How the shutdown is viewed in China


Politicians in the US love to prate on and on about how the US is the world’s greatest system of government. The US senate is routinely referred to, by its own members of course, as the ‘world’s greatest deliberative body’, despite all evidence to the contrary. But things like having periodic government shutdowns must surely make such boasts ring hollow. How can any government fail at its most basic task of keeping the lights on? I myself am aghast that such a thing could happen at all in any country, let alone one with the largest economy and military, and yet we have had a shut down in 2013, almost another one in 2015, and yet another one going on right now. It is becoming routine.

Is it any wonder that other countries are mocking the US? Take China for example. It is using the flailing of the ‘chaotic’ US on the national and international stage to insinuate that its own authoritarian system is superior.

The shutdown of the US government exposes “chronic flaws” in the country’s political system, China’s official news agency said on Sunday.

Funding for federal agencies ran out at midnight on Friday in Washington after members of Congress failed to agree on a stopgap funding bill.

“What’s so ironic is that it came on the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency on Saturday, a slap in the face for the leadership in Washington,” the Xinhua news agency’s Liu Chang said in a commentary piece.

“The western democratic system is hailed by the developed world as near perfect and the most superior political system to run a country,” it said. “However, what’s happening in the United States today will make more people worldwide reflect on the viability and legitimacy of such a chaotic political system.”

I am sure that Donald Trump must be envious of the Chinese system where its leader Xi Jinping was recently smoothly installed by the party, with great pomp and ceremony, for a second term and given greater powers, without any popular election of course. One can sense the glee with which they will rub it in that their government never shuts down.

Comments

  1. cartomancer says

    I guess they will spin it as “the Western system” in China, but it’s really only the USA that has such a ridiculous division of powers in its constitution. In most “western” countries the funding for government operations and services is not at the mercy of filibuster and political game-playing – it is the responsibility of civil servants appointed to the Treasury or an equivalent body. In Britain, for example, the budget is presented to Parliament by the Chancellor of the Exchequer – an appointee of the Prime Minister – and though it is discussed in the House of Commons it is not voted on and the opposition has no power to veto or modify it.

    This is, of course, where the US’s system of keeping legislative, executive and judicial powers rigorously separate loses out to the UK’s system of keeping them very closely intertwined. Such a situation as you have there, with the opposition in the Senate and House of Representatives able to stop the government in its tracks, would never happen here – because the Executive powers here are always held by the party (or coalition) with a majority in Parliament (the legislative body).

  2. cartomancer says

    Which is not to say that the UK system is perfect. It surely isn’t, and we generally don’t go around boasting that it is. But it does at least have the advantage that when a government fails to achieve anything it is largely because of divisions or incompetence within that government, rather than because the system sets the government up to fail in the first place.

  3. Dunc says

    cartomancer, @1: No, that’s not the case. The provisions of the Budget are enacted by the annual Finance Bill, which must be passed by the Commons in the usual way. Losing a vote on a Finance Bill is one of the ways a British government can be brought down – it’s equivalent to losing a confidence vote.

    By convention, the Lords will not oppose or amend a Finance Bill, but that’s just a constitutional fudge that was worked out in the 19th century. (IIRC – I forget exactly which constitutional crisis prompted this arrangement.)

  4. Dunc says

    Correction: since the passage of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2010, “loss of supply” (resulting from the failure to pass a Finance Bill) will no longer necessarily cause the government to fall.

  5. jrkrideau says

    Politicians in the US love to prate on and on about how the US is the world’s greatest system of government.

    Clearly, Americans have no idea of the mirth this provokes in the rest of the world.

    I think most of the rest of the world, not in complete anarchy, has to wonder at what the blazes the much vaunted “democratic, egalitarian, freedom loving”, and whatever, USA is doing. And it, legitimately, does throw the “western democratic system”, at least, as practised by the USA into question.

    If one were to look at the Scandinavian countries or even some, if not all, of the EU and Commonwealth and African countries, among others, this makes the Xinhua criticism less telling.

    The Communist Party of China [CPC] (that is the ruling elite of China) takes a totally differently approach to filling government positions—a merit approach—essentially, in its first steps anyway, the equivalent to the old Imperial exams.

    As far as I can tell, based on some superficial reading, there is tough completion to join the 80 million strong CPC. Then, every year after that as one occupies increasingly senior government/party positions, one undergoes a complete 360 performance evaluation. This apparently mean both Party members and regular citizens. I have no idea how well it actually works.

    Eventually, after moving through increasingly senior positions, one may eventually reach the senior levels of government and even gain Xi Jinping’s position.

    I am not sure of Xi Jinping’s career path but by the time he reached the central committee ( not sure if that is the correct term) he would have had administrative experience at the county, district and most likely several provincial level positions in several parts of China.

    Apparently, he did not make any egregious mistakes along the way. So twenty plus years of exemplary performance or at least undetected crime.

    Let’s compare this with the experience of the most recent president of the USA. Long and distinguished record of crooked real estate dealing including refusing to pay illegal labour, blatant racism, suspected mob connections, the ability to drive a casino into bankruptcy, then a career running beauty pageants and becoming a celebrity “reality show” shost.

    Almost complete inability to pass legislation to support policies that he and his party (who have majorities in both houses) advocate.

    Both systems have their faults. The CPC “merit” system clearly has problems with nepotism and corruption.

    Thank god the US system does not have these. Just because George W. Bush was the son of a former head of the CIA who later was the President of the USA and who won the disputed election for president in a state where his brother was governor cannot imply nepotism or corruption.

    And we certainly have never seen any corruption in the US Congress or Senate, thank heavens.

    One can sense the glee with which they will rub it in that their government never shuts down.

    While other countries and governments are likely to be more restrained, since most (excluding the “shithole” countries) have not been verbally or militarily attacked by the US President/US military in the last month, I imagine most are watching the on-going farce in Washington in a mixture of horror and amusement.

    Xi Jinping was recently smoothly installed by the party,

    Right, only after 20 or 30 years of apparently exemplary service is Xi Jinping installed by the 80 million strong CPC.

    There are some very serious issues with the Chinese model but one also has to suggest that the US model that manage to install a racist, narcissistic, totally in-experienced and incompetent candidate who did not manage to win the popular vote against an appallingly bad opponent, and seems to have no way to get rid of him has some small flaws.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @3 Dunc
    So losing a vote on a budget bill is no longer the equivalent of a “Vote of Non-Confidence”?

    As far as I know they are equivalent in Canada and I had not realised that the UK had changed it.

  7. jrkrideau says

    @3 Dunc
    Err, just thought, if a Government can be defeated on a Supply Bill does not that imply that a Vote of Non-Confidence is pretty easy?

    Is this “Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2010” designed to buy time and not precipitate a general election before the various parties can do some horse-trading?

  8. springa73 says

    To be fair, the USA only started having problems with shutdowns in the last few years – the extreme separation of powers in the US Constitution didn’t seem to handicap the government much before that. I think what has really changed are the unwritten rules which used to apply much more pressure for compromise. Not that compromise is always good, but it does tend to keep the wheels moving.

  9. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Cartomancer
    I think the US problem is systemic, but not for the reasons that cartomancer pointed out.

    Most of the US government problems in this regard are a matter of their own making, apart from the constitution. Congress could easily pass a spending bill that lasts in perpetuity (except for the military due to a particular provision in the federal constitution). With that spending bill enacted, stalemates in government would not result in shutdowns.

    The problem is that one of the parties, the Republican party, wants shutdowns. They rigged the system to have shutdowns, e.g. by not getting rid of the debt ceiling (which is a congressional creation), and not passing a perpetual spending bill, etc.

    Could not the British parliament change the spending system by passing a law to create a system similar to the US? My knowledge of the modern British system is highly limited. If parliament can change the system by a mere act, then all of your points are just wrong. The problem has to do with the character of the people on congress, and with the political character of the people who elect them.

    And on that note, I firmly blame our election system
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger%27s_law
    and also our particular accidents of history. We in the US a culture that is split down the middle here both parties (but one more than the other) have an incredibly strong tribalistic loyalty. Also, the country has very long history with slavery and racism that is quite peculiar to the country, which damages and drives everything. Much of our politics can be described in terms of the legacy of slavery and racism. Also, the country has long had a very strong anti-intellectual movement, which I personally believe is caused in large part by our peculiar religious nature and by the inevitable tribalism in a two-party political culture.

    I believe the most important thing is to fix the election system to break the two-party state. Instant run-off elections would help somewhat, but I currently favor something like a party-list voting system or sortition.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party-list_proportional_representation
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition

    I’m definitely curious about alternative elections system (or non-election systems in the case of sortition) that can break the two parties into multiple parties.

    I’m currently in favor of party-list voting, but only tentatively due to my gross ignorance of the history of countries that use this method, and I mention sortition partially just to express my own frustration concerning election systems.

  10. enkidu says

    As I understand it, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, removes the Royal Prerogative of (theoretically anyway) dissolving Parliament. Parliament is automatically dissolved 25 days before the expiry of 5 years. A General Election can called early by the Government, as witness the hapless and hopeless Theresa May. Not sure if this is still the convention, but if the government looses the confidence of the House of Commons, the Sovereign would ask the Leader of the Opposition to try and form a government.

  11. Dunc says

    Further correct: the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is 2011, not 2010… Pedantry is a harsh mistress.
    jrkrideau, @#6:

    So losing a vote on a budget bill is no longer the equivalent of a “Vote of Non-Confidence”?

    Apparently not, at least according to wikipedia… Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011:

    According to Colin Talbot, the Act makes minority governments much more stable than in the past: events that previously might have forced a government out of power—such as loss of supply, defeat of a Queen’s Speech or other important legislation, or a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister rather than the government as a whole—cannot formally do so.[5] Apart from the automatic dissolution in anticipation of a general election (whether held early or not), section 3(2) provides that “Parliament cannot otherwise be dissolved”.

    @ #7:

    Err, just thought, if a Government can be defeated on a Supply Bill does not that imply that a Vote of Non-Confidence is pretty easy?

    You would think so, yes… However, I could imagine a scenario in which a backbench rebellion might defeat a supply bill in order to force concessions on some specific issue, without wanting to bring down the government.

    enkidu, @#10:

    A General Election can called early by the Government, as witness the hapless and hopeless Theresa May.

    It actually requires a 2/3rds majority in the House of Commons to call an early election without passing a vote of no confidence. The opposition could have declined May’s call for an early election and forced her government to serve its original term, but obviously that would have looked bad for them politically.

    Of course, it would also be possible for parliament to repeal or otherwise reform the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, so it’s kinda debatable just how limiting it really is.

  12. Dunc says

    EnlightenmentLiberal, @ #9:

    I think the US problem is systemic, but not for the reasons that cartomancer pointed out.

    Most of the US government problems in this regard are a matter of their own making, apart from the constitution.

    […]

    The problem is that one of the parties, the Republican party, wants shutdowns.

    Yes, I agree. The reason that we don’t have similar problems here in the UK is not because of any constitutional differences, but rather because our MPs all generally believe in the basic concept of government – while there’s a a fair bit of disagreement on the specifics of what it should do, nobody wants to take the Samson option of pulling the whole edifice down on their own heads in order to defeat their enemies.

  13. David Marjanović says

    Such a situation as you have there, with the opposition in the Senate and House of Representatives able to stop the government in its tracks, would never happen here – because the Executive powers here are always held by the party (or coalition) with a majority in Parliament (the legislative body).

    Specifically, in the US there is no separation between head of state and head of government, so the separation between the legislature and the head of state translates to a separation of legislature and government: it is routine for a government (an “administration”) to form that doesn’t have a majority in Congress.

    That’s because in the US there is no way to bring down a government (except by impeaching and convicting at least the president and the vice president, I guess) because the 2/4/6-year terms are sacrosanct: there is no way to call a federal election before a term is up. (If the president dies or resigns, there is no election – the vice president finishes the whole rest of the term. If a senator or representative dies or resigns, what happens is up to the state – some call a so-called “special” election whose winner serves out the rest of their predecessor’s term, not a whole term of their own, while others have the governor appoint an unelected replacement for, again, the rest of the predecessor’s term. There are even cases where a candidate died late in a campaign, won despite being dead, and then his completely unelected wife served his term out, because one does not simply have an election out of turn! *headdesk*) This glaring hole in the constitution is not shared by the Rest of the West. Elsewhere, when the government loses a vote in parliament, that triggers new parliamentary elections. (Consequently, governments that wouldn’t have a majority in parliament tend not to form in the first place. Votes of no confidence or the like are quite rare.) In the US, nothing happens at all for up to two years, and the government then stays in place for up to another two years.

    It shows that the US constitution is the oldest surviving democratic constitution in the world. Basically, the Founding Fathers had no models, no mistakes made by others that they could learn from, other than ancient Athens, Switzerland (which they don’t seem to have known well, and which didn’t actually function well until major changes to its workings which came later) and a few republics/oligarchies of Renaissance Italy.

  14. Mark Dowd says

    For those of us (me) not versed in how a Parlaimentary system works, can we (I) get a quick summary of what “form a government” means? It never comes up in US politics, and it seems an odd turn of phrase. I am aware that if there is no majority party then coalitions have to be made to form a majority, but what happens with parties that are not part of the “government” then?

    Most of my exposure to this has been from Theresa May’s epic failure of an election call.

  15. mnb0 says

    Far more embarrassing is US politics in the Middle East. Two of its allies, Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, will wage against each other very soon. Russia and Iran are enjoying the spectacle.

  16. bryanfeir says

    @Mark Dowd:
    Speaking from a Canadian perspective here, at least part of it has to do with what David Marjanović points out as the separation of ‘head of government’ from ‘head of state’. In Canada and the U.K., the Prime Minister is the ‘head of government’ and the person who actually runs things, while the ‘head of state’ is the Queen (or, in Canada, the Governor-General who acts in the Queen’s stead). Structurally, here, the person running the government is basically the House Majority Leader, while our equivalent of the President (head of state) is pretty much a figurehead with limited day-to-day powers.

    The idea of ‘form the government’ comes down to what happens after an election. Strictly speaking, the winning of the election itself does not automatically mean that party is the new government; instead the head of state asks the head of whichever party got the highest number of seats in Parliament to make their case that they can successfully form the government and run things. When they can’t, the head of state then goes down the line and asks the head of the party with the next highest count of seats until somebody says ‘yes’. If nobody says ‘yes’ (which is pretty much what happened in Belgium in 2010-2011) then things run on auto-pilot for a while as negotiations go on to see who’s actually going to want to run things.

    This only really makes a difference when you have at least three parties in Parliament, and the party with the highest number of seats has a plurality but not a majority. This makes it possible for other parties to agree to a coalition which will form the government instead of the party which won the most seats.

    (Something similar to this actually happened in Canada back in the 1920s: see the King-Byng affair. There was an attempt to form a coalition to oust the Conservative party rather more recently, but it fell apart after some legal but questionable actions by Harper.)

  17. file thirteen says

    @bryanfeir #16:
    Here in New Zealand under the MMP (mixed member proportional) system the National party (right wing) won the plurality, but the government was formed by a three-party coalition of Labour (left wing), New Zealand First (centre) and the Greens (left wing), which together made up a parliamentary majority.

    In practice it’s the Labour government calling the shots, with New Zealand First having been granted a number of concessions (being centrist they had the kingmaker’s option of forming a government with National instead, and had done so in the past) and the Greens having also been granted some concessions, although less major.

    Part of the benefits to such a system is that no party can afford to blatantly alienate the public as there is no shortage of other parties for protest votes. Compare that to a two party system (thanks again Simpsons :).

    Yes, there must have been an amount of horsetrading to achieve that result. But horsetrading occurs somewhere outside of the public eye in all political systems. So far (since last October) I have no complaints about the current government and view it as much better than the alternative.

  18. KG says

    It actually requires a 2/3rds majority in the House of Commons to call an early election without passing a vote of no confidence. The opposition could have declined May’s call for an early election and forced her government to serve its original term, but obviously that would have looked bad for them politically. – Dunc@11

    Yes, and May’s declaration that she wanted an election, and Labour’s response, revealed that this provision is pretty much a dead letter – in practice, it’s politically almost unthinkable for the main opposition party to decline the chance for an election. Although I thought at the time they should have said – “Fine, we welcome an election, but we want to negotiate exactly when it happens – the people are entitled* to a fair election based on full information, and that means one where all parties have had time to present a properly prepared and costed manifesto.” Given the way the polls moved strongly in Labour’s favour during the campaign, they might even have won if the campaign had been longer – or, of course, they might not.

    *Of course what they would have meant is “Oi, not fair to spring it on us like that, we’re not ready!”.

  19. bryanfeir says

    @file thirteen:
    Yes, MMP or something similar has been discussed up here, and a lot of people would like it a lot more than the current first-past-the-post system, even if we do still have five parties active in parliament. (Admittedly, the Green party only has one seat.) There was a referendum on it in Ontario some years back, which was badly handled and failed.

    Our current Prime Minister had ‘form a commission on reforming the electoral system’ as a campaign promise, and did indeed form the commission… and then pretty much tried to pretend it didn’t exist afterward. One of the problems of that sort of reform is that it’s rare that the parties in power under the current system want to do anything that might potentially weaken them.

    Granted, things like that have happened before. Chrétien, in one of his last acts as Prime Minister, did implement amendments to the Canada Elections Act which strongly limited campaign financing from outside donors, and implemented a public per-vote subsidy so a party would get funding for election advertising proportional to their popular support. Then again, Chrétien hated the way that Martin had taken over the Liberal party rather than Chrétien’s own preferred successor, and was willing to hamstring his own party at that point.

    (That said, Martin was one of those people who worked better as the second in command implementing decisions than as the first in command where you have to deal with PR.)

  20. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I want to quote and repeat this for emphasis:

    It shows that the US constitution is the oldest surviving democratic constitution in the world. Basically, the Founding Fathers had no models, no mistakes made by others that they could learn from, other than ancient Athens, Switzerland (which they don’t seem to have known well, and which didn’t actually function well until major changes to its workings which came later) and a few republics/oligarchies of Renaissance Italy.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

  21. file thirteen says

    @bryanfeir #19:

    One of the problems of that sort of reform is that it’s rare that the parties in power under the current system want to do anything that might potentially weaken them.

    Indeed. It was a fortuitous sequence of events. Firstly, National won two successive elections with less than 40% of the vote, which piqued Labour enough to campaign on holding a royal commission on electoral reform if elected (Social Credit, easily the largest of the minor parties, were also lobbying hard for it, and I think Labour thought that with Social Credit as an ally the ascendancy would be theirs). They won, they did, and the royal commission suggested a referendum on the issue.

    By this time, securely in power, Labour had developed cold feet, but, pressed hard by the newly formed “electoral reform commission” lobby group, promised to hold one. Party infighting stopped that happening. However National was able to make much of this politically and made a promise of their own that they would step up where Labour hadn’t.

    Then National won, and were saddled with that (rash?) promise themselves. Determined to show themselves the more principled party, they delivered on it. I highly doubt that they would have done so had they believed the public would really go down the MMP path, but the rest is history!

  22. Dunc says

    I see both bryanfeir and file thirteen have contributed excellent posts on “forming a government” in reply to Mark Dowd, so I’ve not much to add… Everything that they’ve said applies to the UK situation.

    It’s not strictly necessary for the government to command a majority, they just need to be able to survive confidence votes and “supply” (money) votes. Minority government is possible in the absence of a formal coalition, provided other parties are either unwilling or unable to collaborate to bring the government down. Here in Scotland for example, minority government is the norm, with a lot of horse-trading around budgets. In the UK parliament at present, the Tories do not have a majority and are not technically in coalition with the DUP, but they do have what is known as a “confidence and supply agreement”, which means that the DUP agree to support the government in those key votes, in return for certain concessions, but they don’t get any ministerial positions and aren’t bound to support the government on other matters. The previous government was a formal coalition between the Tories and the Lib Dems, which meant that the Lib Dems did get some ministerial positions, but were more closely bound to support government policy.

    There have also occasionally been “National Governments” comprising members of all parties in times of particular crisis.

    Oh, and all parties which are not in the government collectively form the Opposition. (Technically “Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition”, although that loyalty may be somewhat questionable in the case of the SNP… This is also the reason why Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats in Parliament, as they refuse to swear allegiance to the Queen.)

  23. bryanfeir says

    It’s also worth noting that part of the point of the separate ‘head of government’ vs ‘head of state’ is that there is always somebody ‘in charge’ in case of emergencies. The ‘head of state’ is for the most part a figurehead position, even if they are also technically head of the military, because traditionally they’re pretty much a rubber stamp for decisions by the ‘head of government’. That said, during the period of time when the ‘head of government’ is in transition, the ‘head of state’ is the one that is technically in charge until the next ‘head of government’ is affirmed. They just don’t have a lot of non-emergency powers.

    Of course, in Canada (and presumably in NZ as well) there’s the additional complication that the ‘head of state’ is actually Queen Elizabeth II, who doesn’t live here, and her stead is taken for all local affairs by the Governor-General. Prior to the King-Byng affair mentioned above, the Governor-General was generally appointed by the monarch in England (Byng himself was a British army officer who had fought with Canadian forces during WWI); after that, the Governor-General was usually appointed locally by the Prime Minister on a timing that ensures the Governor-General and Prime Minister won’t both be out of office at the same time.

    In practice it’s a lot less complicated than it sounds, because the government has been fairly deliberately set up to largely run itself for the most part.

    The comments on the U.S. Constitution are also well-taken. The modern Canadian Constitution only dates back to 1982, and is an amalgamation of bits and pieces of English law, the Treaty of Paris (which ceded New France to England), the British North America Act (which created Canada as a country), the Statute of Westminster (which made Canada completely independent rather than being run from England)…

    Granted, the United Kingdom doesn’t even have a ‘constitution’, strictly speaking. It’s all the mess of documents and treaties built up over the centuries.

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