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Anti-corruption shortfalls fuelling ‘global democracy crisis’ (politico.eu)
60 points by matt4077 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments

The way I've been looking at it recently is that any defects in the mechanisms of democracy don't just result in more-random results and slightly less satisfied constituents, they're actually exploitable weaknesses that allow powerful people or institutions to exert more power than they would be otherwise entitled to.

We (speaking as a U.S. person) need to do away with the electoral college and first-past-the-post voting not because popular vote and a better election system are nice-to-have features, but because our current system paints a giant target on the political process we all rely on to ensure accountability. When the outcome of presidential elections depends on a few hundred or thousand voters in one or a few of Florida/Ohio/Michigan/Pennsylvania/Wisconsin, that's a systemic vulnerability.

There are active exploits in the wild; this is less a matter of instituting reforms to make things a little bit better and more a matter of adapting to new threats in order to reduce the risk of a systemic collapse.

Other exploitable vulnerabilities in our democratic process that have been weaponized to varying degrees include: Winner-take-all primary states (on the R side), superdelegates (on the D side), gerrymandering, Congressional procedural abuse (like the filibuster in the Senate, or refusing to vote on popular measures if it's opposed by a majority of the majority in the House), congressional gridlock, and sloppy campaign finance regulations.

Isn't there a catch-22 here? The system is a republic which writes its own requirements; if it's been compromised and exploited by outside systems to the point its kernel level processes are funadmentally corrupt/compromised, how can you trust it to autocorrect in a way that actually fixes the fundamental issues? The tools designed for "the people" to use and interact and influence the system have been neuteralized with mathematical precision (assuming a point where they worked as specified, there is an argument to be made that the system has always given lip service to the end user while really only catering to management).

I think you only have a chance at implementing change if you're able to locate and leverage an exploit that the viruses within have either overlooked or can't completely secure against.

I think democracy works pretty well in general, but it's prone to instabilities. Most problems that arise can be corrected. (I don't want to say that democracy is self-correcting; rather that correction is possible with appropriate intervention.)

If things get too far off the rails, then the fate of the political process rests in the choices of a few powerful people whether or not to do the right thing, the level of engagement and organization of the resisting populace, the strength and independence of our various institutions, and plain dumb luck. There are many modern examples of failed democracies. We shouldn't think that "the pendulum will swing the other way"; sometimes it does, but if it doesn't then it's to late for a do-over.

My thoughts on this are greatly influenced by a recent book called "On Tyranny; Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century" by Timothy Snyder.

Western countries have lots of anti-corruption laws, but these laws won't help. Nor creating more laws would help either. What we have is: ethically corrupt but legally clean.

Looking at the results, it seems quite obvious that most western countries have had significant success in curbing corruption. To just cynically dismiss these efforts would seem to both unhelpful (because why bother?) and just factually wrong.

I live in one of the top 20 countries, and have experience in countries in the lower half. The difference is like night and day. Imagine having to “tip” the EMT to take you to a hospital when you’ve been in a car accident. I had a local friend in Asian country who pretended to be unconscious in such a situation because they didn’t have any money on them.

Tipping an EMT is an example of low level corruption - the kind that comes with inadequate pay for government workers, lack of opportunities, etc. This is frightenly common in a lot of countries and culturally accepted as a kind of nuisance and fact of life.

I can’t say why this kind of corruption isn’t prevalent in the west(yet), but I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to the kind of corruption OP was describing.

Exactly this.

Modern corruption vehicles include things like speeches, book publishing fees, movie/documentary fees, consulting fees, and real-estate deals where an expensive property is sold or rented for much less than market value.

Money laundering is done through complex derivatives, charitable foundations, and so on.

Basically modern day western corruption is based on the premise that 'work compensation' is 'discretionary' -- so any kind of 'work-like' engagement of a corrupted politician, or his/her immediate family members is easily turned into a bribe.

Even accidental (or minor) corruption of politicians, also adds to the rise of 'black mailing'. So there are politicians who have 'dirt on others', and that's their trading currency.

And so on, the swamp is continuing to snowball.

Some examples [1] http://time.com/3889577/hillary-clinton-paid-speeches-lobbyi...

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politic... I am sure others can find more.

So are you saying that all countries are corrupt, and approximately equally so? And is your conclusion that as a consequence trying to fight corruption is doomed to fail and so their is no point in trying?

It is not the laws that are problem, it is the law-enforcement/justice system that's a problem.

Justice based on 'selective outrage 'cannot fix corruption.

Justice that's corrupt itself cannot fix corruption.

Western countries have, mostly, the former. Eastern Europe, and most so called developing nations, have both problems.


Somewhat separate topic...

But, to be honest, dislike the 'developing nations' moniker. I use it, but I wish there is something better...

As if inhabitants of those nations have 'less developed cognitive abilities, or 'less developed appetite for honesty'. That of course, is not true.

In reality the 'developing nations' are, mostly, intentionally suppressed nations, intentionally enslaved nations, intentionally brain-washed nations.

Where the suppressors are, often, their own leaders.

You've never personally experienced actual corruption in your entire life, have you?

Growing up and living in Eastern Europe and then the US I agree with the post above you. I've experienced actual corruption (corrupt cops, doctors, small time civil servants, what have you) and I can see actual corruption in the US also. But it's 'legal' and way less prevalent at the lower levels.

I disagree, I believe corruption in western democracies can be addressed within their legal frameworks. A lot of the issues with money and politics have existed in some form or another for quite some time, but recently the excesses of corruption has become more extreme - still the American government is able to occasionally police itself, even if it's had trouble doing so recently.

Even one removes the direct connection between money and politics, the current problems will take a different form: indirection. One kind of indirection we already see today: revolving doors

So, where is the root problem of all these? It is collusion of power(politics), media(intellectuals, think tanks), money(capitalists, wealthy bankers). These powerful classes constitute 0.5% of any society, but these classes are colluding in order to advance their own interests. Yes, we have elections. What happens then? It is another fight between one group of colluders and another group of colluders. In many cases, the powerful classes bet on the both sides.

How can one ban collusion? Look at office politics in any large organization. Think of banning collusions at work place.

You don't ban collusion. I mean, you can, but it's not going to be particularly effective.

What you do, to solve this problem, is empower the lower classes.

We've just observed how two unions - air traffic controllers, and flight attendants - have accomplished, with the threat of a work stoppage, something that both the Republican, and the Democratic party failed to achieve - a re-opening of the government.

The 99.5% have all the power. What they need to do, is to use it in solidarity.

You say that like it's profound. You need 1) laws 2) funding for enforcement 3) penalties for corruption. Absent any of the three, corruption will succeed.

The article directly references the broad systematic attack on 2 and 3 that's actively underway.

Any country could have anti-corruption laws, even Somalia has them. Doesn't mean they get enforced to same "ethical" degree as other countries. There's a lot of self-policing required to successfully bring corruption to justice and the offenders be held accountable. It's a lot harder to do than it sounds.

Yes. The government is full of people who “follow the letter but not the spirit of the law”.

Maybe it is just me, but I do not trust this "cpi" score at all.

> This decline comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power.

So the ethics of a leader determines how corrupt a government is? How also are the ethics of leaders in power worse than they were before? We are seeing a rise in companies and corporations taking tough actions against things like sexual harassment, racism, etc. I disagree that people in power are getting less ethical.

>“With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe — often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies — we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” said Patricia Moreira, managing director of Transparency International in a press statement.

So a politician responding to what the "populace" (i.e. the demos) wants ("populism") is a threat to democracy. Hmm.

Democracy isn’t two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

(That’s populism)

What if it's two sheep and a wolf voting on what's for dinner? Does it then suddenly become Democracy? How do you distinguish wolf from sheep in the real world where everyone's actually a human?

No, it becomes democracy when the sheep and wolves agree on a framework that is designed a priori to protect the interests of all animals. Here's an example:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

So, the two wolves vote to make the sheep a non-citizen (Or, two centuries ago, a non-person), and the problem is solved.

This is, of course, happening right now.

The idea is that all citizens enjoy a level of equality in the democratic process, and so there are no wolves because everyone should be able to work together.

Cynics argue, but the idea of democracy is that those who appear most capable get put in charge. If you strip the most competent people of their ability and incentive to take control the system for productive use then the results are likely to be bad for everyone.

It is, actually. Just because you don't like the outcome, that doesn't mean it's less democratic.

So, suppose a party were to announce that their goal is to install a dictator for life. What would you consider more democratic, a government that shuts down that party (limiting the choice in elections) or a government that hands power over to them after an election (thus putting an end to elections altogether)?

That's not what populism is. Populism is when an elite claims to speak and act on behalf of the people without real input from them.

Surely the best measure of whether a politician speaks for the people is whether he or she is elected. In which case assuming the politician attempts to follow through on his or her campaign promises, that politician would not be a populist. (Of course, this assumes that there is such a thing as "the people".)

> Surely the best measure of whether a politician speaks for the people is whether he or she is elected

If you have a free and fair ballot, whether they get a majority, a plurality, or just a not-first-place minority of the ballots cast does tell something about the degree of popular support, by definition.

Not all balloting is free and fair, and not all electoral systems choose a winner the candidate with the most support as measured at the polls, such as systems that incorporate anti-democratic features designed to give certain voters more power per voter than others, like the US electoral college.

Surely the best measure of whether a politician speaks for the people is whether he or she is elected.

I disagree.

With electoral systems in which a candidate can win with ten percent of the vote (because nobody else scored more than ten percent), or where a party can win 12% of the vote and end up with 0.15% of the seats (as a specific example from recent western history), a politician being elected is simply not a measure of speaking for the people.

> Surely the best measure of whether a politician speaks for the people is whether he or she is elected.

There’s more to it than that. For example someone could be elected though not desired by the majority (as has happened in US presidential elections a few times, and also happens in various places where more than two candidates vie for a seat).

Also there Re situations where the majority will egregiously violates the rights of minorities.

Or when there is a muddy signal, where Brexit is a good example: some people wanted any possible Brexit, others wanted it assuming certain conditions that are now clearly not going to happen; what is the popular will in this case?

I’m not saying that being elected isn’t the most important element, but it’s not only not sufficient, but it can actually be wrong.

It is a strange axiom but I have yet to see it otherwise: when the will of the people is Leftward, it is Democracy; when the will of the people is Rightward, it is Populism.

The person that responded to you employed a classic "anti-rightward" trope equating populism to vicarious elite control. I fail to see the difference between Populism and Democracy on the "people" side of the equation, rather the difference is in which elites are pulling the strings.

If only there were some book or website defining terms, so one wouldn’t be tempted to make up definitions fitting one‘s politics on the spot.

„Populism is a range of political approaches that deliberately appeal to 'the people', often juxtaposing this group against the "elite".“

There is plenty of left-wing populism, by the way. Jeremy Corbyn, Chavez/Maduro, Yannis Varoufakis, etc.

By that definition, isn't that basically 90% of everything?

And no doubt it applies to leftists, absolutely. That's the basis of a lot of right wing views: that the left is simply being populist and doesn't give a shit about actually improving life, but instead staying in power.

Of course, that's about the left's view of the right as well. Hmmmm.

No, it's still called populism when it comes from the left. Bernie Sanders was described as a populist.

Sanders and Trump were both (accurately, too) described as populist, Clinton and Bush both not.

If one had to align them left to right, they would look like:

Sanders -> Clinton -> Bush -> Trump .

> I fail to see the difference between Populism and Democracy on the "people" side of the equation

Democracy is a system of government, Populism is a manner in which a hopeful leader (often a candidate for leadership position in a democracy) attempts to appeal to the public. They aren't even in the same domain.

In your view, is there a difference between democracy and mob rule?

What most of us want when we say we want to live in a democracy is not a true (absolute) democracy, but a limited democracy. We want a democracy within limits. In particular, we don't want 51% to be able to vote to take away the rights (or the lives) of the 49%. In an absolute democracy, they could; in a limited one they cannot.

Populism is, essentially, turning the democracy into mob rule. If you don't have limits, then the mob rules. If you do have limits, populism tries to erode them so that the people can do what they want.

Note also how populism is often associated with authoritarianism. Someone who wants to be the authoritarian persuades the people that he will get them what they want/need, if they just remove those pesky limits to his power. He encourages them to tear down the limits to government power in the name of the people getting what they want - that is, in the name of democracy. But when the people want to reign in the authoritarian's power, they find it's not so easy, because they gave the new power to the authoritarian...

Keep in mind that power is not solely limited to the government. My employer has power over me. My utilities have power over me. My landlord has power over me. My bank has power over me.

They all, to various degrees, are also interested in tearing down the limits to their power over me.

Where do the limits that are supposed to govern the behavior of a democratically elected politician come from? I will tell you. They must either come from law, or from ethical philosophy that has been reified, for lack of a better word, by the state into law. For this to be so, one of two things must have happened. Either the state imposed these restrictions with disregard to the will of people, or they were imposed in accordance with the will of the people. If the former, they are illegitimate. If the latter, they are arbitrary (the product of a particular people at a particular time) and therefore subject to change.

There is a lot of gray area between the extremes here. What has worked, historically, is a system where ultimately all power derives from the people, but the process is designed to be somewhat slow, to moderate strong emotions, and to add subject matter expertise to the process.

The two most obvious features here are elections (not referenda), and the judicial system. The latter adds an element of “village elders”, while the former makes decision-makers confront hard choices and their consequences.

That’s why direct democracy is considered rather harmful: just look at the clusterfuck that is Brexit for an idea of what happens when people are allowed to make fantasy decisions while disregarding their actual implementation.

As an analogy, consider trial-by-jury (managed by a competent judge) with having all of the locals decide all criminal cases once a month based on what they read in the (disappearing) local paper and on nextdoor. Who would you want to decide the punishment when the neighbor boy accuses you of touching him in funny places?

> That’s why direct democracy is considered rather harmful: just look at the clusterfuck that is Brexit for an idea of what happens when people are allowed to make fantasy decisions while disregarding their actual implementation

Brexit wasn't direct democracy; the public vote was a non-binding referendum submitted as an electoral strategum by the elected government, which then quit in favor of a new government of the same psrty, which decided—though in no way legally compelled to—to treat the vote as if it were a binding order in order to pass responsibility off onto someone other than itself.

In an actual direct democracy, the people would vote on the actual policy details, not vague generalizations only if and when it seemed likely to serve the political strategy of the ruling officials.

In any democracy, most people ultimately vote on what's put in front of them by somebody else. It can just as well be "vague generalizations".

In a direct democracy it can't be vague generalizations that the actual rulers, who are distinct from the electorate, get to choose whether and how to apply and whether or not the electorate can reconsider it, because if there are actual rulers distinct from the electorate it's not a direct democracy.

Brexit is not a failure of direct democracy.

There is no pure direct democracy at scale. You're still going to delegate authority to people doing things, and rely on their expert opinions when it comes to what to vote on.

But in any case, in a direct democracy, if enough people want to vote on something, they can, regardless of how stupid it is. That would include Brexit etc.

How does a democracy (or any governance system backed by public will) survive if there is a 50/50 split in public will ?

If that split is over something with no middle ground, that every person considers more important than everything else put together (including survival of the democracy), then it quite simply doesn't.

Otherwise, if it's to survive, it does so by compromise, tradeoffs, bargaining, and leaving many people at least a little unhappy but not enough people unhappy enough to dismantle the system.

You can come up with this, and yet not know what populism means?

Here, Wikipedia has a decently long article on it[0] to get you up to speed.

When you're done reading, maybe you can stop prevaricating in this thread and just state whatever case you're trying to make.


> What most of us want when we say we want to live in a democracy is not a true (absolute) democracy, but a limited democracy. We want a democracy within limits.

I've noticed people tend to draw the line at "too much democracy" when it starts doing what they don't want it to, and they draw the line of "not enough democracy" when it doesn't do what they want it to do.

What if the 99% want to take away the right of the 1% to own over a certain amount of wealth?

That seems like an even mobbier mob than a 51%. At some point, though, you'd figure the numbers alone grant the political fiat to turn the "mob" into the "people". Otherwise, that's one quite "limited" democracy. But, if so, I wonder what the magical ratio is.

That's mostly a theoretical concern. The 1% tends to play off half of the proles against the other half.

Alternatively, they introduce an involatile shared fiction into the public conscious, that justifies their position - such as the divine right of kings, or the sanctity of the feudal contract.

> Alternatively, they introduce an involatile shared fiction into the public conscious, that justifies their position

Like democracy=good, populism=bad ?

from google define: "a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups."

There's difference between appeals to certain groups vs. what is in the best interests of certain groups. No doubt Patricia is saying that those with populist tendencies also have a tendency to weakening democratic institutions.

Yes it is a threat. Consider Hitler - democratically elected and serving the wants of the majority. Subsequently he dismantled the democratic institutions and sent millions to their deaths.

Democracy, in the modern sense of the word, isn't the unrestrained rule of the mob, it's a system of checks and balances that represent interests of various groups of people in order to make a more perfect union.

Wow, that was quick.

When the subject matter involves autocrats and populism godwinson's rule applies a bit less since hitler is directly within the discussion.

> When the subject matter involves autocrats and populism godwinson's rule applies a bit less

No, it’s just less surprising of a finding in that case. Remember Godwin's Law is: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”.

At what point would you consider a comparison to or analogy using Hitler to be appropriate?

Democratic crisis is inevitable under capitalism creating such stark wealth inequalities. When one person can have wealth orders of magnitude more than years of the salaries of all the country's elected politicians, it's inevitable corruption will happen.

It's unclear to me that this problem is unique to capitalism. All economic systems need regulation. Democracy appears to me to be the best way to create and manage that regulation.

I don't think he was saying it was unique to capitalism, only that it's inevitable under a capitalist system. Which is true. As you said, regulation is necessary to keep capitalism from becoming a socially-corruptive influence.

Sure but I don't see how that makes a democratic crisis inevitable. The implication seems to be that democracy and capitalism are fundamentally incompatible which I don't think is true. They are in fact complimentary in my opinion. What better way to regulate a capitalist economic system than with a democratically elected government?

The argument goes as follows, if you're interested. In a capitalist society there exists wealth inequality, and with it a power inequality. Democracy is the belief that every citizen has an equal say in the decisions and affairs that concern him. Manifestly, however, in a system with such stark differences in power, this cannot be the case (just think of how a "commoner" and a billionaire cannot even be compared in terms of resources and power at their disposal). "True" democracy is impossible in capitalism, as it is in feudalism, or in a monarchy, or in any system with classes.

That's my thinking basically, yes. In particular, the gradually escalating power differential as money flows to the top will slowly and then rapidly destabilise a democracy.

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