In Washington Post January 26, 2013 issue, Ezra Klein introduces the word, “Kludgeocracy” in his article titled, “Is America a ‘kludgeocracy’?,” which begins with the following sentence:

In "Kludgeocracy: The American Way of Policy," Johns Hopkins political scientist Steven Teles argues that;

"The great agenda of the next four years of the Obama administration, and probably the nation’s next thirty, is coming to grips with kludgeocracy." http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/26/is-america-a-kludgeocracy/

And in the article, titled “Kludgeocracy in America” in National Affair, Steven Teles, the coiner of "kludgeocracy" writes:

“While we can name the major questions that divide our politics — liberalism or conservatism, big government or small — we have no name for the dispute between complexity and simplicity in government, which cuts across those more familiar ideological divisions. For lack of a better alternative, the problem of complexity might best be termed the challenge of "kludgeocracy."

A "kludge" is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose...a clumsy but temporarily effective solution to a particular fault or problem," but I have difficulty in relating it to "kludgeocracy."

What does "kludgeocracy" mean in short and in plain words? Is it easily understood by every Americans? Does it have to be computer-specific as a political terminology?


Well, if you break down the elements of the word, it'd go something like this:

  • Kludge - you've defined it for us
  • -cracy - is a word-forming element that means "rule or government by".

The 'O' is part of linking the two elements together in the English language, when talking about etymology

So basically kludgeocracy is just a government by way of a clumsily and temporarily established system created in order to solve a specific problem.

I am unsure what you meant by your latter question:

Has it to be computer-specific as a political terminology?

If you meant, "Does it have to be computer-specific as a political terminology?" The answer is no, it does not. We talk about systems existing in many shapes and forms, and sometimes we acknowledge a system as merely abstract, as is the case with America being a kludgeocracy. In fact, using kludgeocracy to describe a computer-specific system within the government would not be accurate as a 'cracy' is a form of government or ruling hierarchy (as in democracy, plutocracy, etc).

  • Thank you for your answer. I corrected the last line of my question per your understanding – Yoichi Oishi Dec 5 '13 at 0:12

A "Kludgeocracy" is a society or government that is built and run on quick fixes. It is a pejorative word (meaning an insulting or a politically loaded word). The word implies that the current government tends to solve complicated problems in careless and haphazard ways (we call these "band-aid" solutions), which will lead to greater problems in the future.


You will find -cracy in many English words relating to organization of society or government, via French and Latin from the Greek κράτος, meaning power or strength Many of these words are themselves borrowed from French and/or Latin directly, e.g. democracy, bureaucracy, or aristocracy.

In modern usage, however, -cracy is usually used to form words for a society ruled by / governed by something. A meritocracy is a theoretical society where status and power are derived from individual merit. A mobocracy is governed by the whims of the mob, i.e. the disorganized masses.

A kludgeocracy, then, is government by kludge. The author (Steven Teles) states the kind of thing he considers a kludge in the very interview you cite:

A program or policy qualifies as a kludge if the fundamental policy mechanism is substantially more complicated than the problem it is trying to solve dictates. In general, it is a "kludge" because it builds upon, rather than supersedes, the policies that came before it.

In other words, to Teles, America is becoming a kludgeocracy in that our government is constantly applying patches to existing policy instead of creating new policy. The laws and regulations that get passed are "quick fixes" that are palatable in the short term, but fail to address underlying issues, or otherwise fail to generate any benefits outweighing their complexity in the long run. Instead, the complexity is patched with more quick fixes, and more, and after some time, we get the Internal Revenue Code, which is now so complex and fluid that it is difficult to determine even how long it is.


I would imagine that the majority of our population does not understand this new label unless they are tech-savvy and also interested in politics.

The word "kludge" is borrowed from computer systems, but can be generalized into a system made up of poorly matched components.

Author Steven Teles adds it to -cracy (rule, power) to in effect say that our government is no longer simply a government of the people which serves the people, but a less efficient one due to the unnecessary complexity of many of our programs and policies. Government can run a program, or privatization can take over, but when something is privatized yet the government still wants a measure of control, it gets unwieldy.

An analogy would be the meaning behind the idiom, "too many cooks spoil the broth."


The original article defines "kludge" as: "an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose...a clumsy but temporarily effective solution to a particular fault or problem,"

Another pair of phrases for this is "Jury-rigged" and "Jerry-rigged," which mean the same thing: A temporary solution using what's at hand until a better solution can be found. Jury-rigged things use assorted bits and pieces, often broken bits of the original rig, to make due and limp home.

The American government isn't a mixture of broken and ill-fitting bits. It has become a collection of contradictory opinions and mutually exclusive ideologies; a kakistocracy (rule by the worst people) run by the financial elite. In that light, we are not being ruled by a collection of ill-fitting pieces that are being made to work together, we are being run by pieces who refuse to work at all.

If the U.S. government was indeed a "kludgeocracy," the president or some other leader would be able to work with those disparate parts and get a few things done, even if they aren't perfect. As it is, our government refuses to do anything if they think "the other side" will gain anything from it.

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