The Problematic Consequences of Radical Redistribution for Democratic Stability
Democracy, proclaimed as a universal human value, has become a real sacred concept of the modern political and social life. In fact, democracy remains the only value in the priceless postmodern world. The idea of modern democracy is closely connected with the period of the Enlightenment and the Modernism. It focuses on progress in economics, politics, morality, and in all spheres of human relations, both in the society and the surrounding world. Democracy is only one of the tools for progress. However, postmodern age has turned democracy into a wrapper, a brand, an export subject, tightly linking it with capitalism, emasculating it, and making it a channel for attracting resources. Thus, the condition of economic development has become one of the most common features of political science due to interdependence of economic development and democracy.
It must be acknowledged that the relationship between economic development and democracy is understood as both direct and inverse. Paradoxically, democracy and the level of economic development are not closely linked, at first glance. Nevertheless, there is a direct relationship between them. Participation in the political life of a society involves the power redistribution of resources within the society. In other words, only those who have the opportunity to participate in the redistribution of resources are active members of the society (Mann, 2013a, p. 201). People who do not participate in the redistribution of resources at best comprise the population not interested in politics, and at worst, they are deprived even of the individual communication level. Thus, it is possible to define democracy as a regime in which all citizens participate in the redistribution of resources at the disposal of the society.
The available resources to the society can be divided according to the source of their origin into external and internal, or those located outside and inside the society. Internal resources include everything that has been extracted, created, produced by the members of the society and redistributed within it. External resources comprise everything that is used within the society but was created or extracted not by its members. At the same time, it is unimportant whether these resources are created inside the country by the efforts of the population that are deprived of the right to participate in the power redistribution of resources or delivered from abroad, through capture, trade or any other means.
The amount of resources that are subject to redistribution among the members of the society depends not only on the total amount of resources but also on the size of the share that must be spent to ensure the external and internal security of the society. The amount of security spending is directly related to the geopolitical situation in the country. Marginal position of the country allows the society to save on this expense item. On the contrary, central position makes it necessary to divert considerable resources into maintaining external security. The resources diverted to internal security depend on the size of the territory and the degree of its multi-structure (Mann, 2012, p. 75). The more segmental are the differences, the larger are the costs of resources to ensure security. It is necessary to include expenses for life maintenance of people in the given territory, for example, building and maintaining irrigation systems. It can be argued that the need to mobilize the resources of the society to ensure its security, no matter whether they are diverted to defense or implementation of the necessary large-scale civilian projects, affects the nature of the political regime (Mann, 2012, p. 72). The higher is the need for resource mobilization, the less democratic the political regime will be and the fewer people will be able to redistribute resources. Even the most democratic regimes limit the opportunities and rights of members of the society in the event of serious threats. As a result, much less resources are distributed among the society members. At the same time, the share of the redistributive form of access includes many types of resources for members of the society, such as the card system during the Second World War.
Five trends that are noticeable in the field where democracy, public policy and capitalism meet contribute to drastic changes in the balance of power. First, in the course of economic growth, the economic power is enormously strengthened. Political power remains unchanged as each voter has only one vote. In contrast, economic power is increasing because every holder of capital receives an increase in his fortune (Mann, 2013a, p. 206). Thus, the larger is the capital, the louder will be the holder’s voice. Secondly, private capital not only accumulates but also increasingly concentrates in the hands of a small elite group. Many people are owners of significant stocks, but at the same time, there is a general concentration of capital due to its redistribution. Thirdly, in the course of economic liberalization, private capital receives access to areas that previously were under direct political control. In European philanthropic states, utilities experience mass privatization, and public services, from schools and hospitals to transport and prisons, are provided by a variety of mixed private or public companies. Fourthly, while political power is being pushed out of the market, the private economic power is invading political spheres. The main mechanism of this process is the escalation of costs for the maintenance of parties and political campaigns. As a result, political power sometimes concentrates in the hands of those who are able and interested in financing political activity. Finally, with the development of globalization and new electronic technologies, capital markets acquire an international character and begin to abandon the concept of the nation state, which strengthens the power of capital enormously. On the one hand, the capital is more or less free from political control, and ultimately, despite the existence of the European Union, it remains in the hands of national states. However, if the freedom and profitability of capital is threatened by the legislation of the country in which it operates, it can flee to more favorable markets in friendlier countries. The reality of this threat gives capital an unprecedented veto right in relation to economic legislation and the democratic decision-making of the country.
However, there is another argument, which is more pragmatic and practical and therefore more convincing. It relates to the democratic quality of the society. If there is democracy in a country’s political life, but it does not exist in its economic life, then the citizens have the right to ask how democratic is their society in reality and is it really political democracy because the economic power grows in a direct proportion to political power. Such argumentation sets a trap of collective irrationality, which leads to a vicious circle of disappointment in the very idea of democracy (Mann, 2013a, p. 215). If democracy is considered to be in decline, then citizens justly cease to value their share in this democracy, fall into apathy and withdraw from the democratic process. Thus, their reaction to the demise of democracy leads to even greater decline.
Citizens in democratic societies appreciate prosperity. They want equality not at the expense of prosperity and are unwilling to pay a great price for it. If they have a prospect of prosperity, or at least a reasonable hope for prosperity, they even sacrifice equality, at least partly. In a democratic society, there is no serious economic democracy which can be implemented at the expense of economic efficiency. It is called the imperative of efficiency with no political device. Even though economic democracy is feasible by democratic means, there are sufficient grounds to consider it incompatible with economic efficiency (Mann, 2013b, p. 86). Both arguments can work as the imperative of efficiency and the threat of escape. The best arguments for the upper class will be those which the middle class will voluntarily consider as convincing. In this case, the upper class achieves the desired effect by the power of the mind. Such arguments include the effectiveness imperative. The threat of escape is an entirely different kind of argument. In this case, the middle class is forced to yield to pressure.
The reason why the effectiveness imperative is a good argument and the threat of escape is bad from the point of view of the upper class is associated with so-called moral capital. Reputation, respect and honor are highly appreciated under democratic capitalism, and they are essential for the upper class, which is compelled to take a defensive position in the political game. The efficiency imperative turns out to be good because its expedient use does not affect the moral capital. The threat of escape is bad, albeit effective, because it is carried out at the expense of moral capital. If a person forces someone to obey personal interests against their will, then the person will achieve results, but his reputation will suffer, and next time, it will be more difficult to persuade them.
The middle class is interested in taking away the surplus power from the upper class. In fact, the middle class needs much more resources than the upper class owns. However, it does not imply that the middle class will transform its interest in action. It must strive to attack the rich, but this is a theoretical interest. Indicative is the most ingenious experiment ever conducted in the economic democracy, namely the Swedish working funds. The middle class could get everything, but it was not ready for it. Such funds were established and operated from 1984 to 1992, when they were finally closed. Undoubtedly, their foundation was an attempt to gain economic power of private capital, which, however, remained without the support of ordinary people. They were offered the right to manage the work of these funds by voting; however, even this incentive did not attract their interest. In the implementation of such a plan, power will pass to the collective possession of the working people. However, this plan did not encourage the middle class to take the power. After all, they personally did not get power or any other benefits. They did not see any personal advantages in this project and thus remained largely indifferent to it. Even if the middle class wants to expropriate top-class power and can derive some benefits from the power, it is wary of taking action, believing that economic efficiency may suffer. Imperative efficiency is subjective as it is associated with the fears of the middle class (Mann, 2017, p. 91). If the upper class can convincingly prove that it can manage capital in the interests of economic efficiency and economic growth, then the middle class will not threaten its political power.
There is one more circumstance as democratic procedures for making power decisions are more resource-intensive than authoritarian. The larger the scale of the country, the more complex is the structure of the society and the higher are the costs for its maintenance. The society will be more democratic when the level of threats to internal and external security is not high. Since the amount of resources distributed among members of a society with a lower level of danger is greater, the society will be richer. However, if two hypothetic societies use only internal resources, then, regardless of their economic model, labor productivity and any other factors, they both will be poor societies. Limited resources determine a high proportion of redistribution and a certain level of wealth among the citizens.
Only societies attracting outside resources will have a great amount of resources. At the same time, they have significant chances of democratization as the flow of external resources increases. There is a distinct correlation between the number of resources allowed for the power redistribution and the establishment of more or less regular channels for the receipt of external resources. The introduction of payment of posts in Athens occurred after the establishment of control over resources created by Greek society (Mann, 2017, p. 34). It can be seen as an increase in the level of democracy because, theoretically, it allows different sections of the population to perform redistribution functions. The expansion of electoral rights in a number of European nation states occurred after the establishment of colonial empires. At present, democracy of wealth is supported by the flow of resources from other territories through various economic, political and military institutions.
There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor in advanced capitalist societies. The average standard of living in relation to technological development may be lower in the rich countries than in the poor ones. At the same time, the maintenance of wealth is achieved extensively, as it is necessary to find all new sources of external resources, which predetermines external political and economic aggressiveness. Proceeding from this, only societies with a high level of external security can be rich. From this point of view, Norway and Denmark, with their low security costs, high internal homogeneity, and a high proportion of redistributive mechanisms, demonstrate typical socialism democracies. The United States and England are examples of democracy of wealth.
In conclusion, society, even considering democracy as a value, must take into account a number of objective economic, geographic, geopolitical, social, ethnic, and historical circumstances that set the framework for the possible application of the democracy. It is worth noting that a high degree of multi-structure, an extremely unfavorable geopolitical situation, high costs of maintaining people's lives in adverse climatic conditions, and limited resources affect the way democracy will be applied as well. Secondly, planetary democracy will be either a poverty democracy, with nearly equal distribution of resources, or a democracy of wealth in its ancient version, with a very limited number of people involved in the power redistribution of resources. Both options seem equally bleak. Thus, the first option seems fantastic. The human world is too multifaceted, and there is no mechanism for implementing democratic procedures on a global scale. Moreover, it is difficult even to guess the amount of resources needed for implementation of planetary democracy. The second option is more real and implies a radical breakdown of the deepest values of people who built democracy on the current pedestal. Construction of such model of planetary democracy will imply a breakdown of the geographical, political, ethnic or confessional boundaries and grounds. The former categories will lose their significance. The postmodern erosion of values is capable of plunging the world into new dark ages, where the bulk of humanity will only become a source of resources for a worldwide democracy of wealth.
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