Sophie Mirabela’s loss in Indi will doubtless call for many MPs to re-assess their approach to local issues. Sophie is an abrasive character, which would have lost her some votes; but more importantly, her opponent, local activist Cathy McGowan canalised a great deal of support promising to deliver more broadband, better health services and other spending (as well as supporting gay marriage, illegal immigration and the carbon tax).
In one of the remaining undecided seats, McEwan, the ALP’s Rob Mitchell has described his possible loss as a kick in the pants from his electorate whether or not he loses; his opponent the Liberal Donna Petrovich, a former state MP for the area, campaigned on her performance in delivering government services to the electorate and gained a swing of over 9 per cent.
Every MP in every seat is expected to win public funds for particular sports fields, ethnic clubs, and the like. They tailor their marketing effort to the electorate accordingly. And those that succeed are applauded as a “good local member” while those who fail are seen to have lost touch.
Hardly anyone comments that this criteria for success and failure is far removed from the democratic process. It amounts to the politician being rewarded for his or her skill at attracting an acceptable share of the funds stolen by government from taxpayers other than those in the electorate. Or worse, it means enlarging the pool of stolen funding.
Democracy started out as a means by which the major decisions affecting all citizens in common can be made so that the beneficiaries are not some narrow group. But from Aristotle onwards fears have been expressed that it might become a means by which the (more numerous) poor would extract income from the rich and as a result reduce the nation’s productive capacity. None of these early writers would have conceived the process could have gone as far as it has today with 50 per cent and more of income passing through the hands of government.
Boix’s scholarly analysis shows that democracy can fail just like autocracy or any other system. Acemoglu and Robinson have been criticised, e.g. by Sachs, for their rosy view about the success of democracy in promoting economic growth. Sometimes (Germany and Spain in the 1930s) no prospectively successful political party considers it possible and at other times as in post Franco Spain no other system is conceivable by any political system (but democracy has failed to allow Spain to consolidate its income gains).
The on-going and seemingly endemic post GFC malaise in the western illustrates how the institutional arrangements the democratic process has forged prevent any possibility of a resumption in economic growth world (in the US, as Tyler Cowan observes, measured 2012 median family income remained 8.3 per cent below that of 2007).
Those favouring redistribution dispute, “The logical upshot of redistributive models is that democracies risk collapse unless the state refrains from making redistributive claims upon the rich.” But I find more persuasive the notions that Gerhard Schwartz expressed at last year’s Mont Pelerin meeting, “democracy belongs in its proper place, namely wherever decisions are taken on matters affecting everyone and where public goods are involved.” I commented in a previous post about the adverse effects regarding, “The knowledge that democracy can demand wealth transfers to the unproductive, regulate the productive and reward the agitational intellectuals, thereby creating adverse incentives towards work, savings, investment, etc. and bringing about the death spiral of affluent nations”.