The last word Michael Moore speaks in his film Capitalism, A Love Story is "democracy" which he advocates as a remedy for the "evil" of capitalism. He invites us to join him in a movement that may well be a socialist revolution--he doesn't quite say. The sound track under the end credits is more revealing: The Internationale.
Our financial system is in a mess, but is it irretrievably evil? And will enhancing democractic involvement cleanse it? Can we vote ourselves prosperous?
Alexander Hamilton, while advocating ratification of the Constitution, said: "It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity."
I suggest that our democratic institutions are at the very source of capitalism's miasma. Our weakened regulatory agencies, and the short term horizons of both politicians and business people, have betrayed voters and investors alike.
However, direct democracy, as exemplified by the initiative process in California, has resulted in unfunded mandates and ineffectual government. Democracy, as sensationalized by the media, has marginalized our most vital concerns and trivialized the decision making process. And lest we forget, democracy, as practiced by communist republics, did nothing to protect people from starvation, oppression, and mass murder.
Our political system is in need of rigorous reform. With a 1.4 trillion dollar deficit, this should be obvious to all. But reform should be intricate and arduous rather than sweeping. Partisanship has thus far stalemated the process. But I'm not willing to give up. I just hope we can undertake it without the distractions of ideologues, demagogues, or (sorry Mr. Moore) populists.
Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by Daniel Huntington, 1865. Click on the picture for a closer look.