Development & Education

Is the United States too democratic?

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Photo of the 2008 Democratic National Convention (Image by Flickr user ravedelay (cc:by))

This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

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Politicians in the United States are constantly in campaign mode. Between midterm and Presidential elections, politicians seldom have a moment when they're not fighting for their (or their party's) political life. That bedrock of constitutional democracy -- the election -- may be handicapping the United States.

"Not that democracy is a bad thing," economist Dambisa Moyo told PRI's The Takeaway. Many of the problems facing the country can be solved in a democratic framework. But the constant election cycle "means that governments do not have the opportunity to focus on structural, longer term problems like pensions, like infrastructure, like education," according to Moyo. "They're forced into myopia and to short-termism, and it's that that is actually causing this decline in economics."

In fact, Moyo argues that China may be better set up than the United States to tackle serious economic problems. The United States is more saddled with expensive and inefficient health care and pensions. And China has created more impressive economic growth lately. Yet when American politicians look at China, Moyo says they take the wrong lessons:

"The United States can be overly focused on what's going on in china as to the detriment of solving the problems that we've created here in the United States that has nothing to do with China."

Now the United States is going to have to make some tough decisions on where its priorities lie. Moyo asks, "is it more important for America to police the global sea lanes at the expense of lower education standards?"

The stakes are high for the United States and the rest of the world. "The rest of the world is absolutely relying on America getting it right to help solve the big problems that the world is going to be facing," according to Moyo, "not just poverty but issues around energy efficiency, issues around global infrastructure, peace, global economics."

"If you're not investing in education, if you're not investing in mathematics and in science," Moyo says, "American will simply not be competitive enough to help solve these problems." And if that's true, the entire world will suffer.

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"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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