• How Does Democracy Work?

    As a former politician myself, I find that – especially at general election time – I increasingly reflect on whether our democracy is doing its expected and proper job for us.

    As the word itself suggests, “democracy” is often defined as “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. “The people” in this context means all of us, not just some sectors of the population.

    The campaign for democracy, in its early days, was driven by the realisation that, in a market economy, power would inevitably concentrate (as Adam Smith pointed out) in fewer and fewer hands – and would remain there and grow unless challenged. The benefits of a market economy therefore had to be offset by ensuring that the majority of people would not be continuously and mercilessly exploited by those who had gained over-riding economic power and who could then use that power to protect and perpetuate and increase their advantage and to resist any challenge to it.

    Democracy was, in other words, the price that the rich and powerful had to pay if their economic advantage was allowed to subsist and was not to be eventually overthrown by popular revolution.

    How effective has democracy been in achieving an acceptable balance between economic power and political influence?

    Sadly for the proponents of democracy, they have almost always under-estimated the ability of the rich and powerful to use that wealth and power to swing the results of elections in their favour. Whether it is their control of large segments of the media, or the standing they enjoy in the popular estimation, or the sums of money they can spend on propaganda, or – quite simply, their ability to determine employment opportunities and wage rates – the rich and powerful have demonstrated time and time again that they can persuade ordinary citizens to use their political power, not to advance their own interests, but to entrench the privilege of those who exploit them.

    As a result, we repeatedly see – not just in our own country but right around the globe – voters using their democratic power to hand that power back to those whose purpose and raison d-etre is to exploit them for economic purposes. My conclusion? We need to work a good deal harder and more thoughtfully if we are to enjoy the benefits of living in a truly democratic society, where outcomes are not determined – all too often – by the luck of the draw and where the benefits of living in society are fairly shared.

1 Comment

  1. KJT says: October 5, 2023 at 7:53 amReply

    The fact that we still under tax wealth, and overtax incomes and spending on essentials, despite almost double the number of people supporting wealth taxes, than are against them, is further proof, if we needed any, that we have rule by a wealthy “elite” not, Democracy!

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