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October 06, 2005

The Politics of Denial - Fiscal Responsibility vs Un-Checked Power

Denial Isn’t Always Bad

As I have mentioned before, denial is not necessarily a bad thing.  Denial is clearly quite useful to keep organisations and groups on track towards long-term goals and not be too distracted by short-term setbacks and irrelevant contrarian evidence.

However, when enough time has passed and contrarian evidence continues to pile up at a dizzying rate, a sober public re-evaluation is in order.  Occasional Reality Testing is important when the dissonance between ideology and reality becomes just too great to continue to deny. 

The American people have proven themselves to be amazingly tolerant of high-levels of dissonance between belief and practice — but we seem to have finally crossed some critical “tipping point” where the American public is suddenly willing to accept some sobering news.

The start of just such a constructive “variance” analysis within the Republican Party seems to be well underway.  Pat Buchanan has been predicting an ideologically-based implosion within the Republican Party for sometime now. 

Although I too would love to see a dramatic implosion of the Republican Party’s redneck agenda for pure vindictive pleasure, I must confess that it really wouldn’t be in the best interest of the US. 

Diversity of opinion is always good — and all views should get proportional representation.  The problems arise when views get disproportional representation.

Republican Pundits Punt

Some of the more thoughtful Republican pundits are beginning to trial-balloon an very interesting “olive branch”  notion.  It may be hard for some, like me, not to find this notion laughably self-serving and face-saving.  Nevertheless, there’s a bipartisan ring of truth to it  —

Perhaps fiscal irresponsibility correlates much less with ideology or party — and much more with un-checked power.

Un-Checked Power — NOT Partisanship — Leads to Fiscally Irresponsible Policy

It’s certainly nice for Democrats to be able to point to how fiscally irresponsible Republicans have proven to be under Reagan and now Bush.  However, the Right is quick to point out the long uninterrupted reign of the Democratic Party didn’t lead to solvent governance either.  But pointing to Clinton does NOT make the case that Democrats are any better. 

The Case for Balance of Power

The case the Clinton years makes is for BALANCE OF POWERS.  Clinton had no mandate and was therefore forced to reconcile forces of spending and restraint rather than take the usual “buy your way out” of political problems which is always the path of least resistance when either party is dominant.  Both Democrats and Republicans have proven that they are “equally irresponsible” — WHENEVER THEIR POWER IS UN-CHECKED BY THE OPPOSITION. 

In all fairness to Democrats, the fiscal irresponsibility of the Republican tends to be much more extreme only because of the obvious ideological disconnects with reality on such issues as taxation, defense, and entitlement programs. 

It’s one thing to “Tax and Spend” — it’s quite another to “Cut Taxes and Increase Spending”.


But rather than continue the name-calling tradition and accuse — liberals, conservatives, red states, blue states, religious right, etc. etc. — it’s time to recognise that the real danger has always been UN-CHECKED POWER — no matter what the ideology. 

Obviously the founding fathers were on to something with their insistence on separation of powers — church and state; executive, legislative, judicial; political and economic; etc.  Oddly enough, it is the younger and more modern democracies of Europe who seem to be heeding the warnings of our founding fathers much more than we do. 

The rank and file Europeans seem to be much more concerned about the real dangers in blurring the lines between church and state; executive, legislative, and judicial; and politics and economics — than do your average American. 

Corporate Governance

We are not just talking about public institutions but private institutions as well.  The rash of corporate malfeasance, accounting failures. and general lack of transparency have clearly pointed to “unchecked power” as the root cause — weak boards, concentration of executive power, lack of shareholder advocates, etc.

The Lesson: Good Governance REQUIRES BALANCE OF POWER — Not Winner Takes All

One of the major criticisms of the US democracy’s “first-generation design” is the complete lack of proportional representation.  This is the result of well-known historical compromises required to “get the deal done” but have continued to haunt us and limit us as a truly pluralistic and representative democracy.

Modern, or so-called “second-generation,” democracies, such as those in Europe and now emerging in the middle east, have corrected this glaring weakness with more parliamentary mechanisms.  It makes sense to the rest of the world that if 10% believe something — they should get 10% say.  This is the basic belief necessary to reap the benefit of a pluralistic society.   Ultimately, pluralism creates the necessary diversity of opinion required unleash the power of democratic decision-making (a la “Wisdom of the Crowd”).

It’s extremely self-destructive to continue to deny that there’s nothing undemocratic with the fact that 51% can completely silence the other 49%.  

A winner-takes-all system may have been an improvement over imperial rule in the 18th century, but there is too much evidence mounting that other more modern democratic systems are actually be more democratic than our own system. 

Continuing this charade by arrogantly flaunting our naive belief that our “first-cut” democratic design was perfect “right out-of-the-box” and will never require any modification, is just dangerous denial.  And trying to export it as “State of the Art” to the Middle-East is even more insane.

There’s nothing wrong with occasionally stepping back and learning from the experience of others.   The technology of democratic governance has advanced over the years and we should begin to incorporate these lessons into our own system.

Not to do so will only facilitate the inexorable downward spiral, both economic and politically, that we are already on.

Related Post

BTW, Balance of Power Between The Investor and Founders is also Key to a Healthy Portfolio Company

Posted by cmayaud at 10:26 PM | Permalink| Comments (0)
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