Something is wrong with representative democracies; even the most stable among them, political polarisation Left-Right is deeper than ever before. Most people think of the US as the example of polarisation.
In the US it has reached the point where Republican and Democrat politicians despise each other. The media are equally polarised; the media on the Left disparages and ridicules the media on the Right, and the media on the Right returns the favour.
It has reached a point where ordinary people no longer consider the media as a source of credible, independent information; people use the media to reinforce their opinions. This is extremely unhealthy for democracy.
In the US, the situation has reached a level of polarisation that the people on the Left consider most people on the right as dumb, ignorant, and practically fascists. It is no surprise that the people on the Right consider those on the Left as Communists.
In other well-known democracies, the situation is not as extreme as in the US, but nobody disputes that polarisation is higher than ever in France, the UK, Germany, etc. Even countries like Canada and Sweden, recently considered examples of low key politics, are more polarised than ever before.
I believe that, in part, many Western democracies are polarised because the ideas that create polarisation in the US spill over to other countries through the international American media, American movies, American political campaigns.
I am sure polarisation results from other factors, but one that is obvious is that politicians foster polarisation; to win elections politicians feel compelled to paint rivals as not very intelligent, unprincipled, narrow-minded, at the service of lobbies, etc.
Why the fights to win elections are so fierce in the US and other representative democracies?, because politicians have a lot of power in those countries.
This means that in elections, there is a lot at stake. The Right wants to win to do the things it considers need to be done; perhaps lower taxes to business, stop or discourage unionisation, strengthen the armed forces, build more highways, etc. The Left wants to win to spend more on social programs, increase pensions, make education and health care free, increase taxes for individuals and business, etc.
The Right contends it will deliver the Country to the “promised land of milk and honey”. The Left promises the same thing, but with different policies.
As a result, the country divides itself into two major camps, who are almost like political religions. The people who define themselves as progressives feel compelled to vote for leftist parties no matter what. The people who define themselves as conservatives feel compelled to vote for the conservative party.
Polarisation and religious-like thinking do not favour discussion based on the facts of issues. In political “religions” people follow their “faith” no matter what. It is obvious such outlook does not favour the rational, respectful debate that is essential for democracy to survive.
When politicians on the Right or the Left demonize rivals, they are no longer democrats. Democracy rests on the respect for the opinions of those we disagree with.
But there is another aspect of representative democracy that also corrupts voters; the practice of political parties to win voters, not with open arguments but with promises; normally economic promises that, in time, can ruin the country; “with us university will be free”, “we will reduce taxes to business to foster employment”…., well, you know what I am talking about.
The party in power, to win elections, can do more than make promises. It can try to seduce voters with various gifts right before the election. For example, the government, right before the election, instituted a program that will give homeowners $ 10 000 if they install solar panels. This is a very seductive program, but for people who can afford to take part in it.
Who can afford to take part?, the people able to pay to the contractor 10 000 up front, because the homeowner will have to wait several months to get money government. This means people who do not have the money to pay the contractor before the government money arrives, cannot join the program. The result will be that the people with fewer means will continue to pay more for their electricity, more in absolute terms and in proportion to their income.
The government could have geared the program to favour the people with fewer means, but all governments know the people with fewer means vote less. This means that the electoral “return on investment” is better with people in higher income brackets and enough in number to swing the election.
In representative democracies, the parties want to create the association: “if you vote for us, that is what you will get”. The other parties may argue that such pre-electoral gifts are an inappropriate use of public money. Unfortunately, most voters can not say: “wait a minute, you are buying our votes with public money”. Most voters see that if they vote for this or that party, they will get various “gifts”.
The other party may say such programs are an irresponsible use of public money. Unfortunately, they will do exactly the same thing, or worse, if they are in power.
Representative democracy caters to the immediate. It seeks to make voters feel good right then and there.
The result is the incredible deficits and debt levels of many countries. We also see the incredible orgy of money printing most countries have engaged in.
Direct democracy changes all that. Direct democracy gives the people the power to decide laws, policies, taxation levels, etc. By doing that, direct democracy makes the voter directly responsible for the economic and general management of the country.
Direct democracy also makes impossible polarisation at the levels we see in representative democracies. It is impossible because the politicians do not have the power to decide; they need the consent of the people.
In a direct democracy, the people can stop any law or program the politicians come up with. In fact, they stop the politicians and also decide independently of the politicians. We know that from the experience of Swiss direct democracy.
For example, on the past Sept. 26th, the Swiss voted No to raise taxes for business and No to decrease taxes for people on salaries. 65% voted against the proposal, and in all cantons the proposal lost ( Cantons are roughly similar to states in the US). In several cantons almost 80% of the voters said No to the proposals.
If voters in representative democracies decided that, I am certain than in most of them, the proposal would pass because there is a widespread feeling that people who derive their income from investments are unfairly privileged by the system. In such countries, most voters would center on “righting a wrong”; they would not think too much if taxing people who invest may drive them to other countries, if business would invest less in R&D, if business would become less competitive, if jobs would be lost, etc.
Swiss voters do think about the consequences of their votes, they have to. They do it because the Swiss decide specific issues and are responsible for the consequences of their decisions; they know there is no “promised land of milk and honey”, they also know they can not blame the politicians.
In short, representative democracy weakens itself from within because politicians do all they can to “buy votes”. Of course they do it with very skillful words, so that the people will not notice what is happening.
I do not want now to get into another big issue; how lobbies by-pass, even corrupt, representative democracy by donating or lending lots of money to political campaigns, to create obligations on politicians to help the lobby.
In the 1800s, the Swiss drafted their constitution using many of the ideas of the French Revolution and the American Revolution. The time has come for the Americans, the French and the rest, to copy and adapt their constitutions to the Swiss one and become direct democracies. The Swiss improved American and French ideas when they introduced the old, but new again, Greek idea of direct democracy.
But the politicians will not do it voluntarily, they dislike giving up the monopoly power they have. We know that because Swiss politicians didn’t like it either in 1867; the people forced them to, peacefully but insistently.
If you want to save your democracy, and prevent the dangers of extreme reactions, you have to push for direct democracy.
Germany had representative democracy in the 30s, and you know what happened when it stopped working…, Spain and Italy too, so did Chile…