Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Real Problem with Democracy

It is said that the problem with democracy is that the people will vote themselves ever-larger government benefits and bankrupt the society. This is, of course, utterly false. Just look at what is going on in the United States today: Wall Street is being given trillions of dollars in subsidies while little people get zero percent interest on their savings, and pensions and social security are set to be ravaged to help pay for this largesse to the plutocrats. A mandatory private health system was enacted that will radically increase the profits of for-profit insurance companies while the average person faces costs so high that they cannot actually afford to use their insurance. Trillions of dollars are spent in wars whose only obvious point is to enrich politically connected defense contractors, while roads and bridges in this country are allowed to fall apart. The borders are being thrown open to massive third-world immigration so that wages for the many can be driven down and profits for the few driven up.  None of these things are happening because the people themselves want them. 

No, the problem with democracy is that it is so easy for the rich to bribe elected representatives, and use the government to steal from the people. People vote for a candidate who says one thing, and after being elected, they do what they have secretly promised their wealthy patrons.

What do I think of direct ‘mob rule’ democracy? I think that it might be a good thing (Switzerland anyone?). Or at least, not as bad as rule by kleptocracy masquerading as democracy.  (Curiously the elites tend to think of direct democracy as fascist, and rule by unelected bureaucrats as the only real democracy.  But I digress).

So why do we have a representational democracy? I think the problem is information. In a large and complex society, it is impossible for any single private citizen to be up on all the details of all the issues facing the society (especially if they have a day job. And we like day jobs). So they have to delegate political power to elected representatives, and therein begins the rot, because these single individuals can be so easily bribed… Same with the press: no single human being can evaluate all the information directly, they must have journalists to research and condense the issues for them: and these journalists can be, and increasingly are, bought and paid for.

All politicians will lie, to a greater or lesser degree.  However, if there is a robust and independent free press, this puts a damper on it.  If a politician promises A during the campaign, then after being elected immediately turns around and does B, in the past such a politician would be subject to derision and shame, would be considered a laughingstock, and would lose considerable power and prestige.  This would encourage the others. 

Now, however, the organized corporate press refuses to hold lying politician’s feet to the metaphorical fire – it is just culturally accepted.  Commenting on the dishonesty of a political candidate is regarded as being rude and disrespectful.  So increasingly they get away with it. 

However, there is one ray of light.  Current presidential candidate Marco Rubio promised during his senate campaign that he was against amnesty for illegal immigrants.  After getting elected, he became one of the ‘gang of eight’ senators that wrote and pushed for a bill that would open the doors of the United States to effectively unlimited illegal and legal immigration, likely turning the nation into a miserably impoverished third-world hell-hole within one generation or at most two.

Of course the donor class loves Marco Rubio – cheap labor uber alles! - but Rubio is having serious problems living down his past treachery with the voters, who, unlike the press, apparently still have some sense of memory.  Good.  If Marco Rubio’s career is ultimately crippled and destroyed because he said one thing and did another, that will have a salutary effect on politicians for yeas to come.  If only we could apply this to Obama and Hillary Clinton and John McCain etc., we might really have a semblance of a functional democracy in this country again…

And of course there is the old system of the false choice.  The oligarchs use their influence to make sure that both major party candidates are in their thrall.  Hillary vs. Rubio, McCain vs. Obama, Kerry vs. Bush.  Heads they win, tails we lose. 

And then the American people are blamed for their actions!  Ridiculous.  Say there are two levers.  Pull one lever, and we declare war on Syria.  Pull the other lever, and we declare war on Syria.  Pull neither lever, and we declare war on Syria.  There are no other levers (the rich and powerful have seen to that).  So we declare war on Syria.  Now “we” in general are responsible, and “we” (meaning everyone other than the rich who rigged the system in the first place) must sacrifice in order to accommodate all those refugees fleeing the wars that “we” started.

Economists often speak of “privatizing profits and socializing costs.”  So if I own a paper mill plant that dumps toxic waste in a river, I get all the profits from the paper mill, but the cost of the pollution is born by everyone who lives on the river.  Increasingly our faux democracy is a system for privatizing power and socializing responsibility: the rich get to make the decisions, but the people themselves have to take the blame.  Because you see it’s a ‘democracy’ and we can’t blame the elites for what has happened, oh heaven forbid…

And if I had a good solution for this I'd be king.  I would only say that pretty near any system can be made to work, sort of, if the elites have a sense of honor and duty to the nation as a whole.  And there is no system that cannot be corrupted if the elites care only for themselves.  Technical democracy is not a panacea and cannot substitute for a sense of honor and mutual patriotism amongst the citizens of a nation.