The November election split the Senate, which the Democrats won by a narrow majority, from the House, which the Republicans won, also by a narrow majority (as the AP called yesterday). The result of divided government would be gridlock, that is, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia explained, “power against power.” There is a seven-minute YouTube video in which he adds that Americans should “learn to love gridlock,” because it prevents a glut of laws. This is a feature of the American system of government, not a bug.

That divided government will protect individuals is an old (classical) liberal idea. This was echoed in Montesquieu’s 1748 book Spirit of law:

To prevent this abuse, it is necessary [that]from very [arrangement] The thing is, the power must be a check of the power.

[French original] In order that power may not be abused, it is necessary that, by the arrangement of things, power arrest power.

Case in point, James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51:

This principle of supply by contrary and competing interests, the fault of good intentions, can be traced through the whole human system, private and public. We find it particularly evident in all distributions under power; whereas the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a way that each may be a check on the other. …

Legislative authority is, necessarily, predominant in republican governments. The remedy for this difficulty is, to divide the Legislature into several branches; and their different modes of selection, and different principles of action, little connected with each other, will admit of the nature of their common functions, and their common dependence on society.

What does the economy have to do with it? Although economists have always been interested in the workings of politics, as suggested by the older term “political economy”, the contemporary school of public choice has provided extended analysis of how democratic government actually works and how it may or may not effectively promote interests. Several individuals in society (assuming government is necessary). Two particularly important books on this subject are Geoffrey Brennan and James Buchanan, The reason for the rules (Cambridge University Press, 1985; Liberty Fund, 2000); and old classics by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent (University of Chicago Press, 1962; Liberty Fund, 1999). A central idea is that rationalists would seek to limit government power with constitutional rules. Gridlock is expected when a government seeks to impose restrictions or obligations that do not meet the consent of the majority of citizens.

It is true that gridlock may prevent the passage of potentially good laws or the repeal of bad laws, but it is still better than tyranny or, as Montesquieu said,

As a tyrannical government is productive of the worst calamities to human nature, so the very evil that prevents it is beneficial to the subjects.

[French original] As tyranny causes terrible evils to human nature, so the evil which limits it is the good.

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