Election year in the United States and a lead up to next years Panamanian are making for an interesting comparison and an opportunity for some education.
Both Panama and the United States are Republics, as with many words, I and perhaps others use the word Republic without thinking what it really means.
“A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a “public matter” (Latin: res publica), not the private concern or property of the rulers, and where offices of states are subsequently directly or indirectly elected or appointed rather than inherited. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of state is not a monarch.” Wikipdia
Republics can be very different, the common claim is that in a Republic government is responsive to the people and that the people who govern are elected by the people.
“The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.”― Thomas Jefferson
In my opinion, jaded by life, whomever is in power, wherever they are in power, has one common goal, to stay in power and profit from that power. I realize that is cynical and anti Jeffersonian, but it is my observation of government from reading history and life.
Four years ago Panama elected a businessman, Ricardo Martinelli as President of the Republic. When he was elected President Martinelli was the darling of the US media. Here was a US educated, University of Arkansas, a businessman with a very successful chain of business in Panama. Pundits said he could be a example of how a business owner leader could change a country. He has indeed created a great deal of change, some good, some bad. However instead of privatizing government, has has transformed the national government of Panama into a business, his business.
In about four years he has neutralized most of his political opposition and is running the country with little effective opposition. As a businessman he has recognized that he needed to improve Panamas credit rating so he could borrow money. To do that he had to prove the ability to repay. loans; he raised taxes.
Much of the borrowed money is being poured into infrastructure, public works. Panama is doing some amazing things, new public buses replacing independents, a new metro rail system, a urban sewer system in the capital, new roads everyplace and more. Unemployment, especially for those who have education is very low, 4.5% total by one estimate. This investment in infrastructure in Panama has the short term effect of providing jobs, so many jobs that Panama has had to import skilled labor. the speculation is that it will also have the long term impact of allowing for faster commercial growth nationally with the improved infrastructure.
Another area President Martinelli sees worth investment is education. The government has been forcing a new regime into the rather awful public education system. Teachers are having to work more, go to more seminars, learn how to use computers and have more classroom hours. Not everyone is happy about the changes because they are putting pressure on underpaid teachers, inadequate facilities and even parents who are having to adjust to change.
I point these few things out as I think about the current US election where a very successful businessman Mitt Romney is making his play for the presidency. Mr. Romney is a bit different than Mr. Martinelli. Mr. Romney does not think the government should do much of anything for it’s citizens, he seems to think the private sector can do it all.
I am not sure what type of government I prefer. I want government that leaves me alone but I also want government that is there in the event I need assistance. Perhaps I would rewrite Jefferson’s quote to say this:
“The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors. Government is to serve the needs of the people, the people are not here to serve the needs of government.”
Over the next few days I want to compare and contrast the politics of Panama and the United States through my eyes. These posts will be my opinion,s based on my world view. I welcome comments and debate as long it is based on facts. I will pick some specific areas of contrast, State Religion, Social Security, Social Safety net, security and where ever the discussion goes.