Government is not supposed to be efficient

As the elections for the European Parliament approach, various outlets are trying to convince the public that while the Union is flawed and bureaucratic, it is preferable to allow a cohesive body to make decisions rather than the disjointed masses. It is easy for those wanting efficiency to demand centralization of power because it enables them to act with speed over a vast array of issues. Yet this ignores and eliminates the variety of perspectives in areas alienated by these swift rulings. Indeed, the People are a non-cohesive group composed of a multitude of factions constantly fighting for power. But isn’t that precisely the point?

Let us take a look at the American model and why it is so successful. While the Bill of Rights is a remarkable text, it is merely a piece of paper. Many failed states have had glamorous constitutions granting an innumerable list of rights. Yet, that did not stop these projects from turning into authoritarian dictatorships. What distinguishes the American model of government from others is not the rights that it grants the People, but that while others merely claim or strive to have a separation of powers, the United States clearly achieves that goal. The two Houses of Congress are of equal power, as a text of law must be approved by both Houses in order to become the law of the land. And if one of the Houses amends or rejects the text, the other must also accept the amendment or present a new bill. As you’ll have noticed, with 100 senators and 435 representatives, it does not take a lot of effort to complicate things and kill a piece of legislation. If by miracle both Houses are satisfied, the President still needs to sign the bill into law. And even when it is, an average Joe can challenge its adherence to the Constitution by bringing a case in front of an independent Judiciary.

All of this makes the process complicated, and it requires great effort and compromise to pass any piece of legislation. That is by design. If it wasn’t difficult to pass laws then most of them would disregard the rights and concerns of the minority. It ensures that the various institutions of government are forced to discuss important issues and compromise with each other. The President must work with Congress, the House of Representatives must work with the Senate, otherwise nothing gets done. And sometimes (if not most of the time), doing nothing is far better than doing something worse. The situation gets even more peculiar when a political party controls one House and another controls the other, not to mention the Presidency. The process ensures that the legislation passed will be good legislation.

Now, compare this with various European states where the Executive is in reality beholden to the Legislative. In most cases, Parliament or an Assembly can dismiss the Prime Minister. The President may even dissolve the Legislative body entirely, such as in France. Furthermore, some nations have an honorific upper chamber (Senate in France, House of Lords in the UK), or do not even have a bicameral system (Sweden). There cannot be disagreement between the Legislative and the Chief Executive precisely because the latter is often merely a tool of the former. Should there be disagreements, no-confidence votes are promptly carried out and the parties nominate someone else that’s more malleable.

The increase in efficient bureaucracy is simply a way to subvert the People’s ability to disrupt the political process. As Hamilton writes in Federalist no. 73, the institutions of government were in fact “calculated to restrain the excess of law-making”.