Friday, May 7, 2010

Failures of Democracy: Greece and Britain

It is amusing to see the ‘birthplace’ of democracy suffering the inevitable effects of untrammelled democracy, as Greek unions and citizens are riot in the streets against the effects of several decades of their own votes.

Socialism has a lot to answer for in the last century, and it would be fair to suggest that the economies that led the world a century ago but are in trouble now have suffered the effects of far too many socialist governments in the intervening period. (Note: I am in favour of certain small ‘s’ socialist ideals like universal medicine, but completely opposed to big ‘S’ Socialism that suggests that you should not only rely on the government, but that you are incapable of managing yourself without government supervision. “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you”, is not a joke by accident.)

Greece has spent most of the decades since the war with terrible governments buying their way into power by promising that the national credit card is unlimited. The result is one of the biggest and least effective government bureaucracies in the world, with a vast number of useless drones being paid to retire early after having achieved virtually nothing of real value. Meanwhile the average citizen has been showered with vastly overpriced and very poorly delivered social services, which would probably have achieved far more and cost only a fraction as much if the government had put them out to tender. On top of that a 14 month per annum pension (bonuses for Christmas and Easter) means that many retired people are being given more money than they were earning when they worked. Talk about a runaway train.

Thus the petrol bomb throwers are reaping the rewards of their own stupidity, but fortunately under a Socialist government that has long since convinced them that they bear no responsibility for their own decisions. (I hope that government is enjoying the fruits of their labours.) Once again the Roman adage of ‘bread and circuses’ being the only interests of the unwashed masses has been thoroughly demonstrated.

Of course the original version of democracy achieved almost equally stupid results without the input of the unwashed. Socrates was condemned to death by the democracy of the Polis, ie by the votes of the small percentage of the total population who were free male citizens.

Theoretically a democracy based on a small number of citizens with a similar mindset should be more stable than a democracy based on the great unwashed. To get the vote in an ancient Greek Polis you needed to be a free rich citizen who contributed to the three pillars of citizenship – farming, fighting and participation in politics – otherwise you were literally an ‘idiotes’. At the very least the fact that this boys club was of rich slave owners, with the same education and social obligations and from the same class, should have seen some commonality of purpose.

Socrates becoming a martyr to democracy , even to an aristocratic democracy, just goes to show that ‘a mob has an IQ equivalent to that of its dumbest member divided by the number of the crowd’, is also not a joke by accident. Democracy is inherently unstable. That is the nature of the human animal. Expanding the franchise to include the uneducated and illiterate and downright stupid does not improve that situation.

Which is not to say that democracy should not be part of a governmental system. The more complex the engine, the more necessary a safety valve is. Just don’t think that the entire engine can be designed around the device for letting off steam. Just because it makes a lot of noise, doesn’t mean it is actually more important than the moving parts.

The ideal government will include a democratic component, just as it will include a non democratic component based on special interests groups like those appointed to protect state rights (Senate), or appointed representatives of top minds (House of Lords), or any other special interest groups that work for your nation (Councils of Tribal Chiefs for instance). If you want the system to last, it will also include some hereditary component (perhaps along the lines of Malaysia’s choosing a prince form one of the 9 princely families), but that is another story.

The ideal government will not rely on domination by untrammelled democracy. Certainly not for long…

It might be fun to suggest that Britain probably had a far more stable government before the House of Lords lost its right to block supply in 1912. Certainly Australian examples show that the abandonment of the Upper House by Queensland because it was ‘undemocratic’ led to a long series of governmental disaster and gerrymander. More recently Gordon Brown was actually suggesting that it would be ‘superior’ to replace the group of brilliant minds appointed to the House of Lords from all the best people in science, industry, charity, arts, the union movement, etc, with another bunch of party hacks handpicked in smoke filled rooms by vested party interests. (I head Jon Faine on ABC radio today being quite excited about such ‘reform’.)

The British elections are going on as I write, and it is reported that up to 25% of votes are postal votes. Safeguards against rorting are practically non-existent. Corruption on a scale Mugabe could be proud of has already been demonstrated. Not that it necessarily counts all that much to the result. If all three major parties get exactly 33.3% of the vote, that will give Labour far more seats than the Conservatives, who will themselves have far more seats than the Lib-Dems. In fact Labour can win (as it did last time) with far less than half the votes. Hurray for democracy.

I think that if the GFC (global financial crisis for the uninitiated… how did we ever survive without TLA’s – Three Letter Acronym’s!) demonstrates anything, it is that the current fad for unfettered democracy is as obsolete as Aristocratic Hegemony, Divine Right of Kings, or Communism. Frankly unfettered democracy has failed far more spectacularly (and with far more casualties and victims), than any other system of government ever devised. The next stage of human government will no doubt contain elements of democracy, but will not pretend that a stable government can be built on democracy alone.

As a starting point, there will have to be a return to the understanding that a vote is a privilege, not a right. Certainly the idea that turning a magic age automatically gives you a say has to go. I personally like the idea that you have to demonstrate you put others above your own interest (national service or feeding the homeless) is a good start, but I see nothing wrong with a requirement to be a contributing taxpayer or some other version of weeding out those who are a danger to stability. The requirement should be achievable for anyone who wants it, but without the stupidity of requiring it from those who don’t value it (or understand it).

Secondly there will have to be a re-balancing of the parliamentary structures to return more power to vested interests… ie to those who make the world tick. I frankly find it ridiculous that we pretend that this is not how it works anyway. The fact that Washington contains 60+ lobbyists for each Congressman, and that their tax code has ‘exemptions’ for campaign contributors all the way down to individual businesses in various districts: just means that the democratic element of the system has been corrupted by the devaluing of the proper place for such influences. A special interest Senate or House of Lords, no matter how chosen, provides a protective stability to the system that counters the irrationality of the mob.

Thirdly there has to be a recognition that the party structure is not benign. In a genuine democracy people are supposed to vote for their local member, not for the charismatic twatt the party parades on the evening news as their ‘leader’. It is a bit rich for parties to complain that local members can’t change sides on the basis of their principles because they are supposed to be party lackeys. Pretending that the local member should not be responsive to their electorate is horrendous. Find a primary school definition of democracy people!

Finally, there must be a recognition that it is horses for courses. The same solution will not work in every culture. Imposing it just leads to dictatorship, repression, war and genocide. Give up the fantasy of the ideal. Liberal ideals, for all their values, are the foundation of big ‘S” Socialism. By now even the dumbest theorist should be working out where that inevitably leads.

Meanwhile lets hope that the European Union fails to survive the current crisis in anything like it’s current form. It is such a hopeless form of democracy that it is out of the control of its voters, and completely intent on achieving big 'S' socialism across the continent (possibly the world). Greece now is a harbinger of the EU to come. We can look forward to seeing rioters and petrol bombers outside the European parliament at some point in the future. (Not too distant if the German voters have their say on the Greek 'bailout'.) Self-righteousness has its own rewards. Hurray for 'democracy'.

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