Friday, November 09, 2007

Belgium's Government of Ghosts

Most of the world has had little reason to notice, but Belgium has had no government since deadlocked elections on June 10. A dispute among the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons (which Brussels Journal has been covering from a Flemish-nationalist perspective) has prevented a government with majority support from being formed. I am reminded of the time the U.S. government had a very partial shutdown during a dispute between President Clinton and the new GOP Congress during the former’s first term. During this time American society continued to function normally, and when late-night talk show hosts would mention that “the government is still closed” audiences would often cheer wildly.

And indeed in Belgium people continue to get up, go to work, love their families, buy and sell, go to cafes, and otherwise do the ordinary stuff of life. It raises the obvious question of why the Belgian government is even needed.

The question is a little unfair, because much of the most essential work is still being done. Checks for unemployment benefits, state health care, state retirement benefits and the like are still being cut. And this is perhaps the most disquieting aspect of the whole affair. Democracy, elections, candidates and all that hooey appear to have no effect on the day-to-day lives of Belgians. At least the elected portion of the government, and therefore presumably the elections that generated it, appear to be utterly unimportant to the Belgian people. Meanwhile, the government of apparently real consequence – the benefits-dispensing portion – goes on unaccountably and untouchably, leaving Belgians quiescent as long as the goodies keep coming in. The bottom line appears to be that there is a government for show, full of squabbling politicians, and a real government of civil servants and money dispensers, who have true control over people’s lives. The notion that the only part of the government that matters is the only one for which the election deadlock seems to be of no consequence does not seem proper for a truly free people, but perhaps we in the West crossed that bridge some time ago.


Seeking Alpha Market Analysis and The Daily Telegraph analyze the rising spread on Belgian government debt over German bonds, and infer that political deadlock is starting to have a cost for Belgian taxpayers. But, I suspect some Belgian politicians and citizens are saying, that is some other politician's problem down the road. Just keep the checks coming.



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