13 January 2014

America and Democracy



By and large, the elections in Western Countries are free and fair. Political and policy change is only an election away. If people were seriously pissed off about current policy they would look for alternatives. They don't. Third party politicians and their parties rarely make any headway. Every cycle of the electoral process offers a chance for change, and yet with every cycle the incumbents remain the same.
Conservative pundits, despairing of the slouch to the left, proclaim that the public are being "tricked" and that if only the public could be better informed then people will see the errors of their ways. Bit like arguing that the way to lose weight is by more information about diet. Despite the plethora of diet books, magazine articles and internet sites, how exactly has that notion worked out?
The current political landscape is the way it is because voters have voted for it. Yeah; sure, the voters may complain about illeagal [sic] migrants but they sure as hell love the government largesse. And when it comes to a tradeoff between national good and personal interest it always ends up being a tradgedy [sic] of the commons.

Pretty much every assertion in this excerpt is incorrect, illogical, or irrelevant.*  Let’s look at each claim:

By and large, the elections in Western Countries are free and fair.

Incorrect. The elections in America are definitely not free, as universal franchise doesn’t exist.  Not all citizens can vote, even among the adults.  They are also not fair, given that non-citizens have been known to vote, dead people have been known vote, imaginary people have been known to vote, and even alive citizens have been known to vote on multiple occasions.  Furthermore, those who are part of the political machine are generally corrupt and usually manipulate the machine to their own ends.

Political and policy change is only an election away.

Incorrect.  California passed proposition 8 and all the gay marriages were stopped the state Supreme Court overturned the law.  Clearly the voters get exactly what they want every election, and no one ever stands in the way of the people’s will. The unelected officials never subvert the will of the people.

If people were seriously pissed off about current policy they would look for alternatives. They don't.

Illogical.  This is a tautology.  This assertion cannot be falsified because it is self-defined.  If you point out people’s futile search for alternatives (like Ron Paul), the rejoinder is that people just weren’t pissed enough.  It can’t be that the media lied and the GOP defrauded Paul of a fair primary.  The people just weren’t angry enough.

Third party politicians and their parties rarely make any headway.**

Irrelevant.  The reason why third parties don’t make headway in America is because the political system is corrupt.  America is not a direct democracy, nor is it even really a representative democracy, but rather a republic that is halfway democratized.  Consequently, the reason why most third parties don’t succeed is due to the general spoils system of federal and state politics, wherein the victors of each election cycle make it harder for opponents to a) run and b) defeat them.  This isn’t a failure of democracy or the voters, this is a failure of the system.

Every cycle of the electoral process offers a chance for change…

Incorrect.  Again, a lot of the changes that occur in America occur through unelected officials (like judges).  The peculiar nature of American law usually makes change difficult, especially when attempting to overturn Supreme Court Rulings.  Any judicial ruling is subject to review from higher court, but there is no guarantee that a bad or unpopular ruling will be reviewed, let alone overturned.  Once the Supreme Court makes a ruling, the only way to overturn it is by either a reversal (which is extremely rare, and left up to unelected officials) or by a constitutional amendment which, unsurprisingly, is damned difficult.

 …and yet with every cycle the incumbents remain the same.

Irrelevant.  Again, the complaint is about the system, not the participants who act in good faith.

Conservative pundits, despairing of the slouch to the left, proclaim that the public are being "tricked" and that if only the public could be better informed then people will see the errors of their ways.  Conservative pundits, despairing of the slouch to the left, proclaim that the public are being "tricked" and that if only the public could be better informed then people will see the errors of their ways. Bit like arguing that the way to lose weight is by more information about diet. Despite the plethora of diet books, magazine articles and internet sites, how exactly has that notion worked out?

Irrelevant. The amount of information one has when voting is of no concern when one’s votes are rendered meaningless through fraud and undemocratic governance.

The current political landscape is the way it is because voters have voted for it.

Illogical.  This is another tautology, one that is also rendered irrelevant by the existence of voter fraud.  A lot of voters are dead, non-citizens, or imaginary.  They have “voted” for the current state of affairs, in a sense, but there is absolutely no reason their “votes” should be counted.

Insofar as the will of the voters can be considered, how does one even begin to blame voters for the current mess if they vote in good faith for politicians who later break their campaign promises?  And how can they be held accountable for the current mess when the elected officials don’t have direct control over that much anyway?

Yeah; sure, the voters may complain about illeagal [sic] migrants but they sure as hell love the government largesse.

Illogical.  This is a pure non sequitur, as having a large welfare state does not in the least preclude a state from being strict with immigrants.  To quote Wikipedia:

Illegal immigration from Africa to Europe is significant. Many people from poor African countries embark on the dangerous journey for Europe, in hopes of a better life. In parts of Africa, particularly Mauritania and Morocco, trafficking of immigrants to Europe has become more lucrative than drug trafficking. But some illegal immigrants die during the journey and most of them who don't get asylum get deported back to Africa. [Emphasis added.]

Should we conclude from this that European countries have a relatively smaller welfare state than that of America since Europeans are tougher on immigration?

And when it comes to a tradeoff between national good and personal interest it always ends up being a tradgedy [sic] of the commons.

Irrelevant and illogical.  This is another tautology, but one that’s also irrelevant since not all policy prescriptions are a tradeoff between the national good and personal interest.  For example, it would be good for America to not engage in expensive imperial wars.  Most citizens support this notion because they don’t want to be on the hook for the future federal debt, nor do they want to see their loved ones shipped off and killed.

By way of another example, it is good for America to have fewer immigrants, particularly of the non-white variety, because doing so leads to a lower crime rate (and lower costs of crime).  It’s also good for most citizens because it shrinks the size of the labor pool, thus decreasing unemployment and possibly even raising wages.

Yet another example would be that of protective tariffs.  It’s good for America to have a strong, healthy industry base since this generally leads to a larger tax base in the medium run and sustainable national prosperity in the long run.  Most citizens would support tariffs because they would encourage more domestic production, spurring more jobs and higher wages.  While some might argue that the prices of certain goods would rise, it does not follow that the costs of all goods would rise, nor that the costs would remain high indefinitely.  Further, the extra wages that citizens would be paid would enable them to afford the increased costs.***

While there are occasions when national good and personal interest comes into conflict, it does not follow that they are always in conflict.  In fact, when you think about it, the main reason that nations even exist in the first place is because a group of people have a shared self-interest, causing them to form some sort of social union so as to collectively achieve their shared self-interested desires.  Given that the descendants of those who initially form a nation can eventually begin to desire a more abstract form of social cohesion generally referred to as nationalism, it would stand that it is not only possible for self-interest and national good to be in harmony, but that this state of affairs is somewhat common.

Further, in keeping with the above, it is clear that the cases of personal self-interest undermining the national good, at least in these modern times, usually consist of the ruling elite selling out their less-connected fellow citizens for short-term gain (think of the banking/housing bailout, or the auto industry bailout, e.g.). It is not the patriotic mass-man who allows self-interest to bankrupt the country through his participation in a direct democracy, but it is the skinflint businessman or politician who is willing to sell out the mass-man for a short-term gain.  In these modern times, globalism is not championed by the masses, but the elite.  Imperialism is not the cause of the masses, but the elite.  Free trade is not the cause of the masses, but of the elite.  How then can it be said that the implementation of these policies is ultimately a failure of the masses, not the elite, particularly when the elite have spent the last thirty years attempting to alternately brainwash and disenfranchise the masses?

I don’t know what slumlord is smoking, but I’d really like to get my hands on it.


* For context, here’s what slumlord is responding to:

The elite support democracy but democracy of the sort the Western industrialized nations have in which all but the most trivial decision-making processes have been removed from elected representatives and placed in the hands of unelected judges, bureaucrats, and trial attorneys.
Populism is in complete opposition to this type of democracy. If the people could vote directly on each individual issue, they’d support all these things: an end to almost all immigration, legal and illegal, and sending back people in the country illegally. Strong defense, but non-interventionist foreign policy. Strong tariffs on just about everything to put American workers back to work. Tough crime laws and severe prisons. Death penalties after one month. Gun ownership, but with licensing. Removal of vagrants from the streets. Forcing the mentally ill into institutions. Equitarianism not egalitarianism. Forced government jobs for everyone who can’t find one in the public sector. An end to affirmative action. You get the idea, they are on the opposite side of the elites on all issues. [Emphasis added.]

While the assertions in this comment start off by referring to Western Industrialized nations, it is clear by the second paragraph that the commenter is American and is referring solely to American issues from an American perspective since it would be nothing short of ludicrous to suggest that most citizens of industrialized Western nations a) give a damn about American workers and b) could positively impact their lot in life with strong tariffs.

** In keeping with the above, Slumlord is clearly talking about America with this one because most Western representative democracies usually have a parliamentary system that enables third parties to have some sway and influence over the government, even if they don’t get a majority.

***  Iain Fletcher has provided far more detail on trade than I can in a single blog post, so I recommend reading his work.