Monday, 18 March 2013

Electorate Votes Itself Endless Privileges

"Perhaps we have reached the limit of what is economically possible within a democracy. Now that the electorate has twigged that it can vote itself endless privileges, our leaders seem determined to feed the beast, even when the larder is bare. The younger generation is going to hate us."
This quote from Tim Price in MoneyWeek (15/03/13) neatly sums up a concern voiced by others. And, so the thought goes, giving more power to the economically illiterate electorate via direct democracy will result in financial armegedon.
Swiss direct democracy succinctly proves that is not necessarily so. In fact their economy is in far better shape than those of most western representative democracies. While the reasons for this may be multifactorial, perhaps one cause of Switzerland's success is that direct democracy educates the masses through debate, resulting in more mature politics and better decisions.
But another perspective is that politicians in a representative democracy actively persuade us that the "bribes" they offer in return for our support are affordable, against the better judgement of the majority of voters who successfully manage the complexities of their household budget and carefully consider the inheritence they would like to bequeath to their offspring. From this perspective politicans are dangerous stewards of the economy, driven to error by the competitive nature of representative democracy.
Or perhaps political ideologies are to blame: those notions counted self evident and held firmly by the party faithful. On the contrary, voters less immersed in political doctrine and informed by wide debate, may take a more realistic and less idealistic view.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Domination of Minorities

Dan Snow's "A History of Syria" (available here on iPlayer) provides some perspective on the domination of minorities and their reactions. According to this programme the Alawites were persecuted for many years by the majority Sunni Muslims until Hafez al-Assad seized government in 1970. His son is fighting to stay in power today. The fears of the Alawite minority in allowing democracy to empower a democratic Sunni majority, who may want to take revenge, may be a significant factor in the ongoing conflict.
So, can democracy protect the freedoms and rights of minorities?
I suspect that a countries culture is the most important factor in protecting minority rights, which may also be enshrined in law through acts or constitution.
But empathy surely has a role to play: if we can relate to the emotions of the abused there is a greater chance that we will want to protect them. Thus, hearing their stories is important. And Interactive Democracy can facilitate this through its web site.
Leadership is also important, as it is today in representative democracy. The type of leadership shown by Nelson Mandela, who fought for fairness across races, not domination by a democratic majority.
On the other hand, intolerant religions or ideologies may use democracy to crush small dissenting groups, as was seen in Hitler's rise to power.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Quantitavely Easing Elections

John Stepek in MoneyWeek wrote this about QE3:
"this move by the Fed raises some interesting questions about democracy and central banking in general. Bernanke insists the move isn’t political. That’s probably true.

"At the same time, it was quite stupid of the Republicans to tell the one man who has more short-term power over US consumer confidence than anyone else in the country, that they were going to fire him if they won the election. If Barack Obama was ever looking for a poll boost from the Fed, this is the best he could have hoped for."

And so we see another example of the rise in power of the unelected technocrats of the central banks. What of democracy?


"In his book Prolokratie [Democratically into Bankruptcy], Christian Ortner proposes a politically incorrect thesis: a large proportion of the [typical western] population are borderline cretins. They have particular trouble understanding... that one cannot just go on spending more money than one takes in. So they are incapable of making sensible decisions at elections. I fear that the result of the latest Italian election provides support for this idea."
Peter Michael Lingens in Austrian news magazine Profil

This principle flies in the face of democracy. According to this summary the electorate aren't qualified to elect representatives, much less do direct democracy. Yet the Swiss have run direct democracy quite successfully for 150plus years. Maybe there is something about the intelligence of the Swiss or the quality of their culture that allows this? But I doubt it. I suspect that involving people in democracy is a process of educating each other through debate, utilising the leadership and expertise of those with more knowledge. However, representative democracy doesn't do this to the same extent as the debate is delegated to the professional politicians, leaving the majority of the electorate none the wiser. Furthermore, the politicians must pander to the whims of the uneducated to retain their position, compounding errors.

(Taking the economic arguments in the above quote: it is clear that personal debt should be repaid but is the same true for countries? There is an argument that national debt can be continuously rolled over into new debt for the simple reason that countries don't die but people do: it's hard to be repaid what you lend if your debtor is dead. Not so if they keep on living.)