Present Democracy

-- Failures, consequences, dangers --

Reasons for profound reforms

 by Eckhard Sambach

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Hintergrund- darstellung in Deutsch



For several decades already, the democratic process in several large European countries is unable to realize a number of major objectives of the society. Moreover, this incapacity undermined the confidence of citizens in the class of politicians and even worse in the correct operation of democracy in its traditional form.

Two shortcomings are particular responsible for the inefficiencies of present democracy :

  • The increase in capital intensity, i.e. in the stock of fixed assets per person (machines, buildings, infrastructures), lengthened the period of gestation of many political projects beyond the legislative period. In other words: Nowadays, the essentially painful effects of a project's starting period often extent over the current legislature while the beneficial effects can be expected only during forthcoming legislatures. Under these conditions, the politician's fear of loosing the next election is preventing them from really implementing the necessary reforms.
  • The system of education did not evolve in line with the new requirements resulting from recent transformations of society. Thus one notes serious gaps in the education
    • of citizens able and willing to assume their responsibilities and
    • of politicians having the essential capacities for their functions.

Under these conditions, political action too often boil down to a diversity of ad hoc and/or punctual decisions

  • privileging one or the other corporatist group
  • without adequate taking into account of the general interest in the medium and long term
  • without correctly using the expertise in the civil services
  • without real coordination (between matters and institutions)
  • without effective implementation or follow up
  • without sufficient co-operation between services concerned and/or
  • without rational use of existing instruments.

They inevitably result in

  • unsuited political structures
  • a lack of transparency of regulations and institutions, accompanied by a complexity that even experts are unable to master
  • an intolerable length of administrative, legal or juridical procedures
  • economic and social conditions encouraging unproductive or hazardous behavior defying any good citizenship and followed too often by quasi-impunity.

The maladjustment of the education system has two important types of deplorable effects:

  • Concerning the civic education of the citizens. It is leading to an insufficient attention and importance attached to
    • a basic consensus concerning the society and its principles of operation
    • macro-economic analyses of the country and its long-term evolution (ex post and ex ante)
    • the incidences of the economic and social facts on the general wellbeing in the medium and long term
    • the global framework of society, in particular of competition
    • the mechanisms of incentives, of allocation and redistribution, including their means and consequences
  • Concerning the aptitude of politicians. It is leading to
    • a severe lack of competence and credibility (together with politico-financial scandals)
    • an electoralist behavior (promises which are clearly unrealizable, incompatible with other commitments or simply broken).

The citizens are disappointed and deceived. They hardly see a possibility to really influence the course of events. Those who nevertheless are interested in politics do not find in the offer of present political parties a coherent project aiming at the general interest and allowing a long-term effectiveness. To express their dissatisfaction or even their dislike of politics, many citizens increasingly resort to one or the other of the following behaviors:

  • Abstention from elections
  • Invalid or protest voting
  • Voting for one or the other party of the opposition without real hope that it will better act according to the general interest in the long run.

To obtain the majority of votes, the opposition parties can increasingly limit themselves to simply criticizing the parties in power without having to present concrete proposals or even a coherent program. Often the elections only lead to an alternation of political parties in government even if they already proved - when in power – to be unable to face the problems left unsolved since long time.

Disappointment over a new government sometimes is spreading so quickly that the citizens use the first occasion to express their dissatisfaction, even

  • if these elections are concerning another public authority and
  • if different majorities in several authorities lead almost to their mutual paralysis.

All these factors compromised a rational management of public affairs and make impossible an efficient policy aiming at the general interest in the medium and long term. Since several decades these unsuited policies are responsible for missing several essential objectives of society, such as

  • a global consensus on its objectives and means
  • a high level of employment
  • keeping the differences in the distribution of income and wealth in proportions needed by the function of incentive
  • a satisfactory safety of the citizens
  • the stability of the financial system
  • the maintenance of the environment
  • mastering the ageing process of the population.

The allover result is an important lost progress of general wellbeing in the long run.

If major reforms of our behavior, procedures and institutions do not intervene in short time, the danger increases that the failures in the operation of our democratic system will lead to unfortunate developments much more harmful than the current failures or even incompatible with the free democratic basic order..

During the last decades the lacking reforms have grown to such an extent that no political formation can dare proposing them, and even less to implement them. Otherwise the political formation concerned can be sure to lose the next elections, taking into account the current state of the citizens' civic education.

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that far-reaching projects can come from current political circles (political parties, Parliament, government). They have to be prepared and proposed by citizens and organizations of the civil society. This explains the need for clarifying the conditions (and other preconditions) of an efficient democracy in our large open and heterogeneous societies. Moreover, these conditions also have to take account of the new requirements at the beginning of this century.

To see an outline of these conditions click here.

A comparison of these conditions with reality will indicate the type and extent of necessary reforms.


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Copyright (c) 2003-2005  by Eckhard Sambach. All rights reserved.