Oh for a democratic dictatorship

Francis Fukuyama
Francis Fukuyama. Image via Wikipedia

There’s a slightly odd article by Francis Fukuyama in today’s FT.  His argument is that the checks and balances in the US constitution have hardened (under pressure from more ideological politics) into a situation where nothing can be done due to the presence of unbreakable and increasingly common vetoes like the filibuster rule.

Fukuyama compares the UK and US budget-making process, to the UK’s advantage:

The advantage of the British system with its fewer opportunities to cast vetoes is clear when it comes to passing budgets. The budget is written by the chancellor of the exchequer, who as an executive agent makes the difficult trade-offs between spending and taxes. This budget is passed by parliament, with little modification, a week or two after the government introduces it.

In the American system, by contrast, the president announces a budget at the beginning of the fiscal cycle; it is more an aspirational document than a political reality. The US constitution firmly locates spending authority in Congress, and indeed all 535 members of Congress use their potential veto power to extract concessions. The budget that eventually emerges after months of interest group lobbying is the product not of a coherent government plan, but of horse-trading among individual legislators, who always find it easier to achieve consensus by exchanging spending increases for tax cuts. Hence the permanent bias towards deficits.

Of course, without major constitutional reform, it’s unlikely that the benefits, such as they are, of our system can be sent over to the US.

Fukuyama’s proposal is that the whole US budget be drafted by a small committee with a large official input (using the Congressional Budget Office as the UK uses the Treasury‘s spending teams), and then be subject to a straight up-or-down vote. As a proposal, it’s – to put it mildly – completely unworkable in the US system.

For all the implausibility of the final idea, the first half of the article, at least, is worth a read to get an appreciation of an outsider’s view of our simple – simplistic? – electoral system.

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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.