Are democracy and capitalism dying?

Are democracy and capitalism dying?

Are democracy and capitalism dying?

Small wonder that increasing numbers of voices tell us democracy is receding. And that liberal capitalism is in decline. From the United States to Turkey, from South Africa to Russia, from Britain to Facebook fears of vox populi, often justifiable, drive attempts to regulate what Authority perceives is getting out of control. Both democracy and capitalism may already be out of control. The question is ‘Will regulation put them right?’

Martin Wolf wrote an excellent article on the subject tracing the history of the rise and fall of both democracy and capitalism in Financial Times 19Sep17. He points out the interdependence of the two while acknowledging that their objectives have different purposes. Marriage is a suitable analogy for their relationship. For democracy and capitalism it is less their competing with each other than their competing with everyone else.

For this discussion, I prefer to call it business rather than capitalism. The former is practical, gritty action, the latter, a somewhat loosely-defined concept. Both democracy and global business in excess are dangerous. Democracy because if the concept of majority is taken to its logical and excessive conclusion it means that 51% of the people kill the other 49%. Business because the wily people who conduct it know that the easiest profits come from activities that are collusive rather than from those that are freely competitive. All businesses would prefer cartel or monopoly to competition in the short run. Bonuses would be bigger.

The basis of both democracy and business is trust. For voters that means that the winners will not disadvantage or destroy the losers. Freedom of expression relies on non-retaliation. Moderate democracy acknowledges the rights of minorities. Moderate business behaves in a way comprehensible to buyers. Both tacitly acknowledge equal basic rights for all regardless of which side they are on or what their relative intellectual capabilities are.

The answer to the shortcomings that have emerged in business has been regulation – a version of law often without due process to enshrine it or, subsequently, to prosecute it. For all practical purposes regulation is law. It cannot, however, allow for every hard case. It therefore rides roughly over minority issues in favour of the big picture. Its application must inevitably end in either a conformity that denies human ambition to invent and develop or a system many people devote time and money to ‘getting around’. Neither of these situations is tenable in even the medium-term let alone the long-term.

Individual responsibility is the only hope for the future of an overcrowded, fast-changing planet. Our present education and development systems are not succeeding in teaching this. Capitalist measurements are purely profit and value based and largely ignore social and ecological requirements. Attempts to make them more ‘long-term sensible’ are thwarted by shareholder demands, especially from professional investors whose only measure is money.

Democracy is no longer content with a vote every five years. Instant news and communications mean voters can get heated up several times before breakfast. When they get to work they are ready to pour their small-interest demands volubly onto social media. Their political masters are expected to respond by coffee time. Democracy is heading for a perpetual referendum on every issue, which is – on all counts – wrong.

“More means worse” is an expression every child should be taught at the same time as they are taught that eating people is wrong. If we do not exercise moderation in our own demands the planet will take its revenge by eating us. The future is 10% less, not 10% more. There is no other answer.