Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stephen Walt on Political Institutions

Stephen Walt on the importance of political institutions for addressing pressing problems, and some suggestions on changes needed. California provides a compelling example of how poorly designed or antiquated political institutions can really cripple a state. I'm thinking of their super-majority required for budgeting and their damned referendum system that compels the government to spend like socialists and tax like libertarians.

Brooks on Government

I often agree with Dave Brooks when it comes to his observations about social science and society. In this column, I'm immediately sympathetic with his position as a "Burkean conservative". I, too, question radical social change. I usually agree that incremental changes are most likely to prove successful. For instance, the health care reform bill passed by Congress is incremental change (although some think it portends the end of the world). However, Brooks makes a couple of mistakes in this column: First, Obama didn't opt of "big government". The train-wreck of an economy that Bush left him gave him only one real option: massive stimulus spending. Second, special interests, inimical to the broader public interest (the rest of us), should suffer attack. If anything, Obama has been too tepid in dealing with the forces of the status quo. The opening skit on SNL tonight, with Obama asking Wall Street to please allow reform, hits a widely held perception (one that Garry Wills has expressed a number of times on his recent book tour) that Obama places too much hope on successfully placating opposing interests. Sometimes you need to knock heads. Brooks decries the knee-jerk polarization that the current debates on government have taken, and I join him in this, but he fails to acknowledge that the right has really gone much further right (hysterically anti-government in some cases) than that left has gone left with any pro-big government attitude. Brooks, like Obama, seems to believe that even-handedness must provide an answer. Sometimes it does, sometimes it's just; but sometimes it's merely unjust and ineffective.