By Archish Mazumdar
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
2015 is about to arrive and the general feeling in world politics seems to be one of unrest and turmoil. In fact, on closer inspection, it is safe to assume that across the great democracies people are continuing to feel let down by the people they themselves chose as leaders. In Spain, Britain and Canada, upcoming elections will give the general populace an outlet to vent their frustrations— much to the advantage of mavericks like Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party. The Americans, though having already got out of the mid-terms, still face gridlock, more so now than ever, with a Republican Congress at loggerheads with a Democratic President. But with an economic recovery, at least they have something to cheer about. In the recession- stalked European Union however, the mood will definitely be darker. While in Japan, 2015 will probably be the year when the people finally lose their patience with Abenomics.
But, hasn’t this always been the case? People have seldom not felt let down by their leaders and politicians have always been an unloved lot. But that puts us in danger of ignoring some of the more important aspects of this problem. Aspects, which would lead to a lot of soul-searching about the efficacy of democracy, as a form of governance.
First, unpopularity and disengagement seem to be at its highest, particularly in the West. Since 2004, a clear majority of Americans have voiced their dissatisfaction regarding the way they are governed, with numbers steadily climbing above 80% (even higher than during Watergate). Britain’s Conservative Party, one of the West’s more successful political machines, has slipped from about 3 million members in the 1950s to about fewer than 200,000 come the election in May. Meanwhile, the French seem to have finally lost patience with President Francois Hollande.
Second, the present democratic establishment in the West has proved to be unequal to the challenges of the present day. This will, unfortunately, become even more painfully clear in Europe as they get ready to enter the sixth year of the Eurozone Crisis, with leadership across all member nations having failed at dealing with the situation.
Third, the Asian alternative. China’s version of autocratic modernization claims, at least, to be better at long- term planning. With the poor in China surging forward development-wise as compared to their Asian counterparts- for example, the economic strength shown in recent times by India across emerging markets, especially after Narendra Modi’s election to the Prime Ministerial chair, the mood seems to be one completely opposite to that farther West. Yes, China has its fair share of problems, what with corruption, poor services and lack of freedom. But even the pro-democracy protestors in the streets of Hong Kong, would look to the West for inspiration, or for the lack of it.
And as such the failure of democracies to deliver on multiple grounds ranging from legislative to economic policymaking, would lead to difficult questions being raised. While for the Right-wing, nationalism becomes a staple strategy, the Left would be more concerned with the redistribution of wealth.
And it is against this tumultuous background that two major debates will rise.
Reform of the State
In terms of productivity and its current use of technology, the public sector seems to be ancient as compared to their private sector counterparts. The West having already added around $13 trillion in debt since the credit crunch and with the demand for greater healthcare and pensions on the rise, nations are actually running out of money.
And as this debate spreads, people would realize that some of the smallest and efficiently managed states lie outside of the Western setup. Emerging economies- India, China, Indonesia- are also looking to build up their welfare states, and will be mindful of falling into the same conundrum as their Western brethren.
The present Democratic setup
Like an old tool that has been used multiple times and is presently trying to fight off the rust, the Western form of democracy has lost its inventiveness and presently looks tired and worn-out. In the United States, the present system of money politics or the blocking procedures of the Congress has got nothing even remotely to do with democracy. While the European Union, has taken on the habit of pushing things down the backdoor. And that in itself is the tragedy of the European Union, to be an illusion than an actual solution.
Winston Churchill had once remarked, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He was right, in the sense that democracy is still the most flexible and inherently fair form of governance known to man. But that still leaves us with this question.
Is flexibility and fairness a good enough excuse for the repeated failures at tackling its many imperfections?
Archish Mazumdar is your normal everyday college-kid, currently in his third year of college, pursuing a BS in Economics from IIT Kanpur. His passions in life include quizzing, debating and food! Quick in both words and actions, he usually finds solace while writing (mostly poetry). He spends his free time reading vociferously, watching movies (plenty of them) and listening to Bob Dylan. When not doing the usual stuff, he is mostly found convincing people that he is not actually jobless.