Democracy appears to be a complete failure

2010 March 21

Despite careful design 200 years ago the U.S. government has become a power hungry self serving juggernaut that only pays lip service to its citizens.  How did this happen?  Democracy was supposed to prevent the rise of corrupt individuals to positions of power, yet massive corruption within the U.S. capital and in connection with Wall Street is now every-day news.  What went wrong?

In a democracy the cornerstone of liberty is the individual vote.  “Free Choice” we are told, ensures that the people will always have the last say.  Yet U.S. citizens are even more disenfranchised than third world citizens due to the growth of an “insulating” layer of politics that has formed between voters and elected officials.  The layer is the political party system; currently with exactly two players: the Democrats and the Republicans.  Modern life is massively more complex today than 200 years ago with thousands of issues and a variety of ways to solve each one, but we still only get one choice, between two players, every few years.  This effectively reduces voter input to little more than an editorial comment.  “But when we vote en masse we have power right?!” you argue.  Maybe we did, before television and other forms of mass media.  Even if citizens can ignore the constant barrage of emotionally targeted ads and manage to think clearly for themselves, the culmination of their hopefully careful deliberation is reduced to: a check mark in one of two boxes.

Consider for a moment what happens when war is on going and suddenly the economy becomes a problem.  The war gets pushed to the back burner and we end up voting on the economy.  Then, which ever party wins the economic vote gets to install their foreign policy without comment from voters.  Voters can of course “write to their congressmen” after the fact, but since the election is over politicians are free to completely ignore their constituents for another couple years.

For politicians it is very simple: if the people aren’t going to like your idea about issue X, bring up some emotionally hot issue Y just before the election that you know you can win on, and then you get to implement whatever idea X you want. Look back through history and you will see that they’ve been doing this for decades.  U.S. voters have been relegated to the sidelines.

I’m amazed each time an election cycle begins.  The fervor over “which side are you on” begins again as the many players stack up and begin to vie for attention.  The money begins to flow and everyone is encouraged to participate in the campaigns with the renewed sense of hope that this time we can make a difference!  But the end result is always the same.  The U.S. government is like a huge two-headed monster – every election cycle we are allowed to vote for the other head, but every time we get the same monster.  Democracy in this country is a farce.  But it has been fine tuned to make us feel as if we are still in control. We arn’t.  The American people can no more effect the path of their country through this system than a child with its hand out the car window feeling the wind move his arm, can affect the path of the car.  Who are we going to vote in to replace all the currently entrenched politicians with their many connections to the money brokers?  You are not going to make it on the ballot unless you have huge backers and the huge backers are just looking for people who can sell voters on their special issues. All the money, all the air time on TV, radio, etc. is encouraged to make us feel like we are still part of this great system, to keep the illusion that democracy is alive and well.  But it isn’t.  And with the failure of western democracy seems to go the last best hope the human race had of effective self government.  I’ve seen no system yet that can do a better job.  The base human motivation of self interest has won again.

So how can we reform our government to counter act these prevalent human tendencies? One idea I thought of a few years ago is here and it addresses the lack of wisdom and focus on the citizens, but I don’t think it can completely prevent corruption…


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