Democracy – To be or not to be

Democracy – To be or not to be

If you haven’t got democracy, it’s likely that you’ll want it. If you are under 30, it’s a racing certainty. The protests in Russia and Hong Kong are only the tip of the iceberg. The populist votes at general elections precipitating people like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Rodrigo Duterte to power are another way of saying much the same thing. “We want to be heard, even if what we say is stupid.” It might be expressed differently. “If you educate us to a high level, we want our voices heard and our wishes acceded to.” It is the right of every person who can think to have a say. Many of these people think they have the right to decide, too.

What is democracy for? It is to give the people whose lives are affected by political decisions a chance to influence the outcome of them. A vote for a candidate (or many candidates) once every few years doesn’t really do that. You can, of course, have a say about choosing those candidates. To do so you will have to join a party or group and work your way up. The ordinary voter isn’t interested in such a process. S/he wants a quick, efficient say in what happens next.

So the system of one vote every few years isn’t working any more. How could it, with the information flood that we nearly drown in daily and the speed of such rapid change. The present voting process seems very horse-and-cart by today’s standards. So do we want a series of referendums (referenda?) perhaps daily, certainly weekly, to voice our opinions and, in the end, make a decision? I suggest not. Popular feelings are usually emotional, influenced by the mood of the moment rather than the reason that should guide important decisions.

We already have a plethora of polls that tell politicians what we think about policy, and – often to their distress – about them. Perhaps just a voice is no longer enough? Perhaps direct ability to influence issues which, for all their short-termness, have long-term implications too. Apart from referendums, how could we do this?

We could consider trying to make politicians effective again. Their ineffectiveness is partly caused by the way they are prepared for their political career. They were never meant to be careerists, let alone grow up in the research departments of their political parties. Connection with those they represent has been greatly lessened by their relatively closeted training programmes. A politician should be out there among the people to be effective in the job.

Even if it worked, this would be a long-term solution, unlikely to satisfy the call for immediate power by the people. Anyway, politicians are not known for thinking they could be better trained. No, our solution has to be stronger than that. As my regular readers will know I think the move towards making big business more politically decisive is both practical and inevitable.

Big Businesses have a major say in the planet’s future. They source or use the raw materials whose exploiting is upsetting the planet’s balance; they market goods and services that affect the health of the planet and its population; they hold the purse strings of the planet’s wealth and decide how much of that wealth should be devoted to survival. It is an inevitable consequence of all this that the heads of these businesses will decide our future.

They are also more controllable than politicians. They have Annual General Meeting votes about the CEO’s remuneration and survival. Anyone can become a shareholder with just a few shares that entitle them to attend the AGM or vote by proxy. This isn’t a direct control over day to day decisions but we have already ruled that out as undesirable. And decisions are increasingly about individual companies or industries. The politician most aware of this shift in power is President Xi. Watch his control of companies, not just political voices. He knows where the bullion is buried.

This is, I think, the default scenario. If we do nothing about the current democratic systems they will become what I suggest. You may not like that. Business has not always been responsible when dealing with social issues. It may be different this time as the survival of business itself is at stake. That will concentrate the minds of business people.

If you don’t like the idea, the solution is obvious but difficult.

It is to invent a new democracy.

Perhaps we ought to do that anyway.