Ideas Untrapped
Ideas Untrapped
The Case for Parliamentarianism
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The Case for Parliamentarianism

A conversation with Tiago Santos
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Tiago Santos joins Tobi on this episode of the podcast to discuss Parliamentarianism. Tiago believes that if African countries had adopted parliamentary systems during their democratization wave, they would have likely seen better development outcomes, citing the success of Botswana and the economic growth seen in parliamentary countries. He also highlights four main flaws in presidential systems according to political scientist Juan Linz: lack of clarity in authority, rigidity, winner-takes-all nature, and personalism. These issues often lead to ineffective governance, coups, and excessive polarization, which hinder development and political stability. Tiago further argues that better governance structures, like those provided by parliamentary systems, are crucial for economic development. He emphasizes that parliamentary systems lead to greater political stability and more inclusive decision-making, essential for fostering long-term growth and escaping the "Malthusian Trap."

Tiago Ribeiro dos Santos has been a Brazilian career diplomat since 2007. He has a law degree from Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Rio de Janeiro, a professional degree from Instituto Rio Branco (Brazil’s national diplomatic academy), and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. He is the author of the excellent book Why Not Parliamentarianism.

None of the opinions in the interview reflect the views of any institution he has been associated with - and you can find the full transcript of the conversation below.

Transcript

Tobi;

You're, I would say, a strong advocate of parliamentarianism. I wouldn't call myself a strong advocate, but I'm fairly biased towards your point of view and became even more convinced when I read your book. Particularly in Africa, a couple of countries went through long periods of military dictatorship. And around 20, 25 years ago, there came another wave of widespread democratisation on the continent. What happened was, maybe due to the influence of American foreign policy or some other global forces, a lot of these countries opted for the American-style presidential system. And in my own observation, maybe I'm wrong empirically, a lot of these countries, my country, Nigeria included, struggled with the workings of this presidential system, such that there had been constant agitation for a kind of return to the parliamentary system that Nigeria had immediately after independence. My question to you then is that, are you willing to say or assert that perhaps if a bunch of these countries around 20, 25 years ago had opted for parliamentary system, would they have done better development-wise?

Tiago;

I don't think anybody can say for sure, but I'm convinced that they would probably, very likely, had done better. With respect to Africa, I think, yes, there is a strong influence from the American model because it's obviously a very successful country. So it's very easy to model after them. But I think that there is something else also in the choice of presidentialism by African countries. I've read a paper by James Robinson and Ragnar Torvik that argues that there is a tendency for endogenous presidentialism, which is that exactly because in presidentialism the leader has more chances to exert their powers without much resistance. So back in the 60s, a bunch of countries in Africa, I think most of them, had a parliamentary constitution, not only Nigeria, but many other countries had a parliamentary constitution and basically all of them switched to presidentialism at some point. If you look at Botswana, the economic performance that they had since the 1960s is very impressive. I wish Brazil had the rate of growth that Botswana has been experiencing consistently. So looking at the countries in Africa that have adopted parliamentary constitution, I think that it would be the case, yes, that had these countries adopted a parliamentary constitution back when they democratised again, they would probably have done better.

Tobi;

I mean, Nigeria is so loud. that the word restructuring, which is a shorthand for reconstituting the political system, is so common in political parlance and, you know, we kept shouting restructuring, restructuring, and it never really comes to pass.

But given the ubiquity and the allure of presidentialism, at what point, particularly historically, did you become convinced enough to write this book about the superiority of parliamentary systems?

Tiago;

It wasn't something that particularly interested me during the first 40 years of my life, before writing the book. So I wrote a book on the economic effects of the Brazilian Constitution. So the idea was to make this research and check every article of the Constitution, what economic effects we could expect to have in Brazil with my then boss, Otaviano Canuto, in the Brazilian constituency in the Board of Directors of the World Bank. And one of the things that I started researching on was exactly the difference between presidentialism and parliamentarianism. And I started to find some striking results. This was too big to go into the article, so we don't mention it in the article that we published. We mentioned other aspects of the Brazilian constitution, but then I couldn't stop researching this. And I was always also checking myself, trying to push my good economist friends. I was trying to also get comments from many people that have thought about this problem very well and to check that I wasn't thinking something that was completely out of base. And I was increasingly convinced because of the feedback that I got, the continuation of my research, it was then when I combined all the elements that I think are in favour of parliamentarianism that if we just look at countries that are parliamentary or countries that are presidential, you see that parliamentary countries perform better in just about any indicator.

If you look at the history, if you look at the informal theory, if you look at formal theory from economics, if you look at the evidence that people try to do with studies that are not just correlational, but that introduced good statistical controls for things, If you look at complementary evidence from companies - so companies can adopt a parliamentary model, which is having a board of directors and this board of directors can control the CEO. And no company elects a CEO by the shareholders directly. And this CEO will have a checks and balances relationship with the board of directors. This figure doesn't exist. And I think the market is in a very good position to choose the best arrangement. And finally, the council management system in the U.S. that I learned when I was doing this research is a system that is very similar to parliamentarianism. And cities that adopt the council management system perform much better than cities that adopt a strong mayor system, which is similar to the presidential system.

Tobi;

So what are the key flaws that you mention in the book? Perhaps there's more now since you wrote the book. What are the key flaws in presidentialism that you think a parliamentary system addresses effectively?

Tiago;

We were discussing before you started recording. I don't try to be original in my book. I try only to convey the knowledge that's already there. And in this, the most influential thinker is by far Juan Linz, a political scientist. And I think that he has the best frame for this. And he talks about four main flaws in presidentialism that parliamentarians doesn't suffer from. So these flaws are in presidential countries, you don't have a clarity of where the authority lies. So what happens in the end is if you like the policy that Congress is trying to push, then you will stand on the side of Congress and if you like the policy that the president is trying to push, then you will stand on the side of the president. And there will be lots of undermining of initiatives by both the Congress and the president. They won't agree on many things and it will be difficult to have a coherent proposal. Daniel Diermeier has an article on this, on how parliamentary systems are more cohesive.

So the second thing I think is a big problem, also from Juan Linz, is the rigidity. So if a country is presidential and the president is working badly, there's nothing we can do. We just have to wait for the mandate to end. And if this is bad enough, if some sectors of society perceive this to be bad enough, you have often coups that derive from a perception that there's no way that the president can stay in place. And then a majority of the powerful actors in a society will install a coup. So that's why the prominence to coups in presidentialism is so much greater than in parliamentarianism.

Then you have a winner-take-all situation. So if you win the presidency, you have so much power that you will be able to implement so many things and you have almost complete control over so much of government. Whereas if you are the losing side of a presidential election, then you are out of government completely. So there's too much at stake. And this incentivises the kind of polarisation that we see in many presidential countries, a type of politics that is very visceral, that is very combative. That's not the kind of politics that we would hope for. And lastly, it's personalism. The presidential system focuses way too much on the figure of one person instead of different institutions in society, different sectors and different voices. And it's often the case that in many presidential countries, people don't love the candidate that they see. They would never support that candidate if not for the reason that they hate the other candidate that will have so much power. And then they try to minimize the flaws that they would never accept in a normal situation on the candidate they support. And this leads to a race to the bottom sometimes. So the personalism is a disastrous characteristic of presidentialism, too. So I think the Linz framework is still the best description.

Tobi;

Yeah. Two common pushbacks that I get when I try to discuss parliamentarian systems whether amongst friends and other people so i want you to help me respond to them is that first is the issue of capture of the political system. So most presidential system have what we call term limits. In Nigeria, in the U.S., and some other places, you say, oh, a president can only serve two fixed terms concurrently. And after that, it becomes unconstitutional. Even though some countries, their president have successfully overturned constitutional time limits to become de facto dictators. But, I mean, let's leave those aside. Whereas in parliamentary system, it's possible to have the same party, the same ruling coalition in government sometimes for decades, right? So what is the nuance between something like presidential term limits in the presidential system and the prospect of having the same, basically, the same government in power for decades? How do those two systems compare in that regard?

And the second pushback I get is stability. The recent case that comes to mind is the Netherlands, for example. They had an election recently where a controversial candidate and party basically won the election. But at the end of the day, it became impossible to form a government, which is what you don't get in a presidential system. The system is such that there is the emergence of a clear winner who then forms a government and then proceeds to govern. Whereas in some parliamentary systems, in some cases, you can have this persistent chaos for a while, like in the UK now where they've had at least three prime ministers in about six years. So those two push back, how do you respond?

Tiago;

With respect to the first, I think there's a strong consensus in political science that term limits actually are a negative quality for an institutional system, because if you recall in the book, I discuss a model by Persson and Tabellini, two economists that studied this question. And they are the only model that I know of. For the only model that thinks that presidentialism is superior to parliamentarianism, one of the most important characteristics is that there are no term limits. Because the idea is that if there are term limits, then a president will try to grab everything that he can before he loses power. Or try to stay in power forever by demolishing the democracy completely. Because he knows that he will never get a chance to be in power once again.

Whereas in the parliamentary system, there is no ending to what he can do. He can stay in Congress, in Parliament, for as long as the people want him there or her there. So what I would say is that even though there are some countries where you see that happening, that some parties stay in power for decades, they are pretty rare. It's not a very common situation in parliamentarianism. And one thing that I stress in the book is that you cannot expect there to be a guarantee that it will be better, you just have to have an expectation that it will be better. So you have Japan, you have Botswana, they are countries that have parties that stay in power for long. You see that even though these parties stayed in power for long, there was not that much repression of the opposition. And in many cases, at some point, the opposition did win an election.

Whereas in presidentialism, you also have cases where parties have remained in power for very long, like in Mexico. So this particular problem that you point to, I don't think presidentialism solves. And the other thing is that sometimes for the opposition to gain power, they subvert completely the regime. They change the constitution. They get into power by force. So even though there was a change in power, it wasn't a desirable one. So for that, I think one of the advantages of parliamentarianism is exactly that it doesn't need to have term limits because any presidential country will have term limits, at least on the president. Because if you do not have term limits on the president, the chances that they will stay in power, be reelected indefinitely, and thereby destroying the democracy are very high.

So since it was invented, presidentialism, you have that problem. With respect to stability, I think that we need to look to what kind of stability that we want. So I think that presidentialism has an illusory stability often. Because you have the very clear legal mandate for the president and the president has a very clear legal mandate to name whoever he wants to government. And of course, one person will always be able to name a cabinet. You have the illusion that there is a functioning government. But this functioning government will be very often completely disconnected from the true forces of society that want to move in a different direction. Whereas in parliamentary governments when there is disconnect, when there is this fight, it becomes apparent and sometimes you have shuffling of cabinets, very frequent. Sometimes they are not frequent at all. You can have Angela Merkel in Germany that stayed in power for some 20 years, and then she left like nothing happened. It was a very smooth transition. And so parliamentary has this flexibility. If something is working, then they stay in power for very long. If something is not working, they don't stay in power.

And you mentioned the Netherlands. I don't know about the Dutch situation right now, but I recall that Belgium also was without a government for a while. And when we say without a government, we really mean without a cabinet. It's not that there is no government in Belgium. They're still doing all the things. There's still police, there's still courts, there's still schools. So I think that if there is not enough consensus in a society, then not having a cabinet pushing for policies might be a good thing. And if you look at the Netherlands right now, I don't think it's chaos, right? I think it works very well, as Belgium did, still worked very well, even when it didn't have a cabinet. If you look at the Netherlands is one of the most successful societies in history and is still one of the most successful societies right now. So I would never describe their situation as chaos. So what I would say is that, well, if we have to deal with situations where there's no cabinets, then fine. I'm not as bothered by that as I am by a lack of basic sanitation or a lack of economic growth or a lack of health services or a lack of safety in streets, that sort of thing, which presidential countries have much less than the Netherlands.

Tobi;

I would like to stretch that point a little bit. So perhaps it's a good thing that the Netherlands has a parliamentary system and that they are in their current equilibrium because the party that won the election and the individual vying to be prime minister is controversial, is internationally disliked and has some positions that are quite disagreeable. But it's also easy to imagine the opposite. where his party his platform his ideas and his policies might actually turn out to be excellent for the country and for the region and perhaps influential enough for the world but here you are in a system that prevents that person from getting to power. So i'm trying to gauge how earlier, many three systems respond to the good leader, bad leader argument because some would say one of the strengths of the presidential system is if you're lucky enough to get a good leader, he or she can then use all that power, all that legitimacy to then drive transformation and growth and all the good things to the maximum and transform the country within a few years.

What's your response to that?

Tiago;

First of all, I don't think countries have been lucky enough that we would still bet on that. If we look at the history of presidential systems, the evidence shows very clearly that this hope for a very good leader, it's like playing the lotto, I think. The chances are very small. And I think that even if you had a person that had all the vision and the capacity to implement very good policies, if he doesn't command enough support in his society, there will be sabotaging, there will be opposition, there will be people that have capacity to interfere with society, trying to undermine his efforts. Even with this great leader, you wouldn't have the great outcomes that one would expect. So I think the crucial thing, and I think it's central to democracy, is exactly that there is a wide consensus. The thing is that presidential elections do not create wide consensus. They create two rival candidates, two rival sides, and then at the end of the day, one of them wins. And this goes to late[r] part [of the book], which stressed the importance of consensus, the capacity to take into consideration the interests of different sectors of society at once. So this is why I still like parliamentarianism better.

Tobi;

So for the benefits of people that haven't read the book, I'll go through perhaps a few more questions that you should explicate on before I go into what actually interests me, which is how you then relate your argument on parliamentary systems to development or economic development more broadly. So one thing I also want you to clear up is you talked about corporate governance and how they are better under parliamentary system. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

Tiago; 

So corporate governance, we usually think of governments and companies as completely different walks of life, completely different situations. But in fact, they are not. So governance is not a word that came about by chance. It does come from the same principles. And when you look at how boards make decisions, they use something called parliamentary procedure. They use some books like Robert's Rules of Order, which is taken by, I think it was a colonel, it was someone in the military that was very frustrated by how meetings were being used and then he used exactly the sort of decision that was being taken in the United States Congress to take these decisions. And we see, I forgot the name of the author right now, but this book, Shareholder Democracies, he explains how the modern public company takes a lot of how it's governed from the evolution of government, particularly because there was a time that the modern company was started in England.

And there was a time when you would need to have authorisation by the government to create one of them. And then the board members would be often people from government as well. So there was this very intense relationship and this very intense exchange of methods of approaches to problems. And then they had tried many things, many approaches, boards with lots of members, boards with very few members and all sorts of ideas until they ended up with the model that is replicated in basically every public company that we have now, which is the shareholders elect a board of directors, the number may vary, and this board will choose the management of the company, particularly the CEO, which will be kind of like the prime minister, but maybe different from the UK, because in the UK, the prime minister must be from parliament. But in the Netherlands, for example, it doesn't have to. But the board elects the CEO and then they can fire the CEO at any time as well. So this is something that allows for a much more efficient handling of the affairs of the company than the situation where you would have the shareholders elect the CEO themselves. I wrote to one of these authors about this parallel, and he thought it was perfectly applicable… “And yes, yes, I completely understand what you're saying about the presidentialism.” He couldn't think that it had ever been tried by any company, the exact presidential system. One thing that was tried is the shareholders choosing some people in management already. And this didn't work. So I think that this is very strong evidence for that because markets, they have the greatest incentive to perfect their governance systems.

Tobi;

What is the attenuation bias and how does this bias feed into our common understanding of presidential and parliamentary systems?

Tiago; 

So attenuation bias is something that I put in there because when I was discussing this during the process of writing the book, I got a lot of pushback by people. And recently I also had one pushback by people saying, well, but it's hard to classify countries in presidential or parliamentary forms because there are many types of intermediate situations. So you have semi-presidential countries in Africa. We have lots of semi-presidential countries where the president has power, but the prime minister does have power too. So there is this combination where not everyone agrees about which countries should be considered parliamentary or presidential. And also many other political scientists first need to decide if a country is a democracy or not and then classify it as presidential or parliamentary, because they say if it's not a democracy, then it doesn't matter what the Constitution says. The dictatorship can do anything it wants. The Constitution doesn't have any bite.

I disagree with that view. I think that constitutions matter even in situations where you don't have a full democracy. But in any case, people would be saying that this would make the results in terms of stability, political stability, in terms of economic growth, less strong. And then I argue the exact opposite, which is the attenuation bias is the mathematical fact that when you have noise in the explanatory variable, the effect that you see will be smaller than the real effect. Whereas if you have noise in the explained variable, the dependent variable, there's less precision, but the size of the effect is in expectation the same as the real effect. So what I argue is that, yes, there are debates about what countries are parliamentary, what countries are presidential. And if this is hard to classify, then we should expect the effects to be even larger. Many people criticize academics and scholars that raise the issue of attenuation bias because people often raise the issue of attenuation bias even before they convincingly demonstrate that there is a relationship in the first place. But I think that at the point where I make the point about attenuation bias in the page that I make that, I think that I was able to demonstrate that the relationship does exist. So if it does exist and we do have difficulty classifying countries in parliamentary or presidential, then we should have attenuation bias and we should expect the effects to be even larger.

Tobi; 

I would say how your research, your writing, your argument does relate to economic development, or maybe development for shorthand, is what I found most interesting in your book and most relevant to my passion. Because I don't know if you caught this yesterday, Jishnu Das, I don't know if I'm saying that correctly, wrote an essay titled, let me quickly check, "Did Development Economics Lose Its Moral Compass?" Yeah, you're not making similar arguments, but how I see them connected is the fact that development, the field or the development industry has more or less given up on governance. And now everybody is obsessed with whatever tiny interventions you can make that get people from $1.90 to $2.90, and then we can sing hallelujah that we've ended poverty. Whereas I, and I imagine yourself and some other people that we both admire, like Lant Pritchett, are interested in changes that we can make in Nigeria, in Chad, in Ethiopia, that can get those countries to middle-income status and possibly greater than that. So how do you see the relationship between economic development and the system of governance or the political system generally? How does this tie in your head when you were writing the book?

Tiago; 

Okay, so I think that in theory, we should expect this to happen. When we look at the institutional school of economics, they say that the central aspect for growth is institutions. So you go back to Douglas North, you go to Acemoglu and Roderick and those people, and Douglas North in particular. Not all institutionalism put the emphasis that North puts on parliament and he puts because he sees that as protecting property rights, specifically. And I think he goes for too narrow an approach. But if you look at the consensus that there is around institutions being central to economic development, and the consensus that there is in political science that parliamentarism is central for political stability, and if you just connect the dots and say, well, political stability must be important for institutions to work well, right? If you just connect these dots and think that also, if institutions are key and a country doesn't even have political stability, will it have capacity, which is something that Pritchett talks about too, about state capacity for many other things. So if it isn't even able to have stability, will it have the capacity for development to be promoted? And I think not.

And then, going back to Pritchett once again, one thing that I talk about in the book is the Pritchett test. I learned this from Paul Romer in a blog post. He mentions that urbanization passes the Pritchett test. And this is a series of requirements that don't seem to be very stringent, but that Pritchett proposes that any policy that you say will have development should pass this test. And this was relating to the frustration that you were talking about that you have and that I share. And I think that he is the person that talks about this best, which is we are promoting very modest, very unambitious proposals that we don't think would possibly have an effect. And then the test is this. In a cross-sectional comparison of levels, do countries that are more developed have more X? And this is easy. I showed this in the beginning of the book, that parliamentarism does have many more developed countries than presidentialism. There are much fewer presidential countries that are rich or developing in any way.

And then he goes in a cross-sectional comparison of growth rates. Do countries that have rapid growth also tend to experience a rapid increase in standards of living? And I present evidence that we do have that. In my blog, I have a post on how parliamentarism passes the Pritchett test. When we look at the few countries for which we have long historical records, do the ones that become much more developed also acquire much more access? And then we see, this is very interesting, that it's exactly in the two countries that first parliamentarize in Europe that we see the end of the Malthusian Trap, the escape from the Malthusian Trap. So it's the Netherlands and the UK, in England. And then this parliamentarianism spreads around Europe and then Europe itself becomes much richer. A very parliamentary tradition establishes in the U.S., so we tend to think of the U.S. as much less parliamentary than it really is. And you have Canada, you have Australia, you have New Zealand, they are countries that for more than 200 years have had this sort of constitution and also have done very well.

And lastly, if we look for countries that switch from a regime of slow economic development to a regime of rapid development, we see a prior shift. So this is for us to think of this just conceptually. And then we have some studies that show a very strong connection of growth and parliamentarianism. So we have Gehring and other authors from 2009 that shows stronger growth in parliamentarianism. And we have one specific study by Richard McManus and Ozkan from 2019 that shows much stronger growth in parliamentary countries from 0.6 to 1.2 percentage points per year, which is huge. And it would explain a country being developed. If a country did grow 1.2 percentage points per year in its per capita GDP, it would become developed over time, of course, but it would be enough. So that's why I think that the connection between parliamentarianism and development is very strong.

Tobi; 

I guess what I'm trying to get a sense of from you, you're a career diplomat, you've been in some of the rooms where some of these decisions are made, what has become so broken about development in general that we've stopped being ambitious in the sense that trying to change your political system can actually get you more benefits development-wise than whatever tiny little cash transfer you're doing in whatever village in Kenya or Nigeria or… how did development become so unambitious?

Because one of the points you touched on in the book is this fallacy of having tried everything, you know, and, oh, so this is what we have… because the state of particularly development economics for me, the state of things are so terrible in my view. The so-called evidence landscape has become so broad that you can find evidence for anything. For example, if I'm the president or the chairman of a local government in Nigeria and I choose to not fix the road, for example, or choose not to build a power station, I would rather take a fraction of that money and do a cash transfer program. I will find evidence and possibly researchers that will tell me that that is a good thing. So how did development become unambitious from your vantage point?

Tiago; 

I think that's hard. That's something that I will speak with, but without as much conviction as the other things that I'm saying here. But I think there are some different processes going on. One is the idea that there have been some, we haven't tried everything, but we have tried some things. And these things, these specific things that we've tried, the big push theory and some other things like that, did not work out as expected. And then there was this too quick giving up on trying other things. I think there is a fear of being perceived as a failure on part of policymakers, so they would rather be unambitious than being perceived as a failure. And I think that has been married to an academic predilection for precision. So academics are more preoccupied by doing the randomised trial and getting the precise estimate of the effect of something. And then they only care about it being significant in the statistical sense and not on the practical sense. “Oh, this is statistically significant. It makes a difference. Then let's do this.” So I think that these two tendencies have worked.

And lastly, one thing that hopefully I'm not being too centered in parliamentarianism, I think that the fact that we have forgotten key benefits of parliamentarianism has made us look basically anywhere else instead of here and this has consequences because I think that a society that does not have the correct, the best institutions for it to develop will have a very hard time and then any policy that is tried will be perceived as a failure because they don't have the conditions that allow the society to really develop.

Tobi;

I don't want to dump all my frustration about development on you. So let me move on from that.

So practically speaking, now, suppose you get a few elites, leaders in your country that are ambitious and courageous enough to want to make a change from a dysfunctional presidential system to the parliamentary one. What are the useful key elements steps that can be started without tearing their political system apart? Because a lot of the fear also comes from not causing too much political turmoil or alienate an influential group that can then go ahead and form chaos in society. So what are the useful first steps you can take towards parliamentary governance?

Tiago;

So I talk a little about in the book what one can do. And as I said on the last part, these are things that I'm not as sure as I am that parliamentarianism is better. On the how we implement it, I have much more doubts, but I still have some suggestions. And I think that we should try to make the proposal of parliamentarianism similar to the proposal for democracy. Because when you ask for more democracy in a country, it's very rare that anybody will push back. “Oh, this will rock the boat here. Our country doesn't have a strong tradition of democracy, so we should just keep without tradition.” These are not arguments that are accepted by someone that's promoting democracy. They say, “no, no, this is a better situation because this will be able to really convey it the will of the people, so it's not a matter of tradition or not.” So what I would do is try to make this conversation within academic circles, with journalists, with policy makers, and that type of person, because I think the things that do get implemented, they are downstream from these people. I don't know if you read the Stefan Dercon book, Gambling on Development?

Tobi;

Yes, he was also a guest.

Tiago; 

He was a guest too?

Tobi;

Yeah.

Tiago; 

Oh, that's great. I’m in very good company. So he talks about the importance of an elite bargain for a country to find development. In this sense, I would mention the book to convey the importance of trying to convey this through the elite. I don't think it's as disruptive as we make it to be, because if you think about it, think the issue with presidentialism, the winner-take-all. In the winner-take-all, it means that for a presidential candidate that loses the election, it might very well be the case that losing the election has more negative consequences for them than actually switching to the parliamentary system. So he will expect to have a better participation in the political system of his country if they switch than if he loses the election. And I think this is very true. And I see politicians in many countries are favorable to parliamentarianism. In my country, I see that the politicians are the easiest class to convince. I think that because they live it, they know how dysfunctional presidentialism is, and because they perceive that they would themselves benefit. So they are the easiest class. I think that the journalists and the academics in many of these countries are much harder to convince.

In Brazil, it's definitely the case that this happens. So even though there is this strong consensus regarding the superiority of parliamentarianism in political science in the US and in Europe. In Brazil, we don't see anything like that. The political scientists in Brazil are very skeptical of Linz and other authors and there's specifically a Brazilian scholar that's very influential that tries to undermine Linz's arguments. I think that he doesn't do it satisfactorily. But this is how I would do it. And then, I don't know, I think that we should try to do the things that we do for other causes that we see. So climate change, what do people do for climate change when they try to fight climate change? They create think tanks, they create campaigns online, that sort of thing. That's what I miss.

Tobi;

So, I mean, if you look at the world today, especially the trend in global politics with the rise of populism, nationalism, trade wars, the state of global governance generally at institutions like the UN and the prospects of cooperation between the EU, the US, China, Russia, and what is called multi-polarity generally, do you think that parliamentary systems put global diplomacy on a better, steady footing?

Tiago;

I definitely do, yes. And this makes me sound like, oh, I think it's a panacea. It's a problem solver for all things. And anticipating that, I would argue that it's actually presidentialism, personalism is really bad. And when something is really bad, it can harm you in every area of your life. So parliamentarianism solves the problems that presidentialism causes. And with respect to diplomacy, we see that the democratic peace theory is one of the most, I think, the single most established empirical fact in international relations, that democracies don't fight each other. And there are some attempts at trying to make this look not as solid as it is, but it's widely perceived as the most important empirical fact in international relations. And if we think that parliamentarism is so central for democracy, for the democracy level, for democracy duration, then I think that it becomes very clear that parliamentarism will have this effect.

And I think of a book written by Chris Blattman, a professor at UChicago [University of Chicago], Why We Fight. And then he explains the few reasons why countries will fight, because he argues very convincingly that conflict is much rarer than we try to make it to be because the news cycle is so prone to publishing on conflict. But conflict is rare. And then there are several failures that are related to countries fighting. And many of them relate to a country being presidential. So one of the failures is that the government does not reflect enough the will of the people. So the utility function, more or less, the interests that the government is taking into account is not the interests of the population as a whole. So it may make sense for the government to fight a war, even though it will be disastrous for it’s own people. And parliamentarianism is supposed to better convey the interests of the people of a country into government much better than presidentialism does. So this is just one example. And just a better functioning government also will help in diplomacy.

Tobi;

I'm curious, as a way of steel manning your argument, what is the one critique of parliamentary systems that you find persuasive?

Tiago;

Many people ask me that. I have a hard time thinking of something. So the one thing I really think is that it's very counterintuitive. It's something that people just have a very hard time accepting that might be true. People would like to have a good leader and they would like presidentialism to work. So it's very unpopular. It's very hard to convince people that this is indeed the case. I think that it's a lot like, I don't know, like markets in general. I think that people are suspicious of markets in general when they shouldn't be. And I think that parliamentarianism has this flaw. But on a performance level, I really can't think of anything. I know this makes me look like more of a radical than not. But I've looked for it and I couldn't find it.

Tobi;

Final question. This is also a bit of a tradition on the podcast. By the way, you're not allowed to say parliamentarianism. What's the one idea that you would like to see spread everywhere? It might be your idea. It might be from something else. It might be from someone else. What's that one idea you like to see spread around the world? You like to see people get passionate about?

Tiago;

Opening borders. That's one thing that I think would have a huge effect.

Tobi; 

So you're very much a card-carrying member of the open borders movement.

Tiago;

I am. I think that, yes, as I said, I'm a fan of Pritchett and others too, Bryan Caplan, Alex Nowrsteh. There are many people, Michael Clemens, there are many people that are working on this. The economic effects of opening borders would be just transformative, double GDP, according to the Clemens estimate. And that would happen exactly by helping the people that are the poorest. So it would also have a great distribution effect. So I think that it's a policy that I would definitely like to see being more discussed on high levels.

Tobi;

Thank you so much, Tiago Ribeiro Santos, for talking to me. It's been wonderful.

Tiago; 

I thank you, Tobi, for the opportunity to talk about these ideas and congratulations on your work. And let's hope for more ambitious developing ideas.

Tobi;

Yeah, thank you.

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Ideas Untrapped
Ideas Untrapped
a podcast about ideas on growth, progress, and prosperity