Brett Knowlton brettk at unica-usa.com
Tue Oct 6 15:01:02 PDT 1998


I notice that I am, as usual, one of the last to give my response to your earlier message. But I'll give my opinion anyway.

>Well, I'm an elitist, internationalist kind of guy, who believes that we
>have complicated socioeconomic systems that work poorly and should be
>replaced by something better (as soon as we can figure out what something
>better might be), but that in the meantime require careful management if
>they're not to bring us to immediate disaster.

I think its pretty clear what better systems might look like. The problem is, you have to define what you want. For the people in power right now, the ones with the ability to change things, they like the current system. It works for them, by and large. To oversimplify to make a point, who cares if everyone else is getting the shaft if you enjoy a lot of power, wealth, and priviledge?

The system works for those with the power to change it, so it doesn't get changed. But lots of people have come up with ways to improve social structures for everyone else, for the relatively powerless majority. Right off the bat, eliminating private property rights would be a big step in the right direction. Or perhaps a less radical provision which stipulated a maximum wage of, say, 10 times the minimum wage. But you know how likely we are to see these kinds of changes - and not (necessarily) because they aren't good ideas, but because they hurt the powerful.

>And that mindset is hostile to at least some forms of "populism"--I don't
>especially want people voting directly on what the IMF quota should be,
>just as I don't especially want people voting on whether the state of
>California should run full-immersion or parallel-track bilingual education
>classes, or on how many civil rights immigrants have. I want to elect some
>people who have my social-democratic and liberal preferences, and then let
>them choose and listen to experts who know something about the IMF quota,
>or bilingual education, or the rule of law.

Of course you want people with your preferences running things. So do I, and most other people I suspect. But, unless you don't value democracy, why don't you want people voting directly on the issues you've mentioned? When it comes to people's civil rights, I agree - individual rights should not be subject to majority opinion. But otherwise, why not let people decide for themselves? Especially when the only alternative is to have someone else decide for them?

The only real problem I see with direct democracy (voting on each issue instead of candidates) is that there are too many issues to vote on given the limited amount of time to conduct elections. But this simply argues for some sort of selection process - gathering signitures is as good as any I suppose.

>But there is a kind of populism that doesn't rely on charismatic leaders to
>rally the people against sinister enemies who have stolen the dream, isn't
>there? Isn't there?

Of course there is. I'd say the anti-war movement during the Vietnam war was a "good and decent" example of populism. It didn't have an identifiable leader who kept the movement together by force of his or her personality - the movement had cohesion because people really thought we should end the war and were united behind this common goal. Popular movements aren't all led by demagogues who rail against invisible enemies, although there are (unfortunately) plenty of such examples.


P.S. I've hit my limit for the first time. Must be a slow day at work...

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