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Government isn't broken

October 7, 2013, at 9:03 PM
 

I have few qualms with Ezra Klein's 13 reasons why government is failing piece, but I think his main point needs to be modified. Government is failing, he writes. I would add that it is purposely failing. It is operating precisely as a plurality of political conservatives want it to. The government is executing policies designed to reduce confidence in itself. The shutdown is not a consequence of a broken system. It is a consequence of a system that incentivizes particular outcomes over majority ones, rules that empower political minorities, and of the political and social needs of the humans who inhabit it.

Of Klein's 13 reasons, I see three as being more important the others.

1. An unintended consequence of earmark reform was that House leaders no longer have any significant leverage over their members. There are few "chits" to exchange. And since the empowered minority sees itself as a reform movement within the Republican Party, solitary incentives work in the opposite way: They push against the requirements of leaders. Of course, the House could change the rules to give leaders more say over their members working lives, and maybe a re-empowered leadership might one day do that.

2. There is money out there for Republicans, and it doesn't come from businesses. It comes from libertarian billionaires and grassroots activists. Their priorities are different from the traditional GOP donors. Where the traditional business-oriented GOPers protest about tax policy and regulation, they assume that the federal government is functioning to efficiently transport their goods and reliably enforce laws, and is generally faithful to its financial commitments. Since GOP candidates can get money from other sources, the Chamber of Commerce's large grasstops operations compete for influence. If they share some priorities, like repealing ObamaCare, they cannot "key vote" something like a clean CR. It would remove them from this new competition. The old GOP money-givers are still there, but they're eunuchs.

3. The Republican Party is not Republican and it is not a party. Generally, the party not in power speaks in many voices, but the strongest voices generally emanate from the highest-ranking elected officials in the land. Not so today. The strongest voices are creating new centers of gravity, ones that pull everything in the party toward a certain direction.

The Republicans in power have an ideological aversion to government, and they have a vested interest in seeing it humbled to the loudest voices. There is no republican instinct in this politics.

 

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