Mario Monti is working through Italy's debt crisis. Is the US watching?
Italy may find Prime Minister Mario Monti's dose of discipline hard to swallow, but his depoliticized democracy is the only form of government that can move Italy forward. Monti's experiment may also serve as an antidote to the political dysfunction in the West – especially the US.
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In Italy today, parties representing taxi driver unions or shopkeepers aren’t about to favor making their clients’ lives more difficult through open competition. Public employees will resist cuts in jobs and benefits. Bankers will use their influence with legislators to avoid regulation. The rich will block higher taxes.Skip to next paragraph
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Giving voters a bigger say through direct instead of representative democracy can’t be the answer either. If put to a popular vote, what pensioner would be in favor of trimming the generous social contract he or she has come to expect even if the collective Italian purse can’t afford it?
As can be seen in California, where the direct democracy of the initiative process dominates governance, rational self-interest expressed by voters at the ballot box can add up to the wholesale madness of unintended consequences. As the result of a series of initiatives over the years slashing property taxes and seeking to punish criminals, California now absurdly spends more on prisons than on higher education, undermining the building blocks of its future.
Direct democracy is an especially bad idea in America’s Diet Coke culture, where people seem to want consumption without savings and government without taxes just like they want sweetness without calories. To make the situation worse, special-interest money, sanctioned by the US Supreme Court as “free speech” (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) easily distorts and manipulates honest discourse in any political campaign.
As difficult to swallow as his dose of discipline may be, the depoliticized democracy being practiced by Prime Minister Monti is the only possible form of government that can move Italy forward. And we will see more and more of it in the West for the same reasons we’ve seen it in Italy.
The whole idea of the US congressional “supercommittee,” which unfortunately has so far failed, is to take the politics of gridlock out of formulating a fair and common-sense policy to reduce long-term deficits.
In California, an independent bipartisan group called the Think Long Committee, with members ranging from Google’s Eric Schmidt to the former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court to former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has been more successful.
It left politics aside and was able to reach a bipartisan tax-reform plan bridging the ideological divide that has paralyzed the state legislature for years. It will offer that plan to the public for a vote in 2014. The group has further proposed a more formal nonpartisan body, appointed by elected officials but composed of prominent citizens with expertise and experience, to watch over California’s long-term interests.