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Democracy, Kleptocracy or Oligarchy?
February 28, 2014 8:46 AM   Subscribe

What’s gone wrong with Democracy? It was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it? Excellent Essay of the Economist.
posted by homodigitalis (115 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Politicians
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:49 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


Mole Men from the center of the Earth, they have slowly replaced our political leaders.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:54 AM on February 28 [7 favorites]


[insert obligatory pitch for libertarian socialism here]
posted by cthuljew at 8:54 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


Hate to jump in too soon, but the wealthy decrying the poor "entitled class" while getting billions in tax breaks and industry subsidies surely has nothing to do with the situation.
posted by glaucon at 8:55 AM on February 28 [43 favorites]


"...of the 20th century"?

Democracy as an idea goes back to Athens before the Roman conquest. And of course, the US started using it in the 18th century.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:01 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


The notion that "all men are created equal" is preposterous - we all know some are more equal than others.
posted by casarkos at 9:02 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


They aren't saying it was invented in the 20th century, just that it was the political model of choice in the 20th century. Like saying "black was the color of the 2000s" doesn't mean it wasn't used before then.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:03 AM on February 28 [7 favorites]


...doesn't mean it wasn't used before then.

In fact, it was one of only two colors before the 20th Century.
posted by cthuljew at 9:05 AM on February 28 [14 favorites]


Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress.

Yeah, no. At least not entirely.

I haven't read the entire thing, which I will go do now -- but it should be interesting to see how the Economist absolves neoliberal economics. I see the article (so far) mentions the Washington consensus once, and then only to boggle at how anyone could reject it.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:05 AM on February 28


Modern Democracy is a Development of the 20th Century: Vote for Women as well as the Idea of the Century of the Common Man so eloquently expressed by Henry Wallace, social System adapted by all Western Nations, universal Human Rights ...
posted by homodigitalis at 9:07 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I would feel better about this article if The Economist hadn't been such a cheerleader for the "liberalization" of the post-soviet economies after 1991.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:07 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


The two main reasons are the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the rise of China. The damage the crisis did was psychological as well as financial. It revealed fundamental weaknesses in the West’s political systems, undermining the self-confidence that had been one of their great assets. Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop, and politicians came to believe that they had abolished boom-bust cycles and tamed risk.

The Economist is just gonna throw that out there like unquestioned truth, I guess.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:08 AM on February 28 [53 favorites]


I blame the star-bellied sneetches.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:09 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


I blame the Romulans.
posted by The Riker Who Mounts the World at 9:12 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I agree that China has definitely had enough success that people are starting to sit up and take note that democracy is the only viable way to make a vibrant economy. (and as the article suggests, that's more important to most people than government) But that's looking at things as they are right now. If you were to bet on a country's economy growth going forward, I don't think you'd be as bullish on China as you would have been 10-20 years ago. It seems like they've gotten a lot of low-hanging fruit, but they have major problems ahead of themselves.

China has done some impressive things- the one child policy was a bit barbaric by our standards, but it was a solution that has actually been fairly successful in its goals and would have absolutely never worked in a democracy. How they tackle the next 30 years will be interesting. As of course, how the US and EU handle the next 30 years will be as well. Because obviously, both these models "work" reasonably well- but they are each adapted to solve certain problems and less well-equipped to handle others. Which class of problem is going to come next?
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:13 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


What went wrong with it? Two words: human beings.
posted by prepmonkey at 9:17 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I blame the Romulans.

I would have thought you'd blame it on "Tom", like you do everything else. Very convenient, that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:17 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


What went wrong with it? Two words: human beings

Oh ok that helps explain it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:19 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


Greed
posted by chuckiebtoo at 9:24 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


jason_steakums: "Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop, and politicians came to believe that they had abolished boom-bust cycles and tamed risk.

The Economist is just gonna throw that out there like unquestioned truth, I guess.
"


From the Graun:

It turns out that benefits street is populated by rich people.
Wealthy private landlords are being exposed as the new face of the benefits scrounger taking Britain for a ride,
notably Tory politician, Richard Benyon MP, with a personal wealth of £110m, [who] is bringing in pocket money of £626,000 per year in housing benefit.
posted by Jakey at 9:26 AM on February 28 [13 favorites]


With the post-crisis stimulus winding down, politicians must now confront the difficult trade-offs they avoided during years of steady growth and easy credit. But persuading voters to adapt to a new age of austerity will not prove popular at the ballot box.

And another lovely little unquestioned aside. Entitlements are the problem! Austerity is the only solution!
posted by jason_steakums at 9:32 AM on February 28 [18 favorites]


Why is democracy broken? Simple, the mechanism by which we choose our representatives has been captured by a very effective political duopoly, as a result of first past the post, regional elections. (See CGP Grey's excellent explanation.)

The result of this duopoly is a choice between gives a very limited vocabulary for changing our politics. We get a choice in the USA between: "smaller government for rich people, Christianity, and bigger guns" and "bigger government for everyone, less Christianity, and slightly smaller, bigger guns" (SMBC). If I want to articulate a more nuanced position, there is no hope. Who would I vote for to make the internet regulated like a utility?

The culture wars in the United States have been a great boon for the political class. With moral issues deciding elections, are powerless to stop other issues. Even if voters were educated, they would not change their vote as: a) the other politician would not share their moral views and b) there is no guarantee the new politician would fix the issue.

If we are to look at a new formulation of democracy, we need to change the way the people's will exerts force on the government. Voting schemes like the Alternate Vote might help, but we still end up with one representative per regional district, limiting the vocabulary for very heterogeneous districts.

Why not remove districts and elect representatives at large? Why not endow them with as many votes in congress as they received in the general election. What if readers of the Blue effectively had a representative through this process? What about hackers as well? Stoners? Christians? You might worry nothing would get done because of all the small parties. But is the current version so great?

All I really want is to be able to cast a ballot for people I want and have that vote influence legislation. When I read about my representative, I want to agree with what he or she is voting for.

(Unlike now, where becoming informed simply makes me depressed and less likely to read more about the political process. I would hazard to guess this is why most American's don't know who their representatives are. Plus, its not like when you read about your alternative, you like them either.)
posted by eigenman at 9:33 AM on February 28 [13 favorites]


Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop

Dangerous levels of debt couldn't have anything to do with massive military budgets could it? Oh no... itz the poor peeps.


If we want better democracy we need better education, and massive social investments. Pretty much exactly what 60% of the country doesn't want. We blame politicians, but that is a cop out in democracy because the leaders come from the people, so to blame politicians means ultimately we should take the blame on ourselves
posted by edgeways at 9:36 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


But that's the whole point of the article, jason. The world needs austerity (just ignore the evidence that it doesn't, well, work), but that pesky democracy keeps stopping us from implementing it. So the problem must be democracy (and not our continued insistence on policies that don't work and hurt people.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:37 AM on February 28 [16 favorites]


The US system is arguably not designed to give voice to normal citizens. As Yanis Varoufakis has written:
Candour demands that even the most enthusiastic apologists of contemporary Western democracies admit that the latter come much closer to Aristotle’s definition of oligarchy than to his depiction of democracy. There simply is not, at least according to Aristotle, enough Demos in our Democracy today. Put differently, even though Socrates would not have been poisoned by the British or French Parliaments for smuggling subversive ideas into the mind of the young (protected, thankfully, by an impressive panoply of juridical authority), our electorates (‘We, the People’ in the language of the American Constitution) exercise no power over daily life which might be comparable to that of Athenian citizens. Moreover, there is a deep sense in which the power actually exercised (by both citizens and their elected representatives) has been declining steadily with every twist and turn of our recent political history.

Is it any great wonder that we are increasingly unwilling to put our energies into the political process? Is it surprising that a democratic process less redolent of a ruling Demos than of unaccountable oligarchy is ripe for neglect in the icy hands of apathy?
Link
For all the Tea Party yelling about "taking our country back" the fact is, that it wasn't really ours to begin with. Mostly because the public saints of US history -- Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington -- set it up that way. From the beginning.
posted by wuwei at 9:38 AM on February 28 [12 favorites]


[insert obligatory pitch for libertarian socialism here]

That unworkable system is not immune to human nature, sorry. People want one answer and stop thinking even the ones who pretend to believe in evolution and progress.

Would love a system that actually took human nature into consideration rather than ignore it or go against it. Democracy had a very good sell and a promise that it could not exactly deliver for the simple reason life is constant work and struggles and though that is not a bad thing, but if too many people have too high of an expectation and they fall short, they look to change the system rather than themselves.

Successful people can survive and flourish under ANY system, even oppressive ones because they have their own system and don't look to someone else to do it for them.

When you get enough people to get the idea that life is short, takes work and is your responsibility alone, then everything else gets moving in the right direction -- but I am really sick of sophistry-loving control freak meddlers imposing their untested hypotheses on everyone else as if they had a clue...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:39 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


LOL "is your responsibility alone."
posted by wuwei at 9:40 AM on February 28 [7 favorites]


Democracy failed because of lazy people. Got it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:44 AM on February 28


But that's the whole point of the article, jason. The world needs austerity (just ignore the evidence that it doesn't, well, work), but that pesky democracy keeps stopping us from implementing it. So the problem must be democracy (and not our continued insistence on policies that don't work and hurt people.)

This is something that drives me nuts with a lot of bigger publications like The Economist - those little unquestioned policy-pushing lines in their articles, that seem casually tossed off like throwaways, are lent this weight of truth because of the publication's clout and prestige (I mean, it's called The Economist, right? Obviously they're eggheaded policy wonks who know what they're talking about.) and I'm more and more convinced that a lot of these large articles are simply padding to slip those little asides into the national conversation unquestioned.

It feels like you're reading some journal paper on physics and the author just throws out a line like "...but of course, these observations only hold up when there are no wizards afoot." without blinking and never mentions it again.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:46 AM on February 28 [26 favorites]


In any decent democratic society, the author of that craven little piece of banker appeasement would be taken out and shot.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:47 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


"...of the 20th century"?

Democracy as an idea goes back to Athens before the Roman conquest. And of course, the US started using it in the 18th century.


yeah, how does this dumbass "Economist" not know this basic historical fact

wait, there was a second world war

you're blowing my mind here, man
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:50 AM on February 28


Pension systems killed democracy.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:51 AM on February 28


"Austerity" is a fun little word for "if poor people pay for it then I won't have to."
posted by Navelgazer at 9:53 AM on February 28 [28 favorites]


Sustainable democracy is negatively correlated with high levels of income inequality. Also with protracted war. So here we are.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:54 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


Now seems like a perfect time to recommend Mark Blyth's Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:56 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Actually, I'd say skepticism about Democracy has been common among the wiring classes for decades. I have hearing for thirty years the old saw "Democracies don't survive once the hoi polloi realize they can vote themselves money". In the circles I hang around with there's also a truly bizarre nostalgia for monarchy and empires.
posted by happyroach at 9:57 AM on February 28


Pension systems killed democracy.

I can't tell if you're making fun of the article or merely trying your hand at this whole "asserting truth as if that's all there is to it" thing.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:01 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I have hearing for thirty years the old saw "Democracies don't survive once the hoi polloi realize they can vote themselves money".

Tax the rich and feed the poor,
til the poor can eat a little,
I oppose this pretty strongly,
I'm a good and moral person
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:04 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


It feels like this should be two articles, because "what's going wrong in established democracies" and "what's going wrong in fledgling democracies built out of grassroots protests and held together with duct tape and hope" are very, very different topics.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:04 AM on February 28 [10 favorites]


What killed democracy?

Lack of education. Why else do you think conservatives around the world systematically dismantle school systems and scientific funding?

Low-information voters go for feel-good sound bites. Democracy is hard and it requires thinking.

All this blather about the economy is completely irrelevant: teach people to think and interact with reality. Which is exactly what the conservatives don't want.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:05 AM on February 28 [23 favorites]


Monarchists? Yikes. Happyroach, maybe you need to find some new circles? Regarding the federal government going bankrupt
The US can never be forced to default on debt denominated in its own currency. One might reasonably ask, even if the above is true, won’t an increasing debt level leave us in danger of national default? No, it will never do so as long as the debt is in a money we are permitted to issue. This should be the least controversial statement one can make about the debt, yet I often find that it is the most!
Link
Then, if your monarchist...friends... are hyperventilating about deficit spending and inflation:
3. Deficit spending is not inherently inflationary. Another common worry that issuing more currency to finance deficit spending (which is basically what we do, though in a roundabout manner) could be inflationary. This is true, it could be. But the circumstances under which that would occur are also those where we have the least incentive to deficit spend, i.e., at very low levels of unemployment. Only during WWII have we done this. For three consecutive years during the war, joblessness was below 2%, and yet we continued to run huge deficits to finance the war effort. Did this drive prices higher? Absolutely, and it was only because of wage and price controls and rationing that it was not worse. Running such large deficits was clearly ill-advised from an economic standpoint because it raised demand when supply could not go any higher; but our goal was political and so we saw this as a necessary evil.
Linked article comes from that known hive of scum and communism, Forbes Magazine.
posted by wuwei at 10:06 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


jason_steakums: That's sort of their stock in trade, which is what makes The Economist tricky to read. You have to remember that this is a periodical that argued against a public sewer system in London back in the mid- 19th century.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:08 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


Successful people can survive and flourish under ANY system, even oppressive ones because they have their own system and don't look to someone else to do it for them... I am really sick of sophistry-loving control freak meddlers imposing their untested hypotheses on everyone else as if they had a clue...

I can only assume that you live in an enormous underwater Art Deco city of your own design, replete with scientific wonders beyond our wildest dreams. I only ask that you stop cutting into those undersea cables just to post on Metafilter.
posted by Behemoth at 10:08 AM on February 28 [21 favorites]


These checks and balances were motivated by fear of tyranny. But today, particularly in the West, the big dangers to democracy are harder to spot. One is the growing size of the state. The relentless expansion of government is reducing liberty and handing ever more power to special interests.

Hat trick!
posted by jason_steakums at 10:08 AM on February 28 [7 favorites]


Low-information voters go for feel-good sound bites. Democracy is hard and it requires thinking.

Since you are the enlightened one with tons of information, do you have any evidence to support this claim?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:09 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Democracy as an idea goes back to Athens before the Roman conquest. And of course, the US started using it in the 18th century.

Yes, true. But, I think the reason The Economist is calling it "the most successful political idea of the 20th century" is due to it's rapid spread after World War II. And it was also helped along during this time by decolonization and the Cold War.
posted by FJT at 10:10 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Since you are the enlightened one with tons of information, do you have any evidence to support this claim?

History?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:14 AM on February 28


Helluva argument you got there.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:16 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Don't be obtuse. Are you actually trying to argue that democracy isn't difficult, and doesn't require thinking about and engaging with reality?

Are you actually trying to argue that low-information voters don't go for fuzzy feelgood soundbites? Remind me again how many people voted for McCain and Romney?

Seriously, if that's what you're saying, you need to sit down and think for a while.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:19 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


This article sounds more like a Trojan horse trying to sneak militant ideologies through the gates of reason.
posted by anonymisc at 10:22 AM on February 28 [8 favorites]


I'm sorry, but this article is utterly moronic. It gets lots of basic facts wrong and expresses analyses that are fundamentally flawed. This is because it substitutes arbitrary opinion for any real, let alone well-informed engagement with history.

As a few people have pointed out already, the claim that "Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century" is, at best, grossly ahistorical and at worst just obfuscatory. Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 18th century: up until then, states tended to be dominated by aristocracies and royalty, and democracy was genuinely revolutionary. There was no meaningful precedent then for the very idea that explicit domination of everyone by hereditary power-holders was not the only way society could be organized. It was a real sea change whose effects continue to be contested and felt, and it's really delusional to elide this so utterly.

Perhaps more importantly, though, "democracy" is perhaps not even a useful descriptor of states. I'd say, following John Markoff, that it's much more useful to think of democracy as a teleological goal of social actors, an action orientation or a justification, than a characteristic which inheres in states or regimes. Since the American and French revolutions, democracy has been a cause to rally around rather than an outcome which is achieved or not. This helps to explain why defining and conclusively locating true or pure democracy never seems to work out.

Further, I would say that democracy is qualitatively distinct and incomparable with kleptocracy or even oligarchy. It's useful to compare democracy to aristocracy or feudalism because the explicit allocation of power in those systems is incompatible.

On a more radical note, I would be willing to argue that democracy is never fully realized because it's inherently antithetical to states and institutional power themselves: democracy is really anti-politics. The only way for democracy to be an unambiguously accurate characterization of a political regime is for people to really rule themselves, and the only way for that to attain is for power in the traditional sense to disappear, because power means the ability to determine outcomes over the wishes of others. So if you want to use democracy to describe states or regimes rather than process or goal, it can only be instantiated in an anarchic context.
posted by clockzero at 10:22 AM on February 28 [10 favorites]


Occasionally I think Libertarian Fascism is the way to go.

No, I'm not being facetious (well, not totally, at least). I think there has to be some way to combine Fascism (the idea of multiple units of social organization, a sort of collectivist vision) with Libertarianism. I mean this in the same way that Libertarian Socialism (as mentioned upthread) exists. I have seen a couple mentions online to the idea, but nothing fully fleshed out.

I don't know if "Class War" is the answer. In my heart, I'm a socialist, I think Marx has a lot of insight, but I don't know how we can push anything socialist in this current state.

A friend of mine thinks we need to let Capital go global and fully dominate the entire planet, let it all be free-market capitalism, and then the Marxist Revolution will inevitably occur (as the inevitable Hegelian process of synthesis happens). He thinks all these revolutions calling themselves Marxists were premature. Certainly, if you follow that the "successful" "Communist" revolutions were in feudal societies of some sort, and not fully developed capitalist countries, then perhaps my friend is right.

I do doubt democracy. I don't know the answer. Well, certainly the current form of Representative Democracy is broken. I don't know if it's merely our voting system, or the actual structure of government (division between national/regional sections and representation upstream), the influence of money (which is obviously a huge factor, but not the only one, I think)... I mean, absolute 100% public funding is really the way to go.

But how would you guarantee there is no astroturfing paid by a shit ton of corps to help the poor spread bullshit lines in forums everywhere to push their message? I think this is the hardest thing, verification that there is no political message or spending outside of the official channels, and that's why they say "money=speech" because it's less about the principle and more about the reality of enforcing such a thing and confirming whether an opinion is merely a legitimate opinion of some schmuck on the internet (flawed as that opinion may be) or a paid for opinion piece from Koch Industries.

The fact is, our current system is built upon a foundation of Mercantilist quasi-feudalism with an ideology that still goes back to the days of feudal societies. Yes, Mercantilism and Capitalism certainly devolved power, but the limit there has been to let those who benefitied to attempt to keep their fiefdoms in check. So far, we've been good at breaking down those barriers... The Progressives are happy and believe that means Democracy is good and right, because, hey, people can vote, but forgetting that these other institutions need to be dealt with, and ultimately, the foundation is rotten. We are still a feudalistic society, based upon Rentier Capitalism... We still carry the contradictions of Feudalism into the modern Technological Capitalist stage of history (vs the Industrial phase which we've offshored).

Just like Capitalism isn't a mere natural state of economics and trade, neither is Democracy a natural state of voting. There is an underlying architecture to these things, and in this architecture are implicit (at the very least) assumptions regarding the very definition of Democracy itself, which excludes other forms of being considered Democracy.

Bourgeois Liberal Democracy is predicated upon self-interest, and an atomistic, individualistic principle of "Every Man a King", while the reality is quite different. Some kingdoms have a lot more wealth than other kingdoms, and they've used that wealth to sustain systemic control over other lesser lords, a fealty is demanded.

The alternatives that seem popular is merely more of the same feudalistic concepts (as espoused in modern American Libertarianism), more kingship... Without ever asking what it means to BE a King (and in our more enlightened era: a Queen).

Does the answer come from mere evolution within the system? Chipping away from the outside? At the edges? Does it come from partaking in it? Refusal to participate? Building alternatives below the radar?

We talk about the National Security State in other threads... At some point if any potential alternative rises up, we end up dealing with the same problems anywhere else, the National Security State will do what it must to maintain its hegemony over the populace using whatever means necessary: Propaganda, Education, Laws, Policing, Military.

We build up national myths surrounding our forms of government, and competing ideologies struggle within this form, some more restrictive of more direct forms of democracy and some less restrictive. Many times people are inconsistent in their approach to democracy: They love it when it works for them, but love to restrict their opponents when they can.

Democracy is a framework that is set, not in stone, but by its foundation in history, by evolving social mores, by the media and educational landscape of the populace inside of it.

Democracy is a field of battle, fought by humans, who have particular visions of the world embedded in them via historical constructs of social information sharing, of which, institutional information is part. Democracy is a form of institutionalism as are all socio-political forms of organization. If you cannot step outside the particular institution to critique it, and accept it as a sort of "invisible hand" a "natural state" and accept the implicit assumptions of its architecture, you will be forever enslaved by these assumptions.
posted by symbioid at 10:22 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


I think a problem we are having is the equating democracy and capitalism as being inexorably linked. Capitalism has always needed low wage/no wage members to thrive, slavery to migrant workers. It may have been a driving force in many improvements but capitalism also needs a heavy regulating hand, which well might mean some innovation gets slowed down, and that is not a horrible thing as I think economic sustainability and greater equity is more important than balls-to-the-wall fast change and adaptation. We innovate faster than we can adapt currently so now we are faced with great calamities because of past innovation which means we continue to look for technological solutions to basic human behavior issues.

So, in my mind, if there is a problem with democracy it lies with it's current marriage to poorly regulated capitalism, the expectation that the freedoms inherent in a democracy must apply carte blanche to economic associations leads us to a system that economic association becomes a paramount driving force in all walks of life. Elections are measured by money raised, family and personal worth is economic, heath care access is based on economics, quality of higher education is economic, general health is economic and under a poorly regulated capitalist system that means very undemocratic inequities occur.
Whether this is greater or less than other systems is hard to measure. Communism suffered greatly from it's founding leaders and from having to immediately pour all it's resources into militarization, which is not saying it would have been a great system under different circumstances... but that it had the potential to be so and we'll never know.
posted by edgeways at 10:27 AM on February 28 [23 favorites]


Some of our most economically powerful elites lost faith in Democracy and started romanticizing monarchism/authoritarianism/feudalism. That's all. And yes, there are actual monarchists out there now, as well as neo-confederates, among our social elites. That's the problem. Our system depended on our social elites being on-board with the democratic project. They aren't so much anymore as they have been in the past. This has been an issues that's been developing since the so-called Business Plot in the WWII era.

As progressive movements have made more inroads in distributing political and social power more equally in the US (in the years leading up to and following WWII), it's inconvenienced our social elites, who'd like to have the power to do whatever they want without consulting the public interest. And so they've pushed back very hard by propagandizing the culture toward the right (at first, this push was supported even by more liberal-leaning folks as a necessary measure against communist agitation and propaganda in the US, but now those same media channels are being used simply to push the culture more rightward for no larger purpose than to promote the business interests of capital).

(Or actually, what edgeways said...)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:30 AM on February 28 [8 favorites]


This article is incoherent and reads like an exercise in question-begging and contradiction.

Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century.Why has it run into trouble?

I don't think they define "trouble" or shows how democracy has run into it.

Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop

I don't buy the assumptions that 1. entitlements (I'm assuming, since it's the economist, they mean social programs) have caused debt, and 2. debt = DANGER!

Russia, the Ukraine & Egypt certainly strain the notion of well-functioning democracy, but there are 180-some other countries in the world.

But [the Iraq War] did the democratic cause great harm.

The examples of great harm they give are the respective opinions of Western hawks & doves - what about examples from real-world actions?

The infographics showing declining political party membership and increasing disillusionment in selected countries don't prove anything; attitudes, choices and freedom have complex relationships.

And how can you even begin to discuss the dynamics of democracy from the 20th to 21st centuries with barely one word about Central and South America? And that one word - Venezuela - is itself complicated. Venezuela is certainly not lab-grown well-functioning democracy, but Chavismo has been chosen by majorities at the ballot box. It's a far cry from what's happening in Russia.

I have little patience with political analyses that try to reduce everything down to a simple binary explanation: a country is/isn't democratic, for example.

China is not democratic for reasons that need no explanation, but when workers take factory managers hostage and poor people revolt, and the government responds with some measure of appeasement, I'd call that a kind of limited, informal democracy.

The riots in the Ukraine may show that democracy has failed (since dissatisfaction with elected leaders reached crisis levels), or it could represent an energetic assertion of democracy. Protestors there took 60 police as hostages - none of our Occupy movements here in the US managed to achieve anything close to that.

And is democracy working in my country (the U.S.)? That's a difficult question that I don't think has a simple answer. Economic and labor policy have been under steady attack by the rich (i.e. democracy not functioning), but we've seen surprising progress on cultural issues like gay marriage and (very limited) legalization of drugs (i.e. democracy functioning).

It's hard to reduce history to a concise thesis. I'm not sure it's even worthwhile to try.
posted by univac at 10:31 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


This article sounds more like a Trojan horse trying to sneak militant ideologies through the gates of reason.

Luckily the horse has been attacked by the Tiger of Skepticism and the Badger of History and diverted into the Quagmire of Tendentious Economist Articles.

(Metafilter needs more allegory)
posted by yoink at 10:32 AM on February 28 [15 favorites]


MetaFilter: needs more allegory
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:33 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


I'd be curious as to why democracy is failing too, but for the fact that I live in a plutocracy where millionaire representatives pay for their campaigns with the donations of millionaire kleptocrats in exchange for a quid pro quo of mutual self protection.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:33 AM on February 28 [9 favorites]


I claim the Luck Dragon of barely coherent rage and comprehensibly.

As well as the Cheshire Cat of spelling.
posted by edgeways at 10:35 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


I never expected to get political but starting a business I will probably be forced to do a little. I'm basically working it into my future expenses as what, $5k-10k/head legal "donations"+dinner parties for a representative? Double for competitive races. I have a serious approach to politics.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:37 AM on February 28


symbioid: But how would you guarantee there is no astroturfing paid by a shit ton of corps to help the poor spread bullshit lines in forums everywhere to push their message?

There are no guarantees. A system of governance as an abstract notion does nothing. The Constitution is an abstract notion. Statutes are abstract notions. Government, and the polity, manifests in the actions of people.

If you care about outcomes then the thing to do is get out and organize to achieve a specific goal.

That's what the people who win do.
posted by univac at 10:39 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


I think our single biggest problem is our incredible ability to completely deny our democratic ideals when they are absolutely most needed. Freedom of the press is paramount - just as soon as we're done hiding all these secrets from the terrorists. People are guilty until proven innocent - but we need Gitmo. All men are created equal - as long as you have the scratch to defend yourself. One man, one vote - but, if we don't have enough hoops to jump through then just anybody'll vote. Etc., etc., etc.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:40 AM on February 28 [7 favorites]


Remind me again how many people voted for McCain and Romney?

I read that as "McCain and Pompey." Which, actually, makes its own sort of sense.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:47 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


So that makes Obama Caesar, then?

Who's Brutus?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:50 AM on February 28


I've always hated democracy and am working tirelessly to rid society of it, so vote #1 qu-hang on, that doesn't make sense. Fuck it, I'm off to the pub - have a good weekend everyone!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:54 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


The Economist is just gonna throw that out there like unquestioned truth, I guess.


It's The Economist. "Begging the Question" is in their style manual.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:59 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


I don't fundamentally disagree Benny Andajetz, but I will note that I think many of those issue you bring up are not exclusively current problems. Speaking entirely US centric here: Freedom of the Press has always faced challenges, many times it has even been self imposed. Habeas corpus violations have occurred at least as far back as Lincoln (and perhaps further), the ability to defend oneself in court also is long associated with what you are able to pay. And of course the right to vote started out as only applying to white landowners.
So I think what you are saying is a well deserved criticism of our current situation, but they are problems we have pretty much wrestled from day one, and some of them are absolutely much better now then they where in years past. There is always limits to freedoms, and while I think what you pointed out are important situational problems I don't know if they rise to structural problems as we have fluctuated on the severity (and will continue to do so) of them.

I think the question 'is Democracy endangered' is a good one, but if it is endangered and we want to figure out why we have to look at underpinnings, things that move the entire system. The things that all of us buy into and support by our actions if not our words. And... that's economic. Food, clothes, education, entertainment, transportation, healthcare, governance, all of it, what we buy, what we consume all spins that prayer wheel and as I mentioned already I have grave doubts that it is terribly compatible with democracy.
posted by edgeways at 11:02 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


If we're going for simple, pat answers to what went wrong, I suggest watching the short film from 1946, Despotism, produced by Encyclopedia Britannica Films. I mean, this was produced right after WW2, right after the Allied forces stopped Hitler and his fascist, despotic regime from taking over Europe. To some degree, I am sure they come to conclusions that are not entirely applicable to today's world, however, even back in 1946, there was good evidence that large gaps in political, social, and economic power led inextricably towards bad outcomes for the majority of people.

You also have to understand the majorly distorting effect of mass media and propaganda. As many have tried to allude to or state directly above, many times, once a simple slogan is learned, thought ceases, and a significant percentage of the population will not rationalize beyond a simple understanding of the slogan or catch phrase. This is why "dog-whistles", which prompt both party insiders, and opponents ears to perk up, while the majority will simply accept the words at face value, and without understanding the rest of the context. What is even more amusing is to see current politicians repeating slogans and phrases from previous generations that were much more blatantly offensive, and completely not realize that what they just said marks them as a bigot or in some other derogatory manner. I am sure some of the politicians that we all love to make fun of from various regions have a tendency to do this. At least I hope that is the case. Otherwise we have more unabashed bigots in places of power than we probably should feel comfortable with. But that goes into character moralizing of our elected leaders, which leads to zealotry and extreme divergence from voting for a political stance, versus voting for "someone you'd invite over for Sunday dinner."

Then you get into the major problems of elected officials not being educated in their own roles. They are given enormous power to create laws and spend public money, but more often than not, even though it is technically legal, they end up using their own friends and allies to a) maintain their power, and b) vote their own opinions, and not act as representatives of the people who elected them (and I mean all of the people, not just the people who voted for them, or the people who paid into their election coffers). It is one thing to get elected in this country (the U.S., I mean), but then once someone is in office, we have very little if any recourse when said elected official does stupid things like draft laws that discriminate against gays or minorities, or even just vote for those laws, we have to wait until the next election cycle to try and oust them from power. Even worse is when they get elected, and then create laws to further limit the ability of the common people to vote, effectively pulling the ladder up once they get into office.
posted by daq at 11:03 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


I think a problem we are having is the equating democracy and capitalism as being inexorably linked...So, in my mind, if there is a problem with democracy it lies with it's current marriage to poorly regulated capitalism, the expectation that the freedoms inherent in a democracy must apply carte blanche to economic associations leads us to a system that economic association becomes a paramount driving force in all walks of life.

I think that the people who benefit most from the weak regulation of capitalism are the ones who tend to justify the equation you describe. In a historical sense, I think it's inarguable that democratic social changes potentiated the development of modern neoliberal capitalism; in fact, the goal of breaking the hereditary/traditionalist grip on access to power and resources for personal gain rather than ideological conviction has often been present in democratically-oriented social movements.
posted by clockzero at 11:03 AM on February 28


The Economist is just gonna throw that out there like unquestioned truth, I guess.

That's exactly where I stopped reading. Anybody believing that "entitlements" caused the financial crisis in 2008 is either stupid or onesided. It was caused by the financial industry being poorly regulated by government and incapable of regulating itself. The current worries over national debt are a symptom of that crisis, not a cause. At least in the UK, around 60% of the current national debt dates to after 2007.

The Economist should be utterly ashamed of itself for publishing such a open and brazen misrepresentation of the truth.
posted by Thing at 11:04 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


The Economist should be utterly ashamed of itself for publishing such a open and brazen misrepresentation of the truth.

If it amounted to much more than a neoliberal propaganda machine, it might be capable of such a thing.
posted by clockzero at 11:06 AM on February 28 [7 favorites]


I think that the people who benefit most from the weak regulation of capitalism are the ones who tend to justify the equation you describe. In a historical sense, I think it's inarguable that democratic social changes potentiated the development of modern neoliberal capitalism; in fact, the goal of breaking the hereditary/traditionalist grip on access to power and resources for personal gain rather than ideological conviction has often been present in democratically-oriented social movements.

That makes sense, It that the hereditary/traditionalist grip ended up shifting from political power to economic power, and is now reaching back for political power through it'd economic influences, which could well end us back to old systems with a modern facade. Yeah we elect xyz, but xyz ends up owing corporation/person ABC considerable favors, or ABC applies outright pressure for it's perceived gain.

great example here: So we all head about Jan Brewer (Gov AZ) vetoing that absolute vile piece of legislation that came out of the AZ lege essentially legalizing outright public discrimination of folks who are gay. yay, good veto right? Of course. But, her veto only came after corporations, including notably Apple called her up personally and threatened to pull out of AZ if she let it pass.
Now, you know, she should have vetoed that bill on day one of it hitting her desk because it was absolutely horrid. -Or- She should have signed it because, make no mistake, it represented Brewer's core public political belief. It should not have been vetoed because a major international corporation put direct pressure on her. Because you know? next time it could well be Apple calling Mark Dayton (Gov MN) making threats unless he vetoes a min wage hike or whatever.

I am happy the bill was vetoed, as I am happy that Apple and MS and Disney and... are "gay friendly", but I think that process sucks.
posted by edgeways at 11:23 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


So that makes Obama Caesar, then?

I was thinking more that they were both oligarchs who threatened their respective republics, but, hey.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:23 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Romney seems more like Crassus, to me.
posted by thelonius at 11:27 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


This is where I link to Doreen Massey's "Vocabularies of the Economy" because the constant bleating of "investment vs entitlement, investment vs entitlement" "efficiency vs paralysis, efficiency vs paralysis" is MADDENING. Those words should not frame the public debate.
A second bundle of terms that deserves further attention is that clustered around investment, expenditure and speculation. It should be noted immediately, for this is crucial to what follows, that these terms carry with them implicit moral connotations. Investment implies an action, even a sacrifice, undertaken for a better future, while speculation (here in the financial rather than intellectual sense) immediately arouses a sense of mistrust. And while investment evokes a future positive outcome, expenditure seems merely an outgoing, a cost, a burden.

Investment and expenditure are distinguished from each other according to a strict economic rationale, a distinction required by the way in which the national accounts are set up. But this distinction is cross-cut in popular parlance and ordinary political debate by another understanding. Together they produce rich soil for the construction of political attitudes. Thus, in the national accounts, investment is money laid out for physical things such as buildings and infrastructure, while expenditure is money used to pay – for instance – for the wages of people operating the services for which the investment provides the physical possibility. So building a new school is investment, paying the teachers, the administrators and the dinner ladies is expenditure. (Pause for a moment, and ponder the gender implications of this distinction.)

This distinction, moreover, is often cross-cut with another – that between public and private. On this understanding, money advanced by a private firm to further its profit-making intentions is seen as a worthwhile investment, while money advanced by the state, whether for infrastructure or for employment in schools or the health service, is seen as only increasing the deficit, because it is paid for out of taxation.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:36 AM on February 28 [7 favorites]


I'm pretty sure McCain is Cato.


Either one.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:39 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure McCain is Cato.

Either one.


Except they both had values. And the younger one was willing to get nearly murdered in the Forum for his. (Not saying I agree with their values, but neither one of them would have done the pandering to whoever they thought would make them president that McCain did.)

And Romney's too crap at picking up popular politicians and being their (mostly) hidden backers to be Crassus. Or possibly too cheap.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:45 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


That makes sense, It that the hereditary/traditionalist grip ended up shifting from political power to economic power, and is now reaching back for political power through it'd economic influences, which could well end us back to old systems with a modern facade. Yeah we elect xyz, but xyz ends up owing corporation/person ABC considerable favors, or ABC applies outright pressure for it's perceived gain.

I agree. When power concentration reaches a certain level in any society, they all begin to look pretty much the same because the power-holders use the same kind of mechanisms to protect and reproduce their power.

great example here: So we all head about Jan Brewer (Gov AZ) vetoing that absolute vile piece of legislation that came out of the AZ lege essentially legalizing outright public discrimination of folks who are gay. yay, good veto right? Of course. But, her veto only came after corporations, including notably Apple called her up personally and threatened to pull out of AZ if she let it pass.

I've been thinking the very same thing about that. I think it's been rather transparent, and that raises a lot of uncomfortable questions about justice depending on alignment with financial interests in America.

Now, you know, she should have vetoed that bill on day one of it hitting her desk because it was absolutely horrid. -Or- She should have signed it because, make no mistake, it represented Brewer's core public political belief. It should not have been vetoed because a major international corporation put direct pressure on her. Because you know? next time it could well be Apple calling Mark Dayton (Gov MN) making threats unless he vetoes a min wage hike or whatever.

I really share this awkward combination of being pleased with the outcome but super uncomfortable with how and why it came about.

I think it also demonstrates how identity politics works nefariously well within the context of neoliberalism, and why we're likely to see more de-marginalization of social groups than, e.g., reductions of wealth inequality. Unfortunately.
posted by clockzero at 11:57 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


> In any decent democratic society, the author of that craven little piece of banker appeasement would be taken out and shot.

That might actually be true, which makes it a rational reason to fear and oppose true democracy. There's just no way to know whom the American-Idol-watching demos might vote in front of that squad, blindfolded and smoking a last cigarette. For a good reason, a silly reason, no reason at all, or (most likely) a reason made up and propagated by somebody with some kind of bully pulpit and a concealed agenda.

N.b. mild US-centrism noted and apologized for in advance.
posted by jfuller at 12:11 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I've been watching the Trap all morning. So I figure that's pretty much what's up.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:24 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


One of the biggest lessons of The Trap is that cynicism about Politician's motives is a deliberate tool of 50s business interests and cold war political scientists to make us apathetic leftists and energized libertarians. Political greed and corruption exists, but aren't inevitable. Ideas are what matter, and what can solve economic inequality and other problems. We should stop electing people who think government is evil, but to do that we have to somehow regain the "naive" belief that government can make progress in improving human circumstances and human rights.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:33 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


The biggest problem with democracy seems to be that it is starting to dawn on our society's elites that capitalism does not actually require it in order to flourish, and in fact it may be a natural hindrance to corporate competition in the perfect market freedom that an autocracy or oligarchy affords.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:36 PM on February 28 [5 favorites]


In the sense that Pompey's biggest obstacle was an elite class who felt threatened by Pompey's own ambition, I think Hillary might be the best fit there.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:40 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Make a list of the unresolved and gridlocked issues in the US. Now make the same list for China. Compare the scale and severity of the problems. Project 5 years out and think about what the list might look like. Look back in time for reference. In 2008 the US has a financial meltdown while China faced a pollution crisis highlighted by the Olympic Games.
posted by humanfont at 12:44 PM on February 28


What went wrong with it? Two words:
posted by Lizard People at 1:00 PM on February 28 [10 favorites]


Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress.

I suppose it could be argued that the mass migration of feudal serfs into urban industrial jobs ruled by robber barons, could be considered some sort of economic progress. However, I would argue that "progress" should resemble something more modern than the Industrial Revolution of the 1780s.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:01 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


What went wrong with it? Two words: human beings.

The obvious solution is to get rid of them, but I can't help but feel there would also be a down side to that.
posted by RobotHero at 1:14 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress.

This is a wild misreading of modern history, by the way. The Soviet Union, for instance, had outstanding economic growth for a big chunk of the 20th century.

This quote seems to be opening the door to a renunciation of democracy as unnecessary for good lives, but it's actually demonstrating that capitalism isn't necessary. Kind of funny that the writer didn't realize that.
posted by clockzero at 1:17 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress.

This is also fairly ignorant of the progression of other Asian economic powerhouses in the post-war period. For one, Singapore and Brunei were never all that democratic and free, and yet successful economically - one a dictatorship, sure, but the other is a monarchy. For another, South Korea and Taiwan began their ascendance as totalitarian right-wing dictatorships. Prosperity allowed a middle class to form, and they demanded, and got, Democratic rule, which then kicked their further development into overdrive. This is likely the end-game for the Chinese Government; transition to democratic rule and rake in the private sector profits as China evolves into a more balanced service-and-manufacturing economy.

Russia is just boned until Putin dies - he's like Andrew Jackson meets FDR, with all of the faults of the former, and none of the virtues of the latter.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:26 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


The relentless expansion exploitation of government is reducing liberty and handing ever more power to special interests plutocratic robber barons.


FTFThem
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:48 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


It's interesting and sad to see this article (which makes some otherwise interesting points, and asks a few questions worth asking) spiral into complete nonsense because of the underlying liberal agenda. It almost seems forced - like the author wrote a sensible article than an editor from 'the Economist' switched sentences and paragraphs to make it fit into their everlasting and traditional argument.

This part was the one where I completely lost foot:

But reformers need to be much more ambitious. The best way to constrain the power of special interests is to limit the number of goodies that the state can hand out. And the best way to address popular disillusion towards politicians is to reduce the number of promises they can make.

posted by Riton at 2:10 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


So six years into the crisis, the Economist still can't understand that austerity is a catastrophic failure.

Well, the mag has been that way for the last thirty years. It's run by British Tories who have an actual interest in the world (so its coverage of international affairs is light-years beyond any US newsmagazine), but their economics is always regressive. In US terms they're the now nearly mythical moderate Republican: they deplore inequality and Cheneyite overreach, but just can't stomach policies that actually benefit the people. They're what Krugman calls the Very Serious People, and VSPs love tightening other people's belts.
posted by zompist at 2:28 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


I blame the Romulans.

Have you never heard of the Ferengi? Who do you think is behind the Koch brothers?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:34 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


The Red God
posted by The Riker Who Mounts the World at 2:36 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


I live in a plutocracy where millionaire representatives pay for their campaigns with the donations of millionaire kleptocrats in exchange for a quid pro quo of mutual self protection.

I tend to agree with this, and as snarky as some in this thread have been about the suggestion that the voters bear at least some of the blame for getting here, I'm not sure how you can get around it. It is a lot of work to educate yourself on politics, and in turn politicians. And not everyone has the time or inclination. Often the people and institutions that you've been told to trust are telling you things that are wrong or misleading. And yes, some people flat-out can't be bothered to vote, or they do vote with very little information. I don't think this can be ruled out as at least a part of the explanation of what's going wrong with contemporary democracy.
posted by Hoopo at 2:44 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


While we are on the subject, a truly good and relevant read is:

Wealth and Democracy by Kevin Phillips

You will not come away relieved and optimistic, but, as the saying goes, to be forewarned is to be forearmed (somewhat).
posted by cool breeze at 3:26 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Have you never heard of the Ferengi? Who do you think is behind the Koch brothers?


Even the Ferengi are smart enough to stay out of politics.



Rule of Acquisition #256: Change puts people in a buying mood. Politics puts people in a stabbing mood.


Rule of Acquisition #632: It's hard to sell drinks when the roof is on fire.

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:22 PM on February 28


What happened to democracy? Capitalism happened to democracy. They can co-exist, but in order for democracy to take center stage, it needs to keep a muzzle on capitalism. Right now the opposite is true.
posted by zardoz at 4:27 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


Democracy suffers from a logical error in voting. People must be able to vote more than once when more than two are running. I don't recommend approval voting because voting twice is more efficient and it meets the same requirements as a runoff without the hassle.
posted by Brian B. at 6:29 PM on February 28


At this point, I think we could hardly be worse off if we chose our leaders via random draw. Like jury duty.
posted by wuwei at 6:38 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


Meh. Sparta won the Peloponnesian War, but it was weak, fractious, divided Athens who kicked =so much ass= at Salamis while the 300 were off being useless someplace.

Then Alcibiades fucked it all up.

Then Phillip and Alexander happened.

But, America is actually, really, no-kidding different than both Athens and Rome. Rome was a City who's ambition far outreached its grasp. Athens thought it was just, like, this city, y'know? But it, like, wasn't.

In America...

1) The Louisiana Purchase happened, and the Mexican-American war happened thereafter.

2) The Civil War happened. Holy christfuck. Do you understand that a lighthouse architect and a drunkard kicked enough ass where a skinny lawyer set in goddamn granite that a human being is a citizen, no matter how inconvenient? Because that happened. Fuck your ostrakismos.

3) We been fighting the same damn fight ever since, only to glower at funny foreigners to keep the hell out of this, and apply immense science at those who don't take the goddamn hint already.

4) Both sides are bad, so vote Republican. (LOL.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:33 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


wuwei I've seriously thought about the idea of what I term stochastocracy. Though I've thought you could do it two different ways:

1) Random selection of citizenry for a house of congress or some such thing (more ideal, I think, if perhaps a unicameral system , than a bi- or tri-cameral). If bi-cameral, then perhaps it would replace the house, since that would seem to function on that same level of representation (popular). Obviously, tri-cameral would just add the stochastic chamber to the other 2 chambers.

2) Random selection of submitted laws. On the one hand, game theory might suggest that everybody might just chill the fuck out of they realize everybody else has their finger on the legal trigger. On the other hand, it might give some really nutty people some really bad chance at having an insane idea implemented just because of chance. Do we want to leave that up to chance, and really if you had a shot at implementing your dream system, wouldn't you submit something super intense if it was your only shot at it becoming law?

Honestly, I think some form of modular system where representatives are sent up a chain from low to high is ideal. That is, you have your local councils, and you have one "ambassador" you delegate to represent you at a higher level of government. This ambassador goes to deliberate and bring back a proposed law for a consensus vote, which passes all the way down to the most relevant local level of impact (if a state law is to affect a county, then the county level delegation is the lowest level it goes).

One problem with this is that you still have the problems of tyranny of the minority...

In some sense, the Senate IS an idea of a class-based system. Republicans say they hate direct democracy, and support "representative democracy" but yet, what is socialism but a class-based democracy, where the workers are the ones who are represented "disproportionately" (at least in their eyes) as opposed to the States having disproportionate representation.

And of course, this gets back to the question of a libertarian fascism where different collectives have voices to be heard in the larger scheme. The issue there is do you have a geographical organization in addition to the overall categories of division in a society (religious, professional, collegial, etc...) how do these overlap and can you be represented more than once in such a system or do you have to pick and choose how you're represented in one specific node/fascii?

I think there is merit to the idea of bioregionalism as some form of political system, in particular, with regard to environmental regulations. This would have to break out of the boundaries of the traditional state model.

In fact, isn't it possible that part of the current problem is that we are dealing with the National-State model, and the large problems we're having is that the National-Security State exists as an evolution from earlier geographical tribal areas of rule, followed by wars of conquest, subdivisions, hierarchies and perpetuation of empires, and then wars, to exist in this uneasy agreement of division, based upon formal geographic models and boundaries, wars and treaties?

Is there an alternative to even this concept of Nation-State? Well I guess this gets back to the threats the Security State attempts to fend off against itself, not just from external threats but internal ("both foreign and domestic" as the ol' saying goes). If there is an alternative, the Nation-State doesn't want to hear it. Because it acts as if it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's got a lot invested into making sure it remains the dominant modus operandi of social order.

These thoughts I'm having seem so hazy and because they're outside of the current organizational model of State and Society, it's hard to explicate what I'm even trying to posit. Something half-way between an anarchist utopia, a fascist "nation" model, a socialist collectivized worker based economy, an ecological hippie paradise, freedom of ideas and grouping, struggle against one another in a democratic fashion, while recognizing the power of groups and the collective, not just the individual as some mythical autonomous entity.

I think I veered far off the original idea of Stochastocracy (which is not in any way related to what I ended up on, or certainly wasn't intended to be connected).
posted by symbioid at 7:49 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Michael Lewis describes the Economist best. "The magazine is written by young people pretending to be old people...If American readers got a look at the pimply complexions of their economic gurus, they would cancel their subscriptions in droves."

The Economist really does read like kids just out of Oxford. There's a reason it's anonymous. How people can mistake its pretension for mature wisdom amazes me.
posted by JackFlash at 10:35 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


If you know how to read the code words and phrases that betray the real motive for the article, then it offers a somewhat useful overview of current global democracy. Keeping that in mind, the subtext of the article almost seems to suggest that the Chinese model is the way to go.

The biggest problem with the article is that it barely even acknowledges neoliberal economics/hypercapitalism/deregulation, which is the main cause of the whole ugly mess. The next biggest problem is its failure to mention any role of civil society in healthy, functioning democracies, as political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain argued for in the 1993 CBC Massey Lectures "Democracy on Trial".

Beyond that, pointing out how levels of corruption in third world countries is a good measure of their democracy while ignoring rampant but more legalized corruption in western governments is just too rich.
posted by blue shadows at 2:16 AM on March 1


All the issues with western democracy can be addressed with simply more honest democracy.

We could implement deliberative democracy or demarchy by requiring that legislation pass a say 300 voter jury trial before becoming law. Juries would notice when an opposing representative started pointing out obvious pork, corruption, etc.

We know political parties grow corrupt over time but proportional representation has allowed small progressive parties like the Greens and Pirates force reality upon established parties. And modern ranked voting systems like STV offer even more benefits.

Any move towards a more honest democracy threatens an established corporate and government interests that engage in corruption, graft, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:52 AM on March 1


If you know how to read the code words and phrases that betray the real motive for the article, then it offers a somewhat useful overview of current global democracy. Keeping that in mind, the subtext of the article almost seems to suggest that the Chinese model is the way to go.

The biggest problem with the article is that it barely even acknowledges neoliberal economics/hypercapitalism/deregulation, which is the main cause of the whole ugly mess.


Recent Chinese Document No. 9, Concerning the Situation in the Ideological Sphere reads like they have an account here. V. down on "neoliberalism" and so-called "free speech".
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:43 AM on March 1


Trouble starts when too many stupid, ignorant people get to vote.

Good education is the bedrock and lifeblood of democracy.
posted by Renoroc at 8:30 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


Like Batman, democracy isn't the one we want, it's the one we deserve.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:38 AM on March 1


Democracy suffers from a logical error in voting. People must be able to vote more than once when more than two are running. I don't recommend approval voting because voting twice is more efficient and it meets the same requirements as a runoff without the hassle.

I believe you are referring to the Condorcet Method, or a variation on that theme. I recall reading about primary elections that used Condorcet ranked pairs, but AFAIK it is not legal in general elections, which are winner-take-all.

I like the Condorcet methods but I've never personally seen a situation where it would have improved results. I am a state Election Official, and in my official (and personal) capacity my opinion is that the only thing that improves the quality of elections is higher turnout.

Democracy as instituted under the US Constitution is an experiment in political technology. Sometimes technological systems can go astray and it takes a large amount of work to get back on track. Technology systems can be fixed, but generally the solution lies in human resources that can be applied to the problem.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:45 AM on March 1


Wow, four pages and not a fucking word about the elephant in the room, unfettered Capitalism that owns the American "democracy" to the point where we get to choose which guy will pack his staff with Wall Street CEOs this time. Yet hand-wringing about whether "voters" will accept much-needed austerity. You assholes should be thanking your golden calf god that American democracy is limp, or you'd be swinging from lampposts.
posted by Legomancer at 10:58 AM on March 1 [5 favorites]


I don't recommend approval voting because voting twice is more efficient and it meets the same requirements as a runoff without the hassle.

How on earth is it more efficient to vote twice? Enormous numbers of people don't even have time or energy or interest to vote once.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh you mean more efficient for Republicans.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:36 PM on March 1


Recent Chinese Document No. 9, Concerning the Situation in the Ideological Sphere reads like they have an account here. V. down on "neoliberalism" and so-called "free speech".

Just gonna put this out there: Maybe you can object to free-market hokum and governments silencing, jailing, and killing people whose opinions they don't like
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:47 PM on March 1 [2 favorites]


So their solution to the "troubles" of Democracy is to get rid of the voters... by removing more and more from the sphere of "politics" (and then deny that's what you are doing in the following paragraph).

Giving control of monetary policy to independent central banks tamed the rampant inflation of the 1980s, for example. It is time to apply the same principle of limited government to a broader range of policies. Mature democracies, just like nascent ones, require appropriate checks and balances on the power of elected government.

Next Paragraph:
Isn’t this a recipe for weakening democracy by handing more power to the great and the good? Not necessarily.

Right..
posted by mary8nne at 10:08 AM on March 2


How on earth is it more efficient to vote twice? Enormous numbers of people don't even have time or energy or interest to vote once.

Sorry to confuse, but I meant to vote twice on the same ballot, each and every ballot, or once if you want. This both satisfies and avoids a runoff, in one election. It allows a preferred vote and a safe vote. I have nothing against runoff elections, except that they are unnecessary with this method. Voting as many times as one wants is approval voting, and encourages clones and discourages parties, and creates the dilemmas it then tries to solve. Twice is nice, and does the job.
posted by Brian B. at 6:37 PM on March 2


I believe you are referring to the Condorcet Method, or a variation on that theme.

I clarified my comment above. I am only referring to a simple method of allowing the selection of two candidates in one field, to simulate a runoff method in one attempt. There's no ranking involved, therefore no Condorcet methodology, nor strategic voting enabled. It can be required to supply a majority, or the next round is chosen instead, but it has every incentive to do so the first time because the numbers are there. The purpose is to avoid spoilers, obviously, but also to discourage them, because when any movement grows larger, it naturally divides, and this allows the voter to express loyalty to both without electing an opponent as an unintended result. I don't think plurality voting can politically survive a democracy without such a change being made.
posted by Brian B. at 7:02 PM on March 2


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