Thursday, 14 June 2007

What is Democracy?

In Wales we still experimenting with democracy, and in the recent National Assembly elections our version of democracy has produced an uncertain result. Can we say that the views of everybody are represented?

Somebody said : “ Democracy is the rule of the majority, for the majority, by the majority… but who wants to be ruled by the majority?”

If you are one of the majority…..maybe there is no problem for you. But what about if you are one of the minority, possibly one of those who lost the election?

We have had autocracy, theocracy, oligarchy and democracy, at various times and in various places.

Is democracy the answer to equitable and ethical government? The President of the United States would say so, and he would like to impose American-style democracy on every nation in the world, as a cure for the world’s political ills. Indonesia claimed to be democratic under Suharto, and the government chose and approved the opposition candidates. The Philippines is ruled by an elitist oligarchy, intent on staying in power, yet it is vaunted as a democracy. Democracy comes in a number of guises.

The Democrats in America were in the minority – just, but the country is still dominated by the majority – the Republicans. In fact it remains split down the middle. Many have diametrically opposing views, but only one side calls the shots. Can any country be democratic if the majority party is elected, and the minority is not also in power? Is this truly democratic? In a multi-party ‘democracy’, the majority party may be in power by gaining only one third of the votes, as in Wales today. It would seem that any opposition to or criticism of American policy (the policy of the majority) is considered unpatriotic. This harks back to McCarthyism, and even now in some quarters "liberal" is considered a dirty word.

It took 400 years for democracy to evolve in the United Kingdom, and we have observed that true democracy does not exist without all the people being represented. Three candidates stand for election to a constituency, one wins, and the votes cast for the others are discounted. Can this be in any sense truly democratic?

Democracy is claimed to be the best form of government we have, but is it suited to every nation and every circumstance? Can it work in a country which has had no tradition of democracy? A country benefits from the quality of its leadership, not necessarily from its form of government. An example of this is Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew.

An answer might be a gerontocracy - a Council of Elders, perhaps, where the nation is guided by a group of wise men and woman who are chosen for their altruistic service and integrity.These people may be chosen by a consensus of the people. Do you feel that you are truly represented, and do you agree with what is being done in your name? If you do, you are obviously part of the majority. If not, what?

1 comment:

David Thomas said...

Sounds like Bryan Caplan's ideas are getting around! Here's a quote (sorry to copy and paste) from Amazon on his recent "The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies" (Princeton 1 June 2007). I suppose you could say that Plaid losing RCT last time ("the most improved council in the UK") is a case in point. I met a few people on the campaign trail this year who seriously said they'd prefer a benevolent dictatorship to the present system. People don't seem to realise that democracy may be the best system of government we've got but it's also the slowest! Heres the quote:

The greatest obstacle to sound economic policy is not entrenched special interests or rampant lobbying, but the popular misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases held by ordinary voters. This is economist Bryan Caplan's sobering assessment in this provocative and eye-opening book. Caplan argues that voters continually elect politicians who either share their biases or else pretend to, resulting in bad policies winning again and again by popular demand. Boldly calling into question our most basic assumptions about American politics, Caplan contends that democracy fails precisely because it does what voters want. Through an analysis of Americans' voting behavior and opinions on a range of economic issues, he makes the convincing case that noneconomists suffer from four prevailing biases: they underestimate the wisdom of the market mechanism, distrust foreigners, undervalue the benefits of conserving labor, and pessimistically believe the economy is going from bad to worse. Caplan lays out several bold ways to make democratic government work better - for example, urging economic educators to focus on correcting popular misconceptions and recommending that democracies do less and let markets take up the slack. "The Myth of the Rational Voter" takes an unflinching look at how people who vote under the influence of false beliefs ultimately end up with government that delivers lousy results. With the upcoming presidential election season drawing nearer, this thought-provoking book is sure to spark a long-overdue reappraisal of our elective system.