The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Democracy in Degrees

Many governments and NGOs have focused on bringing democracy to developing countries on the belief that democracy is a road to prosperity. I can't say I disagree with the general idea, but such efforts have proven to be largely unsuccessful, I think, because such organizations confuse democracy with elections. "Democracy," of course, just means rule by the people, but it really comes in degrees. The more the people of a state are in control of the actions and destiny of that state, the more democratic it is. Just giving people an election, gives them some degree of democracy, but not necessarily very much, if the person or persons that are elected, use that power to aggrandize themselves or their friends, push through unpopular initiatives or in general abuse their power, that's not very democratic. Though a representative democracy is not the only way to empower a people, we can say that in such a system, when officials are elected to make decisions on behalf of the people, the country is democratic to the degree that such officials are beholden to the interests of the people. Elected officials are human, and they are going to be guided, to a greater or lesser degree, by self-interest, inevitably. When that self-interest leads them to push through unpopular laws and favor well-connected friends or special interests at the expense of the broader public, that wouldn't be described as terribly democratic.

Now, whether the more democratic a country is, the better or rather whether there is some optimal point where making a country more democratic would actually tend to make things worse, is an open question. It certainly can be said, though, that many countries could benefit from being more democratic. Perhaps even ours. If, for example, you have a survey that asks "Does the Federal Government have the consent of the governed" and only 17% say yes, you can imagine that many people are not thinking the government is too democratic.

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