Is Democracy Sick?
Please note: this blog post was featured in the Huffington Post on March 9, 2015.
Is democracy as practiced today dead or dying? Or does it need some form of tinkering or fixing?
I am watching a YouTube video. An enterprising young man is asking people off the street to sign a petition to place Karl Marx on the ballot for the next President of the United States. And he tells them it is to promote the communist ideology. And many people sign it.
I am reading the New York Times. The anti-austerity political party wins in Greece. Nice. And what if the EU refuses to give them any more loans? Or extend the loans? Then the country defaults on its loans. What happens next? Greece exits the Eurozone. Nice. What now?
What will Greece do and where will it get investments if it is not a reliable partner?
How did this political party win anyway?
Because it promised no more austerity. And people like that. Sure they do.
Democracy is based on the premise that all people are equal and all have the right to vote and whoever gets the most votes wins.
But what happens if the politicians, in order to get elected, make promises which are disastrous for the country, but too complicated for the average man or woman to understand?
Or what happens if personal interests run counter to national interests… like austerity programs? Or government employment surges beyond all viable economic boundaries?
What is usually needed at that point is for the government to cut its expenses and fire say 30 percent of the bureaucrats. But those government employees vote. And they will not vote for anyone who even hints that he will take that step. They will vote for the candidate who promises to keep them employed no matter what.
What I am saying here is that a) not all people understand what they are voting for and b) when they do understand, they tend to vote for what seems to be good for them and not necessarily what is good for the nation in the long run. And if there are a lot of such voters, like a big union such as the government union in Brazil, the country can get into economic or political trouble. Eventually there is often no way out.
Because what is needed to get out of that political trap is a government that can act. Government leaders who are able to enact a policy that can bring the nation back to some form of economic viability. But will they be elected by the self-interested or ignorant voters.
Does democracy work anymore?
It was designed initially in Athens. It has roots in the New England Town Meetings. Today the world is far more complex than it was in Athens, and the system is far too large in comparison to the New England colonial meeting halls.
Maybe it is time to reengineer the system. Otherwise we will be witnessing the continuous deterioration of political leadership until a crisis emerges and calls for major, disruptive corrective action.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes