The Hefty Burden of Democracy ~ by Osmund Agbo
A man once asked how it was possible that China, one of the world’s oldest dictatorships was able to lift 82 million people out of poverty in a space of six years whereas India, the world’s largest democracy has 6.9 percent of her 1.3 billion populations living below the national poverty line. Of course one is neither a fan of the Communist Party nor her draconian leadership style, but there is something to be said about China getting a few things right. But to be clear, this is by no means a sad commentary on India’s economic performance as it is to highlight the two nation’s different socio-political systems. India is without doubt, one of the fastest growing economies of the world and according to Economic Times, is well on her track to overtake Japan to become the world’s third largest economy in 2025.
Democracy is built on the concept of one man, one vote, the whole idea of which is to create a world that is just and fair. Yet, if you are an American poor, you are just as screwed as the impecunious in the People’s Republic of China’s. For you, Democracy is only but a fancy term that gets thrown around. Framed differently, the shooting of an unarmed Black man in the streets of America is no less horrible than the death of a Uighur in a Chinese detention facility. To the extent that a democracy is plagued by the same ills that define a dictatorship, its claim to superiority is only in concept.
William Magear Tweed was a member of the New York Senate 4th districts between January 1, 1868 – December 31, 1873. At the height of his influence, Tweed was the third-largest landowner in New York City and was a member of a number of boards and commissions. He was also the one who made the suggestion to rename the American landmark stature, “Liberty Enlightening the World” to “Statue of Liberty” but Tweed was best known as the head of the Tammany Hall political machine. With the vast amount of resources at his disposal, his ability to ensure voter’s loyalty was legendary. He was later convicted for stealing about forty-five million dollars from New York City taxpayers through political corruption.
“I don’t care who does the electing as long as I get to do the nominating”.
Those were the words of Senator Tweed more than 150 years ago, yet it speaks volume of the inherent deficiencies of our democratic process and that the system that threw him up still exist today. Few people and interest groups with enormous wealth sponsor candidates that gets to do their bidding when elected. The landmark ruling of Citizen United vs. Federal Electoral Commission of January 2010 drove the final nail on the coffin of campaign finance reform in America and one last-ditch effort to salvage that democracy.
The overbearing influence of Money and Power in politics coupled with voter’s ignorance, biases and apathy produce leaderships that are less than desirable. Politicians like Tweed peddle influence and traffic in voter suppression, disinformation campaign, gerrymandering and all those vices that make mockery of democracy.
An average voter lacks information and votes with emotion. Voters’ ignorance and bias leave them easy targets in the hands of unscrupulous politicians, interest groups and ideologues. Ignorant or illogical decisions by voters can easily lead to ill-advised wars, economic recessions and inability to contain a pandemic, all of which imperil the lives, welfare and freedom of large numbers of people.
Voting could literally involve matters of life and death. The politicians who get elected rule over all including those who voted for or against them and even the once that chose to abstain. Such wide ranging implication highlights the risk inherent in ignorant voting. It’s hard to imagine that the Chinese system with all its flaws would have produced a Donald Trump as the leader. His character alone would have been more than enough to disqualify him from membership of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).
Dictatorship is horrible and can never be the right answer, yet Winston Churchill argued that the best case against democracy is a five minutes conversation with an average voter. That said, it remains a great idea even as its current practice is burdened by voters ignorance, apathy, emotive actions and”Tweedism”. There is a need for an overhaul of the current order to serve its purpose.
Part of the challenges could be that a particular democratic model may not be a one size fits all after all. It could also mean that the American Jeffersonian example demands some modifications in different cultural contexts. Or maybe now is the time to explore Technocracy and even experiment with what Jason Brennan described as Epistocracy in his book ”Against Democracy”.
Dr. Agbo is the president/CEO of African Center for Transparency and writes from USA