The Case for Gridlock

Democracy, Organized Power, and the Legal Foundations of American Government

By (author) Marcus E. Ethridge

Publication date:

30 March 2010

Length of book:

240 pages


Lexington Books

ISBN-13: 9780739142370

The Case for Gridlock explains how Progressive ideas about government have led to severe representational problems in the American political system. Having rejected the Framers' institutional arrangement as sluggish and frustrating, Progressives have, for over a century, worked to circumvent the Madisonian system by establishing policy-making power in executive agencies and commissions. Ironically, the most consequential legacy of Progressivism is an institutional system that became more perfectly and efficiently responsive to the inherently unbalanced organized political power that they lament. Drawing on an analysis of administrative law and decades of research on interest groups, The Case for Gridlock explores the faulty logic and naïve thinking of the Progressive perspective, revealing the uncertainties and anomalies in legal doctrine that have emerged as a result of their effort to graft "efficient" designs onto the gridlock-prone system that James Madison and the other Framers left us.

The problems of "interest group liberalism" and the accumulation of powerful interests that undermine economic growth and political stability have long been recognized by political scientists and economists. The Case for Gridlock argues that these problems are not inevitable and that a solution exists in reasserting the Constitutional Principle as the foundation for the design and operation of U.S. governmental institutions. The public's interests can prevail over those of organized special interests by returning power to the gridlock-prone institutional arrangement established in the Constitution.
Professor Ethridge's The Case for Gridlock has several virtues. He uses the history of ideas to good effect, especially regarding the institutional implications of Progressivism. He usefully returns our attention to the pitfalls of delegation with a concern for the constitutional context. A reader interested in politics will find here a clear and intriguing account of some of our current troubles. The scholar of American political development will be rewarded with insights and perspectives often missing in the field. My only regret is that this work was not available when I wrote on Progressivism. The Case for Gridlock would have provided me with a sure guide to how the past informs current politics.