The problem of Democracy
Absolutely livid, is how I feel after the results of the 2015 UK general election. The most right wing government possible got in and things are going to get worse fro the UK. This has made me wonder, why so many believed the lies, the distortions of the truth, the slander of the alternatives. Why didn’t the electorate seek a stronger economy? Are the electorate idiots? I feel as though they are, in reality they are not.
Democracy began in Greece, with the idea that citizens would debate and bring about legislation to improve the economy. This was deemed better than a single ruler, liable to bias and corruption. This is the basis of British parliamentary democracy. The British system is based on the idea that each region, or constituency, elects someone to represent them in parliament. The idea is to elect someone of sound judgement, capable of making the best decisions for those they represent. So, the members of parliament (MPs) gather evidence from academics, industrialists, lawyers and other experts. Then the recommendations produced are debated until a consensus is reached and legislation enacted. At heart it’s a good system.
The problem with democracy is factions, or political parties. These factions compete and vie for power, thus basing their decisions on ideological rather than pragmatic consensual grounds. This became the traditional struggle between the left and right wing view. This isn’t necessarily a problem as it’s a democracy, representatives of a faction that take their ideology too far will be replaced and order restored. This assumes that the electorate are making rational choices, based on economic performance of the nation. This assumption that voters rationally weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a proposed scheme of legislation falls. It falls especially in modern times as the factions leaders have learnt how to manipulate information and distort the decision making process. The right have been net beneficiaries of this, which is why I am so outraged. I have said in an earlier blog that I am a Social Democrat. I am a centrist. I don’t believe that either the left or the right are inherently better than the other, balance, the optimum central ground is inherently better. This is my political theory:
The above figure visually represents my theory that the political centre is the most efficient for a population. The chart requires answers to two questions: Why is the centre more efficient? Where is the centre?
Why is the centre more efficient?
A Marxist view of economics is that it is a struggle between capital and labour. An extreme left view is that labour is is more important and creates such ideals that everybody should receive the same wage for an equal amount of labour and markets should be heavily regulated, An extreme right ideal is that capital is more important, an incentive to increase productivity and achieve growth through innovation requires encouragement, innovators should be financially rewarded and markets should be very lightly regulated. In a left leaning economy, the lower paid workers do relatively better and the better paid are less well better of as multiples of the lowest waged. In a right leaning economy, wealth concentrates with the better paid and the income gap widens. Thus there is a political spectrum from left to right, most people ideologically place themselves at varying points along it. A true democracy would achieve a politics at the mid-point between all views, the centre ground.
Western civilisation has made great advances in science and technology over the past centuries. Western society has moved beyond subsistence agrarian local communities to an industrial world. Britain in the nineteenth century industrialised. By specialising labour and moving people into efficient factory production, clustered in cities located near the fuel source, coal, ultimately standards of living improved and economic growth was achieved. This has made economics much more complex, increased the inter-dependence of the individual family unit on wider society and the state. This has lead to the phenomena of state provided services, with increased efficiency due to application of industrial techniques. It has also led to an expansion on private enterprise. Hence the question arises for populations of what services are more efficiently provided by a state monopoly and which are better provided by private enterprise. The political left argues that generally the state is the best provider, the right argues that generally private enterprise is the better provider. In my view, neither is generally best, it depends on the service provided. Furthermore as society changes the relative efficiency of state or private changes, this is decided by government, subject to the democratic will of the population.
One example, health services. It is much more efficient for health services to be provided by a state monopoly. If it is assumed that quality of health in the U.S and the U.K. is the same. Then the amount of money per capita used to provide healthcare in the U.K. from taxation is a lot less than the amount paid per capita in the U.S. through private medical insurance.
Another example, cars. In the twentieth century cars produced by private companies were of better quality and more efficient, in comparison to those produced by state providers in communist Eastern Europe. Where there is a genuine market, competition works and delivers gains. So, if provision of services are allocated between public and private sector, with varying levels of regulation, they can be economically evaluated for efficiency. So the most efficient economy will have a mixture of private and public service provision, this mixture, this balance, represents the political centre.
Where is the centre?
In the middle! Actually, where the exact centre is is difficult to ascertain. I think that everyone thinks that they are in the centre. Arguable it is through democracy that decides where that centre is. Ideally economic efficiency drives that choice. The problem of democracy is that populations end up with governments that are not of the centre. There is this left-right divide. People identify themselves as being left-wing or right-wing, or even (as I did) centrists. I would argue that such identification is wrong, the divide is relative.
If I had been an adult in 1970s Britain, where the trade unions held the government to ransom, demanding higher wages for labour, I would have been regarded as a right-winger, as I would have advocated increased regulation of the trade unions, and privitisation of several state services. By the late 1980s, I would have been regarded as a left winger , as I would have felt that government policy went too far to the right. It has been a long time since the U.K. has re-balanced However, all my adult life, the political factions of the right have been in control, the efficiency of the U.K. economy has decreased, the population keep electing right wing governments and the economy moves further to the right. A democracy should be re-balancing the economy towards the efficient political centre.
Why the Right always win
Western democracies are odd, as they are made up of factions or political parties. These parties have ideological agendas to pull the economy away from the political centre. Centrist parties, tend not to do very well. Arguably centrist parties don’t do well because they have no emotional appeal. Depending on an individuals upbringing, family circumstances, choice of career etc, most people bind to the left or right faction due to this sentimental attachment, which is crazy. Even when the U.K. Labour party became a right wing party (just more moderate than the Conservatives), many continued to support tham out of party loyalty, rather than loyalty to principle.
A party that achieves power is said to have ‘won’ an election. This idea is actually preposterous, political parties are actually representatives, they serve the population, it’s not supposed to be about winning/losing, they are there to serve, not to dictate or glorify themselves. A party is in power either because democracy has worked and their faction is the one required to re-balance the economy or the party has been successful in providing misinformation to ensure their lot/ party has the reigns of power. Sadly and perhaps increasingly the latter is the case.
In the recent U.K. election campaign, the main political parties rarely argued the case for their proposals, debate was stifled. instead the main parties relied on a battle of rhetoric about who was best/ least worse. the politicians are not doing their job. People work, get paid and pay taxes to provide for state services. The left factions say ‘We need higher taxes to pay for public services’, which is correct if and only if that is what the economy needs at the time. The right factions say ‘We need to decrease taxes as public services need to be reduced’, again, this is correct if and only if that is what the economy would benefit from. In this simplified scenario, most electors opt for the right faction, as it seems obvious to the individual that they would wish to pay less in taxation. The thing is that is isn’t necessarily the case that the individual is better off by selecting this option. This is the problem of democracy. This is what annoys me as the U.K. elects right wing government after right wing government with no re-balancing.
To illustrate my point: An individual goes out to work and brings home his monthly wages. some of those wages go to the government in taxes. The individual then pays for services that the government doesn’t provide, such as housing, water, energy supply, internet connection and basic food. The individual is then left with their disposable income. Individuals will use this income to save money for a later use, or use to provide quality of life by paying for entertainment, quality food or whatever the individual may choose.The point is that if taxes are reduced, the cost of paid for services increases, but not by the same amount. Here is the fallacy. If the economy if not at optimal efficiency, and to the right of the optimal centre, then actually the cost of paid for, private services will be higher than the amount saved from lower taxation, disposable income reduces and quality of life falls.
Of course, in a democracy people will discuss where the actual political centre is. However I’m angry because, the economic data shows that the U.K. economy is too much to the right. For example privitising the NHS (health service) in favour of a less efficient model. Due to the problem of democracy the electorate votes in a government that intends to make things worse. All of this is compounded by divisive policy from the right wing government that benefits some different regions of the U.K. to the detriment of others, What this means is that if an individual lives in the better off area, then the political centre is in a different place than for the economy in a deprived area.
With thanks to http://benjaminstudebaker.com/ for inspiration to solve the problem of democracy.