Monday, March 28

Pundita is not Wonkette

(3/29-Note to Reader: Some material included in original version, and which Zenpundit and Glittering Eye discuss on 3/28, is now under the title How do you run a government when voters are smarter than you?)

Pundita's Democracy Stage Show Kit touched off a flurry of published criticism from a small circle of bloggers who first learned about Pundita a short while ago from Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye. After the critiques were published Schuler wrote on his blog that he enjoyed the idea of the cross-blog discussion he set off.

If Pundita were two people with the patience of a border collie I don't think I'd mind getting involved in a cross-blog discussion of the kind the critical essays represent. However, the critics' points are so poorly informed that I'd have take time away from other writing to teach before the critics could comprehend my replies. As witness to my dilemma, this criticism by blogger TM Lutas:
Pundita complains that "The 21st Century will pound home the point that you can't have it both ways: you can't have the luxury of letting someone else take on responsibility for your governing and expect tohave good 0government."

The problem with this complaint is that it seems to be endorsing democracy over democratic republicanism. That's just stupid if its intentional and badly written if Pundita did it by accident. By definition democratic republicanism is the idea of voting to give somebody else the government for a time and not much worrying about it until next election day. It's possibly the most successful system of governance on the planet even if a little long...

Again, turning back to Romania, they voted in a neo-communist first government by wide margins, voted again to put them in by slimmer margins, voted in an opposition government that promptly betrayed its electoral platform, voted the neo-communist/social democrats back into power for another term and when that turned out to be a bad idea they put in a liberal government late last year. There were lots of corruption scandals, lots of bad choices along the way but nobody can seriously say that things are worse off than if Ceasescu the butcher or his rapist son were still in power. Nor is it credible to hold that the Romanian people haven't grown in sophistication and improved in their exercise of their sovereign power through the use of the franchise.
Pundita was not complaining; she was describing a stark reality. Now let's see what the blindfolded dartboard method of finding an adequate system of democratic government has wrought for the Romanian people. The dart throwing accompanied, I assume, by the attitude that democracy means voting in a government then "not much worrying about it until next election day." From a portion of the latest USAID report on Romania.*
Romania is one of the poorest European Union (EU) applicants. Government statistics indicate that almost one in three Romanians lives in poverty. The proportion is much higher in rural areas, where wages are far below Romania’s average of $140 per month....

Over 40% of the population is engaged in agriculture, most on small subsistence plots. Many young, educated workers continue to leave the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

Confidence in democracy is undercut by endemic corruption, low political accountability,and continued high levels of poverty.

Civil society remains weak, with little influence on public policy or public opinion. Partly a legacy of communism, the concept of citizenship, including the responsibility of constituent interest and involvement, has yet to take root among much of the population.

This is exacerbated by a "party list" system for parliamentary elections, eliminating any real tie between national level office holders and their constituent districts. In the 2000 elections, a large number of disaffected voters turned to an extremist and xenophobic party that offers no sustainable solutions for resolving the country's problems. The central government is transferring responsibility for many services to local governments without providing the necessary fiscal and management resources.

Unfunded central government mandates in utilities, education, social welfare, and health are a pressing problem.

On the whole, there appears to be no coherent plan for decentralization and no analysis of the impact of decentralization on local governments.

Too little attention has been given to the efficient use of local resources, the need to establish community priorities, and the means to enhance local service delivery.

The health and child welfare situation in Romania remains bleak. [Corruption in health care agencies is endemic.] Life expectancy at birth is 71 years, one of the lowest in Europe. Infant mortality, under-five mortality, and maternal mortality are among the highest in Europe. In 2000, maternal mortality rates were six times the EU average and pediatric AIDS cases are the highest in Europe...
So it's not just a matter of teaching; Pundita would have to figure a way to transmit the teachings to Pluto. Earth calling blogger Lutas: Democratic government of any kind is NOT "the idea of voting to give somebody else the government for a time and not much worrying about it until next election day."
I note Lutas wrote his critique as a first-time visitor to Pundita's blog and evidentially zipped through so fast he didn't notice the blog header, which clearly indicates that Pundita is a female. Or perhaps he noticed and decided that any female blogger who tackles weighty themes should be referred to as a male.

But we'll make an exception this one time, just for Dave Schuler, and dedicate the next two essays to an attempt to haul the critics into the 21st Century. If they don't get it after that, here is the link to Wonkette.

*USAID Report on Romania


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