Saturday, 7 December 2013

Managed Democracy with Weak Leaders and People of Wealth

Most of my observations are based on Finnish and US politics being a citizen of both countries, but I believe that much of the same is taking place in other Western countries as well.

One of the key pillars of democracy is openness. Government laws, decisions, and treaties are expected to be part of the public record so that the people can know how their interests are being managed and to make informed decisions in elections. The people need to know how they were represented during the previous election season so they can decide if they can trust their representatives again with their vote - or if something needs to change.

Instead governments seem to have adopted a new, more efficient way of handling things: they refuse to comment on matters that are "not yet ready" or have "not yet been decided on", and once the work is complete the public is merely notified that this just happened. No need to discuss about the matter as the decision has been made, treaties have been signed and it's all good.

This is not how a democratic society is expected to work.

A case in point is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The negotiations have been on-going for quite some time now but almost no information about it was shared with the public until WikiLeaks provided some insight about it. Many might have missed these negotiations altogether and many of those who did know about the negotiations probably thought it was about removing customs bureaucracy and expenses and getting rid off import/export taxes on some products, which would be a good thing. Unfortunately the treaty is also likely to contain controversial practices that the informed public within EU would probably oppose strongly, so in order to enable matters to progress smoothly it was decided to keep the public uninformed.

Managed Democracy

It seems that there is a drive to convert representative democracies into managed democracies. The political elite neither wants or needs the public to be informed; it just needs the public to vote. By keeping public uninformed it is easier to rule the country and guide the public to vote correctly every few years. The country continues to be run by legitimized government, but the government no longer serves the people. At best decisions are based on what the political elite actually believes is best for the people (regardless of what the public might think about it), and at worst the government only serves the political elite's interests.

For example, the last time Finland had a referendum was in 1994 about EU membership. It is worth noting that the vote was not binding and if the people had voted "wrong" the political leadership had the option to ignore the referendum. In the end 56,9% of the voters supported the membership and on 1st of January, 1995 Finland joined EU.

It has been 20 years since the last time political elite wanted to hear what the people think about matters that significantly affect their lives. For example, the decision to join Euro currency was not up for debate in the form of binding or even non-binding referendum.

Many politicians are career politicians; being a politician is their work, their career and their life for which they have been preparing ever since they became young adults, and some even longer. Some are raised to be politicians in order to continue their family legacy. This is especially true for the political elite so it must be difficult for them to allow strangers to decide every few years whether or not they are allowed to continue doing what they are meant to do. It would be so much easier if they could just tell the people how things are going to be or even better, to ignore the people completely.

Sometimes democracy sucks.

So the model of managed democracy begins to look like an ideal solution: maintain the facade of democracy while encouraging people to focus on more important matters like sports, TV-shows and their daily lives while leaving the tedious and boring politics for their humble civil servants. Don't worry about anything, everything is going to be alright. Just remember to vote the name you know in the next elections.

Weak Leaders

So here's the thing: weak leaders can appear stronger and maintain their position of socio-economic power by making the people weaker.

Political strength is the power to influence people and ability to guide the flow of events to desirable directions. This power is measured in wealth, which should be fairly obvious: the poor have no wealth so consequently they have very little influence over people and events. As one gains wealth one also gains power so it is the rich who have the most power to influence people and events.

The strong rule over the weak. Weak leadership may gain relative power by making the people weaker, for example

- by limiting access to higher education one can limit the number of people who are informed, independent thinkers and likely to question authorities and challenge the political elite on socio-economic matters.

- by limiting access to healthcare and applying high and wide ranging taxes one can make the people struggle a bit more in their daily lives as people who are worried about basic necessities of life such as work, health, family and being able to pay bills are less likely to pay attention to matters of politics and problems of other people.

In fact, by taxing wealth, allowing for high inflation and keeping prices artificially high the government can effectively reduce the power of the middle class people not to mention the poor.

People of Wealth

The strong rule over the weak and weak leaders tend to be ruled by the people of wealth - not by the people  in general who supposedly granted them their positions for the purpose of serving the people. The people of wealth can provide weak leaders what they truly want: not to promote and nurture the wellbeing of the people and the society but to enable the political elite to accumulate more personal wealth and gain stronger positions of power.

In the elections people may vote, but the people of wealth pay for the campaigns. In the political decision making all interest groups may try to influence the decision makers, but it is the people of wealth who can afford to field more and better lobbyists to guide the decision making. And once a politician loses or quits his/her office they are often hired by the people of wealth - assuming that they are still deemed useful because of their contacts, knowledge or due some other valuable trait.

The people, and by extention, democracy suffer while the few prosper.

No comments:

Post a Comment