Parallel Politics: Economic Policymaking in the United States and Japan

By Samuel Kernell | Go to book overview

Political Institutions and the American Economy

John E. Chubb

Paul E. Peterson

AFTER NEARLY a decade of economic expansion, the United States enters a new decade in a precarious economic position. Signs of recession--rising unemployment, fading consumer confidence, a decline in GNP--are everywhere. And there are indications of problems deeper than a temporary economic downturn. Domestic savings is low, foreign indebtedness is high, and dependence on foreign oil is setting new records. The budget deficit keeps climbing despite the 1990 legislative compromise that was supposed to cut it by $500 billion over the next half-decade. In short, there is little confidence that the government has put the U.S. economy on the right track for the decade ahead.

Many observers attribute the economic difficulties that now trouble the United States to questionable behavior in both the public and the private sectors during the 1980s. Consumers went on a consumption binge. Banks invested too heavily in overheated real estate markets. Republican presidents and Democratic Congresses, deadlocked over budget priorities, boosted economic growth with a myopic policy of massive deficit spending. All of this is true. Yet it would be a mistake to view America's current economic difficulties as only the result of errors made during the last decade.

The economic challenges that the United States faces today can be traced back to at least the early 1970s. It was then that the country was introduced to stagflation, sluggish productivity growth, soaring oil prices, intensified international economic competition, and, in short order, mounting trade and budget deficits. During the 1970s as well as the 1980s, the U.S. government attempted to solve these problems. But its performance has fallen short, regardless of which party was in control--the Democrats during the Carter administration, the Republi-

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An earlier version of this essay first appeared as "American Political Institutions and the Problems of Governance," in John E. Chubb and Paul E. Peterson, eds., Can the Government Govern? ( Brookings, 1988), pp. 1-43.

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