Separation of Powers--Does it Still Work?

By Robert A. Goldwin; Art Kaufman | Go to book overview
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Because a radical amendment of the Constitution along the lines of parliamentary government might have harmful unintended consequences, such a change should not be contemplated unless it can be demonstrated that serious deficiendes in federal government policy making are the result of the relation between the president and Congress as prescribed in the Constitution. Two other types of explanation for policy failures ought to be pursued fully and carefully before the Constitution is blamed. First, given that economic, social, and environmental policies pursued by the United States are similar in many respects to those pursued by other modern democratic states, some policy failures are probably attributable to circumstances shared by all such states and perhaps other kinds of political systems as well. Common ignorance, common value dilemmas, and common demands from sections of the electorate and organized interest groups can produce common policy defects in countries with different political institutions.

Those favoring the second type of explanation agree with the proponents of radical constitutional change that serious imperfections in American policy making are caused by the country's political institutions but disagree that the major fault lies in the institutions provided by the Constitution. According to Don K. Price, who exemplifies this position:

The roots of the incoherence of policy which may lead many critics to wish to amend the U.S. Constitution do not come from the Constitution but rather from the unwritten constitution--the fixed political customs that have developed without formal Constitutional amendment, but that have been authorized by statute or frozen, at least temporarily, in tradition. 46

Price believes that unless changes were made in such institutions as party conventions and primary elections, congressional committees, the structure of executive departments, and the Executive Office of the President, parliamentary government would not work properly in the United States and that if they were made it would not be necessary. It seems likely that a far better understanding of America's public policy failures will be provided by some combination of these two explanations than by an obsession with the separation of powers provisions of the Constitution.


Notes
1.
The Federalist, ed. Jacob E. Cooke ( Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1961), No. 26, p. 164.

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