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For US and Europe, governance by brinkmanship

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For years Europe has been pilloried by politicians and commentators for its perceived mismanagement of the euro crisis. Always a day late and a euro short, the old continent was addicted to last-minute temporary fixes, to piecemeal and half-hearted approaches. Analysts chided the European Union for its lack of leadership and incompetence. So systemic was the dysfunction among the EU’s 27 member countries, or so the narrative goes, that it could never happen in a determined nation-state like the United States.

Well, think again.

Welcome to the land of cliffs and other obstacles, in which crisis management looks frighteningly similar to Europe’s. So similar indeed that the British magazine The Economist found it appropriate to call the Jan. 1 “fiscal cliff” deal, “America’s European moment.”

If anything, that’s an understatement. It is not just a point in time when America looks like Europe. The future will provide for an extensive pattern of similarities with Europe. Like it or not, coming into stark relief is the truly transatlantic nature of this crisis – the parallel way in which these two different democratic systems grapple with identical problems, and perhaps even learn from each other.

Notwithstanding differences in economic structure and governance, the heart of the problem in Europe and the US is the same: Citizens are demanding services from their governments that they are not willing to pay for. Politicians have increasingly filled this gap by incurring debt. Demographic change and the shift of economic vibrancy away from mature western democracies dramatically aggravate the problem. In theory, the solution is clear: Improve competitiveness and growth potential, introduce fiscal prudence and reduce government services.

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