I have been working on a project about policy innovation in the U.S. (even though it’s often considered “reluctant” or a “laggard” especially in social policy). The case I focus on is disability rights. The idea that the U.S. is a policy leader has become difficult to sell in light of the countless articles and media reports about the 113th Congress being the most unproductive in decades and the partisan conflicts and gridlock characterizing Congress. Not to mention the fact that about a year ago, the Senate failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (see my December 2012 post “Is anyone really against persons with disabilities?”). Ironically, the language of the Convention was based on the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act – thought of by many as the most important piece of civil rights legislation enacted since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The rights language of the ADA also subsequently informed similar laws in Australia and the U.K.
But it is not the only policy area in which the U.S. is a leader rather than a laggard. I’d like to thank Maureen Eger for pointing me to a recent New York Times article by economics professor Tyler Cowen (Dec 21, 2013). Cowen argues that despite the emphasis on congressional gridlock which either leads to policies nobody wants or no policies at all, the U.S. is better characterized as having periods of “creative ferment” followed by periods of controversy, conflict and retrenchment more akin to a lunging and lurching than political immobility or gridlock. When it comes to handling the financial crisis, environmental policy, intellectual property, and national security/defense, the U.S. has acted rather swiftly. Conflict that may prohibit effective policy implementation typically occurs after bursts of attention and initial legislative output. Continue reading