American government is totally dysfunctional
March 9th, 2011
12:19 PM ET

American government is totally dysfunctional

Joe Nye is one of the smartest people I know. He is also a mentor, from my graduate school days at Harvard. So I was worried when I saw that he disagreed with my Time cover. But then I read his article in Foreign Policy today and discovered that we don’t really disagree that much at all.

We both recognize that there is data that suggests that the United States is on top and other data that shows it’s slipping. The future remains one of multiple possibilities and my hope, with the article, was to push us in the right direction. He agrees with me that worrying about decline actually helps prevent it.

That said, I think the problems we face are big and simply saying we’ve come through difficulties before is not enough.

Since the 1980s, the U.S. has faced a significant set of challenges. We avoided them largely by taking on debt – individuals, local and state governments, and the federal government took on huge debt. We expanded credit and consumption and got a few booms out of it, the last one being housing-related (2000-2007). But this is not sustainable. We have to create the conditions for long-term growth and productivity.

Joe and I probably disagree most clearly on politics. I really think that American government has become totally dysfunctional. I don’t pine for Chinese-style authoritarianism. I pine for the politics that made it possible to build the interstate highway system, fund science, create great state universities, build NASA, create the internet, open the borders to talented immigrants, and do it all while maintaining fiscal balance.

On every one of these issues, the political system is now paralyzed or moving in the wrong direction. Happy talk about the genius of the founding fathers is not going to get us out of this jam.

(Joe Nye is taking your questions online here. )

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Global

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soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. Frederica

    Why do people blame governments? How are commoners better than their government? In democratic societies, governments are better than commoners. Usually.

    April 2, 2011 at 1:39 am | Reply
  2. Gavinsox

    I would agree with Fareed that the American government is dysfunctional. I don't agree,however, with his reasons why it is dysfunctional. The American government works well when both parties work together for the benefit of the common good. This assumes in our government system that the representaitives of the major parties represent the views, the values, and the thinking of mainstream America on major issues and problems facing the country. This was the case for most of the last century, but is sadly not the case today.Today both parties are focused more on dividing Americans rather than uniting them. Both parties are controlled by and play to special interests. The Democratic and Republican parties have been hijacked by people with extreme views both on the left and on the right. Both have lost their respect and civility for each other. This has resulted in a toxic political environment where no serious progress or results can be achieved.It is one of the main reasons why the government cannot agree on anything and has difficulty making decisions that are based on the common good. What we really have here is a government where there is a daily culture war going on between two parties. Is there any question in your mind, Fareed, why this government is anything but dysfunctional? Could it also be, Fareed, that it lacks Presidential leadership? Where is the President and how has he brought the parties together for the common good?Is not the President and his leadership style a critical piece of the equation that has b een missing and makes for a functional government? I submit, Fareed, it is crucial and is sorely lacking in our government today.

    April 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  3. Tigermouse

    Fareed, it's really great to be able to comment on your site. I have the utmost respect for your considered and coherent opinions. Regarding the dysfunction of government, I can't help but think that a lot of our problems would just vanish if public campaign financing replaced the current campaign cesspit. The way our system is geared at present rewards wrongdoers and very handsomely too. It's getting worse, more billions being spent each election cycle, and the average person has less and less voice especially since the Supreme Court seems to be "in on it" with their inane decisions. It doesn't matter who we put in office, while they are funded by big money, they will just go the same way. The voice of the ordinary citizen is being drowned out more each time. I believe we can change this system if we envision it and push it. Taking on Goliath can be done. We could give it all we've got. Success may not come the first time round but we should be resolute. Imagine every candidate getting equal airtime and hear their policies clearly and in depth? Imagine not having to be affronted by the constant and puerile advertising that so pervasively dominates the campaign scene. We just do not demand enough of our leaders. They should submit a kind of business plan and be accountable by a loss of some sort if they don't adhere to their plan. No WMD after going into Iraq was virtually met with a blase response such as "oh well we acted from Intelligence findings, let's move on now". What caliber of person are we hiring when the only qualification seems to be a big cache of funds in their coffers? The US is filled with bright intelligent and creative people. Having only the wealthy able to run for office means we all lose out. There is a bill that pops up every now and then called the Fair Elections Now Act which would bring in public funding, and allow ordinary citizens a chance at running for office. As a citizen it is ridiculous the amount of work it takes to keep an eye on the perpetual trickery of Congress. They don't govern, they campaign full time. We need to bring in fresh, intelligent and inspiring candidates instead of recycling the same old wealthy blockheads. Till we do, the dysfunction is sure to continue and cause our woes to spiral evermore out of control.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Reply
  4. tryecrot

    Yes there should realize the opportunity to RSS commentary, quite simply, CMS is another on the blog.

    August 27, 2011 at 9:34 am | Reply
  5. AL Kluss JR.

    George Washington & John Adams founding Fathers warned us about the dangers of a 2 party system. I created a one party system called (PPP) (peepspolitical) on twitter! I am currently working on a book to explain how a one party political system will bring great success to the U.S., by eliminating the problem is the 2 party system & failed leadership without a detailed planned vision for "America". Eliminate Democrats & Republicans & we solved the problem is the answer & only solution is (PPP). We are the bright future for the United States of America. Vote (PPP)

    August 13, 2013 at 12:17 am | Reply
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