United States


Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

Showing increasing problems of fiscal unsustainability, the United States receives middling scores overall (rank 26) with regard to economic policies. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.4 points since 2014.

Economic growth has remained robust. However, the tax cut for corporations and high-income individuals passed in late 2017 has sharply increased the already unsustainable long-term deficit. The annual deficit reached above $1 trillion in late 2019. President Trump threatened to fire the central bank chairman, though he lacked the legal authority to do so.

The new North American trade deal passed the House, and Trump announced a new trade deal with China. Nevertheless, the trade war with China, and lesser conflicts with European Union and Japan, continued. The unemployment rate declined to a record low of 3.7%, with median household incomes climbing by 12%. Incomes have grown faster at the top, exacerbating inequality.

Under current policy, deficits are projected to be above $1 trillion (4.7% of GDP) every year from 2020 to 2029, with government debt totaling close to $30 trillion by the end of the decade. Federal R&D funding has been cut. Banking oversight has been relaxed, allowing risky banking practices to resume.

Social Policies

With significant weaknesses, the United States scores relatively poorly (rank 30) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.7 points relative to 2014.

Educational inequalities between high- and low-income areas are severe, with performance generally disappointing. Federal education programs have been cut by more than $10 billion, with some funding redirected to school-choice initiatives. The elimination of the Obama-era individual health-insurance mandate has increased the numbers of the uninsured, and increased the cost of insurance premiums.

Income inequality has increased dramatically. The administration has sought to bar undocumented immigrants from purchasing health insurance, and to reduce food-stamp coverage. Work requirements in the social welfare net have been expanded. Direct family policy is minimal, but the employment rate for women is high. Ideological stalemate has prevented pension-system sustainability reforms.

The Trump administration has taken numerous steps to cut legal and illegal immigration, with Trump showing active rhetorical hostility toward immigrants. The separation of migrant children from parents has produced a human-rights scandal. The incidence of hate crimes has increased, and the issue of police violence against Black citizens has remained in the spotlight.

Environmental Policies

Despite a history of ambitious environmental protections, the United States holds the SGI 2020’s lowest position (rank 41) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has declined by 1.2 points relative to 2014.

The Trump administration has been a rapidly escalating disaster for environmental policy. The Republican president has embraced climate-change denial and withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement, and has promised to rejuvenate the coal-mining industry.

Hard-line opponents of environmental regulation have been appointed to top environmental positions, and many regulations have been reversed without analysis. The Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific and expert staff has been decimated, and many regulations that remain are unlikely to be enforced.

A number of individual states have sought to continue efforts to reduce carbon emissions. However, under Trump, there is unlikely to be leadership or even cooperation from the United States federal government in international climate-change efforts.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

With the administration routinely flouting political norms, the United States falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 24) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 1.4 points relative to 2014.

The media has become a highly polarized, contested environment, with conservative broadcasters adopting Trump’s often misleading rhetoric. Campaign-finance laws lead to vast, often unaccountable private spending on elections. Potentially illegal foreign contributions to campaigns have been identified. Some state Republican parties canceled their primaries to protect Trump from challenges.

The Republican Party has adopted the suppression of low-income and minority votes by any legal means as a standard party strategy. Numerous policies have been implemented and regulations canceled through the use of unilateral executive actions. The Department of Justice has sought to discourage full implementation of a measure reducing excessive sentences for many nonviolent offenses.

Judicial review remains vigorous. Trump has disregarded laws and established practices in order to profit personally from the presidency. Following impeachment and continued refusal of legal obligations by the Trump administration, it appeared that the U.S. was in the midst of a constitutional crisis, with severe uncertainty regarding assured adherence to the rule of law within the executive.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

With a worrisome degree of chaos at top executive levels, the United States scores relatively poorly (rank 30) with respect to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 2.2 points relative to 2014.

President Trump has shown virtually no interest in long-range planning. Executive decision-making does not follow orderly processes. Republicans in Congress have drafted key measures in secret, avoiding public discussion. Agencies have suffered massive losses of expert staff, and Trump has failed to fill key agency political-appointee positions. The executive branch has seen calamitous failures of coordination

Impact analysis has largely been abandoned at the administration level, with sustainability checks manipulated, ignored or avoided. The White House press office has been heavily engaged in defending or obscuring Trump’s many false claims and inconsistencies. The administration engages in closed-door meetings with lobbyists and supporters, without broader attempts to integrate societal actors.

A preoccupied Congress passed no major legislation in 2019. The Trump administration has sought to impose controls on states that have maintained liberal policies, for example with regard to automobile emissions. Regulatory enforcement in certain areas, such as the environment or workplace safety, has largely ceased.

Executive Accountability

Despite concerns related to the effects of polarization, the United States falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 17) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has declined by 0.2 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 exists, but a decline in journalistic standards is evident, particularly in a right-leaning media that echoes Trump’s constant claim that mainstream news organizations are reporting “fake news.”

Congressional resources are quite substantial, and formal powers are strong. However, the administration has refused to provide access to important information and key figures for oversight hearings. 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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