The inherent instability of Democracy

For the past five to six decades, democracy as a form of government has been hugely celebrated, not just because it allowed the representation of all citizens in electing a democratic government (which will then be allowed to rule the country for a set period of time), but also because it allowed the functioning of true enterprise capitalism. Democracy permitted the creation of wealth (in most, but not all democratic countries), nourished free enterprise to create employment for the benefit of the entire country, and allowed freedom of expression and speech to all. It also laid the foundation of all governmental and quasi-governmental institutions, which started operating in a democratic way, most conducive to establishing a system of checks and balances.

Great, isn’t it? Yes, it was for all these years, but the inherent instability and deficiencies of democracy as a form of government were evident for a long while. Democracies in most cases, also nurture inefficiencies in most of the things they do, allow politicking in the name of democracy, and further, worst of all, allow nepotism and corruption to rear their ugly heads despite all the checks in the system. Meritocracy became an antithesis of democracy, and incompetency was allowed to flourish in the name of “unsackability” of government employees who almost always had the luxury of lifetime employment which allowed them, in turn, to establish a system of embedded corruption. This happened in most democracies, including some of the Western democracies, resulting in terrible lack of progress in achieving societal goals and imbibing into the heads of the citizens that it is OK to be corrupt to achieve quick results, and it is OK to be incompetent as long as one can get into a government job. And, so on and so forth.

But, the worst thing which happened is “inequality”. Due to bad memories of past lives, governments became beholden to old and established caste, race and religious affiliations of its people, which divided them rather than united them. Only few democracies could escape the tentacles of this government-engendered inequality. Apart from this inequality, there was also the bane of economic inequality, when businessmen and industrialists considered close to the powers that be, enjoyed favours doled out by the government against all rules and regulations in return for financial or other incentives. This “people division inequality” and “economic favouritism inequality” generated people who are then divided into “haves” and “have-nots”.

In advanced countries, the financial industry generated outsized profits for a long time, and when it got into troubles, tax-payer money was used to bail the financial titans out of their troubles, in the name of “too big to fail”. What nonsense………In a democratic system faced with crisis, the only way to take big decisions affecting the people and their tax money is to go back to the people for a democratic referendum. There is no other way to determine if what the head of government wants to do is the right thing to do under the circumstances.

So there we are – in the middle of what is derogatorily called as “populism”. People want to have a say in what even an elected government wishes to do (sometimes in unethical manner), especially when their monies are involved. People want to have a say when government policies create more divisions amongst the people, in favour of one sect of people against the other sects of people – all the more so, when each person has one vote to elect or dismiss the government. People want to have the right to know how and why financial institutions can get out of troubles when it was their greed which decimated peoples’ dreams in the first place. And so on and so forth.

All of us can easily agree on one thing – there are no easy answers to the “populist” demands of our citizens. They are right to raise these questions and demands, after all democracies survive on people electing them to rule over the people. Governments function at the pleasure of the citizens, not at their collective displeasure. Things will get very lucid if countries make voting in all elections mandatory for all citizens, propagating the view that voting in elections is a bounden duty of all citizens.

Is there a way out of the morass that we find ourselves in? Is there a better way to govern people? Is democracy as a form of government going to be dead soon? What are we all going to do in the meanwhile? How will existing democratic governments respond to the situations on the ground? Are people going to ultimately lose their collective cool and revolt against their governments? Will inequality persist in democracies?

Good questions to have at the start of the year. Time to think. I will write more about related topics in the near future, as I do have some solutions. In the meanwhile, think and enjoy what is left of this weekend, folks.


Vijay Srinivasan

8th January 2017



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