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What is the best way a democracy can provide the nation's needs?
How do we get the best out of democracy?
The basic requirements that any government should provide for its indigenous people are: security (homeland, civil, and military), housing, education, health care, infrastructure both physical and electronic, and welfare for those in need. We should also add purpose and the opportunity to fulfill ambition.
Security. The government must ensure its people (and their property) are safe from all types of harm while they are behaving lawfully in their own country. Security of the supply of basic needs (food, water, electricity) is also the responsibility of a democratic government.
Housing is a little more complicated, with such diversity of need and expectation, so a very flexible approach is needed. States need to provide basic minimum housing to ensure that no one is forced to sleep rough or be physically homeless. The basic may only be minimal but it should be available as a safety net for those unfortunate enough to be in dire need.
Education is essential but the government's responsibility is to ensure children have the necessary education in language, mathematics, technology, reasoning, comprehension, and the conventions of society. The government should not (and in fact should actively prevent) political indoctrination often disguised as education of those below voting age.
Health care should be to ensure no one suffers physically or mentally unnecessarily and no one dies who could have lived. This should be provided by the state for all the people. Cosmetic surgery or lifestyle choices should not be state provided but basic health care should be.
Infrastructure. The means of communication, both electronically and physically. The means of moving people and goods around. Due to the sheer capital requirement, the environmental effect of changes to infrastructure and the fact that these must be available to all citizens of a nation, not just those wealthy enough to afford them, means this is also a government responsibility.
Welfare. The provision of a safety net, a minimum acceptable level of day to day living, for those unable to support themselves for any reason. Such support would normally be expected to be temporary but in the case of those mentally or physically unable to provide for themselves on a long term basis, then the state should provide a higher long term welfare provision.
Purpose. In any society, there is a need for people to have a purpose; their lives need objectives and direction. Having no purpose means stagnation, loss of will, and this leads to decay and degradation. Giving or allowing all the people to have ambitions, and so a purpose, will ensure the mental, physical, and social activity that humans need if they are to survive. What sort of purpose and how it is provided is a matter of political choice and in a democracy the views of the majority will elect those with acceptable ideas.
Opportunity. This goes hand in glove with purpose. Everyone in a nation, all the indigenous population, should have the opportunity to reach levels of education, good health, and achievement that maximises their innate abilities. Everyone should have the opportunity to reach any level of society and all ambitions should be achievable with effort, ability, and persistent application.
Modern democratic nations have populations counted in millions. They have diversity of both ethnic origins and political ideology. They have extremes of wealth and poverty. They have dwindling natural resources and increasing demands for material growth. They have lessening religious observance with increasing religious extremism. They have instant mass communication while less control of what is communicated. They have far greater numbers of educated and “information connected” people but also less and less truthful information being distributed. They have increasingly greater need for state controlled spending and a lessening of their power to control their own independent economies.
The polarisation of political power is encouraging more emphasis on the difference between ideologies than on the practical need of the nation. Technical and scientific advances are occurring at ever increasing speed yet bureaucracies are gaining more control and this slows the governing response to change. Most people have greater material wealth and easier physical work loads, yet they are dissatisfied to a greater extent than their predecessors. Politics has become a well paid career and so there has been a huge drop in the number of politicians, (and their political advisers) who have many years of real life experience. We need politicians who have had 20 years of living outside the isolated sphere that people who work within politics and media, have become.
The present situation appears to be that younger voters are drawn to socialist ideology while older voters—who have experience of the failings that occur when trying to convert that ideology into democratic governance—are more middle to right of centre. The basic principle of democracy is that the majority rule. This works when numbers are relatively small and everyone, even those who voted the other way, accept that the majority have a right to govern. Modern nations are so populous that getting acceptance of a right to govern is getting increasingly difficult. Modern democracies are facing uncertain futures; greater discontent, greater difficulty of preserving truth and justice, and greater threats to economic stability. These difficulties are due to changing technology, climate change, and outdated economic structures. Globalisation of commerce is making it increasingly hard for any government to control its own economy.
Socialism, especially the more extreme versions such as communism, have a history of failure. Every example has ended as dictatorship and created poverty with suppression of liberties, things that they are supposed to eliminate. Total free market capitalism veers towards fascism with elites believing they have a right to control a nation simply because they are wealthy. Globalisation of business is creating a de-facto world power structure that is not democratic and has no interest in the welfare of the general populations.
What can we do?
Controlled capitalism would seem the best option, if the control is both flexible and fairly administered. Admittedly these two conditions will not be easy to achieve.
If a government could be elected with a reasonably majority and this government set out the percent of tax income that is to be spent on each sector; for example it could pass a law saying that 15 percent goes on public health, 15 percent on public education, 10 percent on defence, 10 percent of transport and infrastructure, 15 percent on cost of government (which includes servicing national debts), 5 percent contingency fund, 5 percent on support for world problems, 15 percent on state pensions, and 10 percent welfare. These are not intended to be realistic numbers, just examples. Once established in law then these could only be altered by public referendum, where 60 percent or more of the vote was in favour of proposed changes. This structure would enable consistent planning of public services and long term stability. The level of taxation to be raised and where the tax burden is to fall will be political decisions of successive elected governments.
How global corporations can be made subject to democratic decisions will have to be an international effort. These organisations are incredibly wealthy and powerful. They have a natural desire to be exempt from control by any national or political force. A simple global agreement that taxation on business income must be paid to the nation where the income had been earned (the goods and services sold) would stop the practice of shifting all receipts to a low tax off shore paper company. It would also need an international agreement to outlaw the practice of placing corporate service charges on individual subsidiaries, who sell in high tax areas to create a paper work loss in that area.
One of the basic requirement of any government is reliable information about the existing and future needs. In our increasingly complex societies, this is difficult. The most vital bits of information needed are: the size of the population, the probability of technological change, and significant environmental change over short (10 years), medium (50 years), and long (500 years) terms. To ensure that the information regarding these aspects of life are not conditioned by any commercial need, the government should provide the research facilities and ensure that political ideology plays no part in directing the research.
The importance of the level of population and the ability to meet the needs of that population show that population control is a vital task of any government. If the future is going to mean, for example, more automation, then there will be less work for people. This has to be faced and a democratic government needs to plan how to still provide for all the needs of all the unemployed people. If the research shows that the climate is genuinely going to raise sea levels by—for example, 25 centimetres—then the government must ensure sea defences protect all the people. The ability to ensure that good food and safe water are available for all of the population is obvious. If there is starvation in a land, the government is a failure. No government should allow the population to become greater than the ability to supply its basic needs.
Governments are about the future. They decide the direction to take. All good governments will try to ensure the best for their population, but they are constrained by both the past, which affects the availability of resources, and the actions of other nations. Governance is never going to be easy but we need constructive ideas about how to improve the effectiveness of democracy.