Monday, October 14, 2013

America the ungovernable

Unless you've been firmly wedged under a rock for the past few weeks, you know the US government is shut down and (yet again) hurtling toward (self-inflicted) financial catastrophe. This is, to say the least, a bit embarrassing to explain as an American living abroad, and few others seem to be able to explain this completely avoidable kerfuffle, arriving as it does when the United States is showing the green shoots of recovery.
"The United States was the one bright spot in the world recovery," says OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria. "It was leading the recovery! Leading the creation of jobs! This unfortunate situation with the budget and debt happens at the moment it was looking good."

... "The U.S. is growing at 2-3 percent while Europe is only starting to rise from negative growth, and Japan is struggling to get prices up to 2 percent inflation. The U.S. is growing with very low inflation, and you are creating jobs. Perhaps you’d like it to be at a brisker speed, but you’ve created more than 7 million jobs in the last few years. These are just facts. You look even better compared to Europe, but even by themselves these numbers are objectively positive."
How is it the government in the country with the world's biggest economy decides to smash itself in the face with a frying pan just when those same cheeks were regaining some of their rosy hue? Just look at the players involved -- one half of the ruling duopoly can't seem to keep from tripping over its own shoelaces while the other is unified in its opposition to the president but otherwise at war with itself. About the only thing they agree on is that they desperately need campaign donations or else Bad Things might happen.

Who to turn to for a dose of common sense in this time of legislative masochism? None other than the free marketeer's answer to Playboy -- The Economist!
What can be done? In the short term, House Republicans need to get their priorities straight. They should pass a clean budget resolution without trying to refight old battles over Obamacare. They should also vote to raise the debt ceiling (or better yet, abolish it). If Obamacare really does turn out to be a flop and Republicans win the presidency and the Senate in 2016, they can repeal it through the normal legislative process.
In the longer term, America needs to tackle polarisation. The problem is especially acute in the House, because many states let politicians draw their own electoral maps. Unsurprisingly, they tend to draw ultra-safe districts for themselves. This means that a typical congressman has no fear of losing a general election but is terrified of a primary challenge. Many therefore pander to extremists on their own side rather than forging sensible centrist deals with the other. This is no way to run a country. Electoral reforms, such as letting independent commissions draw district boundaries, would not suddenly make America governable, but they would help. It is time for less cliff-hanging, and more common sense.

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