Archive for August 20th, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

Smart Public, part 2: True Colors

Dissatisfaction drives change – that’s conventional wisdom. And it’s not necessarily true. Dissatisfaction may dominate partytalk, just as well, after a few beers, or whatever you drink. If there’s change also depends on how many people are dissatisfied, and on how acutely dissatisfied they are.  Public issues won’t necessarily create anger that wuld lead to change. Rescue programs for the bailout of  system-relevant banks with public money may anger many tax payers, but as long as government incurs further public debt than levying an extra tax for the very purpose on the public, people, especially “small” tax payers, may put up with it. And they will, more and more frequently, draw the conclusions that politics is

  • totally rotten business and
  • therefore not their business.

When I explained why I believe that Wikileaks can’t work, I put it this way:

There is no effective shortcut. Only individual judgment and the preparedness to organize to accurately defined ends can be effective – but they require patience. It takes education, year after year. It takes preparedness to learn – not just of one organization, but by countless individuals. And – and that’s something the existence of Wikileaks should help us to understand – it will take media and journalists who take their tasks seriously, and who decide responsibly and who account to their readers.

It will take media and journalists who help the public to perform.

I haven’t changed my views on Wikileaks, i. e. on a government’s rights to keep part of its information confidential. But my views on patience are changing. Four years after the global financial crisis, very little has been done in Germany when it comes to legislation that would make system-relevant banks, rather than public funds, responsible for their own rescue. But Greece is required to impose austerity on those of its citizens who are hit hardest by such measures. That’s wrong – and that needs to change.

The need for change is strongly felt, even if recommendations about the required measures to make change happen differs widely. James Fishkin, a U.S. academic, recommends deliberative democracy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – but it can’t replace a freely-elected parliament. A freely-elected parliament, on the other hand, is usually susceptible to influences that are hardly “democratic” – business lobbies of all kinds, not least the financial industry. Deliberative democracy, especially when under the influence of lobbies which “provide relevant information”, is unlikely to change that.

During the 1990s, Johannes Heinrichs, a German philosopher, discussed ways to rebuild democracy. He advocated a four-fold parliament, whose branches would deal with the for fields of economics, politics, culture, and fundamental values. The latter branch would define the framework for the three other branches. Heinrichs apparently saw – or maybe still sees – his concept as a practical reaction to the ways economics have dominated parliamentary democracy, and to a global crisis of democracy.

The concept may look radical – but it hardly is. Ask any politician what should dominate political or individual decisions – economics or values. Two likely answers are “values”, or “both”. Values, that is, in theory. And “both” means nothing. That’s the good thing about practical, organizational recommendations. Only once you discuss which road map should be implemented, you’ll really need to show your colors.



» Smart Public, July 25, 2012


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