Should Sacramento govern like Beijing or Singapore?

The question might be easily dismissed as ridiculous – because California is a democracy, right?

But California isn’t that democratic – our legislative elections are fixed and our direct democracy is open only to people and interests with millions of dollars. And California’s elected officials are far less popular than unelected leaders in China and Singapore – in large part because our officials don’t seem to be able to get anything done, unlike their unelected counterparts.

Is there anything California can learn from China and Singapore? Is our democracy, with its checks and balances and interest groups, too slow for effective governance?

Those questions will be on the table this Tuesday night (May 8) in, of all places, Sacramento. I’ll be moderating a free, public event with America’s leading Asia scholar, Harvard’s Ezra Vogel, who has just completed an award-winning biography of Deng Xiaoping; the author and activist Christine Pelosi, who runs boot camps for political candidates around the country and the world; and the French and American journalist Janice Thomson, who has spent the past six years working in Brussels, becoming an expert on the troubled European Union in the process.

The notion of making California more authoritarian isn’t a foreign one. It’s a live issue right now. Would-be reformers from Gov. Schwarzenegger to California Forward have sought to give more power to the governor or small groups of elected officials as a way of breaking the perpetual stalemate over the budget? And more recently, the Think Long Committee for California proposed established a citizens’ group to consider long-term state policy – an idea that owes at least a small debt to the small, powerful committees that help govern China and Singapore.

As he entered office, Gov. Brown mused – with obvious envy – about what it might be like to have had the power that the prime minister Lee Kuan Yew enjoyed in Singapore. Might a governor with more power be able to fix the state?