Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Flunking the Fukuyama test


By Bill Kraus

What Francis Fukuyama’s erudite and thorough book The Origins of Political Order concludes is that, while never fault-free and always subject to the preferences of those who hold power, there is and always has been a best political system or order.

It gets trampled from time to time as despots, totalitarians, and the dreaded “Man on a white horse” assume and abuse power, but it keeps coming back.

It’s known as democracy, and it comes in various shapes and sizes and with different names in different places.

The best of the breed has four characteristics.

Transparency. Those who govern do so with the consent of the governed and communicate to their subjects, voters, constituents fully and freely on everything they are doing for or to those they are governing. Not just to those they are beholden to.

Responsiveness. Questions asked are answered. This includes foolish questions and belligerent and unpleasant questions.

The followers have a respected voice and know that they are being heard.

There is a universal communication system which takes messages to and from the leaders and informs everyone more or less simultaneously and equally.

Everyone has his or her own take on the political system and its caretakers who are running things in our local, state, and national governments and how close these systems are to the Fukuyama ideals.

My grades on a scale of 1 to 10 are a lot closer to 1 than to 10.

Transparency is best the more local the government. Probably because the more local the government, the more accessible the leaders. The secrecy narcotic is always present though. Knowledge is power, and communication dilutes it. Those in charge of our national and state governments are increasingly inaccessible and unresponsive. Electoral invincibility exacerbates this at the legislative level particularly.

When it comes to responsiveness there are places where a citizen can’t even get a “Dear Sir or Madame: You may be right” card. The locals and, surprisingly the nationals, are far more responsive than the majority incumbents in our state government. Once again those who are assured re-election can be cavalier about stiffing those to whom they are not beholden. The WC Fields line, “Go away, kid; you bother me,” is tacitly in play here.

Who among us feels his or her voice is being heard? Money talks and is listened to as are those organizations who, for various reasons, are too scary to be ignored. The National Rifle Association comes to mind. The elderly less so. Public employee unions a lot less so. And evangelists of multiple causes rise and fall in influence with the times.

There was a time in Wisconsin when those in power read the morning Milwaukee Sentinel early every day. They checked the stories on page one and the state stories on page five. Whatever appeared there determined what would dominate their day. The reason that paper set the government’s daily agenda (where the urgent always is more important than the important) was because everyone read the morning Milwaukee Sentinel.

God knows what everyone is reading now, if anything, but it certifiably is not the Milwaukee Sentinel or its successor[s].

The unifying communication system gets a zero. If graded on an academic scale it gets an incomplete.

All of the things that are getting lousy grades on the Fukuyama criteria are inside politics. And very few of the people who are exercising power inside politics are putting them on their short agendas.

Could this be a reason those we elect are getting approval ratings in the low teens? If it isn’t, it should be.

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