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How is democracy doing?
March 27, 2012 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Are Western states true democracies? Has democracy become a casualty of the financial crisis? Can you have too much democracy? -- The Browser's best articles on democracy from the last 12 months.
posted by Philosopher's Beard (30 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
We know that our democracies were designed to be subverted, but democracy does complicate this subversive process, which we've periodically improved upon. And balancing this difficulty with a sense of propriety led to considerable prosperity.

There are however 'sociopathic' behaviors that learn to subvert any government structure progressively more and more effectively, especially absent any sense of propriety. An example this weak is the TSA keeping Bruce Schneier from testifying against them.

We must now improve our democracy by implementing techniques like increased transparency, ranked voting systems, deliberative democracy, and modern sortition/demarchy systems, i.e. a more public debate form and jury trials for legislation.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:40 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Democracy? They used to say that you couldn't really have free Capitalism without authentic Democracy, but now that China has proven otherwise, Western Democratic leaders are taking notes and following the examples...
posted by ovvl at 4:48 PM on March 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


I would say 1) No, but you need to define your terms, 2) No, but the question is founded on a flawed premise, and 3) Yes, depending on who 'you' is and what manner of state you are trying to create.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:51 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


The United States is clearly an Oligarchy.
posted by Flood at 5:07 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dunno guys, you're not impressing me enough with your cynicism. You need to really start putting out some Chomsky-style statements like "Democracy is a fraud" to really qualify for Metafilter level of discourse.
posted by happyroach at 5:34 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, the US is an oligarchy. Damn those overlords not letting me vote or run for office!

But I've been thinking of this lately too. Democracy is going to have to phase-shift a little in today's more connected, universal world. The quaint notion of national representation based solely on the political leanings of a majority of your geographic neighbors is a little played out, especially with gerrymandering undermining even what little cohesiveness an area might have. I've been trying to noodle out how this would work, but I can't figure it out.

Also, I'm sick of Bruce Schneier. I'm not sure why we care what he says any more than any one else.
posted by gjc at 5:39 PM on March 27, 2012


vote or run for office!

Good luck with that.

So where does the military fit into our current version of democracy? I wonder what our founding fathers though about standing armies and how they interact with democratic institutions?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:52 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


>Damn those overlords not letting me vote or run for office!

You're welcome to throw your hat in the ring along with the folks who have a hundred million dollars to buy television advertising.

Heavy-handed repression is just redundant and counterproductive; once you've got the table rigged, you might as well let everybody play.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:19 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Run for Office. LOL.
What office do you want me to run for - county water-board?

The path to any elected office with real power has only doors -
use the well-oiled politcal machine on the right - or the one on the left -
and they are both wholly-owned subsidiaries of corporate America.

I bet when I post comments saying vote 3rd party -
you are one of the people who consistently advises supporting the existing system.
posted by Flood at 6:31 PM on March 27, 2012


Run for Office. LOL.
What office do you want me to run for - county water-board?


Yeah, if that's what it takes. That's where many politicians start. What's wrong with working your way up?

I bet when I post comments saying vote 3rd party -
you are one of the people who consistently advises supporting the existing system.


Generally, yes. Because third party candidates don't generally have a winnable message. If you just want your voice heard, vote for the third party candidate and know that you are among the 2.3% that also voted for that person. But if you want your vote to count for something, you have to choose from among the viable candidates. Only a generation ago, Ross Perot did a pretty good job of getting votes as a third party candidate. If some idiot like Palin or Trump decides to run in this election as a third party candidate, they would also get plenty of votes. Three years ago a first term Senator nobody who won that election practically by default swept through the primaries and won the presidency. As a black guy, in the US. He didn't get there because the party bosses of the Democratic party anointed him, he got it because the people anointed him. Because he had a good message.
posted by gjc at 7:03 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


gjc the problem is systemic and no one person can fix that, let alone a group of bought and paid for hacks. Who by the way are paid for by the oligarchs mentioned above. Good luck winning an election to a political office of any substance without getting the backing of one or more of these oligarchs.

Either way neither a third party candidate nor Obama can do much to unclench the strangle hold the military has on our finances and FUBAR foreign policy.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:33 PM on March 27, 2012


also see daron acemoglu on 'political inequality' cf. francis fukuyama on acemoglu & robinson

as a 'private wealth manager' puts it: "Most of those in the bottom half of the top 1% lack power and global flexibility and are essentially well-compensated workhorses for the top 0.5%, just like the bottom 99%. In my view, the American dream of striking it rich is merely a well-marketed fantasy that keeps the bottom 99.5% hoping for better and prevents social and political instability."

or as seanmpuckett sez: "As far as I can tell, the US isn't so much a modern civilization created "by the people, for the people" as what one might term a Bandit Engine: a complex financial device with numerous hierarchical layers that is cunningly designed to extract the maximum amount of negotiable capital possible from its citizenry by fucking them every way possible using the barest minimum amount of lube necessary to render open revolt unlikely."
posted by kliuless at 7:56 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the United States, we've never been a democracy. A republic, sure, but never a democracy. You think getting shit done is tough now? Imagine if you had to ask EVERYONE before you did ANYTHING?
posted by ZaneJ. at 8:04 PM on March 27, 2012


Capitalism and democracy had a brief fling in the 50s but they mutually decided to break it off before things got too serious.
posted by mek at 8:07 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought we were an autonomous collective.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:32 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Birth (and Death) of the Moral Age of Wall Street
But a look at history - at the history of Goldman, in particular - shows that there was another time when Wall Street's perceived lack of immorality was threatening to spin the industry into chaos, and there was a man who tried to codify what it meant to behave honorably in finance.

The man was John Whitehead, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, who spearheaded the firm's business principles back in the 1950s after a years-long government investigation of collusion threatened to destroy investors' faith in Goldman and other banks. The business principles, which are recited like catechism and which Greg Smith kept at his desk, are here.

What's more interesting is how and why Whitehead created them - his ideas and his state of mind, the perspective that would cause him to want to impose some kind of moral order on the unchecked pursuit of profit.
more on capitalism and democracy...
-After the Robin Hood tax [1,2]
-Trickle-down consumption
-Brave New Math

oh and here's steven rattner btw: "Just as the causes of the growing inequality are becoming better known, so have the contours of solving the problem: better education and training, a fairer tax system, more aid programs for the disadvantaged to encourage the social mobility needed for them escape the bottom rung, and so on."

and speaking of the 'truth machine' cf. Time machines, robots and silicon gods
"If all data was clear, a lot fewer people would subtract value from the world," he says. "A lot more people would add value."

...Factual's plan, outlined in a big orange room with a few tables and walled with whiteboards, is to build the world's chief reference point for thousands of interconnected supercomputing clouds. The digital world is expected to hold a collective 2.7 zettabytes of data by year-end, an amount roughly equivalent to 700 billion DVDs. Factual, which now has 50 employees, could prove immensely valuable as this world grows and these databases begin to interact.
posted by kliuless at 9:06 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Only a generation ago, Ross Perot did a pretty good job of getting votes as a third party candidate.
Once a generation doesn't really qualify as a viable third option. Other Western nations have more than two parties, and those parties have actual shots at getting seats. As an example, see the different Green parties that have risen in Europe since the 1980s. I.e. the German Alliance '90/The Greens won in the 2009 election 68 out of 622 seats in the Bundestag.

Hell, even The Pirate Party has representation in the European Parliament.
posted by Harald74 at 12:38 AM on March 28, 2012


As an example, see the different Green parties that have risen in Europe since the 1980s.

I actually came in to mention The Pirate Party, but I see in your next paragraph you beat me to it.

Recently, they won big in the German state of Saarland.

It's just amazing and inspiring thinking about that. There's no doubt we have the political will in the US for a Pirate kind of Party. We've got the EFF, the ACLU, tons of technologically-minded entrepreneurs and passionate young citizens who believe in reform.

But it won't happen here without electoral reform. I understand Ross Perot as the example, but it's also such a depressing example.
posted by formless at 1:01 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Electoral reform does seem to hold the key to many changes in the US, but from my outsider's perspective, it seems really unlikely to happen. Too many actors who have interests in the status quo. Am I wrong?
posted by Harald74 at 1:22 AM on March 28, 2012


I think you will find that the only countries that have viable third party options in elections are countries that do NOT use the First-Past-The-Post voting system.

FPTP is just bullshit and clearly (IMHO) provides direct support for maintaining the status quo. Germany uses a Proportional Representation and I beleive this is why other parties are able to gain an foothold in politics. its Just not possible with a FPTP system without damaging the chances of your "Second Choice".
posted by mary8nne at 3:23 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


You don't think Obama was anointed by the party bosses?
I guess you didnt watch the 2004 Democratic National convention.
posted by Flood at 4:33 AM on March 28, 2012


Flood,

As mary8anne explains, the problem with voting third-party in the US is structural. Systems like ours, with our "first past the post", single-member district structure tend to produce a two-party system as described by Duverger's Law. This is what third-party people often seem to miss: it isn't that people just need to change their minds and stop thinking in tribal terms or whatever the usual BS is. It's that voting for the two major parties is the only logical course of action under our system.

So yes, the best advice if you want change is to work within the current system. This is because to affect the kind of electoral reform we'd need (implementing mixed-member proportional representation being among them) would require Constitutional amendments and change on a scale that is currently politically impossible.

Instead, you should try to steer one of the existing parties towards your goals. Look at what the Tea Party has managed to accomplish in terms of altering Republican politics. If, say, the Paul people could turn their energy and money to capturing the Republican party machinery from the ground up, they could much more effectively implement the change they want than their pointless crusade for Paul every four years. Start local and small. Get people in the county/city party organizations. Vote in every primary. Work hard to be on the committees that decide who gets to run and who gets backing. Focus national support on areas that have concentrations of Paul supporters to amplify their power instead of disparate groups of supporters spread across the country. Etc. This won't yield change immediately, but it's the best way to do things with the system we have now.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:27 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If a system is structurally flawed would it not make more sense to work towards changing the structure of the system rather than trying to work within the structure of the currently flawed system?

Of course we can argue about whether our current system is structurally flawed, but in my opinion a system in which the only two choices both lead to more endless war and more usurpation of liberty is by definition flawed.

Again the elephant in the room is still the military and its sway over our civilian government.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2012


If a system is structurally flawed would it not make more sense to work towards changing the structure of the system rather than trying to work within the structure of the currently flawed system?

No, the best approach would be the short-term route I suggested with a longer-term goal of changing the system. As I said, altering the current system right now won't happen. There is no support for a Constitutional amendment. Thinking otherwise is pure fantasy. You should aim to achieve what you can in the short term by working within the system, while perhaps trying to over the long term build support for a fundamental change in the system. But that won't happen for a long, long time.

Again the elephant in the room is still the military and its sway over our civilian government.

You've said this twice now, but I'm not sure what you mean. What sway does the military have over the civilian government (as opposed to, say, powerful corporations that are military contractors)? The military has very little sway over civilian government in the US. I'd be interested in learning what you mean by this and what evidence you have.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:55 PM on March 28, 2012


Sangermaine:

I could not disagree more. And, I very much support first-past-the-post voting. And, I understand that FPTP voting means a two party system.

Yet, I still say - vote 3rd party! Why?

Because, if a 3rd Party takes root - one of the two existing parties will collapse, and the remaining party will have to alter course.

The US has not had the same two parties since its creation - yet, we have always had only two major parties at anyone time. Do you know the history of when new parties have emerged? That is what we need. That is the moment of the greatest systemic change.

Both parties are chock full to prostitute politicians - yet, your idea for stopping the prostitution is to work with the prostitutes. Come on. That will not work. The two parties that exist will NOT be the cause of reform.

One of the two existing parties must die - and a new party must emerge. Then we will have change.

Until that time, the oligarchs will rule.
posted by Flood at 4:14 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Proportional Representation verses First Past the Post was a referendum question in Ontario's 2007 election.

The design strategy for the Ontario's information project on this was atrociously awful. There was a really odd advertising campaign which featured a stunned teenager whose face was a rictus of confusion, and if you followed the instructions given, you were led to a convoluted website that you could click on, which eventually had a rather vaguely flat description of the differences between Proportional Representation and First Past The Post...

Media Pundits at the time were divided between:

"I've studied the issues, and after careful deliberation, I like it."
and:
"I havenn't studied it, & I donn't understand it, && therfore Ii hhate itt!!!... um, go Leafs!".

So...
posted by ovvl at 5:34 PM on March 28, 2012


So... t'was around the Reagan Era when I started to feel that elitist disdain for those tawdry masses' crude tastes in elected officials... t'is a shame I couldn't share in the elitist opulent lifestyle, but hey...
posted by ovvl at 5:45 PM on March 28, 2012


The military has very little sway over civilian government in the US. I'd be interested in learning what you mean by this and what evidence you have.

Are you serious? Have you seen the military budget lately? Have you not noticed that we are incrementally militarizing our police forces and also incrementally expanding the military's role in internal policing? It's not like I am the first person to suggest this. Have you ever heard of Samuel Huntington? Have you ever read a book about civil-military relations? I'm guessing not. Did you even read the federalist 41 that I linked above? Since you seem to be in the dark about a great many things I guess I should point you in the right direction. Here's some reading for you:

American coup d'etat: Military thinkers discuss the unthinkable

Civilian Control and the Constitution

Soldiers, States, and Structures: The End of the Cold War and Weakening U.S. Civilian Control(paywall)

Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators

Civilian Control? Surely, You Jest
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:58 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


What sway does the military have over the civilian government (as opposed to, say, powerful corporations that are military contractors)?

Outspending the rest of the world: In Europe, it's social protection. In the US, it's the military.

The Polite Conference Rooms Where Liberties Are Saved and Lost

also btw Google Adds (Even More) Links to the Pentagon - "But in the halls of the Pentagon and America's intelligence agencies, Google casts a relatively small shadow, at least compared to those of big defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Northrop Grumman, and SAIC." cf. Darpa Backed Director's Bomb Detector, Despite Failed Tests, viz. Regina Dugan
posted by kliuless at 9:00 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Robert Reich on Saving Capitalism and Democracy

also btw, on a more theoretical (if no less relevant) note...
Evolution and self-transcendence [cf. Inclusive Fitness Theory from Darwin to Hamilton, viz. The originality of the species & Amartya Sen and Elinor Ostrom - A discussion on Global Justice (1,2)]
posted by kliuless at 10:23 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


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