February 15, 2016

The Fundamental Flaw in the American Governmental System

I greatly admire the American political system. The way the Constitution structured government is brilliant in it's methods of addressing a major concern of the founding fathers. The Constitution is eloquent in its design. It still is, and will always be, important and necessary. But it does contain a design flaw.

The Constitution was constructed to protect the American people against tyranny. Tyranny can come in many forms but the founders appeared to have focused on two crucial forms - the tyranny of an elite rulership (a King, or a dictator) and the tyranny of a mob. Of course that the Revolution against the British Crown drove the thinking of the framers is obvious. Government was divided into three separate but equal branches - the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial branches. Each had their own mandate as to what their areas of responsibility were, and are. This was to ensure that too much power did not end up in the hands of one person, or one small group of people.

Later the Bill of Rights introduced a number of protections like the second amendment to ensure the people could protect themselves against the tyranny of a future Julius Caesar who might try to usurp power. The tenth amendment delegated any powers not specifically enumerated to the federal government to the states or the people. This was designed to prevent the slow encroachment of federal purview into every aspect of life.

But the other form of tyranny, mob rule, is a danger to a freedom too. In a representative republic, unlike a democracy, rights of minorities are less subject to the whims of the day. If for example there was a rampant culture of fear concerning Muslims today, in a democracy people could vote in some sort of referendum that being a Muslim is a capital crime and that it requires the death penalty (never mind that my example overlooks the notion of freedom of religion, the absurdity is merely to prove a point). In a representative republic, that simply could not come to pass. Two separate but equal branches of government would have to agree that the idea should become law. The third branch would arbitrate whether the law, once passed and then challenged, is actually Constitutional or not.

That all serves as a brake on mob rule and gut reactions to crises or issues of the day. Further, the Senate with it's longer election cycle, allows senators to be less beholden to the electorate than congressmen and therefore able to take a longer view on the implications for the country of each legislative vote. Again, that sober, second thought is a brake on the tyranny of mob rule. This is also true to an extent for the presidency with its inherent responsibility to sign legislation onto law.

The Constitution even protects itself from being rewritten by requiring such a high threshold for amendments that it ensures re-writes don't happen to it all of the time.

What the Constitution does to prevent radical and/or ill-considered changes at unwise speeds is brilliant. But I did mention a flaw, and it's become apparent to me that it is kind of a critical one.

What made it hard to change the system makes, it hard to change the system when bad decisions have become institutionalized. The welfare state. Obamacare. Public education. Common core. Byzantine tax code as a tool for social policy. Redundant government departments sucking up taxpayer money for repetitive and overlapping social programs. Ever-thickening red-tape that is grinding industry in America to a standstill. All of these have become ingrained in the system and are perpetuated by government after government.

Reversing those bad decisions that have snowballed from small problems into major ones is proving to be as difficult as getting them going was initially. In fact in some cases, even harder. The government is set up to minimize change.  When the bad ideas are part of the institution, they cannot just be wished away. Worse still, there are also institutionalized practices that are not even law -- crony capitalism, lobbyists, and government and big businesses being in bed together to stifle potential competitors and enrich the big companies and the politicians who support them. In the case of these unseen 'institutions' there are no public accountabilities. There is no policing them as it were.

Yet we are asking politicians to change these things, to fix these problems. Government is part of the problem. What we see among voters is a reaction to bloat. Conservatives view the solution to this as reducing the size of government. Liberals see the same problem but believe the solution is to grow the government to keep these large evil companies accountable. That they do not see that asking one thief to watch the other is a bad idea, is comical. But the conservative position is also flawed. Yes, government bureaucracies are too large and not accountable. But the bigger problem than their size is how they operate, and how they are also not held to account for their actions.

Is America stuck with bad systems that cannot be changed? No. Paradigm shifts are possible, but the longer this bloat remains, the more they require incremental momentum to make that happen. We've gone from having to move a house to having to move a mountain. Adding to that mountain no longer makes sense. We're moving ever closer to complete stagnation in the name of progress. It's time to chip away at the stone, not add more stone. A new intelligent mechanism is required for dealing with the size, scope and relationships of government - one that is beholden to the ideals of the Constitution and not the government itself. The details of that are important and it must be given a great deal of thought. Just like the framers of the Constitution did in their day.

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