Greece, Michigan and the Decay of Democracy

I’m reading a piece on the recent establishment of the technocratic leadership in financially troubled Greece and Italy this morning and considering the parallels to our own state of Michigan. Specifically, I’m hearing echoes of Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager system.

If (mostly unelected) officials in the State Government deem a locality to be in a financial crisis, they have the power, after following several formalized steps, to oust the local government and appoint an unelected Emergency Financial Manger. He or she has the power to suspend pay for all government employees and terminate all collective bargaining agreements by civil employees.

Step Ten: Upon being placed in receivership, the governing body and chief administrative officer of the unit of local government are prohibited from exercising any of their powers of offices without written approval of the Emergency Manager, and their compensation and benefits are eliminated.

Step Eleven: Within 45 days of appointment, an Emergency Manager must develop a written financial and operating plan.
In addition to other powers, an Emergency Manager may reject, modify, or terminate collective bargaining agreements, recommend consolidation or dissolution of units of local government, and recommend bankruptcy proceedings.

In short, he or she is a dictator, an ostensibly regulated dictator, but a dictator nonetheless. That the present Republican led state government would support such a move has long been a mystery to me. The EMF system is big government at it’s worst. So much for Republican respect for local governments.

In Greece and Italy, what we are seeing is vastly similar. Democratically elected leaders, when they cannot satisfy the economic demands of the market, the IMF and the European Commission, and the United States through proxy of two of those groups, are to be sacked and replaced by unelected officials more amenable to the goals of the aforementioned bodies.

Granted, Europe’s economic troubles merit swift action, though putting the responsibility of fixing it into the hands of the very people that supported the conditions which led to the world economic crisis of 2008 makes little sense. At least under a system which allows the democractic selection of leaders and officials, there is some chance that the political landscape will include at least a few individuals that aren’t rich old white guys.

More perplexing is the sudden willingness of the people of Europe and the less sudden Michigan to enthusiastically move to a system more like Communist China than Jefferson’s vision of a Republic that operates through the will of the people (assuming that European Democracies aspire to the American model).

Governance by unelected and uninvested bodies is bad for democracy everywhere. When the democratic world follows this path, we abandon the art of compromise, patience and problem solving through discussion. Democracies are slow creatures, and fraught with practical problems. The opposite (China) , though, is a more frightening alternative.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

4 responses to “Greece, Michigan and the Decay of Democracy”

  1. potato says :

    you left out goldman sachs from the equation

    also, have you seen this? it’s great.

  2. stumpwater says :

    “That the present Republican led state government would support such a move has long been a mystery to me.”

    No mystery at all. The EMFs are the mechanism whereby the commons and public resources are transferred to private enterprise. The EMFs are little Scott Walkers, only appointed rather than elected. This, in my opinion, is one of the the most egregious violations of democracy I’ve seen yet here in the US.

  3. Pete Larson says :

    Yes, you are absolutely correct.

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