John on May 10, 2010 at 8:55 am
Democracy is a brilliant idea. Let people govern themselves. Be rid of powerful elite who use the state apparatus for their own benefit. But since its inception 2,500 years ago in Athens and other city-states in Greece, democracy has contained a hidden flaw. Government by the people is still government by people. In the end, the people are still liable to make the same short-sighted mistakes as any king or autocrat. It just takes a bit longer for them to get around to it.
There is no collective bargaining with reality.What happens when a slim majority decides they can vote themselves largess from the treasury rather than work? What happens when the majority decides they are owed an early retirement, universal health care, 5 weeks of guaranteed vacation and a living wage regardless of their actual contribution to society. We’re seeing what happens right now in Greece. We may be seeing more in Portugal, Spain and several US states soon. What happens is what always happens…the bill comes due. There is no collective bargaining with reality. Sooner or later, someone has to pay for the ease and comfort of all those people demanding ease and comfort.
The comparison between this corruption of democracy and the more ordinary corruption of a tyranny can be over-extended of course. The people are not about to throw their neighbors in stocks for questioning their decisions. Then again, four people were murdered in Greek rioting last week. In the end, does it matter if this was the result of an entitled mob or an entitled monarch? The dead are just as dead, suffocated in this case as the bank where they worked was firebombed by enraged government employees.
There is a sense in which this isn’t democracy at all, but a particular (if predictable) corruption of it. But like many great ideas, the foundation necessary for democracy to sustain itself lies outside of its own narrow conception. It requires that people be enlightened and self-critical and wise (at least 51% of them anyway). Europe probably hasn’t been there in a while. The bill is now coming due.
This is the real tragedy of the current situation. When a single corrupt leader imposes his will on a nation at least the threat is out there. But when the same thing happens in a democracy the threat is really self-deception. How do you convince your neighbors that nothing can insulate them from basic economics? How do you protect them from shameless demagogues who exploit their desire for more services (say, universal health care) without telling them the truth about the bills that will come down the road?
It’s fitting that Greece is where riots are happening, fitting in the sense that death is always the fitting end to birth. The European model has weakened and damaged the real heart of democracy. Just as no individual can survive on a diet of twinkies and root beer floats, no economy can keep offering more services for less effort. To survive you need to work, work out and make better choices. Failure to do so will cost you dearly. Whether we’re talking about individuals or nations, in the end there is nothing that can undo a lifetime of bad choices.
But death is not the end of all things. Right here at home we’ve seen a resurrection of common sense in the form of the tea parties. These are people who understand the party can’t go on forever. They understand that democracy relies on a foundation of wisdom, of enlightened self-interest. This is something which can not be voted on or handed out but must be earned the old fashion way.
It’s no accident that the Statists and socialists and big government boosters hate the Tea Party. They recognize them as their natural enemy, the way a mouse recognizes a snake. I look at those rallies and see hope for the future, but they look at the same scene and see an existential threat to their ideology. Let’s hope so. We literally can’t afford much more of this.
The good news is this still is a democracy. That means we really can turn this around in six months time by heading to the ballot box. It only takes 51% of us still willing to look out for the country instead of ourselves. Come on, America, let’s do this.
Related: This is priceless! Jazz Shaw in the Green Room discovers a little noted NY Times article from just over a week ago the gist of which is a recommendation that Greece step back from government health care (among other expensive government boondoggles). I suppose they’ll be issuing this same advice in the US some time after the credit rating drops and riots begin…?
Category: Politics |