On the future of freedom, and a wish not to go back too far

Just finished Fareed Zakaria’s lightly named tome The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. It’s billed as an update of Tocqueville and I am not the one to dispute that claim.

Zakaria figures we’ve all had way too much democratization. In our political systems, in our institutions (churches, industry, associations, clubs) and even in concepts such as ‘information’ and the ‘media’.

Needless to say, Zakaria is no fan of ‘direct democracy’. He lays out in a wide ranging section on the rise of the referendum in U.S. states and how they have negatively impacted politics and led to voter apathy and distrust of politicians.

Oh well, now I’ll move on to a less weighty subject. I’m starting Mao: The Unknown Story. It’s billed as a chronicle of the 70 million people that died at the hands of the Chinese dictator.

Yes, my wife keeps telling me to read more fiction. I have been trying. I finished last week House of Meetings. With this book, I was able to cross reference with my fascination with early 20th century Sovietism with a well known writer of fiction – Martin Amis. It’s primarily the tale of two brothers and their time in the Gulag. Apparently, it has a fairly broad appeal. It was #2 on MacLean’s best seller list last week for fiction. It was a great read. After reading over a dozen books on the Soviet Union, this work of fiction brought it to life. Ouch.

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0 Responses to On the future of freedom, and a wish not to go back too far

  1. Anonymous says:

    Actually, I’d say you’ve BEEN reading fiction. Direct Democracy just happens to be my area of expertise and I suggest you read something that actually makes sense.

    There will always be ‘voter apathy’, which is another way of talking about people who don’t or won’t vote. That’ s easy enough to correct-if you want to, and that’s follow Australia’s example of mandatory voting.

    In fact, direct democracy is exactly the opposite, just go do the research. In the 24 states which have direct democracy they have a FAR FAR higher degree of political activism than in the states that don’t (at the state level I mean)

    At the municipal level there is far more reliance on direct democracy, this compares with Switzerland, the country that invented modern direct democracy. At this level there is far more political activity. It’s always the joke in Canada that the US knows so little about Canada, but ask the average New Brunswicker a political question and their faces go blank. Even though there was a committee on legislative democracy I’ve met fewer than five people who could even describe what proportional representation even means. Bernard Lord got more votes than Graham and more votes than he got last election and still people pontificate on ‘what he did wrong’. Even a member of the commission on legislative democracy said in an interview that “its not unfair…its just unfortunate” and compared it to Hatfield’s victory in 78 with fewer votes. So getting more votes than your opponent and not winning isn’t unfair because unfairness happened before??

    Zakaria’s book is one of an increasing number of books claiming that the US ‘has too much democracy’. That’s just more crap from the elite press that sees the rapid increase in the use of direct democracy in the states that allow it. Look at the US closely though and you’ll find a stark reality based on two things:
    1. Virtually every foreign policy move by imperialist federal US governments have been contrary to the wish of the majority of americans, and
    2. The federal level is the LEAST democratic level of government in the US.

    In other words, Zakaria is completely wrong, that in fact the US WOULD be ‘the land of opportunity’ and the beacon of freedom that its media propaganda pretends to be if direct democracy tools were available at the federal level.

    So he’s completely wrong, the level with the most voter apathy in the US is the FEDERAL one. Remember Michael Moore’s show where he took a ficus and ran it for congress? If you actually watch the response of legislators who wouldn’t talk it looks very likely that the ficus actually won. In fact most members of congress don’t even return to their ridings during the campaign.

    Democracy in america takes place locally and at the state level, NOT at the federal level. In Canada it is like that but a little different. For example, during the referendum of 92 Canada had a 78% voter turnout on a constitution. During that year there was massive political involvement.

    But just look at Canada where it mirrors the states. Most levels have very low turnout, in fact municipally in Canada there is rarely even a 30% turnout. Hard to argue apathy there.

    There have been a number of books like that come out lately, because of course american decision makers have always been afraid of the ‘unruly masses’ particularly now as they see the internet providing easy alternatives even to representative democracy.

    But take a look at New Brunswick, it’s virtually impossible to argue that direct democracy wouldn’t at least be as functional as the current form of government. There’s an electoral system that gives majority governments to party’s that don’t even get the majority of the votes. There’s a cabinet structure that literally has most backbenchers doing nothing most of the time, and the opposition plenty of time for naps and knee jerk complaints.

    If you want to actually read a GOOD book on the subject pick up one of Patrick Boyer’s books, or check out http://www.iandrinstitute.org, for something a little less propagandistic. Sorry for the thesis, but I get really irate when I hear elitist ass kissers badmouthing democracy (not you, him). Read a book on Switzerland and you’ll quickly discover that what this world needs is FAR far more democracy. And the idea that the US is TOO democratic is so laughable that only a professor could get away with saying it. Sort of like that asian fellow who wrote the book a couple years ago about how the US was the ‘end of history’. Every empire has said that too, and every empire has claimed to be ‘too democratic’ so they could start stamping down on the people they were ruling.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is too weird but I found this out right after posting this last night. If you want a more direct implication of the economic impact of democracy it would be hard to find one.

    Of course I’ve written about the Maine use of referendum, but here’s a canadian story.

    In Quebec, the city of Levis is looking at a natural gas terminal. A town downriver voted in a referendum 70% against one, so its done there (of course the province can overturn it but that’s usually not a good idea).

    So this is where democracy enters into it. Of course many will claim that economic development must be FORCED on areas, and often ED of a particular sort. Usually locals are asking for a certain kind but those are typically ignored.

    Anyway, in reality people have a perfect right to choose whether they want ED of a specific type. That’s VERY basic democracy.

    So now let’s look at Levis. Since another referendum is inevitable the company has had to ‘up the ante’. They are promising all the construction that is going on in Saint John, but here’s the difference: not only are they guaranteeing 60 jobs (Irving papers say the one in St. John could employ as few as EIGHT), but they are also paying 10 MILLION a year in property taxes.

    So obviously Irving is cutting a few corners with the employment. And in fact, since the gas for the LNG terminal in Quebec will come from the middle east, there is ample reason to make the argument that Irving will be making far more money since its gas will be coming from the caribbean.

    That doesn’t even include the other concessions made by the company in Quebec-planting trees, paying for damages and loss of fishing employment etc., none of which are even mentioned in the Saint John deal.

    This is why I often say here that its POLITICS stupid, NOT the economy. Saint John with 95 MILLION more dollars a year would go a long way to solve their budgetary problems, in fact I’d say ALL the way.

    So here’s where New Brunswick is a victim of its own design. You can’t fault the feds for a lack of investment when the province and city’s do so little for the citizens as to make sure they don’t get royally screwed over on every investment that comes their way.

    That’s why economics and all the others fall into politics, not vice versa. The LNG terminal provides a perfect example of what happens when the political system becomes subservient to the economic system. That’s what dictatorships and fascist regimes are made of-and why they are rarely welcoming economic environments.