If you can only choose one, would you pick transparency over democracy?

David Frum gave a speech in Caracas on the state of Venezuelan politics, and made a few observations.

Chile was held up as an example of success, where democratic leaders that took over from Pinochet left his free-market reforms alone because they worked.  He also praised Norway for making the austere efforts of becoming a democratic and transparent petro-state.

On Venezuela, Frum criticizes the country for attempting to maintain two separate currencies.

Even where these systems are very well designed (the South African system was especially ingenious), even where they are enforced by a generally honest and effective civil service (as was the case in South Africa), they end by exhausting the foreign reserves of the country. One crisis, and the whole thing collapses, leaving only waste behind.

Venezuela also lacks transparency, which means billions of dollars can vanish into thin air.  When it comes down to it, Frum looks at the results and pronounce transparency a more vital virtue.

Singapore is not a liberal democracy. But its accounts are open and honest – and Singapore, a barren rock that nature has endowed only with humidity – now ranks among the richest countries of the world.

By contrast, Argentina is a democracy. Human rights are respected. Yet without transparency, it ranks among the most corrupt places on the planet – and its standard of living, once among the highest in the world, has plunged below its neighbors, Chile and Brazil.

There are various arrangements that ensure check and balances in the modern world.

In the United States, France, and Mexico, the executive and the legislature are elected separately. Powers are separated, and each checks and balances the other. In Britain and the British Commonwealth, in Japan, and in most of Europe, the legislature is elected directly and the executive derives its power from the legislative majority.

In Chavez’s regime, the executive branch controls the legislature.  This does not work.

By whatever name, the system of executive supremacy over the legislature amounts to the same thing: unchecked power. Such power can never be trusted. And those who most avidly seek such power are precisely those who can least be trusted with it.

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