Friday, August 24, 2012

Is democracy contingent on public trust in political representatives?

The question, 'is democracy contingent on public trust in political representatives?' is addressed by Mr. Ivan Krastev in a recent TED speech.

Certainly, most westerns for example would agree that there is a lot of distrust of elected officials. Does that mean western democracy is not really a democracy, or that trust is not that important to democracy?

Mr. Ivan Krastev's perspective:

Selected commentary on Mr. Ivan Krastev's speech, with emphasis on Mr. Alonso Kihano who challenges Mr. Krastev's perspective and his credibility:

Mr. Hipolito Hernanz (Oregon Education Association, Assistant Executive Director - 17 years; National Education Association, Financial Advisor to State Affiliates - 2 years; WETA/26 (PBS) Business Manager -4 years; Argentine Embassy staff - 5 years):

Mr. Krastev expresses with eloquence the disappointment most of us feel when we can change candidates but cannot change policies. I think he missed an opportunity to explain why this is so.

It is essential to understand that we live in a democracy of special interest groups. By the time the candidates are announced, it is already too late for us, the voters, to make any difference. In rough terms, this is how it works:

Potential candidates are scouted and interviewed by political action committees set up by these groups. They can be the teacher unions, steel workers, bankers associations, or extremely wealthy individuals. They are selected on the basis of promises that the aspiring candidates make to these political action committees. The PAC then makes recommendations to the parent group, which decides which candidate to endorse and initiates the flow of money and professional campaign management. That's how candidates first appear on the scene.

The aspiring candidates make the rounds from interview to interview, gathering endorsements and pledges of money, without which their campaign can not even get started. By the time they can actually start they have already sold their soul to these bosses. Rarely, if ever, does a citizen start the process by himself or herself. They are almost always scouted and selected by the PAC's. Often they come from within their own ranks, such as teachers (democrats), bankers (republicans), or churches (far-right republicans). The one thing they all have in common is access to money and other campaign resources, such as lawyers, research staff, political consultants, and volunteer workers.

The Supreme Court just sanctified this process by allowing corporations and individuals to contribute without limit. Thus, one billionnaire, Sheldon Adelson of Nevada, has pledged up to $100 million to help elect Mr. Romney. One man!

How do we fix this, Mr. Krastev?

Mr. Alonso Kihano (from Russia):

The reasons why people are distracted from politics and voting in particular is that there is no democracy, but plutocracy, i.e. their vote means nothing.
2. The reason for having plutocracy is only one – the private ownership of capital and means of production. When you put the means from which you depend vitally in the hands of someone you can not control him democratically.
3. The private ownership of the mass media predetermines what you will hear from them. And it is always in favour of the rich, i.e. of the owners.
4. There exist a world network of privately sponsored think-tanks that have a declared aim to defend and develop democracy, but what they do is just the opposite – they suffocate the democracy and limit the range of the acceptable ideas to the desired by the rich.
5. Economics is not science. It is also politics, politics of the rich.
6. Due to points 3-6 all ideas for significant social improvements are being suffocated. People are being misled. A form of cultivated ignorance is being constantly spread. Thus, people are being misled, that there is no choice. Thus there is nothing to vote for.
7. The collapse of the Soviet Union accelerated all processes described in 5-6.
8. Democratic socialism without private ownership of capital and means of production is the only possible solution to the most of the current problems of the world.
Ok, I ended up with a numbered list. By the way only statement 1 alone renders the talk of Ivan Krastev senseless.

Actually, the “invisible hand of the market” is nothing more that the pseudo-scientifically stylised wishes of the owners of capital and means of production and their top managers. 

I can now return to the topic which Ivan Krastev avoids to discuss. The picture is clear as shiny day. If a nation is about to vote for government there is no choice; the political parties are also financed by donations from the rich people, especially in the USA. But even if they are not so dependent on donations, they have no ideas. Both think-tanks (already too powerful network unfortunately), and economists say – “there is no choice”, “capitalism may not be good, but there is no better”, “we cannot go against the market laws”, and so on. And, these are “our experts”. People believe them, and the politicians do not want to look stupid and ignorant. So, they conform to the “experts”. It is actually even worse. The “experts” dictate to the politicians what to do. If occasionally a nation dares to vote against the wish of the rich, or government does something against the wish of the rich then the last will answer in the usual way – cutting jobs windrowing investments, attacking the local currency. The economists will tell us, it is not the rich owners of capital and means of production that are doing that, it is the market! Thus, the economists speak for the private owners, and by their “science” actually threaten the society by the name of the class of the rich. If we disobey, they punish as, as they have threatened, and the economists say, “You see, the market laws are true!”. And the people believe that, even the economists believe that. 

The only significant change in this picture during the last 150 years is the existence of the countries of the socialist (not communist!) alliance. During the years of existence, and actually due to the socialist ideas itself, the rich had to care about the opinion of the masses. The West had to compete the east in equality....

Were the ideas coming from below, would the think tanks never be neoliberal. The effect is suppression of the democracy and the civil society – just the opposite of the declared aim. Moreover, the think-tanks put a lot of direct efforts to suffocate every different, not new just different, idea by immediately labelling it as “populist”, “totalitarian”, “communist”, “backward” and so on. There was also a good investigation (“La "main invisible" de la transition”) on that issue by a French anthropologist (also of Bulgarian origin) Dostena Lavern. Most of the works of the think-tanks are biased and quality ranges from mediocre to awful. But, the declared aim of the think-tanks network is false. The network was originally designed to suppress the democracy as we may see from the Canadian documentary “Encirclement - Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy”. One may be surprised to find out, that Friedrich Hayek is among the founders of this network, and that the principles of the network operation can be found in his book “The road to serfdom” (yes, I know, it is devoted to “socialism”. That is the curiosity.). 

Third, economics is not a science; it is politics that hides behind the mask of a science. I know you may not agree, but there are already many economists that admit it. (eg. Prof. Ha-Joon Chang). The economics just does not use scientific methods. The best description I ever met for the activities in the field of economics is by the Nobel prise winner Wassily Leontief - “We move from more or less plausible but really arbitrary assumptions, to elegantly demonstrated but irrelevant conclusions.” Moreover, the economy is based on a couple of historical myths (to avoid writing “falsifications”) especially the one of the “Golden era of European free trade” (see Paul Bairoch “Economics and world history”). Nevertheless, not only think-tanks, but university economists are keen to convince us in the “invisible hand” of the market....

The lecture is nearly completely misleading. Yes, there is growing mistrust in the politics and the political parties, but the reasons are quite different from the five ones discussed by Krastev. There are actually no new ideas in the talk that would be worth spreading. The talk is just an intellectual noise. 

First of all, there is no democracy in the western societies, there is plutocracy. This is easy to understand, but difficult to believe. And what corrupts the democracy is the private ownership of capital and means of production. Think a little, for example, you have granted someone the right of ownership of the bakery where you bake your bread. Then you vote differently from that guy. And, he gets angry and closes his bakery where you bake your bread. What democracy is that? We see such economic interference in the politics everyday and everywhere! Things are of course much worse.

Second, there are no new visible ideas for improving the society. The reasons are again two. The first reason are the private media that are also run for profit as private companies. Apart of being directly dependent on their owners, media are dependent also on the corporations via the advertising business. Thus, the media spread limited information patterned to the shape required by the owners and corporations. Noam Chomsky has a good book about that “Necessary illusions”. The second reason is the network of mainly neoliberal think-thanks financed by private foundations and the US government. As a matter of fact Ivan Krastev is a member and active participant in this network. The network and each think-tank declare an aim in the development of democracy and civil society, but what they do is just the opposite. To see the contradiction is easy, the network is financed via the project principle. The topics of the acceptable projects come from above, from the sponsors, not from below, from the citizens....

A democracy in which the people can shape the government is a rather limited one. In a true democracy the people can shape the politics, not the government only. 

Second, capitalism and democracy are incompatible. You, in the USA, do not have democracy, you have plutocracy (so does the rest of the “democratic” world, do not worry). Nevertheless, even real democracy will turn into plutocracy in a capitalist country.

Next, communism is not distribution of the resources evenly. It is a distribution where everyone gets as much as he needs. Also, money are abolished under communism. I have not heard when China abolished the use of money? China is a socialist, not communist country. But socialism also does not mean equal distribution of resources. Socialism means distribution according to the contribution.

By the way, I am not surprised. You in the USA are subject of very strong propaganda of every type. So, there is severe political ignorance, particularly on the questions about democracy, socialism, communism and USSR.

Question to Readers: 

Is Democratic Socialism the answer to United States' and the world's democracy ills, or will Democratic Socialism make the situation worse by concentrating economic power into fewer hands?

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