The worsening global economic situation can be directly attributed to poorly run and or corrupt governments and their lack of transparency. Governments that have been elected by the people tend to show the nature of their true objectives once an election is complete. Today’s political and economic climate must adopt more social policies to meet the needs of rapidly advancing domestic and national communities. In this essay I will argue that more socialist policies will contribute to a healthier society as a whole. I will also show how a more social-minded government will lead to a healthier political and economic climate and increase political participation. I will also argue how the importance of a healthy population can impact the democratic process and help to promote a more equal society.
In current free market economies, it is becoming more difficult to distinguish between political and economic spheres. The concentration of power between corporations of the free market and heads state have created the illusions of a thriving democracies rather than actual functioning democracies for the people. Governments should be in place to run societies according to the will of the people. With the rapidly growing gap of inequality, it is much more difficult for uneducated or poor people to become involved in the political process, which only excels the growth of that gap. When a family is concerned only about getting food on the table, they likely do not have time to pay attention to or participate in the political process. Adversely, a middle class family, which does not worry about where their next meal will come from, likely has more time and money set aside to invest in the political process. Furthermore, it is even more probable that a wealthy person may own a business, is an executive of some sort, well educated and may even have friends that are politically connected. As Lipset points out:
From Aristotle down to the present, men have argued that only in a wealthy society in which the mass of the population could intelligently participate in politics and could develop the self-restraint necessary to avoid succumbing to the appeals of irresponsible demagogues. A society divided between a large impoverished mass and a small favored elite would result either in oligarchy (dictatorial rule of the small upper stratum) or in tyranny (popularly based dictatorship). (Lipset, 1959, p.75)
However, it is also becoming evident that government is evolving into a tool of the free market, whereas where one would think the mandate for a truly democratic government would be to fulfill the interests of the people. The situation instead, is seeing the interests of corporations pitched to the people as policies that would benefit them. Therefore, based on this belief, current free markets are anything but social minded. As the free market further manipulates governments for their benefit, the interests of the proletariat continue to be eroded. In addition to this, the government appears to be a buffer zone between the elite and the rest of the people in society. As an instrument of the free market, the government has been put in a position to absorb the major concerns of the people, to try and keep them happy without compromising their personal agendas, and to prohibit interference with favourable policy. Dunn argues that:
An ideal political party, accordingly, would need to display great depth of social understanding and executive skill in realizing its social aspirations, with equal, resolution in political combat and equal skill in defeating its adversaries in this combat. In practice of course, parties display these merits in very different proportions and the virtues which they require in leaders and members are often distressingly at odds with each other: openness, decency and scruple against daring, energy and will – a sad pessimism of the will against a ludicrous optimism of what passes for the intelligence etc. (Dunn, 1984, p.35)
Not only are politicians dealing with the hand of the corporate world, they are also constantly quarreling amongst themselves, always jockeying for a more favourable political positions. And as McKenzie points out “governments controlled by politicians or bureaucrats may seek to improve their own welfare. This could result in economic inefficiency if society’s and public officials’ interests differ” (McKenzie, 2006, p.35).
And indeed most of the time those interests do differ from public interest. When capitalists are maximizing their profits, and the governments gross domestic product (GDP) statistics are favourable, then government and economy are considered stable and appealing. In contrast, a more social minded government may seek to protect the country from the volatility of the free market and aim to ensure stability, not just economically, but for the overall well being of the population. King and Szelenyi argue that in a more socially conscious state the best-suited overseers would be professionals whose priorities (in this case, economically) would be to assure safety and security, preparing for and avoiding potential losses:
The scientific planner in a centrally planned economy is not supposed to maximize profits; rather, his or her job is to decide precisely where and how much loss should be allowed in the total economy. The books still have to be balanced, but this under no circumstances assumes that, in investing your next rouble as a scientific planner, you will be guided by the principle of maximum return. (2004, p.195)
They go on to say, “After all, the system of central planning was invented to overcome the anarchy of the market, to abolish the system in which production is oriented towards exchange value rather than use value” (King & Szelenyi, 2004). This is an important statement since it implies a direct relationship between the government and the market. More importantly, I believe that aside from having a regulated market, the resulting stability would create lower unemployment, a smaller gap between rich and poor. A great example of this is in Sweden, where a labor market board, which contains members from all aspects of society, works together to identify potential economic issues. The board works to stabilize wages or relocate and even retrain workers for industries that call for more workers. This too, is happening in an advanced capitalist or some would say socially corporatist country. A key difference is that Sweden has social policies in place to ensure the stability of their own economy before that of that free market such as in the United States. Olsen reinforces this point:
Sweden’s well-organized and powerful labour movement, more collectivist and statist values, and more unified state structure have left it less vulnerable to new economic and political pressures and better able to maintain or develop different patterns of adaptation to the global environment than other nations, such as Canada or the United States, where such conditions do not obtain. (Olsen, 2002, p.3)
It is obvious that a more stable government and economy combined with a low rate of unemployment will undoubtedly lead to a less impoverished country. Where government in countries like the United States are advocating less regulation and more privatization of public jobs and social services, it would not be difficult to attribute these changes to the growing gap of inequality there. The ‘freedoms’ of the corporations have allowed jobs to be shipped over seas for lower wages, which may have otherwise been jobs that may have supported a family in the USA. “The recent increase in poverty in the United States and in the United Kingdom, resulting largely from unemployment and the retrenchment of social benefits, shows clearly the role of full employment and social services in preventing poverty and maintaining minimum standards” (Mishra, 1990, p.55-6). It is important to note Mishra’s correlation between retrenchment of social policies and the increase in poverty. By having minimum standards in place, there is assurance to all that health and employment are priorities that will be delivered to the people. Having such assurances leads to a happier and more confident workforce who can rely on the safety and security of standards set in place.
Changes to capitalist systems can successfully be implemented as seen in Sweden. Social programs have been able to flourish and continue educating a healthy population for the future. The impact of free healthcare and free education alone are able to ease pressure on lower income families who then may be able engage in the political process. It is extremely important for a democracy to have maximum participation, so as to give a voice to issues that may otherwise not be acknowledged had not poorer citizens taken part. As Norris points out, “societies which invest in the human capital of their populations are more likely to sustain democratic regimes, as literacy and education help to generate the access to political information and the cognitive skills needed to process this information” (Norris, 2008, p.90). This does not necessarily mean that a country must be rich to have a successfully run government, but more importantly a society that has access to education, food and healthcare. Having a healthy and educated population will not only increase participation, but also can raise important questions to current leaders and even create new parties and, therefore stimulate change within society that may never have come to fruition. Funding for more social programs is necessary step in the evolution of democracy. Welfare states such as Sweden have proved this with, low unemployment, low inequality and high levels of health and education. It seems trivial that many countries would completely disregard or slash spending on these critical social expenditures for the sake of private enterprise and profit.
There is no perfect political model that has yet been found which satisfies everyone in every community. There are poor people starving at one end of the globe and there are CEO’s sitting on billions of dollars on the other. And while there are various types of political power structures in place across the world, there is no such structure for capitalism. Capitalism has been able to flourish by exploiting people, resources and most importantly, the governments that control those people and resources. Growing inequality will only further societies from democracy and to have the capacity to organize and participate. Governments must be wrestled back from the corporate world that aims only for profit, even if that profit comes from cutting social spending or shipping jobs over seas in search of lower wages. Policies advocated and lobbied to government by the rich and corporate world are policies that aim to maximize their profits and weaken the power of the masses. Social spending is a key part of the process to regain control of our system that has been weakened by capitalism. If through social spending society can become healthier and more educated, it will be more likely to successfully mobilize and take part in the political process. Maximum participation in the democratic process by an equal and healthy population will strengthen it and help to dilute what are currently rigid and unyielding political systems in the corporate dominated west. Regulating corporations and taking more control of our economy is also a key to creating more socially stable government and economies. Although it is possible that mass social movements can work positively towards progressing change, it is more likely that a population which engages all aspects of society in a common forum will have better success in the long term. Changes within the system still must be debated and agreed upon by rich, poor, literate and illiterate. Regardless of where, every branch of society must be represented in a common forum for their communities to successfully flourish. Getting everyone to the same table is the difficulty. Lack of will, education, power or health are all contributing factors in the difficulty to have equal and fair representation in a public forum which acknowledges, respects and acts together to solve the most important issues of their respective communities. Social policies must become a priority not just in the western world but globally as well to ensure the health and safety worldwide and provide a voice to each and each every individual within it.
Dunn, John. (1984). The Politics of Socialism: An Essay in Political Theory. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press
King, Lawrence &, Szelenyi, Ivan. (2004). Theories of the New Class: Intellectuals and Power. Minneapolis, MN, USA: University of Minnesota Press
Lipset, M. Seymour. (1959). Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy. The American Political Science Review. Vol. 53, No. 1, pp. 69-105
Norris, Pippa. (2008). Driving Democracy: Do Power-Sharing Institutions Work? New York, NY, USA; Cambridge University Press
Mishra, Ramesh. (1990). The Welfare State in Capitalist Society: Policies of Retrenchment and Maintenance in Europe, North America and Australia. Toronto, ON, Canada: University of Toronto Press
Olsen, Gregg. (2002). The politics of the Welfare State: Canada, Sweden, and the United States. Don Mills, ON, Canada: Oxford University Press