Peter Orszag has what I think is a very good column about the desirability of increasing automaticity in certain aspects of American policymaking that’s been given provocative framing around the idea that America needs “less democracy.”
Provocative framing has a lot of marketing value, but it also provokes lots of people to disagree with you and I saw Orzag’s thesis being subjected to a lot of unwarranted scorn earlier today. I would suggest that people ignore the framing and focus on what he’s actually saying. He seems to have two really concrete suggestions. One is that we should try to enhance the scope of “automatic stabilizers” in American fiscal policy. This is orthodox Keynesian thinking and not something any progressive should have a problem with. The other is that we should strengthen the hand of non-elected boards to make adjustments to Medicare payment rates. Some progressives may have a problem with this on the grounds that cutting spending is a bad idea. But most progressives I know also claim to be admirers of single-payer health care systems that do a better job than America’s of controlling health care costs. The way that they do this is precisely through the sort of technocratic price controls that Orszag is praising.
What I would say on both sides is that framing everything as a conversation around more or less “democracy” is a foolish way to think about institutional design. In a democracy, political authorities are accountable to citizens. That principle is compatible with a wide array of institutional schemes. Electing Supreme Court justices to two-year terms wouldn’t make America “more democratic,” it would make us worse governed. Adopting default rules that strengthen automatic stabilizers wouldn’t be “less democratic,” it would be a good idea.