Will democracy survive a second wave of global economic crisis? (2)

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e asked a group of economists and publicists the following question: Today, it seems obvious that private companies, like credit rating agencies, have a potentially greater influence on the state of society than democratically elected institutions. Capital globalised, democracy did not. Is it possible to change that and how? Will democracy survive a second wave of global economic crisis?

Dominika Wielowieyska*: Will democracy survive a second wave of global economic crisis?

We do not yet know whether a second wave of crisis will hit. Perhaps it will be possible to pacify the financial markets and the Euro zone governments will prepare trustworthy austerity packages, which will mean we will only see a slowing down of growth or possibly stagnation, but not a deep recession. This could mean both a reduction in spending and the raising of taxes, especially for wealthy individuals, which is causing and will cause further protests, but I do not think that their overall effect will call into question democratic systems of governance.

I think that the idea of a common government for the Eurozone which would have greater control over its members could be a form of antidote. In the end, the Eurozone will have to resort to issuing shared Eurobonds* which will be sure to satisfy worried investors. However, this solution is not convenient for us, as in such a case our bonds will be less attractive for markets and the cost of borrowing will rise.

Overall, I believe (as I am not formulating any sort of forecast here) that the crisis can be averted. Yet, if it  should come, I am certain that democracy will survive. It is too firmly rooted in the European tradition for anything else to happen. Any political and social movements which in the past questioned the democratic ideal were ultimately ineffectual. From time to time, we find ourselves dealing with a rather uncontrolled, anarchic, disfranchised explosion such as the one which took place in the United Kingdom recently (*link to previous PC articles on riots). But this has nothing to do with any sort of organised attack on democracy itself.

A more pertinent question is not whether democracy will survive, but what will its future effectiveness be. And here we stray beyond purely economic questioning, although this continues to be of great importance.

The Left could in some measure find a common language with the Right, especially in joint attempts at identifying democratic values. Democracy – as the events in the United Kingdom or earlier in France have shown – demands civic participation and the asking of pertinent questions about the cost of a consumerist, idology-free lifestyle. Such questions would regard the possibility of perfect balance between all sorts of freedoms of choice and attempts at showing society that there is a certain system of values which should be important to the citizens of a democratic state, regardless of their world views. And questions about just how much voters are interested in a common good, how obliged they feel to pay taxes into a shared pot, how much they promote the idea of civic responsibility in the upbringing of their children, and the question of whether our educational establishments meet our expectations.

The Left should not easily give up their challenge to the Right regarding the crisis of values within families and the analysis of what happened in London: the thoughtless plundering of shops, the glorifying of misbehaviour as an achievement in itself. On the other hand, we have examples of rules being broken by political elites: links between politicians and owners of tabloids in the UK, the dirty games and lack of responsibility among the main players on the financial markets. I am also deeply critical of the rules governing the United States, where politicians court the attentions of sponsors and fight for campaign funds, getting into bed with various influential lobby groups. Politicians’ dependency on business means they can no longer be objective arbitrators able to decisively resolve disputes between various interest groups, are not perceptive judges of situations and have become unable to discern pathologies connected with, for example, the biggest financial institutions. This could very well be one of the very many causes of the crisis brought about by the financial sector.

All this creates an atmosphere where every con and breach of legislation or law is condoned. It reminds us that democracy demands constant nurturing, vigilance and here the greatest responsibility must be borne by intellectual elites. It is like groundhog day: we are watching, across the world, the same controversies and crooked dealings and all the time we have to force ourselves to react and counteract against them.

Which is why a more pertinent question – for us also – is whether democracy can defend itself against degeneration.

Capital became a global force about the time Christopher Columbus discovered America and the process of colonisation of territories beyond Europe began, on the assumption that in conquered lands conventional rules no longer applied. This was both an economic and a military expansion. Today, talking about a globalised capital, we also think of the expansion of multinational conglomerates in countries with weak traditions of democracy or with autocratic forms of rule, where free market regulations are unsecured by legal legislation or systems of protection for ordinary citizens.

This is one of the great challenges for the wealthy part of the world: how to help build democracy and states ruled by laws, how to help embed the ideas of citizenship in parts of the world where rule of force still applies. Yet capital continues to exploit these territories without any sort of self-restriction. The main answer should be the exporting of education. There is no easier way. One must not forget, however, that globalisation also has another face: money and work flows back to the poorest countries, and with them interim employment laws and practices. This is a good foundation upon which to build new social orders in Africa or Asia. Besides, democracy – though indeed very slowly and with great pains – continues to become a global concern too. It is fragile and weak, and yet we see it covering ever wider territories. The most recent example of this are the revolutions in North Africa.

This is why change must be continued to be brought about, mostly following George Soros’ example of the trusts he set up in Central and Eastern Europe to export concepts, ideas and education.

*Dominika Wielowieyska – columnist, Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

Translated by Marek Kaźmierski


Krytyka Polityczna
Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique) is the largest Eastern European liberal network of institutions and activists. It consists of the online daily Dziennik Opinii, a quarterly magazine, publishing house, cultural centres in Warsaw, Łódź, Gdańsk and Cieszyn, activist clubs in a dozen cities in Poland (and also in Kiev and Berlin), as well as a research centre: the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.