Does America need a prime minister?
A statue of British prime minister Winston Churchill in front of the House of Commons and Big Ben in Parliament Square, London.
August 17th, 2011
12:27 PM ET

Does America need a prime minister?

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

After the S&P downgrade of the United States, no country with a presidential system has a triple-A rating from all three major ratings agencies.  Only countries with parliamentary systems have that honor (with the possible exception of France, which has a parliament and prime minister as well as an empowered president).

Juan Linz, professor of social science at Yale, argued that parliamentary systems are superior to presidential systems for reasons of stability. In a parliamentary system, he contended, the legislature and the executive are fused so there is no contest for national legitimacy.

Think of David Cameron in England. He is head of the coalition that won the election, head of the bloc that has a majority in parliament and head of the executive branch as Prime Minister.

In the American presidential system, in contrast, you have the presidency and the legislature, both of which claim to speak for the people. As a result, you always have a contest over basic legitimacy. Who is actually speaking for and representing the people?

In America today, we take this struggle to an extreme. We have one party in one house of the legislature claiming to speak for the people because theirs was the most recent electoral victory.  And you have the president who claims a broader mandate as the only person elected by all the people.  These irresolvable claims invite struggle.

There are, of course, advantages to the American system – the checks and balances have been very useful on occasion. But we’re living in a world where you need governments that are able to respond decisively and quickly.  In a fast-moving world, paralysis is dangerous. Other countries are catching up - if not overtaking – America.

Debt crises across the West make this a particularly bad time for paralysis. Western countries have all built up very large pension and healthcare obligations that lead to huge amounts of debt.  They need to figure out some systematic way to work that debt load down to a much more manageable level. This means a lot of pain.

Given this situation, it becomes very easy in a presidential system for the executive and the legislature to get into a classic standoff over benefits as we saw in the debt crisis.

Remember, the political battle surrounding the debt ceiling is actually impossible in a parliamentary system because the executive controls the legislature. There could not be a public spectacle of the two branches of government squabbling and holding the country hostage.

If we’re in for another five years of this squabbling in the U.S., we are going to make presidential systems look pretty bad indeed.

For more of my thoughts through the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to bookmark the Global Public Square.

soundoff (861 Responses)
  1. muxfpgejhm

    ZePAgb, imovane bestellen zonder recept,

    March 19, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  2. ivjwrkjlyk

    2j7Q, comprar rivotril sin receta,

    March 20, 2014 at 10:36 am | Reply
  3. msscbnfdek

    ueWBHD45, donde comprar rimonabant,

    March 22, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  4. nfbwprbhom

    7Z7xxy63, nuvigil cheapest,

    March 23, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  5. vpjdpwonld

    March 29, 2014 at 3:35 am | Reply
  6. cilriozamc

    April 1, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  7. bnoudrvgbf

    April 4, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  8. mingcxwchr

    xT53gfnn, order nuvigil, th25, buy generic zopiclone, m6Pf, buy generic provigil modafinil, 9yzn5pa, clonazepam order, W4ckZ8Hx, donde comprar reductil 2013, zxJ5, online order tramadol, IC9z2G, buy provigil from canada, iSHf8, where to buy alprazolam online,

    April 5, 2014 at 6:42 am | Reply
  9. qfpoetnaja

    PrF1, can i buy zopiclone over the counter in spain, ycfgU, where to buy extenze cheap, 73Y8, order ampicillin online, j9w1tM51, price ambien 10mg, 3FGup9x, buy zolpidem tartrate uk, gaI1sbxw, cheapest place to buy viagra online uk, 8St34p8I, necesito receta para comprar rivotril, ZQpNq, comprar rivotril rio de janeiro, 7T49sc, best place to buy klonopin online, GJdnmjS, mexican pharmacy nuvigil, QbeWW, acheter valium,

    April 21, 2014 at 9:16 am | Reply
  10. google maps

    Simply desire to say your article is as astonishing.
    The clarity in your post is simply nice and i could assume you
    are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to
    date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the gratifying work.

    October 19, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  11. dqldutswqj

    March 18, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,027 other followers