In a discussion of how the American system of checks-and-balances and federalism produces wildly inefficient legislation, Fukuyama notes that: "Congress created fifty-one separate programs for worker retraining, and eighty-two projects to improve teacher quality." (p. 497)
I have been making this point even before reading this latest work of Fukuyama's. But he has an interesting perspective on why this occurs.
The problem appears to me as a multiplayer prisoner's dilemma (see Schelling). To take an example: whatever level of taxation one prefers, from zero all the way up to 90% tax brackets for the very rich, it is surely preferable for everyone (except tax accountants) that the level of taxation that winds up being chosen be collected as efficiently as possible. You might hate paying 40% of your income to the taxman, but if you were going to do so, surely you would like to do so without having to undergo a lot of work on your own part in order to pay that tax, right? But the American political system, as it operates today, seems designed to collect 40% of your income in the most complicated way possible. And as I have noted in reference to the ACA, we could have gotten much more widespread coverage with a bill that simply said, "If your income is below X, The government will pay for your health insurance." Even if you oppose all welfare redistribution policies, I think you ought to prefer one that redistributes with a minimum of bother, rather than one that redistributes with a maximum of bother.
My own preference would be for worker-retraining and teacher-improvement programs to be implemented at a much more local level (the importance of local knowledge: see Hayek, as well as Catholic social thought on subsidiarity). The federal government should intervene in these issues only to the extent that it redistributes some tax revenues from the richer to the poorest states, to allow the poorer states the resources to implement these goals. But if these things are going to be handled at the federal level, I would much prefer Congress authorized a single agency to deal with each, and empowered that agency to do so.
Fukuyama contends that these legislative Rube Goldberg devices we create arise primarily from the way our system of checks-and-balances and federalism have worked out in practice: multiple branches, agencies, and levels of government are involved with almost every political issue in the United States. Rather than working to limit government, as the founders had intended, this multiplicity of authorities has served to create a byzantine government.
Hmm, I wonder if anyone has recently authored a book contending that the rationalist design of the American founders could never have worked out in practice in they way they intended it to?
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