For people who bemoan the state of US politics, Belgium provides an instructive example. The usual Left, Center, and Right political parties are each divided by ethnicity into French Wallon and Flemish, producing six major enduring parties and a host of splinters. Things get so bad that the country goes months (and in 2014 even a year) without forming any central government at all.

Yet through all the hubbub, the Belgian economy has grown into one of the richest in the world. Bruxelles (or Brussel or Brussels) has been transformed from the backward provincial capital I used to know into the political and social leader of Europe. Relative to the exhausted country that dragged itself out of the post-war doldrums and barely survived the 1950s, the current scene breathes prosperity and industriousness.

The solution is pretty simple too. Other than the police and tax collectors, the Belgians ignore their politicians. Most citizens barely recall the name of the Prime Minister, let alone what he stands for. 90% of the people you meet identify with neither country, nor ethnicity, nor region, nor even city, but with neighborhood and family. Government bureaucrats seem to get and even share this attitude, and it shows in the way they generally stay out of the way.

You can do pretty much anything you want in this country. People just don’t give a damn, and yet the sky never quite falls in.


Categories: Belgium, Europe