Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Serious Category Error

There was an interview on BBC World Service radio a couple of days ago, which seems to have been conceived to provide some enlightenment over what seems to be a monotonically increasing number of instances of public unrest over discontent with government decisions and actions. I was unable to catch the name of the interviewee, but he made one casual remark about the fact that most countries in the developing world did not really "get" the idea of democracy or the concept of free markets. By lumping these two concepts in a single sentence, he seemed to be implying that the two were related.

I would argue the opposite, which is that they are at cross-purposes. The ideal of participatory democracy is one in which all voices are equal, which means that all decisions are subjected to "the wisdom of the crowd." Cooler heads going all the way back to Socrates (at least as he was depicted by Plato) recognized that this system has some key flaws, which is why most successful efforts at a constitutional government have tried to address those flaws without abandoning the concept of general public participation.

On the other hand, the free market mentality is not about a level playing field. Rather, it is about a worldview that equates wealth with power and encourages a brutal Hobbesian approach to the acquisition of wealth. Within this model, the power of wealth may then be applied to manipulate the public, thus undermining the principles that motivated the formation of a constitutional government. The current state of affairs in our own country would suggest that the power of wealth has succeeded in rendering just about every aspect of government ineffectual to the point of irrelevance.

When we try to tell the rest of the world that we live in a democracy, we are really only talking about a flimsy cardboard stage prop erected to conceal that we now live under a plutocracy.

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