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弗朗西斯·福山:美国政治制度的衰败

american interest 2011.10.4; 参考消息汉译
这里讲的政治衰败其实是说,一项特定的政治进程——有时是一家政府机构——已出现机能障碍。导致这种局面的原因是:思维僵化;地位稳固的政治行为方对改革和再平衡起到了阻碍作用,而他们的实力在不断壮大……附American Interest英文原文

据参考消息4月8日报道 【《美国利益》双月刊1-2月号文章】题:美国政治制度的衰败(作者 美国政治学家弗朗西斯·福山)

美国有很多政治制度当前都日渐衰败。这与更为广泛的社会或文明衰落现象并不是一回事儿。这里讲的政治衰败其实是说,一项特定的政治进程——有时是一家政府机构——已出现机能障碍。导致这种局面的原因是:思维僵化;地位稳固的政治行为方对改革和再平衡起到了阻碍作用,而他们的实力在不断壮大。这并不意味着美国已走上永久性的衰退之路,也不意味着美国相对他国所具备的实力肯定会下降。但制度改革极难实现。在政治秩序不发生重大混乱的情况下,根本不能确保可实现制度改革。因此说,虽然衰败和衰退不是一回事儿,但对这两个问题的讨论并非没有关联。

三大结构特征都有问题

人们对美国当前的困局作出了多种诊断。在我看来,制度衰败——或者说衰落这个范围更广泛的观念——绝非“一蹴而就”。但总体来讲,美国政治发展的历史背景基本上总是会被忽视。

如果我们更仔细地审视美国相对于其他自由民主国家所走过的历程,我们就会发现,美国政治文化有三个主要的结构性特征。不论它们如何演进,也不论它们在过去发挥过多大效力,这三个特征当前都出了问题。

第一,相对于其他自由民主国家而言,司法和立法部门(也包括两大政党所发挥的作用)在美国政府中的影响力过大,而受损的是行政部门。美国人一贯信不过政府,由此就催生了立法部门解决行政问题的局面。久而久之,这种处理行政需求的方式变得成本极高、且效率低下。

第二,利益集团和游说团体的影响力在增加,这不仅扭曲了民主进程,也侵蚀了政府有效运作的能力。生物学家们所称的亲缘选择和互利主义是人类社交的两种自然模式。当与个人无关的当代政府失效时,人们就会回归到上述关系中。

第三,由于联邦政府管理结构在意识形态上出现两极分化,美国的制衡制度——其设计初衷是防止出现过于强大的行政部门——也就变成了否决制。往好了讲,决策机制变得过于松懈——也就是说太过民主了,有太多的行为方由此得以阻止政府去调整公共政策。我们当前需要更强大的机制,以力促实现集体决策。但由于政府的司法化以及利益集团影响力过大,在不发生系统性危机的情况下,我们不太可能建成此类机制。

由此说来,这三个结构性特征已呈盘根错节之势。

直接引发代议制度危机

在当代自由民主国家里,政治制度的三个核心范畴——政府、法治和追责能力——具体表现为政府三权分立:即分为行政部门、司法部门和立法部门。

由于不信任政府权力的传统十分悠久,美国总强调要把采取手段——即通过司法和立法机构——制约政府作为制度建设的重点。

美国政府在质上的衰败与美国人倾向于建立“由法院和政党主导的”政府有着直接关系。法院和立法部门在不断篡夺行政部门的很多正常职能,由此造成政府运作在整体上缺乏连贯性且效率低下。在其他发达民主国家由行政部门处理的职能被逐步司法化,由此引发成本高昂的诉讼出现爆炸式增长、还导致决策迟缓以及执法工作严重缺乏协调。法院不但没有对政府发挥制约作用,反倒成了扩大政府职能的替代性工具。具有讽刺意味的是,正是由于担心“大政府”

会做强,美国最终反倒建立了一个规模非常庞大的政府,但这其实更难追责了,因为政府主要控制在法院手中,而法院并不是经选举产生的。

与此同时,由于利益集团丧失了腐化立法部门的能力,它们于是找到了新的理想方式,即通过司法手段俘获并控制立法议员。这些利益集团会扭曲税收和开支,并朝对它们有利的方向操纵预算,进而抬高整体赤字规模。利益集团有时会利用法院实现此目的并获得其他好处。但它们也会通过多项通常自相矛盾的授权——它们会引导国会支持这些授权——去破坏公共行政管理的质量。而相对弱势的行政部门通常无力阻止它们。

所有这些引发了一场代议制度危机。老百姓觉得,本应发挥民主作用的政府再也无法代表他们的利益了,政府反去迎合各类神出鬼没的精英。

简言之,美国政府的问题源于,既有实力也有能力的政府与原本旨在约束政府的各个机构之间出现了结构性失衡。当前有太多的法律, “民主”程度也过了头,其表现形式就是立法部门在干预美国政府发挥职能。

两极分化导致决策困难

行政部门司法化和利益集团对国会的影响力就是美国政界出现政治衰败的实例。这些问题有美国政治文化等深层次原因,但原因也包括最近发生的偶然性事件,如两党的两极分化。

整体上讲,政治衰败的根源——思维僵化和精英集团的影响力——在民主国家是普遍存在的。实际上,各国——不管是民主国家还是非民主国家——政府都面临这样的问题。其他发达民主国家也有过度司法化和利益集团这样的问题。但利益集团的影响力主要取决于各个机构的具体特点。虽然在形式上五花八门,但面对各种政治行为方,民主国家都会构筑激励机制,它们由此也多多少少会受到这些势力的影响。美国是世界上最早建立的、也是最发达的自由民主国家。政治衰败问题对当今美国的折磨程度超出了对其他任何民主政治制度的折磨程度。信不过政府一直都是美国政治的特征。这种长期存在的不信任感导致政府呈失衡状态,由此也削弱了在必要时采取集体行动的前景。这就最终形成了否决制。

我所说的否决制是一项进程,通过该进程,美国的制衡制度导致以大多数选民意志为依托的集体决策变得极为困难。从某种程度上讲,在多个层面重复设立权力部门,进而让联邦、州和地方权力部门都在整个公共政策范畴拥有管辖权,对任何一种此类制度来说,这都可能造成政府各部门很容易互相掣肘的局面。但在意识形态出现两极分化、主要政党的选民支持度(或不支持度)旗鼓相当的情况下,制约就会变得很严重。

这就是我们当前的处境。2013年月,美国政府关门歇业并就提高债务上限问题爆发危机。这些都表明,少数人(即共和党内的茶党一派)的立场可危及政府整体运作能力。这就是美国政治制度在21世纪初未能解决预算持续膨胀等问题的原因所在。

恶性均衡阻碍政府运作

当两极分化遭遇美国的制衡政治制度时,其结果尤其具有毁灭性。原因是,现在有太多的行为方可以否决掉为解决问题所作的决策。

久而久之,由于传统制衡制度不断根深蒂固且越来越僵化,美国政治制度就走向了衰败。在政治严重两极化的时代,这种权力下放制度代表大多数人利益的能力在不断下降,反而给利益集团和维权组织的观点提供了过多的代议权。但它们总起来说都代表不了至高无上的美国人民。

美国当前陷入一种恶性均衡。由于美国人过去一贯信不过政府,他们并不特别情愿把权力交给政府。恰恰相反,正如我们所看到的那样,国会通常会颁布复杂的规章制度,这不仅削弱了政府的自治权,还导致决策迟缓且成本高昂。这样一来,政府的表现就会很差,这又十分荒谬地肯定了人们原本对政府所持的不信任感。

在这种背景下,大多数美国人不愿增加缴税,因为他们担心政府会把税收肆意挥霍掉。然而,虽说财力并不是导致政府效率低下的唯一根源——甚至连主要根源都不是,但如果没有资金,政府也就无望正常运作了。这样一来,对政府的不信任就成了一个自行应验的预言。我们当前能扭转这种衰败趋势吗?可能吧,但现在有两个障碍,它们都与衰败这种现象本身有关。

首先是一个简单的政治问题。美国政界的很多行为方都认识到,政治制度当前运作得并不好。尽管如此,他们维持现状的意愿已根深蒂固。两大政党都鼓不起勇气割舍掉利益集团提供的资金。利益集团也怕出现一种金钱买不到影响力的制度。

第二个问题是一个与理念有关的认知问题。制衡制度导致利益集团享有过大的影响力,也不能在总体上代表大多数人的利益。这种制度是无法通过少许简单改革得到修复的。拿总统制来说,政府总想通过行使一大堆新的行政权力去解决立法部门陷入瘫痪的问题。虽说此举会解决很多问题,但同样也会引发很多问题。在意识形态出现两极分化的情况下,取消特别拨款以及强化党纪实际上可能增加在立法领域达成广泛妥协的难度。虽说利用法院执行行政部门的决策可能效率极低,但由于没有更强大且更统一的官僚机构,或许并没有其他办法可行。其中很多问题是可以得到解决的,条件是美国开始实行统一度更高的议会制。但对美国的制度结构进行如此激进的改革是很难想象的。美国人一直把他们的宪法视为一部准宗教文献。如果美国的制度不发生彻底崩溃的话,要说服美国人重新思考美国宪法中最基本的原则,其可能性微乎其微。由此说来,我们当前是出了问题。

http://www.the-american-interest.com/ ... an-political-dysfunction/

American Political Dysfunction

America's system of checks and balances usually works well, but not when it comes to fixing the Federal budget.

Published on October 4, 2011

During the summer’s controversies over the debt ceiling and U.S. credit downgrade, there was a lot of talk about the “dysfunctional” American political system. Obviously, a country that has to play a game of chicken with its reputation for full faith and credit isn’t working very well. But what exactly is the source of this dysfunction? If it is a systemic dysfunction, is there something about it that can be fixed?

One possible answer is that the problem doesn’t lie in the system, but in the underlying polarization of American society, which is divided over basic governing ideology and increasingly angry in its public discourse. There has been a huge literature on polarization and its sources, which is blamed on electoral districting, residential self-segregation, an ideologically compartmentalized media and the like. 

To the extent that the problem resides in the underlying society, there’s not much that can be done in terms of institutional tinkering to make the system more functional. The problem is one of political culture, in this case the absence of a dominant culture. 

However, there’s plenty of evidence from polling data and other sources that Americans are actually not nearly as divided as the common perception would have it. The political scientist Morris Fiorina and his collaborators have gone so far as to call the idea of polarization a myth;1 on many issues from the environment to stem cells to the budget one can find solid majorities in favor of various forms of pragmatic compromise. If politicians were responding to median voters as they are supposed to, we shouldn’t have a problem.

A well-designed democratic political system should mitigate underlying social disagreement and allow the society to come to a consensus on important issues. There is plenty of evidence, however, that the U.S. political system does exactly the opposite: It actually magnifies and exacerbates underlying conflicts, and it makes consensual decision-making more difficult.

The reasons are deeply embedded in the U.S. Constitution. Americans rightly take pride in their system of checks and balances, which were deliberately tailored to limit the power of centralized government. Despite the appearance of a strong executive implicit in a presidential system, there are very few issues on which an American President can act on his own authority. The President must share power with two houses of Congress, the judiciary and a multi-tiered structure of state and local government. Indeed, the American political system is at the far end of the scale in terms of the number of “veto players” it empowers—that is, actors who can independently block or modify government action. This is nowhere more true than in the making of the Federal budget.

This feature is evident when one compares the American system to other types of democratic polities that tend to concentrate power to a greater extent. A British Westminster system strips out a huge number of veto players: In the classic system (which no longer exists anywhere in a pure form), the power of the executive branch is derived from legislative majorities, which eliminates the possibility of deadlock between the branches of government. A 50 percent-plus-one majority in the House of Commons is sufficient to make binding law. The upper house cannot veto legislation; there is no devolution of power to local governments; and no judicial review. The plurality electoral system combined with strong party discipline ensure that British Prime Ministers are backed by strong legislative majorities. (The current coalition government, resulting from an election where no party won a parliamentary majority on its own, is a highly unusual outcome in the British system.)

As a result of this concentration of power, British governments are able to formulate budgets and make the difficult tradeoffs between spending and taxes with a view to the final outcome. The budget is announced by the government at the beginning of the yearly cycle and then passed by Parliament, with little modification, in a week or two. Whether one likes it or not, the current Cameron government’s austerity budget was the product of such an abbreviated procedure.

Compare this to the American system. The President may announce a budget at the beginning of the fiscal cycle, but this is more an aspirational document than a political reality. The U.S. Constitution firmly locates spending authority in Congress, and indeed all 535 members of Congress are potential veto players with an opportunity to stick their favored projects or tax exemptions into the final outcome. With the decline in the power of the congressional committees overseeing the budget, there is no strong central direction to the process. The budget that eventually emerges, months after the announcement of the President’s budget plan, is the product of horse trading among individual legislators, who always find it easier to achieve consensus by exchanging spending increases for tax cuts. Hence the permanent bias towards deficits. 

Back in 1982, the late economist Mancur Olson published a book entitled The Rise and Decline of Nations, in which he argued that during prolonged periods of peace and prosperity, democratic countries tend to accumulate entrenched interest groups that collect rents from the government and lead to the gradual ossification of political systems.2 At the time he was thinking about Britain, which was then only beginning its Thatcherite revolution, but his analysis has subsequently been applied to Japan, a variety of other European countries and, of course, the United States.3 In the context of America’s current fiscal gridlock, Olson’s name and framework are increasingly invoked to explain what is wrong with the political system.

To Olson’s model, I would add the following amendment that comes out of my recent volume The Origins of Political Order. Human beings have a natural mode of sociability, which is to favor friends and family. In the absence of strong incentives to behave differently—meaning, for example, something like the existential pressures of war or national crisis—there is a tendency for societies to revert increasingly to patrimonial forms of politics. Existing elites use their access to the system to entrench themselves and will continue to get more powerful with the passage of time, unless the state can get its act together and explicitly block them.

All democratic counties tend to accumulate interest groups and entrenched elites, but in the United States they interact with the system of checks and balances in a particularly destructive way. The decentralized nature of the legislative process hands entire parts of the Federal budget to particular lobbies. Policies that are both sensible and in the long run necessary are simply off the table. Hence we cannot discuss ending or reducing the deductibility of mortgage interest due to opposition from the real estate industry; we can’t move away from the current fee-for-service model in health care because of the doctors’ lobby. Above all, the financial sector represents the most concentrated source of wealth in the United States today; despite having played a major role in the recent financial crisis, the large banks have emerged politically powerful and able to block or undermine efforts to regulate them more strongly.

So how do we get out of this situation? Olson is not terribly optimistic on this point. He suggests that it often takes war or revolution to clear away the accumulation of interest groups. Bombing Germany and Japan to smithereens in World War II allowed them to get a fresh start after 1945. He also suggests that opening up a country to trade competition may have a similar effect. But what if the country is already open, as is the United States?

Seeking major constitutional change to reduce the number of veto players in the American system is also off the table. The broad system of checks and balances is very deeply part of American political culture and for most of the nation’s history has served it well. We are not going to move to anything like a Westminster system; even non-Constitutional changes like adopting an Australian-style electoral system (the alternative vote) will be highly controversial.

What does seem to be happening, however, is the emulation of certain features of the Westminster system in the context of the existing American one. The super-committee arrangement that came out of the summer’s debt limit fight is a harbinger of a future way forward. 

Basically, we are never going to get to a fiscally sustainable budget unless we take its formulation out of the hands of 535 individual legislators and delegate it to a much smaller group, one hopefully influenced heavily by more technocratic types who are not captured by particular interest groups. As in the British system, this group could make painful tradeoffs and then refer the result back to the whole Congress, which would bind itself to pass the legislation as an up-or-down package. 

There are already a number of precedents for this, such as the fast-track authority that was once used to pass free trade pacts, or the base-closing commission that facilitated military downsizing. In both cases, there was general recognition that the concentrated interests over-represented in Congress would block any meaningful action if these measures were subject to the normal legislative process. Under this type of delegated authority, legislation was formulated by experts sensitive but not beholden to interest groups—the U.S. Trade Representative in the first case, a bipartisan commission in the latter.

The super-committee arrangement agreed to by Congress over the summer isn’t actually this kind of body. It consists of serving members of Congress, including some who are ideologically allergic to compromise. There is no guarantee that they will come to an agreement on a budget, even under the pressure of automatic budget cuts. Without stronger expert representation, it is entirely possible that the smaller panel will simply replicate the divisions of the existing legislature. Congress, moreover, can’t bind itself in perpetuity and is perfectly capable of undoing the existing pact.

Delegating authority to technocrats has never gone down well in American politics, which from the days of Andrew Jackson has been highly suspicious of experts and insistent on an ever-increasing domain of public participation in decision-making. Domains of existing delegated authority like the Federal Reserve have been under continuous populist attack.

Nonetheless, some version of the super-committee idea represents the only way out of the current crisis. It is not clear that individual members of Congress would be willing to give up their tremendous powers to influence the budget for the sake of local constituents. But the growing sense of national crisis has already changed the terms of the debate substantially. 

There has been a great deal of comparison recently between the seemingly efficient Chinese authoritarian decision-making system and the paralysis that seems to characterize democratic political systems from Japan to Europe to the United States. The Chinese system, however, embeds plenty of hidden problems that will make it in the long run unsustainable. It is, moreover, absurd to think that it would constitute a realistic model for any modern democracy.

What is less well recognized is that there is a huge degree of institutional variation among liberal democracies. While they have all been moving in a more populist direction in recent years, the looming requirement of re-writing basic social contracts underlying contemporary welfare states will force change. Whether Americans can forthrightly confront the limitations of their own system will be an important test of the resilience of American life. 

1Fiorina, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. Third Edition(Longman, 2010).

2Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations (Yale University Press, 1982).

3See for example Jonathan Rauch, Demosclerosis: The Silent Killer of American Government (Times Books, 1994).

 

Francis Fukuyama is a senior fellow at the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Stanford University, and chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest.

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