I’ve been pestering a mate of mine for a while now to write a guest blog. Writing is something he enjoys and something he is good at. So when he sent me an essay about the western politics of today and I struggled to digest it, I pressed him again to make sense of it in 500 words for the blog. Read on and if you like it let me know so I can pester him for more.
There are endless political post-mortems claiming to explain how the Brexit and Trump election results happened, and how it relates to the political environment. Dr Francis Fukuyama, political scientist and public intellectual, lays out his assessment in ‘America: the failed state’ published in Prospect Magazine in December 2016.
With so much media attention centred on Trump and Brexit it is easy to dismiss the hype. But he warns against this. Cracks in the traditional western model of democracy are widening globally. Authoritarian advances are evident in disparate countries from Turkey to Hungary. Dr Fukuyama reckons that the size of the political disruption could eventually bear a comparison to the collapse of communism a generation ago.
Dr Fukuyama’s analysis focuses on the US. A key part of his argument is that the polarisation of the electorate and the simultaneous rise of powerful interest groups has caused a situation where special interests can stop any new policies harmful to themselves (even if they are good for the public as a whole), while at the same time collective action for the common good (which in principle could overcome special interests) becomes harder to achieve.
He uses the fact that in the US the “federal budget has not been passed under what is labelled “regular order” for more than a decade” as a high-profile piece of evidence. He cites other malign effects, too, such as the cumbersome tax code, with its “incomprehensible catalogue of exemptions or subsidies”.
He argues that the situation produces both poor governance and economic outcomes, and ultimately widens income inequality, especially among those with lesser access to education. This political economy essay is definitely worth a read. But settle in with a cup of strong coffee, because you’ll need time to get through it.
Political scientists are known for self-aggrandising predictions. And Dr Fukuyama has form. But at the very least, his essay prompts you to consider Australia’s place in all this. Is Australia experiencing the same level of political disenchantment as elsewhere? And what role are special interest groups playing in this? Like most global trends, will Australia follow and if so who could be Australia’s version of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage?
No one can fully answer the first two questions. Rather, only time will tell. But as for the third one, I reckon forget Pauline Hanson, forget Nick Xenophon and forget Clive Palmer: one possible candidate, for better or worse depending on your perspective, could be seasoned political operative, professional provocateur and ex-opposition leader, Mark Latham.