The Failure of Democracy

I believe Gandhi is the only person who knew about real democracy — not democracy as the right to go and buy what you want, but democracy as the responsibility to be accountable to everyone around you. Democracy begins with freedom from hunger, freedom from unemployment, freedom from fear, and freedom from hatred. To me, those are the real freedoms on the basis of which good human societies are based. 

Vandana Shiva

America is the poster child for collapsed social trust.

Fareed Zakaria 


According to Joe Biden, as he said at the White House correspondents’ dinner, “American democracy is not a reality show. It’s not a reality show. It’s reality itself.”

Very passionate, but he’s wrong. American democracy, is in fact, very much a reality show. Reality itself  is capitalism—the ‘invisible hand’ with which property owners invest their capital—manipulating, exploiting and destroying communities all around the world. Liberal democracy is a game, in which some people claim they can control capitalism. Just like a reality TV show.

The contestants (politicians) participate in various activities (debates, rallies, media appearances, canvassing...) hoping to be chosen by the viewers (electorate). If chosen, they generally have four years to prove themselves to avoid being voted off the island of economic control. The producers of the show (corporations, hedge funds, the IMF, Davos attendees, think tanks...) are permitted to fill all forms of media with their expectations (low taxes, privatization, de-regulation, high stock prices...) as challenges for the politicians to meet. Even politicians who truly wish to put people before profits, have no power to do so under the current system.

If voting could actually change anything, it would be illegal.

Noam Chomsky

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was a great victory in the struggle against racism, but changed nothing about the roots of the system—property. Under Obama’s leadership, banks and corporations were given hundreds of billions of dollars to compensate for their losses gambling on a pyramid scheme they’d created in the real estate market—because they were “too big to fail”. The depression of the 1930’s had forced governments to regulate finance, but by the 1970’s another crisis of capitalism saw neoliberals call for de-regulation and smaller government which led right back to a collapse of the banking industry in 2008.

It is understandable then, why so many people don't bother to vote. Those in power are often able to design the voting boundaries in their own favour, and even exclude some people from voting at all. Most elections are a popularity contest based on who can raise the most money. Those elected representatives are pressured in various ways to support corporate interests or face the prospect of explaining to the public why their jobs are gone.

We don’t gather together to discuss issues but instead we’re all in our own bubbles of information and every few years get to make one choice. If people even bother to vote, they often hold their nose and choose the least worst option or ‘vote the bums out’ as a punishment. So, instead of deciding together how our world should be, we give someone the power to decide everything and all we have is the right to fire them at the end. Imagine if your life worked that way—once every four years you could choose the person who will decide everything for you. Who would consider that any sort of freedom. This top down process removes the essential ingredient: participation, from what we call democracy.

The liberal democratic systems governing much of the world were designed by slave owners hundreds of years ago to manage their collective property rights. Why would we expect equality from such a system. Even if everyone is allowed to vote in some cases, the outcomes are still decided by wealthy property owners either through funding campaigns or control of media and other institutions.

The idea that we need leaders is yet another myth—one of those stories we’ve been told literally for millennia. When people organize together, we develop better ideas. Brainstorming is democracy. This is not to say that we don’t need leadership, but rather that it should be collective leadership. There are situations which require decisions with no time for discussion—like an operating room where someone must decide and act quickly or a patient may die. But aside from emergency situations, even an operating room can be run democratically. Positions of leadership should be earned by inspiring confidence in the community, not by holding power over it. Elections have been turned into rituals without any substance. Politicians and pundits live for ‘election season’ in which someone will be crowned with a symbol of power when the real power always lies with those behind the scenes who own the most property.

We need to begin building a new system to govern the world:      Democracy From Below