American Exceptionalism

Via the BBC:  US shutdown has other nations confused and concerned.

For most of the world, a government shutdown is very bad news – the result of revolution, invasion or disaster. Even in the middle of its ongoing civil war, the Syrian government has continued to pay its bills and workers’ wages.

That leaders of one of the most powerful nations on earth willingly provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreases economic growth is astonishing to many.


Elsewhere in the world, such shutdowns are practically impossible. The parliamentary system used by most European democracies ensures that the executive and legislature are controlled by the same party or coalition. Conceivably, a parliament could refuse to pass a budget proposed by the prime minister, but such an action would likely trigger a failure of the government and a new election – witness the current situation in the Netherlands, where Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government faced a no-confidence vote at the start of debate over his 2014 budget proposal. And even when there is a gap prior to a new government taking office, national services continue to operate.

In non-parliamentary democracies, such as Brazil, a strong executive branch has the ability to keep the lights on during a budget impasse. Such was the case in the United States as well, until a 1980 Carter administration interpretation of the 1884 Anti-Deficiency Act strictly limited the powers of federal agencies in the absence of congressional funding authorisations.

U S A!

Also, via the Monkey Cage:  Why other countries don’t have government shutdowns

In 2010 and 2011 Belgium was without an elected government for 589 days- a record for a democracy. Tensions had risen so high between the Flemish (Dutch speakers) and the Walloons (French speakers) that the various political parties were unable to agree on a coalition that could govern the country. Yet, budgets were passed, government workers were paid, and government services continued to be provided.

A Washington Post article today notices that countries like Pakistan and Colombia have had civil wars, coups, financial crises, even defaults but never a government shutdown. I will appeal to the collective wisdom of Monkey Cagers, but I cannot think of a single foreign analogy to what is happening in the U.S.  today.

Both links via Matthew Shugart, who notes on Facebook:

My two cents: Elsewhere either a new government or early elections are called (most, maybe all, parliamentary systems) or there is simply an automatic continuation of current spending on all authorized programs until the impasse is resolved. I can’t think of any other system where the reversion is zero.


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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. john personna says:

    Surely we are the greatest country on earth BECAUSE we have the ability shut down our own government … to shoot ourselves in the foot with our new AR-15, if you will.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Note to Rest of The World:
    Get used to it, Republicans are going to maintain control of the House of Representative in the 2014 mid-term elections, and they may very well gain seats in the Senate. This conservative-designed dysfunction is the new normal here.

  3. Tillman says:

    “Globalisation … means every country is in it together,” writes David Blanchflower in the Independent in the UK. “Americans sneeze and Brits catch the flu.”

    “Canadians can only pray their economy won’t be collateral damage,” writes John Ibbitson in Canada’s Globe and Mail. “Anything that drags down the American economy drags the Canadian economy down with it.”

    That’s American exceptionalism right there. When we screw up, we can literally take the rest of the world down with us.

  4. Gustopher says:

    I wonder whether the Republicans are smart enough to have forced the shutdown on the first day the exchanges are open, to change the media stories to be about the shutdown rather than the human interest stories of the people with disease X who can finally afford health coverage.

    Sort of a crazy paranoid thought, perhaps. But if you’ve spent 4 years saying the exchanges would be a disaster, you’ve got to do something, and there’s no way they could actually think they are going to kill it now, is there?

  5. fred says:

    GOP and Tea Party bigots have made our country the laughing stock of the world and put our nation in real danger. How can we talk to the world about democracy when we can’t even practice democracy here in the USA. ACA is a law yet the GOP and TP keep telling us to break the law and when that was not possible they have shut down the govt. If that happened in another country we would deride them and call them terrorists.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    I remember having to explain to members of the Japanese Space Development Agency how the budget process worked. They were going ballistic because funding for JEM (Japanese Experimental Module) had been taken out of the House bill. I had to explain to them that this didn’t mean it wasn’t going to be in the final law.

    Now, of course…..

    Just wait until the Tea Partiers push us over the cliff into default. I hope at that point that the stock market crash and Depression that is brought on by their intransigence totally devastates any money they may have had stashed away.

  7. DC Loser says:

    I need to consider the Walter White school of financing given all this mess wrought by the Tea Party anarchists.

  8. rudderpedals says:

    How many GOPers in congress have money riding on the market tanking in the next 3 weeks? Kind of like betting for or against your own sports team.

  9. john personna says:

    @grumpy realist:

    “Space Development Agency … going ballistic”


  10. Sheri says:

    I really wish these angry people would learn the difference between being oppressed and not getting their way. This shutdown is NOTHING to be proud of and the only people that are cheering are the ones who scream about protecting the family while destroying the ability for people with government jobs to take care if their families. I wish they would just be honest and confess that this is all about them being p!ssy when elections don’t go their way.

  11. Pinky says:

    @john personna:

    Surely we are the greatest country on earth BECAUSE we have the ability shut down our own government

    I don’t know if you meant it sarcastically, but I agree with it.

  12. rachel says:

    @Gustopher: I don’t know… maybe all this Sturm und Drang is actually encouraging people to check out the new exchanges. sure seems to be having some brisk traffic… a bit too much for their servers sometimes.

  13. john personna says:


    I’ve got to admit there is a fuzzy zone thing to this. If there were any rational or productive purpose to shutdown, then yeah, the ability might be neat.

    But when the power is misused, is that demonstrating American Greatness? Exceptionalism?

    The close analysis of this is that shutdown will cost us more, not less, than continuing, we will not repeal Obamacare, and that’s’ fine because only a minority support repeal.

    So what makes us great is the we beat our heads against the wall, for nothing.

  14. becca says:

    @rudderpedals: More like treason, in my neck of the woods.

  15. Tillman says:

    @Pinky @john personna: Fallows has the best take in my opinion:

    The United States can afford [to shutdown its government] only because we are — still — so rich, with so much margin for waste and error.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    Boil it down….
    Republicans have shut down the Government in the attempt to deny sick people health care.
    That is all this is about. Period. End of sad story.
    Now…given that the US stands virtually alone as a developed nation without Universal Health Care…the craziness must be dumbfounding to any outsider.
    Hell…it’s dumbfounding for me.

  17. Ernieyeball says:

    @becca: This might be a good time to review Our Great Charter. Specifically Article III Section 3

    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
    The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

  18. rudderpedals says:

    Agggh OK not treason, how about we call it vig? There’s an antimatter version of Bill Gates out there saying $174K is not enough for anyone.

  19. Tillman says:

    @rudderpedals: “Morally abominable” works for me. It doesn’t have to be illegal to be considered horrible. It just helps.

  20. Ron Beasley says:

    We have reached the point where American Exceptionalism = Exceptionally Stupid.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    @Ernieyeball: There’s a bloody good reason why treason is defined in the Constitution–the Founding Fathers saw what could happen when a government could use accusations of treason as a political football.

    And it wasn’t just England, either. Italian city-state rulers were notorious for using treason charges against their political enemies. Dante at one point had to flee because of the crossfire between the White and the Red Guelfs–I forget which side he was on.

  22. Ernieyeball says:

    @grumpy realist: There’s a bloody good reason why treason is defined in the Constitution…

    No kidding! That’s why I posted it.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:


    “Morally abominable” works for me. It doesn’t have to be illegal to be considered horrible. It just helps.

    Am I the only one who has noticed that some of the most morally abominable things are perfectly legal?

  24. Tillman says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: ’cause FREEDOM!

    It wouldn’t be such an issue if we had a more cohesive, less-fragmented culture that emphasized civic virtue, but damn that modernity and all those shining lights.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:


    It wouldn’t be such an issue if we had a more cohesive, less-fragmented culture that emphasized civic virtue,

    I knew you were a Commie, or worse, a Socialist**….

    **I have already forgotten which of our wing nut brethren thought socialism worse than communism. Funny isn’t it? How memorable they aren’t?

  26. Corey Mondello says:

    The USA is the laughing stock of the world. Americans seem to not care as long as they can afford coffee at the local yuppie hang out and have an iPhone in their hand. With a gov that is the worlds bully, we Americans may be safe for now, but what do most folks do when they see bullies fall?

  27. Ernieyeball says:

    @Corey Mondello: Where do you live?

  28. Mikey says:


    I wonder whether the Republicans are smart

    What about the Republicans could possibly make you wonder that?