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Democracy has a tendency to divide people
Still others court the elderly voters. Then there are the social issues. Some are conservative and religious while others are secular and liberal. Thus we see rich pitted against the poor, liberals against the conservatives and racial groups against each other. There is no incentive for a votrepreneurs to take an overall view for the good of the country as a whole. He is constrained by his need for re-election to satisfy his voting base that sent him to office. The people will develop a 'me first' mentality without thinking about the good of the country as a whole.
Antagonism between economic classes and different ethnic groups can be exploited and turned into votes for the votrepreneurs. Instead of cooling the passions of the people, they are more likely to fan them so as to pose as their champions.
Often these lead to riots. In France this year, there were two riots - one economic in nature and the other racial though there was some overlap. In the first riot, people were protesting a new French law making it easier for employers to fire young workers on probation.
The second riot was racial and religious in nature. Ethnic North Africa minorities who are Muslim rioted for many days. Race, language and religion divide people into groups. The presence of each element increases tension. Tensions are at their greatest if all three elements are different between two groups and lowest if only one is present between two different groups.
But whether the tension level is high or low, it needs to be managed.
Summing up, democracy suffers from three weaknesses - its penchant for redistributive policies, short-term thinking and ethnic discord. These weaknesses are already present in varying degrees in most mature democracies of the western world. At present, none are in danger of collapse. But as time goes by, the danger will grow.
In the case of America, there is a huge budget deficit that threatens to destabilise not only its economy but also the world economy, given America's share of the world GDP. Its growing minorities, both legal and illegal, have the potential to create discord if ethnic tensions are not properly managed.
But it is the Socialist countries like France -- with their combination of redistributive policies and ethnic tensions created by short-term thinking politicians -- that are in greatest danger of a collapse of democracy. France has a Muslim population amounting to 10 per cent of its total population. The Muslims are of a different race, speak a different language and have a different religion than the other Frenchmen.
This makes the problem more serious than, say, the ethnic tensions between blacks and white in America where the only difference is one of race. Also, France has an unemployment rate of 10 per cent, with many of the unemployed being Muslims. The recent riots may be the first shots of a civil war. The day may not be far off for a French version of Adolf Hitler as ethnic tensions increase.
I foresee that European Muslims will within in the next 20 years demand autonomous regions in cities where sharia law rules. This will provoke the "classical" Europeans who feel their way of life being threatened and there will be a backlash. The people will fall prey to racists groups who of course will promise to defend their way of life. While it took a long time for Europeans to learn to settle their differences peacefully through the ballot box, this important lesson is slowly being unlearned. The lesson learned from the Danish cartoon affair is that violence pays.
Most western governments caved in by issuing apologies or condemning the cartoons instead of defending free speech. Soon groups that oppose immigration will turn to violence too. If European democracies cannot manage their ethnic tensions, democracy will break down, ushering in dictatorial rule.
How then should democracy be reformed? We must build a system that balances popular demands with long term thinking. There must also be a system that matches the right to vote with the amount of contribution the voter makes to society. If this sounds elitist, then I am in good company.
The early founding fathers of America were elitist too, especially men like Alexander Hamilton. They restricted voting to those with property, who were then the educated part of the population and who probably paid most of the taxes. Being men of property, they had a stake in the country's long term future and could be relied on to take a longer term view. Even as late as 1824, only 5 per cent of adult Americans could vote in the Presidential elections. (4)
Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating restricting voting to rich people. But I do advocate striking a proper balance between competing needs. I have thought out some reforms which I believe will improve the situation.
Firstly, I propose that the Senate or Upper House be comprised of people that are elected for life and their personal interests be more closely aligned with that of the nation. Once made a Senator, he is no longer subjected to popular pressures that produce short term thinking. The Senator can only be removed if he commits a crime or is incapacitated. The House of Representatives will continue as before and its members be subjected to periodic elections.
The elected Senators should be paid in accordance to his 'market rate'. This effectively means he should be paid the income he has to forgo as a result of going into politics. Salaries will be adjusted for economic growth. Bonuses will be given if certain economic benchmarks (eg unemployment, inflation, GDP growth) are attained. These benchmarks can be reviewed once every 10 years, say.
By making the Senate a life-time job, we ensure a balance between short term demands of the electorate and long term needs. We ensure a balance between the voters of today with the voters yet to be born. Our huge budget deficits and government debt is putting a burden on future generations who have no vote at present. It is unfair to saddle them with so much debt. Present voters are effectively taxing their children and grandchildren so that they can enjoy a profligate lifestyle.
The second proposal I have is that we make the vote transferable to other citizens. Each voter can buy or sell votes through an electronic marketplace for votes. The logic is like this. Votreprenuers are already buying votes with taxpayers' money by promising all sorts of government programs that will benefit this or that constituency. Why not allow the voters to do it directly without going through the middleman? Why can't voters buy votes when politicians are already doing that, in effect?
There will still be redistribution of income from the haves to the have-nots but without going through an often inefficient government bureaucracy. There will be tax savings from cutting out the middleman. This is what I think will happen in practice: The higher-income groups will end up with more votes since they have money to spend. But so will groups passionate about certain causes.
They will use the votes to curb government spending and lower taxes to benefit themselves. They will also balance the budget because they know it is unsustainable and eventually ruinous to their stock and bond portfolios.
But the have-nots will be compensated with cash. After some trial and error, a balance will be reached in which the losses from government entitlement programs will be approximately equal to the sales proceeds of their votes. Without welfare spending, welfare bums will have more incentive to look for jobs and improve their skills - even after selling their votes.
It is time to subject the electoral process to some sort of market discipline which my proposal will allow. The end result is that the balance of power tilts more towards the above average. These members of society who for usually good reasons are better educated, more successful and generate more GDP per head.
They also are people who are more talented, more diligent, more focused on the long term. Successful people also tend to have more stable marriages. Under the present system, people who are more disciplined, contribute more to the country and work harder are taxed more to help those more indolent, more irresponsbile and contribute less.
Under the present system, votreprenuers have electoral incentives to market their services to another group of people - the old. Under the present system, retirees are supported by the state. In the US you have Social Security. This means that you no longer need your children to support you in your old age. The state will support you. In other words, you are relying on other people's children to support you.
But everybody has the same idea of relying on other people's children. Those who take the effort and money to raise good productive citizens are doing it for the benefit of others. They will be paying into Social Security and supporting some faceless strangers. The end result is that couples have fewer children and you end up with fewer working people to support retirees. This is happening not just in the US but also in other democracies.
It violates the millennium old practice of relying on our own offspring for our old age. It also violates a very good principle - you should be rewarded based on your own efforts. Relying on your own children for your old age may also have a beneficial effect on marriages as people have a financial incentive to maintain a harmonious household to raise their kids - since their own kids are their Social Security. People will think three times before they cheat on their spouses as this will endanger their marriages.
Under the present system, people who are very passionate with their issues and people who are apathetic on the issues have one vote each. Under my proposed changes, those who believe passionately in their issues be it the environment or abortion can pay for more votes.
People who are passionate on the issues tend to be better informed since they have done sufficient research and would vote more wisely than those who are apathetic on the whole electoral process. Even in an US Presidential election, usually less than 70% of eligible voters bother to vote. Those not interested might as well sell their vote to those who are interested. This proposal, I believe will shift the centre of gravity of the electorate to Mr Above Average, which should produce more intelligent government.
The third proposal is that the President's term of office be increased to a single term of eight years. This would free him from the need to seek re-election and permits him to think long term. Without worrying about re-election, it is in his self interest to ponder what history will say of him and this will result in better decision making.
To sum up, we should not become complacent about democracy's future. There are long festering and growing economic and ethnic problems which short term thinking votreprenuers cannot solve. With the rise of India and China (with their hardworking cheap labour), it is quite clear that the welfare state in Europe and to a lesser extent in America cannot be sustained.
The rising tide of Muslim immigrants in Europe who refuse to assimilate and adopt the culture of the host countries adds to the problems. A combination of economic hardships and ethnic tensions set the stage for the collapse of democracy and the emergence of another Strong Man, another Hitler perhaps. I am sure nobody wants to see that happen. We should fix the problems while there is still time. But I am not optimistic. To solve these problems requires long term solutions and invariably short term pain which democracies cannot deliver.
While I admire your fervour for prolonging a dying country, I think you have to accept the ultimate truth that it is a dying country. Like all things living, countries have a finite life span, and they too must cease to exist. In the case of America, the argument could easily be made that it ceased to exist in its intended form a long time ago. What we have now is an America that resembles its former self in appearance only, and even that is stretching it.
The sad truth is that the people who today proudly call themselves Americans would run and hide from the level of freedom enjoyed by the earliest inhabitants of the states. We are so conditioned to accept what the founders would have abhorred that, much like Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption, we would rather kill ourselves than taste freedom.
Democracy, Republic, democracy, republic. It doesn’t matter what name you give it or whether you capitalise the word. That is merely semantics. What matters is when the ball got rolling because the lives of nations are etched on a wheel. There is a point where they begin and a point where they end. Granted, those points are not always easily defined, particularly when it comes to the end. After all, no one enjoys celebrating the end of something loved. But the freedom enjoyed at the beginnings of this country will never be enjoyed again by its citizens. The wheel has started turning. The end will most likely be beyond any of our lifetimes, but it is coming.
Man enjoys all manner of rights. Governments are instituted to protect those rights. Unfortunately, all governments operate under the greedy guise of helpers when the wolves in sheeps’ clothing (votreprenuers) are really about solidifying their own power. This is done through the usurpation of the peoples’ rights.
All rights exist in the ether, and all belong to the people. When the people enter into a government, they voluntarily set aside a portion of those rights for the good of society. The trouble is not that the balance never stays the same. The trouble is that the flow of rights only happens from one side to the other. (I’ll let you guess which direction that is and where they are being stockpiled right now.)
Ever read The Firm? In that story, the shady law firm throws money at new associates and gets them accustomed to the good life for a few years before they tell them the truth about the dishonest business dealings. That’s how we’ve gotten hooked as well. We’re comfortable with the way things are regardless of how much we kick and scream about the guv’mint, and the votreprenuers know this. They know they can continue to slowly chip away at our freedoms with our permission and in front of our very eyes as long as they allow us the comfort of the illusion of freedom.
It will continue this way because there cannot be a net gain in rights for us. We started with all of them. The best we can hope for, and the position you seem to take, is that we can reach a happy medium whereby we reach a steady state of no net loss. But governments are tricky by their very nature. As you point out, democracy thrives on short-term thinking. I’d refine that statement further to say that government thrives on short-term thinking. Government rewards the connivers and cheats, making it far unlikely that we can ever beat them at the game of who gets to keep the rights.
Therefore, we’re faced with a dilemma. The government is a politically capitalist entity. And despite our best efforts, we cannot match its efficiency because we designed it to be ruthless in order to stave off all manner of external and internal attacks. Unfortunately, in our haste to craft an unbeatable system, we placed ourselves outside the wall. The citizens of America have reached the point where we no longer can control the behemoth.
That’s why I believe you’re off base with attempting to salvage the current system. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube. What we’re faced with, and what most people will probably never acknowledge because it threatens their illusion of America, is the realisation that we cannot turn back the rolling wheel. It will continue to roll, and the best we can hope for is to slow its acceleration toward death.
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