Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche


Should America Scrap the Presidential System?

Americans need to consider scrapping the presidential system if they want to preserve their freedom. The data shows presidential systems could be a threat to freedom.

A presidential system is a government in which the head of government is also the head of state. Additionally, a presidential system usually has one elected national leader who serves as head of an executive branch that is separate from the legislative branch.

The United States has the world’s oldest presidential system. Indeed, the US Constitution is the blueprint for most presidential systems. Yet there is powerful evidence presidential systems are not conductive to human freedom.

Presidential Systems are bad for Freedom

There is data that shows presidential systems are bad for freedom.

WorldPopulationReview lists the countries with presidential systems. I compared that list with the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, which ranks the freest countries and territories.  

According to the Cato Institute, the 10 freest countries are:

1. Switzerland

2. New Zealand

3. Denmark

4. Estonia

5. Ireland

6. Finland

7. Canada

8. Australia

9. Sweden

10. Luxembourg

None of those nations appears on the list of countries with presidential systems. Instead, all those nations have parliamentary systems and six of the freest countries are constitutional monarchies.

A parliamentary system separates the head of state and the head of government. Additionally, the parliamentary system gives the legislative system executive power. In most parliamentary systems, a legislature elects the head of government. Indeed, many parliamentary systems such as that in the United Kingdom require the head of government to be a member of the legislature.

The Heritage Foundation’s 2022 Index of Economic Freedom resembles the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index. According to Heritage, the 10 nations with the most economic freedom are:

1. Singapore

2. Luxembourg

3. Switzerland

4. Taiwan

5. Ireland

6. Estonia

7. New Zealand

8. Netherlands

9. Austria

10. Finland

None of those countries appears on the list of countries with presidential systems. Heritage and Cato’s data show presidential systems are not conductive to freedom.

How Free is America?

Indeed, Heritage Lists the United States as the 25th freest economically. Thus, Heritage estimates America has less economic freedom than such nations as Chile, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Cyprus.

If the purpose of America is freedom, the United States is failing miserably. Heritage’s numbers show former Soviet Republics (Latvia and Lithuania) and former military dictatorships (South Korea and Chile) are freer than America.

America does a little better in Cato’s 2021 Human Freedom Index. Cato listed the United States as the 15th freest country. Indeed, the USA matches its former Axis enemies, Japan and Germany’s level of freedom in Cato’s index.

Tellingly, the United States was the only presidential system country in Cato’s top 15 freest countries.

Do Parliaments Make Countries free?

So what is the correlation between parliamentary government and freedom?

First, leaders are more accountable in parliamentary systems. In most parliamentary systems, the legislatures can remove the leader and government with a simple vote. Indeed, in the United Kingdom, the cabinet ministers and prime minister to face parliament for Question Time regularly.

Most presidential systems have a complex process that makes it hard to remove the president. For example, in the United States, the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the US Senate to remove the president.

One result of presidential systems is that presidents can get away with far more. Another side effect of presidential systems is to encourage coups and assassinations. To explain, in presidential systems, violence can be the only way to remove the president.

Presidential systems create unrealistic expectations for the president. In the United States, voters often believe the president has powers the Constitution gives to Congress, such as setting the budget and creating taxes.

Parliament vs. Presidents

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton.

One result of presidential systems is that some voters view presidents as great wizards with magic wands. This can lead to personality cults such as those that developed around US presidents Andrew Jackson (D-Tennessee) Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York) and Donald J. Trump (R-Florida).

History shows Jackson, FDR, and Trump all behaved like dictators. FDR ordered the Army to herd US citizens into concentration camps, while Trump schemed to cancel an election and encouraged a mob to attack Congress. Similarly, Jackson threatened to hang some of his critics and ordered the Army to remove Native Americans from their ancestral lands in defiance of the US Supreme Court.

Presidents often take on the trappings and powers of royalty. The US president lives in the White House and the French president lives in  the Élysée Palace. In contrast, the British Prime Minister lives at 10 Downing Street, a row house with a few police officers standing out front.

The glamour and power can go to the president’s head. In a State of the Union message, the US president addresses Congress. At Question Time, the British or Australian prime minister sits on the bench with other members. Thus, parliamentary systems humble the leader, while presidential systems elevate the leader.

Yet prime ministers, such as India’s Narendra Modi, have more practical power than presidents. However, Modi still has to win the support of parliament if he wants to stay in office. If members of Modi’s BJP Party become unhappy with the prime minister, Modi could lose his job through a vote of no confidence.

Does America need a President?

Hence, Americans need to consider scrapping the presidency if they want a free country.

Notably, America is in some terrible company on the list of presidential countries. Other presidential countries include Uzbekistan, Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Chad, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Egypt, and Liberia. Hardly a list of the most advanced countries in the world.

Is the company America wants to be with? Many of those presidential powers are former Communist countries or ex-military dictatorships.

Interestingly, the United States is the only presidential system in the Americas that has never had a military coup. Most of the other America presidential countries, such as Brazil, have suffered multiple military coups and dictatorships.

Thus, Americans need to ask, do we need a president? Perhaps the United States needs to adopt a parliamentary system similar to Germany’s.

That is reduce the president to figurehead status and have Congress appoint a separate head of government. In Germany, the chancellor is head of government while the president is a figurehead.

Scrapping the presidency seems radical to Americans. Yet the data show the presidency could be a threat to our freedom. It’s something to think about.