Six Great Reads from 2013

It’s the time of year to pick out favorites from your casual reading, and here are six interesting and insightful pieces from 2013. I only thought of the idea to collect these recently, so there is a noticeable end-of-year bias. In no particular order: 

1. Steven Teles, “Kludgeocracy in America.” Beyond a great phrase, Teles draws attention to an under-reported feature of national politics: the dramatic increase in the complexity of the federal government and federal legislation. Growing complexity results in large part from American voters’ uneasy relationship with big government–we want its benefits but hide its costs. 

2. Cathy Young, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.” It’s the pithiest piece on the list, but no less important. Young examines recent changes to sexual assault policies on college campuses and documents the unintended consequences of well-meaning efforts to protect students from rape. Acrimonious debates over campus “rape culture” were a prominent part of my undergraduate years and Young accurately captures the state of the debate. 

3. Sarah Stillman, “Taken.” Stillman documents the widespread and rising abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws by American law enforcement. In its intended use, civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to confiscate the ill-gotten property of drug smugglers and white collar criminals, but law enforcement increasingly employs it to commit, well, theft. Libertarian groups have long agitated against  the perverse use of these laws and Stillman’s piece brought the attention of the mainstream media.

4. Andrea Elliott, “Invisible Child.” This beautifully produced profile of Dasani, a homeless child living in New York City, reminds the reader of the far-reaching causes and consequences of urban poverty. It is an excellent and honest work of reporting that deserves an attentive read. 

5. Francis Fukuyama, “The Decay of American Political Institutions.” Fukuyama argues that three factors threaten American government: the outsized power of the judiciary and legislature over the executive, the growth of independent expenditure groups and the decline of political parties, and transformation of a checks-and-balances system into system in which too many groups have veto power due to ideological polarization. Fukuyama argues that the solution lies in “stronger mechanisms to force collective decisions,” but is pessimistic. A provocative and contrarian view of our current discontents. 

6. Lane Kenworthy, “America’s Social Democratic Future.” Kenworthy argues that American domestic policy will move closer to the Nordic social democratic model over the next decades as voters demand new policies to protect against economic insecurity. Kenworthy in this sense offers a reinterpretation of the last 50 years–rather than the ascendance of “small government” conservatism, the long-run trend is toward greater social and economic role for American government. I think there are difficulties with Kenworthy’s analysis, but it’s a welcome contribution to the debate over where American liberalism should go next.