January 25, 2015
Our American Democracy is failing. I confess: Some mornings I wake up wishing I lived in a benevolent dictatorship.
My country would have a benevolent dictator who could unilaterally decide that we would have a simple progressive income tax, with no deductions or loopholes. He (or she) would manage our Federal budget of $3.6 Trillion to assure a sufficient amount to bring our infrastructure to world class standards. In my vision, we could do this by appropriate downward adjustment in our military spending of $631 Billion and by re-engineering all government agencies under proven professional leadership. Our government would invest in innovation in health care and technology. Our private sector would be motivated and required to better address living wages, and social and environmental justice. A cap would exist on C Class compensation–how about 100 times that of workers, instead of the current 300 times?
In my country, there would be no such thing as gridlock. Sensible decisions would be made and implementation would be immediate and efficient. No regulations would exist without a sunset ending and none would have inadequate funding. Government leaders would be paid as much as corporate leaders. A safety net would exist to protect decent hard working people from facing poverty and homelessnes just because globalization took their jobs to Bangladesh.
In this country, we would not be vulnerable to nationalistic rhetoric, nor would we be distrustful of people on the basis of race or national origin or faith. We would not set out to fix all the problems of the world with weapons, and would work with other nations of the world to collectively address the world’s conflicts and human rights abuses. We would concern ourselves with the welfare of the citizens of other nations of the world. Our budget for aid to developing countries would be equal to our military budget.
Our dictator would not be susceptible to arguments that the “Constitution” is sacred. In fact, it would be updated periodically to reflect the vast changes since it was written. For example, the Second Amendment would be radically changed to recognize that the young lawless nation which needed everyone to bear weapons, is now a country with vast armies and police, where the second amendment as originally written is now seriously threatening our safety, as opposed to assuring it.
All of these things would be much more possible if we didn’t have the kind of democracy we currently have.
Not all, but many of these benefits exist in China: People don’t carry guns, the government builds roads, bridges, airports–rapidly–and the government invests alongside industry in bioscience and technology. This week’s Economist reports that China has decided to provide more than $100 Billion to state investment funds which will invest with private companies to build a Chinese chip industry targeted to beat the US, So. Korea and Taiwan by 2030. Why can’t we?
Here’s some of why our Democracy is looking weak compared to China’s dictatorship just now:
- Our current Democracy is paralyzed in gridlock. We can’t even agree to fix our roads and bridges.
- Our current democracy has come under the control of big money.
- Our current democracy does not adequately assure opportunity for all. The relative equality of the 60s is rapidly disappearing. We are back to the inequality of the Robber Baron era around 1925. We are doing nothing to reverse these trends.
- Our citizens display a frightening lack of understand of the role of government, what is freedom, how there is no freedom without government.
- One of our great political parties has gone completely haywire and a lot of Americans appear vulnerable to their message, which is a mixture of fear, gun rights, religion, and nationalism.
Danny Quah, a professor at the London School of Economics, defends against arguments that China cannot continue to succeed without Democracy: “Notwithstanding all the obvious benefits to people of individual freedoms, whether entire nations perform better when their citizens have untrammeled free choice is a proposition with neither mathematical proof nor definitive empirical support. No generalization exists of the Fundamental Theorem of Welfare Economics that might allow convincing pronouncement on the optimality of free political outcomes…But H.L. Mencken noted: ‘Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.’ ” Certainly China’s “meritocratic” process of selecting leaders looks a lot more intelligent when Americans seem to be seriously considering voting in Trump, Cruz, or Carson.
Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others that have been tried. I still think Democracy is the best form of government, and that China will prosper by moving gradually to its own form of greater citizen participation. There is something terribly correct about citizens having the right to choose their leaders and their laws. And benevolent dictatorships often fall prey to the corruption of power and money.
But, our Democracy is in serious trouble. We face dire consequences unless we coalesce around an agreed conscience for what we want our country to be, where that agreement is not overly influenced by capitalism, wealth, lobbyists and lawyers. And, the above bullet point characterizations of our failing democracy are now seen clearly at the ends of the world, due to media, technology and globalization. We no longer represent the ideological pilot for global governance.
It wasn’t always this way. It doesn’t have to be this way.