2013 August 21 Wednesday
Inevitable Triumph Of Liberal Democracy Halted 15 Years Ago
Liberal Manifest Destiny is a myth that lives on unjustified by the evidence.
We can see some of the effects in one of the best scorecards for keeping track of trends in implementing liberal democratic values: the annual survey by Freedom House. That scorecard tells us that if there is, or was, a trend toward more liberal democracy, it has flat-lined for at least the last 15 years or so, since the improvements in the years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet empire. The proportion of countries that are free, that are not free, and that are electoral democracies are all essentially the same as they were in the mid-1990s.
I think demographics doom liberal democracy. The smarter among the liberals aren't making many babies.
By Randall Parker at 2013 August 21 10:16 PM
It's not just demographics, it's the nature of democracy itself. Even the ancients knew that democracies eventually deteriorate into tyrannies. That's why the founders took such pains to throw as many stop sticks into the current passions of the people as possible. Of course we've managed to remove almost all of them, and have managed to forget that truism that democracies aren't forever. I suspect Freedom House's long term trends will not be positive.
I don't think its a coincidence that the reduction occurred following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, I think the reduction is directly due to that collapse.
The temporarily successful rebellion of labour in Russia demonstrated to the capital classes that there was a real risk of the rebellion being emulated by labour in other countries. The only way to immediately reduce the risk of rebellion was to make life easier for the working classes, and thus we saw governments becoming interested in improving the plight of their workers. Eventually those workers (who are short term thinkers) assumed that governments are just naturally interested in improving their plight because, well, just because.
Now that the rebellion in russia has failed, there's no longer any strategic need for capital to keep up the charade and so they've started clawing back the status quo to historical trend levels. Soon the middle class will start squeeling as they are dispatched back into the lower class, but no one will have any pity for them as they were happy to destroy the lower class by supporting the export of jobs to cheap labour countries.
Looking back, we've been lucky to spend much of our lives in the glory days of competing political philosophies.
That's a good point, Stephen.
I would also add that it wasn't just the risk of internal rebellion, but also the risk of defeat at the hands of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had a military-industrial complex that could credibly challenge the US. Elites couldn't just impoverish their majorities and erode their technical and industrial base because that would mean falling behind the Soviet Union in the arms race and possibly being defeated.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, this credible threat no longer existed and elites were more free to impoverish their majority populations. In fact, in the 90s when many US policymakers were advising Russia and traveling there to try to influence Russia's future direction, one of the primary goals of the US was to get ex-Soviet engineers migrating to the US and the West and to erode Russia's manufacturing and industrial base so that Russian could never have a military-industrial complex capable of challenging the US again. They wanted Russia to have a resource extraction and export economy, like many 3rd world countries have, coupled with post-industrial services - retail, finance, food service, etc. - with no significant, sophisticated hard manufacturing and industry.
Liberal Democracy: Tyranny of the majority limited only by a vague laundry list of selectively enforced "human rights".
Rationality requires Sortocracy: Sorting proponents of social theories into governments that test them.
I agree that the Cold War restrained our elites and basically gave them incentives to treat the masses better. However, the rise in inequality started during the middle of the Cold War. It can be traced back to around 1970. I think the bigger cause of rising inequality is automation of low skilled jobs. The relentless technological advance in computer circuits described by Moore's Law (and corresponding doublings for fiber optics and hard drive media) created the technological foundations needed to reduce demand for unskilled and moderately skilled labor. The capitalists increasingly just need brainy people, computers, robots, and natural resources.
"Capitalism" has degenerated into little more than network externality seeking. If you're Bill Gates with IBM-seeded MS-DOS or Mark Zuckerberg with Harvard-seeded FaceBook, you don't need brainy people -- you just feed off of the network externalities of your property. Those are only the more obvious cases of a phenomenon that has corrupted the economics of the world.
What you "need" once you have locked in your economic slave system is to be made to feel like you're a good guy while you're doing it. The skills that provide that kind of service are as old as court toadies and far more developed in the new immigrants to the West from older cultures of Africa and Asia. That's how India has all but conquered the Fortune 500.