Executive Harmony

In the third post in my executive series, I explore how a pluralistic executive deals with conflict among independent office holders. While this apparatus might seem like a waste of resources, what is the cost of authoritarianism? I think it is much better to ask the question: Can’t a pluralistic executive just get along with itself?

5 Responses

  1. That sounds very plausible in theory Alex, are there any historical analogues for such a system in practice? Contrast is often made between the American spoils system and the UK crown in parliament but, as you point out, the US president was always intended to be an elected monarch. The Northcote-Trevelyan reforms curtailed the use of patronage but ended up creating a divide between the permanent civil service and political ministers (in which the deep state has generally been the dominant party).

    Regarding the external means to resolve coordination conflict would the quasi-judicial process involve a jury trial, or would that be to cumbersome? And would the internal constraints (cross-pollination) mean that this would be the exception rather than the rule?


  2. I have never heard of historical analogues, though I am not very knowledgeable in such things. There are a number of commissions in the U.S. that attempt to be “bipartisan”, meaning that they are required to have some number of members from each party. They never work, because such a setup assumes good faith rather than requiring it. A small change could improve the situation: have each member appointed by the opposite party. Thus Democrats would appoint the Republican members, and vice versa. This is far from a perfect solution, but it is much more likely to produce at least decent results, and it illustrates the concept.

    Let’s think of cross-pollination as a simple dial. We are currently at zero: there is no cross-pollination at all. At 10, each candidate would have to be nominated by a different party for each office, until running through all parties, then repeating. Zero is terrible; it produces intractable partisanship. Ten would produce bland sameness, depriving voters of meaningful ideological expression. Somewhere in the middle there is a happy medium, where politicians can express difference while still being tied to some sense of commonality.

    I would love to learn if anything like this has been attempted.


  3. Keith:> Regarding the external means to resolve coordination conflict…

    I don’t see a role for juries here. Traditional juries exist to enforce a community standard in addition to a legal one. The distinctions here are purely legal.


  4. These are interesting ideas! I have serious worries about the idea of judicial arbitration of offices’ remits, however. First, it puts judges in the position of making heavily political decisions, which risks inappropriately politicising the judiciary, as in the United States or India. Second, it means that decisions that would ordinarily take a couple of hours or less would instead take weeks or months, gumming up the bureaucracy. Since branch and leaf offices are independently appointed, furthermore, this could easily be used by parties in leaf offices to impede implementation of policies they don’t like, and make their superiors look bad.


  5. Oliver:> I have serious worries about the idea of judicial arbitration of offices’ remits, however.

    The body I have in mind is actually a quasi-judicial body, separate from the main judiciary. They exist as a buffer to the main judiciary. In any case, judiciaries around the world already have this role to some degree. And as I stated, they would operate under expedited rules.

    Oliver:> this could easily be used by parties in leaf offices to impede implementation of policies they don’t like…

    This gets to the second point of the post: cross-pollination. Executive officers must depend on multiple parties for career advancement. Over time, this builds a cohesive group that doesn’t reach for conflict to obtain political advantage. Political arsonists will be driven out pretty quickly, assuming the cross-pollination requirement is well designed.

    This sheds a light on how bad the executive is now. We obtain cohesiveness, but at what cost? The executive is a narrow ideological monolith that merely switches polarity every few years. We are living the nightmare of what happens when executive officials go their entire careers without having to show any good qualities to people outside of their own ideological bubbles.


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