Why aren’t things improving in the United States for more people? Some recent studies give a seemingly simple answer with extraordinarily complex facets – because anything that would make a meaningful improvement can be, and usually is, blocked by some entity with the power to do so… and the United States has the most venues for blocking legislative or regulatory action of any industrialized country in the world… and those venues don’t even include the multitude of other options for stopping things from getting done.

For example, one reason [but not the only one] why Republicans opposed Obamacare was that the ACA didn’t include tort reform – putting a cap on outrageous medical malpractice legal settlements. Why Obama didn’t was because the lawyers opposed it, particularly trial lawyers, and they’re big contributors. Those who opposed tort reform claim that malpractice awards are the only check on bad doctors, which is total bullshit. Malpractice claims don’t stop most bad doctors; they just increase the cost of medical insurance for all doctors, most of whom aren’t bad, which increases overall health costs. Stronger rules for medical disbarment would do far more to rid the field of incompetent physicians than malpractice legal lawsuits.

Despite air pollution that is so bad in some areas that thousands are literally dying, air emissions standards that would make the air breathable have been delayed or halted for years because coal and power generation companies have the funds to block them. In Utah, which suffers incredibly bad inversions and air pollution along the Wasatch Front (where most people live), the utility lobbyists have successfully persuaded the overwhelmingly Republican legislature that tighter air standards would be bad for business, despite popular opinion that indicates something should be done.

Then take a look at Congress, in particular, the House of Representatives, where essentially the more conservative Republicans can effectively block legislation, even though they represent a minority of the American electorate, and where the NRA can influence representatives enough that measures favored by seventy percent of Americans can’t even get passed. In the Senate, either party can block – and has – legislation with national support.

Checks and balances are fine, but their application in practice has become a competition to see who can block what, rather than a way to work out differences and get something done.

4 thoughts on “Non-Starters”

  1. Christopher Browne says:

    I’ll bet that if Romney had won, the Dems would be opposing Romneycare because the Republicans had accepted the lawyers’ lobbying against tort reform. That seems like one symmetry that is highly likely to occur because both parties get lobbied heavily by lawyers.

    With that minor quibble (that I imagine isn’t disagreeable), yep, the US sure seems to be a deadlock-prone jurisdiction, a major world leader…

  2. D Archerd says:

    What you’ve hit on here is a central issue in attempting any political change – for most major policies or programs, the benefits are widespread but diluted while the costs are often severe but restricted to a specific group who will vigorously oppose the change. While people in general favor cleaner air, they won’t necessarily “man the barricades” to ensure it happens. On the other hand, those who earn their living and profits from coal mining are going to be very specifically hurt by any legislation which reduces the demand for coal by making it more expensive via pollution controls, and they are going to energetically defend the status quo with much more passion than the average voter will be willing to push for general pollution controls. This is the central problem with global warming – the benefits of action are widespread but in the future, while the costs of action will hurt some specific interest groups TODAY.

    And yes, democracies are inherently ineffective at responding to long-term crises and notoriously can only be goaded into action when the danger is both obvious and near. A benevolent dictatorship is certainly a more “effective” form of government, except for that wee, little problem that by dint of being a dictatorship there is nothing in place to ensure it remains benevolent.

    But the single biggest thing America could do to minimize the impact of special interest groups would be to de-politicize the drawing of congressional district boundaries to eliminate gerrymandering. Both parties have conspired to create completely “safe” seats, which means that elections are decided in the primaries where the most hard-core supporters of the left and right tend to vote in disproportionate numbers. Politicians now only need to please their base, not compromise with the other side, which means that there is nothing to balance out the competing special interests. Democrats can safely pander to the trial lawyers and teachers unions; Republicans can to the same with energy companies and religious fundamentalists without fear of losing and election because they couldn’t gain the votes of the moderates.

    What makes our current political situation so intractable is this “hollowing out” of the center. As a centrist, I do not feel represented by either party, and the increasing polarization and unwillingness to compromise by either side has led to nothing but governmental paralysis.

  3. Josh Camden says:

    For the past 150 years, our country has mostly followed the two party system (100% for the president, but with some variation in congress). For the past 30 years, our two party system has grown more polarized than ever.

    I think Mass-Media’s ability to whisper ideas into every ear is the primary culprit. The technology to influence has grown over the past 30 years even as the polarization has.

    Agree or not, the important element is that with such a large void between the two parties, a third party cannot help but form. And if you look at those potential “third parties”, they have also grown over the past 30 years.

    Either the polarization ends (unlikely), or a third party will solidify to end the deadlocks in congress. It may take another 30 years, but a stable third party seems likely to form.

    The other possibility is if we could somehow introduce change that could reduce the power of the parties, such as using a “Unified Primary.” But that doesn’t seem likely on the federal level.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    California’s step towards this is the ‘Top Two’ approach. Only the top two in the primaries move on towards the actual election. So far, neither side likes it much, so something has to be working fairly well.

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