Is our economy too complicated for our 18th century political system?

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Can a democratic system function effectively in an advanced economy in our modern, globalized world? A system based on, say, a couple of 18e documents of the century updated occasionally by nine people in black robes and a two-chamber legislature that must spend at least as much time fundraising to get re-elected? I think so, possibly, but not everyone agrees.

This is the conversation I have continually found myself in over three weeks of conversations at universities, public forums, bookstores, think tanks, and businesses. People are skeptical, and they are right to be.

Would Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and other American architects of our own system necessarily design the exact same system that arose out of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights if they faced the realities of ‘today ? At a time when the main challenges facing the United States include growing inequality in income distribution; a collapse of critical infrastructure; and the rise of other world powers who will compete for resources, influence and power, would the system (just for example) insist that elections be held every two years at the national level, thus ensuring an almost permanent political policy?

(If the obvious answer escapes you, consider an alternate question: Would these statesmen have left slavery in place during the administration of an African-American president? Paul Ryan, who said last summer that a default on the US national debt maybe even a good thing.)

So you must be wondering what the system would look like under such circumstances? The conversation on this point was particularly poignant at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism last night, where I shared a scene with Thomas Edsall, author of Age of austerity: How scarcity will remake American politics.

Edsall, like me a longtime journalist who could no longer watch the sinking of our national dialogue, makes a sweeping proposition: the future will be an increasingly gruesome struggle between the rich and the poor in this country for natural resources. decrease.

In summary in that of Michiko Kakutani see again in the Time at the last moment, it means that a “brutal future looms before us”, with Republicans and Democrats “entangled in a fight to the death to protect the benefits and goods that flow to their respective bases” – a “political competition bullshit on dwindling resources. “

Here is, for once, someone darker than me – or at least than the eerie title of my book. Edsall, who spent decades as the leading political reporter for the Washington post, sees our economy’s failure to recover from the 2008 collapse as a symptom of our political dysfunction rather than simply exacerbated by it.

This is a nuanced difference – I tend to disagree as I see the adoption of theory or radical economic deregulation by Democrats in the late 1990s as the point. tipping point – the moment sanity passed and the American financial system – with all its global entanglements – invariably spun wildly on its own doomed course.

This fateful decision of the Clinton administration – the idea that they couldn’t fight Reaganomics, so they would join it – was not the result of a division in our politics; it was the result of a cynical tactical positioning of the Clinton team, eventually dubbed “triangulation”. It did wonders at the ballot box, but in the end, it also took the gatekeepers out of the economic gates.

To me, scarcity isn’t the main thing preventing the two or three behind-the-scenes deals that are needed to recalibrate US spending and agree on a “boost now, balance later” approach to our economic problems. The answers are there, just as the answers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been clear for years. It is a question of political will.

The real problem is the civil war raging within the GOP, whereby a weakened elite (willing to strike a deal) has lost control of its nativist and willfully ignorant right flank. Anything less than electoral failure will end this war, and despite early polls showing a run in November, I think failure is precisely what awaits the GOP in November. There is no teacher, after all, like failure.

Over the past few weeks, however, this question keeps coming up. Is the task of running the world’s largest economy and the world’s most powerful army just too complicated for our 18e-th century model?

In Mountain View, Calif., I gave a Google talk that involved a wired audience to reject the idea that anything can be too complex to solve. But here, too, skepticism about the human element – especially when he was based in Washington – prevailed. Why, one audience member asked me, would a logical foreign country continue to invest its money in US Treasuries – the “loans” that spend our deficit – given the conduct of our political class ?

That’s a great question and, like I said, in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, Brasilia, Moscow, Mumbai and Jakarta, financial specialists are working hard to try to create an alternative to US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. .

It may only then, when that alternative exists, that the decisive votes in the GOP civil war, and the broader battle for America’s future, will be cast. If so, those votes will be cast by people who don’t share the need to put America’s best interests first.

Again, this looks a lot like our current political elite.

The sad truth is that in a modern and complex world, citizens must hope for elected representatives who, if only rarely, will take a far-sighted approach to problems, even if this runs counter to popular opinion. The average person just doesn’t have time to consider the relative value of free trade agreements, talks that would demilitarize outer space, proposals to relax Fannie and Freddie, and countless other issues besides all of them. honest attempt to resolve requires special attention.

In theory, the job of our representatives in Congress in particular should be to take advantage of the enormous resources of the federal government to learn all there is to know about every issue before them and to vote that the facts compel them to vote. .

In fact, most of our representatives and senators lazily follow the advice of either their party leadership – calibrated almost entirely for electoral purposes – or rich special interests of one ilk or another – calibrated entirely for profit. of a business, a political cause or micro-segment of the population.

Solving problems like this, it seems to me, will require more than a well-meaning former community organizer, nine judges, and a congress of interested fundraisers. American voters will finally have to demand reforms not only of politics but of our system of government. For everything Edsall and I disagree on, we agree on this: our political system is broken and unable to repair itself.

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