Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dangerous Democracy

A common trope in future sci fi is that Mankind will evolve into a perfect democratic state. There will be a grand Imperial Senate that decides all things in great democratic fashion, or that all the planets of the galaxy will unite to a common pursuit of peace and justice and the Federation Way.

The bad guys in all of these scenarios are the totalitarians, the monarchs, the emperors. When power rests all in the hand of a single Supreme Chancellor they are evil, wicked, corrupt or some combination therein. It is the role of the heroes to fight against this tyranny and prove that the individual with his democratic ideals is the true way forward.

Even Firefly, great speculative fiction that was, presented the unifying force as “the black hats” and the rebellious Outer Rim Browncoats as holding true to this democratic ideal. We really don’t know what passed for law and order on these border planets, only that the Alliance wanted to bring them all under one government, presumably a repressive evil one. Never very well pursued on the show, we really don’t know what kind of government the Alliance had. It could have been a democratic republic just like the Union of the 1860’s, forcing its repressive will on the slave states of the South.

But this is where current events start to show the cracks in this ideal, the marks of tarnish at the borders of the otherwise shiny exterior.

For those not following events in the Euro-Zone, the Greek people have elected new officers to their government on a platform of more social spending and more economic relief. The problem, unfortunately, is that the Greek government has no money to pay for these programs. It is extremely heavily leveraged and is borrowing faster than it can spend, it seems. The rest of the Eurozone, their rates tied through the singular currency of the Euro, have offered bailouts but have demanded harsh austerity measures to bring the Greek federal budget more in line with its expenditures.

And the Greek voters have rejected these programs. En masse. The Will of the People, as it were, is to keep borrowing and keep paying benefits, regardless of how they pay for it. Economists, as they often are on politically charged issues are split. Many believe that total collapse of the Greek economy is imminent. The more alarmist are predicting a complete collapse of Europe as a whole. Some are going so are as to suggest that there will be another global financial catastrophe.

I doubt any of this is news to the Greek voters. Or maybe it is. Perhaps they don’t have the information they need to make the governmental choices to keep the world out of another monetary ruin. Or perhaps they do have it, and they simply don’t care. Or they don’t believe it. But one thing is clear: They do not want less government spending and they do not want more government revenue through taxes. They elected people promising to spend more, and tax less.

They elected people promising, in short, to damn the consequences, but to keep the bread and cheese flowing.

And this is the grand danger of any democracy, the dark secret that no one likes to admit to. When events unfold so that voters see Thing X as a thing they want, and politicians promising to give them Thing X, then they tend to vote for that politician, even if Thing X is something that will destroy the country in the process.

The problem is that Democracies work as long as you have an informed and educated voting public. The less the public knows and understands on the issues, the more it has to trust the word of politicians. They themselves have profound pressure to give the best deal to their voters if they want to get reelected. Who wants to run on a platform of raising taxes and cutting benefits? Who wants to try to win public office by saying that they are going to make things rough on the average citizen?

But sometimes that’s what you need to do to move forward. Sometimes there just isn’t the money to buy a new car, or order in pizza every night. Sometimes there just isn’t the incoming tax revenue to provide has had been provided during “Good Times”.

But the rubber has to meet the road somewhere. Someone has to say “look, here’s what we’ve got to work with,” as well as “If we don’t do Y now, Z will happen later and we don’t want Z.”

And often Y is unpopular. Sometimes it’s easier on a state to have someone who doesn’t have to run for office saying that Y is just going to have to happen. And when it does, and Z is avoided, they do appear the hero. Only that requires a long view of history, a willingness to wait several years to see the benefits, something that our relatively short attention span won’t allow.

This is one of the reasons where I envision a future utopia that is more in line with a constitutional monarchy than a grand republic. It’s why Mercy and her crew are willing to shout “God save the Queen!” after a battle, rather than “God, keep the republic.” I won’t go so far as to say that I would prefer a monarchy here on Earth, but I can definitely feel comfortable writing about one favorably.

And in my current plans, the democracy is going to be the villains…

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