Friday, March 12, 2010

Capitalism Undermines Democracy?

FLG doesn't have time to translate this article, but the authors lament the lack of voter participation and general disinterest in regional elections in France. The culprit? Neoliberal capitalism.

Their argument is basically that the inequality created by capitalism undermines democracy and that various changes to regional governance caused by the desire of Sarkozy for France to become more competitive is undermining democracy.

Generally speaking the argument that inequality undermines democratic participation because the rich and powerful control everything anyway seems compelling, but I've always been very skeptical. Wealth and economic power do translate into political power in various ways. However, and this goes back to my continued shock that people on the Left are more concerned about corporations than government because in theory corporations are greedy and selfish and the government is "the people," corporations don't have the ultimate power of compulsion -- force. If the people are truly upset, and I mean broad-based discontent with the distribution of wealth, then they can and have voted for politicians who change it. Perhaps you don't get some October Revolution, but Teddy Roosevelt busted from trusts because of concern about the robber barons. Perhaps the Frogs are a cynical lot who, when faced with a situation that concerns them, surrender to it like a Blitzkrieg.

Also, on a related note, I'm generally supportive of more transparency and democracy, but I'd really like it if everybody gave some thought to whether transparency and democracy are really beneficial in each case. For example, I'm very skeptical about transparency in the fashioning of legislation, whether it's Bush/Cheney energy policy or Obama's health care policy. Politicians do need to hear straight answers and have honest discussions about the issues. Transparency will, for a variety of reasons, inhibit this process. I'd much prefer a situation in which politicians draft the legislation behind closed doors and consult anybody they want, then present the results in a open and honest way with enough time for people to read it and analyze it. Then make changes and hopefully the second time have an acceptable piece of legislation. I'm much more concerned about posturing for the camera or politicians not getting legitimate insight from business leaders and interest groups for fear of public backlash, then backroom dealing. We check for the results of backroom dealing when they present the end product.

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