Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried. The financial crisis has tested Churchill’s assertion.
In Greece, the austerity measures imposed on the country by the EU and the ensuing domestic unrest led Prime Minister George Papandreou to call for a referendum to approve the terms of the bailout that he had just negotiated. In seeking public approval for the package, Papandreou drew the ire of the main proponents of the bailout–President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Their threats to withdraw the deal if it was not speedily approved led Papandreou to resign.
Typically, in parliamentary democracies, when one party loses the confidence of the parliament, it becomes necessary to form a new government. A new government can be formed under the outgoing leadership, under the leadership of the opposition, or new elections can be called.
Sadly, even though the major parties recognized that the bailout was necessary, none had the guts to take the blame for taking the deal. The result was the appointment of a non-political European civil servant–former European Central Bank Vice President Lucas Papademos–to accept the deal.
In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi….Well, let’s just say that Berlusconi was a problematic leader on a number of levels. He certainly demonstrated his inability to undertake the necessary reforms in a timely manner (he was, after all, prime minister on and off since 1994).
The solution? Mario Monti, a former EU Commissioner and president of Bocconi University: another non-politician brought into an inherently political job to do what the politicians could not.
Here in the United States, democratic institutions and the politicians in charge on them are having trouble achieving important public policy goals. Congress appears incapable of dealing with the budgetary situation through normal channels. Instead, they found it necessary to appoint a super-committee (I have a hard time imagining Washington or Jefferson uttering the term “super-committee”). The outcome of that group’s deliberations is very much in doubt.
The super-committee framework isn’t the same thing as appointing a non-political “technocrat”, but it does suggest that the politicians are incapable of doing the people’s business unless they are somehow protected from voters who will be angry at them for making unpopular, but necessary, decisions.
I wonder what Churchill would have thought of a technocracy.