on democracy, property and freedom

April 3rd, 2010 by Romeo Anghelache

Have you ever watched a “free market” clone on TV telling you that democracy builds on property, the rule of law etc.? Let’s take a look into what that means.

A recent study shows how the wealth is distributed in the U.S.A.: in 2007, 80% of the population owns 15% of what’s to be owned, while the other 20% owns “the rest” of 85%. I wonder if the mortgage is considered debt or wealth here. These numbers are a bit different from those in Moore’s Capitalism, a love story, but they ask the same thing: what is democracy to you?

Now it’s obvious whose property the free market drones are talking about when they insist on it; they talk about property in an oportunistic way: that serves the wealthy, so that the free marketeers will get some trickled funds for themselves to survive. Pretty lame.

As a result of this distribution of wealth, the distribution of power in a democracy looks like this, briefly, in the U.S.A., the Republicans almost exclusively represent politically the interests of corporations, while the Democrats represent also, beside the interests of big corporations, the interests of some work unions too. Before laughing at this situation, look at your own country: chances are you don’t even know whose interests your Parliament represents.

Anyway, there should be no place in a real democracy for lobbyists to further influence the lawmakers: their existence is a mechanism of subverting democracy by creating parallel, hidden and unaccountable structures of power in the society. The lawmakers are publicly elected and they should answer exclusively to the population they are supposed to cover for. I heard there is a french principle in public elections: no private funds can reach the candidates in the election process.

All this reminds me about what comedian Lewis Black said in one of his shows: you push your group’s interests until it gets represented in Congress, that’s democracy. A Romanian liberal prime-minister said the same thing a few years ago. Based on this definition, any dictature is democratic.

I disagree with this interpretation of democracy, to the point of calling it tribalism. What better name can you find for a mechanism in which different groups are pushing their own interests to the top of the power until they become law? Maybe chimping: a society emulating chimps; chimp your way to the top, man.

To me, democracy is the fact that a population recognizes in each person some commonality with any other person. In two words, democracy is a public warranty. A warranty of some basic things which are common necessities to anybody, that is, public necessities.

The publicly elected persons are there to satisfy these public warranties. In a real democracy the State is ( should be) the public service and the Parliament does (should) maintain these public warranties through making/tuning laws. This is democracy, it is not the act of various groups pushing themselves to the top of public power.

Now which public warranties are we talking about in a democracy?

0. A maximum limit of personal wealth established to an estimated necessary of a person’s lifetime (e.g. a lifetime of average wages)
1. Education
2. Health
3. Law
4. Communication infrastructure
5. Access to the results of public works (work financed at least partially from public funds)

Again, these are warranties, that means they should be provided unconditionally and with no discrimination to any person alive, and also means they are independent of the economic growth; these are basic ingredients of a democracy. The limiting of personal wealth to a maximum warrants the existence of the democracy itself (if that limit is not there, political power gets appropriated in time by various groups who tend to represent their own exclusive interests as the links above show).

If a democracy evolves, and we get intelligent or productive enough, it can add new points to that list of guaranteed basic ingredients:
6. Food
7. Housing
8. A minimal amount of ecologically produced energy
9. Research infrastructure
pick any humanist rule …

Surprise, this list is also the pragmatic basis of real freedom: if you’re warranted these items in a society, your freedom mostly depends on you, if not, then your freedom mostly depends on others (and then freedom becomes an improper term to describe your situation).

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