Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What We Can Learn from the UK

The United Kingdom is facing dire financial and structural problems. 

Deficit spending as a percentage of GDP is over 10% and forecast to increase. The future requires cuts to treasured social programs and a need to increase taxes.  

Moreover, the electorate is split - leaving no party the clear winner in elections.  Sound familiar.

However, the British are now forming the first coalition government in over 65 years.  The Conservatives and Liberal Dems formed a power sharing agreement and argued that the crises afflicting that nation calls for collaboration not confrontation, for a focus on national priorities rather than factional differences.


I used to believe that democracies are at their best in times of crisis - hard decisions are made and the differences that define us all are put aside to face existential challenges that threaten our way of life and security.

Today, we are facing such crises and existential threats - notably a looming fiscal crisis that makes us look worse than Greece.  And yet, our political leaders are incapable of finding common ground, of meeting in the middle to drive consensus, of putting the national good ahead of politics. It is a sickening indictment on our political system and makes one incredible fearful for our future. 

California is nearly bankrupt - and yet, due to gerrymandering and permanently safe seats our elected leaders are incapable of collaborating and instead rely on petty confrontations that may make partisans feel a brief sense of "victory," but the victories are truly Pyrrhic.

The US is fast approaching "Greek" level debt issues.  Debt is projected to equal 140% of GDP within two decades, while Greece is suffering with debt levels at 110% of GDP.

With respect to's NYTimes noted, "Both countries have a bigger government than they’re paying for. And politicians, spendthrift as some may be, are not the main source of the problem. We, the people, are. We have not figured out the kind of government we want. We’re in favor of MedicareSocial Security, good schools, wide highways, a strong military — and low taxes. Dealing with this disconnect will be the central economic issue of the next decade, in Europe, Japan and this country."

At some point the problems will be so acute that financial markets will force our hand, as they did in Greece. Investors will demand a "risk premium" to finance our deficit budgets and we will pay the piper.

Wouldn't it be wonderful, though, if our leaders took note of the British model of coalition government and left behind the rigid strutures of two party government and formed, what Abe Lincoln so famously did, a Team of Rivals!!!!