Why optimize democracy?

Many regions in the world and the world as a whole are facing severe actual or potential crises:
1. Global warming could well turn into the most existential crisis for human beings across the globe the world has seen so far.
2. The West has been seeing increasing gaps in income and wealth and wide unemployment, especially also among the young generation, already dubbed the “lost generation”.
3. The Arab countries are struggling to build effective democracies which help to secure fair opportunities and balanced well-being for all its citizens.

In addition the fight against global poverty remains a gigantic task after more than 60 years of international development corporation. We see conflicts in many parts of the world over matters of religion, land or resources which urgently need to be resolved in order to avoid further unnecessary bloodshed. Pollution affects the state of the globe everywhere. Our oceans are covered with carpets of plastic rubbish the size of central Europe, rubbish which also threatens to enter the human food chain. No individual human being would approve of such pollution, but the policy systems we have in place do not prevent it. At the same time the expected steady increase of the global population to 9 billion by the year 2050 continues to add to the pressure on the resources of the globe year by year. Finally, as a completely different problem largely unnoticed by the public in the light of these more imminent challenges, advances in biogenetic medicine could well endanger even the dignity of human life. Our policy making systems would have to keep us updated on those developments and, next to the benefits, the risks for humanity involved in them.

Democracy as we operate it does not appear to be able to cope with these challenges.

It has a number of inherent deficits which need to be fixed. One of them is that it forces politicians to look out for the next day’s headlines and for votes in the next elections, rather than for long-term and sustainable problem solutions. Another problem of democracy is corruption, more generally the tendency of many politicians to put their own benefit above their work for the common good, a problem widespread in many countries. Those deficits severely affect the capacity of democratic policy making systems to cope with the economic and other challenges of our time.

As a consequence of the ineffectiveness of democracies in dealing with the problems especially in the area of economics we have seen and keep seeing uprisings in many countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, as well as the rise of the Occupy movement in the US and Europe. Also the London riots of 2011 have been attributed to the lack of opportunities for the young generation and the fact that, as a consequence, many young people do not have a stake in society.

Since the pressure on employment and income in the West is likely to rise with ongoing globalization, some observers consider it highly likely that the number of protests and riots will increase. They warn against a potential outright economic and social collapse of the old industrialized societies in the years to come. The distinguished British-American historian Tony Judt writes: “ Few in the West today can conceive of a complete breakdown of liberal institutions, an utter disintegration of the democratic consensus. But what we know of World War II – or the former Yugoslavia – illustrates the ease with which any society can descend into Hobbesian nightmares of unrestrained atrocity and violence”.

Our only chance: Optimizing the performance of democracy

All problems mentioned above, global warming, pollution of the globe, unemployment, global population growth and establishing balanced well-being in a world in which 80% of the people live in so-called developing countries are problems of the highest complexity and urgency. Many of those issues are interdependent, such as reducing poverty, creating peace, establishing strong economies, and effective administrative systems. Also in our interconnected world the economic development in other countries is likely to affect employment and well-being in our own country.

Dealing with such interdependence and complexity, fighting those challenges and avoiding crises potentially arising from them, requires the most effective and efficient use of our resources. We have to get our priorities right in the way we spend our resources and we must learn, how to achieve our goals in each policy area with the minimum amount of resources necessary, so we can free resources up for other tasks. Achieving these goals requires the most effective policy making systems conceivable.

The goal of only “enhancing” the performance of our democratic policy making systems is not enough in the light of these challenges and the existential risks connected with some of them. In a highly competitive sport athletes will tickle every bit of reserve out of their bodies. They will optimize any element of their preparation from training to nutrition and mental fitness to enhance their competitiveness. For democratic states the complexity of the challenges and the highly competitive nature of the world today mean that also their national and international systems must perform to the highest standards and make the best use of any resources available to them. On the international level we must jointly create the very best systems and procedures to handle the problems our globe is facing.

Optimizing Democracy, setting up a competent and fair policy making system of the highest standards, is also of relevance for countries which try to build sustainable and strong democratic systems, for example Egypt, countries which need to provide fair and equal chances and balanced well-being to different ethnic, cultural and religious segments in their societies in order to establish and maintain peaceful and productive co-existence between these segments.

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