Democracy and governance

One of the subthemes in the futuristic novels I am writing is, how should we be governed? Most readers of this blog will think the answer is obvious: democracy. Think about this for a minute, and ask, is this true, and how do you know? My answer is that democracy is too cumbersome. Trying to get everybody to even consider an issue is hopeless in our modern life, and even if you can get them to think about it, the thoughts tend to be very superficial. So, what we tend to do is to give everybody a vote, but they have to spend it on a politician. We do not have democracy; we have a republic, and the United States constitution in particular is based on the Roman republic. What happened then was that the eligible citizens were all given a “stone” and they went to a selected spot and cast it. The United States President is elected in a similar way to the Roman Consul, the electoral college representing the role of the great families. Most other “democracies” work in a similar way. This is more efficient at decision-making, but it has its problems.

Recently, the death of Margaret Thatcher illustrated what I consider to be much of what is wrong with our political system. You may not agree with her policies, but why not disagree while she was alive? Perhaps because there was nothing the public could do to change them? In an election you get one vote, so one issue predominates. It is not democratic to have no means of deciding separable issues, but merely more efficient.

I think it is a fair assessment that when she came to power, Britain was sick. The manufacturing industries were simply non-competitive. There were several reasons for this. One was the overall debt incurred by Britain in fighting Hitler. This debt totally wrecked Britain’s economy, and Britain would have been better to have stayed out of the war, or to have made peace after Dunkirk. The world, of course, would have been a much worse place, but the fact remains, Britain never really recovered from that war. The second problem was that British industry did not reinvest, but rather it ran its factories into the ground, and did not value what it had. A long time ago, I owned a Datsun 1600, which was quite an advanced car for its time, and one day, while driving in the Australian country, I had trouble with a hose. I limped into this small country town with one garage, which nominally was an Austin/Morris agency, so I stopped. Could he do something to get me to …  No problem, he had the part. Austin had sold its designs to Datsun, and persisted with a much inferior design, but the Austin hoses exactly fitted the Datsun. So Japan has a car industry and Britain does not. The final piece of bad news for Britain prior to Thatcher was the Union movement. Nobody would do anything that was not on their formal job description, which meant that industries were hopelessly overstaffed. Margaret Thatcher excised the cancer. The trouble was, she excised far too much. She closed the coal industry, almost overnight, and industry simply collapsed, unable to compete with German and Japanese industry. I consider this was a triumph of political dogma over logic

Thatcher became extremely unpopular, until the Falklands. Whether she was completely rational there is a matter of opinion, but she decided to retake them. In my opinion, all other things being equal, Britain should have failed. What happened is that Thatcher risked many lives as she staked her reputation, and the question is, was what she did a rational assessment of the situation, a moral stand, or was it a throw of the dice to rescue an otherwise impossible political position? Whatever it was, it worked, and her reputation reached unparalleled heights.

So what we saw was that prior to Thatcher, Britain was sliding into a depressed inefficient state, thanks to politicians who refused to take hard decisions. Thatcher went to the opposite extreme: there was no shortage of hard decisions, but how many of them were right? What we need is a government that makes the right decisions. The problem is, how to get such a government?