Polarization and Paralysis

Here’s another interesting point from Polarized America.

When your designing your governance scheme one of the levers you can adjust is how much consensus is required before it’s possible to make major changes to the rules. For example here in the US it’s is very tedious to change the constitution. Another example is the Senate’s rules that make it impossible for a contentious issues to pass with a slim majority. There are lots and lots of these schemes; for example all the checks and balances built into the system.

So it’s no surprise that if the nation becomes polarized then the Congress becomes is paralyzed. That’s how the system was designed and it’s one of the patterns the authors of Polarized America illustrate that with data.

So then what happens? A few things. The two sides in the argument trash around looking for other means to achieve their goals. This model has something to say about the president’s repeated efforts (largely successful) to expand the power of the executive branch. This thrashing around attempting to find alternate ways get control of the government’s power is inherently dangerous because they skirt the boundaries of what is legal. The frustration of polarization creates an emotional climate where the political actors can self justify falling off the edge.

Because many of the programs that are designed to temper the concentration of wealth (i.e. programs that redistribute wealth) like the minimum wage, social services, education funding, health care funding, are not indexed to inflation this paralysis has the side effect of eroding their effect. Since this time around the primary poles of the division are about wealth that reinforces the polarization.

One notable thing about the models underlying Polarized America is the counter intuitive result that when you look at the actual votes in congress the social conservative dimension is a extremely weak predictor compared to the economic one. That’s counter intuitive because most of the rhetoric about American politics is about ethical and moral issues; e.g. stem cells, minor rights (race, gay, women), and the degree of separation between secular and religious institutions.

That too can be explained by this the realization that the architecture of our government means that a polarized you can’t make major changes.

The irony here is that the architecture is probably protecting the right from getting tossed out on its ear. The data is clear. The electorate has broad deep support for the redistribution programs that temper the corrosive effect of concentrated wealth. They also are an extremely tolerant bunch with little interest in the socal-right’s conservative agenda. The architecture has allowed the right to avoid the blame for eroding the redistribution schemes of economic liberals, and prevented them from the most socially conservative acts.

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