Why do democracies get so little done?

April 01, 2014 2 min read 0 Comments

I was writing a response to Mark Esposito, Ph.D.’s post about Michael Porter’s article on Politics, when I realized I’d gone 2000 characters over the limit.  So here’s my comment (sorry I got long-winded) …


I've always loved Porter's stuff on business (it is still state of the art when applied correctly); but after thirty years of watching (and sometimes working with presidents and prime ministers on) applications of his theories to nations, I have yet to see them at all successful--in fact, in my experience, they've led to more harm than good.  In the same vein, this article on politics seems off base.


There is an implication in Porter’s article that somehow the two-party split in the US is something new. That is not my reading of history: the two-party split has existed from the beginning.  Sure, it leads to stalemate, but our American system of governance was designed to keep every part of the apparatus in check. Change was designed to be slow – and the only times major changes have happened in US laws has been following a major national crises.  No other country would today consider adopting the US constitution as the basis for their country's laws because while it may have been state of the art in the 1700s, it is well past its prime. Band-aids on our venerable (but old) constitution are not going to change much.


The more important question about why our country (and almost every democracy) splits ideologically in two (no matter how many parties are representing those two sides)  is much more interesting – and can only be answered through psychology.  Most democratic nations see their ruling power swing from liberal to conservative (and back) over a few election percentage points on a regular basis.  Roughly half of every modern advanced democracy is conservative (want to keep things the way they are) and the half liberal (want to change things).  While I don't think I am completely convinced by Professor Satoshi Kanazawa's findings of a strong link between liberalism and IQ, it is an interesting read and makes one wonder if the two-party split isn’t much more about genetics and education than it is about the political systems themselves.