Arnold Kling  

Gridlock at the Worst Time

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Tyler Cowen writes,


More and more laws will be frozen in place. This already seems to be the case with immigration policy. More and more expenditures will be frozen into place. Politics will become more symbolic, and in some ways more disgusting, in response to the absence of real issues to argue over.

Recently, I pointed to polling data showing that American voters now want to see leaders who will stick to their principles rather than compromise. It seems likely that the election in six weeks will give them their wish. That means that each political party will have the capability and the will to veto proposals from the other party. It means that bipartisan proposals, such as might come out of the deficit-reduction commission, are dead on arrival.

Libertarians used to see gridlock as a good thing. However, now that the evident need is for major reductions in the path of spending, this is in fact the worst possible time to have gridlock. Tyler foresees a sovereign debt crisis for the United States some time in the next twenty years. As you know, I share that outlook. Thus, the idea that we can learn from a chart that projects the fiscal outlook to the year 2080 is delusional.


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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Brent writes:

Yes. We are Rome, circa 450 A.D.

Tom West writes:

Recently, I pointed to polling data showing that American voters now want to see leaders who will stick to their principles rather than compromise.

I find it highly unlikely that such preference would survive the recognition and payment of the cost of "sticking to their principles".

Andrew writes:
"However, now that the evident need is for major reductions in the path of spending, this is in fact the worst possible time to have gridlock."

I agree that we should reduce spending, but I don't see that option as a political reality. So I think gridlock is a good thing since it gets us away from a one party US government that would have railroaded even more spending into the system.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

The idea of economic gridlock in any form makes a lot of elected officials quite uncomfortable, so some of them will simply direct their assistants to just throw away communications dealing with it, in the guise that it deals with private instead of public concerns. Hopefully we will at least get a bit of a breather from economic crisis for now, so there might be time to forge ahead towards new horizons.

Matt C writes:

I tend to agree with Andrew. What evidence is there that bipartisanship would lead toward better policy than we have now?

When the Rs were running the roost we got huge government. When the Ds could get what they wanted we got huge government. The last big bipartisan effort I recall offhand was the passing of the TARP bailouts. I'm sure I'm forgetting something else, but I think you can still see my point.

> now that the evident need is for major reductions in the path of spending

I do not see any evidence that Washington, collectively, sees any need to enact major reductions in spending. Sure, they do see a need to be seen talking about fixing the deficit, which is quite different.

jb writes:

echoing Matt C - You, (Kling and Cowen) are assuming that spending would be reduced in a non-gridlock scenario. At this point, I find that assumption hard to swallow - I believe that a bipartisan congress would spend more, not less, be more restrictive on immigration, not less, and generally be an ongoing calamity of awfulness.

Indeed, I share your assumption that we're going to see a debt crisis (although I am not certain what will happen to us, the common folk). But I would argue that a bipartisan congress will hasten that crisis, not relieve it.

In short, I am quite certain that our political leaders are so compromised by special interests and the corruption of power that I have absolutely no faith in our political system to resolve any crisis, except those involving donors and bankruptcy.

Mike Rulle writes:

Well, nothing is ever set in stone (until it happens of course). The alternative to gridlock in 2010 appears to be to let Government have us go broke earlier than in 20 years. For those opposed to our current fiscal position, we can only hope the Legislative branch (in 2010) and Executive branch (in 2012) will be populated by politicans who actually want to reverse course.

This, more than anything, means we must also hope the American public ("we the people") can also reverse course. It can happen, but it remains to be seen. People tend to think differently when it is their ox being gored. Let's hope there really is a new national consensus emerging. I have to say, it is difficult to believe---but I am willing to hope.

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