What the Heck is Democracy

liberty bellI am persuaded that the word ‘democracy’ is one of the most abused words in India (another being ‘secular’.) The common people certainly don’t know what it really means or entails, but even the “intellectuals” (second-hand dealers of ideas, as Hayek defined them) and assorted pundits have only a feeble grasp of the concept at best.

Politicians cannot reasonably be expected to understand anything that requires intelligence and knowledge but people who claim to be educated cannot be excused for their ignorance of such a basic concept as democracy. Journalists, especially, ought to know what it means before they pontificate.

As a public service, let me provide a clue for the hundreds of millions of Indians and their sainted journalists what democracy means, and most importantly what it does not mean. Continue reading

Democracy is Bloodier than Monarchy or Aristocracy

John Adams (1735 -1826) was an American Founding Father, and the second president of the United States (1797 -1801). Read the wiki page on Adams.

One marvels at all the natural wealth that the US has — immense land area, minerals, rivers, forests. You name it, the US has it all. But all that natural wealth pales in comparison to the wealth it had in the character of its founders. They were extraordinarily learned, wise, thoughtful and prudent. Given this sort of advantage, it is not at all surprising that the US became the richest and the most successful nation in the world.

The leaders that a nation gets is ultimately a random draw. The US was extraordinarily lucky. It would have drawn a Stalin, or a Lenin, or a Mao, or a Gandhi, or a Nehru. Had the US been unlucky like Russia, China or India, no amount of natural wealth would have saved the US from perdition. The US was born lucky. Continue reading

Democracy and the Economics of Politics

Lord Acton“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men . . .”

The truth of Lord Acton’s observation gets confirmed with sickening regularity. Here I explore that point in the context of democracy. Why do democracies, particularly those with powerful governments, tend to elect bad people? What’s the analytical relationship between power, politics, money and corruption? Continue reading

Democracy in America

If you thought that I was about to quote Alexis de Toqueville, you were wrong. I quote H. L. Mencken. “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

On Identity Politics, Personality Cults, and Democracy in India

Who you are determines what you do. That’s not the most incisive of observations but one’s identity is inextricably mixed up with what motivates one. Consequently identity does have predictive and explanatory power regarding the behavior of people. Naturally political parties – who must understand crowd psychology to be successful – understand that. Particularly in India, identity based politics has been refined to an impossible degree.
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Yes, India is a Democracy

But that’s too generic a description. Besides being too general a description, democracy is hardly a comprehensive description of the Indian government. Surely, the democracy found in say Switzerland is quite different from what’s in India. We need better descriptors of Indian governance. Here’s a partial list, offered in the hope that you will add your own favorite.
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The BJP Must Get its Act Together

It is widely rumored that India is a vibrant democracy but one wonders if the rumors are wild exaggerations with little bearing to reality. I could be wrong but doesn’t the idea of a democracy include having an effective opposition to the ruling party? Or is it still a democracy if it is a one-party rule which does whatever suits its narrow interests because there is no opposition to provide the checks and balances that are needed to assure that the ruling party does not use its rule to enrich itself at the cost of the national interest? In a sense, one cannot entirely blame the staggering misgovernance of the Antonia Maino, aka Sonia Gandhi, led UPA — it is partly a consequence of the utter failure of the BJP to provide a suitable opposition to the misrule of the UPA.
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