Democracy: Epic Fail

Hi all,

There is no assurance quite like the kind you get from a clear-cut, overwhelming pattern appearing in the technical literature that staunchly defends your position. The pathetic performance history of neo-liberal western democracy is one such example. Of course, in all fairness, and really quite oddly, the one thing these systems have done well, at least as long as they existed, was to make a very few people very rich. But besides that … read on.

The best expositor of this pattern of past behavior is probably provided by Ethan Epstein and Nathan Converse in their book The Fate of Young Democracies. This book is an excellent summary of the academic research and provides several interesting correlations over the recent history of democracy. I’ll summarize them here, informed as well by other academic research in the same subject.

Past performance is the best indicator of future performance. When it comes to durability, the wests’ much lauded neo-liberal, western “democracy” is an abject failure.

That academics and leaders continue to promote it could be viewed by future observers as criminal negligence.

Let me explain.

If we were to track all “democracies” that appeared on the global scene since 1960 we’d find the following characteristics:

  • Of about 120 attempts at democratization half failed by 2010. This constitutes a 50% failure rate per 50 year duration. Given this half-life, essentially all would fail within 300 years. This is a disastrous durability figure that will not suffice for global governance. Keep in mind that the probability of any one democracy making it to the maximum duration of 300 years is exceedingly small. Based on these figures, ceteris paribus, it is more likely than not that a world government formulated as a democracy would fail within 50 years. There are two major problems with this. First, it is obviously too short a duration. Second, a global government cannot fail, for to do so would truly be disastrous, to an extent not equaled at a national level. A successful global government would have to be considerably more sophisticated in this regard.
  • Those that fail tend to experience rapid economic growth up to their devolution and overall economic hardship does not appear to be a factor. Normally in a free market economy rapid advances in wealth lead to rapid increases in the accretion of power, not just in government, but in society generally. And if that economic advance is too fast, the accretion is exaggerated because the natural process of wealth disaggregating slightly after such an advance does not have time to act. In other words, the ratio of the aggregation of economic power to the disaggregation of economic power, call it ϭ, increases abruptly.
  • Having said that, income inequality is correlated with the probability of State failure. This would be expected for high values of ϭ.
  • Accretion of economic power along ethnic lines is correlated with a higher probability of State failure. This also makes sense since ethnic tension would only exacerbate the power accretion.
  • Economic reforms (trade liberalization and privatization) within the jurisdiction are negatively correlated with the probability of State failure. This follows naturally from the above, since reforms serve to suppress ϭ.
  • There does not appear to be a correlation between the strength of a State’s Executive authority and the probability of State failure. As far as my own research is concerned, this is the only structural artifact for which data exists. Unfortunately, without complementary structural data we can’t infer much from this.
  • And finally, what is perhaps the most damning finding for “democracy” is the fact that the degree to which a government is dysfunctional and unable to effectively provide its services is correlated with the probability of State failure. In other words, “democracy” simply collapses in on itself. Whether by corruption, inefficiency, fraud or whatever else, democracies are prone to fail to fulfill their raison d’etre.

The economic realities of ϭ and the correlations above suggest that surges in the accretion of power lead to State failure in “democracies”. But this is exactly what any detractor of “democracy” would expect: the greatest weakness of democracy, according to detractors through history, has been its vulnerability to sudden increases in power accretion within a society. Stare Decesis, this belies a foundational weakness of “democracies” wherein they are especially vulnerable to usurpation, not solely from within the government, but from outside. That is, “democracy” is an abject failure because in its more common form at least, it is a breeding ground of the popular faction Madison and Hamilton warned us about. This isn’t rocket science.

And this discussion of “democracy” is one of the reasons why I hate labels. “Democracy” is a term that may not refer with full clarity to a particular structural form of government. It more broadly is taken to mean any representative government. In that sense, General Federalism qualifies as a “democracy”. I tend to reject that definition however, because the distinguishing factor between General Federalism and every “democracy” I’ve heard of is that General Federalism establishes a representative form only for the delegation and revocation of legal and economic powers and denies any representative form for the exercise of legal and economic powers. Every democracy I’ve heard of allows some representation in this regard, at least to some degree.

Having said that, the purist could argue that General Federalism does in fact admit of representation in the exercise of legal and economic power because of the ease with which the constituency can revoke those powers, by force if necessary: those that exercise power are influenced (or threatened) by the constituency through the attribute of deterministic impeachment.

The fad today, sadly, is to apply the same failed logic that has been applied for nearly 1000 years. Rather than propose social contracts of sufficient sophistication to meet these challenges the habitual reaction seems to be to suggest how one can shape society to address all these correlations; thus reducing the negative impacts on government, and leaving the broken governments broken. The trend has been to try to change human and social reality rather than accept it. And there has been 1000 years of time to show us how that has worked out for us. Perhaps in the not-too distant future molecular biology will pave the way to changing human nature, but when that happens, much to the pleasure of some, I’ll go to Alaska and disappear.

– kk

Chief Justice John Marshall

Chief Justice John Marshall (Photo credit: dbking)


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