Thursday, July 14, 2011

That's notDemocracy in the US, but it is in the UK

In a previous post, I wrote about how the idea of a free market, as created by Adam Smith, is actually supposed to work, as opposed to the politically motivated, wildly distorted image so common in recent public discussion.  That post was on the economy.  Smith's argument, however, contains a principle that extends far beyond economic matters.  This one:

Smith argued that justice includes “protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it”

In other words, there are lines that even the rich and powerful are not supposed to be able to cross.  We used to know that in America. In 1911, John D. Rockefeller himself, the richest man in the world, the first billionaire, and possibly the richest man in world history, was cut down to size by the Supreme Court decision in Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States, when his oversized monolith of an oil company was broken into dozens of smaller entities forced into competition under the Sherman Anti-trust Act.  In the 1920s Teapot Dome scandal, for the first time a member of a president's cabinet, one of the most powerful political figures in the country, the Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, went to jail and the power of the U.S. Congress to compel witnesses in corruption investigations was established.  In the Watergate scandal, a presidency was lost and multiple high-ranking members of the executive went to jail because Congress and the overwhelming public opinion of the people demanded punishment for any public official so arrogant as to believe they could violate the civil rights of American citizens.

But truth and justice are no longer the American way.

In the last decade, Americans, both the people and the leadership, sat back and watched as constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure and the right of habeus corpus were trampled and felt no outrage.  In the last decade, Americans sat back and watched as elderly people lost the retirement savings they'd spent their lives working for because of illegal activities and felt no outrage.  Americans still sit back and watch as homes were taken away from people who had made every one of their payments by agencies not legally entitled to the ownership of their mortgages and felt no outrage.  I could go on.  But I'd rather look at what's happening in England right now.

The British, both the people and the leadership, found out that the privacy of three children was violated and the country exploded.  This clip from parliament is wonderful:

That's the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Milliband, asking Prime Minister David Cameron to take down Rupert Murdoch's News of the World.  NotW is the primary media support and a key financial support of the Liberal Party that Cameron belongs to.  It's like if someone had asked George W. Bush to take down Fox News during his administration.  And Cameron agrees unequivically.  The only argument is how to go about it and whether the Labour Party can make the Liberal's wear the blame.

That's how American politics used to work.  That kind of belief, that at the end of the day, no matter how big a corporation and how valuable it is to a political party, the role of government is to serve the people not the money, is what is supposed to make a democratically elected political leader better than a dictator.  That sense of outrage, spilling over from the people to the government, is what we like to call participatory politics.  If the people don't care about their rights and don't believe that their government should be held responsible for protecting them from what Justice Douglas called the problem of bigness, what's the point of a democracy?

Our history is full of examples of how democracy is supposed to function, of corruption prosecuted, of big fish being cut down to size, of the people caring enough about what's right and just to hold our elected officials responsible.  It's time to go back to school and study our history to see how that works.  Or just turn on the news and watch the Brits get it right.

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