If you think our governance structure is messy take comfort
When you hear about how things work elsewhere you tend to compare it to what you know and are used to. In that regard learning about how America is governed has been a bit of an eye opener for me - I studied it in relatively, small doses during my degree but seeing it first-hand is something else.
I’m not talking about the current daily shockers coming from the White House, I’m actually talking about the system itself – one that was carefully crafted by the Founding Fathers and remains in place due to the most stone cast constitution anywhere in the world.
Now I preface this with an acknowledgment that it’s a big country – 325 million people, the state of California alone is the world’s 8th biggest economy and their smallest state of Wyoming has a sixth of the population of Wales; but it’s still a shocker for me that the USA has over 89,000 (yes 89,000) different jurisdictions from federal to state governments, district attorneys, state courts, state supreme courts, federal supreme court, governors, city mayors, city managers, aldermen, councillors, sheriffs, school boards, planning commissioners (to name a few).
Every meeting I have had, I have been both befuddled and bemused by how they manage to get anything done. It makes our 22 local authorities with slightly irritating, non co-terminus regional structures look like a breeze and puts my day-to-day irritation at trying to navigate the different jurisdictions in our Welsh system into perspective – it’s really not that bad.
I have to take my hat off to the people at all these levels who must spend an inordinate amount of time trying to work out where their responsibility ends and someone else’s begins – and for citizens it’s even harder, I was told. But as a taxpayer in a British system which is nowhere near as complex and consumed by duplication of effort, resources and layers, I also wonder how the system gets away with it. Taxes are not far off ours and services are far fewer, so it begs the question why a system which funds these multiple levels and consequently multiple resources is tolerated in a country which on the face of it appears to be so focused on money.
But despite this complexity they do get things done and their constitution which protects against centralism at all costs is, in this instance, actually what drives the good work going on at a local level and protects it from being forced to comply with the change of direction in policy from Trump.
This means that you still have states such as California, New York, Connecticut and Virginia pledging to take action to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change commitments despite what the President has said. Indeed, in a letter to the UN on behalf of a number of cities and states, Michael Bloomberg wrote:
“Since 2007, when economy-wide emissions peaked, the United States has been reducing its emissions at a rate which, if sustained through 2025, would achieve almost the full amount of our Paris commitment. That rate of progress which has been driven not by Washington policies but by actions taken by cities, states, businesses, and civil society, has been accelerating for the past three years. We do not intend to slow down. Indeed, we are confident that emission reduction in the US will accelerate over the coming years as a result of the growing ambition for climate action by cities, states, businesses, and others.”
It’s why California has carbon budgeting, is doubling the energy efficiency of its buildings and is committed to halving the number of petroleum-fuelled cars by 2030, why Portland, Oregon has been replacing metro stations with solar panelled shelters, increasing their parks and open spaces and has a requirement for green infrastructure on all public buildings, and why Greensburg in Kansas rebuilt only energy-efficient homes when they lost huge numbers following a tornado and why Pittsburgh amongst others have passed legislation to require all companies to publish their energy and water usage.
So, whilst the complexity of governance in this country might be our idea of a nightmare I think that for them and indeed the rest of the world it’s probably its saving grace in a post 2016 election world.