Monday, May 16, 2011

On good government

I'm about halfway through Francis Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order, one of the best books I've read in several years. Starting in prehistoric times, Fukuyama traces the development of political systems in cultures around the world including China, India, the Middle East, and Europe. One thing I'm really loving is how he integrates various disciplines such as evolutionary biology, economics, and comparative political science. The book has already led me to reconsider my notions about the historical role of religion and has dashed my hopes that the current Republican fixation on reducing taxes at any cost is a temporary aberration.

A quote on good government:
The rule of law and political accountability are desirable in their own right. Sometimes, they can get in the way of good, effective government, as when an Indian state is unable to make a decision on a major infrastructure project due to litigation and public protests, or when the U.S. Congress cannot bring itself to deal with pressing problems like entitlements due to the influence of lobbyists and interest groups.

But at other times rule of law and accountability are necessary to preserve good government. Under the right conditions, a strong authoritarian system can produce extremely effective government. Political systems need to be able to endure changing external conditions and changing leaders. The checks on state authority provided by rule of law and accountability serve to reduce the variance in governmental performance: they constrain the best governments, but they also prevent bad ones from spiraling out of control.
From what I've read so far, it's clear to me that we're in a period of "political decay." I think we could use a good psychohistorian right now...

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