Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Democracy and Money

There is a spectre haunting democracy; the spectre of money. Modern democracy is in a terrible state of decay as money colonizes every little corner of the structure. While many on the right and in the centre of political spectrum continue to imagine that democratic governments are an expression of the general will, others with a more dynamic definition of power understand that so-called democratically elected governments are less and less the expression of any general will as money plays an increasingly powerful part in the process of elections and the daily running of government. As society sees an startling increase in the difference between the wealthiest and the majority of working people, apathy and alienation rob people of their belief in democracy and their commitment to electoral results.

This democratic deficit is made considerably worse by the fact that the majority of people have no clear idea of how their own system of government works. This is true throughout western democracies but was made particularly clear in recent events in Canada. The majority of Canadians appear to believe that their votes translate into a general will of the people in the House of Commons. For this to be true we would have to have a system of proportional representation. But of course we do not. Instead we live in a constitutional monarchy in which representatives are chosen by a series of first past the post, local elections. In our system, sovereignty is held first in the monarch or her representative. That sovereignty then flows down to the body of representatives who sit in the House. Though we have political parties, in the House, parties actually mean very little in an ideal sense because the House elects a leader to be a first minister. It matters little in our Parliamentary system whether you voted with the goal of one party leading over another. What matters is the sovereignty of the House. The will of the House determines the Government, period! Whoever maintains the confidence of the House will be the First Minister and will form a Government. This person might be someone who represents the party for which the majority of electors voted, or it might not. Tradition dictates that whichever party got the greatest number of seats has the first opportunity to form a government but the will of the House can ratify this or not as it pleases. The problem is, of course, that in a fractured parliament, whichever party gets the most seats is unlikely to reflect the majority of voters. This creates a democratic deficit. As a result of this many parliamentary systems have opted to look toward coalitions so that the government better reflects the general will of the voters. The most democratic option is for proportional voting coupled with coalition governments. In extremely fractionalized countries this can be unwieldy so they opt for a combination of some proportional representatives along with some first past the post, local representatives. Either way, in a parliament we elect representatives who constitute a higher sovereignty than individual votes.

Of course, all of this is perverted if the majority of people do not understand it, and is doubly perverted by increased concentrations of wealth in politics. But if Canadians are to move toward greater levels of democracy we must come to grips with the system we have. We do not live in a system of plebiscites in which everyone votes on everything. Such a system itself is actually impossible in the modern age because a system of direct democracy can only be meaningful with a small number of people. In a large complex system someone would still have to fashion the policies on which everyone could vote. If Conservatives in Canada are really concerned about democracy and making their vote count they would be actively pursuing some form of proportional voting system. But of course most conservative don’t give a toss about democracy, they care about power. And in our ‘democracy’ power flows through those with the money, pure and simple.

So next time you hear a Conservative (or a Liberal for that matter), complain about lack of democracy, slap them firmly across the mouth. Tell them to learn about their own system of government or actively work to change it, or keep their mouth shut.

No comments: