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Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama

October 23, 2015

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This is a very dense and in-depth survey of the various political structures around the globe, specifically with a look at what brings successful, stable government for countries and what can lead to systematic decay. It might be compared to Jared Diamond’s books Guns, Germs and Steel or Collapse. But Fukuyama’s book is more focused on government and on recent history, and it is much more academic and dry.

This book examines the importance a stable middle class with upward mobility (or at least the perceived opportunity for upward mobility); the ways countries find a balance of power, from dictatorships to oligarchies, communist and socialist systems to capitalist democracies; and the different forms of corruption that can deliver unsanctioned political power to groups or individuals. These forms of corruption range from a renter’s state, in which political officials are outright bribed, to softer forms of corruption where, even in a supposed representative democracy, politicians are swayed by the financial investment of groups or individuals. As for the U.S. political system, while the financial corruption exists at a moderate level (relative to other countries), Fukuyama identifies as the more corrosive issue the antagonistic partisanship that, within our system of checks and balances, has become so caustic it often leads to stalemate or, as Fukuyama calls it, a “veto-cracy.” He warns that long-term, our problems will be exacerbated by our government’s inability to make decisions and react to those problems in a timely manner. It’s not as bad as the collapse that we’ve seen in some countries recently (e.g. Syria, Libya), but it certainly isn’t an optimistic view of the future.

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