Indeed–I am no fan of Berlusconi’s Italy or Putin’s Russia. I wonder whether a Michel-like concern, though, might tily against seeking big structural change now.
One of the pull quotes on the jacket of Framed is by the Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, who has written some very insightful books over the past decade (along with Paul Pierson) pointing out how dramatically both wealth inequality and the allocation of risk has changed in the last four decades. Briefly, inequality has shot up since 1970, while the amount of risk that the poor in particular bear has skyrocketed. This means that we’re in a period — perhaps short, perhaps long — in which the wealthy have an awful lot of power.
This might suggest that is a poor time to proceed with fundamental change, since there’s a particularly high risk of ‘capture’ (e.g., by advertising and campaigning directed at delegates, much like other political campaigning is directed at swing voters today), and so we ought to address economic equalities firsy=t.
Picking up on Peterr’s comment, and on the affordable care act-related debates, I wonder whether Sandy sees ‘federalism’ as a hard-wired feature of the Constitution.
One thing that strikes me when I teach Constitutional Law is how much variety there has been historically in claims of and about what Justice Harlan called “Our Federalism.” As with Sen. Brownback –who might be contrasted with some governors who’ve been more consistent about resisting federal healthcare or stimulus monies (albeit at the cost of their most vulnerable constituents) — understandings of federalism seem to oscillate wildly through time, and even vary dramatically at a single moment.
Think, for example, of the contrasting attitudes one hears from the Republic party today on the relation of federalism to “national security” on the one hand and “immigration” on the other. Those two policy areas seem closely linked to me, and yet they seem conceptually far apart in the current discourse.
one way of asking the question, I guess, is to consider whether federalism is a part of the “settlement” or part of the “conversation”?
The kind of debate on a second house that Sandy is advocating, by the way, is now going on in the United Kingdom, where the Conservative-Liberal government is struggling over a deepening of reform of the House of Lords that was begun under the older Labour government.
It’s worth noting that other countries — and one of the points that Sandy makes in Framed is that we can also look outside our borders to enliven out thinking on the structural constitution — give examples of how to go about major structural reforms.
I don’t want to divert attention from Kevin’s second question, but a comment that leaps off from your earlier reply to him.
I wonder whether it’s a mistake to ask for a Constitution that’s “perfect for the nation as a whole.” One way of thinking of the “boring” structural parts of a constitution is as playing 2 roles. First, they are a labor-saving device–they mean we don’t have to re-do basic rules for getting government going ever election. (Stephen Holmes has a great book that addresses this part of what constitutions do). In this role, stability — even if its imperfect – is where the value comes from. Second, a constitution also helps us pick on an ongoing basis new laws and new leaders. Much of Framed is about how the US Constitution does so badly. Fair enough–but perhaps it does so well enough given the potential costs of more flexibility.
That is, perhaps our constitution is “good enough”: It does a great job in stabilizing how government works, and thus saves us a lot of anxiety whenever there’s a big change (think of how anxious folk were in Ghana this last week out of a concern their institutions wouldn’t stick), but the price of that stability is what the economists would call a set of ‘suboptimal’ ongoing decisions rules. And that price is worth paying given the alternative.
And — I should make that a question! — if you buy Michaels, or Chris Hayes reworking thereof, does this suggest that the structures, or the ‘boring bits,’ really are not that all important?
This relates both the CTuttle’s question and to Sandy’s last comment about parties:
Chris Hayes has recently drawn attention to a theory associated with Robert Michaels, a turn of the century German sociologist Robert Michaels, termed “the iron law of oligarchy.” This is the idea that “political parties, trade unions, and other mass organizations are inevitably ruled by largely self-serving and self-perpetuating oligarchies, which defy attempts at democratic control or participation.”
One might worry that Michaels’ diagnosis is right for the US. That is, what matters is deeply entrenched patterns of political culture, not the details of specific constitutions. Just as China and Russia can change from feudal to communist and yet retain basically parallels modes of governing (think, e.g., of Putin as a new kind of ‘tsar’), so we might change the constitution, but we’d still have the same powerful forces afflicting policy outcomes.
Although, aren’t the 2 national political parties effectively gatekeepers that can ‘veto’ such proposals? And doesn’t Framed suggest that they both have much to lose from changes to the status quo. (Which might lead one to think it’s best to aim for more modest kinds of reforms).
I’m afraid I don’t know what the “con-con” aspect of Article V is…
But, Sandy, let’s say we’re stuck with Article V. Can you imagine conditions in which the difficulty of formal amendment has been a “clear and present danger”? Are there historical examples?
Hi Sandy and FDL readers,
Welcome to today’s salon. Why don’t I kick things off by asking a question that builds on Coach Bill’s question (over on comments section to the preview), about how constitutional amendment works today (which is one of the topics addressed in Framed). Basically, Article V of the Constitution makes the text of the Constitution very difficult to amend, and gives a functional veto to quite small and geographically concentrated minorities. Say we’re unhappy with one or other aspect of the Constitution. Are we stuck with Article V?
Aziz Huq commented on the diary post Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance – Book Salon Preview by Elliott.
Hi Sandy and FDL readers, Welcome to today’s salon. Why don’t I kick things off by adding to Coach Bill’s question, and asking about how constitutional amendment works today (which is one of the topics addressed in Framed). Basically, Article V of the Constitution makes the text of the Constitution very difficult to amend, and [...]
Aziz Huq commented on the blog post Late, Late Night FDL: Allen Toussaint – The Bright Mississippi