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"Gridlock is not an American problem, it is an American achievement! When James Madison and 54 other geniuses went to Philadelphia in the sweltering summer of 1787, they did not go there to design an efficient government. That idea would have horrified them. They wanted a safe government, to which end they filled it with blocking mechanisms: three branches of government, two branches of the legislative branch, veto, veto override, supermajorities, and judicial review. And yet, I can think of nothing the American people have wanted intensely and protractedly that they did not eventually get. The world understands, a world most of whose people live under governments they wish were capable of gridlock, that we always have more to fear from government speed than government tardiness."

-George Will




This is only the case when you imagine your government is only capable of incompetence. A safe assumption in America but not everywhere.


They didn't design the government that way because they were afraid of government incompetence. They were afraid of replacing one tyrant with another tyrant or small group of them.

And also of majorities persecuting minorities. And of the government getting caught up in "popular passions" and overreacting to things that people briefly got very fired up about.


True, but the minorities they were interested in protecting weren't the kinds we normally think of. After all, many owned slaves. And even when it comes to groups like females and "Indians", their record wasn't exactly impressive either.

But they were themselves minorities: wealthy property-owners. The elite minority. And I think history shows that they were themselves the minorities they wanted to protect. With every incentive in the world to do so. The "popular passions" were no doubt a frightening thing to them.

I think this is fairly apparent even in documents for public consumption, like The Federalist No. 10. (Of course, for more serious analysis, we'd want to turn away from the Federalist Papers and look instead to the records of actual decisionmaking.)

Like most nations, the US has a founding myth. Since it's so recent and there were witnesses, the Founding Fathers can't exactly have overt superpowers like levitation or divine birth, but they are still portrayed in a mythologized way. So when looking at the founding of any nation, a little extra care is needed not to be led astray.


The gentleman planters of that era saw themselves as intellectual bulwarks against base urges of the common man. Thomas Jefferson is the archetypal gentleman planter (with all the good and bad that entails, e.g. education and slavery).

Don't forgot it was common at this time to buy booze for those that supported you in an election. The gentry that created the framework for the government were well aware that they needed to protect the common man from himself most of all, let alone the tyranny of another dictator.


And the funny thing is, that the British weren't very tyrannical, and evolving to greater democracy all the time.

The Americans were overly paranoid --- or hypocritical (i.e. their revolution had other aims than stated).


Well, my point was that other governments weren't designed that way and do fine. I think it's safe to say that people in e.g. Sweden trust their government more since (a) there are so many government services and (b) Sweden is supposed to be the most democratic place on earth.

> And of the government getting caught up in "popular passions" and overreacting to things that people briefly got very fired up about.

Well, the US government still does this to devastating effect (e.g. "war on terror", patriot act, etc.).


Sweden is a small[1] culturally and racially homogenous country. If you look at indices that try to measure good governance, they correlate very strongly with all of those factors [2]. It's amazing that the U.S. does as well as it does, considering its size, and the fact that it allows so many poor immigrants with heterogeneous backgrounds into the country.

[1] population ~ 9M. NYC alone has nearly 8M people and is much more diverse. [2] http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/mc_chart.asp


> Well, my point was that other governments weren't designed that way and do fine. I think it's safe to say that people in e.g. Sweden trust their government more since (a) there are so many government services and (b) Sweden is supposed to be the most democratic place on earth.

Sounds like a lesser Minnesota.

Lots of things work with populations of Swedes.


The government isn't optimized to produce the best case, it's optimized to avoid the worst case.


Or, more accurately, it’s optimized to avoid all of the worst cases from the perspectives of the various factions/interests within the society, for which each faction is willing to give up its personal “best case”. (The idea of a universal “best case” or “worst case” is rather meaningless.)

Those interested in the original theory behind it should read Federalist #10 and Federalist #51, a pair of brilliant essays.

http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa10.htm

http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa51.htm

(And if especially ambitious, should then read Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, and Tocqueville’s Democracy in America)


Incompetence isn't great, but it's the best guard against competent evil.




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