The Rise and Fall of the US Government - John J. Dilulio, Jr.
January 12, 2015 8:15 PM   Subscribe

"...in examining [Francis] Fukuyama’s theories, [John] Dilulio’s essay also is a compelling and thoughtful analysis of the state of American liberal democracy, the current dysfunction of its government and what could be done to repair the damage wrought by greed, interference and ineptitude."
posted by gen (22 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
The damage is intentional and is the goal of the Republican party - they want and are actively working toward the failure of government, not its success. It would be nice to see some intellectual honesty from Dilulio re this undeniable fact, given that he is the author of the "Mayberry Machiavellis" letter.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:29 PM on January 12, 2015 [27 favorites]




Nothing happening is good news if you're happy with the way things are. Progress is regress and regress is progress for the same reason. You need to take off your 99% goggles to see things clearly...
posted by jim in austin at 9:02 PM on January 12, 2015


thanks kliuless! A few more recent Fukuyama speeches:

Fukuyama at SIAS October 2014.
Francis Fukuyama in conversation with David Runciman - Democracy: Even the Best Ideas Can Fail .
Francis Fukuyama "Political Order and Political Decay" at the Hauenstein Center, November 2014.

I learned a lot from that discussion between Fukuyama and Zhang too.
posted by gen at 9:04 PM on January 12, 2015


Gah, SIAS->SAIS.
posted by gen at 9:30 PM on January 12, 2015


Thanks! I don't often agree with Fukuyama, but I find him consistently thoughtful and interesting. His newest has been my "long walks" listening for a couple weeks now.

Nothing happening is good news if you're happy with the way things are. Progress is regress and regress is progress for the same reason. You need to take off your 99% goggles to see things clearly...

You want to elaborate? I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, although it sounds very zen.
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:45 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Interesting, but representative democracy failed because the powerful learned to abuse their power.

In fact, we know all the tools to keep democracy working, like :
- Sane voting system like single transferable vote, proportional representation, etc.
- Radical transparency that makes corruption risky and group think embarrassing.
- Delegative democracy, ala the German Pirate Party's LiquidFeedback platform.
- Demarchy or Sortition, basically all legislation must pass a big jury trial, or other forms of Deliberative democracy.
As well as all the stuff they intentionally broke like progressive taxation, anti-trust regulation, etc.

It's merely that our political masters do not wish to weaken their personal power by allowing meaningful reform.

"When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property." - Thomas Jefferson
posted by jeffburdges at 3:47 AM on January 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


You want to elaborate? I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, although it sounds very zen.

Hardly zen. Almost all political debate from any quarter seems to center on what is right or wrong, how do we fix things and how do we make things better. These debates of opinion, no matter the facts, are essentially endless and are easily manipulated to other ends. For me the cogent question is not what should we do, but rather what will we do. Then politics becomes a simple exercise in tallying up potential oxen gored, feeding troughs filled and players with the ability to stop things cold or force things through. Yes, very much a hack perspective, but it greatly reduces being blindsided by nasty surprises or getting your hopes too high...
posted by jim in austin at 4:58 AM on January 13, 2015


The damage is intentional and is the goal of the Republican party - they want and are actively working toward the failure of government...

The Republican party contains multitudes, including "good government" conservatives like Dilulio and Fukuyama who profess to believe in a strong federal government with "limited" tasks.

The important thing to know about Dilulio isn't the "mayberry machiavelli" flame-out, but his real claim to fame, "superpredators":
Mr. DiIulio created a whole theory around the notion that ''a new generation of street criminals is upon us -- the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known.''

''Based on all that we have witnessed, researched and heard from people who are close to the action,'' he wrote with two co-authors, ''here is what we believe: America is now home to thickening ranks of juvenile 'superpredators' -- radically impulsive, brutally remorseless youngsters, including ever more preteenage boys, who murder, assault, rape, rob, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, join gun-toting gangs and create serious communal disorders.''
That's right. Dilulio is a high-class race-baiter. Notice that, while Dilulio is critical of some of the legislation inspired by his "research", he doesn't actually repudiate the research itself i.e. he doesn't actually acknowledge that his "research" is just one in a long line of Republican gambits to rebrand traditiional American race-hatred of superpredators young black men. And so it's no coincidence that the "mayberry machiavellis" were born exactly of Nixon's Southern strategy i.e. the reaching out to the southern white supremacist contingent of the Democratic party simultaneous with a nationwide promotion of racist themes to split the blue-collar Democratic vote. This created a market for "dog-whistles" like "superpredator" which could be repeated by polite middle-class racists across the country, people like Dilulio, while at the same time communicating solidarity with the Southern white supremacist voter.

All the same, I would upbraid Moyers for publishing Dilulio but having a buffoon like Dilulio politely shred another buffoon is sort of worth it.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:33 AM on January 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


Interesting, but representative democracy failed because the powerful learned to abuse their power.

I think if one sincerely argues that the United States is currently a failed representative democracy, then in reality they would have to believe that there has never been democracy in America. I'm not saying this is obviously wrong; it's not, and a very cogent argument to the effect as been made. But if that's the case, how is democracy "failing" today as opposed to 1789? Or 1830? Or 1900?

However, accepting that position means that, ironically, in terms of democracy America is better off today than it has ever been, except for perhaps a very brief period of post-war income equalization. You talk about the powerful abusing their power, but today's plutocrats are rank amateurs compared to the robber barons of the Gilded Age. Ditto for corruption. The franchise has been expanded broadly, and the current attempts to reduce it, while disgusting, aren't going to turn back the clock to even fifty years ago. Civil rights gains are proceeding both legally, legislatively and popularly, beyond what was imaginable just 20 years ago.

In this "failed democracy" metric, it seems that the United States is actually steadily becoming more democratic, and is perhaps just stalling out today.

It think we shouldn't see democracy as so binary, as it's really a characteristic of government, rather than a structure of government. It ebbs and flows, and I don't see us in historically novel situation. Plutocracy is rebounding, but while there is certainly cause for alarm, it seems the historical trend is away from it. I don't think it makes any sense to talk of a "failed democracy" without a lot more damage to society. If plutocracy is a disease, then the Gilded Age was cancer; right now we have a terrible flu.
posted by spaltavian at 6:37 AM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Conservatives like Dilulio and Fukuyama believe that strong bureaucracies with limited mandates can be effective i.e. the Forest Service but that the government shouldn't be in the social welfare business. The problem is obviously that if a strong Forest Service can do a good job, why couldn't a strong "social welfare" agency do a good job? I mean, Prussia was in the forefront of government social welfare programs.

Dilulio would probably say something to the effect that the damage of material poverty has it's roots in spiritual poverty. He was hired by the "mayberry machiavellis" to be the white house director of "Faith-based initiatives" i.e. healing the young superpredators with Jesus instead of welfare. And so it's ironic he's calling out the outsourcing of government functions since he came into the Bush administration to do just that, only implicitly. Here he is arguing in 2013 for a "national service" law to provide free labor for church groups:
But, we wonder, what still greater civic miracles might America's faith communities perform if blessed with thousands more miracle-workers?

Specifically, what major national challenges might the nation's faith-based organizations help conquer if thousands more young adults ages 18 to 28, representing every demographic description and socioeconomic status, and each working full-time for a year, bolstered the religious sector's civic partnerships?

And how might a year in the civic trenches with urban and other religious leaders and volunteers benefit the young adults themselves?

These are among the exciting questions raised by the Aspen Institute's Franklin Project. Its report, A 21st Century National Service System Plan of Action, calls for engaging one million young adults each year in a demanding full-time national service position.
He gets around that contradiction by, again, believing that social welfare is not a core mandate of government. But, as the history of Reaganism has shown, the Republican jihad against welfare has nothing to do with actually eliminating social welfare programs: too many poor white racist voters depend on government welfare programs, and everything to do with, again, race-baiting.

So, Dilulio's vision of conservative government has no consistent ideological basis, has no serious policy agenda behind it (the Office of Fath Base Initiatives was a joke), and no basis in modern political economy.

Again, it's just a high-brow way of rebranding Nixon's racist strategy against LBJ's Great Society (i.e "WELFARE") so that polite intellectual people can chit-chat about it without sounding racist. It no accident that Fukuyama talks about the malign influence of "tribalism" in American government:
America’s political decay has been fueled by what Fukuyama characterizes as a new “tribalism” that authorizes influence peddling at the highest levels of modern politics.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:50 AM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


The important thing to know about Dilulio isn't the "mayberry machiavelli" flame-out, but his real claim to fame, "superpredators":

You can't mention superpredators without also mentioning how they were the key to explaining the massive explosion of violent crime since the 1990s. Oops.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:54 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


spaltavian, I guess the question is, what brought the gilded age to an end? Was it external crisis or internal tensions?

Does democracy tend towards plutocracy, which is disrupted only through external crisis (war, depression, etc), or is democracy sufficiently self-regulating, over longer periods of time, to resolve that tendency?

I also wonder to what extent the Republican party has increasingly become the party of plutocracy because supporting moneyed interests is the only way they see to overcome their upcoming demographic difficulties. If the system as constructed doesn't let you win, you break the system (through gutting campaign finance reform, disenfranchising voters, etc...). A reformed, more inclusive Republican party might not need to kowtow to the wealthy if they had sufficient backing by a broad stable base of supporters.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:55 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


You can't mention superpredators without also mentioning how they were the key to explaining the massive explosion of violent crime since the 1990s. Oops.

So, you actually believe that the social violence of the 90s happened because young black men had become functionally insane? Or, "lead poisoned" if you want to be super-polite....
posted by ennui.bz at 6:59 AM on January 13, 2015


They were being sarcastic. There was no "massive explosion of violent crime since the 1990s".
posted by spaltavian at 7:01 AM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


I learned a lot from that discussion between Fukuyama and Zhang too.
gen

Can I ask what you learned? I'm not trying to be snarky, I'm just curious, because Zhang literally did nothing but spout apologist nonsense, like the "Meritocracy Versus Democracy" editorial linked to in that article which is so absurd you'd think it's intentional comedy.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:13 AM on January 13, 2015


The Republican party contains multitudes, including "good government" conservatives like Dilulio and Fukuyama who profess to believe in a strong federal government with "limited" tasks.

Those few "moderate" conservatives that still hang on have little to no control over the direction of Republican governance priorities. Destruction, looting and corporate welfare are the only things on the agenda. A "strong" government is limited only to the military, all other functions must be curtailed.

See the first few days of this new congress for all the proof you should need.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:31 AM on January 13, 2015


It's merely that our political masters do not wish to weaken their personal power by allowing meaningful reform.

Yeah, at this point talking about how to fix things starts and stops with this. There are plenty of things we could do to "fix" our government but the government won't allow anyone to do them. It's like talking about how to fix or improve your house without tackling the fact that, for some reason, you aren't allowed to buy tools and materials or hire a contractor so you just have to make do with what you already have on hand but that won't get the job done. You need to start solving that problem first and then you can start talking about what needs to get fixed and how.

Few of the people in our government will do the things we want (they either don't have the power or don't have the desire) and the people who will can't get elected. I blame our voting system since it basically drives everything towards the two-party system. I'd start by introducing instant runoff voting where you rank your top two or three picks for any given office. That would let you put a democrat (as an example) as your top pick but still let you vote for a 3rd party candidate without feeling like you're throwing your vote away. Start it at the lowest levels of government (like Minneapolis did last year for their city council elections) to build support and then move the concept up from there. There might be better/easier voting schemes but until one of them is implemented I think everything else is moot.
posted by VTX at 8:35 AM on January 13, 2015


I don't know this Dilulio guy, but I like this:

Fukuyama is correct that America has never had a fully “centralized, bureaucratic, and autonomous state”; but he is wrong to imply that America needs one. What America does need is a federal public administration workforce that relies less on proxies and more on full-time bureaucrats who are well selected, well trained, well motivated, well rewarded financially, and well respected by one and all.

There's a CBO report from a few years back that has a devastating analysis of how much less value for dollar the tax-payer gets from hiring private contractors as compared to having actual federal employees do the work.
posted by suelac at 8:38 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


They were being sarcastic. There was no "massive explosion of violent crime since the 1990s".

oh, oops, sorry ROU_Xenophobe.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:03 AM on January 13, 2015


to broaden the landscape a little further and perhaps fill in some detail (or spark a derail!) i think it's worth stepping back a bit more to look at our present situation through the lens of comparative political economic history to maybe see a way forward in the future; getting closer to -- for a country of the US' size -- denmark, finland or, as it were, iceland :P

the decay of political institutions is well trod, so let me focus on the imagined economic (fiscal) constraints that we operate under whereby people are either ignorant of as artificial scarcities or peddled as a tool of social control. that is a gov't budget constraint is like a household's, when it's not. this i think is the very destructive, but deeply ingrained, myth behind much political and social decay we see today.

now, it's not obvious because it holds for industrialized economies and institutional memory obtains, but in a post-industrial age (energy being the sticking point?) where 'services' comprise the bulk of productive activity, and everything is getting automated anyhow, the budget constraint as traditionally measured, is less and less applicable. while the digital revolution was supposed to have been about disrupting remaking money, credit and banking, the erstwhile job of the financial 'industry' would have become "the distribution of the surplus rather than the allocation of scarce resources," except that the whole process is broken and nobody has figured out what to replace it with yet.

SO i have no idea really, but let me posit a few guideposts that i found helpful at least...

1) a just society pays for itself:
The US is a rich country that’s beginning to resemble, for the average person, a poor one. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Its educational systems barely educate. Its healthcare is still nearly nonexistent. I can take a high-speed train across Europe in eight hours; I can barely get from DC to Boston in nine. Most troubling of all, it is poisoning its food and water supplies by continuing to pursue dirty energy, while the rest of the rich world is choosing renewable energy. The US has glaring deficits in all these public goods — education, healthcare, transport, energy, infrastructure — not to mention the other oft-unmentioned, but equally important ones: parks, community centers, social services.

So the US should invest in its common wealth. For a decade, and more. Legions of people should be employed in rebuilding its decrepit infrastructure, schools, colleges, hospitals, parks, trains. To a standard that is the envy of the world — not its laughingstock.

Why? If the US invests in the public goods it so desperately needs, the jobs that it so desperately needs will be created — and they will be jobs that (wait for it) actually create useful stuff. You know what’s useless? Designer diapers, reality TV, listicles, reverse-triple-remortgages, fast food, PowerPoint decks, and the other billion flavors of junk that we slave over only to impress people we secretly hate so we can live lives we don’t really want with money we don’t really have by doing work that sucks the joy out of our souls. You know what’s useful, to sane people? Hospitals, schools, trains, parks, classes, art, books, clean air, fresh water ... purpose, meaning, dignity. If you can’t attain that stuff, what good are five hundred aisles, channels, or megamalls?

So: invest in public goods; employ armies to build them; create millions of jobs. And they won’t be the dead-end, abusive, toxic McJobs that have come to plague the economy; they will be decent, well-paid, meaningful jobs which people will be proud to have...

Where will the money come from? Dirty secret number three: It doesn’t matter. Print it. Borrow it. Tax it from the super-rich, in whose coffers it’s merely sitting idly. It does not matter one bit. It’s a second order question. If the U.S. doesn’t invest in public goods, it will not prosper; and if it doesn’t prosper, it cannot pay off the debts it already has. Conversely, if it does invest in public goods, and creates millions of decent jobs, the source of investment will matter little; for the economy will have grown and people will be prosperous. We can debate until kingdom come whether to borrow; print; tax; and we should. But we are having a fake “debate” if we pretend that we cannot invest in society first; and then wring our hands that society is falling apart.
2) redefine prosperity:
And therein lies the difference between a poor society and a prosperous one. It isn’t the amount of money that a society has in circulation, whether dollars, euros, beads, or wampum. Rather, it is the availability of the things that create well-being—like antibiotics, air conditioning, safe food, the ability to travel, and even frivolous things like video games. It is the availability of these “solutions” to human problems—things that make life better on a relative basis—that makes us prosperous.

This is why prosperity in human societies can’t be properly understood by just looking at monetary measures of income or wealth. Prosperity in a society is the accumulation of solutions to human problems.

These solutions run from the prosaic, like a crunchier potato chip, to the profound, like cures for deadly diseases. Ultimately, the measure of a society’s wealth is the range of human problems that it has found a way to solve and how available it has made those solutions to its citizens.
3) so the revolution in thinking goes:
A government’s solvency constraint ultimately lies in its political capacity to levy and enforce the payment of taxes... Note that a government’s “political capacity to levy and enforce payment of taxes” depends first and foremost on the quality of the real economy it superintends. The value that a government is capable of taxing if necessary to sustain the value of its obligations increases with the value produced overall. A government that wishes to be solvent should first and foremost interact with the polity in a manner that promotes productivity. Secondly, the political capacity to levy taxes depends upon either the legitimacy of or the coercive power of the state. A government that wishes to sustain the value of its obligations must either gain the consent of those it would tax or maintain an infrastructure of compulsion... I like to imagine excessively coercive regimes are inconsistent with overall productivity.
which brings us back to fukuyama, yay! i'd just note that point #3 was from interfluidity's overview of MMT (modern monetary theory ;) which as SRW points out just gained a prominent voice on the senate budget committee. of course convincing republicans that budgets don't matter is another question... BUT, and probably more importantly, markets don't seem to care (validating richard koo?) and that takes me finally to the 'comparative' political economy part where japan -- and china, for examples -- are running 'natural experiments' (politically unopposed) about how to create institutional configurations to combat 'secular stagnation' that i would happen to conveniently describe as paralysis by outmoded institutions resulting from changing factors of production as information rules a network economy.
posted by kliuless at 2:11 PM on January 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


I guess the question is, what brought the gilded age to an end?

Theodore Roosevelt and Sam McClure?

"When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property." - Thomas Jefferson

My favorite Jefferson: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."
posted by mmiddle at 2:31 PM on January 13, 2015


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