Saturday, January 16, 2016

Whither Democracy ?

I think that there is little doubt that Western democracy has 'lost it's way' a little bit, or is a state of increasing crisis. The roots of this crisis are, ironically, not in the politics of democracy per se, but in the economic path of Western Capitalism over the past few decades. The rise of globalization and Neo-Liberal economics led inevitably toward a problematical and predictable result - dramatic and ever increasing inequality of money and power in society. This state of inequality leads to a society of crisis. This crisis appears in the form of an ever shrinking economic security for the majority of people in society. The so-called shrinking of the 'middle-class' is really just the label we put on a society in which people's economic power and longterm security becomes ever less tenable. Millions of people are without a pension for their old age, with precarious jobs that will never afford them an opportunity to provide for their future economic security. Meanwhile, huge student debt is being amassed by a generation who have little hope of stable, secure, and prosperous employment. Decades of wage stagnation led to something much worse, a precarious economy in which people are becoming little more than wage-slaves to big corporations.

All of this regressive economic movement, leads to a kind of illusion of democracy. Neo-Liberals hijacked the political discourse and political institutions, orchestrated the death of a more equal and humane form of capitalism, and then they whip up populist fervor telling people that our political institutions are broken and can't deliver renewed prosperity BECAUSE OF THE VERY SITUATION THAT THEY PROMOTED IN THE FIRST PLACE.

 Thus the great irony of our generation is found in the fact that the very people who have promoted this inequality (people like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and our own Harper and his minions) are the people who now use populist language to try to convince people that they are the solution to their own bad policies. Neo-Liberal politicians are, of course, in no sense interested in reversing what they have wrought. They want a precarious work-force, they want a weak and desperate working-class, they want a very small middle-class for the very simple reason that poverty for the many de facto means more wealth and power for the few.

But the saddest part of this is that or democratic institutions, the institutions that brought you government pensions, universal education, the right to a safe workplace, minimum wages (albeit too small), etc., are the victims of this economic bait and switch. The Neo-Liberal strategy has been fairly simple: create a very unequal society by taking hold of the political institutions and legislating radically in favour of the rich and corporations, stand in the way of any positive reforms that will help people be more financially and socially secure, and then blame those very institutions for what the Neo-Liberals were pursuing with such fervor in the first place. To keep this agenda on track they not only demonize the various parts of government that they have intentionally used to pursue their ends, but they divert people's attention with fear-mongering, hate speech, scapegoating of minorities, and a general championing of know-nothingism.

There is no question that our political institutions can always benefit from improvements. But it is not really the political institutions, per se, that are the problem here. The problem is that the Neo-Liberals have created a society that is dangerously imbalanced and then convinced people that this imbalance is somehow the result of legislative recalcitrance and/or leftist pipe-dreams. And the Corporate media has so twisted people's perception of the situation that many average people in the US, for example, can listen to Donald Trump, a guy who has spent his life pursuing a society of inequality, and believe that he wants to bring about a restoration of the middle-class. For a decade, here in Canada, Stephen Harper ruthlessly pursued an agenda, the primary goal of which was to create greater economic inequality, and he continually ignored or blamed others for that growing problem. Meanwhile, he failed to diversify the economy (a Economics 101 lesson) and the inevitable decline in oil prices has been like a double whammy for average people. And the real wealthy people go merrily on with ever increasing economic leverage over the rest of the precarious population.

Western democracy has, indeed, lost its way. But the reason is because we bought an agenda that seeks to destroy it and any economic equality that it brought with it. The crisis in democracy is not really an institutional crisis, it is a crisis of inequality and Neo-Liberalism that turns people into slaves of a corporate hegemony. And the people are so busy just trying to survive and lead a decent life that they have no idea what is going on around them, and the weakest ones are willing to blame minorities and the most vulnerable for a problem that was actually intentionally created by rich white men.


Owen Gray said...

Absolutely true, Kirby. The problem isn't the institutions. It's the people who control them.

The Mound of Sound said...

Few grasp that neoliberalism has a long way to go before its work is done. To complete the great unearned transfer or wealth and political power out of the once robust middle class they're gearing up to game everything from the global food supply to access to relatively clean water. We have become predator states operating in a very predatory world.

What better opportunity can there be than to get a lock on something, anything, necessary to sustain life when rapidly growing demand exceeds supply. This is the theory behind outfits such as the World Water Council which relentlessly seeks to commodify and privatize water. They're quick to assure outsiders that they're not out to 'own' water. They merely seek to gather and distribute it in an orderly, commercial fashion. It's utter sleight of hand. What is ownership but the right of one person to possess something to the exclusion of others? Ownership is a right, a power, control and that's precisely what they're after.

There are already jurisdictions in the States where homeowners face serious penalties for intercepting rainwater falling on their roofs, storing it in barrels for their own needs, intercepting its flow to the licensed "owner." Rainwater that belongs to no one no matter where it arrives from the Sahel to Scotland to Singapore is transformed into private property the instant it reaches terra firma.

I did a course in global food security that included a look at a British food giant. This company proudly explained how it "chased the sun" to ensure a steady, year round supply of fresh strawberries on grocery store shelves. The cycle began with the traditional growing season in the UK. When that was over, production shifted to Spain, until it was time to move to the Southern Hemisphere, mainly to Africa for the northern winter/spring season. This company had long-term leases or outright ownership of distant farmland in these supplier countries. I researched it a bit further and discovered that many of these countries experienced serious to severe domestic food shortages yet their governments were allowing this British food giant and others like it to come in and gain control of a considerable percentage of their finest agricultural land. Then there's China that has landbanked much of the best farmland in Somalia, a country where the West routinely has to respond with famine relief.

I'm convinced, Kirby, that this curse will be upon us everywhere on the planet until it's overthrown and that is going to be ugly.

the salamander said...

.. aside from GREED .. there must be some sort over over-riding fervour, dogma, misperception involved. An easily shared belief system that neoliberals tend to embrace. RELIGION ? From what I can see, most of the leading and top tier nepliberals are seemingly highly respected in their communities. Not neccessarily born into wealth either, though some are. They seem to have a wide variety of education background and choice of career. If you drilled a vertical and horizontal core sample through the ranks of neoliberals.. from top tier down to the most invisible of their believing and active base.. and also went horizontally across these and sampled the center enablers and believers.. what would jump out as very interesting commonalities? Sex? Race? Religious Belief? Psychosis or other Mood Disorder? Greed? Vanity? It seems such a bizarre organized Psychopathy to me. Kind of like.. if they can make the rules, they can pretend not to be criminals. What I saw perpetrated by various ways and means by The Harper Party struck me as perfect examples of blurring the edges between Power, Crime & Justice.. morality, ethics, laws & accountability be damned.. Any coherent objective examination of Harper, his senior Ministers, advisors, lawyers, MP's, Senators etc backs this up. Where is Stephen Harper anyway? For that matter, where is Arthur Hamilton hiding out? Ray Novak? Laureen? Stephen Lecce. Can someone tell me this is normal behavior? Laying low - hiding out..

Simon said...

Hi Kirby...Lordy professor you've outdone yourself, with another excellent post as usual. When The Revolution comes you will be our Philosopher in Chief. Or the chief prosecutor, although I was hoping for that position myself. ;)
Seriously though you are right, the neo-liberals have confused the situation and are managing to fool a lot of people that they are on their side. However, the economic situation can be used against them, and if the global economy enters another recession, their arguments will crumble , and hopefully even the dumbest will understand that they have been fleeced....

Clyde said...

It really is true that people are pretty much too busy with their own lives to look at too many details on a planetary - or even larger local community - scale. And it's also true that the problem isn't the institutions, it's the people. In fact, if everyone would just act in fully selfless, ethical love for one another and for the biosphere then institutions of any kind wouldn't be needed at all and we could advance to the wonderful height of true anarchy that is such a golden light in our imaginations.

Call me skeptical if you like, but I doubt that people, for the most part, are truly capable of such fully selfless action all the time and on a scale that extends beyond the usual around 100 others. How many of us have forsworn all products unless clearly proven to do no harm? How many of us can feel confident that our actions are always selfless? I.e., how many can honestly say they live fully moral lives? It's an awfully high expectation to demand that people reach that level on their own, and empirical evidence seems to suggest it is an unattainable ideal to achieve for any large number of people for any length of time. If such a condition is stable and strongly desired, why do attempts to create anarchic communities have such limited success and such short life spans or develop governing institutions anyway?

It's really that people, despite our best hopes, do tend to become destructively focused on themselves. That's the real reason why we have government - to make sure that focus on self doesn't result in significant harm to others. So if we have conditions where people are harming each other in big-time ways, especially if they are using governmental mechanisms to do so, it is a failure of the governing institutions. Government really ought to be structured so that the best in people flowers and the worst shrivels at the root. To demand that people manage to be all sweetness and light on their own is putting a terribly high burden on them, but a properly formed set of institutions will make it easy, and much, much harder for the people who do lose their way.