Monday, December 10, 2018

Will Liberal Democracy Prevail?

Civilizations are still clashing. Those who despise Donald Trump insist that they are defending liberal democracy… the same liberal democracy that gave them Donald Trump. And they insist that democracy will out over authoritarian capitalist systems, as in China.

It’s patriotic to root for the home team. And yet, the nations of the West have not yet prevailed over China. Besides, the Chinese are playing the long game… and their long game tells them that Western democracies are infected with terminal decadence, that free enterprise and free elections have descended into a free-for-all, that the media is more interested in propaganda than news, and that our nation, in particular, is tearing itself apart fighting thought crimes.

True enough, China has become more authoritarian of late, but one might imagine that the government has a reason-- however crazy it seems. That would be, to protect itself from the contagion of Western culture. Perhaps they recall that two decades ago more and more girls in Hong Kong, when exposed to saturation media coverage of a girl who starved herself to death, became anorexic. Later, nations around the world, influenced by American television shows, saw an epidemic of bulimia. Eating disorders had been rare in China until it was exposed to Western culture. The Chinese do not want decadence; they do not want an opioid epidemic; they do not want celebrity culture; they do not want multiculturalism; they do not want political correctness; they do not want a free for all.

In truth, we do not approve of the tactics, but the higher truth is that Western liberal democracies are not setting a very good example. If we want liberal democracy to prevail in the clash of civilizations, we must show it to be working. Niall Ferguson writes in the Times of London that these nations no longer seem to be working. We kowtow to the goddess of democracy and increasingly our votes count for next to nothing.

Ferguson explains the power of the vote:

You voted for Brexit? You ended up with Theresa May and now three options — her deal, no deal or some other deal (involving Norway), none of which has a majority in either the Commons or the country, implying another three options: another Tory leader, another referendum or another general election.

You voted for Donald Trump? You ended up with Nancy Pelosi back in charge of the House of Representatives and Robert Mueller rounding up the suspects.

You voted for Emmanuel Macron? You ended up with the gilets jaunes smashing up the Arc de Triomphe.

So, you voted for Donald Trump and you have been barraged with a tsunami of media talking heads calling for his impeachment, working assiduously to undermine, even to sabotage his administration. Tell me why that renews your faith in democracy.

Now, Ferguson offers the sobering insight that failure seems built into the system:

1) You can’t do anything about demographics, and for most democracies these are terrible.

2) You have inherited welfare states that transfer resources from younger to older voters, but the latter tend to be more numerous and turn out more in elections, so you can’t reform welfare and survive.

3) Your safety valve is that you can borrow from the bond market, and interest rates are very low, but that’s now changing and you can’t do anything about it because central banks are independent.

4) Your ageing population creates a demand for foreign labour and students, but immigration is politically unpopular, even when the immigrants come from northern Europe and genuinely ease skills shortages.

5) You might just be able to overcome these problems if there were a real external threat, but the truth is that ordinary people just aren’t that scared of Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, much less Kim Jong-un.

6) As for climate change, ask Macron how his proposed fuel tax is going.

7) Finally, social media have made it almost impossible for you to control the narrative. You can tweet to your heart’s content, but you are firing a water pistol into an ocean of extreme views and fake news.

And let’s not forget the increasing number of undereducated migrants, many of whom are not exactly contributing to the common good.

Ferguson suggests that democracies could have learned from each other. They could have borrowed best practices from other democracies. Such would have been the intelligent way to do it. And yet, we have not:

It did not need to be this way. Democracies could have learnt from one another, copying and sharing the Swiss system of decentralised government, the New Zealand system of prudent public finance, Japanese healthcare, Canadian immigration, German energy efficiency and so on. Future historians will wonder why best practices did not spread in that way.

Perhaps they would have, if the brightest people in my generation had gone into politics rather than finance. Without quite meaning to, the bankers contrived to make one thing easier than it had ever been before: government borrowing. Vast global markets for government debt and interest rates at truly unprecedented lows — that was what enabled the political class to duck all difficult decisions, leaving the next generation to sort it out. Now the bankers wonder why their children are all socialists.

About that German energy efficiency, closing down all nuclear power plants does not seem like the best and most economical idea.

Ferguson does offer one important point. America’s brightest people do not go into politics. Take the example of the witless imbecile named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Our brightest people go into finance or high technology. So, we are led by a political class that is not very bright and not very capable. Nowadays, diversity seems to trump everything, even raw intelligence and competence. What good does it do anyone if we elect politicians on the grounds that they look like their constituents… when they cannot do the job.

Does it not strike you that Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is simply not very bright and not very capable. She has botched the Brexit negotiations to a fare-thee-well.

On the other hand, arguably the brightest politician in the West today is French president Emmanuel Macron. How’s he been doing? Unfortunately, if you want to maintain your intellectual standing you must embrace the dogma of climate change… and carbon taxes.

If you walk away feeling optimistic about the future of democracy you’ve been smoking the wrong kind of cigarettes.


Anonymous said...

One of my pet peeves is when people call us a democracy. It is a terrible form of government that always turns into a dictatorship of the "supposed" majority almost always led by the "MOB." The "MOB" will always resort to pathos vice logos.
"The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."
There is a part of me that sees that we will eventually have our second Civil War for we know nothing about our own history and the tenets behind why we became what we did as a country and government.
GOD I hope not!

Christopher B said...

To the contrary, I think May got exactly what she wanted - a faux Brexit
deal that's Remain under another nane.

sestamibi said...

Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the
mechanics German, the lovers Italian and it's all organised by the
Swiss. Hell is where the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the
lover's Swiss, the police German and it's all organised by the Italians.

Sam L. said...

May's been doing a great job of botching Brexit.

Anonymous said...

The word democracy is used ambiguously. But it's strictest definition is majority rule, which is fraught with well-known dangers, mainly the short-term mob mentality and the potential for 51% of the population to bully, sorry, I mean rule over the other 49%. Yet we seem to believe that voting on something is a good way to resolve issues.

So long as we rely on voting, the faults of democracy must be checked. Constitutional government, in which rights and protections are defined as absolutes that cannot be changed by voting (and are therefore not subject to current popular fancy), checks democracy.

But is this function of constitutional government understood? Is it taught? We were explicitly told in school that the constitution was a living document. If this is true, we are no better than a democracy, and, for example, the constitutional proscription against slavery can be voted away anytime.

Good luck getting the democrat/progressives to grasp that.