In picking a topic for this week’s column, I decided to write about an institution that is deeply embedded in the structure of daily life as we know it. Yet it is deeply flawed, in ways that many observers from across the political spectrum have acknowledged for quite some time: It is bloated, sclerotic, overly bureaucratic and inadequately representative of society’s less privileged. Worse still, it is detached from the everyday life of those under its watch and paralyzed by seemingly insurmountable political divisions.
Similarly, there is a general consensus on the necessary reforms that would make this institution more effective, more responsive, more relevant and more politically sustainable. These reforms have become increasingly urgent, as the institution’s flaws have begun to generate a political backlash, one that even calls into question its continued existence. But for a variety of reasons, both political and cultural, those reforms are for all intents and purposes nonstarters in the decision-making circles that exercise a veto over changes of such magnitude. Despite the fact that this institution’s demise would cause irreversible and dramatic disruption, there is a growing sense that saving it is an impossible task.
What institution am I talking about?