United States


Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

With fiscal sustainability a rising concern, the United States receives middling scores overall (rank 22) with regard to economic policies. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.1 point since 2014.

The pandemic led to a swift and extraordinarily severe economic downturn in mid-2020. However, GDP growth bounced rapidly back, returning to robust levels in 2021. Massive emergency spending included payments to individuals and firms, as well as expanded tax credits and unemployment benefits.

The unemployment rate rose to above 14% in mid-2020, but had fallen back to 4.6% by late 2021. The country has one of the least regulated and least unionized labor markets in the OECD, and the government provides little training or placement support. Taxes do not cover government expenses. Most of the tax reforms passed under President Trump have been retained.

Government debt jumped from 106.8% of GDP in 2019 to more than 137% in 2022, driven by pandemic-era spending and the effects of prior tax cuts. Fiscal sustainability is seen as an increasing concern. The Biden administration restored non-defense R&D spending, and pledged to improve financial market oversight weakened by the previous administration.

Social Policies

Showing significant weaknesses, the United States falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 28) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the healthcare system’s massive inequalities. The Trump administration’s elimination of the Obama-era individual health insurance mandate increased the numbers of the uninsured, and increased the cost of insurance premiums. The Biden administration has sought to improve access.

Despite strong funding, education system inequalities are severe. Lagging financial aid for low-income students means that wealthy students are far more likely to graduate from college. Income inequality has increased dramatically. The Trump administration cut programs for the poor. Pandemic-era legislation temporarily increased welfare benefits and tax credits for poor families.

Direct family policy is minimal, but families with children receive tax benefits. Access to abortion has become nearly nonexistent in some states. Ideological stalemate has prevented passage of pension-system sustainability reforms. The Biden administration has reversed most of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. Escalating urban homicide rates and large-scale shootings are increasing problems.

Environmental Policies

Despite a history of ambitious environmental protections, the United States falls into the bottom ranks internationally (rank 40) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

The Trump administration was a disaster for environmental policy. The Republican president withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, canceled numerous environmental regulations, appointed industry figures to top environmental positions and drove many expert employees out of the Environmental Protection Agency, making it more difficult to enforce the regulations that remained.

Under the Biden administration, the U.S. has rejoined the Paris agreement. The new president has strengthened environmental protection measures, and improved climate policies. The government is again making large investments in green technologies and public transportation.

Biden has promised to double the funding provided to developing countries to help fight climate change by 2024. His administration canceled the federal permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and imposed a moratorium on oil leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

Despite increasing tension over the conduct of elections, the United States falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 1.0 point relative to 2014.

Voting rights have become a contested issue, with the Republican party seeking to suppress low-income and minority votes. Democrats have failed to pass a major voting-rights act through Congress. So-called Super PACs can make unlimited expenditures on behalf of parties or candidates. Candidates from both major parties increasingly rely on independent expenditures from rich individuals or businesses.

The media sector is highly polarized, but pluralistic. The new administration has launched a number of major civil rights investigations, and strengthened protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. Biden came into office promising to strengthen democratic norms, and has enhanced legal certainty.

The Supreme Court appointment process has become intensely politicized. An expert reform commission has recommended term limits for justices. President Trump disregarded laws and established practices in order to profit personally from the presidency. Biden has pushed for new anti-corruption measures.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

With a new administration still working to restore the damage done by its predecessor, the United States falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 12) with respect to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.5 points relative to 2014.

The Biden administration has sought to restore orderly executive procedures and undo Trump-era damage to the civil service. A major hiring campaign is underway to fill senior departmental posts. Strategic planning and expert advice are again being used. As usual, the president and White House staff prioritize issues based on the president’s agenda.

While the new administration has made an explicit attempt to return to evidence-based policymaking, RIAs have historically tended to reflect agency political preferences. The Biden team has sought to consult with more diverse communities than its predecessor. Communication has returned to a more traditional, planned style, without Trump’s tendency to engage in mercurial and inaccurate statements.

COVID-19 stimulus bills were enacted in 2020 and 2021, but other major legislative efforts have been stalled in a highly polarized Congress. Monitoring capabilities are being rebuilt. Trump-era regulatory rollbacks are being reexamined. The isolationist tendencies of the Trump era have been eliminated, and the U.S. has rejoined key global bodies.

Executive Accountability

Despite concerns related to the effects of polarization, the United States performs comparatively well (rank 12) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has improved by 0.3 points relative to its 2014 level.

Citizens’ policy-knowledge levels are on average quite low, with “partisan motivated reasoning” an increasing concern. Serious, in-depth policy reporting is available in print, online and on television. Social media companies have contributed to the dissemination of widely consumed misinformation and toxic content.

Congressional resources are quite substantial, and formal powers are strong. The Biden administration has improved transparency, in part by responding more reliably to congressional requests for information or access. The influential General Accountability Office performs audit functions. No specific ombuds office exists. There is no national data-protection authority.

Party candidates are chosen democratically. Party platforms are produced at conventions every four years, but have little influence. Interest associations are often sophisticated and media-savvy. Labor-union staff capacity has declined over decades, reducing the interest representation of low-income people.
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