Are worries about the health of democracy today overblown?

The following text was submitted while participating in a The Economist debate on January 28th of 2014 (click here). 


Before submitting my comment over this issue I would like to quote Winston Churchill’s famous thought about democracy:

“Democracy is the worst form of government except from all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” Winston Churchill, 1947.

Having reminded that, I beg to ask: what should one understand by “democracy”? Broad and unconditional access to information? Widespread access to education? The right to freely express one’s thoughts and/or opinions? The power to cast a vote in any universal general election? The possibility to participate more effectively in the national or local decision making process through the creation of eligible, fairly unrestricted, civil rights movements or political parties? The claim for equal rights? The benefit of desirably equal opportunities?

Regardless of what one thinks about the acknowledgeable features encompassed in anyone’s democracy definition, I would dare to say that few would argue against the notion that democracy is the least bad form of government. Nevertheless, quite a lot would express its disenchantment with it, right now: in the developed world, the most affected from the Great Recession feel abandoned by their governments while the rest gets back to business as usual, and in the developing countries, as some thrive and seem to reap all the benefits from their recent, above average, growth span, others – the majority – keeps struggling.

And where does all this grudge against democracy come from? It’s quite clear that there is a strong correlation between, rising unequal income distribution, dwindling opportunities and citizens’ frustration. Add up the shared view that bureaucrats seem more likely to attend to powerful organizations/elites agendas and one easily understands the run-up in political activism. This increased awareness has exposed the lack of ability of the conventional/mainstream established political parties in conducting, namely, economic policy, especially in adverse times. Their incompetence, combined with the conflict of interests linked to the promiscuous relationships kept with powerful organizations/elites, compounds democracy’s woes.

In my opinion, it’s in the most influential political parties – those who alternate in power – and their mandate breadth that resides democracy’s core issues. Supposedly, their main enforcers are the ones to blame for democracy’s shortcomings.

How could that happen? Well, unlike in the 20 to 30 years, prior the Great Recession, whereas economic tailwinds stoked the emergence and strengthening of middle-class worldwide, no one seemed to really care what bureaucrats were up to. Everybody was simply enjoying the party: higher acquisitive power, their higher education, their health and eventual pension benefits. There was nothing else to worry about. Politics was dull and was meant to those who fancied rhetoric and giving speeches.

Since nobody cared, that signaled political parties, that society evolution had plateaued. In turn, as the political parties distanced themselves from the electorate, that allowed them to pursue other agendas – dodgy or not – lobbied by powerful organizations/elites in exchange for “God knows what” (power, a seat in the board of a corporation, money, who knows?!). With less scrutiny, and hence less transparency, these lobbies in collusion with the political parties have taken hold of power.

To sum it up, I side by Sir Churchill’s quote: the problem doesn’t have to do with the form of government, if not with how democracy is being used by some its most prominent players. It’s urgent to tackle this credibility crisis by shedding light on these murky ties between political parties and powerful organizations/elites and, at the same time, narrow the formers’ range of action. It’s time to for these organizations (the parties), to voluntarily relinquish some of their powers in favor of the society. That’s what it’s all about. To allow people to participate more effectively in politics.

A jolt is needed…


One thought on “Are worries about the health of democracy today overblown?

  1. Concordo plenamente com a tua apreciao, acho muito boa, mas no vejo os “portuguesinhos”,preocupados com estes assuntos, talvez por falta de personalidade? at de inteligncia?ou comodismo? . O que certo, …aqui parece que nunca se passa nada… Beijinhos Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2014 10:01:33 +0000 To:

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