Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Can Democracy Save the World?
My title is a bit apocalyptic, I know, but it's prompted by a recent conversation with journalist friend whose judgement I respect, in which he argued that democracy is not equipped to save the world from the problems it faces. What problems? Well how about, for starters: global warming, terrorism, water shortage, food shortages, international crime, massive migrations and the exhaustion of world's finite resources.
His argument is that democracy is wholly ill equipped to cope with these problems for the following reasons:
i) It deals in the short-term, not the long term. Democratic politicians tend to think only of getting into power for the next four or five years, and major issues requiring long term solutions tend to attract rhetoric but no real action.
ii)It is compromised by vested interests in society which finance democratic government but at the cost of insulating them against, for example, the sort of damage which carbon emission caps would inflict on the energy industries in the USA.
iii) It is voters who put governments into power in democracies but they are addicted to materialism- shopping, cars, cheap air travel etc- and will not vote for any party willing to take the brutal measures necessary.
In other words: 'We're all F**ked'. I hate to say this- being a dyed in the wool optimistic liberal- but I find it hard to refute this line of argument. For example, Madeleine Bunting recently wrote in The Guardian that the only way to solve global warming is via some form of rationing. Now she is probably right, but which party is going to offer rationing as a rallying cry to voters? The situation is not yet desperate enough for people to accept let alone advocate such privations.
So what is the alternative? Nicholas Stern's report said we had a decade available to combat climate change and that we can probably save the world if we are prepared to spend 1% of GDP on such a purpose. I hope that the time available is enough to convince the ranks of the indifferent and narrowly selfish that their own comfortable personal survival during their lifetimes is not a legitimate end when it is the whole of humanity's future which is at stake. But it is very hard not to be pessimistic, especially after the Bali conference where real action was shunned in favour of vague resolutions that will achieve very little.
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