Democracy or Marketocracy

In 100 years’ time this might be seen as the end of an era.

The era when the markets trumped democracy until democracy fought back.

The free press and free markets have been the backbone of democratic success. One scrutinises the affairs of the state on behalf of the people and the other pumps money into it so that we can afford its workings.

People do business with successful states like ours because the right pieces are in place. A business deal is likely to be completed here because the law will enforce it. A good justice system is costly, but once the money’s flowing it probably self-perpetuates…

Lately we’ve seen doubt cast upon the loyalties of the press and the markets.

Let’s face it they’re run on self-interest – so the media has to be sufficiently arousing to attract the audience’s attention (so will stretch the rules to find a good story) and the market has to be sufficiently arousing to make the sale and make a profit for investors.

That makes sense until the businesses operate across many jurisdictions. They outsmart the laws of any one land, picking and choosing what works best for them. That’s old news for developing countries (they’ve paid the price for minimal gain) but new news for the host / rich countries now we’re experiencing hardship.

It no longer feels like the self-interest of large businesses is helping the countries that harbour them. The Observer tells us that £13 trillion is secreted from the taxman in havens around the world. Presumably the taxman in question here works for a well-off country where such rich people live and where we feel their money should return. Meanwhile Treasury Minister David Gauke tells us it’s wrong to pay cash in hand to our plumber as they will then avoid paying tax.

Assuming we’re all up for consistency, then the plumber probably has a lot to gain by asking everyone to behave in the way Gauke prefers. The cash injection into our own economy when everyone acts equally ‘morally’ would be massive: probably wiping out our national debt as tax havens declare an amnesty on hidden money (a genuine ‘Jubilee’ – as in original in the Book of Leviticus) where accumulated wealth linked to accumulated power are flattened out again. You would expect such a plumber therefore to say “I’ll pay mine if they pay theirs” and the government to have the capability to deliver that for them…

Back in February we paid host to teachers from Pakistan interested in introducing more education for citizenship and democracy in that country. One of them suggested that it would be inconceivable to start to teach about democracy in Pakistan as if it worked. He would be discredited for his naivety. As if you could suggest that an individual could actually create systematic change… You’ve got to be part of the powerful (and corrupt) for that, as he saw it.

That is surely how many a plumber hears David Gauke’s remarks?

‘He wants our votes but he applies one rule for the wealthy and another for the struggling tradesman’…

We want people to believe in democracy. To believe as if the plumber and the banker are equals as citizens. Equal as contributors to democratic outcomes…

A showdown is near.

For most people it seems we live in a marketocracy where once every five years the people go to the polls and in the other four years the markets run the country and cream off their reward.

Localism and plumber morality is surely a smokescreen. It has no credibility when a countervailing morality tips the balance from the other end. 1 million people paying fifty pounds more tax is the equivalent of one company paying £50 million more. There’s no compulsion if they can avoid it.

The political party that can offer credible solidarity for the masses against the market-owning few may just restore people’s faith in democracy. The new global formula is what people in the future will think of when they hear the word ‘democracy’. Today’s is yesterday’s version.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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