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Financial Holes Dug by Parliamentary Systems

Peter Wehner’s entry on Fareed Zakaria’s paean for parliamentary democracy rightfully defends America’s system of government. But one should add, even if America’s system of government were as hopeless as Zakaria described it, his remedy may be worse than the malady it tries to cure.

Consider this: Greece is a parliamentary system – the terribly efficient system of government Zakaria lionizes has produced one of the most dysfunctional economies in the Western world.

Italy is a parliamentary democracy that has been governed by a strong leader enjoying a strong majority in parliament for eight out of the last ten years. Yet, under Berlusconi’s leadership (though his opposition has a fair  share of responsibility) the country has been unable to pass the kind of structural reforms in the economy, tax system, public sector, education, welfare and pensions that could have avoided the near collapse of Italy’s economy in recent weeks.

Even after the dramatic ultimatum issued by the European Central Bank to Berlusconi on passing draconian economic measures to fix the system, the country’s leaders are squabbling pointlessly about how to push back so they do not lose the ECB support while keeping privileges intact and unions off the streets.

What to say of Belgium, another parliamentary system? It has been without a government for over 450 days, and counting. The country appears to work better without one – when public sector unions demand a raise and threaten a strike, it helps to be able to say the budget can’t be changed until a new executive is formed. But this is further evidence that parliamentarianism,  Zakaria’s latest recipe against Republicans, can also produce paralyzed governance.

Finally, the so-called PIIGS countries – Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain – that are the root-cause of the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis are all parliamentary democracies.

Whether they ultimately fix their problems (a big question mark), their gigantic financial holes were dug by parliamentary systems working the kind of marvels extolled by Zakaria’s four-minute pep talk.

Would the U.S. still enjoy a triple A rating with a parliamentary system? Certainly not with the parliamentary systems of most EU member states, whose economies are under pressure, whose political leaders lack the vision and courage to extricate their countries from trouble, and whose remedies, duly voted on by houses of parliament, are failing to stop the continent’s slide into recession.


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