10/27/2011 09:24 EDT | Updated 12/27/2011 05:12 EST

American and European Tribalism


The good news this week is that there's one fewer despot around to pollute the world. The bad news is that the Europeans made another announcement that they had agreed that, down the road, they would reach agreement.

While the world celebrated Gaddafi's demise, it fretted about Euro-sclerosis, in tandem with Amero-sclerosis. The next deadline is the G20 in France in early November, but this is not the first such pressure applied on the group of 17 eurozone members. There are downgrades and elections approaching too. About all that is certain is that eventually, the euros will cobble together something. In the meantime, markets will lurch wildly and capital will remain parked on the sidelines.

What's interesting, and less obvious, is to note the similarities between the governance challenges gripping the U.S., Europe and the Arab Spring. These may not be apparent at first glance, but they exist.

For starters, this week Gaddafi wasn't even buried when pundits began speculating as to whether the tribes of Libya would be able to pull together to prosper. The answer was obvious. Of course they will have huge difficulties getting along. After all, Europe's "tribes" were still quibbling, even as they edged toward the fiscal ledge, over their collective future and how to handle their impecunious tribes such as the Greeks or Portuguese.

The U.S. is hardly an example of smooth collaboration either and, by the way, never has been throughout its tumultuous history.

This year, like the euros, they have quibbled, even as they edged toward the debt ceiling ledge in August, over their collective future. Ever since, the two "tribes" of America have continued to paralyze the nation's governance process. Even worse, one of the tribes, the Republicans, are atomizing. The new reality show in America is the carve-up jobs underway among the clutch of mediocre presidential candidates.

This is televised and broadcasted 24-7 as their organizations pollute the public airwaves and private airwaves with Facebook postings, blog polemics and Twitter litter.

Half of these candidates are also as eyebrow-raising in some ways as anything the Egyptians, Tunisians or Libyans will put forward as electoral hopefuls. For instance, the Rs have two candidates who hint that God put them there to run for president. Two Rs are Mormons whose religion believes that Jesus Christ revisited again in New York state around 1820 -- a belief that I refuse to cast an opinion about. But the point to be made here is that the "R" is increasingly standing for 'religious' rather than 'Republican.'

That aside, the biggest headlines this week were grabbed, not about the European crisis, but by Gaddafi and by Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain, the Pizza Godfather. He's obviously made an offer that many Americans cannot refuse, even though all them should.

His 9-9-9 tax reform is, in a word, ridiculous as well as misnamed. The scheme replicates the current tax practices of Greece. It's misnamed because the 9-9-9 aspect is the second of three steps to his final solution. He wants to go from the current system to 9-9-9 the impose a single "Fair Tax" of 30 per cent sales tax on everything. This would be on top of state and city sales taxes which are as high as nine per cent in some places.

His Big 30 Solution is not highlighted in media coverage or by other candidates because they don't understand it or bother to read the fine print of his tax reform policy. But it would, if enacted which is impossible, replicate Greece's tax anarchy, where people hate government as much as many Americans do, so only a few pay federal income taxes and even fewer pay its exorbitant sales taxes. High sales taxes drive economies underground because everyone pays cash.

The good news is that the presidential race is early and inappropriate auditionees will fall by the wayside. They will also find raising huge amounts of money difficult to win the nomination. So at this point, the likeliest winner will be Mitt Romney, a rich guy who can buy television commercials himself and who at least has government and business experience. He will select a Spanish-speaking running mate to try and garner some Hispanic votes and give the incumbent a decent run for his money.

As for Europe, the battle seems to be about process, not goal, which is a good thing. Everyone knows that Germany will do the heaviest lifting and that eventually the 17 will have to form a fiscal union that will be political union lite.

And to square the circle, once Europe re-structures itself, it will be the biggest beneficiary of the Arab Spring as these new countries rebuild themselves.