In the wake of the implosion of nearly all sources of American authority, this new decade will have to be about reforming our institutions to reconstitute a more reliable and democratic form of authority. Scholarly research shows a firm correlation between strong institutions, accountable élites and highly functional economies; mistrust and corruption, meanwhile, feed each other in a vicious circle. If our current crisis continues, we risk a long, ugly process of de-development: higher levels of corruption and tax evasion and an increasingly fractured public sphere, in which both public consensus and reform become all but impossible.
Hayes is right that such reform is necessary if America is to overcome the urgent distress of our historical moment. But I truly fear that the micro-successes at best of the moderately progressive Obama Administration and compromised Democratic Congressional majorities struggling in the face of belligerent incumbent interests and now mortally-dysfunctional governing mechanisms to manage the trick of the least incremental nudges in the direction of something like sanity suggest that such reform as is on offer is just too little too late given the pace and scope of catastrophe at hand.
Hayes writes that "no single-cause theory can explain such a wide array of institutional failures," though he does genuflect in the direction of criticizing "the concentration of power and the erosion of transparency," both of which are genially unspecific ways of pointing to what is indeed the best candidate for a "single cause" of our failure, as he surely knows as well as everybody else does, and that is the ongoing flabbergasting anti-democratizing concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands in the United States.
If the United States imposes steeply progressive income and property and inheritance taxes on ever-concentrating wealth as a way of funding universal health, education, and public welfare for all, then and only then will we re-democratize and hence re-legitimize our authoritative institutions and invigorate the collective intelligence and effort with which to solve our shared problems.
Otherwise we will absolutely degenerate into a failed post-industrial state up to our necks in ethnic and ideological hatreds, buried under mountains of guns, in the midst of crumbling infrastructure, buffeted by pandemic disease, greenhouse storms, and resource descent from water, topsoil, foodstuffs, to petrochemicals, nothing but a bloated bloviating scarcely traversable, continent-scaled, benighted backwater in a planet almost all the billions of inhabitants of whom despise us, with good reason, as the spoiled despoiling pricks who fucked everything up for the most short-sighted selfish reasons imaginable.
It really is beginning to look as though the United States isn't going to pull out in time.