The original quote in Slovak goes like this:
“Demokracia je ťažká pre tých, ktorí ju chcú dodržiavať, a ľahká pre tých, ktorí ju chcú zneužívať.”
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been listening to many different viewpoints on the economy, on politics, on how society should function.
I’ve listended to talks from the Mises institute, a group of people who are against taxes, believe strongly that the market, the private sector can always organize things better than the state. They hate socialism and they hate progressive taxation, the idea that the rich should pay more taxes than the poor. To their credit they are also against war.
I always associate low taxes with almost no social backup system. With very low taxes how do you help people who simply can’t work, or can’t work hard, or who lack the skills to navigate the complex modern world, or who are talented but born to poor parents or rich, but neglectful parents?
If you leave everything to the market, you get monopolies, the rich get richer, universities become elitarian, only accessible to the rich, and you get the unbridled domination of the moneyed elite over the poor. Progressive taxation only benefits all of us if that money is spent well. And there’s the rub, unfortunately politicans, for many different reasons, but mainly out of greed, spend that money on things that do not benefit all of us.
To keep a democracy functioning is hard work. It requires the participation of everyone. Ideally everyone should be trying super hard to be well informed, to debate, to talk to people, more people should be politically active, etc. In practice however people are already struggling hard to do everything we expect of people and to find some entertainment as an escape from the stress of it all that most people leave democracy to others.
Then the sharks come in. In a modern democracy lots of money is floating around. People have lots of incentives to work, so they work, and they create a huge surplus. It’s the objective of democracy to decide what to do with that surplus. Like in a feudal system the surplus went mostly to the king and some his vazals and soldiers. In an industrialized democracy the surplus is huge. But it mostly goes to the moneyed elite.
Unlike the king in the feudal system we have often come to believe that the rich deserve every penny they get. They are superior, smarter, better, they deserve their billions. That’s the idea. In America this idea is defended by the Republican party, but also by the democratic party, just in a slightly milder way.
If we don’t find a way to distribute the surplus our modern societies create in a more equal way, I fear that the gap between the superrich and the rest of us will become unsustainable, that the worker ants who keep it going will collapse, revolt or will need to be more controlled to keep them at it.
I personally think we will fail to redistribute the surplus. I fear we will evolve towards a system where the rich will control the rest of society so thoroughly that people won’t even realize they have very limited choices and that life could be far better for all of us if we could manage to do what’s best for all of us.
Today we all try to do just what benefits us directly and not so much what benefits all of society.
This is normal, if everyone around you is selfish and you start behaving like an altruist, you will lose everything.
At the moment almost everyone I know behaves like a salesman, without values. He sells his working time to the highest bidder. That’s it. If his job benefits society is not a factor, he’s a neutral salesman and all he wants is the most money for his working time.
I do meet people who would want to be doing something for society, something more, they feel their work is not helping, but in the end they stay where they are.
I’m no different by the way.
But as someone who is fascinated by system and the highest level of efficiency a system can reach, I would say that at the moment we are doing poorly. We have mostly failed to build a society that makes people happy.
We have succeeded in creating a society that allows for lots and lots of hedonistic kicks, but that’s not what happiness is about.
As human beings we derive happiness from feeling we are contributing to the whole family of humans, from strong values, from being a worthwhile member of the tribe, from being esteemed and valued by others, but in a genuine way, of course.
Those things are hard to do today. And most people seem to mistake being a worthwhile human being by accumulating and posing with material goods and showing their hedonistic kicks or their fitness body on social media.
Where’s the love for other people?