For thousands of years Western civilisation has learnt from its history; obtaining great insight into our humanity and a profound understanding into the foundations of our society. In thinking about the formation of our modern democratic processes, we do well to enrich our insight into The in more recent times these processes have begun to fail us.
It was probably the ancient poems of Homer “The Iliad”and “Odyssey” (written in the 12th Century BC during the Greece Trojan Wars) who confronted the existential choice – whether to live a short glorious life or a long unremembered life (as a narcissist or altruist). Interestingly his mythical Trojan War hero Achilles choosing to reject the glorious path.
It is Greece politician Cleisthenes who is regarded as the father of “democracy” after establishing a democratic political and philosophical state in Athens, Greece around 500 BC. But it was the Greece philosopher Plato around 430 BC (who first contemplated the reasons for our existence and death) and Socrates who are credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosophers, of the Western ethical tradition of thought. This thinking inspired the Roman Empire to create a form of democratic state more along the lines of modern democracy.
The Gospel of Mark around 33AD was where we begin to understand why we value forgiveness and human rights, why we feel we should help the poor and why we feel ashamed when we treat others in a way we would not like to be treated ourselves. The teachings of Jesus Christ (as reflected in the 4 Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke & John) became the hallmark of an altruistic political state. On 15 June 1215 King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, first documented the principles of a democratic process in the Magna Carta; a document used today as the foundation to most modern democracies around the globe.
It is fitting around the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carter in England that we reflect upon how “democracy” is fairing across the globe. In the process, it is also worth reflecting upon how our Australian constitution is also fairing since its formalisation at the time of Federation in 1900; being based upon the fundamentals of the English Magna Carter document. Interestingly, Australia holds one of the four surviving manuscripts of the English Magna Carter at the Canberra Australian Federal Parliament. The unwritten UK constitution is also based upon it, as is the USA Bill of Rights and that of many other “democratic” countries around the globe. This famous document, written by 40 indignant English barons in Latin, had as its prime objective that “all people are equal under the law, and all can be held to account (including the King)”. It was the first step in a long journey towards greater liberty for ordinary people and a more democratic process.
The Magna Carter altered forever “the balance of power between the governed (ordinary people) and the government”. Today it serves as “a symbol of democracy, justice, human rights and perhaps above all the rule of law for the whole world”. Its main intent was to shift disputes from being resolved by civil wars and physical clashes, to a more civil process of diplomatic discussions within independent institutions where political representatives reflect the will the common people. All governed within a process that ensured all (ordinary people) were treated equally before the law; a law (based upon the Magna Carter) enacted through an independent judiciary, independent of religious beliefs, culture or race. At the heart of its evolution was the tension between alternative bases of legitimacy of the institutions’ governance. On one side was the established top-down model of legitimacy from the sovereign (King). One the other side the organic legitimacy from the bottom-up emergence of independent institutions which have also evolved over the years ever since. Little did the originating barons appreciate that shifting power from the King to these institutions and there representatives would, over the centuries, give rise to further tensions between these independent institutions and how their evolution attracted greater power over the will of ordinary people from failing democratic governance processes. As they say “Democracy may not be perfect but its the best we have today”.
The Magna Carter was fundamental in generating trust in societies linked to the idea that ordinary people and their property would be treated on a consistent legal basis. This legacy remains as relevant today, during a period of enormous technological reshaping of community trust, as it was over the centuries and therefore remains of economic value. It underpins the modern version of social and economic disruption that is so rapidly destroying many of our traditional business models; forces such as:-
- The rise in emerging markets, like China & India
- The accelerating impact of technology, like the computer, internet, mobile phones, social networks
- Our ageing population and accelerate population growth
- The increased flow of capital, people & trade and free trade agreements
Ordinary people tend to adapt to these forces as consumers in a traditional bottom-up way of thinking, including how they distinguish between physical and virtual worlds, between established power bases and start-ups (such as Facebook & Twitter). Each “democratic” country has had to evolved their own unique democratic processes based upon the original Magna Carter document for their own laws.
The four most critical factors today putting pressure on our democratic governance processes, as inferred in the Magna Carter, are forces associated with:-
- Inequality in Wealth Distribution
- Appropriate representation of “The Will of the People”
While the Magna Carter was focused on equal rights for all and the avoidance of wars, it failed to take into account the growing level of “greed” emanating from situations where enormous sums of money are required to change hands. Monies expected to be managed effectively via an appropriate democratic processes. The “power of money” held by the wealthy classes and the degree of corruption operating within the democratic processes alone have begun to put our democratic processes at risk. Every day, our newspapers are filled with such allegations and court rulings. as stated earlier, while democracy is not perfect, it remains the best system of government currently available to western society. Another way to explain how our current democratic processes are failing (ie. living up to the ideals contained within the Magna Carter) is to examine how it is that many countries’ democratic processes have become dysfunctional over recent timers.
Inequality in Wealth Distribution
Since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), income inequality has worsened significantly around the world. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the GFC is the “challenge of our time”. “In advanced countries (like Australia, USA, UK, etc.) the gap between rich and poor is at its highest level in decades.” Even back in 2008 a worldwide survey showed that 81% of people in democratic countries didn’t trust governments and their politicians. This result has since worsened, brought about by events such as Watergate which highlighted the “broken promises” of our politicians in government. A significant contributor to this lack of trust has arisen from western countries following, what is often referred to as, “trickle-down” economic strategies, believing that favouring the rich at the top will result in their benefits flowing down to improve the situation of our poor. It’s a view that economic growth would accelerate once wealthy people accumulated assets and began to spend more on goods and services produced by poorer people. According to this model, economic growth slowed if wealth accumulated within the richest part of society and accelerated if the poor and middle class received a larger share of society’s total income. More recent surveys suggest that the opposite is true. This blatant realisation by ordinary people has contributed to their distrust in their politicians and strategies of growth at any cost.
The reality is that since the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) the owners of capital have been accumulating great wealth, which shows no sign of slowing. Central banks, in reviving western economies, have driven up asset prices, resulting in the o.1% Club in the US amassing 99% of US wealth since the Lehman crash. They have also stashed away over $US 2 trillion in oversea countries where little/no tax is paid and to avoid paying tax in the US. According to President Barack Obama “Whereas in the past, the average chief executive typically made about 20-30 times the income of average workers, today CEOs make 273 times more.”. So how are the poor and less fortunate fairing? Their situation is worsening! The recent election of Donald Trump as the US President was based upon this problem of US wealth inequality, lack of employment opportunities for the working class and ordinary people’s distrust in the establishment of both major parties .
There are two prevalent economic strategies:-
- Trickle-down economics – where growth will take care of matters such as inequalities and corruption
- Marxist-style economic – where the common sense judgements of ordinary people will prevail in taking care of such matters
Both styles of economics are in place around the democratic world and both have their strengths and weaknesses. The one truism is that as things stand now there remains inequality in wealth distribution, driven by the consensus view of western economics that investing in growth (driven by the rich) will inevitably take care of the poor (“trickle-down” to the poor). The Marxist tactics of China stand as testimony to this claim, where around 500 million more people have begun to taste middle class affluence and a billion worldwide. Unfortunately the unskilled and very poor are yet to taste such middle class affluence after 5 years of GFC global recovery and China’s continued economic growth. Australia has bucked this trend of a shrinking middle class. In Australia, recent statistics suggest income inequality has not gotten any worse (nor any better), but there remains certain imbalances here because the lot of the very rich have improved markedly but the poorer have become far worse-off.
The greatest inequality arises is when the already poor are expected to carry the biggest (percentage-wise) burden simply because past welfare funding has grown out of control with an ageing population, creating a culture of “entitlement”. It fosters a society of poor who become highly dependent upon receiving regular hand-outs. The question is how to shift from an “era of entitlement” to an “era of self-empowerment, self-help and self-motivation”? The answer to this important question would appear to require a significant shift in mindset; a shift which eludes governments around the western world. Most have steadfastly held onto their “trickle-down” economic strategies in the belief that after the middle class cash grab has been satisfied there should be sufficient overflow to pass something onto the poor. Whereas communist states tend to trend towards a Marxist-style market driven by the revolting poor achieving a better deal, as in China, Russia and Cuba. Again this approach has come at a great cost to its society.
There is clearly a serious imbalance here. All the recent advances in technology would appear to have done little to improve the lot of the poor. Some realistic claims are made about improvements in the productivity of ordinary workers but technology has also taken over many menial tasks the were the domain of unskilled workers. The shiniest example of democracy in the world (the USA), is not even capable of approving its own debt ceiling, without the need to constantly resort to “extraordinary measures” to avoid defaulting and putting the entire national economy at risk and to ransom. In the 2013 and 1996 federal budget fiasco, there was a complete government shutdown where federal workers were under criminal sanctions if they simply showed up for work. The adoption of various forms of “trickle-down economics” techniques have imposing severe austerity measures on the poorer echelons of society. To embark upon a strategy of economic growth, encouraged by a free market designed to deliberately favour the rich, does eventually increase wealth but little trickles down to the poor in the nature of increased employment opportunity.
Clearly the “trickle” has been successful in the first regard (to the wealthy), or could we be blamed for calling it a “gush”. The richest Americans’ profit share of GDP reached 19.6% in 2013, yet since World War II it has never been above 10%. Sure, in some rare instances, the flow on effect has extended onto the middle class at least, as explained by the 500 million Chinese that began to taste middle class affluence in the 1980s and worldwide this growth has extended to 1 billion. But China does not operate in a democratic society. It’s a communist state with serious Human Rights issues; with no signs of a Magna Carter style democracy arising, especially since Hong Kong (a previous democratic state) was integrated with the Greater Republic of China. Irrespective of government and economic style, in each process, the remaining poor (mostly unskilled workers) have become much worse off, simply because governments failed to anticipate the extent of the middle class cash grab and the relatively low impact upon low-skilled workers and the associated growth in their unemployment levels. Employment has always been the exit strategy for the poor. Embarrassed by the economic failure of the “trickle down” strategy, in more recent times some learned social economists have determined that the focus should have been “trickle-down from the middle class”, not the super-rich? Is the middle class grab for cash and our broken democratic processes the reason why the trickle-down approach is failing to reach the poor?
The Struggle to represent the “Will of the People”
The US and Australia, like many other western countries, are dealing with a broken democratic process within a prevalence of narcissist social behaviour. Narcissists do not what to hear about individual or social problems, preferring apathy and preoccupation with things that take their minds off such matters. As a result, governments are struggling to deal with the real big hard issues (like poverty, unemployment, health, education, drug addiction, corruption, etc), for exactly the same reason. While the US lower house (Congress) may reflect the will of the people, their upper house (Senate) primarily represents the interest of big business and wealthy lobby groups. Through an elected government (ie. US Republican Party) the lower house is the only body able to make changes to the law (legislation) and can thereby can instigate legislation favouring the poor. To become law, such legislation needs to be also passed by the upper house (Congress) which is dominated currently by the opposing US Democratic Party. The Democrats are mostly intent on looking after the interests of the rich and wealthy, favouring “trickle-down” economics. A complete political impasse arises where the rich and their associated powerful lobby groups are exploiting this breakdown in their democratic processes to the detriment of the poor. While ordinary people are voting for the Republicans in their desire for major social changes designed to help the less fortunate, thanks to a flawed democratic process, the balance of power in the Congress rests with the opposite party (the Democrats), who dog fast refuse to pass such legislation into law. It will be interesting to see how the newly elected 2017 Congress and Senate under a singular Trump Republican Party delivers to its promises of increased employment opportunity for their working class, lower tax, smaller government and “draining the swamp of the establishment”.
The Trump Phenomenon
If ever there was a shining example of just how broken our modern day democratic processes are, it must surely have been exposed in the Donald Trump democratic process of his 2016 election as America’s next President. Even his own Republican party was against his election. All the other competing parties, such as the Democrats, were against him as were the majority of American. Yet he was able to achieve a landslide victory. By using his own money, personal connections with big business and political disruption (through his use of social media), he was able to make populist right-wing democracy an active and serious threat to the liberty of individuals. Trump was able to stroke the tendencies of his supports who felt they were being ignored, in ways that bode ill for the future of our democratic process. The debilitating effect of social media on the democratic process through his use of Twitter and manipulation of the media had to be seen to be believed, whether what he posted was true or not. Mainstream media didn’t check how ordinary working class people felt and social media continued unchecked. Trump exploited these gaps with the precision of a smart businessman. Little wonder Americans no longer know who or what to believe. While the internet has democratised access to information for ordinary people, it has not necessarily improved the quality of information. In fact, it has exacerbated the effect of selective truths and even outright misinformation on politics. Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin created new internet narratives, like the Ukrainian nationalist crucifying small children and Ukrainian forces shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight 17. In much the same way Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were able to vilified Hilary Clinton (Democrats nominee) as the personification of political corruption. Trump questioned whether Obama was born in the US, argued he never supported the Iraq War, claimed to have won the election outright because of 3 million illegal votes and the list goes on. The “Trumpian War” on truth clearly demonstrated there is no electoral penalty to be paid for unremitting and blatant lying to ordinary people, especially when they are totally disillusioned with the establishment.
In more recent times, it has been revealed that during the Trump election campaign Facebook made available to Cambridge Analytica the profile of 50 million of its users. This data was used to target US citizen with “false news” designed to shift their vote to Donald Trump with great success. The motives for such actions are clear – money, fear and power. It clearly worked because against all odds, Trump was elected. Today fewer than 60% of Americans trust Facebook to obey their privacy laws. The same exists in Germany where they fear Facebook and other social networks are having a negative impact on democracy. In comparison, 66% felt they could trust Amazon.com, 62% who trust Alphabet’s Google and 60% of Microsoft. This is a clear indication that people feel the benefit of having available unfiltered data is not worth the cost of their loss of privacy and data security.
“Vetocracy” is a term often used to describe powerful polarised interest groups who can veto measures harmful to other interest groups while also making collective action for the common good almost impossible to achieve. A good example is how the 10,000 page US Tax Code created by vetocracy has become both a disgrace, an embarrassment and an excuse for the rich to avoid tax. It has become an incomprehensible catalogue of exemptions, subsidies and special privileges which have encouraged US multi-nationals to stash over $2trillion abroad – all of which avoids the need to comply with complex US tax laws. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the growth in financial inequality has concentrated wealth and income to the top 0.1% without any regard for what was going on in the lives of the other 99+% of ordinary people (namely their unemployment and addictions). Traditionally this inequality related to the poor but in the past generation this burden of inequality has extended to the old working class – the rump of American voters. The working class are finding refuge in addictions (especially heroin and opium-oids), in a desperate attempt to take their minds off what appears to be an insoluble problem – relentless growth in their financial inequality. The working rump of American society has lost faith in both of the major parties (Republicans and Democrats). So when Donald Trump stood for election with a strategy of lies which appealed to this rump of ordinary working class Americans, it triggered a populist uprising against the status quo establishment represented by both the major parties. Bernie Sanders attracted this populist group from within the Democratic Party, whereas Donald Trump did the same within the Republican Party. The only difference was that Trump won the Republican nomination, causing many Bernie Sanders followers to defect to the Trump camp in frustration, which no doubt contributed to the Trump victory.
The only good news is that for the first time a single Party (Republicans) has a majority in both houses (Congress & Senate) thereby enabling the current 2013 cap on government spending to be removed. Trump was elected because of the discontent with a dysfunctional democratic process and the plight of the working class. With Trump being a billionaire in his own right, he should be beyond bribery from the powerful interest groups. However, the barrier between national interest and personal interest can be psychologically porous. “The American Society of Civil Engineers estimate that there is a $2trillian deficit in US infrastructure spending.” Both Democrats and Republican made big promises to invest in this area. Massive infrastructure spending will create many working class jobs which should in turn stimulate the American economy.
The trend towards more populist nationalist sentiments is growing across the globe. Brexit and the rise in right-wing anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-inequality parties across Europe and to a lesser extent in Australia (One Party), reflect massive political shifts. 40% of eligible voters at Australia’s last federal election didn’t support either of the major political parties. A ground swell from the ordinarily silent majority is expressing their dissatisfaction with the current democratic processes and they want to stick it up the establishment. But growing self-interest within polarised nationalist sentiments and less interest in the serving the common good (poverty, environment, health care, family breakdown, etc.) is the democratic part of liberal democracy rising up to take revenge on the flawed “liberal” part. There is a clear imbalance in this latest shift which runs the risk of throwing out the baby with the establishment bath water.
The bad news is that many Trump promises, made during his election campaign, will be extremely difficult to keep:-
- Running staunchly nationalist policies with an unwieldy government (whose swamp needs to be pumped) and intractable foreign leaders that demand workable trade deals
- Establishing better relationships with Russia yet establishing punitive tariffs on China, risking a trade war, while turning his back on liberal world leaders (WTO & UN)
- Dealing with the major contradictions across his own Republican Party which are yet to be resolved – his latest senior appointments are of great concern to many Republican Party members whose vote he must depend upon in the Senate plus his admiration for the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping which is equally concerning to the majority of Republicans
- Dismantling Obama Care and pulling out of the 2015 Climate Change agreement
And how the disgruntled working class voters, who got him elected based upon these unremitting and blatant lies, will re-act to the inevitable back-downs remains to be seen. If Trump is able to deliver on his promises of greater employment for the unemployed and address some of their financial inequalities (salary rises, less tax, job opportunities, education), his international and internal squabbles may be of little interest to the working class voters in the immediate term.
Democracy in Australia
In Australia, the same is occurring but in the reverse. The lower house (House of Representatives) is controlled by the Liberal Coalition Party (LCP) which favours the interests of big business and abides by a “trickle-down” economic strategy. In its 2014 budget, severe austerity measures were introduced requiring ordinary people to bear the greatest burden of cost cutting to their social hand-out entitlements with the objective of bolstering a weakening economy. The hope was that growth in business wealth will eventually trickle-down to the poor, lifting them out of their poverty through increased business growth, employment and through the availability of greater government funding made possible through an increase in company and personal tax revenue. Unfortunately, the upper house (Senate), which is controlled by an opposing conglomerate of socialist-style parties (Labour and other minority parties, like “the Greens”), were only prepared to pass legislation directly assisting the poor, inferring that the rich and big multi-national businesses should carry the greater burden. In both cases (US & Australia), their economies are stalled, as is the legislation that their respective lower houses were democratically elected to introduce. As always and in both cases, it’s their poor that are hurting the most. The rich are fine and can look after themselves, but the poor are really struggling to make ends meet and it’s getting worse.
Unlike the US democratic system, in Australia if certain legislation passed in the lower house continues to be rejected in the upper house, it is a prerogative of government (LCP) to call what is known as a “double dissolution” (DD) of both houses of parliament (Representative & Senate) – in this case being legislation (ABBC) designed to address union corruption and governance in much the same way corporate businesses are held to account. The aim was to gain control of both houses of government so that much needed social reforms could be undertaken. With the growing swell of national populist movements (like One Party), the LCP won government (in the lower house) with a reduced majority of one and worsened their situation in the upper house through the increased numbers of One Nation and other independent members. In summary, following the democratic process their situation had worsened, making even more difficult to introduce much needed reform in taxation, energy, healthcare, infrastructure and welfare/retirement. It is worse in the US who do not have the luxury of call a DD election, they must sit it out for the full 4 year term.
This is why we (the ordinary people) can no longer depend solely upon our democratically elected governments (Federal, State, Local) to represent the will of the people in solving our big hard problems. Ordinary people no longer trust politicians and especially those who are elected into government because many of the promises they made during their election campaign are broken during their term in office. Because our democratic processes are so broken, government is simply not capable of fully implementing the will of the people because of the far greater influences being exerted upon them by the more powerful and wealthy lobby groups (big business, unions, etc.). Just as in the case of the Trump election, there is no electoral penalty to be paid for unremitting and blatant lying to ordinary people, especially in situations where the people have been fooled into voting for them because they voted more for that lied about than the person themselves. This is further exacerbated by the corruption occurring (within government, big business, unions, even churches) where ordinary people are being deliberately deceived into believing and trusting in such powerful institutions. Any time there are large amounts of money supposedly being managed or mismanaged in a democracy, there you will immediately find corruption, almost without exception. The “double dissolution” (DD) discussed earlier was all about the corruption in the unions and the construction business where the highest members of government (including the head of the Labour Party) were all involved. The people wanted and voted for it but a broken democratic process was exploited to stall its implementation indefinitely.
The Australian Royal Commission into Corruption, identified heads of government, union officials and wealthy business men/women all involved in various forms of corruption and self-interest, all to the detriment of those they are meant to be supporting – ordinary people, taxpayers. It would appear these powerful and wealthy administrators are more preoccupied with their tactical stand-offs and in-fighting than devoting their time on law reforms being demanded by the general populous and addressing the more strategic problems facing western society, especially reform in taxation, energy, healthcare, infrastructure and welfare/retirement.
The powerfully wealthy interest groups are winning at all levels and thriving on these flawed democratic processes no matter what side of politics is in power. The winners are the rich and the associated big end of town (businesses, unions and public institutions). The losers are our poor, disadvantaged and all those less able to fight for their respective causes. Ironically, the poor have become our working class members of society, who exist in high numbers. No wonder they have lost faith in the establishment and are in revolt at the polling booths. In contrast those in power and the rich understandably want the status quo to persist – for obvious reasons (to sustain their jobs, their power and their wealth). By operating within these cracks in our democratic processes, their wealth and power can be used to “get into the pockets” of our politicians. No wonder, no-one in power is in any hurry to have this broken democratic process corrected. Having mastered the cracks in both “trickle-down” and “Marxist/Socialist” economic strategies, the rich and the powerful always win, whatever their political persuasion. Where is the incentive for addressing our flawed democratic process when “the will of the people” has no platform to be properly represented. Where there is fear, uncertainty and division (FUD) in the minds of ordinary people therein lies the rich opportunities to play within these cracks. You only had to observe the frustration Barack Obama experienced in trying to introduce greater gun control, where nearly 70% of ordinary people favour of some form of greater gun control. Yet it has been impossible in 8 years of his government to get a single piece of gun control legislation through government (Congress & Senate). Why because the 2nd Amendment allows “the right to bare arms” and the powerful and wealthy US gun lobby have the support of Democrats who control the Senate. So massacres and gun-related murders continue unabated, at record levels. Even the President of the US, the most powerful person on Earth (Barack Obama) admits government can do little more, so the only way forward is for the people to exert their will. But no one is able to explain how this might be possible, for to elect another government will only result in a similar broken situation, possibly reversed like in Australia?
“Money” is said to be “the root of all evil”. This human inflicted problem is all pervasive. An entire problem domain is devoted to this subject under the heading of a “Self-inflicted Social Problems”. Corruption problems abound in western society today which is seriously holding back economic growth across the globe. Mention is again made of this ubiquitous matter here because this problem and greed is at the root of why our democratic processes are so broken. This problem was not foreseen at the time the Magna Carter. This omission is partly to blame for the billions of dollars potential government leader are required to spend in order to run a successful election campaign. Why is it that the media (like News Ltd), lobby groups (like the Gun, Cigarette and Food industries), financial institutions (Morgan Stanley, HBNC) and big business (Tesco) are all in the governments’ pockets both during and after elections. Once a government is supposedly “democratically” elected based upon all the political promises made by politicians to the electorate, suddenly the elected government finds itself forced to go back on most of its promises? Why “because things have changed since then!”. Having the balance of power in a “knife edge” election result (as is typically the case in broken democratic processes), it engenders in those representatives holding the balance of power a disproportional amount to power and obsession with self-interest. Why, because to form a government with a party with the largest number of votes, these members will be offered powers and promises way beyond the power anticipated by their electorate (to both their advantage & disadvantage). More over, they immediately become prey to the powerful wealthy lobby groups, well versed in taking advantage of those few holding the balance of power with further promises of funds injections into projects aligned with their agenda; all incidentally suited to the economic benefits of these lobby group(s). By providing their qualified financial support, with the usual array of conditional FUD factors – Fear, Uncertainty and Division, enormous pressure is placed upon those elected; those dependent upon such funding for their expensive electoral campaigns and remaining in government. Australia’s compulsory voting system goes some way to alleviate some of this pressure at election time. Whereas the US process is all about the money when it comes to its 18 month long Presidential election campaigns. Immediately after an electoral decision, ordinary people become immediately dis-empowered until another 4 years have passed, when another election is due. Surprise, soon after an election, elected representative begin to no longer favour the will of the people but the will of the wealthy and powerful lobby groups; those who funded their election campaign and now hold them to ransom with threats of undermining their power-base unless they make good on their specific demands. Why? Because more of the funding for their next election comes from the lobby groups than from ordinary people; by enlarge the majority of ordinary people cannot afford to donate to political parties. To standby the promises made to the lobby groups in their pockets, many political representatives also operate at the mercy of the media and the large financial institutions (like the major banks), not the people who elected them. Where once when speaking to the people they might have been empowered by the democratic process, once elected they become dis-empowered and beholden to their respective political party and those lobby and interest groups that supported their election campaigns. They have no further choice, no real voice? The wealth and powerful lobby groups are winning and the will of ordinary people is losing. Ordinary people have no way of matching the size of these financial influences, all growing and thriving on our broken democratic processes. The only hope provided to ordinary people is to wait for another election. Or is there another better more effective way?
In summary the answer is “Yes, there is a better way”. If you were to undertake SWOT analysis on this matter, you would quickly discover the main strengths and opportunities available to ordinary people is their number power – their voting power and their spending power. At present both these strengths and opportunities are managed by these are all managed by the wealth, the corrupt, lobby and interest groups more interested in filling their own pockets than truly caring for the people they pretend to serve. Obesity and associated Type 2 Diabetes are prime examples. If ordinary people had a platform under their control that they could manage effectively as a altruistic block then what would its characteristics look like – education, increased awareness, caring for one another, the common good and the environment and most likely social media.
In Australia, the majority of the population wanted the removal of a “carbon tax” and “mining tax” by a newly democratically elected government having been given a 56% majority mandate (in the House of Representatives). The government (LCP) was initially not able to get the necessary legislation through the Upper House of Review (the Senate) because they faced a similar broken democratic process. The balance of power being help by a conglomerate of minor parties and independent senators. It’s exactly the same problem to that encountered in the US with their gun laws. Even in a very new democracy like Thailand, the wealthy over turn their democratically elected governments by orchestrating Military Cues when the poor, with their large electoral numbers, elect into government a party sympathetic to their plight. And so the same style of stories can be told across many of our democratic countries today. These broken democratic processes are stopping the will of the people from not only being heard but also being acted upon during the course of an elected government’s period in office. Could it be we are simply getting what we deserve? They say “democracy thrives on apathy”. Could it be that ordinary people have become so apathetic in their every-day life, that they are more interested in tactical preoccupations (like TV, computer games, Facebook, etc.), all especially designed by big business to take our minds off the big hard strategic problems facing western society today. Herein lies the imbalance we spoke of earlier. Possibly ordinary people are actually getting what they deserve! As JFK put it “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. What are we ordinary people doing to correct this imbalance in our democratic rights and how might we go about it?
This inequality in government and their associated broken democratic processes have become a genuine social and economic problem for not only the US and Australia but also across the entire developed world. So who or what is to blame for this break down? Sure government has a role to play but government per sec is not the answer and it is not just about money and legislative change. Within this flawed democratic process, how does the will of the people finds its way through this quagmire of wealth and induced deceit and deception? This same money, which is absolutely essential to the success of running political election campaigns these days, is the voice which is most being heard by governments today, especially if they expect to be successfully re-elected. Its our own hip-pocket’s need for instant gratification that appears to be more important to us than the long term future of our life on earth and the plight of our children and our future generations that may be to blame?
Ordinary people have no other platform to turn to; other than joining some political party or being absorbed into other wealthy and powerful group players (be they corrupt unions, corrupt businesses or biased median outlets). The more dysfunctional government becomes the more wealthy pressure groups are able to take advantage of this and ordinary people’s general apathy. Ordinary people have become disillusioned with government, the election process and those purporting to represent them. They see the democratic process are being seriously broken and frustrated because there appears to be little if anything they can do about it. Until now!
People need to take more personal responsibility for their own life, their own environment and the lives that surrounds them in their own communities. Becoming more aware of what is actually happening around us and being awakened to the flaws in our democratic processes, opens the way opportunities for filling these gaps and/or weaknesses. Is there some way to address the current apathetic mindset of ordinary people? Is there a platform whereby the voice of the people can be clearly and unequivocally heard?
Democracy in the United States of America (USA)
Fifty years ago (1964) President Linden B Johnson (LBJ) declared war on US poverty, when it stood at an all-time high – where 19% the US population was living beneath the globally recognised poverty line. The LBJ “War on Poverty” was facilitated by protracted and effective advertising that brought about a mindset shift in the US electorate. Through effective collaboration with Congress, LBJ was able to pass more than 200 pieces of legislation, which included early education programs and social safety nets such as Medicare and Medicaid. By 1977 the US poverty level had reduced to 11%. One might have expected that this recipe for poverty reduction to continue of its own accord. No so. Today (2014) some 50 years later, the US population numbers living beneath the poverty line is back up to 15% and increasing. There are now 46 million US people living beneath the poverty line in the most advanced and strongest democratic economy in the world. This is far too many, especially when one recalls that the richest 1% of the population control over 97% of the overall wealth of the nation. This economic inequality is mostly a consequence of these big hard problems, not the cause.
“Large-scale studies of class mobility show that the forces that move people out of poverty are more diffuse than can fit in any pocketbook. They have less to do with bank statements than conversations between two people and the distance between two points.” Let’s consider where this financial imbalance sits today, with some fact-based analysis from Harvard research which may throw some light on this vexing and complex problem.
In the largest study of its kind, Harvard researchers found that geography was the most important factor in determining whether a child living in poverty would rise to middle class in adulthood. Living in mixed-income neighbourhoods mattered more than tax credits or even access to higher education – or race. Living in areas that had the most established school systems and extensive public transit systems meant that children born to families making less than $25,000 who lived in Seattle had a 10% chance at ending up making over $107,000; a child raised in Atlanta had half as much a shot. And that’s just the extreme end. That child in Seattle will most likely wind up making $34,000; the child in Atlanta can expect just $28,000. That is the difference between barely making it out of poverty and actually becoming middle class.
Given what we know about class mobility in general – the richer you are, the better chance you have at getting richer – the disparity in opportunity will just get more stark as the generations move forward.”
Whatever the US government has been doing is clearly not working, so more of the same does not make sense. In fact, it is making things worse. The government to whom we pay all our taxes is unable to fix the problem even though they know what is needed (the will of the people needs to be heeded). Worker mobility or migration to areas where reasonable paid work is available would appear to be part of the answer. It will be interesting how the new Trump administration address this problem, given they promised to do so as a key part of their electoral campaign. This migration is a mechanism of economic improvement and for poverty reduction that has become more powerful with the globalisation of trade and export-driven work. Paying poorer workers a more equitable salary would also help, especially with the rich getting far easier access to cheap money. Trump’s stopping of further jobs transfer to Mexico by their car manufacturers gives recognition to this claim. But it’s shifting the mindset of people to leave their current comfort zones and their move/migrate to a totally new environment of opportunity that is the real problem/challenge. Don’t address the later and it isn’t going to happen or be sustainable!
Coming out of the GFC, secular increases in inequality has been driven by technology and globalisation which, in developing countries, favours the skilled and owners of capital. The sight of banks being bailed out with taxpayers money has not helped these inequalities. Equally unimpressive is the news that our global financial regulators, who first allowed us to get into this GFC predicament, are now being invited by government to work with them in rectify this regulator-induced crisis. As Albert Einstien said “Never get the people who created the problem to fix it”. Banks are being required to pay massive fines ($USbill.) for corruption behaviour, which arose both before and after the GFC. But those who knowingly, deliberately, wilfully and illegally made money out of people’s ignorance continue to get off scott free. The struggling court cases put in train to punish those responsible for bank’s unlawful actions (like rate fixing, collusion and loans scams) are floundering because the powerful Banking Industry lobby is holding the government to ransom. They suggest that the whole banking system would collapse on their watch, causing the government to be voted out of office at the next election – which happened anyway. Again, ineffectiveness governments attempting to operate within broken democratic processes.
The people wearing the brunt of the austerity measures to rectify the governments’ problems are again the innocent tax payers, the unempowered working middle class and the poor. Social entitlements are being reined in to save government expenditure. These same people in government, believing in their banks, took on these shonky home loan products with all the best intentions. Why is it, one might ask, that the financial regulators have only imposed fines on only a few large financial institutions (like JP Morgan), whilst those senior individuals of responsibility within these corrupt organisations not only continue to operate and command enormous salaries but also continue to work hand-in-glove with the same financial regulators charged with preventing the problem for ever arising again?
Those nations with good education systems, high research budgets and flexible labour markets have come through the GFC the best (like Australia and Canada). EU has an unemployment levels of 12%, the US 7% and Australia and Canada with around 6%. People are hurting out there. The democratic processes won’t allow governments to appropriately represent the will of the people through meaningful “rubber on the ground” solutions.
It’s often difficult to appreciate the extent to which the internet and the world wide web (www) have shifted our society of nation states to a society of global on-line companies and the empowerment of ordinary people. The traditional role of government is being tested and eroded by a growing mass of global on-line businesses like Apple, Facebook, Alibaba, Tencent, Google, Amazon, etc. that operating in more than 100 countries. This trend is empowering ordinary people as consumers into electing a series of companies (like these) as their global “ruling parties” operating in their preferred on-line economy.
The nature of competition is totally different in the on-line economy, because one enterprise can come to dominate a business very quickly. Consider the following companies:-
- Airbnb – may face many rivals in the traditional hotel business but very few, if any, in their own on-line space because of one “user-led” global internet system
- Uber – offers to replace existing “regulated” taxi companies through the clever use of smartphone technology and one “user-led” global internet transportation system
- Zillow/Trulia – merger created a “user-led” on-line internet real-estate advertising company attacking property agent advertising
- Netflix – replaced traditional video companies with one “user-led” internet system for downloading movies directly to the home
The process shift to the new on-line economy is often referred to as “digital disruption”. Why? Because companies like Airbnb who have “disrupted” the accommodation business have no real estate. Uber has disrupted the global taxi business but has no cars. Alibaba has disrupted retail but has no assets or inventory or retail stores etc. This shift is effectively a new form of infrastructure created by ordinary people choosing to shift to and preferring to operate in an on-line economy rather than a traditional physical economy. This shift is demonstrated in the way ordinary people are trending to make decisions; decisions that are progressively replacing the traditional role of government in licencing and regulating consumer services. As a largely “asset-free”, networked marketplace, on-line global internet company operators can undercut margins of traditional operators and give a better deal to ordinary people. People, who have become mindful of the advantages and benefits in choosing to use alternative and innovative on-line services, have shifted to the cheaper more convenient process for acquiring goods and services. Other core functions of government being usurped includes wealth redistribution, taxation collection, national security, foreign & competition policy.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and other wealthy global on-line systems owners have begun a new wealth distribution society known as “philanthro-capitalism”. In giving away the major proportion of their enormous wealth (subject to certain conditions), they are in effect replacing another traditional role of government – taxation collection and wealth distribution. Revenue from these on-line companies is increasingly global, meaning that the majority of profit is being made in countries like Australia that end up in tax-haven countries like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda where little or no taxation is paid. The taxation paid by jurisdiction is therefore not so evenly distributed. This shift in wealth distribution is legally achieved under the democratic guise of their right to “tax minimisation”.
Similarly technologies such as BlockChain (used to under-pin the Bit Coin phenomenon – challenging our currency administration) are negating the need for traditional lawyers and accountants by putting in place an effective on-line ledger infrastructure system that attends to normal government roles like governance, law compliance and transaction validation in nanoseconds rather than days, weeks or even months of government bureaucracy. Even government instrumentation and banks around the world are beginning to utilise Blockchain as an enabler for improving their internal administration productivity.
Governments operating with broken democratic processes tend to be riddled with corruption, with corrective legislation stalled in a divided upper and lower house dispute. Much of this legislation is designed to address big hard societies problems and issues, but the powers do not have an appetite for such change. I wonder why? . Government is struggling to similarly make the shift to join the on-line economy facilitated by the power of the internet’s world wide web. Unlike global on-line companies, government operate with elected officials that come and go regularly. Whereas these elected global on-line giants have the economics of “on-line gravity”. That is, once a critical mass of ordinary people have determined that theirs is a better option, they are effectively unassailable and have the potential to stay in office unchallenged for a long time.
Building off the shoulders of these on-line global giants has to be the way for ordinary people to leverage their own empowerment as the driving consumers of the on-line economy. Being mindful of their empowerment position, their purchasing decisions have become the cornerstone to the success of these on-line global giants. The question is how do ordinary people, like you and I, effectively harness this power? Clearly by standing on the shoulders of these giants and being global in our unified ambitions – to be the best we can be, to make the world a better place to live in and leave to our future generations. In a word something along the lines of a “Your Self Helper” platform is called for.
Being Awakened to Your Own Democratic Empowerment
As you begin to become more familiar with how social media (in particular this Yourself Helper social network platform) works, you will begin the appreciate how such a platform can empower ordinary people and facilitate innovations which can contribute towards overcoming many of our current dependency on what are broken democratic processes. Just as the internet opened the way for world-wide people connectivity and the likes of Facebook to tap in on people’s narcissism tendencies, so too social media (like Yourself Helper) can provide a platform that enables ordinary people’s to express in changing the way we can better live life more ethically. By not yielding to a world of self-indulgence and self-obsession as a way of life, which creates a whole range of problems (like obesity, drug addictions, wealth inequality, corruption, environmental pollution), your individual efforts can contribute towards solving many of these by-product problems by operating through a totally different philosophy. Ideally Yourself Helper and the use of social network media can become a digital disruptor to our broken democratic processes. Just as Donald Trump has used Twitter to communicate directly with ordinary people rather than depend upon conventional media such as TV and news broad casts.
In the next stage, we utilise a constant framework for life (F4L) to examine how shifts in our own will/choices and the Will of the People, in our own mental will-power, and in our free-will as a free spirit and potential our adherence to the Will of God can work in balance to empower us as individual in remedying our current dysfunctional democratic processes. Its an alternative philosophy more inclusive of ordinary people, especially for those who care more about others than themselves, who treat others the way you would like to be treated themselves, who seek to promote social inclusion and community development; like volunteering their time freely in helping others and through their purchasing power, power of communication through social media and use of their emancipation through their right to vote. That is, people who undertake a journey that binds us ordinary people together to create a society that we are proud to live in and to pass onto our future generations. Then through the fruits of these aggregated endeavours designed to put pressure on both sides of politics (in between elections) to address the many flaws in our broken democratic processes, until a more balanced playing field exists along the lines of the original Magna Carter – a fair go being given for everybody.
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