por Manuel Cereijo

Democracy is a system devoted to the expression of the sentiments and interests of the people, or the views of those who merely happen to be walking about at the time. The interests and sentiments of the majority-the children of the future and our ancestors in the past-are little consulted.

The goal of perfection may invite efforts to impose it on imperfect humans by means of compulsion and through the agency of undemocratic power. Inevitably failing to fulfill the impossible dream of a society without conflict and hierarchy, the supposed idealists often lash out at the very attitudes and institutions-social pressures and legal processes-that are indispensable to all social improvement in a democracy. Hypocrisy is the means by which the influence of ideals is extended beyond the small circles of true believers. Hypocrisy is indeed the tribute paid by vice to virtue.

In a democracy, one must give in order to get, supply in order to demand. The problem begins in political philosophy: in the theory of politics and public opinion. Democratic politics are founded on a group of formal equalities-legal and electoral-ultimately deriving from a religious belief in the equality of men before God. These equalities, in a more immediate sense, are largely mythological. One man may be restricted to one vote, but some men by their energy and eloquence, or their command of the media, may sway the opinion of millions.

The public is largely a phantom. On many issues, public opinion, as the term is commonly used, does not exist. Polls often create their own public opinion. However, leadership is supply and public opinion is demand. In a democratic system, a reversal of the appropriate direction of influence allows impressionable figments of mass sentiment to dictate to the powerful and permanent mechanisms of representative leadership.

In democratic-capitalistic societies power comes from two sources-wealth and political position. Two factors allow these two systems to coexist brilliantly. First, it is possible to convert economic power into political power or, conversely, political power into economic power. Few held one without quickly gaining the other. Second, government has been actively used to alter market outcomes and generate a more equal distribution of income. Without these two realities there probably would have been a major quake at the fault line between democratic and capitalistic principles about the distribution of power long ago. Historically, all democracies have found it necessary to “interfere” in the market with a variety of programs that are designed to promote equality. Always to the minimum possible level, if success is to be achieved. The combination worked.

It is not an accident that capitalistic societies have constructed political systems where economic wealth can be translated into political power. Nor it is an accident that we have a system where those with political power but without wealth are given opportunities to convert their political power into wealth. Power is the ultimate consumption good. Almost alone it is wanted, and can be used, in unlimited quantities. To some extent, but not totally, the politician’s power can substitute for his lack of money, and the businessman’s economic power can substitute for his lack of political power.

In the end democracy rests on consent but does not create it, assumes a degree of compatibility among its citizens but does not work to make it true, and works best where it does not have to make zero-sum or negative-sum choices because it has an expanding pie of resources to distribute. By altering the pattern of rewards to favor work over leisure, investment over consumption, the sources of production over the sumps of wealth, taxable over untaxable activities, democracy can directly and powerfully foster the expansion of real demand and income. The combination works.


Manuel Cereijo

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