Government Must be Small, Directly-Elected, and Accountable
I believe that the protests, anarchy, and violence occurring on the streets of Madrid, Lisbon, and Athens are against austerity, but also against the fact that decisions are being made without clear, direct consent of the governed. I came over to Europe on the Marshall Memorial Fellowship admiring certain aspects of their education and healthcare systems, and the fact that through the European Union, they have managed to avert major conflict on the continent amongst EU members. I gained more appreciation and respect for these aspects of European society. However, I also came home with the sincere appreciation that I truly know what it means to be a citizen in a representative democracy.
A standard division between the US and Europe lies with the size of government and the peoples’ attitudes towards it. As times change and the nature of our opportunities and threats become more interconnected and more global, Americans are slowly realizing that some challenges do require more government on more interconnected levels. I believe the recent American federal election in the aftermath of a major hurricane underscored this point. The American electorate chose affirmatively to rely more on government to address major problems that markets and individuals have struggled to solve. Whether one agrees that this is the right choice or not depends upon where one falls on the American political spectrum.
As an American and especially as a Texan, I have an innate distrust for government (and I am an Independent voter, neither conservative nor wildly liberal). Americans have always had this inner resistance to government authority. It’s what led to the Boston Tea party and the American Revolution. It’s also why Americans have an almost religious obsession with taxation and its implications on our society. In Texas, government is even less powerful, and representatives are clear about the fact that they are in session to serve the People. In Texas, all the members of our Legislature serve part-time and make a salary of $7,200 per year. This means they must be a part of the real economy, continue to work real jobs, and focus on legislative matters only during certain times of the year. In Texas, the general consensus is that the government that governs least governs best.
What I did not appreciate much about my country before my trip, which I am grateful for now that I am home, is the fact that my vote truly directly counts. While we as Americans debate conservative and liberal viewpoints, we are all united in belief in the fact that our vote should directly matter. Whatever path we choose to go down, it will be us that make that choice. I believe that the more layers of unelected representation that you add onto this idea of representative democracy, the less the choice of the individual citizen matters. Whether we vote for bigger government or smaller government, we want our vote to matter. The more decisions are made by those with little democratic accountability, the more people will turn to expressions of political frustrations outside of peaceful political channels to make their voices heard.
Anthony A. Blow, Managing Director at Energeia Capital in Houston, TX, is a Fall 2012 American Marshall Memorial Fellow.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.