The Strength of U.S. Democracy III. The Challenges Ahead

“A Republic, if You Can Keep It”
Benjamin Franklin, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, 1787

My last several posts on It Does Not Add Up have discussed the foundations of American democracy which I think are very strong. First of all, it is our decentralized, republican form of government (i.e. we are a collection of states, each with many rights of their own), which is the most fundamental guarantor of our basic liberties.  Furthermore, the threat of polarization of the electorate will gradually diminish as minority groups, especially through intermarriage, become more and more integrated with mainstream culture.

So, while the long-term prospects for the survival and spread of U.S. democracy are very favorable, there certainly are roadblocks to be overcome in the near future.  Consider:

  • The Ukraine situation. In a brilliant essay in Foreign Affairs, “A Free World, If You Can keep It”, Robert Kagan makes it very clear what the stakes are with our help for Ukraine in repelling the brutal Russian invasion.  Yes, we are defending a country that wants to be free and independent like we are.  But even more than this, we are defending the free world against barbarian autocracy.  If Russia succeeds in subduing Ukraine, who will it attack next?  The Ukrainian people will ultimately decide how much pain and suffering they can tolerate without succumbing to the Russian onslaught.  But we should for sure continue to support them as long as they are able and willing to resist.
  • Inflation and Debt. Our national debt is now $31 trillion and rapidly increasing.  Our annual rate of inflation now stands at the high level of 7.1%.  Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell, has made it clear that the Fed will raise short-term interest rates (now at 4%) as high as necessary to bring inflation back down to 2%.  But this will almost surely cause a recession, most likely next year.  Furthermore, the Fed can’t fix inflation by itself.  It needs fiscal restraint from Congress.  If our debt continues to rise in an out-of-control manner, we are inevitably headed for a new financial crisis, that will occur when the U.S. Treasury is unable to find buyers for its bonds even at ever higher interest rates.  The eventual result will be depression and/or hyperinflation.
    We badly need major fiscal restraint from Congress.  Will the new Republican House majority be able to provide it?  Let’s hope so!

  • The immigration crisis at the southern border. There are now roughly 2 million illegal immigrants crossing our southern border every year.  We have a huge labor shortage, but immigrants need legal status in order to be employed.  Our badly broken immigration system cannot realistically be fixed until our border is closed to illegal entry.  It is up to the Biden administration to figure out how to get this done.

Conclusion.  U.S. democracy is fundamentally very strong.  People all over the world yearn to be free and we are a beacon of hope and freedom for all.  We have a responsibility not only to help other countries achieve freedom and independence but to keep our own house in good order.  We can continue to meet this high challenge but we need to focus on solving our most pressing problems to get this done.

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