Thoughts of a fly on the bar wall
It is 50 years since I started visiting bars, since then I have sat in more bars, in more places than I want to remember. I have worked behind, cooked in, served in, and managed pubs. I have conversed and argued with painters, Pakis (Ladies and Gentleman from Pakistan if you must), parasites, Parisians, parliamentarians, peers of the realm , perverts, players, pleaders, plebs, plumbers, Poles, poofters, prime ministers and prostitutes. I have written and broadcast about far cities, elegant restaurants, bordellos and mismanaged disasters.
I have heard absolute rubbish, absurd claims, downright duplicity as well as much good sense and enormous doses of reality.
Put it all these conversations together with my last few years thinking, reading and writing about the way we live, about our governance, our mistakes and our future and you get to this blog.
Sunday, 12 May 2013
Wednesday, 10 April 2013
I have lived for a number of years in countries with no free proper health service and no social security. When people get ill they may get to see a doctor, or nurse, for free but any treatment has to be paid for and hospitalisation means paying out money that people seldom have. Generally speaking the extended family have to chip in and somehow find the money but sometimes they simple don’t have the money. In life or death situations often the option is sell an asset and usually the only asset is the family farm – be it little more than a rice paddy, or a coconut grove. And the problem with selling that is it then impoverishes the family even more – they go from a very poor subsistence farmer to beggars. So the family has a hard choice – an almost impossible decision of a life or a family destroyed to save a life. However if a logical person looks at the issues they will almost certainly say the welfare of the whole family is at stake so why should they save one, that is doubly so if the one to be saved is well past their prime. Apart from anything severe poverty is likely to kill more family members – so it could even be argued that saving one life will cost lives in the future.
I look at these examples to compare them to our politicians - the idea of democracy was that citizens elected the best leader to manage the affairs of the state/town/ country for them. By implication they took responsibility and sometime those decisions would not be easy – sometimes, in war in particular, they would be sending people to their death. However the leader’s job was to take responsibility and do what was best for the majority of his people. That person was elected so he had to do roughly what the people wanted. Needless to say the implication was that leaders vying to be chosen would debate the issues and give the voters an opportunity to consider the best solution.
There is another area of responsibility and that is from those that choose. Is their choice purely selfish or does it respect the good of the community as a whole as well as their immediate family. JFK famously said “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” A commendable idea which seems to have been consigned to the WPB and it is not just the bankers and tax dodgers, who have now become the Aunt Sally of the political class: it is the political class themselves and far more seriously the majority of voters.
Democracy depends upon both the voters and the leaders (politicians) making responsible decisions. The voters must vote for the person or persons they believe will be best not just for them but their children and the country as a whole.
What is clear is that hard decisions have to be made in the UK and many other western democracies but those decisions are not even being considered because the ruling elite will not do their job and take responsibility since they believe they will be voted out by a voting population who have also lost touch with their basic responsibility: to be responsible not just for today but tomorrow and the future.
The juxtaposition between the easy lifestyle of the west where hard decisions revolve around the colour of the next pair of trainers and the very poor of Asia is interesting. Asia is barely a bastion of democracy and in far too many cases the vote goes to the person who supplies the most direct incentive. And that is an easy way to dismiss the third world – they are not fit for democracy is the cry.
But democracy demands responsibility and hard decisions. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote "The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money." He was in effect talking about democracy as a system and not only was he a cynic he was right. The world is now a place where the traditional democracies are stagnant in terms of growth. Europe is a mess having been plundered by democracy and the US is probable not far behind as immigration and welfare policies copy the mistakes of Europe.
On the other hand authoritarian regimes that have allowed capitalism to flourish are bursting ahead. A Chinese person can make as much money as they like and have a consumer lifestyle but they cannot challenge those in charge. It is much the same in other successful authoritarian capitalist societies from Russia to the Gulf States to the state that started it all Singapore as well as many African and South American nations. But those in charge still have a responsibility to see living standards are rising and the capitalists are delivering the wealth for that to happen, or they will face dissent and revolution.
Our Western politicians have not been responsible nor have our voters and that is the minimum demand to make democracy work. An entrepreneur has to take care, a poor subsistence farmer in the 3rd. World has to take care, even an autocratic ruler has to take care – why don’t modern Western Politicians take responsibility – that is all that is demanded of them?