Political ethics in turbulent times

on . Posted in English texts

The old question about individualism and collectivism: Can the majority impose liabilities to an individual, although the individual disagrees to collective actions? Is it moral for someone living in an cabin in the woods to pay taxes and finance an immoral war? Is is moral in general for an individual to pay taxes so we will have a full of red-tape welfare state? Wouldn't be more ethical if charity instead of the coercive tax system helped people in need?

Well, I think that the individualistic argument looses ground, on material grounds. The more dense the population grows in this planet, the more externalities are produced, so more of collective actions are needed. None lives in a cabin in the woods now. Everyone is interdependent by others and some form of collective decision should we take. Even if these actions create liabilities to everyone, even future generations, that by definition do not choose to take the burden of our debts.

The question now is how we make the unethical -from the individualistic point of view- decisions, more ethical. How we make these decisions more democratic. And here we are in deep trouble. There is a difficult question in politics. How much change is actually change? Let me remind you that this was the promise of President Obama when he ran for office in 2008. So how much change he promised and how much change he delivered?

There was always a grey area between politician’s promises and politics delivered. This was mainly for two reasons. First: reality is much more complicated than any work of human mind, and much more from a political program (which was never exact science). Second reality changes faster than people change reality. This is more obvious in democratic regimes which have by nature a lot of “time wasting” in democratic procedures, deliberations, voting etc.

So there was always a gap between promises and realization of these promises. This grey area is becoming larger and larger in our days. Reality is becoming more complicated in an extraordinary pace and is changing much faster than it was changing in the past. And this is not all. Just because reality is becoming more complicated, more and more social entities are needed to participate in the democratic procedure. Not long ago, it was only the government and the parliament which were deciding on a law. Now there business lobbies, Non Governmental Organizations, pressure groups of all kinds. Also me media are playing a greater role than before. That makes politics more complicated an more time spending. And while we are discussing about the best solution of a problem, life is quietly is changing the problem itself.

This is quite obvious in economic decisions where tax policy for example needs weeks or months to be discussed and to decide, but capital which needed to be taxed travels away at the speed of light. Generally politics work at the pace of the old industrial society but economy works at the speed of light. Also economy is influenced from many more factors than any other part of human activity. It went unnoticed the fact that during the first phase of the Greek Crisis 27 leaders of independent countries (some of them had nuclear weapons) they were staying till mornings for a decision, because in a few hours Hong-Kong was opening. Think about it: people who in other circumstances can obliviate the world they were afraid from a single market half the world away. These European leaders had to be afraid by a single bank in the US, but even if they knew what damage Lehman Brothers might do, they were not able to do anything, but trying to persuade President George Bush to do something about it.

On the other side communication is shrinking to 140 characters long and this creates more and more misunderstandings between the political system and the governed. One of the biggest outcries during the big demonstrations in Greece when the crisis broke, was “nobody informed me that governments were borrowing these huge amounts of money”. Of course all the data for government loans were published (Greek Statistics had to do only with deficits) but nobody was paying attention. Not even the European Commission, but this is a different story. So in a world of all kinds of modern and complicated financial products (derivatives, CDS', swaps etc), which is also a world flooded by information, and difficult arguments should be packed in 140 characters or a half minute television spots how ethical is for a government to take decisions that people, never heard of, do not understand but they have to pay?

I don't know the answer but society already has one that is unethical too. Left or right wing populism in the west, tribalism or religious fundamentalism in the underdeveloped world. This is the moral battle that democracy is loosing in all fronts now...

Sppech to the Global Thinkers Forum, Athens April 25, 2015