America Has Gone Off the Rails. Steven Brill Sees Ways to Get It Back on Track.

According to Gallup, in the first week of January 2004 more than half of surveyed Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country. Within a few weeks, however, that number had fallen below 50 percent. It has never recovered. Since the 2008 financial crisis, it has not cracked 40 percent.

.. Brill describes a slow-motion process of perverse meritocracy in which, as one law professor tells him, “the elites have become so skilled and so hardworking that they are able to protect each other better than ever before.” Or, as Brill labels it, “Moat Nation.”

.. Brill focuses on the legal shifts and stalemates that ushered in the country’s current predicament

.. The rise of executive compensation practices linked to stock prices encouraged executives to prioritize short-term profits over long-term investments. A series of Supreme Court cases, ending with Citizens United, enabled corporate speech to play a powerful role in national politics. The growth of super PACs and lobbyists in Washington guarantees that any piece of appropriate regulation will be watered down — first in Congress and then in the implementation stage.

.. The federal government’s approach to fraudulent financial firms has shifted from the criminal prosecution of executives to the levying of fines.

..  the number of times the phrase “unintended consequences” appears in the book. Many of the legal and regulatory changes that Brill excoriates have counterintuitive beginnings. Who helped spearhead the growth of the commercial speech movement? The consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who sued the Commonwealth of Virginia to allow pharmacies to advertise drug prices. “Talk about boomerangs,”

.. the very first political action committee was created in 1943 by a labor union.

.. efforts to bring more minority members to Congress as “another reform effort that boomeranged,” because minority Democrats allied with Republicans to rewrite congressional districts and eviscerate districts held by white Democrats.

.. Brill blames the tortoise-like pace of government rule-writing on due process run amok.

.. Brill argues that interest groups have weaponized due process to guarantee gridlock.

..  In almost all of “Tailspin,” a well-intentioned liberal reform goes badly off the rails.

.. Brill never quite makes the connection between laws and norms.

.. many of the trends that Brill identifies, like political polarization, have their origins in the erosion of norms, not laws, and the real question is whether Americans can trust one another enough not to abuse less legalistic systems.

.. On this point, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s “How Democracies Die” is probably more instructive.