Constitutional Drift and Political Dysfunction: Underappreciated Maladies of the Political Commons
Independent Review 21(4) 2017: 569-585
24 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2015 Last revised: 15 Mar 2017
Date Written: June 17, 2015
In this paper I offer a novel interpretation of the challenges posed by ‘constitutional drift’ — the tendency for de facto political procedures to alter when these procedures no longer are incentive-compatible for those wielding political power — for sound governance institutions, with special reference to the American republic. While it is widely recognized that various watershed political events, most obviously the New Deal, have upended American constitutional arrangements, what is less obvious is how the new constitutional order presents severe difficulties for discovering which political projects, out of the limitless number which are technically feasible, are truly in the interests of both governors and governed. These difficulties, incorrectly identified as problematic only for adherents of conservatism or classical liberalism, in fact exist for a wide range of political philosophies. Drawing on insights from constitutional political economy and market process economics, I discuss possibilities for escaping the accompanying tragedy of the political commons.
Keywords: Constitutions, federalism, feedback, fiscal imbalance, political commons, polycentricity
JEL Classification: H11, H40, H77, P14, P16
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation