Constitutional drift and political dysfunction: Underappreciated maladies of the political commons

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Political dysfunction culminates in political institutions’ increasing difficulty in generating reliable informational feedback and hence the erosion of mechanisms for correcting errors. Seminal theories of political dysfunction are those of Madison and Tocqueville. This chapter provides an overview of constitutional drift as rooted in constitutional bargains among political elites. Understanding this bargaining process is necessary to set the stage for analyzing currently existing governance institutions and hence political dysfunction. The chapter focuses on developing the theory of political dysfunction proper, showing its necessary relation to feedback erosion that follows from the “tragedy of the commons” in governance. As an illustration of the theory, it considers the case of fiscal imbalances in the American republic, showing how these imbalances are simply one way in which political dysfunction manifests. The chapter concludes by discussing some implications of the theory, as well as the costs and benefits of some possible remedies.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEconomic Freedom and Prosperity
Subtitle of host publicationThe Origins and Maintenance of Liberalization
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780429813214
ISBN (Print)9781138335394
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


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