No, 'the System' Is Not Broken

Not getting what you want from the government isn't a sign of failure.


Credit: mandamonium / photo on flickr

If there is anything presidential candidates agree on this year, it's that our government and politics are not functioning to fulfill the desires of the American people. Donald Trump proclaims that "our system is broken." 

The phrase could be used by almost anyone in the race. "Government in Washington is dysfunctional," says Mike Huckabee. Bernie Sanders believes "the American political system has been totally corrupted." Joe Biden sounded like a candidate the other day when he lamented the "dysfunction in Washington." 

The premise is that most Americans want one thing and our leaders in Washington keep giving them something entirely different. Ted Cruz insists his ideas are what most Americans favor. "It's only in Washington, D.C., that those are considered radical or extreme," he says. Sanders says the people "have serious doubts about how much their vote actually matters." 

If only the politicians would listen to the people and respond to their wishes. If only democracy operated so public preferences become public policy. If only our interests weren't continually shortchanged by operational misfires. 

Actually, the American government does a good job responding to the desires of the electorate. Sanders, Cruz and many citizens assume they don't get their way because the system fails. 

But sometimes they don't get their way because most people don't agree with them. Sometimes they don't get their way because it collides with constitutional principles. Sometimes they get their way, but what they want is contradictory and—what's the word I'm looking for?—dysfunctional. 

Cruz insists the great majority of Americans share the values he upholds: "live within your means, don't bankrupt our kids and grandkids, follow the Constitution." To which I can only say: Ha. Ha. Ha. 

American politicians don't refuse to live within our means because they are congenital spendthrifts. They do it because the citizens want more things from their government than they are willing to pay for. 

A 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center asked about various federal outlays and found that nearly every one of them is very popular. "For 18 of 19 programs tested, majorities want either to increase spending or maintain it at current levels," reported Pew. The sole exception was foreign aid—which accounts for about 1 percent of the federal budget. 

Living within our means suggests we should pay taxes in an amount sufficient to cover all these outlays—something we have not done in a long time. This year, the federal government will spend about $425 billion more than it takes in. 

We could close the deficit by cutting spending, which most people don't want to do. Or we could close it by raising taxes, which they also oppose. In a Gallup poll this year, only 4 percent of Americans favored an increase in federal income taxes. The public would rather run large deficits than do what is required to prevent them. 

Sanders favors higher tax rates on the rich. When asked whether 90 percent would be too high, his answer was "no." The problem is that this is a minority view. The top rate today is 39.6 percent. A 2012 poll commissioned by the political website The Hill asked people what they thought the top rate should be. It reported that "75 percent said the right level for top earners was 30 percent or below." The rich get off easy? Blame the non-rich. 

The people, granted, don't always get the last word. Cruz thinks something is wrong when the Supreme Court can make same-sex marriage legal everywhere. Sanders thinks something is wrong when the Supreme Court can empower the Koch brothers to squander millions on elections. 

But deciding how to interpret the Constitution has been the responsibility of the Supreme Court for more than 200 years. If the justices rule against your side, that doesn't mean the system is broken or that democracy has been violated. The Constitution was meant to put some issues beyond the reach of majorities. 

The justices, keep in mind, are appointed by elected presidents and confirmed by elected senators. Even at the Supreme Court, the will of the people plays a major role over time. 

The candidates would like voters to think that anytime things don't go as they want, it's because someone or something failed the voters. That's usually not the case. 

In a constitutional democracy, everyone sometimes is fated to lose. Being a sore loser? That's optional. 

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Jesus God, Chapman. They pay you for this dreck? In American money?

    Yo reason! Hire agile cyborg, at least he’s interesting!

    1. chicago tribune writer getting hosted on Reason…..

      yea… libertarian website.



      1. Chapman has pictures of Nick having sex with a dead child, in the ear, or something similar. It really is the only possible explanation.

  2. And yeah, the systems broken. (Just not the way you think.)

  3. “Not getting what you want from the government isn’t a sign of failure.”

    never getting what you want IS a sign of failure.

    nice poisoning of the well in the fucking title, god damn dirty jew editor.

    TL:DR indirect attacks on libertarians and anarchist courtesy of the regulation & cock loving Koch Brothers: we aint the tea party, assholes.


  4. Feds Institute massively expensive program that nobody asked for.

    Over time, the program replaces privatized solutions.

    People come to “depend” on the public solution (even though a privatized solution is probably cheaper and more efficient) because it’s effectively ALL THERE IS. The same is happening with the ACA, even though it began life as an unpopular program that nobody asked for.

    It’s no mystery why people want these programs funded, but it’s SPECIFICALLY an example of the system being “broken”.

    1. I agree. Private production of various products and services are subjected to market forces. Something that fails, does just that and doesn’t carry with it legacy costs.

      When the govt provides something, any failure is rewarded with more of other people’s money, and even a new branch with more workers to oversee the overseers.

  5. In a constitutional democracy

    Republic. Republic. Republic.

    1. Really who freaking cares about the semantics. I’ll take a benevolent dictatorship as long as I am left the hell alone.

      1. ” I’ll take a benevolent dictatorship as long as I am left the hell alone.”

        Unpossible. The ‘benevolent’ dictator will never leave you alone.

    2. It means the same thing. This pretention that they mean different things is just silly. What do you think would be the difference between a constitutional republic & a constitutional democracy? Does it still represent the people of the area? Is it still a closed system w no external rulers? Res publica (the people’s thing) vs. demo-cracy (gov’t by the district, i.e. the people of the district); the “constitutional” part is the same, so…?

      1. One describes the nature of the state – a republic; while the other describes a process – democracy. I agree it’s funny when people scream the US is a “REPUBLIC”. It’s all a social construct anyway. But please edify me as to the significant difference? I’d really like to know.
        Basically there’s degrees or tyranny and degrees of liberty – call it whatever you want.

        1. Really?

          Well son, a democracy is rule of the majority through a vote by the people. The founders gave us a representative government that represented the STATES and the people. These “checks and balances” were meant to serve the individual over the majority. Among these checks and balances was the election of the Senate by state senators and the governor of the state. It was balanced against the Congress which was elected by the people. Another balance was the Electoral College which acted to temper the “majority” vote by the people for president.

          These are VERY important distinctions. When you blur the lines between the philosophies of how we govern ourselves, politics, you get exactly what we have in this country today. People with no philosophical or moral principles. People who would trample on the rights of others in the name of some perceived “social justice.” People who believe that the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, all the while never realizing that if we concerned ourselves with observing the rights of the individual, we ARE serving the many. You know…..morons.

          The only philosophy to ever advocate “democracy” was Socialism. I would direct you to writings by Robert Owens and Henri de Saint Simon (early 1800’s.) Many people try to equate “democracy” with freedom or liberty. They couldn’t be farther apart. Democracy is the rule of the majority. A Republic’s intent is to defend the individual FROM the majority.


          1. Please asshat, don’t patronize me.
            You just spouted a bunch of subjective definitions, immersed in a history lesson and condescending bullshit.
            Spare me – you fail to consider that words have many subjective and variable meanings.
            Democracy is literally “rule of the people”. Any other interpretation of those Greek parts is subjective. Republic is from the Latin – res publica ( the affairs of the people).
            So go educate yourself shit-stain and lose the condescending commentary.
            You still have FAILED to address the significant difference between a republic and what is commonly called a democracy. Not a history lesson, not the philosophy lesson, not your own interpretation.
            Take your meds, grandpa and have a nice Labor Day.

            1. Condescension is about the nicest thing you deserve.

              The US Constitution expressly guarantees the citizens of each state a republican form of government.

              Care to tell me how many times the word democracy (or any variant thereof) appears in that document?

          2. Wasn’t there a political party that advocated the common good before the individual good?

    3. *Constitutional democratic republic

      The two are not opposites, despite what some may believe

    4. I thought this too. I care RUDEHOST! I CARE!

    5. I thought this too. I care RUDEHOST! I CARE!

    6. Constitutional?

      The constitutional order ended in the US decades ago.

      The regime that replaced it isn’t a horrible government, historically speaking. Even compared with contemporary alternatives. But it has little to do with the US constitution.

    7. “Democracy” and “republic” are both ill-defined terms; the only firm meaning either word has is that political power somehow originates with the people themselves, rather than God, a dictator, or a hereditary monarch.

    8. Liberty. Liberty. Liberty. I vote libertarian.

  6. “If only the politicians would listen to the people and respond to their wishes. If only democracy operated so public preferences become public policy. If only our interests weren’t continually shortchanged by operational misfires.”

    And just last week, someone was bragging that if they were elected, they wouldn’t be beholden to any group of voters!

  7. No, the system is not broken, I agree.

    It’s a total scam, and is still pretty much working perfectly :-).

    However, for most here and elsewhere:

    “In your dreams Obama is not a scam,
    “In your dreams George Bush was not a scam,
    “In your dreams Clinton was not a scam,
    “In your dreams Reagan was not a scam,
    In your dreams, all the rest were not a scam”
    “In your dreams the constitution is not a scam,
    “In your dreams the Supreme Court is not a scam,
    “In your dreams, welfare is not a scam”
    “In your dreams, social security is not a scam ”
    And so on and so forth, ad infinitum 🙂 .

    Original music and lyrics: “Dreams[ Hormegeddon Blues]”:

    So, dream on, or not? As always, your choice dear reader. 🙂

    Regards, onebornfree.

  8. Cruz insists the great majority of Americans share the values he upholds: “live within your means, don’t bankrupt our kids and grandkids, follow the Constitution.” To which I can only say: Ha. Ha. Ha.

    American politicians don’t refuse to live within our means because they are congenital spendthrifts. They do it because the citizens want more things from their government than they are willing to pay for.

    /points finger and screams “CYNIC!!! CYNIC!!! CYNIC!!!”

  9. The american people deserve the government they want and they deserve it good and hard.

  10. It always strikes that the argument on government is phrased wrongly in BIG GOVERNMENT VS. SMALL GOVERNMENT. In terms of history and structure, it’s CENTRAL GOVERNMENT VS. LOCAL GOVERNMENT ?subsidiarity and proper federalism are how we reduce the size of government because the debates become de-abstracted and costs/debts have to be properly budgeted. The ‘Imperial Presidency’ of the past century and the mechanistic philosophies of the Progressive Era and Beyond have done a bureaucratic whammy on how we conceive of organizing principles.

    One of the things that I’ve liked that the Republican Party has done in recent years (amidst a lot of other stupidity, but some credit where it’s due) is their strategy of actually focusing on having candidates in state assemblies (folks like Jeff Greenfield and Michael Barone have pointed to the DNC’s ignoring those areas over the past decade or so as part of the lack of a Democratic ‘bench’ at higher levels of the party). That’s where the work of American politics should be done. In the process, especially if you shift national programs to the states and state programs locally, we’ll see government shrink overall.

  11. Reading these comments one can’t help but think that things are pretty hopeless. If you believe, as I do, that our government is a criminal enterprise or just hopelessly corrupt, there is something you can do. Short of armed revolution, our options are limited, but we do have choices. If you don’t trust government, stop supporting it. Quit voting for incumbents and in primary elections party endorsed candidates. If you are consistently voting for election winners then you are part of the problem. What makes political corruption so easy is that as an elected member of Congress, one has a better than 90% chance of getting reelected. If you never, ever vote for an incumbent you will be doing your part to end this travesty. Just in case you’re not sure, it’s all but a certainty that your Representative and both Senators have participated in conspiracies to embezzle tax money. Inside the beltway it’s simply called fundraising. Quid pro quo, pay to play, bid rigging, money laundering and associated tax fraud are all tools of the trade in politics. There are no innocents. And just to be clear, your elected officials are not participating directly in the fraud. No, that is handled by political operatives but with the knowledge and approval of said officials. This is how as much as half of all political money spent is illicit. I urge you to at least give it some consideration the next time you go to the polls.

  12. The system is broken – because VOTING MAJORITIES GET TOO MUCH of what they want. As Mr. Chapman points out, the Constitution was designed to put some issues beyond the reach of voting majorities. The Supreme Court has gradually eroded this function with respect to federal legislation beginning in the late 1930s and largely continuing through this day. This trend with a few exceptions will not change anytime soon if ever.

  13. Government is always, to some degree, a fraud and an imposition. Which isn’t to say that living without one is practical.

  14. If you think proving that a problem exists means that government must be employed to solve it you maybe should rethink your notions of what it means to be libertarian.

  15. any system that allows a man with no accomplishments and a socialist to communist ideology to get elected twice is fucking broken.

    1. The presidency was never intended to wield the kind of power over domestic affairs that it has acquired. Hence, the system wasn’t set up to elect brilliant presidents. In fact, our system has traditionally selected for mediocrity, something that has served us well. Europe routinely had brilliant and skilled leaders, and frequently, they used their talents for evil.

  16. Wow how one sided and biased can you get in one post…… geeeeezzzzz! Must be on the Kool-aid side of the fence!

  17. Ah, a resident Progressive blames the peasants. What a surprise.

    Nothing wrong with the Progressive Theocracy. Nothing wrong with a Supreme Court that has turned the constitution on it’s head, and routinely just makes shit up. Nothing wrong with an unelected and unaccountable federal bureaucracy run amok. Because all those things are exactly as the Progressive Theocracy wants it.

    It’s all the fault of the sinful peasants. They’re all stupid and wicked. They should stop whining and thank their lucky stars that they have such wise and benevolent rulers to make their decisions for them.

    1. It’s all the fault of the sinful peasants. They’re all stupid and wicked.

      No, not at all: demanding that other people pay for your crap is neither stupid nor wicked; it’s what our system of government encourages.

  18. A Chapman article that isn’t utterly idiotic? Has Chapman been replaced by an alien double?

  19. The system was designed to promote gridlock and maintain the status quo. If nothing is getting done in Washington, that’s a feature, not a bug.

  20. The system – and it is a system, no scare quotes necessary – IS broken. Not because *I* don’t get what I want. Because people want different things, and with a large central government, it’s impossible for ANY significant portion of people to be happy.

    Is a Democratic Republic better than any other large, force-backed system of government? Sure, maybe. Anything extant anyway. If for some reason we wanted to keep our big government we could take the good in our system and improve it with some lessons from the good parts of how the parliamentary systems are set up, implement some sort of ranked voting system like IRV (get more than two damned parties going), shorten term limits and time between elections, etc. But, although it could be better, **as big governments go** it’s not too bad.


      But that’s the false premise here. That we’re picking between big government systems, or judging our system against its best possible big-government self. The system is broken because there are 320 million people in 50 states being governed by one big, central government. 320 million people don’t agree on shit. For a lot of things, you’re lucky if you get more than 50% of people to agree. Yet it’s 51% (yes, bit of a simplification) that put the government in. Leaving 156 million people screwed. And to make matters worse, as the author pointed out, the people voting don’t really know what they want. They want contradictory things. At different levels they elect different people who represent different parts of their impossible ideals. And they vote for people they don’t research, for positions they don’t understand. And the end result is that even *fewer* people get anything they want (and often, basically nothing at all happens).

    2. CONTINUED 2.

      So, since people don’t research and think before they vote, since people want contradictory things, since people don’t truly *know* what they want at a federal level, the answer is to make the choice for them right? Yay dictatorship! Or maybe as the author would have us believe the answer is that the people are broken but the system is great, so stop your belly-aching, or maybe get to work educating people that they need to pick which government programs they want ’cause they can’t have them all.

      NO. It’s just that 320 million people is a fucking lot of people, and the idea of governing them all with one big system is asinine, whether it’s a Democratic Republic, a Constitutional Monarchy, or Dear Leader.

      TL;DR: It IS broken. Democracy doesn’t work because big government doesn’t work. Libertarianism and federalism are the answer. Duh.

      1. I have never once been harassed or persecuted by the national government of this country. I have, however, experienced both at the hands of my state and local governments, which are populated by relative idiots, elected to office by the sort of people who vote in local elections in large numbers (paranoid idiots).

        I don’t see how the complaint goes away if you’re talking about a mere 5 million people in a state. There will still be all the same constituencies competing for their own interests. What number of people is the cutoff line between a workable government and an untenable one?

        The US system offers a decent latitude for states. The federal government compels what it considers positive action mostly by offering money in exchange for them. Otherwise they compel by requiring states not to overly abuse their citizens, and have done so in successful ways.

        1. Being the science guy that you are Tony I am shocked that you have never heard of Dunbars Number.


            1. Links busted. Anyway you can google it. =)

  21. Anyway according to Dunbar’s number a person can only have a stable social relationship with about 150 people. This is why historically all forms of government, and religion always break down into warring factions which leads to an their inevitable collapse. IMO the system is broken, because we were never designed for it.

  22. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  23. The problem, dear Chapman, is that the “dysfunction” in Washington DC is because they constantly create lines in the sand that they refuse to cross at the behest of the most extreme aspects of their party constituents.

    Let’s take an example: Welfare. Most Americans support some welfare. In general you’ll find a majority that would support people getting a hand when they are down n out. Some money, some food stamps, and potentially even some education to get them back on their feet. That support ends in a metaphorical cliff, however, when you look at two aspects of the welfare system: The perpetual users and the governmental duplication of function.

    If you are going to use welfare for the rest of your life without a good reason (disability, mental illness, etc) then the general sentiment is “GFY.” Then, you have multiple entities involved in each of housing, food stamps (/food-stamp-like programs), direct payments, and so forth, all of which have differing requirements. So you spend weeks signing up for things because you have to get a law degree to figure out what you might be eligible for — and that’s without a firm “Okay, you’re in.”

    But those two things are exactly what people in government stop and fight about constantly. THAT is your dysfunction. The people want two things: Solutions that work and failed solutions are removed. Instead, they get four decades of screaming from one side and doubling down from the other on every single issue.

    1. At whose expense, these handouts? Are men with guns involved?

      1. Welfare is a government enterprise, just like all of the “good things” you think government does. If you want a government that doesn’t tax, I’d suggest you move to an unpopulated island. Then you can pretend, to yourself, that the work you do governing your own survival isn’t a tax on your work output, isn’t the same thing, and is better somehow.

        Or you can realize that in a capitalist system, the government is given license to tax to pay for anything the government puts in place. If you want it to not be spent on something, say you disagree with spending it in that manner. Don’t pretend that somehow the government taxing to fund itself is inherently bad.

  24. Bernie is right abt the Senile Court letting corporations buy elections–at least until each corporation qualifies to register and cast a ballot. Now would be a good time to draft a gradualist plank calling for abolition of Karl Marx’ personal income tax. Corporations are not individuals. Individuals are what tax collectors’ guns are designed to kill. Corporations have staffs of lawyers bargain with the IRS while their detectives snap footage of judges and prosecutors entering and leaving motels. A personal income tax is a collectivist enactment and the impossibly complex forms are involuntary servitude. Repealing it would effectively nullify the recently purchased ruling as far as you and I are concerned, give those deep-pocket bribe donors an incentive to work for tax cuts and small government. Who better than the Libertarian Party to bell the cat for individual rights?

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