukuyama back-pedalling frantically III) Fukuyama and the Decay of American Institutions IV) American Political Dysfunction by Francis Fukuyama.


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I
Too Important for Clever Titles
Scientific Study Says We Are an Oligarchy.
The U.S.A. is now provably an oligarchy, we are a democracy in name only

We like to assert that Daily Kos is a reality-based community. At the very least we surely do not deny science. A new study appearing at Princeton's website [Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens] may test these assumptions for some of us here. For others, it will be grim vindication of what we already know: the United States of America is no longer a democracy, but rather an oligarchy.
The anecdotes are plentiful, from modest gun control proposals that saw 90% public support, to unemployment compensation, to infrastructure spending, to women's rights; where a plurality exists even across party lines, the median public interest seems to hold no sway in policy making. Now science has proven this to be correct:
The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
Distilled down into simple terms: The U.S.A. is now provably an oligarchy, we are a democracy in name only. DINO, as in dinosaur... As in extinct.... Has the acronym ever been more pathetically poignant?

The authors of this study, which will appear in the Fall issue of of the academic journal Perspective on Politics, are Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University. The findings are shocking, but should surprise none. The progressive website Common Dreams (www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/14) today posted an article on the study and pulls this deeply disturbing nugget from the study.
...the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
Since we are not science deniers, we need to do our part to make this report gets the audience it deserves. None here should take comfort in an "I told you so moment," because we are all losers here. Despite the trappings and tradition of a representative democracy, the truth is those are just theatrics. At this point, even the echos of democracy are becoming faint. Spectacles like GOP presidential nominees making the pilgrimage to kiss the ring of King Adelson now happen with full knowledge, the vampires are out of the shadows and discover it's fun in the sun. While satirists rightly lampoon it, media practically celebrates it and the Supreme Court in practice has endorsed it as a victory for the 1st Amendment.
Now that we have science on our side, will we be able to go beyond online outrage? Will the Democratic Party have the courage to fight for the restoration of the public's will?
I'll close with an understated gem from page 24 of the study's published report:
Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
The bold is from me. The warning is from science.
Update Note:
In a previous diary [Government listens to lobbyists and wealthy more than average citizens finds Univ. of Conn. study] penned by HoundDog, which I missed, he revealed the date range for the data set for this study was 1981-2002. Did you catch that, the set of data does not include study beyond 2002, yet the conclusion even then is that we've become an oligarchy. Consider all that's then missing in the equation:
The Iraq War, drones, the 2008 criminally-caused economy crash, the rise of the Kochs, the most obstructive Congress in history, OWS beat down by government proven collusive with the banks, Citizen's United, McCutcheon, Wikipedia's leaks & Manning's torture (arguably), Edward Snowden revelations. Even without the rigors of research, it would be obvious to conclude that 2002 compared to today was practically a majoritarian paradise. It boggles the mind and fuels the urgency of the issue.
Πηγή: Daily Kos

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II
What’s that I hear? Francis Fukuyama back-pedalling frantically

A review of ‘Political Order and Political Decay’, by Francis Fukuyama. This excellent volume of comparative history and political science should be read by politicians and public alike

The end of The End of History. Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images

The problem with a futuristic thesis — particularly when summarised by a futuristic title — is that it is likely to be thrown back at you in the future. This is the problem that Francis Fukuyama has faced ever since he published his daring and now much derided book, The End of History and the Last Man, in 1992. In it, Fukuyama argued that history had been buried beneath the rubble of the former Berlin Wall and that the teleological process was now at an end: ‘What we may be witnessing… is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of government.’
To many, this theory was literally exploded when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Since then it has been undermined further by the financial crisis, the failures of the Arab Spring, the continual rise of Islamic extremism, the failures of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crisis in the eurozone and two wars in Eastern Europe (Georgia and Ukraine).
In his new book, the sequel to The Origins of Political Order, Fukuyama has refrained from prophecy and instead examines the structural causes of political order and decay since the French Revolution. Accordingly, he asks a number of questions, including: how did Germany become a highly efficient unitary state during the course of the 19th century and not only survive but prosper in the second half of the 20th/21st century? Why have Greece and southern Italy failed to achieve the same levels of political accountability and bureaucratic autonomy as Scandinavia and Japan? What has prevented Argentina, rich in resources and land, from developing along similar lines to the United States? And how has the US itself got to the stage where in many respects it is unable to function as an effective administrator and legislator?
As Fukuyama argued in volume one, political order arises through the triumvirate of the state, the rule of law and accountability. What Fukuyama goes on to demonstrate in this second volume is that democracy — the ultimate expression of accountability — requires the other two pillars to be in place before its inception, in order to succeed. Countries which set up democracies before they have functioning states, governed by the rule of law and administered through autonomous, meritocratic bureaucracies, frequently find that the institutions of the state are hijacked by politicians and corrupted as a result. This practice, which Fukuyama terms ‘clientelism’, is evident in sub-Saharan Africa, Greece, large swaths of South America, and the United States prior to the reform of the American civil service in the last part of the19th century.
Following in the footsteps of Max Weber, Fukuyama sees an autonomous, meritocratic bureaucracy as the prerequisite for effective statehood. Prussia developed a highly efficient civil service at the beginning of the 19th century, well before the establishment of democracy, and went on not only to lead the process of German unification but to become one of the great powers in the world. Greece, by contrast, achieved universal male suffrage in 1864 (preceding Britain by a generation) but had no autonomous system of administration. Greek politicians therefore used the developing offices of the state as sources of political patronage, and within a decade Greece had a civil service seven times the size of Britain’s. The growth of the public sector at the expense of efficient and, finally, solvent government continued over the course of the next century and a half until Greek debt reached 140 per cent as a proportion of GDP and those damned efficient Germans were called in to sort out the mess.
Fukuyama still believes that western liberal democracy is the surest guarantee of political order and prosperity. Unlike neoconservatives, however (for whom he was once a standard bearer), he does not attribute the spread of democracy to the universality of the idea. On the contrary, Fukuyama’s understanding of political development is distinctly indebted to Marx: ‘Democracy emerged in Europe in gradual stages over a 150-year period, as a result of struggles among the middle classes, working class, old oligarchy, and peasantry, all being shaped in turn by underlying changes in the economy and society.’
Specifically, Fukuyama attributes the advent of democracy to the rise of the bourgeoisie and their demand to participate in the political process. As the American political sociologist Barrington Moore bluntly put it, ‘no bourgeoisie, no democracy’. This is, of course, not always true. A number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa adopted democratic systems without a significant middle class. But the ability to consolidate a liberal democracy is certainly easier in states where a vibrant bourgeoisie exists and, as Fukuyama points out, the absence of one can explain why democracy has failed to take hold in other areas, such as the Middle East. The link between democracy and middle class development, therefore, seems a strong one and leads Fukuyama to make one of the few predictions in the book: namely, that the continual rise of a vast Chinese middle class will force the People’s Republic to develop a more open political system or risk a breakdown of political order.
This said, Fukuyama no longer believes that western liberal democracy is the paragon of political order it may have been in the past: ‘All political systems are liable to decay… [and] the fact that a system once was a successful and stable liberal democracy does not mean that it will remain one in perpetuity.’ In particular Fukuyama is thinking of the United States, and in the last part of the book he lays bare the ‘decay’ of the American state.
As a revolutionary foundation, the US has always placed a higher premium on the restraint of power rather than its exercise. This tendency, however, has led to impotence and inertia, as the ‘checks and balances’ — the courts and Congress — have gained power at the expense of the executive. The yearly farce over the budget, with billions being wiped off global markets, is a product of what Fukuyama calls America’s ‘vetocracy’. Added to this, America’s democratic institutions have been corrupted by the influence of the now vast lobbying sector. Having abolished clientelism at the beginning of the 20th century, the US now has ‘a system of legalised gift exchange, in which politicians respond to organised interest groups that are collectively unrepresentative of the public as a whole’.
Fukuyama writes about the degeneration of America’s political system with the passion and frustration of a prophet straining to be heard over a cacophony of partisanship and ideological dogma. It is to be hoped that he will make himself heard: this excellent volume of comparative history and political science should be read by politicians and public alike. At the very least, it proves that history is far from over.
Tim Bouverie - Πηγή: spectator

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III
Fukuyama and the Decay of American Institutions

For any European, it might take some time to grasp the importance of elections and appointments of judges in the U.S., especially to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the question of who fills the ranks of the supreme judicial instance in European democracies is quite important, it was never as highly politicized as it is in the U.S. The fuss surrounding certain court rulings (regardless of the level) frequently crossed the Atlantic and made the U.S. seem to be ruled through important court decisions rather than through legislative procedure.
According to Francis Fukuyama's recent essay "The Ties That Used to Bind: The Decay of American Political Institutions," this observation perfectly fits in the larger picture of the most important and imminent problems that haunt everyday American politics -- and, more importantly, its institutions. As Fukuyama puts it, one of the three most important problems is the fact that "judiciary and the legislature (including the roles played by the two major political parties) continue to play outsized roles in American government at the expense of Executive Branch bureaucracies." The predominance of courts in the everyday American decision-making process, regardless of the level -- local, state or federal -- clearly shows that the "regular" process of legislating through Congress and effectively implementing policies through the bureaucracy and executive branch (something Europe and most of the developed world would deem "regular") is somewhat dysfunctional.
Fukuyama finds the roots of this problem in a traditional American distrust of the government, which creates a self-propelling cycle: By estranging the enforcement from bureaucracy and handing it mainly to the judiciary, the system effectively ties up its own hands and, Fukuyama claims, becomes less accountable, and distrust grows. In comparison, "in a European parliamentary system, a new rule or regulation promulgated by a bureaucracy is subject to scrutiny and debate. ... In the United States, by contrast, policy is made piecemeal in a highly specialized and therefore non-transparent process by judges who are unelected and usually serve with lifetime tenure. In addition, if one party loses a legislative battle, it can continue the fight into the implementation stage through the courts." Fukuyama also blames exactly this mechanism for what happened in the case of the Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare").
This system's failure to functionally serve the citizens brings Fukuyama to two other causes of legislative and executive weakness and, as he puts it, institutional decay. The second is that "the accretion of interest group and lobbying influences has distorted democratic processes and eroded the ability of the government to operate effectively." Fukuyama tries to assert that although "exchange of favors" between two parties has clear biological and evolutionary roots, it is deeply damaging to American democracy's functionality, alienating it further from the common people. However, although the U.S. might have a somewhat softer stance toward lobbying than other countries, and although the leverage of a average member of Congress greatly surpasses that of the average MP, it is hard to accept his argument of a "corrupted system." Other countries see probably the same amount of lobbying, maybe even in a worse form. Parliamentary democracy, trying to reconcile different and often conflicting interests, might even be more prone to corruption. On the other hand, that means there is a certain "free market" for lobbying, bringing the ultimate decision closer to the interests of the society as a whole.
The last problem, according to Fukuyama, is that because of the "ideological polarization in a federal governance structure, the American system of checks and balances, originally designed to prevent the emergence of too strong an executive authority, has become a vetocracy." "Vetocracy" is something that is definitely the hardest yet the most attractive problem to solve. Many solutions that have served the purposes of smaller countries -- such as proportionate representation or parliamentary democracy with fewer checks and balances -- might not work well in a country as large (and as diverse) as the U.S. It seems that some evidence exists showing "good government is going to be more prevalent in polities with populations between 5 and 9 million than in much larger jurisdictions." One solution that comes across many readers' minds is subsidiarity: delegating as much authority as possible to the local and state level. If European countries can effectively wield taxation, providing health care, and many other responsibilities, why can't American states?
Another vital part of the solution of "vetocracy" is to try to reorient the policy debate around outcomes -- graspable, concrete outcomes that will engage common people in the shaping of the country's policy.
Luka Orešković - Πηγή: The Huffington Post

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IV
American Political Dysfunction
by Francis Fukuyama


During the summer’s controversies over the debt ceiling and U.S. credit downgrade, there was a lot of talk about the “dysfunctional” American political system. Obviously, a country that has to play a game of chicken with its reputation for full faith and credit isn’t working very well. But what exactly is the source of this dysfunction? If it is a systemic dysfunction, is there something about it that can be fixed?
One possible answer is that the problem doesn’t lie in the system, but in the underlying polarization of American society, which is divided over basic governing ideology and increasingly angry in its public discourse. There has been a huge literature on polarization and its sources, which is blamed on electoral districting, residential self-segregation, an ideologically compartmentalized media and the like.
To the extent that the problem resides in the underlying society, there’s not much that can be done in terms of institutional tinkering to make the system more functional. The problem is one of political culture, in this case the absence of a dominant culture.
However, there’s plenty of evidence from polling data and other sources that Americans are actually not nearly as divided as the common perception would have it. The political scientist Morris Fiorina and his collaborators have gone so far as to call the idea of polarization a myth; on many issues from the environment to stem cells to the budget one can find solid majorities in favor of various forms of pragmatic compromise. If politicians were responding to median voters as they are supposed to, we shouldn’t have a problem.
A well-designed democratic political system should mitigate underlying social disagreement and allow the society to come to a consensus on important issues. There is plenty of evidence, however, that the U.S. political system does exactly the opposite: It actually magnifies and exacerbates underlying conflicts, and it makes consensual decision-making more difficult.
The reasons are deeply embedded in the U.S. Constitution. Americans rightly take pride in their system of checks and balances, which were deliberately tailored to limit the power of centralized government. Despite the appearance of a strong executive implicit in a presidential system, there are very few issues on which an American President can act on his own authority. The President must share power with two houses of Congress, the judiciary and a multi-tiered structure of state and local government. Indeed, the American political system is at the far end of the scale in terms of the number of “veto players” it empowers—that is, actors who can independently block or modify government action. This is nowhere more true than in the making of the Federal budget.
This feature is evident when one compares the American system to other types of democratic polities that tend to concentrate power to a greater extent. A British Westminster system strips out a huge number of veto players: In the classic system (which no longer exists anywhere in a pure form), the power of the executive branch is derived from legislative majorities, which eliminates the possibility of deadlock between the branches of government. A 50 percent-plus-one majority in the House of Commons is sufficient to make binding law. The upper house cannot veto legislation; there is no devolution of power to local governments; and no judicial review. The plurality electoral system combined with strong party discipline ensure that British Prime Ministers are backed by strong legislative majorities. (The current coalition government, resulting from an election where no party won a parliamentary majority on its own, is a highly unusual outcome in the British system.)
As a result of this concentration of power, British governments are able to formulate budgets and make the difficult tradeoffs between spending and taxes with a view to the final outcome. The budget is announced by the government at the beginning of the yearly cycle and then passed by Parliament, with little modification, in a week or two. Whether one likes it or not, the current Cameron government’s austerity budget was the product of such an abbreviated procedure.
Compare this to the American system. The President may announce a budget at the beginning of the fiscal cycle, but this is more an aspirational document than a political reality. The U.S. Constitution firmly locates spending authority in Congress, and indeed all 535 members of Congress are potential veto players with an opportunity to stick their favored projects or tax exemptions into the final outcome. With the decline in the power of the congressional committees overseeing the budget, there is no strong central direction to the process. The budget that eventually emerges, months after the announcement of the President’s budget plan, is the product of horse trading among individual legislators, who always find it easier to achieve consensus by exchanging spending increases for tax cuts. Hence the permanent bias towards deficits.
Back in 1982, the late economist Mancur Olson published a book entitled The Rise and Decline of Nations, in which he argued that during prolonged periods of peace and prosperity, democratic countries tend to accumulate entrenched interest groups that collect rents from the government and lead to the gradual ossification of political systems.2 At the time he was thinking about Britain, which was then only beginning its Thatcherite revolution, but his analysis has subsequently been applied to Japan, a variety of other European countries and, of course, the United States.3 In the context of America’s current fiscal gridlock, Olson’s name and framework are increasingly invoked to explain what is wrong with the political system.
To Olson’s model, I would add the following amendment that comes out of my recent volume The Origins of Political Order. Human beings have a natural mode of sociability, which is to favor friends and family. In the absence of strong incentives to behave differently—meaning, for example, something like the existential pressures of war or national crisis—there is a tendency for societies to revert increasingly to patrimonial forms of politics. Existing elites use their access to the system to entrench themselves and will continue to get more powerful with the passage of time, unless the state can get its act together and explicitly block them.
All democratic counties tend to accumulate interest groups and entrenched elites, but in the United States they interact with the system of checks and balances in a particularly destructive way. The decentralized nature of the legislative process hands entire parts of the Federal budget to particular lobbies. Policies that are both sensible and in the long run necessary are simply off the table. Hence we cannot discuss ending or reducing the deductibility of mortgage interest due to opposition from the real estate industry; we can’t move away from the current fee-for-service model in health care because of the doctors’ lobby. Above all, the financial sector represents the most concentrated source of wealth in the United States today; despite having played a major role in the recent financial crisis, the large banks have emerged politically powerful and able to block or undermine efforts to regulate them more strongly.

So how do we get out of this situation? Olson is not terribly optimistic on this point. He suggests that it often takes war or revolution to clear away the accumulation of interest groups. Bombing Germany and Japan to smithereens in World War II allowed them to get a fresh start after 1945. He also suggests that opening up a country to trade competition may have a similar effect. But what if the country is already open, as is the United States?
Seeking major constitutional change to reduce the number of veto players in the American system is also off the table. The broad system of checks and balances is very deeply part of American political culture and for most of the nation’s history has served it well. We are not going to move to anything like a Westminster system; even non-Constitutional changes like adopting an Australian-style electoral system (the alternative vote) will be highly controversial.
What does seem to be happening, however, is the emulation of certain features of the Westminster system in the context of the existing American one. The super-committee arrangement that came out of the summer’s debt limit fight is a harbinger of a future way forward.
Basically, we are never going to get to a fiscally sustainable budget unless we take its formulation out of the hands of 535 individual legislators and delegate it to a much smaller group, one hopefully influenced heavily by more technocratic types who are not captured by particular interest groups. As in the British system, this group could make painful tradeoffs and then refer the result back to the whole Congress, which would bind itself to pass the legislation as an up-or-down package.
There are already a number of precedents for this, such as the fast-track authority that was once used to pass free trade pacts, or the base-closing commission that facilitated military downsizing. In both cases, there was general recognition that the concentrated interests over-represented in Congress would block any meaningful action if these measures were subject to the normal legislative process. Under this type of delegated authority, legislation was formulated by experts sensitive but not beholden to interest groups—the U.S. Trade Representative in the first case, a bipartisan commission in the latter.
The super-committee arrangement agreed to by Congress over the summer isn’t actually this kind of body. It consists of serving members of Congress, including some who are ideologically allergic to compromise. There is no guarantee that they will come to an agreement on a budget, even under the pressure of automatic budget cuts. Without stronger expert representation, it is entirely possible that the smaller panel will simply replicate the divisions of the existing legislature. Congress, moreover, can’t bind itself in perpetuity and is perfectly capable of undoing the existing pact.
Delegating authority to technocrats has never gone down well in American politics, which from the days of Andrew Jackson has been highly suspicious of experts and insistent on an ever-increasing domain of public participation in decision-making. Domains of existing delegated authority like the Federal Reserve have been under continuous populist attack.
Nonetheless, some version of the super-committee idea represents the only way out of the current crisis. It is not clear that individual members of Congress would be willing to give up their tremendous powers to influence the budget for the sake of local constituents. But the growing sense of national crisis has already changed the terms of the debate substantially.
There has been a great deal of comparison recently between the seemingly efficient Chinese authoritarian decision-making system and the paralysis that seems to characterize democratic political systems from Japan to Europe to the United States. The Chinese system, however, embeds plenty of hidden problems that will make it in the long run unsustainable. It is, moreover, absurd to think that it would constitute a realistic model for any modern democracy.
What is less well recognized is that there is a huge degree of institutional variation among liberal democracies. While they have all been moving in a more populist direction in recent years, the looming requirement of re-writing basic social contracts underlying contemporary welfare states will force change. Whether Americans can forthrightly confront the limitations of their own system will be an important test of the resilience of American life.
Francis Fukuyama - Πηγή: The American Interest

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