Apparently California is suffering from a surplus of … wait for it… not fake tans, not freeways, but … democracy.

get to the chopper

Their constitution allows people to directly propose policies, which then go on the ballot every four years. They can also veto changes the Government has already agreed. Apparently involving the ‘people’ in policy decisions isn’t ‘efficient’. Apparently a dictatorship of the people, Athens-style, has constipated the polity and crippled the state’s capacity for change. As if !

How can you have too much self-determination? Am I right? People?

What’s that? You’re pointing at China’s rapid ascent? You think maybe there’s a case for a bit of tyrrany to drive fundamental reform?

And you’re comparing ‘democratic’ Iran with royalist Jordan? ‘Democratic’ Haiti with Communist Cuba? Occasionally democratic Fiji with solidly monarchist Tonga? Comparing Sudan, Algeria and Zimbabwe with Jordan and Syria and the family business that is Saudi Arabia?


Personally, I’d like to live in a benevolent dictatorship. The 29 year old Dragon King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck recently demonstrated his benevolence by insisting on the introduction of compulsory elections, and allowing for impeachment of the King. They should hang on to him. Benevolence like that – recognising that the best interest of the people is served by passing your power to them – is hard to find…


So, maybe, democracy is okay, but elections are dangerous. The people who stand for election tend to be either those who have enough money to win a campaign, or those who plan to embezzle enough to repay their backers. And is it just me, or do elections provide great opportunities for social division, internecine violence, intimdation and vote-rigging?   

There’s a fella called Samuel Huntington (incidentally, he predicts the clash of civilisations we may or may not be experiencing) who has said:

Elections, open, free and fair, are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non. Governments produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good. These qualities make such governments undesirable but they do not make them undemocratic. [The Third Wave, 1991]

This is bullshit. Elections don’t make democracy! They are the sine qua nothing. I want to know why we have got only one model for democracy – the elected parliamentary model. Sure, it’s one way of getting that mixture of leadership and followership that characterises good political change.

Democracy has got to be appropriate to its circumstance. If you go applying variations of the Senate/Westminster system in the Middle East and the Pacific, well, it’s not surprising it doesn’t work as well as in England, USA and Australia. These systems are not inherently strong! They get strength from the way they fit with the culture.

If the fundamental goal is a way of efficiently taking the pulse of the people, can there be another way to go about it? When Churchill said democracy was the worst system, apart from everything else, surely he didn’t include all those systems that hadn’t been invented yet!

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

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