Active Thinking Topic 31 -  What's Wrong With Democracy?

Tuesday 10 May 2022, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: ZOOM online

Focus Questions

1. Well, what do you think is wrong with democracy? By the way, what's right with it?

2. When is a democracy not a democracy? Wikipedia has a long list of democracies, and what it calls partial democracies (USA is one of those), together with 'anocracies' - states that pose as democracies but actually are not.

3. It is sometimes said that electors don't elect new governments, they get rid of old governments. How apt do you find this proposition in the Australian case?

4. Think of all the idiots you have met and all the characters you find warped in some way. Think of all the air-heads who have intimate knowledge of some trivia but care and know nothing about how a country works. Think of all the people buried in the details of their daily jobs but who have no time or interest to understand resource allocation, or legislation, or details of how the public service is administered, or the byzantine twists of foreign trade and defence that their jobs may ultimately depend upon. Think of the vast numbers of utterly self-absorbed people for whom 'community' really doesn't exist. Think of all these characters and yourself. All of you have exactly the same vote and are required to vote. Are most of you competent to elect a competent government? What does the evidence of history show?

5. Probably nobody obsesses about (say) soap. However if you couldn't get soap the demand would be huge. Australians take some kind of democracy for granted, and most people don't care too much about it. Would they care if it was suddenly replaced by a dictatorship? In other countries where people don't have democracy many seem to care a great deal.

6. How does being chosen by popular vote affect the personalities of those who are elected?

7. In Australia parliamentarians, like judges, are paid very high salaries. The rationale for this payment is that by being well-off these people will not be tempted by corruption. How well does this theor actually work?

8. Is it a good idea to have mediocre leaders running a country? Most democracies most of the time elect mediocre leaders. There is a reason for this. In a democratic country like Australia with a supposedly egalitarian culture, most people prefer to choose mediocre people whom they think are like themselves (that is the the meaning of mediocre = the majority).

9. How much of the new law passed by parliament is actually designed to serve the interests of most voters? (One American university study estimated that 4% of the legislation passed by the US Congress was proposed by the public and designed for public benefit).

10. The party candidates the public votes for are chosen by the members of that party or it's leader. Only a tiny percentage of Australians belong to political parties. Very few people go to political party meetings in electorates. These meetings are generally very dull. Is this the best way to choose candidates? Is it much different from say a group of Islamic mullahs choosing candidates for Iran's elections?

11. How different is daily life for most people in an autocracy Versus a democracy? Is this all that matters?


Wikipedia (2022) "Democracy" @ 

Wikipedia (2022) "Index of Democracies" @  [grades countries according to their democratic-to-autocratic status]

Thor May (2016) "Politics and Politicians : a volatile mix?". Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "Politics is like medicine: sometimes useful, even necessary, in small amounts, but fatal if taken in an overdose. Politicians can be a useful species but are prone to going feral. Democracies often elect either mediocrities or confidence tricksters because large numbers of electors share similar qualities. In practical terms, is there a better way to manage national affairs?"]

Thor May (2014) "What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "The 20 th Century revolved politically around competing interpretations of Capitalism, Communism, Socialism and Fascism. These are all ways to organize the lives of people on a large scale. Are real alternatives or new interpretations likely to emerge in the challenging years ahead? What might they look like?"]

Thor May (8 July 2013) "The Democracy Problem". The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

Thor May (2013) "Democratic societies are less likely to make war than dictatorships. What is the evidence?" The Passionate Skeptic website @

Abraham Lincoln (1863 ) "The Gettysburg Address". Cornell University @ 

Adam Piore (November 26, 2015) "Why We’re Patriotic - Whether it’s our country or our football team, we need to belong". Nautilus @  [Quote: "It started with one man quietly sipping a Tom Collins in the lounge car of the Cleveland-bound train. “God bless America,” he sang, “land that I love …” It didn’t take long. Others joined in. “Stand beside her … and guide her ...” Soon the entire train car had taken up the melody, belting out the patriotic song at the top of their lungs. It was 1940 and such spontaneous outpourings, this one described in a letter to the song’s creator Irving Berlin, were not unusual".]

Mikhail Pirogovsky (April 22, 2022) "The Four Russias and Ukraine - Observations on Russia's stratified population and their attitude to war." Moscow Timese @  [Quote: “Four Russias” was created by the geographer Natalya Zubarevich in 2011. She posited the existence four distinct socio-economic blocks: the Westernized urban conglomerates; the mid-sized cities and towns, where most of the population works for the state or a big industrial corporation; the villages, so removed from everything that Vladimir Putin is about as real for them as those guys on Mt. Olympus were for Hellenic shepherds; and the “ethnic republics,” which, for the purposes of this exercise, can be rolled into the two last categories. ... If you are a Russian passport holder reading this, you’re one of the Westernized urbanites ... [This 20%) knew the disaster for what it was right on Feb. 24, and ever since they’ve been protesting, emigrating, or, silenced by dependents and war censorship. ... The bottom 20% can be described through dry economic data: hand-to-mouth living, no savings at all; still using the outhouse and relying on firewood to keep warm ... $150 is considered a decent monthly salary in the low places. Life expectancy and pension age are about the same for Russian males ... And then there’s the IKEA crowd — the core of the nation, about 60% ... What do they believe? It’s like that joke that the regime in Russia is really “mortgage realism”: Everyone understands everything, but they’ve all got loans to pay. .. in the last two decades, a mortgage and a cheap car became a possibility. We simply don’t appreciate how much this means to middle Russia. ... Putin’s miscalculated, bloody blunder is still in an early stage. Nationwide food supplies will run out by May-June — not coincidentally when the Kremlin hopes to score a victory.

And then what? ... But once the war hysteria subsides, Putin’s approval ratings heading to Lukashenko-level lows.

democracia Abierta (19 February 2020) "What’s wrong with democracy? - The Economist's Democracy Index 2019 confirms democracy's decline in Latin America and the world". OpenDemocracy website @ 

Paul Evans (Jan 31, 2016) "A complete list of things that are wrong with democracy". Medium @  [Thor, comment: a very useful summary]

William A. Galston and Elaine Kamarck (January 4, 2022) "Is democracy failing and putting our economic system at risk?" Brookings Institute @ 

Francesco Sisci (3 April 2022) "The price of Covid and war". Settimana @  [Thor, comment: for all their many, many weaknesses democratic systems do have the ability to adapt, and adapt quickly, to major threats. Capable people throughout the system are able to see a need, take responsibility, and act. In autocratic systems this adaptability is blocked - see China with its Covid problem, and Russia with it's mad, imperial war on Ukraine. ... Quoting from Sisci : "The reality is that as the virus has mutated, the zero Covid policy is impossible to maintain, and sooner or later, China must accept the reality and necessity of living with Covid and not forcing its mental constraint on reality.

However, the refusal to come to grips with this basic fact seems to have to do with a common thread linking the Communist Party from the time of the Lushan conference in 1958 [... The Great Leap Forward, leading to the deaths of 20 to 60 million people from starvation] to the present times.

Over the 64 years, the emphasis has been that the problem is not the policy but the implementation of the policy; it is not the idea but the application of the concept and the people responsible for applying it. The shifting of blame that makes it possible for unsustainable policies to be carried on seems to be in the genes of the Chinese political system, preferring ideas to reality. This is the DNA of mistakes.

What is necessary [in China] are massive, long overdue political reforms.

At the end of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party recognized that a forced modernization was needed: democracy. The hesitation in the crackdown of the Wall of Democracy in Beijing at the end of the 1970s mirrored a fierce internal Party debate on the need to move forward with democracy.

Despite the crackdown on the democratic movement, democracy was still in the air in the ’80s until the crackdown on the Tiananmen movement in 1989.

In the following months, the Communist Party drew the wrong lessons from the fall of the Soviet Union; that is, reforms should never have been started.

However, thirty years after, coping with twin challenges of the zero Covid policy and the Ukrainian war, Russia, which harbored the idea that reforms should never have started, proved just the opposite; reforms in Russia were never deep enough, and in fact, stilted reforms brought about the present failures in Ukraine".]

Bonny Symons-Brown and Matt Henry (5 May 2022) "The Marcos makeover: How history was rewritten to place a dictator's son on the cusp of power". ABC News @  [Quote: "In 1986, a popular uprising forced the Marcoses into exile in Hawaii, but not before they looted up to $US10 billion from state coffers over two decades in power, much of which has never been recovered.

For some in the Philippines, the Marcos name is a byword for brutality, corruption and theft, while others remain fiercely loyal to the family. But as the country's presidential election campaign enters its final days, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, the only son of Imelda and Ferdinand Sr, is poised to complete an extraordinary rehabilitation of the family's political brand. .. In 1986, a popular uprising forced the Marcoses into exile in Hawaii, but not before they looted up to $US10 billion from state coffers over two decades in power, much of which has never been recovered. For some in the Philippines, the Marcos name is a byword for brutality, corruption and theft, while others remain fiercely loyal to the family. But as the country's presidential election campaign enters its final days, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, the only son of Imelda and Ferdinand Sr, is poised to complete an extraordinary rehabilitation of the family's political brand. ... Driving the resurrection of the country's most divisive political dynasty is a calculated recasting of the ruthless Marcos dictatorship as a "golden age" of the Philippines. "How can history have been changed so drastically?" journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa asked. "With the help of social media platforms." .. A recent study found Facebook was the number one driver of disinformation in this election campaign and most of it was benefiting Marcos Jr. ..."Facebook is our internet," said Ressa, co-founder of the independent Filipino news website Rappler. "One hundred per cent of Filipinos on the internet are on Facebook." According to Ressa, social media is likely to prove the decisive factor in the election".]

Katharine Murphy (7 May 2022) "‘I am who I am’: Anthony Albanese rushes towards his date with destiny". The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: In depth interview/analysis with the leader of the Australian Labor Party. Usually governments are voted out rather than oppositions being voted in. Opinion polls put the Labor Party up to 10 points ahead of the current Liberal-National Party government for the 21 May 2022 election. However national opinion polls are extremely unreliable. Australian governments are elected from regional electorates, and electorates (collections of local voters) vary greatly in their preferences.]

Sportsbet odds today, 9 May 2022, on the federal election, 21 May, 2022 ) : Labor $1.35; Coalition $3.20. In other words, in the last couple of weeks the Liberal Party (= conservative in Australian politics) has dropped like a lead baloon back to its per-election lows. But you can never be sure of the final vote in politics. "The Australian'" journalist hacks and other venues of News Ltd (Fox News, Sky News, and 60%+ of other media) have worked furiously to find wedge issues to destroy Labor, but they are preaching to the converted as any glance at their reader comments will show. Creeping into their headlines is the occasional confession that Armageddon is waiting in the wings. Elections now have absolutely nothing to do with discussing issues of governance with the electors. They are run by full time teams of career professionals. The Liberal-National Coalition has nothing to discuss, no policy, only marketing slogans. Labor has huge amounts they could discuss but are keeping it out of the news. Instead they are pretending to be Liberal-lite, which means that there is nothing for Prime Minister Morrison to attack, and gives swing voters no reason to go with the Liberals out of fright. It's all a game of strategy and tactics, which leaves the ordinary mug punters pissed off with the whole irrelevant performance.

What's Wrong With Democracy?   (c) Thor May 2022

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