After 300 Hundred Years, Representative Democracy is Imperiled (Les Echos, France)

With the economic crisis/collapse and the incapacity of leaders to effectively resolve it, there is a profound and existential fear gripping the modern world. According to columnist Jean-marc Vittori of France’s Les Echos, Western-style democracy, which has long been considered the most advanced system of governance, may be irretrievably unraveling.

For Les Echos, Jean-marc Vittori writes in part:

Global finance is built on a simple idea: the debt of the United States is 100 percent secure. All financial products are defined by differences in interest rates – and therefore risk – in relation to U.S. federal debt obligations. Of course, the rating isn’t gospel. It’s just one piece of advice among others. But it proclaims one truth: America cannot continue to forge ahead with a gargantuan public deficit (more than 10 percent of U.S. GDP) and minimal growth (less than 1 percent in the first half of 2011). For the first time in over two centuries, it may not be able to repay its debt. With S&P’s announcement, bankers, insurers and investors the world over can no longer close their eyes to this disturbing reality.

But finance is not the only entity that was shaken. Since public debt is the cause, so are the politics behind it. The representative democracy under which we live was born three centuries ago around a simple idea: to avoid a debt spiral and bankruptcy, public finances must be controlled by representatives of the people and not left to the discretion of the king. Today this founding mission is no longer being successfully carried out in the United States – long considered the model representative democracy. And, in our Old Europe, doubt is growing about the capacity of States to bear their financial commitments, as we saw on the markets last week.

READ ON IN ENGLISH OR FRENCH AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of foreign news and views about our nation.

Author: WILLIAM KERN (Worldmeets.US)

Founder and Managing Editor of Worldmeets.US

11 Comments

  1. “To win back confidence, deeds and not words are needed.”

    Truer words were never spoken. Will there be deeds?

  2. Well, as frustrated as I am with this travesty of a debacle we call the U.S. government, I’m not ready to call representative democracy “dead”.

    Instead, I see several glaring flaws that can be corrected:

    1) party reform is required. It’s not that there are only two parties, it’s that the two parties basically own our political system in total. This is manifested in redistricting, primary structure, and ballot qualifications. This leads to “politics as sport”, Red Sox vs. Yankees hateful competition rather than legitimate, sane debate. POSSIBLE SOLUTION: let any such election decisions be made by bureaucrats according specific, fair, mathematically-based criteria and not voted on by elected officials.

    2) campaign finance & lobbying reform: Congress, the Executive Branch, & the regulatory agencies looked the other way whilst bankers replaced the bricks of the economy with bales of straw. This is lobbying at work: “we’ll donate to your campaign if you let us do this, or defund these groups who are watching us.” shameful. POSSIBLE SOLUTION: re-adjudicate the First Amendment to apply ONLY to individual citizens and not to groups, unions, corporations, etc. Groups can convince the citizenry all they want, but only citizens can petition the government. In other words, reverse the Citizens United ruling.

    3) (and this only applies to Europe) political divisions should equal economic divisions. In other words, it certainly appears the Euro was a terrible die, doesn’t it? POSSIBLE SOLUTION: abolish the Euro or turn Europe into a country.

  3. (premature send, continuing)

    There also needs to be budget language in the Constitution. Not sure I like a balanced budget amendment, but there definitely needs to be something there to enforce financial sanity.

    Finally, we don’t take our 10th Amendment seriously enough.

  4. FDR’s New Deal pretty much ate the 10th Amendment as an hors devours.

  5. Groups can convince the citizenry all they want, but only citizens can petition the government. In other words, reverse the Citizens United ruling.

    But Citizens United wasn’t about petitioning the government, it was about a movie that tried to dissuade voters from supporting Hillary Clinton. Are you for that or against it?

  6. Fair enough, Barky, particularly the addendum you posted.

    Yes, Logan — the New Deal was our third American revolution. Since then the federal Levithan’s growth is part of a process (sought by many, which is disturbing) of converting the federal republic into a de facto, though never de jure, unitary nation.

  7. Note that some, including some liberals like Rivlin (it’s too bad people like her couldn’t be chosen on the Dem side for any real commission), understand the federalism-related problems and see solutions. Rivlin even includes a radical (for us) tax system change, shared common taxes for the states*., which is notably pertinent since part of true budget reform is tax reform.

    The performance of the economy and the functioning of the political system are usually discussed by different people in separate books. One set of authors diagnoses the ills of the economy and offers policy prescriptions; another set focuses on the failings of politics or politicians and recommends reforms in the process. Both groups, acting on assumptions that date from the 1930s, seem to believe that the Federal Government is the only government that matters and that all new public policies must be made in Washington. [...]

    The blurring of state and federal roles contributes to cynicism about politics. Presidential campaign rhetoric, for example, often concerns issues over which presidents have little control: crime, drugs, education, child care, and industrial development. Candidates for federal office undermine their credibility by implying that these problems have national solutions and by refusing to address serious federal issues such as the budget deficit.

    Until the 1930s, the powers of the Federal Government and those of the states were viewed as separate and distinct. But, first in the Depression and then in the 1960s, activists and reformers turned to Washington out of frustration with the way states and localities were performing. Washington responded, taking on a wide range of new responsibilities for social and economic policy.

    The surge in federal activities had many positive results but also diffused responsibility and directed the energies of reformers toward Washington. The proliferation of federal programs, projects, offices, and agencies in so many parts of the country made the Federal Government increasingly unmanageable. It came to resemble a giant conglomerate that has acquired too many different kinds of businesses and can no longer coordinate or manage all its activities effectively from central headquarters. [...]

    Government must take its cue from the business revolution. In an age of global competition, the Federal Government and the states should divide the public tasks needed to ensure that the economy functions well. [...]

    [A] new system of “common shared taxes”—either collected by the Federal Government and distributed to the states, or collected directly by a consortium of states—should be adopted to put state financing on a more secure and equal footing.

    The idea of states sharing common taxes is a radical departure from the American tradition. In other federal systems, tax sharing is more typical. In Germany, for example, the central government collects most of the taxes and shares the proceeds with the Länder (states). Like federal grants, common shared taxes could be designed to improve the relative position of the least affluent states. Unlike federal grants, however, they would not impose federal rules and guidelines on local authorities or cause confusion about which level of government has responsibility for which programs.

    Common shared taxes would have other benefits: They would simplify the tax system for businesses operating in more than one state. And under such a system states would no longer compete for business on the basis of taxes, but on the basis of a “productivity agenda” for improved local services and institutions, such as schools and infrastructure. These, in turn, will help the United States compete in the global economy.

    http://www.city-journal.org/article01.php?aid=1142

    * I’ve posted on a number of occasions that for better or worse, there is an established system we can copy for distributing money more evenly or “fairly” among the states (blazing red Commie-style Robin Hood redistribution), Canada’s equalization payments.

    http://www.fin.gc.ca/fedprov/eqp-eng.asp

    I doubt our modern Congress or Obama are good enough to try it, though at least some pro sports leagues have revenue sharing.

    The Northeastern establishmentarian liberal (blueprint for Dems) Brookings Institution is studying, among various subjects, modern federalism. (Beware their liberal politics, but read it all, anyway, even the liberal slanting, references, e.g., to the “national” government instead of to the federal government, and so forth.)

    http://www.brookings.edu/topics/federalism.aspx

  8. Well if we are dying then there is an opportunity to find a new an acceptable form of self government.

    You might entertain the Swiss model, that pretty much removes the popularity contest from elections, and, brings sober issues to the forefront. We should all admire the Swiss standard of living which is higher than ours. Not to mention that they have not had a war in 200 years. Of course, not a lot of room for artistic creativity but what the hey?

  9. Women didn’t get the vote in Switzerland until the 70′s. Also other people fight their wars for them. Anyway, I like our form of govt just fine, I just don’t like the way it’s been perverted and spit on.

  10. DLS-

    What an absolute pile of obvious partisan crap. Are you the best the right can do?

  11. @Allen
    Calling something (or someone) names is not a rational response. If you find something specific that you think is a lie or deception, call it out.

Submit a Comment