Saturday, June 28, 2014

Institutional Decay

Matt Yglesias reminds us that legislating through the courts is not the best way to govern in a democracy:
The conventional term for the paralysis of the legislative branch is gridlock. But while it's true that it's exceptionally difficult for a bill to become a law — the president can veto it, 41 Senators can filibuster it, a bare majority of the majority caucus in the House can prevent it from coming to the floor, and that's leaving aside all manner of committees and political delays — it's not the case that policy stops changing. The judicial branch, through its power of statutory interpretation, is constantly changing the lived-experience of American public policy even if the legislative text stays constant. 
And yet the judicial branch is not properly equipped to make broad evaluations of the policy merits of different approaches.
The idea of institutional drift and decay is not a new one, but it's super-important and deserves increased visibility as a cost associated with congressional dysfunction. Throughout the US' history, we've had periods of drift but also periods of renewal. Lately we've had mostly drift and not a lot of renewal.

Francis Fukuyama's spectacular essay The Decay of American Political institutions (somehow can't find an ungated version), is probably the best analysis on the topic, but Steven Teles' Kludgeocracy idea is also related and very important.

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