Meme Weeding: Polarization

I’ve heard some people, including some in decently powerful government positions, excuse poor American public transportation performance by saying that it’s hard to work in a politically polarized environment. This is related to excuses made in the early 2010s, blaming the failure of high-speed rail in the United States on Republican governors who canceled programs after winning the 2010 midterm, never mind that all-Democratic California has not been able to build it either. But the complaints about polarization are not just specious. They also betray deep ignorance and incuriosity about the rest of the world, including specific countries that we at the Transit Costs Project have referenced repeatedly.

What is polarization, anyway?

Political polarization generally refers to a system in which there are two blocs, roughly evenly matched, each characterized by hating the other to the point of not fully (or at all) accepting its legitimacy. The blocs can alternate in power, as in the United States today, or one can usually prevail over the other, as in the Second and Third Party Systems in American history.

Usually this also includes large left-right ideological differences, which in the 20th century could even take the characteristic of support for communism versus fascism, as in multiple Latin American systems. However, systems in which the differences in ideology are more rhetorical than practical, as in 1980s-1990s Greece, can also be characterized as polarized. In fact, polarization (that is, delegitimization of the other side) is often a strategy employed by populist politicians to maintain mass support as a substitute for concrete action.

By most accounts, the United States is seeing high and growing party polarization. This contrasts with depolarized systems like those of Belgium and the Netherlands, which are historically tri- rather than bipolar and therefore have long traditions of shifting coalitions and consensus, or Germany and Austria, which have two blocs but still have a lot of cross-aisle cooperation and many grand coalitions.

Polarization in low-cost countries

While American political practitioners usually contrast the American situation today with that of the elite consensus of the postwar era, we should be more comparative and look at how polarization varies over space and not just time. And by that standard, most of the low-construction cost countries are obviously polarized: Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, South Korea. Even the Nordic countries are more polarized than Americans give them credit for, leaving Switzerland as the only truly depolarized low-construction cost country.

In Italy, moreover, polarization has grown even as construction costs have fallen. The First Italian Republic was depolarized: Democrazia Cristiana won every election and governed by choice of which coalition partners to work with, which could include the Socialists (a situation called “integral left”) or not; bringing in the Communists was unthinkable. It was also legendarily corrupt, to the point that DC should be thought of as a corruption party more than a center-right party like CDU here or VVD in the Netherlands. The corruption led metro construction costs to explode in the 1970s as contracts were given based on bribery rather than any objective criteria. It’s moreover this explosion in costs that led to the investigations that brought down the system, mani pulite.

The Second Italian Republic, birthed by those corruption investigations, has high levels of left-right polarization. The main policy plank of the right is that it hates the left; thus, the right’s leader until recently, Berlusconi, did not engage in any of the neoliberal reforms of good governance that his Northern European and French allies hoped he would. The left has been more neoliberal but it’s explicitly very moderate, governing in coalition with various populists who can be swayed over. The system trended toward two blocs. And now Italy can build infrastructure more affordably, due to the same good-government anti-corruption reforms that passed in the wake of mani pulite.

Turkey is even more polarized, to the point that the main political question in the election in two weeks is not exactly a left-right issue like the role of Islam in society or any socioeconomic issue, but whether Turkey should be a democracy or an autocracy governed by Erdoğan; the candidate of the democracy camp (“Nation Alliance”), Kılıçdaroğlu, has surrounded himself with disaffected former Erdoğan allies and with an entirely right-wing party, İyi, alongside his traditional center-left allies.

What’s more, Erdoğan has not let opposition cities just build infrastructure. Izmir has long been governed by CHP; the state lightly fudged numbers to make its subway construction costs look slightly higher than they are, using pessimistic cost projections. CHP won the elections in Istanbul and Ankara recently, and in Istanbul, the state stopped letting the city use state-owned parks for city-built subway lines and even denied funding for some future lines; Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu got these lines financed through loans from the European Investment Bank, which hates Erdoğan to the point that Istanbul borrows money internationally at lower interest rates than the state. Despite gross politicization, costs have remained low, and the civil service has functioned through this (and Elif’s interviews in Turkey included both AKP and CHP supporters).

Corruption and dominant parties

The situation of DC in Italy, in which its domination of the First Republic even with coalition partners led to corruption, generalizes.

In the United States, regional differences in voting and lack of regional differences in party ideology have made many states safe for one party or another. In those states, there is no polarization, since one party governs everything and has little to nothing to fear from the opposition: California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and increasingly Florida and Ohio all fall into this camp.

The result is that the dominant party in all of these states is a corruption party. It’s easy to be corrupt when you know in advance who you need to buy off, and when it’s not really possible for anyone to run for governor and polarize against you and your bribery of elected officials. In red states there’s occasionally an ideological sop to movement conservatism, usually exclusively the annual culture war topic (in 2023 it’s trans athletes), but nothing really about any of the broader agenda of the economists at right-wing think tanks; in blue states there’s not even a sop.

Why are they like this?

Polarization doesn’t raise construction costs. It’s most likely neutral, and the dominant-party alternative is worse. So why do Americans blame it? I suspect that, like when left-wing Americans try to make high costs a matter of health care, it’s about reducing a complex issue to an American feature that all middlebrow American politicos know to hate. Truthiness trumps knowledge here.


  1. Alon Levy

    I should possibly clarify what I mean when I call DC or safe blue state Democrats corruption parties. This is a class of parties that usually position themselves at the center, allying with whoever pays them the most, possibly morphing into a long-term alliance with one side that is just a patron-client relationship. Some such parties are parties of government, like DC or Czech ANO (or given the amount of open corruption Kurz engaged in, ÖVP); others are junior partners and third parties, like PMDB in Brazil or Shas in Israel.

    These parties sometimes even manage to sell themselves as a sane center checking in both sides’ excesses, and this way ANO swindled its way into membership in ALDE/RE at the EU level; quite a lot of elites find clientelism less distasteful than open ideological debate aimed at a mass audience. Safe US states’ dominant parties have a similar message of acting as a check on the base. None of this provides high quality of governance.

      • Alon Levy

        Ooh, yes, this is also a very good example of this, especially with its primacy of the party over the individual leader since reelections are not possible and nobody tried to go full Chávez and change that.

        • Herbert

          Well if there was *one* thing all factions in the revolutionary wars of Mexico could agree on – at least in rhetoric – it was a commitment to “no re-election”. Except Porfirio Díaz himself, but he was out of the picture pretty early on…

  2. michaelj

    I venture to say that you’ve made discussion of this a bit more difficult because all political systems have polarisation. What we’re seeing today is the emergence of hyper-polarisation, and in some leading countries previously considered champions, if not mothers, of democracy. Though perhaps it is really just returning to the norm because I suppose the early days of democracy were pretty hyper-polarised while the second half of the twentieth century saw more considered, if not quite consensus politics prevail. Perhaps it took the horrors of WW1 and WW2 to moderate political behaviour and now we revert as fewer people remain who have first hand experience of that world.

    • Alon Levy

      Turkey is hyper-polarized by any reasonable meaning of that word. So is South Korea, where the right literally dug up the former military dictator’s daughter to be president in 2012.

      • michaelj

        Right. That’s what I mean. Some of these are merely polarised, situation normal and not unhealthy, while others are hyper-polarised. I think it would be fair to use that to describe both UK and USA. It seems that the US will remain like that, or get worse, while Labor in power in Australia are partly succeeding in cooling the hyperpartisanship and Labour in UK in opposition (highly likely to become the governing party) under Starmer are attempting the same thing (much to the disgust of deep left factions).

        • Matthew Hutton

          I don’t think the UK is hyper partisan. We had the worst prime minister of all time (Truss) and the Conservatives dropped to polling at 20-25% – which means basically they were polling at half their 2019 vote share. Additionally once they put Sunak in who has been better and their polling has improved significantly.

          Trump had scandal after scandal after scandal and his polling barely budged, certainly it didn’t move more than the margin of error.

          And I mean assuming the republicans nominate Trump again after he’s been indicted in 3 jurisdictions. Well I’d expect him to lose the presidency, but probably still I’d expect him to get ~40% of the vote.

          • michaelj

            @Matthew Hutton

            It doesn’t have to be anything like 50:50, though the 25% in today’s polls will still turn into a much closer contest in the next election, at least partly due to FPTP. But also due to voter’s habit & momentum.

            Anyway, I did say that Starmer’s Labour will slowly improve things if he gains power. However it will be very slow progress and note how he avoids anything to do with Brexit for the very real fear of it blowing up again –even if a clear majority now prefer to be in the EU, that omelette can’t be unscrambled except over decades, and it doesn’t remove the very significant fraction of die-hard Brexiteers. I’m not sure even many of those who have changed their minds have really changed their minds on the original (false) reasons for wanting Brexit in the first place. That particular hyper-polarisation remains due to the peculiar confusion of Brits.

            The critical thing is that while the problems and dysfunction are more apparent than ever (though they were clear to outsiders like me 40 years ago) yet there are no clear, or agreed solutions. The only way it will be better than when Blair was elected in 1997 is that there is more widespread acceptance (sort of) that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way the UK operates. Yet, the hyper-polarisation manifests itself whenever real change is proposed–and it so rarely is. Incrementalism rules (if even that) but revolution is needed.
            Do you seriously think there is any likelihood of fundamental changes to the monarchy, even with Elizabeth gone? In another ten years will there be any changes to the absurd House of Lords filled with profoundly corrupted people appointed by corrupted politicians? Or any change to FPTP less than a decade after a failed referendum on it? How to address the ridiculous property inequality? Maybe there will be some bandaids applied to some of the most obvious technical issues like the NHS, sewage & water systems but, first there isn’t much money to repair these long neglected costly things (railways!) or to enact the Northern Powerhouse, and second, the fundamentals are not being addressed.

            Incidentally, if I lived there and/or was a Brit, I would be part of the hyper-polarisation. I believe you need a proper revolution. Unlike George Monbiot in yesterday’s Grau (on a different issue, climate change) I wouldn’t be so squeamish about violence, for the awful but simple reason that it probably won’t happen any other way.

          • Matthew Hutton

            @michaelj, to be fair on housing outside London (and in the whole country) house prices[1] are lower than in 2007 after adjusting for inflation.[2]

            I wouldn’t say that was a wonderful result, but you have to give the Conservatives a B for that. Frankly aside from John Major in the 1990s our other leaders from both parties have been worse going back to about 1960.

            Really the aim has to be to get prices to stay level in absolute terms, so an increase but one that’s less than inflation is disappointing but a start.

            With Brexit, well the EU is lucky Le Pen didn’t get a vote in France on it before we voted for it. And actually forcing the EU to deal with Brexit means they had five more years of avoiding unpopular further integration.


          • michaelj

            @Matthew Hutton

            The coronation pulled a screen across a desperate, polarised nation – just as intended
            Those who opposed it must be portrayed as radical, or the whole rotten system it represents might come crashing down
            Nesrine Malik,
            8 May 2023

            The biggest illusion – and utility – of royal events such as the coronation is that we are somehow a part of them. We are, of course, in a way; we need to be for the institution of monarchy to have any meaning at all. But not as equals. We have the worst of both worlds: the royal family gives us nothing, and we in turn legitimise it, give it meaning and audience and pay, through subsidies and tax exemptions, for its ability to wow us. The monarchy does provide a service, but not to us. It is to an entire system of political decline and economic inequality that cannot withstand closer scrutiny, and so it must be embellished and cloaked in ceremony.
            But it is bizarre to not pause and think for a second, why are feudalism and ethnic nationalism the only two options we have to celebrate British identity?
            The answer is that there can only be one alternative to these two: one in which we question deliberate political decisions not to redistribute wealth more equally, in which our allegiances are to each other, in which there is a real modern appraisal of the country as a place that isn’t a glorious continuum of empire and global dominance, but where political and economic models are failing. This is a national project that no one who matters has any interest in, which is why any stirrings of it must be portrayed as radical and beyond the pale – assaults on a natural order. And so we can only look up and fawn, or look down, and fear.

      • Borners

        South Korea is polarised on a narrow set of issues most related to national identity* not so much on domestic policy. Minjoo lost the presidency to Yoon because they wasted 5 years trying to get confederation with the DPRK rather than solving any major domestic problems despite controlling all branches of government. Partly because they’re not a “liberal” party let alone a social democratic one. They are left-inflected big tent nationalist party like Quebec’s PQ or the SNP (or Taiwan’s DPP). Which means they are a do-nothing party in domestic governance unless circumstances push them to be (Kim Dae-Jung administration in 1997).

        TK of Ask a Korean pointedly never talks much about Moon’s domestic policy achievements because there really aren’t any. He spent today whining about how Yoon’s Karaoke meeting with Biden was a humiliation to the race (but South Korean Presidents hugging DPRK monarchs and giving them money for their nukes is apparently fine). Alon didn’t you see how much he was “sucks-to-be-u” on Ukraine and Taiwan?

        That said National ID questions are of course important to domestic policy. E.g. the unmentioned factor in the Incelfication of South Korean young men is that conscription only applies to them. Not only is it a legitimate beef in the hyper-competitive South Korean labour market, but its a homo-social enviroment for Incel ideas to spread. But equalising military service means asking questions about military funding and who the ROK’s military is likely to fight. This doesn’t justify Yoon’s reactionary behavior and buffonery. Like Taiwan and Japan, the ROK is stuck refusing to admit the high-growth era is over and they need to ditch its social model before it destroys them.

        *(America good or bad? NK brothers or enemies? Japan or China which is the race enemy no.1?)

  3. adirondacker12800

    the annual culture war topic (in 2023 it’s trans athletes)
    The legislation they actually move on is banning abortion. And broader things like “don’t say gay” bills and banning drag shows.

    • Alon Levy

      “Don’t say gay” is so last year… the ban on drag is delightful, especially the part where it’s so wide that if I go to Omaha and talk about housing then it’s legally drag if the DA is sufficiently aggressive, because I’m nonbinary and talking about a topic of relevance to queer people.

      I call this the annual culture war topic because it’s something they didn’t give a shit about until around two years ago. Based on pundit advice, Republicans on the Supreme Court legislated a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination law from the bench, which Congress had struggled with in the 2007-10 sessions, just because they realized anti-discrimination provisions are popular and they wanted to avoid letting Democrats run on a popular topic – same reason they ruled in favor of gay marriage. Transphobia isn’t some deeply embedded Republican plank that red state governments were elected to enact, unlike bans on abortion (which were mostly already on the books with trigger laws) – Sohrab Ahmari and Chaya Raichik made it up as a grift two years ago and the party base followed. It’s much more vice-signaling than anything else.

      • adirondacker12800

        They’ve been fear mongering about who uses which bathroom for years. 2016 according to Wikipedia.

        • Alon Levy

          The 2016 bathroom law was one random governor throwing an election out of the belief that everyone is as bigoted as he is; then in the Trump era they were mostly focusing on anti-immigrant racism. The drag queen moral panic is much more recent, and happened after I came out (the change in the levels of harassment on Twitter in 2021-2 was very visible; I came out 2020).

          • Alon Levy

            Former governor, he lost reelection in a state that was voting for Trump in the same election. One of the things trans people have noted recently is that the immediate backlash against the North Carolina bathroom bill contrasts with the muted reactions to anti-trans laws from the last two years.

          • adirondacker12800

            That hasn’t stopped other legislatures from passing bills. And banning abortion. Or books. they are mostly against “woke” but when reporters ask them what that is they don’t know. Just like they can’t tell you what’s not great about America or what needs to be done to fix it.

      • Onux

        I don’t think the current focus on trans issues is something made up by the American right because:

        A) It is international. NHS is closing Tavistock, the UK used Section 35 to block the Scottish gender recognition bill, Sweden and others have stopped hormonal and surgical gender treatment for minors, the world body for track and field announced that males cannot compete in Women’s sports, etc.
        B) The possibility of trans athletes is itself very current. The number of youth identifying as transgender has doubled in just a few years, and transgender women winning an NCAA women’s championship or competing in the women’s Olympics simply didn’t happen a few years ago.

        Instead the current focus on trans issues by the American right appears to a result of two factors:

        1) A response to B) above. You cannot object to a male competing against female swimmers if a male doesn’t win the NCAA championship, you cannot get upset about a hospital performing gender surgeries on minors if they don’t post videos talking about how they do.
        2) The Republican victory in the 2021 Virginia governor’s race. Virginia was supposed to be a purple state turned blue, yet when an issue that was popularly believed to be about a transgender girl sexually assaulting a girl became a scandal for the Democratic nominee, Republican’s figured they had found an issue that would win for them. Politicians do tend to like to win most of all. (Politician’s also tend to get it wrong. What hurt the Democrat the most was a statement that parent’s shouldn’t have a say in their kid’s education, and the scandal in the school district turned out not to be any transgender bathroom policy but the district covering up that it covered up sexual assault allegations. Still, in situations like this, sometimes perception is reality.)

        • Alon Levy

          1. Trans women athletes are not male.
          2. The biggest international flareup about supposed men competing in women’s tournament concerns Caster Semenya, a cis woman who has naturally high testosterone.
          3. The *British* trans panic is a few years older than the American one, and has a somewhat different origin, in that the 1970s radical feminists never went away in the UK the way they did in the US (try defending Catharine MacKinnon’s What is a White Woman, Anyway? article in an average American feminist space and see how seriously people take you); J. K. Rowling’s political opinions until recently were pretty normie soft left.
          4. The history of American laws against trans athletes isn’t “it’s the first time there are any.” Those two things coincide, but it started with bathroom laws, with a precocious example in 2016 and many more starting around 2021; then the party strategists looked at polls and realized that the average voter doesn’t support bathroom laws, so they started looking for other causes in national punditry, while in safe states they’re vice signaling with various bans on transitioning.
          5. The global trend is toward trans-friendlier laws, the opposite of the US and UK (and Sweden, where Anders Tegnell has gone full conspiracy theorist). Spain just passed a self-ID law, Germany is passing one at the usual speed of German legislation, Pakistan has self-ID, India has partial self-ID, Brazil has self-ID, most of Mexico has self-ID…

          • michaelj

            Caster Semenya, a cis woman who has naturally high testosterone.

            A bit of technical detail is required to halfway understand this issue. The first is that CS is genetically male, ie. has normal XY genotype (and for clarity, there is nothing different about CS’s sex chromosomes). CS’s genetic anomaly is in the SRD5A2 gene which resides on an autosomal chromosome (ie. not X or Y). The condition is extremely rare because it requires both autosomal chromosomes to carry the mutation (ie. homozygosity), thus only a few hundred people worldwide have this condition. The gene codes for the enzyme 5α-reductase type 2 (5αR2 or 5-ARD) which converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which plays a role in certain aspects of male differentiation. Not as important as testosterone itself but still important.

            People with this condition are male. That is why CS has ‘normal’ levels of testosterone, ie. for a male. And that means many aspects of maleness are ‘normal’, such as musculature. If these things had been known earlier CS would never been competing in women’s competitions and is reflected in career 35 wins in 42 races. This approach is consistent with the recent ruling that trans-women who transitioned after puberty are not allowed to compete –because the major physiological changes have taken place and persist regardless of subsequent surgery etc. (I don’t know if it fades with time–as would seem likely–but this would be outside the period of peak athleticism, ie. early adulthood.) This seems to be the only scientific conclusion possible.

            I note that CS’s wife gave birth to “their” daughter in 2020. What is not clear (I haven’t searched deeply, it is probably not public) is whether CS is the biological father. Natural conception generally is not possible but modern assisted fertility methods enable it, because the sperm of such people are normal. Note too, that while the offspring would carry one copy of the defective SRD5A2 gene, the extreme rarity of this in the general population means any offspring is highly unlikely to be doubly deficient. So even if the child was male, they would be extremely unlikely to suffer the same condition (the mutation is recessive); this is what lies behind the historic human prohibition against marrying your cousins–because most of these extremely rare genetic conditions arise from the identical mutation coming ‘together’, ie. becoming homozygous, from within the same family that carries the defective gene. Note, however, that the defective gene persists in such heterozygotes and passes to the next generation because it has no effect (is recessive).

          • Alon Levy

            Cis vs. trans is defined by assigned at birth gender, and Semenya at no point was treated as male. There are always weird corner cases like Semenya’s, or conversely people who are cis men who happen to be XX, plus various syndromes like XYY, X0, etc. In some cases it’s only detected later in life, often when one tries to have children and discovers they can’t. But top athletes often are corner cases in general – Ian Thorpe has flipper-size feet and it’s treated as a natural gift rather than a problem.

            The ruling about post-puberty trans women misses how much trans women lose muscle mass during HRT.

          • michaelj

            Cis vs. trans is defined by assigned at birth gender

            That was then. Maybe it was the best they could do (I don’t think so), but it was wrong. Today and the future will have much greater clarity on these things. The rulings today are based on the real science (mostly, there’s still politics and PC bs of course but ultimately the science will win).
            The thing is that this only concerns a tiny number of people and I don’t believe anyone has an innate right to compete in elite sports. As Onux said, of the ≈300 5-ARD sufferers in the world, 3 end up in one elite race. They are only at the elite level because they are physiological men competing against women. It may not be anyone’s “fault” but it still isn’t right, or good for the sport. As for other syndromes like Kleinfelters etc they all have at least one Y chromosome, so yes should be excluded from competing in women’s events (most of them are in jail or institutions so … not an issue.)

            Re Thorpe, I agree. Ditto Usain Bolt. Track & Field, and swimming and many Olympic sports don’t interest me because they are so one-dimensional with single talents, often due to specific musculature etc not really a skill. There’s a limit to how much I can admire that, not to mention that it is sooo boring. Tennis is my sport of choice and one worth watching for remarkable feats involving a dozen different skills honed and integrated over years plus the indefinable mental fortitude/attitude. Exceptional physiology or freakish inherited characteristics have very close to zero to do with making a champion tennis player; it’s why PED play no role. The main inheritance factor appears to be whether one’s parent is a tennis coach, specifically an expat Russian. I’m glad to see that eventually my theory about optimal height in men’s tennis champions is being proven: the ultra-talls (>192cm, a kind of experiment in hyper-polarisation) have failed to dominate while the next-gen champions, like Alcaraz (183cm), are more like the Big Three Immortals (185, 185, 188). As below-average height I used to delight in taking down big tennis players (who anyway at social level tennis tend not to be very good but think they are; the bigger they are …). Needless to say that the Rockhampton Rocket is a hero.

            On the gender thing, most people with relevant experience believe a male tennis player rated at #200, perhaps #500 in the world would have beaten Serena Williams when she was at her peak. I refuse to comment on the gender pay issue. Oh, ok, since you provoke me and wrench my arm up my back: it should be proportional to audience demand. After watching almost any men’s tennis match it can be extremely painful watching the women’s. (More important is something Djokovic advocates for: better distribution of prize money down the rankings.) This gender thing may well be different for different sports. No surprise that women’s soccer is becoming as popular as the men’s (a women’s match last week broke gender-independent records at one of the big stadia) because one could hardly be less boring than the men’s game. (And no, Sam Kerr has nothing to do with this …)

          • Onux

            1. If a trans woman is intersex then they are not male, but the overwhelming majority if trans women are male; a female woman by definition isn’t trans.
            2. MichaelJ has already explained how Caster Semenya is not a cis woman, but its worth noting that after it became known that all three medalists in the women’s 800m at the 2016 Olympics have testicles (Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui also both have 5-ARD) the IAAF made sure rules were in place before the next Olympics that would allow them to compete only if they had surgery or took drugs to lower their testosterone. This supports the notion that current debates over trans athletes are not American-centric and that there was previously no real need for the debate – if the consensus was that males with differences in external sex organs could not compete with females then there was certainly no case for non-DSD males to do so.
            3. The fact that Nicola Sturgeon was (probably) forced out as First Minister due to the Isla Bryson case seems extremely recent and nothing to do with either 1970’s British feminism or US politics. Same with Conservatives blockings the gender recognition bill in Scotland.
            4. The fact that bathroom laws mostly came after 2021, the same time that males began to compete in women’s sports and transgender treatments of minors became known, seems to indicate that that these things are the cause, not a correlation/coincidence. Aside from the one bill in 2016, it seems that concern over trans athletes is driving the bathroom bills, not the other way around. As you mention in safe states is just playing to the base, but nationally the Republicans are looking for a winning cause (as all parties do) and trans athletes are as unpopular as bathroom bills (nationally about 2/3 of voters oppose bathroom discrimination, while 2/3 also oppose trans athletes – polls of course vary widely depending on the question asked and opinions vary on specifics, for example more people are ok with mixed sex in elementary school before puberty.)
            5. The global trend is mixed, and not at all consistent with the opinion of the American left, which is in its own way seems to be pursuing trans issues as a culture war topic the same way it has begun to treat abortion, in which only the maximal position is allowed. Norway and Finland both have self-id yet also both have stopped gender interventions for minors, Spain passed self-ID but the right/far-right parties tare set to win later this year so we’ll see what happens. India & Nepal’s “third gender” laws in no way resemble anything allowing males in female sports, in Pakistan the Islamists are pushing to get the trans law repealed/restricted…

          • adirondacker12800

            The American Left’s position is the same as it has been since before Roe v. Wade, it’s the woman’s decision ( until the point the procedure becomes a delivery )

  4. SB

    How is Italy polarized? Half of last four legislature terms ended up with technocratic governments.
    South Korea is regionally polarized but politicians switch parties all the time.

    • Luke

      I think that’s a reflection of the fact that the parties in South Korea are, themselves, pretty weak. The mainline right and left-of-center parties change their names almost every election cycle, and the only notable consistent differences between them are pro or anti-DPRK, and pro or anti-nuclear. Everything else varies enough per politician that party affiliation isn’t indicative of much.

      If anything, I’d say that ROK politics are much less polarized on substance than they seem to be, at least in terms of what voters seem to want.

      • Borners

        The key thing as I said above is that South Korean polarisation is on a narrower slate of topics. If you look at Taiwanese, Quebec, Scottish, Irish, Ukrainian (pre-2014) its actually quite similar there. National identity based polarisation often means mushy consensus politics on bread-and-butter and liberal-conservative axes of politics.

        US political polarisation is quite different, previously strong regional political cultures have been dissolving into an incredibly uniform yet changeable national divide.

        And UK polarisation is confusing because its National ID polarisation in the Celtic fringe plus a semi-US style divide within England which is also polarised on national-ID and pretends not to be. (Hence consensus between Labour and Tories on immigrants, Brexit, housing, transport, taxes, Civil Service, the Union reform etc).

    • Alon Levy

      Technocratic governments that were in practice led by PD and were replaced by a government led by literal neo-fascists as soon as there was an all-right majority.

  5. Eric2

    I think “corruption” is a lazy, superficial, and rather inaccurate description of what is preventing solidly Democratic states like California from reaching their potential.

    • Spencer

      Not of Illinois and New York. The institutional legacies of Machine Politics and organized crime are deep. Look at how long someone like Madigan in Illinois was able to remain in office. It makes me glad we have more than two parties in Canada.

  6. Matthew

    Infrastructure is expensive in the US because it’s a way of indirectly redistributing wealth in a society that cannot stomach the direct and explicit redistribution of wealth. It’s remarkably ineffective but it allows something to happen without violating a societal imperative of the US.

    • Eric2

      So you’re saying that handing immense wealth to a few corrupt cronies is “redistribution of wealth”? Lol. That’s like a caricature of left wing thought.

      • Sassy

        It’s not just to a few corrupt cronies though. [It’s to a large group of entrenched mildly wealthy people, in a very subtle but disastrous way.]( The US is rich, but it’s mostly felt by households as being able to buy tons of useless trash to keep in a storage unit and bigger cars to keep up with the street tank arms race, since meaningful improvement at larger scale is forbidden.

    • Borners

      Pork-barrel “redistribution” isn’t that simple. Turkey and the PRC both do massive physical in lieu of proper a welfare state in the context of high inequality. Their infrastructure costs are low/medium, the corruption comes from it being a leaky substitute for a welfare state/unions/worker rights/progressive taxation plus wider opportunity costs. Turkey has hyper-inflation because Erdogan wanted to keep the construction patronage machine going. The PRC has had declining productivity growth for most the last decade as the SOE-based construction patronage system has eaten the economy at the expense of consumers (which is a another way of saying the CCP continues to milk stealing the land in the 1950’s).

      Japan and South Korea have elements of this, but have much lower inequality thanks to Postwar land reform, progressive taxation etc. They both have quite spartan welfare states compared to the North Atlantic.

      One thing that I would point out is construction is relatively weak in Anglo-saxon business hierarchies than in other countries, especially compared to the NIMBY interest.

      • Matt

        Prc And turkey are not democracies that have to respond to the demands of particular constituencies. Not a valid comparison.

        • Borners

          We’ll see with Turkey. And Erdogan has attriting Turkey’s constitution in stages leverage the construction boom. But Turkey is much closer the Western democracies than it is to the PRC in terms of politics.
          And you said “society” not democracy.

          • Matt

            Turkey does not have social democratic redistributionist policies, whatever you call it. It doesn’t because it’s not meaningfully democratic. My point about the relationship of lack of social democracy and high cost of public infrastructure costs in the US stands.

  7. Herbert

    The way by which the Austrian second Republic “solved” the polarization of the first Austrian Republic that literally came to a shooting war was by a system that is often said (today) to lie at the root of Austria’s endemic corruption.

    Namely the system of “Proporz” which can be translated as proportionality. Basically any given position in government or government owned enterprises (and most anything worth having in Austria was government owned at the time) was either given to a “red” (SPÖ) or a “black” (ÖVP) with the second in command from the other bloc according to a very finely tuned formula. This led to boring, consensus oriented politics but also to stability.

    However, the obvious corruption inherent in this became a favorite target of the one political group of relevance that was excluded from it – the FPÖ. Sadly, those were founded by literal Nazis and their brief FDP-like flirtation with centrist liberalism (the FDP had far right wings in the 1950s and a Möllemann as recently as twenty, thirty years ago) was definitely ended by Jörg Haider. Which is why the Austrian system today manages to get the worst of both worlds: polarization between “we will work with the Nazis” and “maybe we shouldn’t” and endemic corruption of which Ibiza and the “cash for coverage” scandal in newspapers are only the very tip of a gigantic iceberg.

    Should it surprise that the literal Communist party got double digits in a recent local election in the state of Salzburg? Maybe. But Austrian politics is a mess. And not the good kind of mess…

  8. michaelj

    A quotation from Clive James I just heard on the radio:
    “Polarisation is like crack cocaine. Once tasted one can’t get enough of it.”

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