Archive for the ‘poltical corruption’ Category

Tyranny by minorities

June 12, 2013

As the age of democracy truly dawned, during the eighteenth century in Britain and the United States, political philosophers feared tyranny over minorities by majority coalitions. Edmund Burke noted that ‘the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority.’ America’s founding fathers- men such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – expressed similar concerns. The naive ambitions of the French revolutionaries quickly degenerated into mob rule, the Terror, and Madame Guillotine. Alexis de Tocqueville, evaluating democracy in the fledgling American republic, actually coined the phrase ‘the tyranny of the majority.’

Yet the term ‘tyranny of the minority’ seems a better description of 21st century democracy.Because most voters demonstrate little time or energy for politics, small groups with a strong commercial, personal or ideological motivation exert disproportionate influence. Politicians respond positively to policies that offer concentrated benefits to a few while dispersing the associated costs across a wider public. They do so because money and votes pour into their pockets while the rationally ignorant wider public are unaware of what has happened.

John Kay (Financial Times June 12, 2013) cites a powerful instance of such a minority-based tyranny. On election night in 2001, a promising political career came to an abrupt end. The British member of parliament for Wyre Forest in England’s Midlands was overwhelmingly defeated by a retired doctor, campaigning on the single issue of the closure of facilities at Kidderminster hospital. The lesson is engraved on the hearts of every British politician. When any similar proposal is made for rationalization of the National Health Service, the local member of parliament is always and everywhere at the head of the protest demonstration.

Well, you may think, far-sighted politicians should be willing to withstand such minority pressures in the interest of the nation that they represent. Such indeed was the judgment of Edmund Burke when he publicly outlined the requirements of a genuinely functional democracy in an address to his electorate in Bristol:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment, and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it for your opinion.”

“Burke asserted that parliament was not a congress of advocates of competing interests, but a deliberative assembly seeking to identify a common interest. Vulnerable to the exigencies of campaign funding, besieged by lobby groups and obsessed with news headlines, the modern politician has drifted a long way from that ideal.” John Kay, ‘A tyranny of the minority in an age of single-issue obsessives,Financial Times, June 12, 2013

Nudge or shove? both infringe individual liberty

March 2, 2013

The great Anglo-Saxon historical battle to replace government coercion with individual liberty began with Magna Carta in 1215, continued through England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688, through the various British Electoral Reform Acts between the 1830’s and the 1920’s, the American Revolution in 1776, the US Constitution of 1787, followed by America’s Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Nineteenth amendments to that Constitution. Individual liberty was fortified immeasurably by the evolution of the rule of law both in Britain and America.

Those who fought so hard and so long to achieve individual liberty surely did not do so in order to remain under the light thumb or the heavy boot of those who are elected to represent them in the market-place of politics. We, the People, assumed control over our own destinies, to make what we will or can of the opportunities so provided, and to take full responsibility for errors of our own making.

Unfortunately, the battle for individual liberty can never be won outright. Public choice informs us that individuals attracted by power and money are especially prone to enter into politics and to seek for its highest offices. In a reversal of the principal-agent relationship, such politicians seek to coax, if they cannot openly coerce, those who elected them as their agents. Would-be Machiavelli’s emerge to advise such ‘princes’ how most effectively to achieve their desires to coax, when they cannot easily coerce.

Current players on this stage are Prime Minister David Cameron and his economist -adviser, Richard Thaler in the United Kingdom, and President Barack Obama and his adviser,lawyer Cass Sunstein in the United States. The book from which all such parties draw is not entitled, The Prince – that would be politically incorrect in the post-revolutionary environment of Britain and the US – but rather, more opaquely, Nudge, the 2008 book co-authored by Thaler and Sunstein that is now the Great Book for residents of No. 10, Downing Street and 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue.

This wretched book – this indirect attack on individual liberty – suggest ways for unscrupulous governments to coax individuals into doing what is ‘best’ for them. For example, by displaying bananas and skimmed milk prominently in school cafeterias, while hiding cookies and delicious sodas, children will be induced to eat and drink according to current dietary fads. Children, fortunately, for the most part, are not suckered by such sophistry. They endure hunger strikes rather than partaking of the ‘garbage’ put before them. School bureaucrats across America have recently had to beat a humiliating retreat into French fries, hot dogs, and peanut-butter sandwiches, despite the coaxing and nudging of America’s First Lady.

Many adults, unfortunately, do not share their offspring’s love of liberty. When shifts are made from allowing them to opt in to allowing them to opt out of company savings schemes, many of then take the easy route, and pay up. When the next Enron scandal erupts, just watch how quickly President Obama or Prime
Minister Cameron dip into their own pockets to reimburse those who were nudged into such financial sink-holes.

In general, individuals do tend to be biased towards the status quo. But this bias is justified. It is a great safeguard against being ripped off by slick talkers such as Cameron and Obama. Yes, individuals may tend to be excessively optimistic about the future. But such excessive optimism is the spark for entrepreneurial activity that can lift the wealth of an entire nation.

Nudging may be more humane than shoving. But for that reason, it is also more dangerous. Both Britain and America would be better served by shoving would-be nudgers, and their advisers, into the sink-hole of history. For those who are nudged into decisions that conflict with their own preferences are no longer truly free. Nor will they flourish as human beings to the degree that bearing full responsibility for free choices assuredly encourages.

Hat Tip: Christropher Caldwell, ‘Coaxers and coercers discover common ground’, Financial Times, March 2, 2013

A.V. Dicey on Lord Leveson’s proposed repression of freedom of expression

December 10, 2012

“The present position of the English press is marked by two features.

First, ‘the liberty of the press’, says Lord Mansfield, ‘consists in printing without any previous license, subject to the consequences of law.’ Lord Ellensborough says:

‘The law of England is a law of liberty, and consistently with this liberty we have not what is called an imprimateur; there is no such preliminary license necessary; but if a man publish a paper, he is exposed to the penal consequences, as he is in every other act, if it is illegal.’

These dicta show us at once that the so-called liberty of the press is a mere application of the general principle, that no man is punishable except for a distinct  breach of the law.  This principle is radically inconsistent with any scheme of license or censorship by which a man is hindered from writing or printing anything which he thinks fit, and is hard to reconcile even with the right on the part of the Courts to restrain the circulation of a libel, until at any rate the publisher has been convicted of publishing it…Neither the government nor the Courts have…any greater power to prevent or oversee the publication of a newspaper than the writing and sending of a letter.  Indeed, the simplest way of setting forth broadly the position of writers in the press is to say that they stand in substantially the same position as letterwriters…. secondly, press offences, in so far as the term can be used with reference to English law, are tried and punished only byu the ordinary Courts of the country, that is, by a judge and jury.’

A.V. Dicey,  The Law of the Constitution. (1885/1982) pp. 153-155.

China shuffles its military deck of cards

October 25, 2012

Two weeks prior to the meeting of the 18th Congress, where China will announce its new Standing Committee of Seven that will constitute its central autocracy for the next decade (in the absence of a successful coup d’etat or civil war) the current Standing Committee of Nine has re-shuffled the deck of cards that comprises its military top brass. The shake-up is significant, with military leaders moving up and down the deck in a move that demonstrates the internal turmoil within and between the current and upcoming leadership coalitions within the Communist Party.

Two major factors have triggered this deck re-reshuffle. First, and most important, is the increasing military aggression of the Inner Kingdom, not least in the South China Sea, and the shift required of this aggression from army-based to naval-based and aircraft-based dominance within the Central Military Commission. The second is the recent emergence in  and removal of the Joker from the CPC pack of cards, namely Bo Xilai, the Supreme Villain about whom nothing further need now be said, save to note that any military official closely linked to Bo Xilai henceforth will exercise no role – other than that of a coup d’etat –  in the upcoming deck of cards.

On October 23, 2012, a mouthpiece for China’s Defense Ministry announced that General Ma Xiaotian has been appointed as air force chief – all but guaranteeing him one of the 12 seats on the Central Military Commission.  General Ma is a sycophant to the CPC leadership, He has served loyally as deputy chief of general staff, and is considered a safe pair of hands, far-distanced from Bo Xilai.

Simultaneously, the Defense Ministry announced that General Zhang Yang has been appointed as head of the armed forces’ powerful General Political Department – another post that all but guarantees the occupant a seat on the Central Military Commission.  General Zhang was a dark-horse candidate for the position. His star rose as Bo Xilai’s declined.  His appointment essentially rules out top brass roles for two generals who were close to Bo Xilai – General Liu Yuan and General Zhang Haiyang .  General Zhang has shown a considerable talent for staying out of politics, and for deferring unquestioningly to any clear signal from the Standing Committee of  Nine.

Premier Hu, despite the fact that he will step down as president within the next two weeks, is expected to retain the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission. The new president, Xi Jinping, will serve as deputy chairman to that Commission, thereby ceding dominance to his predecessor over a crucial aspect of CPC policy..

Behind the scenes, the card deck re-shuffle is the outcome of a power struggle between past president Jiang, current president Hu, and upcoming president, Xi. Jiang – the pro-market reformer who consolidated on the reforms introduced by Deng – is the most attractive of the three from a Western perspective. Hu has proved to be something of a socialist retread, dampening market reforms and promoting government enterprise. Xi is a princeling blank sheet, who must have panicked at the rise of Bo Xilai, and whose principal goal during the coming 10 years will be to loot as much wealth for his extended family as is compatible with political survival.  Xi has performed modestly well in the wealth stakes so far. His extended family has purloined some $1.4 billion, most of which is secreted, together with his offspring,  outside the Inner Kingdom.

Given the refocusing of China’s military power on naval and air forces and materiel, President Obama should be much less dismissive than he was this week in Florida about reducing the number of naval vessels in the U.S. fleet. He might want to review the U.S. fleet situation after Pearl Harbor, when the United States could not effectively pursue an aggressive naval policy simultaneously in the Atlantic and the Pacific theaters. If the U.S. fleet is preoccupied with the Pacific in coming years, what will happen in the Mediterranean if the Middle East does erupt into serious unrest?

The Central Military Commission will retain no doubt whatsoever  that the number of blue-ocean vessels matter, Mr. President. And the Commission will be be the one that calls the shots in that theater, not you,  or your successor, if current U.S.  fleet reductions are implemented.

China’s show trials mock the rule of law

September 25, 2012

The People’s Republic of China has recently concluded two closely-watched trials of well-known citizens.  Gu Kailai,  the so-called ‘red queen’ and wife of  Bo Xilai, was given a suspended death sentence for the premeditated murder of British businessman, Neil Heywood. Wang Lijun, former Chongqing chief-of-police, and principal enforcer for Bo Xilai’s repressive policies, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for covering up the murder of Neil Heywood, and for later fleeing Chongqing and seeking political asylum in the United States.

Whether or not the pronounced sentences are just is impossible to assess. For the courts involved participated in political show trials that mocked any notion of the rule of law. Although the government announced that at least parts of both trials would be open to the public, only a small number of hand-picked  observers were allowed inside either courtroom.  The trials provided no clear explanation as to why Gu decided to murder Neil Heywood or why Wang initially helped her to cover up the murder and then later decided to flee to the U.S. consulate in fear of his life.  Neither court heard any reference as to the role played by Bo Xilai with respect to the murder or the cover-up. The 800 pound gorilla that over-shadowed both cases, was simply ignored as non-existent.

“To most Chinese legal analysts, the circumstances and sentences in the Gu and Wang trials make clear that the entire process is part of a political show that will culminate in the carefully scripted eventual sentencing of Mr. Bo himself.  ‘The leadership is in the midst of a political faction fight.  The entire legitimacy of the system is crumbling’, say Pu Zhiqiang, a high-profile legal activist who regularly defends political prisoners in China. ‘I would call these trials a cover-up of the truth, rather than trials based on the facts.'” Jamil Anderlini, ‘Wang and Gu trials dash hopes for legal reform’, Financial Times, September 25, 2012

Rick Santorum is an unelectable presidential candidate

January 4, 2012

Richard John (Rick) Santorum is a 53-year-old former Congressman and Senator of Italian heritage who, in 2006,  went down to the largest defeat ever for an incumbent Senator in the State of Pennsylvania.  His record, both in the House (1991-1995) and in the Senate (1995-2007) was that of a political opportunist on economic matters, focused on reeling in the pork to his favored constituents, and of a Roman Catholic religious zealot on social issues.  His speeches in his 2011 run for the White House display political opportunism of the highest order as he scrambles  for the support of the right religious tail of the GOP voter distribution.

As far as I am able to judge from his speeches and from his record,  Rick Santorum is a man of limited learning and poor political judgment. He offers nothing of value to the future of the United States.  As such, he is completely unfitted for the Oval Office. His educational background in political science and his private sector work experience as an attorney-at-law make him a representative poster-boy for everything that is wrong with American politics at this time.

The fact that the Iowa caucuses have placed Santorum only 8 votes behind the vastly more experienced and electable Mitt Romney says a lot about the irrational attention paid by the United States media to a small and politically unrepresentative state that can only muster a total of 120,000 votes for the kick-off primary elections for a major political party.

As Iowa opinion polls have fired off a succession of briefly ignited Roman Candles – Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich and now Santorum – while downplaying the excellent performance of the only electable candidate in the field – Mitt Romney – far more important political signals from other states have been largely ignored and/or suppressed by a media obsessed with the Iowa mirage.

Post-Iowa, this no longer will be the case. Harsh political judgments on the political future of Rick Santorum are now about to emerge from the  serious players in the 2012 election process. And the outcome is likely to be ugly.  For Rick Santorum’s electoral base within the Republican Party nation-wide currently hovers around 6 per cent. And that base is composed almost exclusively among  those Roman Catholics who forget the protection that once was accorded to them as they fled persecution elsewhere, but who now want to shut down the separation between Church and State and impose Catholic ideology against the wishes of a large majority of  Americans.

There is insufficient space available in this column to take readers through the litany of bigoted statements and opportunistic change of position by a politician whose political career effectively died of natural causes in November 2006. If GOP voters fail to place Rick Santorum within the losing tail of the nation’s voter preference distribution, then President Obama will cruise to an easy victory with large coat-tails. And the future of the Republic will be grim indeed.

Evidently, the Iowa caucuses failed to identify that reality. That is why no one should pay any attention to Iowans  in the Republican primaries.

The World’s ‘free’ press: ‘We know the facts, so trust in us!’

March 3, 2011




Just how many days have passed since the Western Press was first screaming these rants?  Just how many more days must we wait for Press ‘realities’ to transpire?  Should we believe in the Press on anything? How fortunate are we to be able to access the blogosphere?