the death of democracy
THE PRO-DICTATORSHIP POLICY OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT
by Roland Watson
The United States is viewed
as the leading democracy in the world. We are seen as the
defender and central distribution point of democratic ideals.
And indeed, sometimes we do take, or would appear to take,
steps to fight dictatorship solely on the basis of principle;
for example, our role in the defeat of Iraq’s aggression
against Kuwait and of Serbian aggression against other members
of the former federation of Yugoslavia. However, these actions
did serve our interests; they were not wholly altruistic. We
needed Kuwait’s oil (not to mention that we ignored the fact
that the nation is itself a dictatorship), and we were
supporting our European allies in the various fights in the
On the other hand, the U.S. sanctions against
Burma, those enacted in 1997, may be viewed as a direct
expression of the desire to defend freedom and human rights.
But again, for Burma, such sanctions are overshadowed
by our many other, contradictory, steps, particularly relative
to China, the godfather of the Burmese dictators. These
include: that we have not taken a strong position, and action,
against its repression of the people of Tibet; even more, that
we de-linked our trade with the nation from any human rights
concerns; that we granted it permanent normal trade relations
status and ended our opposition to its entry into the WTO; and
that we did not oppose its being awarded the 2008 Olympics.
Of course, regarding the WTO, our government supports
granting the organization even more power, including the power
to overrule any consideration or effort that blocks
international trade in any way, such as the fight for human
rights and against dictatorship, or to oppose child and
sweatshop labor (not to mention more generally to guarantee
the rights of workers everywhere), or to preserve the
environment. The United States’ position is that such
considerations and efforts, if they interfere with trade in
any way, should be made against the law.
happened is that the ethical agenda of the government has been
conquered by business interests. The businesses have said that
they will police their own behavior, and the government has
accepted this. It is worth noting that people who support the
idea of self-policing are basically saying that the framers of
the United States Constitution were wrong, and that we do not
need a system of checks and balances. (It is also worth noting
that the police, themselves, cannot police themselves!)
Businesses are of course far from altruistic. They do
not, and cannot be trusted to, control their own behavior.
They are myopic: they have the sole motivation of
self-interest, and this self-interest is itself pursued in the
context of the single-minded focus of capital markets on the
earning of profits. When faced with any tradeoff between
ethical considerations and the earning of greater profits,
they always choose the latter. Indeed, they believe they are
compelled, by the markets, and by the idea that they must
maximize shareholder value, to do so.
of the above is that United States policy is fundamentally
conflicted. We speak against dictatorship, but actively
support trade and business practices which strengthen it. One
must ask the question: which is the better measure, our words,
or our actions? Obviously, the answer is the latter.
However, this is not all. There is another, deeper
factor at work. The United States, and also many of the
nations of Europe, and Japan, actually prefer that the
political dictatorships of the world remain dictatorships.
They have no desire to see the dictatorial regimes overthrown,
and replaced by democratic systems. The reason for this is
that they recognize that dictatorship is decidedly second-best
as a political system through which to create economic
In the world of the 21st century, the
historical patterns of military conflict between nations have
been supplanted by a global environment characterized by
economic competition. And, the leading democracies understand
this, and also the fact that their political system, when
coupled with the now dominant economic paradigm, capitalism,
gives them a large competitive advantage over the
dictatorships. Furthermore, they have already gained a huge
lead: their companies and banks dominate global commerce. And,
as their nascent competitors remain dictatorships, this lead
is certain to grow.
In effect, such nations are
containing China and the other dictatorships by not pushing
for their conversion to democracy. By doing so, they ensure
that they will retain economic supremacy.
one might argue that many dictatorships, particularly China,
have achieved rapid growth in recent years. But, while this
may be true, the following points must be kept in mind:
- Their economies started from a very low base: it
such a situation it takes little real growth to create large
percentage increases in such measures as GDP.
- The growth
was funded by externally-supplied capital: it could not have
been achieved without this.
- The growth has been based
mainly on the exploitation of low-wage labor and natural
resources, but both of these are only temporary advantages:
they will exist for only a limited duration.
- Even with
the growth, the economies remain non-transparent and are
highly susceptible to corruption.
- And, there is the fact
that the dictatorships spend exorbitant amounts on security
apparatus - the military, etc. - which do little to yield the
quality-of-life increases that economic growth presupposes.
The classic example of this was the Soviet Union,
which demonstrated clearly that dictatorial political systems
are economically non-competitive. Dictators strive to maintain
control, and for this to be best accomplished, such control
must be centralized. But centralized planning, i.e., economic
planning, cannot compete with a system where economic
institutions - businesses - are decentralized. The latter are
far more flexible, and hence better equipped to adapt to
changing customer demands and market conditions. Decentralized
organizations are also less subject - to a degree - to
corruption, since a great centralization of control enables
corruption on a truly massive scale.
the U.S. government (and the governments of many other
democratic nations) has been taken over by business interests.
Its announced anti-dictatorship policy is a charade: for
public consumption only. Our democracy is not principled. It
does not care about the crimes against humanity, and nature,
which are committed daily by the many dictatorships of the
world. It wants these dictators to remain in power, in
recognition of the fact that this will enable it to retain the
real power which now dominates the world, which is economic
power. In the contest between the ideal of working to build a
better world, and the selfish desire to satisfy one’s greed
and make a lot of money, and accrue the power which this money
provides, greed, money and power clearly have won.
Through supporting the Chinese dictatorship, this in
turn means we support the dictatorships in its client states,
such as Burma, North Korea and Pakistan, even though our
avowed policy states otherwise.
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