Wednesday, June 15

Never Assume

I received comments from Simon about today's post on China (see the following entry) that call for immediate publication and response:

"Dear Pundita:
Allow me one comment on today's post. I agree with the thrust of it but I fear you define democracy too tightly. Democracy is not just about voting; it also requires checks and balances; independent, free and strong institutions (courts, press etc.); rule of law (in both enforcement and legislation by popular acclaim rather than decree); and respect of private property rights. If we were to chart countries on these yardsticks you'll find China is currently a mess, with the CCP trying to restrict the first two while implementing the second two. Are they compatible? No. That's the true contradiction at the heart of China. But is it sustainable? I fear it is for far longer than most would suspect.

In terms of the US, the vast majority are likely very complacent about democracy but thankfully the system has enough people concerned about it, and enough checks on it, that it can be sustained with only minority interest. I've long thought the vast majority are mostly interested in the basics -- food, shelter, rising living standards and a good education for their kids. It's only the few who care about the rest of "that freedom thing". Once China's been democratic for 200 years, I'll forgive some complacency.

I'm sorry for monopolising your time but this is one damn interesting dialogue. Judging by the times of your posts, you're really burning the midnight oil on this! It is deeply appreciated.
Simon in Hong Kong"

Dear Simon:
Don't consider it monopolizing; this is not only an interesting dialogue but a very important one. My quick response to your comments is partly to head off letters from 'long time' readers of Pundita essays. They might accuse her of having set out an inducement in yesterday's essay to prompt discussion of Pundita essays that discuss the very points you raise! Indeed, I've pounded away so hard at the points you raised that I've risked driving away readers. ("Okay, Pundita, we GET it!")

But in truth the hour was late, as you noted. When I neared the end of the writing I simply assumed that the reader would get my drift. Ironically, I deleted one sentence that might have headed off misunderstanding; this was on the assumption that I didn't need to overstate my point.

The sentence was, "Americans know too much about voting and not enough about the processes that make democracy work."

Thus, the old adage: Never assume.

One of my major themes is that development institutions (in particular the World Bank-IMF) and the United States government came very late in the day to the notion that democracy is about more than "free and fair" elections and erecting government buildings: From the System Failure essay:

"Democracy embodies an ideal but in practice it's a form of government. How the government is administered--the nuts-and-bolts daily grind of how the government works out in practice--is critical to a functioning democracy. Development banks such as the World Bank Group have always recognized that, but much of their "institution-building" in the poorest countries has ignored the basics. The judicial buildings are erected, always with fanfare. The bureaus required to keep a government functioning are set in place. Behind the trappings, nothing works.

"So things function in the country, to the extent they function, via bureaucratic fiat and graft. Our government has not been completely blind to this problem. Here's an excerpt from a somewhat self-congratulatory speech given in 2004 by Robert B. Charles, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, in testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform:
"Democratic Institution Building and The Rule of Law

To improve the rule of law, USG projects also have assisted the Government of Colombia in establishing 37 Justice Houses (casas de justicia), which increase access to justice for poor Colombians. Make no mistake: this is not a small victory or goal -- it is at the very heart, in our view, of sustainable progress and U.S. support. So far, these casas de justicia have handled over 2.2 million cases, easing the burden on the over-taxed, inefficient judicial system.

Remarkably, the Department of Justice and USAID “Administration of Justice” initiatives have also established 30 new Oral Trial courtrooms and trained over 10,000 lawyers, judges and public defenders in new oral legal procedures designed to reduce impunity and quicken the judicial process. The new accusatorial criminal justice system will be open to public scrutiny and is expected to be more efficient and effective, and thus more worthy of public confidence.
"All that is good news. The bad news is that the obstacles to democracy in LLDCs [least developed countries] are more basic than the problems mentioned by Charles--so basic it's hard for people in developed countries to wrap their mind around the situation.

"For example, Americans take for granted the concept of "property ownership." We also take for granted that there are laws to define and protect the legality of contracts. A democracy without these two concepts in operation is unthinkable. Yet in many countries neither concept is operational. So no matter how many judicial courts and bureaus the development loans install, it's a stage show if the country has "democratic" in its name."

Not content with simply stating my points, I sought to understand how generations of American USAID workers and World Bank program directors could overlook such simple facts. In the Enclave Mentality and the Oriental Stranger Syndrome Pundita zeroed in on enclave thinking:

"The picture that Americans receive from government officials in foreign countries is the same type that the British overlords received from the rajas in India. The rajas were mostly concerned with keeping their power. Thus, the strongest message that came through to the British was "Don't rile the Natives any more than you have to."

"The French developed a very creative way of dealing with the same message, maybe because the French didn't possess the navy the British had in those days. The French thought up the Modernity Kit, which they hawked to every chieftain they wanted to trade with. They convinced the chiefs that you're a thoroughly modern person if you master the French language, learn to eat with a knife and fork, and develop an appreciation for chamber music.

"Thus, generations of colonized peoples were raised up without a clue as to what really constitutes modern Western government. They got only the outward forms: the marble buildings of bureaucracy and judiciary, the 15 copies of a directive that had to be signed and stamped, the filing cabinets and the ritual banter between judges and lawyers.

"That is how it came to pass that vast tracts of humanity have no idea what makes for American democracy and how it came about."

However, in Democracy Stage Show Kit I save my most scathing criticism for Freedom Hawkers, who gloss the mechanics of government, push democracy as if it is a cure for all society's problems, and neglect to explain that freedom is not free: it requires the individual citizen to shoulder considerable responsibility.

The last point set off a small firestorm of criticism on the blogosphere, with one blogger asking whether Pundita was suggesting that democracy is only for the affluent--for those with enough time, money and energy to personally engage in the democratic process.

I was suggesting that no democracy is strong enough to survive the majority of its citizens leaving the business of governing to elected/appointed officials and civil servants. I think I managed to defend this argument in two essays that respond to the critics. (See the Pundita sidebar, under the heading "Phony Democracy Movements.")

Yet discussion about how to keep a mature democracy healthy seems almost academic, when viewed against the monumental task of introducing modern democratic government to peoples with no experience at such government. In Making Bush Democracy Doctrine Work I advocate dividing the concept of democratic government into two categories:

"So how do we get from here to that place on the road where Bush is standing and pointing at a dot on the horizon? The way is to organize into a school of policy certain observations that have been floating around for years in various quarters, including the IMF, USAID, and Putin's government. Bits and pieces are also found in Hernando de Soto's observations about the black-market economy and in writings by other informed observers (including some of de Soto's critics).

"The observations derive from analyzing mistakes that governments and development banks have made while trying to promote democratic reforms in developing countries and FSU countries, including Russia.

"What stands up and shouts about the mistakes is that they come from the attempt to institute democracy as a finished product rather than an evolutionary kernel. In this, the democratic reforms fly in the face of the way mature democracy came about in Western countries.

"So instead of talking about "democracy" as a monolithic phenomenon, it helps to divide it into two categories: Evolutionary Democracy and Imposed Democracy. I'm sure someone could think up better names for the categories (and maybe already has) but for the purposes of this discussion, they're in the ballpark.

"America and West Europe (including the UK) represent evolutionary democracy. They had centuries to perfect their systems of government. The end product is offered by the West to peoples who don't have that evolutionary history with democracy.

"But democracy isn't a gizmo that you plug in and get great reception. So if you want to bring in democracy as a finished product--leapfrog the evolutionary process--then you have to identify and break down the evolution into steps. Then ask how to apply the steps of evolutionary democracy to procedures for making imposed democracy work.

"That question is the path out of the post-modernist corner into which US policy thinkers have painted themselves. And it's the way to catch up to the place on the road where President Bush is viewing the need for genuine democracy.

"Genuine democracy is the best insurance against state-sponsored terrorism and conditions that birth terrorist fervor. However, there has to be a systematized way of compensating for decades and even centuries of evolutionary development. Just getting people to the voting booth and throwing them into the water of democratic government doesn't hack it in most cases.

"The upshot is disillusionment with democracy and/or a 'rescue' for the democracy that amounts to a stage show: bring in Western experts, impose reforms from the outside (e.g., via IMF edicts), and 'manage' the outcome of an election to insure that the winner will follow the outside experts' instruction.

"So, behind the stage trappings is the rule by an elite. That guarantees the majority of people under rule don't get enough experience with real democracy. So if they throw out the administration and advisors, their idea of government is right back where they started from, which can be somewhere around 1450 or much earlier."

I will end abruptly at this point, to stave off more quoting, and so that the reader can press on to today's post about China. But then again, new readers might enjoy learning The Freedom Song, as I sang it in Things Fall Apart, the Center Cannot Hold :

"Democracy is no longer just about the choice between freedom and slavery. It's about transferring decision-making from small numbers (an 'elite') to large numbers with their vast diversity of experience and education. It's about the human race making it through this century in one piece.

"Here we come to a snag. There are two democracy doctrines; one is phony. The Democracy Bubble of the 1980s and 1990s, when it burst, left many people round the world feeling cheated by their experiment in democracy. But they didn't really have democracy. They were sold a form of government that's a stage show run by a small circle.

"How did so many people get taken in? Pundita's been trying to figure that out, in the manner of a bunko squad detective taking apart a con. I've zeroed in on the word 'freedom,' which is the word I hear most associated with democracy. Remove the dom and you're left with free--the con artist's favorite word.

"(To the tune of "A Christmas Song" sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks):

Freedom for you and freedom for me!
We'll be free with democracy!
We won't worry when we are freeeeee!
All we do is vote and see
Our leaders will make us free!

"Freedom is not free. It has a very high price and the payment is not a one-time shot. It's a huge ongoing investment of time and because time is money in the modern world, it's lot of money to invest. So the question is whether all the freedoms that come with democratic government are worth the high price for all peoples in all circumstances.

"From a Darwinian perspective, and during earlier eras, the answer would be no; the Democracy Stage Show Kit [DSSK] essay looks briefly at one reason--the exhaustion factor. But the choice is no longer about accepting democracy. The choice is how well the human race survives this century.

"A Palestinian once told Pundita that humanity has no worries about the future because Muslim prophets have said that the end of the world is near. Hello, the end of the world is sure enough near for some peoples if they don't get cracking but we're not looking at a doomsday scenario in this century. We're looking at hell on earth for a lot more people, if we don't get more brainpower set to work on the problems we're facing. The fastest and best way to do this is via genuine democratic government beep this is a recording.

"The US government needs to take all the above into consideration, the next time they decide to cut corners--for the greater good--and support a democracy stage show. They need to update their concept of the greater good. Same goes for the governments in other developed countries. Let's get it together, ladies and gentlemen, because this earth will not suspend her schedule of events while we're working through our issues.

"In the [DSSK] I noted, "We have simply passed the era when a small elite could be counted on to properly manage the problems of governing a populace. It takes large numbers of people to efficiently govern populations that run into the hundreds of millions. "

"In his commentary ZenPundit observes, "This point is not merely one of functionality but of political legitimacy."

"I agree, and yet functionality and political legitimacy must converge, else the concept of 'government' is rendered invalid. I don't know the exact population number that has to be reached before tribal government begins to break down but at some point up in the thousands, it does. The same for imperial government when the population rises to the millions. "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold."

"From then on, the choice is to rule by force or bring in democracy, which can efficiently govern very large numbers. Yet the functionality of democracy has not been emphasized during the past century; democracy has been presented as a philosophical subject and ideal. That's allowed for a lot of fuzzy inspirational talk and not much talk about the nuts of bolts of democratic government. That's what is missing, when we preach democracy. A little less preaching, a little more explanation. That would make it harder to palm off a show for the real deal."

Then, too, new readers might wish to study the points I made in--what's that sound? I think it might be Da and Nyet (the crow members of Pundita's foreign policy team) cawing outside my window, "Somebody get the hook."

All right, that is enough quoting onself for one day.

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