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Mario Monti is working through Italy's debt crisis. Is the US watching?

Italy may find Prime Minister Mario Monti's dose of discipline hard to swallow, but his depoliticized democracy is the only form of government that can move Italy forward. Monti's experiment may also serve as an antidote to the political dysfunction in the West – especially the US.

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Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti speaks at a media conference after an EU summit in Brussels Jan. 30. Mr. Monti has canceled decades of regulations that blocked bakeries from opening on holidays – a decree that has come to symbolize his bid to carry out a bold modernization to jump start the Italian economy.

AP Photo/Thierry Charlier, File

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Making my way from Milan to Rome in recent days, I experienced firsthand the rancorous process under way to deleverage Italy’s sovereign debt and impose more competitive habits on the languorous rhythms of this Mediterranean culture.

Angry truckers blocked the main highways, drivers left their taxis standing, and most trains were canceled. Students scrawled anti-austerity slogans across peeling, ocher-colored walls. Surly shopkeepers only brightened at the sight of mid-winter gaggles of Chinese tourists.

All the strikes and animosity took aim at the reforms proposed by the “un-democratic” government of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and his so-called technocratic cabinet – even as he was hectoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel to loosen up Germany’s fiscal authoritarianism and allow some breathing room for growth in the eurozone. Because elected politicians couldn’t get their act together, Mr. Monti was appointed by President Giorgio Napolitano late last year to formulate and implement key structural reforms before a new election takes place in 2013.

Alas, the protesters have the wrong target in their sights. Italy got into its mess not because of too little democracy, but too much of a decayed form of governance. Italian electoral democracy – like that in the US – is so politicized along partisan lines that it became dysfunctional and wholly incapable of meeting the tough challenges facing the country.

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