3. Politics & Government

Government and politics is something none of us will ever satisfied with. We always feel politicians and bureaucrats are after personal gain, they never do anything properly, and what actually goes on in the government is hidden from us. And because that does have a germ of truth in that no matter what the government’s intentions initially were, politics ends up being a power struggle. Everyone has an opinion on how society should be run, and there are variations upon variations upon variations of government. Anarchism? Authoritarianism? Capitalism? Social Democracy? Theocracy? Oligarchy? Gerontocracy? Communism? Autocracy? Let’s go with Autocracy.

Indulge yourself. Imagine we’re going to have an autocracy, and you, yes you, are going to be the autarch. In case it isn’t clear, autocracy is where one person gets to rule. Pretty awesome right? So you have a massive army to police your population, keep everyone in line and ensure they’re as they’re as meek as lambs. Shall they inherit the Earth? Not on your watch, no sir. Now let us continue as if you are writing about your adventures as an autarch in dairy form, in first person, to make it come alive.

The aim of this gedanken experiment is to demonstrate:

  1. Government or a ‘state’ is inevitable in human society. This is because we have to cooperate in order to survive. To cooperate, we need to follow some rules so that everyone is happy. This is society. When society gets too complicated that you need to regularize those rules, you get government.
  2. Running a state is extremely complicated and constantly runs up against reality.
  3. The running of a state is locked in a constant battle with our human natures.
  4. Society is fully inter-meshed, and individual progress goes with societal progress.
  5. There are many forms of government. While their relative merits may be debated, the efficacy of a system of government really comes down to the implicit attitudes and level of understanding that the individuals who form the society being governed possess.
  6. Government is a contract between individuals to shape society, whether implicit or explicit. A government is not ‘outside’ society. It is part of society.
  7. The following thumb rule applies to actions at the societal level. “Every action has reaction. And the reaction will have a reaction. However the first reaction to the action will typically be stronger than the action, and the succeeding reactions will typically be of smaller and smaller magnitudes.” More on this in the analysis at the end.
  8. Power corrupts. Thus, every system of governance needs checks and balances, and an intrinsic method of cleansing to ensure that the corrupting influence of power is stopped in its tracks.

((If you’re short on time & patience you can just skip this to the meat of the essay))
((I took inspiration from Rabelais’ Gargantua & Pantagruel for this diary.))

Begin Gedanken Experiment a.k.a. My Diary as An Autarch.

Day 1
Dude, I woke up today, and I found myself in this awesome palace surrounded by bodyguards, servants, flunkies, lackeys, the palace staff, my Man Friday, a council, and even a food taster! It would appear that the only word for what I am is autarch. Everything is in my power.

Day 2
Might as well put that power to good use. Got a harem together, had the cook beheaded because he didn’t know I prefer baklava on Mondays, played chess with my Grand Vizier who had the good sense to lose but not before giving me a decent game, took a tour of my rather palatial residence (loved the pietra-dura), gave the priests a cursory inspection and threw a few coins their way and all in all, got pretty drunk on power. Gotta admit, nothing quite like it.

Day 3
More of the same. Decided walking was too much effort. Now I go around the palace in a palanquin. I even have a whip, but just for effect. Whipping is too much effort, so I had a whipper installed. But I had to keep directing him on when and when not to whip. Clearly he’s terrible at his job. Had him beheaded.

Day 4
My Grand Vizier told me the priests weren’t happy with all the beheadings and whatnot. They said it wasn’t just in the eyes of God. I told him to select a priest at random and behead him. That’ll teach them what’s just. Me, I’m just!

Day 5….16
Yawn yawn. Sorry, it’s just the same everyday. Fun, games, beheadings. I’m quite the holy terror haha. I can’t be bothered to write a diary everyday. Gah, ok this quill’s running out of mojo. Anyway I’m sick of having to personally have beheadings ordered. Appointed a chief beheader.

Day 17
Whatttt?!!!! The Chief Beheader tried to behead my Grand Vizier in some sort of power struggle. Thankfully my Grand Vizier was quite the dude, and finished off the Beheader and his cohort with his scimitar. Sheesh, how would I take care of the harem, and arrange for all the good food if it wasn’t the for the Grand Vizier. Casting around for someone to blame for this imbroglio. No luck so far.

Day 20
Today the chief cook in charge of fruits and salads came up and told me they were out of figs. I asked him what he meant by that. He said there were no more figs to be had. I told him I didn’t give a fig about what was and wasn’t to be had, and had him beheaded on the spot. Then I called the Grand Vizier. He had the good sense to grovel and squirm and genuflect adequately, but also used the same infuriating words. “There are no figs to be had”. Enough of this figgery! I got my palanquin ready and decided to have a look at these fig trees. I was scarcely out of the gates when I told my mahout my destination. He didn’t do quite a good enough job of hiding his surprise, and then told me the fig orchards were a good two days journey to the north. Huh…who would’ve known. So I asked the Vizier (by now beheadings were getting too boring, so I didn’t behead the mahout) what the issue was. He said drought. Now I’m a reasonable man, but I love my figs! So I told the Vizier to appoint a Fig Minister, to ensure this stuff didn’t happen and I got my figs.

Day 21
I’m still gnashing my teeth! Today in my private council chambers, my Vizier tells me the real reason there are no figs is that I had all the fig farmer dudes beheaded because some of the figs they sent up weren’t all quite perfect. Meh. So I can’t behead anyone I like? Whatever. Almost felt like having the Vizier beheaded today. But I dunno what I would do then. Maybe I’ll just keep off the beheadings.

Day 23
There was no water yesterday! This is awful. What’s the point of being an autarch when I have to worry about fixing every freaking thing. I had my Grand Vizier appoint a Water Minister. Aquaman I call him. Fig minister…aquaman…what next? Got so sick of it, so I appointed an entire council of ministers.

Day 25
Aquaman reports that he can’t get skilled labour to draw up plans for aquaducts. Stupid man. So I had my Literacy minister flogged. That should be enough to produce a few literate people tomorrow for Aquaman.

Day 26
Apparently you can’t produce literate people overnight. Not even flogging or beheading fixes this! Thankfully they did some cursory repairs and fixed them waterworks so we had water. Phew! I thought autocracy meant I had entered paradise on Earth. I seem to have entered quicksand – quicksand of the worst kind – human nature. Meh.

Day 30
Things are moving along much better. Maybe stuff takes time, but this council is working. Or they get flogged haha. No more beheadings unfortunately. Each time someone brings bad news my coterie looks at me with a hopeful air, but no, I’ve used my iron will to stop the beheadings. It seems I need my people, autarch or not. To be honest, I’m beginning to feel a benevolent kinship towards them. How can I not, when I hold their life in the palm of my hand, command their respect and provide for them? When I behold them going about their quotidian, like ants, knowing little and suspecting nothing.

Day 35
Revolt! Treachery! Insurrection! Betrayal! Treason! Backstabbation! Sacrilege! I’m am their liege lord, I am their ruler, I am their steward, their ….. ok deep breaths. Deep, calming breaths. This is what happened. A few days ago we had the latest in a series of shaft collapses in the Gold Mines south of the city. The pigheaded oafs that call themselves gold miners refused to go into the shafts. Now gold is gold. I lost my head with this fatuousness and ordered them beheaded. Yes, I said I won’t behead anymore, but this is the limit. Autocracy is supposed to be about fun and games, not about worrying about some country bumpkins of gold miners. I digress. Apparently one of the gold miners had a bloody second cousin in my army, who tipped him off about the impeding justice rushing swiftly towards him. And those damn gold miners revolted! Holed themselves up in the mines! Clearing the mines of them was a royal mess, lost many good men and women. My legions were supposed to be loyal, to me. I don’t care if your wife is going to be beheaded. This will not stand.

Day 36
Still recovering from my apoplectic fit of rage yesterday. How could they do that to me when I gave them everything. I need something stronger. A personality cult! Awesomeness. Intermeshed with religion! Yes, I’m a genius. Now where are those priests? I wonder if they have some sort of manual for attaining godhood.

Day 37
I never knew priests were that recalcitrant! Finally found a sensible fellow. It turns out you have to be subtle about it. You can’t turn around one day and tell your people,”Guess what? I’m a God now.” No, you begin by being called “His Divine Excellency”, describe anything and everything you do as a boon, begin to claim your right to rule comes from the Gods themselves, and essentially do everything you can to blur the line between you and them, till the line is trampled underfoot by the aura of divinity that surrounds my cherubic head. Then, I’m a God, and my people will be fanatically loyal to me! Mwhaha.

Day 38
Putting this divinely inspired plan into action! Got a Ministry of God-hood going, and started the process of ensuring my subjects are Autarch-fea..errr…God-fearing. I think I can already begin see the looks of fear change to awe in my subjects!

Day 50
I’m loving it! Took a gad around my city, and I swear to God, every subject who came within a barge pole’s length of me genuflected till his head touched the ground and stayed that way till I was out of sight. Damn, being a God is pretty heady stuff, I hope my head’s still on my shoulders at the end of this. Those guys over at the Ministry of God-hood are working pretty hard I tell ya. They got the chief Godhood Minister potrayed as my seraphim or something. Not that I mind, as long as I’m in charge I tell ya!

Day 52
My Grand Vizier came in, looking visibly harassed. “What up dawg?”, said I, affably. After all, Gods must be affable when it comes to mere mortals. Their blithe, innocent ignorance of just how close they are to dust makes them most endearing. I nodded towards him, projecting just the right admixture of superciliousness and fraternity. He didn’t seem to notice. Instead, I got a long rant on how the Ministry of God-hood was exceeding its mandate, usurping taxes for their operations, sweeping previously blemish-less civil servants into their fold, and levying an additional tax on every single person, including the Vizier himself (!), saying God demanded tribute. Well, Goddammit (note to self: need to outlaw that expression since I happen to be God) I’m God so I’d be getting the tribute right? As long as this God-hood cult was being strengthened I don’t care. Waved the Vizier away. He went off looking even more concerned, throwing a backward glance at me, frowning and muttering to himself.

Day 55
My God-hood minister tells me there is a plot to kill me! Really? Well, you can never be too careful. He’s put two of his men, hand-picked he tells me, with me at all times. Good stuff, feel a lot safer now. Vizier’s behaving odd though. Came the other day, opened his mouth, saw my two new bodyguards, almost looked like he blanched, and then closed it. Then started making the most inane conversation I’ve ever heard in my life on how the rising price of elephant dung is making life hard for organic farmers. What a load of crap. Vizzie’s losing it I tell ya.

Day 60
This has to go down as the worst day…ever. Even worse than that day when I got smashed on that Etruscan wine and tried to be pally with the stable grooms. Ugh. A good portion of the Lower Quarters is in flames, and the entire city is in disarray. I barely know what’s happening. The palace is locked down while they perform a room to room search for Cultists. The God-hood Cabal they call them. I personally hope they burn in the pits of doom for all eternity, while Devils flay the skin from their backs…slowly, while they’re simultaneously stretched across the torture rack and can hear their bones and ligaments pop and crackle. The power of being God-Incarnate completely blinded me to the power my acolytes down by the God-hood Ministry were amassing in my name. The way those nincompoops slyly inserted themselves between me and my populace, bathing themselves in the power that was rightfully mine, and taking it away from me. They had a scheme going where they had half the town convinced I was a fraud God (which I was duh) and that I had to be removed to make way for the arrival of the real Gods. Even a few of my troops rose up in revolt. I’m just so glad my Vizier cut down the henchmen surrounding me and enough of my crack troops remained loyal to just…barely put down the revolt.

Day 63
Citizens communities have sprung up all over the city to deal with aftermath of the fighting. Water has been in short supply ever since the fires sprung up. There were even a few incidents of riots, though quickly put down. It seems the cabal’s revolt was the impetus for a million different grievances my citizens had been harboring so far. Well, why didn’t they just tell me? So now I have an hour every day set aside where I listen to their problems. *Sigh*.

Day 65
I AM SICK OF LISTENING TO YOUR PROBLEMS. I don’t care if your baby is sick, if your mother-in-law annoys the hell out of you because there isn’t enough food, if entertainment in the way of fighting pits and plays is too freakin’ expensive, if you think you pay too much tax, and if you think the colour of the city walls clashes with the colour of the palace walls. Dammit! Enough! I’m so done with this. We’re going to have a republic and people can do whatever they want.

Let us rest and recap. There were eight points I have demonstrated. The points are re-listed here, but this time they have the day of the diary where the point is demonstrated.

  1. Government or a ‘state’ is inevitable in human society. This is because we have to cooperate in order to survive. To cooperate, we need to follow some rules so that everyone is happy. This is society. When society gets to complicated that you need to regularize those rules, you get government. Day 20 – 30.
  2. Running a state is extremely complicated and constantly runs up against reality. A theme throughout this article.
  3. The running of a state is locked in a constant battle with our human natures. Day 17, 35.
  4. Society is full inter-meshed, and individual progress goes with societal progress. Day 21, 25 – 26.
  5. There are many forms of government. While their relative merits may be debated, the efficacy of a system of government really comes down to the implicit attitudes and level of understanding the individuals that form the society being governed possess.
    • Theocracy Day 36 – 50
    • Kleptocracy/Autocracy Day 1 – 20
  6. Government is a contract between individuals to form a society, whether implicit or explicit. A government is not ‘outside’ society. It is part of society.
  7. The following thumb rule applies to actions at the societal level. “Every action has reaction. And the reaction will have a reaction. However the first reaction to the action will typically be stronger than the action, and the succeeding reactions will typically be smaller and smaller magnitudes.” Day – 35. This is an extremely important point. I’m going to discuss this right after.
  8. The theme that power corrupts runs throughout this article, as is evident in the autarch’s actions and clear cognitive dissonance, and the actions of his coterie, such as the Chief Beheader (Day 17).

Society-level Effects

One of the most important things is understanding second order effects of changes in society. It’s useful to understand how stresses on society build up tension, how that tension affects society, and how society will simply break once you pass a particular stress point. A great example is what is happening in India right now. The scale of the level of graft in the Indian government and bureaucracy is difficult to describe. Discussions of said graft simply lead to a what-can-you-do attitude. Indians despair of ever having even an approximation to a clean government. This corruption is the stress on Indian society. The despair is the tension this stress creates. And the recent protests with Anna Hazare at the head were simply this tension reaching a breaking point. Anna Hazare caught the moment, but this was waiting to happen. The despair and sense of injustice at the sense of entitlement felt by civil servants and politicians has long reached a breaking point, and society finally gave way before the stress.

Here’s another example. Otto von Bismarck built the Germany of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The rise of Germany was the stress on Europe’s nation states. It upset power relations between countries. The tension was the arms race, military build-ups and race to colonize prompted by the need to pre-empt Germany’s power buildup. The breaking point was reached when keeping abreast with Germany’s rise could no longer be achieved through peaceful means, and only a World War could resolve the tension. The result? Germany lost, and massive reparations were imposed on it. The reparations rubbed salt into Germany’s wounds and only served to stoke another round of German nationalism. Hitler caught the moment, and gave Germany the Renaissance it needed so badly, the rise from the ashes that it needed to repair the nation’s psyche. This, in conjunction with Hitler’s personal demons, lead to World War II. But Hilter’s rise was an effect of wounding Germany’s national pride. This meant another World War, and the Holocaust. The Holocaust lead to much soul-searching and the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East. That establishment lead to the current conflict, and was the progenitor for notions that the West had not really stopped playing their games with Asia, feeding directly into what became terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. So is it really possible to draw a line from Otto von Bismarck to Al- Qaeda? Perhaps.

Goals of a Government

Now back to a government. The aim of a government must be to raise the standard of living and ensure equal opportunities. Equal opportunity means letting everyone pursue their happiness, whatever that means to them. The responsibility of raising the standard of living is because there are some things only a government can do.

Why not Autocracy

Letting everyone pursue their happiness means governments should restrict personal freedom only to the extent required. Of course, this is easy to say and the devil is in the details. The other problem with autocratic governments is that they lack checks and balances on power, which means they can fail.

Ruling out autocracy rules out a good many forms of governments. You could have no government, i.e. anarchy, but that as demonstrated stands in the way of progress. Now I would argue against anarchy, but there doesn’t seem to be a single definition of anarchy. From what I understand, it comes down to not having a centralized government. This, again, plainly is not capable of dealing with the complexities of modern government. Another anarchist philosophy worth debating is direct democracy where every measure is debated upon by the community. In theory, this sounds grand, but in practice unless you wish to spend every living moment debating legislation, this is unwieldy. The whole point of having a government is that you outsource governance to specialists (politicians/bureaucrats/judges) and don’t worry about it. If there is another definition of anarchism, point it out, and I shall respond to it. I’ll expand on this when I discuss what a government is.

From Democracy to Republic

This leaves us with either a democracy or a republic. As I understand it, democracy stands for majority rule. Take this to mean, as a starting point, that if 50.0001% of the people support a measure, that measure passes. Common sense will inform you that the opinions of the minority also need to be taken into consideration. This leaves us with a republic. Subject to the rule of law with the checks and balances required. A republic is a democracy, but a democracy guided by the rule of law to satisfy all citizens that the state is doing its utmost to ensure a fair and happy life.

But, hold on, why do we need a republic? Why do we need laws and rules. Because the government must be checked, fettered and directed. But why a government in the first place? Instead of spending time electing the government, why don’t we just figure out stuff on our own. This is direct democracy. All right! So tomorrow you’re going to debate regulations for poultry farms, but don’t tarry too long! There are environmental regulations to be drawn up! Building regulations to be drafted! Foreign trade agreements to be hammered out! Border checkpoints to be installed! I hope you’ve done your reading on all of these topics because we want an in-depth debate! Wait, are you saying it’s too much? Oh, let’s delegate each problem to a group of people then. Yeah, we’ll just choose the people most suited to each problem to figure out that problem. So we’ll hire some poultry farmers and some consumers, put them together, and let them draw up poultry farm regulations. Oh..wait… we just ended up with government again. And that’s the gist of it. There’s no getting away from a government. A government is a specialized body with specialists designed to handle the job of governance so you don’t have to. It’s because a specialist will always work better than someone with no training in the field. Thus a government’s distinguishing characteristic is that it must specialize in governance. This is why you cannot have direct democracy, because people like you and me do not specialize in governance and have no knowledge of it. We would be terrible at governing. Our work now boils down to choosing a ‘nice’ government. Now if you’re going to be electing representatives, the system had better ensure a level playing field, and this means limiting the influence of money and power on elections, such that certain institutions/groups do not get a ‘grip’ on the process. There must be no advantage conferred by simply being vested in the political process for a length of time. Thus we have democracy, participatory democracy, but not direct democracy. Great. But if you’re going to delegate all this power to the government, you need checks on it. That’s your constitutional republic. An even distribution of power such that everyone has a say in the political process and power is never concentrated out of proportion.

Democracy in Face of Disagrement

However you probably disagree with me. Actually I’m pretty sure you do. This is because almost everyone has strong views on politics and government and very little can change those views. In the several politically themed discussions I’ve had people who’ve held views from libertarian far right to the far left, what I’ve understood is one’s political views stem from the implicit assumptions one makes about the individual and society. Thus, there is no correct form of government, because if your political views are based on your assumptions, and if you hold that all assumptions are equally valid by virtue of being assumptions, then all political views are equally valid. The question then becomes, how does one reconcile this view with the requirement that we can only have one form of government at at time? We use democracy. Via democracy, the most favoured form of government rises to the top (ideally anyway) and thus government can constantly adjust to what people want. If people want to shift to the left/right, they elect politicians from the left/right and thus the government adjusts to the people’s wishes. Thus, democracy could be a kind of ‘meta’ political theory, since it can adjust to the preferred mix of political theories.

Devil is in the Details

I personally favour a constitutional republic, where the powers of the government are appropriately limited. The constitution must ensure democracy is representative, so that minority voices are not drowned out by the majority. Elections must also be carefully designed. The first past the post system does not adequately reflect people’s choices in reality. Say, 3 candidates run for a seat. Two from the far right and one from the far left. The two far right candidates get 30% and the far left candidate gets 40%. However the two far right candidates had very nearly identical platforms and thus it is reasonable to assume they split the far right vote. Thus the far right vote was 60% in actuality and either of the far right candidates would be much more palatable to the majority than the far left candidate. Thus, a far right candidate should win, but the far left candidate did win. More criticism is here. I like instant runoff voting The Schulze method might also be worth looking into. Another important consideration is simply getting people to vote. How democratic is an election where only half the electorate votes? Should there be clear-cut incentives provided to people who bother voting, such as a marginal decrease in the tax rate and priority in government services, since they did, after all, bother with putting their government in place?

There are several other considerations with a constitutional republic such as combating gerrymandering which a reading of the relevant Wikipedia articles would doubtless do a better job of illustrating than I can. Also TE articles [1] [2]. However there is one drawback of a democratic electoral system that people are always going to vote for more benefits and less taxes. Hence, democracy is not guaranteed to throw up the best candidates due to the fallibility of human nature. A critic would say that in democracy those who can make the best promises win.

Why not Capitalism?

There is one excellent objection to my political leanings. “All well and good with your views”, you may say, ”they may make sense theoretically, but practically we all know that the most successful and wealthiest nations on the planet fall to the right (politically I mean) of what you propose.” True, to an extent. America does fall to the right of what I propose in particular and it is the wealthiest. What is common to these countries is the tenet of individualism. The individual is more important than the society, and the individual has rights. These countries also practice some form of capitalism, with America pursuing a more laissez-faire policy. I’m going to look at the combination of individualism and laissez-faire capitalism. While it is not the purpose of this paragraph to single out a country, but to critique such a combination, it is true that America comes closest to the system being critiqued and can thus be taken as a test case to measure what is being discussed here against. Now, my contention is because individualism elevates the individual over society, it gives rise to a set of morals where you are the focal point. What matters is you. And thus, all action must be directed towards your betterment. This means that if you can cheat someone to your advantage, provided the risks of such cheating outweigh the downside of getting caught, you should cheat that person. In a society that emphasizes the society over the individual, even if there was no downside to cheating someone, a sense of belonging to the community – that cheating someone else is equivalent to cheating yourself – would stop you. But the closer you get to individualism, the feebler this shared identity gets and the barrier that stops you from cheating others grows increasingly tenuous. Now, stir laissez faire capitalism into the mix. Here, the economy is as de-regulated as possible, because great store is set by the market, in it’s ability to remove inefficiency, and self-correct. The market self-regulates and the state’s intervening hand is not required. But what really does happen? I assert that an amalgam of laissez faire capitalism and individualism can be toxic. It’s because capitalism is an ideal. This great faith in the self-regulation of the market is an ideal. And every ideal breaks down in the real world. Hence a market’s feedback loops can be subverted and broken in the real world. By way of example, SEC is suing Citibank [1] for selling a billion dollars worth of securities and betting they would fail. The judge reprimanded the SEC for not regulating Citibank & other banks appropriately. I quote from the cited article “Citigroup, as other financial firms, had been cited similarly over the past decade—and never faced any consequences.” This means that firstly, the market’s self correcting mechanisms did not work because banks have exhibited such behaviour repeatedly and have not suffered any consequences. Secondly, it shows that the regulation in a laissez faire capitalist economy was not up to standard and was unable to deal with several recurrences of the problem over a period of time. Another scenario where the free market fails is where we are faced with imperfect information. If have do not have all the information required to make a decision, then we can arrive at the wrong decision. Case in point is the tobacco industry and smoking. To quote [2] “The industry was found to have decades of internal memos confirming in detail that tobacco (which contains nicotine) is both addictive and carcinogenic (cancer-causing).” Here, consumers, that is us, did not have the necessary information to make anywhere near the correct decision on smoking. The free market failed because the feedback loop broke. The feedback loops were broken because consumers, who generate the feedback, could not generate it in the first place because their information was imperfect. Idealistic expectations is not the only criticism I have here. There is also the harder to deflect question of feedback. To regulate, is feedback better or is prevention better? Isn’t prevention of a mess like the financial meltdown much much better than fixing it? And then comes the ethical question. For feedback to occur, a significant cost has to be borne by the consumer such that they have the necessary motivation to generate that feedback. Is it fair that you be expected to bear that cost, and then the additional cost of generating and sustaining feedback? Is it fair that people had to die from smoking before the market’s “Invisible Hand” kicked in? And this “Invisible Hand” of ours must truly be invisible, because far from our promised progress-for-all, what you end with is a plutocracy. In capitalism, capital equals power and leads to this. Capital equals power equals more capital and the cycle self-reinforces. Capitalism’s initial promise of freedom and prosperity is a little like the Sirens. Free markets sound wonderful, but that promise is disingenuous.

Why not Strong Governments?

My previous paragraph had a decided slant against the excesses of capitalism. Does this mean I favour a powerful, controlling government? Ideally, governments serve the people since they are not subject to the rigours of competition, thus leaving them free to take decisions in the best interest of people. This automatically raises the question: if a government has no competition, then what makes it perform? Perhaps the threat of being voted out four years down the line? Not really. How does it matter that you face in election in four years. What matters is that you are given four years to exercise your power for yourself. And perhaps if you’re lucky, and have a great PR machine going, you’ll still get re-elected. The way to look at governments is the same way we looked at companies. As an entity that wants to grow and gain power. If you look at ‘governmental drift’, i.e. the behaviour of governments over time, the pattern of increasing regulation and oversight is clear. Good modern day examples are Hungary, Venezuala and Sri Lanka. Fundamentally, a government is no different from a company in behaviour and aims. This is why a government must have constraints, checks and balances, not just internal but external. Internal checks would be self-imposed in the form of a constitution. Internal checks aren’t enough because the government can change its constitution. So external checks are important too: a free press and free flow of information. Though while a vociferous press and informed citizens place some sort of brake on the abuse of power by politicians, the counterpoint is that governments are cloaked in so many layers of bureaucracy that there will be abuses of power that will go undetected. I do not know much about the other two branches, the judiciary and the executive, but similar checks and balances must apply to them too. In other words, we must invest time and effort to ensure the branches do their job. Clearly not very satisfactory. Bring in unions and the opacity that naturally accompanies bureaucracy and you have set the stage for, at the least, a minimum amount of corruption and waste in government.

Second, from experience, strong centralized governments are not as efficient as capitalism’s “creative destruction” in solving problems.

Why not Communism?

Because communism is always authoritarian. In communism, you decouple the fruits of labor from the labor itself. That is, you’re taking away a person’s motivation to work. But you still need people’s labor. The only way to make people work when you take away their rewards is to force them. Hence, communism must be authoritarian. And we’ve discussed that authoritarian governments fail.

Underlying Problems

Clearly these two methods of accomplishing tasks in society – governance and markets – run into problems. Then what does it come down to? Note that the same problem underlies government and the free market, that of the fallibility of human nature. It comes down to the quality of the citizenry of the region in question. If the citizens of a region subscribe to the notions of a society, and truly believe in the society they belong to, then no matter what their place, in the market or in government, they will hold to their purpose independent of external incentives to perform. Thus, it really does not come down to the system of government or to how free the markets are or any of that. It comes down to a citizenry which understands how society works as a cohesive whole, understands how they are bound to society, and understands that for society to work it is required that they weigh the interests of society against the interest of the individual, because what that really is, is the weighing of the interests of the individual in a broad context versus weighing the interests of the individual in a narrow context. If individuals do not subscribe to the greater idea of society, and do not establish trust such that every transaction you carry out must be double checked to ensure you are not being cheated, then society is not worth it and will fall apart. After all, the reason you carry out a transaction is to gain something that is not within your power. And if it is not within your power, then you do not have the means to check if you were cheated or not. When you buy a car, you trust the car-maker to give you a good product, because you do not possess the knowledge or tools or time to fully check for yourself.

Favoring Social Democracy

I feel the conclusion from the previous paragraph is that a society’s worth lies in the measure of it’s citizens. But it takes resources and several generations before you develop capable and informed citizens. What is to be done in the meantime? I feel a balancing act between governments and free markets is optimal. Assign functions to governments and free markets which history has shown them to be adept at. Governments can provide a minimum of social welfare, and let the market provide services to those who want to pay. Balance a welfare state with capitalism. You might say,”Will this work in practice? Is there an example?” I could point to Sweden as an example, but Sweden is a small, ethnically homogeneous country. What works in Sweden mayn’t necessarily work elsewhere. Plus, not exactly Sweden, because Scandinavian society discourages and suppresses fulfillment through achievement, as opposed to the championing of this idea in America. I feel achievement leads to much meaning and self-esteem and is important. Hence, perhaps, the Scandinavian social democratic system infused with an understanding of individualism à la America?

I do believe that a social democracy is more efficient that either capitalism or communism. That because a social democracy develops its human capital by providing better opportunities for its citizens. I think countries like America do not provide all its citizens equal opportunities and waste much human capital. For example, not everyone can afford to go to college in America, but college is free in Europe.

I know a lot of people on the right recoil when they hear the word ‘social’. ‘Social’ does not imply ‘communist’ or ‘anti-business’. I fully recognise the importance of capitalism as a motivating force for human progress, and that competition brings out the best in us. However, competition can also bring out the worst in us, and it is the duty of regulation to ensure that this is avoided. A perfect example of this is the manner in which competition forced the construction of what is essentially a slave labour powered assembly line for Apple in the drive to reduce costs. Instead, a social democracy provides services to citizens that can do a better job of developing their human capital. A welfare state ensures that social inequality is kept within acceptable limits which in turn has important consequences. Everyone has a basic standard of living and concomitantly a basic level of happiness. This means society is stable. I earlier said there are stressors on society’s fabric. Inequality is one such stressor and when it reaches a tipping point the effects can be drastic. For example, the recent British riots where disenfranchisement and a feeling of powerlessness and injustice at unwarranted police heavy handedness conspired to stress society such that a tipping point was reached. Or take the Tamil Tigers’ civil war in Sri Lanka. Discrimination against Tamils reached a tipping point and lead to a decades long civil war which achieved little if anything and is going to have deleterious long term effects.

I’ve reached the limits of my political science knowledge here. Second, each region is different, and each region’s government must therefore be different and must adapt and conform to the values and needs of that region. I hope this essay contributed to your thought process if nothing else.

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