#UCRiverside Political Scientist John Cioffi Warns Debt Default Would Be Catastrophic
Source Newsroom: University of California, Riverside
The U.S. experienced a series of government shutdowns over budgetary impasse during the 1980s, another period of intensifying ideological polarization following the rise of the “New Right” and the election of Ronald Reagan, Cioffi says. This time, however, the polarization is much deeper and the stakes are higher.
“There are two important things to keep in mind in order to understand the budget impasse and government shutdown. First, the current gridlock on Congress is hardly unprecedented, but it has worsened as a result of developments in the composition and character of the Republican Party and, to a lesser extent, of the Democratic Party.”
The U.S. historically had two major parties with cross-cutting internal divisions and large parts of both parties with overlapping policy preferences, for example, on welfare, fiscal policy, civil rights, and anti-communism policies. “In the last 20 years, that has changed as the Republican Party, taken over by Southern conservatives, has become a much more ideologically homogenous party and therefore more intransigent against compromise. These conservatives are also far more hostile to government (when it doesn’t serve their interests) and willing to damage it in the process of shutting it down. This hostility goes beyond temporary government shutdown to playing chicken over the extension of the government’s debt limit and a potential governmental default — and thus imperiling the national and global financial system.”
The Democrats are somewhat more ideologically unified than in the past, but not nearly to the degree as the GOP, Cioffi adds. “The Democrats, as a party, have not moved to the left as the GOP has moved to the right. In fact, the Democrats have moved significantly to the right during the past 25 years — just not as far or as fast as the GOP.”
Secondly, political polarization produces destructive crises because it occurs within a constitutional system that cannot accommodate ideologically cohesive parties, Cioffi explains. “When bipartisan deals are impossible, the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution kick in — not as intended, but as designed — and grind government to a literal halt. The possibility of divided government, the Senate filibuster, the electoral system itself favoring a two-party duopoly and allowing partisan gerrymandering, have driven us to this state of dysfunction. The Constitution is increasingly not the solution to our problems, but the problem itself.
“The U.S. is still in a severely weakened economic state of low growth and high unemployment. The macroeconomic impact of a shutdown is far more destructive now because the economy is far more dependent on government spending than under healthier conditions. And a debt default probably would be catastrophic.”
John Cioffi website http://www.politicalscience.ucr.edu/people/faculty/cioffi/index.html
Policy, Regulatory Failures Produced Meltdown http://newsroom.ucr.edu/2366
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