Dear America, why do you keep doing this to yourself?
Check out any American news or politics website of late, and you can find all kinds of helpful explainers about the recent three-day government shutdown.
Who’s off work, what services are effected, how much it costs, all that stuff.
What’s missing is the fact that shutdowns are deeply, deeply stupid.
The United States is the only country in the world that has a budgetary system designed like a mad scientist’s doomsday device. If you don’t keep pressing the button (i.e. passing budgetary votes) the whole thing explodes!
In most governments, taxes are collected and revenue expended even when the government is paralyzed.
Consider Belgium, which in 2010 had a disastrous election that saw two diametrically opposed parties split the vote. They each failed to assemble any sort of coalition. Belgium had no effective, working legislature for a staggering 541 days!
That’s not good. If that happened in Canada, it would mean no new legislation for months, no way to respond to long-term issues like housing, trade or the environment.
But the country wouldn’t crash and burn. (More likely, we’d just have new elections until we got a bunch that could pass something, anything like a budget.)
America isn’t a failed state. But if you squint, you can see the fractures along which it could crumble.
A legislative branch that is both hyper-partisan and riven with internal factions in each party. Excessive gerrymandering. Resentment between rural and urban states. A primary system that inflames passions while soaking up vast sums of money. And that’s just on the political side of things.
What worries me most is that many Americans don’t even see their problems as weird. It’s weird to have an off switch for the government. It’s something you should probably fix.
I don’t know if America can fix itself, at this point. And that’s a scary prospect for those of us living next to the mad scientist and his doomsday machine.