The Decline of Democracy

Something I noticed a couple of days back. AP:

State and federal environmental regulators have issued a blanket waiver for Florida electricity companies to violate clean air and water standards for the next two weeks.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the decision in a letter issued Monday as Hurricane Irma blew through the state. The agency said the so-called No Action Assurance granted through Sept. 26 will provide Florida utility generators needed flexibility to maintain and restore electricity supplies.

The assurance letter will allow utilities to operate outside restrictions mandated by their permits, including potentially using dirtier fuels, running for longer hours or electively bypassing pollution-control equipment.

The Associated Press reported last week that air pollution levels spiked in the Houston area after a similar enforcement waiver was granted to petrochemical facilities ahead of Hurricane Harvey.

If they can issue blanket waivers for electricity companies to violate clean air standards, why not issue blanket waivers for bars and restaurants to do the same with smoking bans? Perhaps this is the way smoking bans will end: blanket waivers issued during emergencies.

Another thing I read, that set me thinking:

In every case, a democracy will deteriorate as the result of the electorate accepting the loss of freedom in trade for largesse from their government. This process may be fascism, socialism, communism, or a basket of “isms,” but tyranny is the inevitable endgame of democracy. Like the destruction of a sandcastle by the incoming tide, it requires time to transpire, but in time, the democracy, like the sandcastle, will be washed away in its entirety.

Why should this be so? Well, as I commented some years ago,

The concept of government is that the people grant to a small group of individuals the ability to establish and maintain controls over them. The inherent flaw in such a concept is that any government will invariably and continually expand upon its controls, resulting in the ever-diminishing freedom of those who granted them the power.

Why should any government continually expand upon its controls? I know that this is happening right now more or less everywhere in the Western world, but is it inevitable? What’s the underlying logic?

Looking at government from the point of view of Idle Theory, in a busy, hardworking society there will be a lot of busy, hardworking people, and only a few idle people. The busy, hardworking people won’t have enough time to think about matters of state – keeping the society in a good state of repair, defending it from enemies. But idle people can think about stuff like that, and make suggestions and proposals for projects (e.g. building city walls) that would benefit everybody in the city. It is these idle people who are society’s natural legislators. These are often – but not always – rich people.

In the least idle societies, the task of government may fall to a single individual: a king. But as a society becomes more idle, thanks to technological innovations (e.g. roads), more people can become involved in government, and governing will be done by families, oligarchies, republics, and democracies, in which more and more people have a say. As social idleness increases, government expands.

But if social idleness decreases, the opposite must happen. If a society becomes impoverished by famine or drought or plague or war, and people have to work harder, there will be fewer idle people. In these circumstances, government contracts and becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, perhaps finally in the hands of a dictator or emperor, who is pretty much a king.

Something like this happened with ancient Rome, which seems to have prospered enough under its Etruscan kings (for example, Tarquinius Superbus) for the city of Rome to overthrow them circa 500 BC and introduce a republican form of government, with a Senate and two Consuls. Rome must have been idle enough to have 300 or so idle people in its early Senate. By about 50 BC, it had expanded to 900 people. And during the preceding 450 years Rome had expanded to include the whole of Italy, Spain, Gaul, Greece, and north Africa. Perhaps by this time, for one reason or other, Roman idleness was decreasing, and more and more power was being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people – like Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Finally, after a series of civil wars, all power was concentrated back in the hands of a single individual, Augustus Caesar.

So maybe Roman idleness first rose, and then fell. And its form of government reflected this, starting out as monarchy, becoming a republic, and then returning to what was effectively a monarchy again.  And the series of civil wars in Rome towards the end of the Republic suggest that Roman idleness was falling, and in the process people were being pushed out of government circles, and were fighting to stay in. These civil wars were also themselves a cause of loss of idleness: wars are times when people become busier.

Why might the idleness of the Roman Republic have fallen? It may have been that, as its government expanded, it also became increasingly ineffective and corrupt. It may have become ineffective because it had become too large and bureaucratic and unwieldy. It maybe took ages to decide on anything, and when it did, it probably decided to do things that benefited some people, but not others. And maybe it made lots of stupid rules and regulations (how about a ban on smoky oil lamps in taverns?) which increasingly hampered rather than helped people in their everyday lives.

The same process can be seen at work today throughout the Western world. The EU is a government superstructure that sits on top of a layer of national governments, which in turn sit on a layer of local or regional governments, in a sort of giant governmental wedding cake. The EU is terminally indecisive about everything. And it makes lots of hampering rules and regulations (e.g. smoking bans). EU politicians (and also many national politicians) live in a bubble, detached from the populations they are supposed to represent. It’s also corrupt: you can get very rich in the EU, and get a substantial pension, and even immunity from prosecution.

It’s no different in the USA, where Donald Trump – an elected modern consul – is trying to “drain the swamp” in the Senate and House and the equally corrupt and bloated US government. In both Europe and America, government is conducted more and more by an oligarchy of rich people, doing deals among themselves. Donald Trump is probably just as much an oligarch as Julius Caesar once was, and like him is also a populist. He wants to shrink the government, and that would remove influence from a lot of people who are currently very influential. US politics has become highly polarised between pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions. The possibility of civil war is being openly discussed. Meanwhile natural disasters – like two back-to-back hurricanes – have just reduced US idleness: a lot of people now have to work a lot harder to survive than they did a month or so back.

Last night I watched a discussion between pro-Trump Alex Jones and pro-Trump Steve Pieczenik. Alex Jones believes that Trump is becoming isolated by the anti-Trump “Deep State”, and surrounded and betrayed by anti-Trump advisors, possibly in preparation for a coup to overthrow him.  Steve Pieczenik doesn’t believe a word of it. He’s much more interested in the hurricanes (he lives in Florida). Their disagreement starts 10 minutes into the video below:

I’m more inclined to agree with Pieczenik than Jones. But what do I know?

Anyway, I hope I’ve set out an outline of the logic that may underlie the growth and decline of democracies, rather than just pointing to historical precedent.


About Frank Davis

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7 Responses to The Decline of Democracy

  1. beobrigitte says:

    State and federal environmental regulators have issued a blanket waiver for Florida electricity companies to violate clean air and water standards for the next two weeks.
    […] […]
    The assurance letter will allow utilities to operate outside restrictions mandated by their permits, including potentially using dirtier fuels, running for longer hours or electively bypassing pollution-control equipment.

    Have there been complaints from the “man-made-climate-change”-alarmists? Or are they keeping their mouths shut because they fear the wrath of the by the hurricanes severely affected people?

    If they can issue blanket waivers for electricity companies to violate clean air standards, why not issue blanket waivers for bars and restaurants to do the same with smoking bans? Perhaps this is the way smoking bans will end: blanket waivers issued during emergencies.
    Perhaps the likes of Deborah Arnott & healthist friends will volunteer to fly out to Barbuda etc. to bring the people salt, sugar and tobacco? After all, these 3 things can be used as first aids: as re-hydration (sugar + salt), providing a source of energy (much needed when there is NO idle time), as a first aid as as antibacterial agent (sugar + salt via osmosis, and the tobacco plant is know to have antibacterial properties) as well as stress relief (tobacco + sugar) and covering up a little the awful smell of decomposing plants as well as not yet found bodies.

    I would not be surprised if ASH et al was already reminding the stressed local politician of enforcing the smoking ban because “IT SAVES (fictional) LIVES”….
    And the healthists will be busy emailing the same politician about a healthy diet for the cheeeeldren….
    You got to get your priorities right!!!

    “Aileen” was the lamest storm I ever encountered last night. Even my bins (all 3 of them) stood this morning where they usually stand. Since the weather warning (yellow by the BBC!) put Liverpool pretty much in the middle of it, I expected to be hit and quickly send out all emails I thought I needed to send, brought my (in pots) tomatoes in, forgot about the bins and garden furniture and went to bed.
    I’m not complaining but I do begin to think that exaggerating major weather events + predicting the wrong areas so the climate-change-alarmists get more funding is a bit what it like crying wolf too often. It all goes tits up when the planet does what is always has done – climate changes and weather that comes with it naturally and increasingly fiercer. Not to mention the effects of sun activity (is that man-made, too?) on weather:
    Solar activity affects the Earth in many ways, some which we are still coming to understand.

    Damage to 21st-century satellites and other high-tech systems in space can be caused by an active Sun. Some of these systems are not protected by Earth’s atmospheric layers. So large solar flares have the potential to cause billions of dollars in damage to the world’s high-tech infrastructure—from GPS navigation to power grids to air travel to financial services.

    Radiation hazards for astronauts and satellites can be caused by a quiet Sun. Weak solar winds allow more galactic cosmic rays into the inner solar system.

    Weather on Earth can also be affected. According to Bob Berman, astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, NOAA scientists have now concluded that four factors determine global temperatures: carbon dioxide levels, volcanic eruptions, Pacific El Niño pattern, and the Sun’s activity.

    Global climate change including long-term periods of global cold, rainfall, drought, and other weather shifts may also be influenced by solar cycle activity.
    I do wonder if there is a general consensus not to annoy the “man-made-climate-change industry?

    • Rhys says:

      –I would not be surprised if ASH et al was already reminding the stressed local politician of enforcing the smoking ban because “IT SAVES (fictional) LIVES”….
      And the healthists will be busy emailing the same politician about a healthy diet for the cheeeeldren….
      You got to get your priorities right!!!–

      This reminds me of when one of the twits from the WHO (I can’t remember which one, though I could probably look it up) tweeted that the most important thing for the Syrians to do was to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.

      Yes, they have their priorities straight, all right.

  2. jaxthefirst says:

    “Why should any government continually expand upon its controls?”

    I guess it’s the old adage: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s almost like power is sort of addictive, but I don’t think that it’s ever seen that way, because “addiction” is only ever seen in terms of substances or, sometimes, activities, and is only ever seen as a bad thing. Whereas I think (and have always thought) that people can be addicted to anything – it just takes the right “key” for any individual and they’ll be hooked. I also think that the word “addicted” has been smeared by only ever being used in a negative context, when I believe that all “addiction” is, is a strong instinct to satisfy a need. At its root, it’s the drive that makes us seek out those things which we need for survival. We learn very early that eating, for example, does two things (1) it takes away the nasty hungry feeling and (2) it feels good into the bargain. So we learn very early in life that nasty feelings indicate that we have a need which isn’t being fulfilled, and that if we satisfy that need we feel good. Now, in a simpler, more basic life, those “addictive” instincts would probably only be directed towards those things that we genuinely need in order to survive, because that’s pretty much all there is around, but in today’s sophisticated, advanced society there are a plethora of other things available to us which we don’t actually need to survive, but they do give us that feeling of satisfaction and contentment – often even more so than the basic things that we do need. So we learn to desire those and to enjoy the feelings that those things give us as well as the “basic” things.

    But of course we’re all different, so we all have different “hooks” that pull us in. And inevitably, some of us will be addicted to power, and clearly it’s very likely that anyone who puts themselves into a position whereby they might be elected as an MP is probably very, very prone to being addicted to power. And, as any psychology textbook will tell you, one of the classic features of “addiction” is an increasing need for more and more of an addictive “thing” in order to get the same feelings of satisfaction. Hence the need for power-addicts, like politicians, to constantly push for more and more and more ways to control others. It’s an addiction. It’ll never be satisfied and any attempts to “wean” the addicts off their power-drug will result in strenuous resistance. Denial, of course, is another feature of addiction – hence the reason why no-one, least of all politicians themselves, will ever admit that any of their interfering, busybody, life-draining interventions into people’s lives is merely a manifestation of their addiction to the power they have been granted. It’ll always be “for the good of the nation’s health,” “for the sake of national security,” or (of course) “for the sake of the cheeeldren.” Never in a million years will they admit the real reason – “because we can, and because it makes us feel good.”

    All of which is the reason why you were quite right in your earlier comment about democracy inevitably descending into tyranny of some kind or another. Because it isn’t just politicians – it’s anyone or any group who are awarded (or seize) power for themselves. Just take a look at the silly extremes that previously-persecuted groups are now going to in order to exert that bit of power which politicians have awarded them (another addictive trait – trying to persuade everyone else to be just like you – “a drunk loves a drunk” and all that). They’re all at it – the anti-racists, the feminists, the cyclists, the parents of cheeeldren and, of course, the anti-smokers – their time is long gone, they’ve achieved pretty much everything that their precedessors claimed they wanted to achieve, but they just can’t “give it up.” Because they’re hooked. Power, it seems (to paraphrase the ghastly anti-smoking mantra) “as addictive as Heroin.” You might never have tried it and so have never got hooked, but then, one day, you take a hit and – wow! You’re hooked. Perhaps power itself should be banned!

    • Frank Davis says:

      These days more or less anything can be an “addiction”, it would seem.

      Perhaps scientists are addicted to knowledge. And Formula One drivers are addicted to speed. And musicians are addicted to sound. And clerics are addicted to God. And gardeners to flowers. And perhaps my computer orbital simulation model, on which I’ve been working for 22 years, has been a 22-year-long addiction to watching things going round in circles.

      But if everything can be described as an addiction of some sort, does the notion of addiction really tell us anything we didn’t know before? Isn’t it really just a way of expressing disapproval for what are usually other people’s pastimes.

  3. Rose says:

    Tobacco plant may ‘save lives’ in new flu vaccine trial, researchers say
    September 12, 2017

    “TEKTON Research in Austin is testing a vaccine that could be made faster than the current vaccine, using a plant many people might not associate with health benefits: tobacco.
    George Miles got his trial flu vaccination at TEKTON Research on Monday.
    “This is the first time I’ve ever taken the flu shot,” said Miles.
    It’s part of a clinical trial that tests a new type of flu vaccine.

    TEKTON Medical Director Greg Lucksinger said, currently, the flu vaccine is made by growing the flu virus in a chicken egg.
    “It’s very time consuming, extremely expensive, and difficult to produce flu virus in chicken eggs,” said Lucksinger. “Everyday when they do that, they literally use millions of eggs, and it can take many weeks.”
    But this trial vaccine would make proteins in a tobacco plant. It would tell your immune system that something is wrong, and it needs to fight back.”

    “They’re trying to find ways to make the vaccine faster, cheaper, so they can make a more nimble response to outbreaks,” said Lucksinger. “Flu vaccine obviously is critical to controlling outbreaks. It’s really the only good tool we have, other than trying to avoid infection by washing hands, and wearing masks — things like that.”
    He said it may also open doors to some patients who couldn’t take the typical flu vaccine in the past.

    “An added advantage with this production method is people that are allergic to chicken egg protein, that cannot normally safely receive the vaccine, should be able to take this vaccine,”

    An Australian Tobacco Plant May Help Us Finally Eliminate Polio
    !3th September 2017

    “In a study published in the journal Nature Communications in August, researchers from the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom report that they successfully produced a polio vaccine using a tobacco-related plant called Nicotiana benthamiana. The plant manufactures virus-like protein particles that can be used to create vaccines.

    The team chose the plant, which is native to Australia, because it grows quickly, has an effective plant immune system and is good at synthesizing proteins.
    “It just happens to be a workhorse plant that’s been used for decades in plant research,” said Andrew Macadam, co-author of the study and principal scientist at the U.K.’s National Institute for Biological Standards and Control. “The plants are easy to work with.”

    “The World Health Organization helped fund this research in hopes of fully eradicating polio. Since current vaccines still require the live poliovirus, WHO hopes to seek alternatives.”

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