An Enduring Question

With all the hoopla that’s been going on in Old World (Europe) over the fiscal crises there, I’ve been wondering lately if something similar won’t happen here eventually. You think countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Britain, Italy, and Spain dug themselves into economic holes? These are mere potholes compared to the massive sinkhole the United States has created for itself over the last decade. I mean… just take a look at these reports coming out of Italy this morning…

NYT: Berlusconi Narrowly Survives Vote of Confidence

The vote came in a highly charged atmosphere. Some protestors clashed violently with police, who fired tear gas, as an estimated 100,000 people marched through Rome calling on Mr. Berlusconi to step down. The government called in 1,500 police officers to keep order.

A hundred thousand people. How many showed up in London to protest the government’s tuition increase? When was the last time something like that happened in this country?

Until recently, Tuesday’s outcome would have been unthinkable in Italy, where Mr. Berlusconi has had an unshakeable grip on the country’s politics for the better part of the past 15 years and its media for even longer. Starting in the mid-’80s his private television empire helped shape the public imagination.

I remember when I was in Italy in 2008 – the man may not have been liked by all of Italy, but nobody questioned his domination of Italy’s political and media systems.

Economists say Italy needs significant structural reform and cost cutting in order to stimulate growth and reduce its debt, which at 118 percent of gross domestic product is the second-highest in the 16-member Euro zone after Greece.

Where are the economists who say that the United States is in need of “significant structural reform and cost cutting”? The scale of U.S. debt dwarfs all of these.

I mean seriously, the economic situation in Europe is merely a badly paved road, albeit one with many cracks and potholes that is in serious need of repaving and restructuring, compared to the situation here which can be likened to millions of fissures eroding away ground beneath a massive highway forming the conditions for massive sinkhole to take shape. I hardly think I’m over-exaggerating. I don’t know much about this new tax-deal the Obama Administration has cut with the Republicans, extending the Bush-era cuts, and perhaps it was politically advantageous to make a compromise in order to ascertain some of the Administration’s goals, but apparently the cost of the cuts is just being added to the national debt. Another $800 billion.

I just have this growing feeling that eventually events here will ultimately mirror those taking place on the old continent. But what is truly significant is the political cost of these economic events. The Irish Prime Minister was forced to resign, I believe. The Liberal Democrats, allied with the Conservative party in England have a staggeringly low 8% approval rating. Berlusconi’s empire hangs by a thread. Can you imagine what the costs would be here? We haven’t had mass protests like those taking place in Europe in years. And ultimately it raises questions about the way the American system is structured. It’s either working very well, the way power is shared here, or not working at all. From what I read, it seems there are people on both sides of the fold. Some say America’s political system is broken. That the Presidency is too big for one man. Other’s say that it hardly belongs to one man any more, but a handful of bureaus and agencies and departments. Despite the considerable power and influence given to states in the representative chambers, there is still an outcry that the Federal Government wields too much power and should be downsizes. All this begs the question of whether the American system would survive a crisis like this, without power being upset even momentarily.


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