We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Having It Both Ways
Year of Wonders?
Will 2013 be a year of wonders? Disappointed in 2012 by our delayed planetary doom/arrival of our ‘space brothers’ perhaps predicted on a Mayan stone calendar or the perennially postponed performance of the Antichrist? Well if the unendingly sour and dismissive conversation on CNBC’s Squawk Box can turn entertaining, as it did early on the morning of January 3, 2013, then anything is possible this year!
What could be the least bit diverting about the dreary business talk show that conservatives turn to when they begin to weary of the inanities on Fox News? The answer is contradiction obvious to everyone, it would seem, but the show’s hosts and guest.
“Where Will Money Come to Support Retirees?” CNBC Squawk Box.
This minor miracle of amusement was the product of a predictably grumpy exchange about Congress, taxes, spending and deficits, during which Congress was assessed as dysfunctional because partisanship was preventing it from achieving consensus. Guest Judd Greg, who today is a Goldman Sachs International Advisor, a position to which he ascended after was first serving as a U.S. Senator and Governor from New Hampshire, explained it in terms of safe party districts in the U.S. House and nervous U.S. Senators running scared of partisan voters in their states.
At that point, junior host Andrew Ross Sorkin asked, “So is democracy at work?”
Greg responded by admitting that, “I’m concerned that our democracy is starting not to work.”
Senior host Joe Kernan then charged in to the defense with the following: “But look around at the rest of the world…They got six different parties that form these ridiculous coalitions between the far left and far (the next word is suppressed after the initial ‘r’ sound)…and they get nothing done. They’re out in eight months.”
With that cue, Greg added, “Under no circumstances do you want to us to go to a multiparty system. The way our system works, the way it reaches consensus, is that the first step is the party system, where you got two parties, and they are very broad umbrellas and they start to reach to consensus, and that works its way up until you get candidates from those parties, and then those candidates either get elected or don’t, and the public gets consensus.”
There is no contradiction in Kernan’s criticism of “the rest of the world,” by which he probably meant Europe, for being governed by short-lived coalitions of parties from opposite sides of the left-right ideological spectrum. He is just factually incorrect. What he got right was that, with a handful of exceptions like the United States, Jamaica and Barbados, most liberal democracies on the planet and most European countries have multiparty systems and coalition governments. What Kernan got wrong is that coalition governments are usually formed by parties that are ideologically adjacent and coalition governments are often stable. If stability is what is wanted, then Germany and not the United States should be the model. Note that there have been fewer German Chancellors than American Presidents since the end of the Second World War. Moreover, if the success of government is to be judged by other reasonable measures such as the size of the deficit compared to GDP, GINI index, unemployment rate, personal freedom, and incarceration rate, then countries with multiparty systems ruled by coalition governments such as Australia, Germany, the Norway and Switzerland shine by comparison with the United States with its two party system and one party government.
At this point the ‘Goldman Sachs International Advisor’ surely realized that the senior host was out of his depth. Rather than offer any correction, Greg proceeded to argue that the American two party system is better because it leads to consensus. Here is the problem. Greg had just gotten through explaining how partisanship wasn’t leading to consensus in Congress, but instead to dysfunction. You cannot have it both ways.
This leads back to the smartest comment that was made during the exchange, Sorkin’s question: “So is democracy at work?” Eventually we will summon the courage to examine the relationship between our political institutions and the performance of government. Will it happen in 2013? If CNBC’s Squawk Box can be entertaining, even intentionally, then maybe.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
We left Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport for Guangzhou where we spent three days before flying on a small CAAC Ilyushin 14 aircraft to Guilin in the Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The airplane was noisy, basic transportation and typical of Russian-built commercial aircraft. We nicknamed it the Friendshipski because of its similarity to the Dutch-built Fokker Friendship commonly used by airlines for service to small airports. The view as we approached the Guilin area was spectacular. Perfectly shaped limestone mountains rose straight out of the countryside, providing an eerie landscape and seeming to almost touch the wheels of the airplane. While I t Read on →
Have you noticed lately that menus aren’t just menus anymore? They are adjective-laden exercises in literary carnage. Pretentious descriptions of food so florid I’m not sure what I’m ordering. It seems the goal of a restaurant, aside from separating me from the contents of my wallet, is to make me feel good about what I’m eating, or self-conscious, I’m not quite sure which. Thus the word sustainable creeps into every menu I read. Sustainable, as in sustainable agriculture or sustainable fish … what I really want is whatever is being served to “sustain me,” not the other way around. I’ve collected a few culinary terms currently in vogue a Read on →
I arrived in Beijing on an old Boeing 707 China Air flight in November 1978 after a week in Japan. The entry formalities at Beijing Airport were slow but considerably quicker than the Shenzhen Railway Station where I had previously entered China from Hong Kong. I caught a taxi from the airport to the Beijing Hotel on Dongchangan Jie. Taxis were a new experience for me in China, previously it was the “foreigners bus”. The Beijing Hotel had a long and fascinating history. It was built as a five-story brick building in 1915 and two years later a seven-story French sty Read on →
It’s that time of year again. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about … the holidays. Some see it as the song claims “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” … But others among us are just left wondering. First it’s the sugary shock of Halloween. Then it’s surviving the Thanksgiving glutton-fest. Followed by a tsunami of high-octane shopping you can’t afford, partying, last minute gift buying, a morning of exchanging gifts you don’t need, a mad rush to return the gifts you don’t want, more shopping and finally a drunken evening, ending with new year’s resolutions and false resolve to quit your shameful and glut Read on →