Sunday, May 24, 2020

Accountable federal democracies

The COVID-19 crisis is a wake-up call to the many things that are wrong with capitalism, the nation-state and representative democracy, as we have experienced them in the recent decades.
The great New York Times journalist Roger Cohen looks for signs of hope in the middle of this crisis, and sees them… in Europe. In many places, and most notably in the US of the dystopic  presidency of Donald Trump, forces are trying to disrupt the workings of accountable democratic governments, looking for scapegoats and trying to blame the Chinese, the states, and Madrid or Brussels in other places.
In some situations, federalism can be used to free ride and blame others, but the hope is a federalism that can be used to have accountable governments at every level that cooperate and that are aware of their interdependencies. The hope is that this can be made to work in Europe, if the European Union accelerates its federal transition. And Cohen suggests that the recent agreement between Merkel and Macron to finance recovery by means of transfers and European debt is a clear sign that this may be happening. Against all the eurosceptic rhetoric, it turns out that the hope comes from Europe.
Accountability is just one of the objectives of a federal democracy. Others are efficiency and equity in the deployment of public policies. Sometimes these objectives may be in conflict. For example, accountability calls for a transparent delimitation of responsibilities, and many times efficiency and equity require close cooperation and working togehter. But the terms of the relevant trade-offs may be improved, and in the long run some trade-offs may disappear, like for example when efficiency and equity make institutions stronger and this improves accountability.
The crisis is showing the shortcomings of our current, but existing, federal mechanisms (nationally and internationally). These mechanisms are not a panacea against opportunists that are masters in transferring blame and looking for scapegoats.  But the crisis also shows the necessity and urgency of better, stronger federal mechanisms of solidarity and sustainable prosperity. This is the essence of the European Hamiltonian moment.

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