Is democracy itself the problem?


Many liberal democracies are encountering serious problems while authoritarianism appears to be enjoying a global surge of self-confidence.  As a result, not only are doubts about the value and wisdom of democracy getting a much wider hearing than they were a decade or two ago, so too are voices arguing that authoritarian regimes might be more capable and effective, the Carnegie Endowment’s Thomas Carothers notes.

Democracy’s doubters tend to accuse democracy of suffering from at least five significant design flaws, he writes for The American Interest:

  • Short-termism: Due to their electoral cycles, democracies struggle to focus on long-term problems and usually remain mired in short-term policy approaches.
  • Pain aversion: To the limited extent they do manage to look to the long term, democratic politicians are averse to imposing near-term pain for long-term gain because of their need to keep voters happy for the next election.
  • Elite capture: By opening up decision-making power to competition among politicians who are constantly in need of money for elections, democratic systems are prone to becoming captured by the wealthy.
  • Division and conflict: Competitive elections foment or exacerbate destructive societal divisions, generating conflict and undercutting a strong sense of national unity and purpose.
  • Voter ignorance: Relying on ordinary citizens to choose leaders and make judgments among them based on policy performance condemns democracies to leadership and policy choices that reflect chronic voter ignorance and irrationality.

But alternative authoritarian or technocratic forms of governance are also deeply flawed.

Those concerned about the state of democracy need to focus less on what they might believe to be shortcomings of democracy itself, and more on what specific and often distinctive elements of the political system are exacerbating these issues, Carothers adds​. Blame for our current political predicament belongs much less with the idea or model of democracy than with ourselves. RTWT

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