Conversely, I would argue that the quality of governance in the US tends to be low precisely because of a continuing tradition of Jacksonian populism. Americans with their democratic roots generally do not trust elite bureaucrats to the extent that the French, Germans, British, or Japanese have in years past. This distrust leads to micromanagement by Congress through proliferating rules and complex, self-contradictory legislative mandates which make poor quality governance a self-fulfilling prophecy. The US is thus caught in a low-level equilibrium trap, in which a hobbled bureaucracy validates everyone’s view that the government can’t do anything competently. The origins of this, as Martin Shefter pointed out many years ago, is due to the fact that democracy preceded bureaucratic consolidation in contrast to European democracies that arose out of aristocratic regimes.
This description seems "descriptively correct" to Yglesias, who wants more bureaucrats making decisions. I don’t know what any of that means, but I think Fukuyama is pretty confused (Ygleasias too).
Fukuyama wonders why "democracy" produces such wildly different outcomes in terms of quality of governance.
All this analysis is plagued by the unmentioned fact that democracy is not functionally possible. There is no way for "the people" to govern that does not immediately end in mass chaos. Ask "the people" what they want and you’ll get a blank stare – tell them what they want in the right way and they’ll want whatever you tell them to want. So, when we see a "democratic country," we should instantly recognize that what we’re really seeing is a country run by some other sort of government. The trick is figuring out what that sort of government is.
(Incidentally, this is why I find Bruce Bueno de Mesquita so uninteresting. His analysis is often good, but he assumes that a democracy is a government of the people, which is absurd).
In the US, for example, we have a government run by universities, the media, and the bureaucracy. They govern through a network of alliances that are not often discussed, but not exactly hidden either.
The reason democracies are so different is that there are no democracies (and there can’t be any, thank God). It would be so much easier for all these people to understand how government works if they knew who the government actually was.