Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Democracy. The Worst form of Government?

It's been some time (more than 8 weeks!) since my last pontification on Democracy. So of course, it is time for another one.

I do apologise to regular readers of this blog (yes, all three of you. Thanks, Mom! Dad! Honey!) for my "obsession". I would not be, if the democracy-evangelists/ideologues would just shut up.

The latest is this opinionated piece by a "democracy-ideologue/apologist for India" which is titled: Does Democracy lead to Good Governance?

But in a classic bait-and-switch, after asking this very important question, he instead answers another question - "Is Democracy Desirable?"


Then, there was the Greek Referendum. Where the Greeks were asked if they would like to suffer austerity measures, or not. They voted "no". How... surprising.

And some weeks back Bill Clinton cited a quote popularly attributed to Winston Churchill (it is not from him) "that America will always do the right thing... after they have tried everything else." This quote may have "evolved" from this:

“Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources.”
Which reminded me of the other quote attributed to Churchill: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."

To be fair to Shashi Tharoor (the apologist for India), the title of his (same) article on Project Syndicate was: China's Brittle Development Model.

The title "Does Democracy Lead to Good Governance" was probably written and tagged on by Today's Editors.

BUT... his article was a rebuttal of Daniel Bell's "The China Model: Political Meritocracy & the Limits of Democracy." which was adapted to an article in The Atlantic.

Bell's hypothesis (book and article) is that the China Model with the single Communist Party in charge, but with a meritocratic process for selecting leaders, is better than Democracy. Tharoor notes:
In fact, Bell argues, China’s merit-based system for selecting and evaluating officials guarantees better leadership than democratic elections...
And so, Shashi's "rebuttal", if he is intellectually honest, should be to argue that democracy results in better leadership than "The China Model". Or that the China Model does NOT result in better leadership.

But I will leave you to read the comments (or rebuttals) in this link and decide if he is intellectually honest. Or even intellectual.

And leave you to conclude if he had refuted Bell's hypothesis about the China Model, and the inadequacy of Democracy.

(You should make up your own mind. Don't let me influence you. Feel free to disagree with me.)

But even if we accept that he was NOT trying to argue that Democracy Leads to Good Governance, he nevertheless was arguing that Democracy is better. Here is his conclusion:
Finally, Prof Bell’s view can be refuted by a simple observation: No population that has gained democratic rights has clamoured for a return to dictatorship. That alone should be enough to prove that democracy is a strength, not a weakness.

China’s system may have enabled its rapid economic rise, but its dependence on a top-to-bottom consensus means that it functions well only in a predictable environment. India’s system, by contrast, requires consensus on only one point: That everyone does not always need to agree, so long as they agree on how to disagree.

In an unpredictable world, that gives India an undeniable — and invaluable — advantage.
It was that last line that showed his patriotism, that last refuge of scoundrels.

I won't bother to answer the "India will have the last laugh because we are democratic" bluster. I don't believe India will fall aside or fade away. I believe that they will prevail despite democracy. Shashi Tharoor believes that India will succeed because of Democracy. And then it will come down to a debate about the interpretation of facts.

I don't know if I will live long enough to see India surpass China. What is India's GDP now? $2 trillion (official exchange rate). China's $10 trillion. Per capita GDP (Purchasing Power Parity)? India's $5,800, China's $12,900. So India has some catching up to do. I won't be holding my breath. I may not live that long, anyway.

But in the meantime, we have Greece as an illustration of the wonders of democracy.

And there are lots of criticism of democracy. Briefly, the more common critiques are Tyranny of the Majority, Short-termism, and Populism.
"Any Democratic system contains the potential for populism. Arguably, there is no populism without democracy and vice versa since the focus on the people irrevocably links the two together. Populism is a by-product of democracy (or... "a shadow cast by democracy")... the impression can be that processes of Democracy can overtake the aims of Democracy." 
But, one might ask, why is democracy so popular? Whenever there is a revolution of the people, democracy is the go-to system of (choosing a) government.

The quote above answers the question.

Democracy is inherently populist.

If you ask a ruling Royal Family what is the best form of government, there is a good chance, they may say "Monarchy" or Feudalism. Or if you ask a Theocrat or religious-political leader for their vision of good government, he (or she) might well answer a theocracy (with their religion in charge of course).

So Democracy, which is "government by the people" (approximately), is supported by the people? Hardly surprising.

But is it good?

Ultimately, Democracy is a popularity contest, where what wins you the contest (popularity) is not what makes you good at the job. We don't have this in Singapore, but in the US, small town sheriffs are elected.
In small counties, you never stop campaigning for re-election, which is why my boss wasn't so much a lawman as he was a politician. People would constantly call him up at his private number asking for all sorts of favors, and any deputy who wanted to remain employed suddenly found themselves more or less on his campaign staff.
And you have to think, "isn't law enforcement kinda specialised, with special knowledge, and training required to work in, let alone run a whole department? And isn't there too much power in a Sheriff's office that corruption and partiality is a reasonable expectation and risk?"

I don't know about you, but I think it is a TERRIBLE idea to select your law enforcement chief democratically.

But we don't have a problem with selecting our government, democratically?

Because, government isn't a specialised job needing specialist knowledge and training to make it work? Because any amateur with common sense can make it work?

That seems to be the consensus of democracies like the US.

There is a reason why many of our opposition figures are... let's call them, "passionate amateurs".

Passionate Amateurs need more than hard work and hope to get things done.

If you are below 25, you might still believe in following your dreams, doing what you love, trusting yourself, your gut, your instinct, and really believing yourself.

Hopefully, as you get older, this quote from Terry Pratchett will strike you as more accurate:
“If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . .you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy.”
Hard work and hope are no substitute for actual knowledge.

Sometimes, people don't even do the hard work. So they wing it on hope and conviction. And their sincere conviction that they are right.

As Bilahari Kausikan said in his speech to RI on the 189th Founders Day, "Sincerity is an over-rated virtue". And also,
"Do not confuse the depth of sincerity with which you... hold an idea... with its validity."
In other words, conviction, faith, belief, sincerity does not equal truth. 

But many people believe precisely that.

Many people believe in the fiction that if your heart is good, good things will follow.

They believe that if good people are allowed to choose, the results will reflect the goodness of their hearts.

Many people believe that if your intentions are good, how can the results be bad.

Which is why they have to be reminded that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

Democracy is all about good intentions. Or good assumptions.

First, it assumes that the best person for the job will offer himself up as a candidate.


If you said, out of a sense of duty, which part of democracy and the democratic process promotes or engenders a sense of duty among citizens so as to lead to the best qualified candidate to offer himself (or herself) for political office?

Here's an argument FOR Democracy:

"In a Democratic society like the US, Democracy allows capable individuals to prosper and grow wealthy. Often when these capable individuals are wealthy enough (like Donald Trump), they feel a sense of duty to pay back to the Democratic society that allowed them to prosper, and so they run for office, out of a sense of duty, to give back to the society that gave them opportunities to become rich. This is why the US Presidential Election campaign may cost candidates up to half a billion dollars (US Dollars) to win a job, that will pay US$1.6m over the 4 years."

In case you didn't get it, that was meant to be sarcastic.

Second, it assumes that the best person for the job will get the job because he is best candidate. Democracy is a popularity contest. Ability to win votes does not translate to ability to govern well. Democracy and Meritocracy are at odds with each other.

Democracy is like choosing a heart surgeon based on how many likes he has on FaceBook.

But one may say, look at the US Presidents. They are democratically elected and they are generally competent.

That is arguable. But even if we agree that they are generally competent, how do we know that the opponent (who lost) might not have been more competent? Or that someone out there would make a GREAT president, but he doesn't have the money to campaign and win.

How do we know that the best person to be president had not been sidelined by the people with money, or the Republican and the Democrats?

If you need money to win the Presidency, then those people who have money decides who gets to be President.

But that is a separate argument about how the democratic process could be corrupted.

The third assumption is that once the (best?) candidate wins the election he would get to work solving the problems he was elected to solve. That is a naïve assumption. And we have to go back to the first assumption, or rather the basic question: why did the elected stand for election in the first place? What was the motivation?

The sad reality is that having won the election, the next problem is how to win the next election. Well, for the US Presidency, they decided to limit Presidencies to two terms, hoping that that would at least focus the president's attention on the problems at hand in the second term.

Well, that didn't work.

Even if it did, it would mean that out of 8 years (two terms) the US President would only be focused on solving problems in the last 4 years. Which would not be very efficient. If it were true.

This of course is simplistic and not true.

Because the reality is that the last 2 years of the US Presidency are his "lame duck" years, when he no longer matters, politically.


For this you need to know about end game strategy.

Let me explain briefly.

The reason why marriage is generally workable is because it is for life. Throughout history, and even in modern times, there have been suggestions for "contract marriages" or "term marriages" where the marriage is not for life, but for a fixed duration.

What's the problem?

In a lifelong partnership, assuming emotions are not a factor, you cooperate with your spouse because there is no end-game. There is continual cooperation, because you expect the cooperation to continue tomorrow and tomorrow.

However, with a defined end, at some point before the end, you would start to withhold your full cooperation. You need to start to plan your exit with as much resources as possible. When you know the end is coming, you argue and you do not compromise. Little things that bother you, you will pursue to your satisfaction instead of overlooking it for the sake of the relationship, for the sake of harmony, and because it is a small matter.

The marriage does not end exactly on the final date of the term marriage. It fades as each party gradually withdraws their commitment, and with evidence of the other withdrawing their commitment, more commitment would be withdrawn in a self-reinforcing loop.

The "lame duck" Presidency can also be explained as an end-game strategy. Or liability.

There are so many flaws in Democracy and so many "fixes" and each "fix" creates more problems.

Is democracy then good for anything?

Yes. It allows the peaceful transfer of power without violence.

That's it.
So for example, in a democracy, you have incompetent party A running the government. And you vote it out. Hoping that party B is more competent. But it is not. So you vote it out, later. But there's no party C. Party A comes back and say, "we can do better." So voters give it a second chance. And find out that they are still as incompetent. Or better yet, in the intervening years, they have learned innovative ways to be incompetent.
So in the next election, voters give party B a chance and are again disappointed. 
What mechanism in Democracy allows for either party to improve their competency, either from term to term, or in the intervening years when they are out of power?
... how is the endless cycle of incompetent party A and incompetent Party B better than being stuck with
[for example] an incompetent dictator?
...the question is, "does democracy lead to good governance?" 
Sadly, the conclusion is, no.
... there is no inherent mechanism in Democracy (or democratic process) that ensures that competency is valued, and selected/elected. 
Democracy at its core is a popularity contest. What will win you the election (popularity, marital status, family status, party affiliation, group affiliation, religious affiliation, donors, lobby groups, etc, ) says NOTHING about your ability to govern.
The two-party system in the US is a prime example of a democracy locked in a Texas two-step. You have one party campaigning on small government, and the other campaigning for more government, and the voters vacillate between small government and big government, between thesis and anti-thesis, without ever having the chance to move onto synthesis and vote for Good government.

Because good government does not arise from democracy or democratic processes.

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