James Fallows, The Economics of the Colonial Cringe
(It’s the cultural cringe, but whatever.)
James Fallows, The Economics of the Colonial Cringe
(It’s the cultural cringe, but whatever.)
Paul Krugman, “Hung Over in Britain,” The New York Times, May 7, 2010
Monarchists in Australia like to say of our system of government that it “ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The problem is that our system of government is broke, and just because it may work on a day-to-day or year-to-year basis doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have major structural problems that have no good means of resolution. In Australia we saw that in the latest fiasco of an election in Tasmania, in the dismissal of Gough Whitlam in the ’70s, the dismissal of NSW Premier Jack Lang in the ’30s, the attempted interference of the British Crown and Parliament in NSW affairs as recently as the 1980s, and the anxiety in NSW last year over whether and how the Governor could call an early election to rid the state of its loathed government. This is not a system that works. This is a system that, in our country’s lifespan of little more than a century, regularly breaks down.
And now in the UK, it looks like they might encounter a similar problem. In an age where we do not consider hereditary monarchs to be gods who may rule naturally over us commoners, giving them and their representatives a role in democratic politics is a recipe for failure. There is no such thing as a ceremonial political position. If the royalty has a de jure place in our government, it will sooner or later end up having to take an active place in our government. It might seem a safe fantasy to shield checks and balances away in unelected positions, so we don’t have to deal with unseemliness of Presidential politics that we (tell ourselves we) witness in American government, but the only result of that is that one day we end up with unelected people forced to make decisions with legal force that can never be supported by the force of popular will.
The system is broken, and where ever it is used in the world, it breaks. Monarchism is a sick remnant of times when people were not considered able to govern themselves. Where ever it endures in the world, it should be destroyed.
Matt Yglesias, “The Need for Speed,” Think Progress, May 11, 2010
Oh how I weary of Yglesias’s periodic pieces fetishizing European systems of government, particularly when they don’t seem to be based on a proper understanding of the system he’s fetishizing. See, the thing is, a shadow cabinet doesn’t need to be confirmed. Which means you can put any idiot in charge of whatever arrangement you can cut an intra-party deal on. (A favorite in the Australian Liberal-National party coalition is to make the rural-based National Party responsible for the Trade portfolio, resulting in a trade policy that constantly skews pro-agriculture and against tech-based innovation.) So when all you have to do to form a government is show you’ve got a majority of one house prepared to say they’ll ride with you, yeah you get a government pretty quick. It doesn’t mean it will be a government filled with talented individuals the country can agree should be representing it.
The big advantage with the American system of confirming the administration is that the branch is, in a very real sense, accountable to the people. In a parliamentary system, ministers aren’t all that accountable. Take Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan. Swan represents an electorate in Queensland, which means that his job is to look after the money of the entire nation as well as to be the representative of a bunch of Banana Benders. But when it comes election time, the nation doesn’t get to judge Swan. The nation can only say yea or nay to the party that decided he should be Treasurer. The Queenslanders whom Swan represents get to decide, however, whether he is a good representative, and if they decide he is not a good representative, then the rest of the nation does not get to decide he was a good Treasurer. (Or if they decide he was a good rep, then the rest of the nation cannot signal that they do not like their Treasurer.) Then repeat this throughout the cabinet. Think this doesn’t have a real world effect? Opponents of former Australian leader of the opposition Malcolm Turnbull, who fought the 2007 election as Member for Wentworth and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, campaigned against Turnbull at a local level on the basis that he wasn’t doing a good job as Environment Minister (a national position). But only people in the suburbs of Eastern Sydney could cast a vote evaluating Turnbull’s fitness to be Environment Minister!
So, yes, parliamentary systems ensure a much more rapid transition of power, but that’s because they only have to transition power from one Prime Minister who thinks he’s got the numbers to another Prime Minister who thinks he’s got the numbers. Yes, there are very real debates to be had about how many American Administration-level positions should be subject to Senate confirmation, and there are very real problems associated with the length of time a lame duck Administration has to flop around before its successor is inducted. But a lot of the reason it takes so long is that America inducts a new national Government every four years, instead of permitting one dude to say, “Hey, I know these guys. They’re all right. Give ‘em a job!”
Look, if I didn’t love being here, I would go home tomorrow. I could do it easily. And when I got there, people would look at me strange. Like, don’t you love America? Yes I do, and, stupidly, on many days here I step outside and am amazed that I’m in America, and get so happy because of that fact. I am not anti-American.
But there’s this American thing, where if you’re an American even slightly educated about the world beyond your borders, you think you know everything there is to know about the world beyond your borders. The place I notice this most frequently is in politics and sports.
I was at my local bar tonight (and the differences between a local bar and a local pub are one of the many things I love about America), and the bartender, obviously wanting to make conversation, asked me is I was excited about the World Cup. (This is while I was watching the Suns-Lakers game and the Mariners-Tigers game, both of which I was mildly interested in.)
Now, this is a question he could not have known I would take offense at, but it’s also a question he would not have asked if I didn’t talk with a certain accent.
See, I not only consider soccer to be a foreign game, I consider it to be an invasively foreign game. This is not a view all Australians share. But, when I hear an argument of equivalence made between Australianness and soccer, I think of the way Aussie soccer fans idolize Manchester United and Liverpool and Chelsea, and other English teams, and I think of colonialism, and I think of the eternal political debate in my country as to whether our head of state should be one of us or should be a foreign monarch, and I get very patriotic.
None of which is something an American should be expected to know. Except for the fact that, in Australia, the most popular non-cricket sports are Australian Rules football, Rugby League and Rugby Union. That is, there is no reason for an American to believe that Australians are interested in soccer unless they deduce “non-American places like soccer,” and “Australia is a non-American place,” therefore, “Australia likes soccer.”
America. I love you. But there is a huge difference between “non-American place” and “X country that is not America.” Countries that are not you do not do sport like England. Countries that are not you do not do politics like England.
And I sympathize. I understand, and enjoy, how immersive American life is. It is difficult to know what happens beyond these borders while you’re here. And even though I once was offended when a friend of mine asked if we celebrated Christmas in Australia (um yes), this seems a far more honest approach than to extrapolate knowledge of other nations from an understanding of Canada or from an understanding of England.
To the bartender’s credit, when I told him I was Australian, he responded, “Oh, so you’re more into rugby.” Which is, hey, thanks for the recognition, but where i’m from rugby means rugby union, which I have to dislike for class reasons, even though I don’t at all like rugby league, which I’m meant to like for class reasons. But how can I explain that to someone who is being generous by even supposing that I might like rugby (a game with local cultural roots) as opposed to a foreign game like soccer?
I might be creating an unfairly high standard. But it does infuriate me that the Americans that are most interested in a world beyond their borders seem to be the ones most comfortable with thinking they understand my culture when they do not.
It is understood that in the past few weeks the Queen’s treasurer, Sir Alan Reid, has briefed government officials that her expenditure is running at about £7 million ($12 million) more than the annual allowance. This shortfall is being met by an emergency reserve that is expected to run out in 2012.
The civil list, £7.9 million a year, has been frozen for 20 years.
Courtiers say that, in the long term, the Queen needs an increase in annual funding that at least takes into account inflation over the past 20 years - 80 per cent during that time.
The Queen, however, is sensitive to public opinion and ministers fear a public relations disaster if the civil list is increased by such a large amount in the wake of the economic crisis.
Andrew Alderson and Patrick Hennessey, “Queen is $12m short each year,” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 31, 2010
The civil list is the money the British Parliament pays the Queen to be queen.
So. We have a woman whose only job is to smile and wave and nod at ceremonies, who qualified for such a job by crawling out of her mum’s vagina eighty-something years ago and staying alive long enough for her dad to die, and she receives millions of pounds every year from the British taxpayer for this highly-technical work.
And she spends almost twice as much as she “earns.”
And the only reason she doesn’t ask for even more money is because it might look bad. Because the people who pay her don’t have a lot of money at the moment. Not because she doesn’t do shit to earn the money she’s asking for, but because it might look bad.
I have a modest proposal for the British Government. How about they cut this dumb bint’s earnings to about zero pounds per year, and tell her to go get a fucking job?