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

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Monti, whose fair-minded wisdom and long experience as a European commissioner make him more a meritocrat than a technocrat, is certainly right when he declares that “the absence of political personalities in the government will help rather than hinder a solid base of support” for reform. He understands that Italian democracy, like American democracy, has become a “vetocracy,” to use a phrase coined by American political scientist Francis Fukuyama.

In a vetocracy, elected politicians are so captured by short-term populist sentiment and organized special interests that the mere formulation of a policy that seeks compromise for the long-term common good is eviscerated by the parties in play even before it can be put to a vote in parliament. Any bill that gets through is so shorn of substance as to be meaningless. So what remains is the status quo.

In his seminal “The Rise and Decline of Nations,” the social scientist Mancur Olson described how this powerful accretion of organized interests in democracies over time has dragged down states time and again because it inevitably produces unsustainable deficits and drains an economy of vigor by protecting “rent-seeking” cartels.

In Italy today, parties representing taxi driver unions or shopkeepers aren’t about to favor making their clients’ lives more difficult through open competition. Public employees will resist cuts in jobs and benefits. Bankers will use their influence with legislators to avoid regulation. The rich will block higher taxes.

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