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Fixing the system
Last week I suggested that it is exceedingly difficult to understand economics without understanding politics. Of course, the inverse also holds true. Regardless, there is a growing chorus of voices critical of the existing social/economic/political system as having failed to ensure a sensible, just and sustainable distribution of global resources. I firmly believe that the focus should be on awakening the people as opposed to blaming the leaders. Please allow me to share two quotes with you.
The first quote is from the Scottish lawyer, Alexander Fraser Tytler, and his 1801 collection of lectures. He says that, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury.
From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”
The second quote is particularly relevant for those who advocate constitutional reform to address certain deficiencies. As in a previous column, I again refer to the Reservations of Solomon Lutchman in the Report of the Wooding Commission on Constitutional Reform. He notes that, “A new constitution, or any new set of clothes, cannot solve the ills of any society, unless there is a fundamental change of attitudes in the people for whom it is designed and the persons who must operate it.”
Lutchman goes on to say that, “No constitution can be better than the society it serves or can work better than is willed by the operators. A constitution should encourage the collective effort of the society and be the vehicle whereby the collective social effort is encouraged and realised, not frustrated and perverted. Even where a constitution is defective, collective social effort and public awareness can modify its operation, and even where it is good, public apathy and perverse practices can frustrate the best political machinery.”
It is clear to me that both the attitude of the people and nature of the system need to be, and to some extent already are being addressed. At the time of writing, the Prime Minister was considering a Cabinet reshuffle. Given the deeper systemic issues, I doubt that such a move would have any meaningful impact. The UK’s coalition government is also going through a mid-term crisis.
Interestingly, political analyst James Forsyth noted that Prime Minister Cameron had earlier in his term relinquished political control of the policy unit and allowed it to be staffed by the civil service. The logic being that populating these policy positions with political appointees undermines the role of junior ministers and would lead to his coalition partner also wanting to recruit his own people. It essentially makes for better recruiting for key policy roles.
The effectiveness of this approach is debatable but the principle makes sense to me. In Trinidad and Tobago, I stopped believing a long time ago that appointment to a government committee, policy team or state board is worthy of any form of automatic kudos. Not always, but often enough, it is a product of party loyalty as opposed to technical capacity or professional achievement and as long as this is the case, problems will be the norm rather than the exception.
Last week, a excerpt from a book written by a radio personality went viral. It is a piece written by Neal Boortz who is a nationally syndicated talk show host in the US. While I may not agree with all of it (especially the parts that are a bit too far to the right), his words are thought-provoking.
Feel free to Google it, but one of his key points is that we risk being too dependent on the government—“It is not wrong to distrust government. It is not wrong to fear government...(which is) inherently evil. Yes, a necessary evil, but dangerous nonetheless, somewhat like a drug. Just as a drug that in the proper dosage can save your life, an overdose of government can be fatal.”
My position is that governments are dysfunctional at times because they comprise imperfect beings trying to manage an imperfect political-economic structure. To truly fix the system, we must first fix ourselves. At this point I would return to Solomon Lutchman who when speaking about the Constitution noted that, “The people are always, in the long run, wiser than their leaders, and the democratic system should provide continuous and succeeding opportunities for the good sense of the people to correct past mistakes and prevail.”
My name is Derren Joseph and I love the Caribbean region. Despite its challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will enjoy a brighter tomorrow. Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com
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