Sunday, June 09, 2013

Democracy and Efficiency

Corruption is always rooted in human character. But these days -- at least in Canada -- Robert Sibley suggests that it might also have something to do with the cult of efficiency:

Indeed, our culture of expediency is in some ways the consequence of a technologically-minded attitude that regards efficiency and effectiveness as the central purpose and goal of governance. The essence of technology, as the philosophers teach, is efficiency. The whole point of technology is to close as best as possible the gap between means and ends. The fondness of Trudeau and his successors for “centralization” reflects the desire to close the gap as much as possible between the inefficient means of parliamentary democracy with a more efficient means of decision-making. For the centralizers, many aspects of the democratic tradition — debate, committees, hearings, compromise and consensus building, and, yes, even voting — are outmoded, inefficient and increasingly ineffective in suitably responding to our high-speed, never-stop, crisis-a-minute world.

Thus, a government which tells us that it is "focused on the economy" outlaws strikes before they begin. It short circuits environment assessment because it slows down the process of getting oil to market. And it imposes closure on debate, because debate merely puts off the inevitable -- passage of a bill.

That emphasis on getting things done opens the door to political corruption:

This devotion to efficiency breeds the cultural of expediency that fosters political corruption. Corruption, as political scientist Samuel Huntington once stated, can be defined as “behaviour of public officials which deviates from accepted norms in order to serve private ends.” (Private ends can include political interests.) Is this not what we’ve seen in the Senate expenses scandal? Politicians identify their self-interest with the public interest, assuming they’re entitled to every entitlement, advantage and benefit they can obtain, whether private or public, monetary or political, by the most expedient (or efficient) means.

And, therefore, we are left with the absurd proposition that self-interest is in the public interest. If the Harper government stands for anything, it is that self interest is in the country's best interest. That is why Mike Duffy was made a senator. That is why we have the lowest corporate taxes in our history. And that is why the government is devoted to shutting down the flow of information. That information would make it abundantly clear that the government carries no brief for the public interest.

Democracy -- by its very nature -- is inefficient. So is the justice system. But we used to believe that democracy and justice were more important than efficiency. Indeed, we used to believe that democracy made justice possible.


Danneau said...

Doesn't this just encapsulate the whole mess that we've created as we've switched the role of citizen for the more comfortable and less challenging consumer. Efficiency my produce rafts of consumer goods, but corruption ensures that the resultant wealth ends up in the pockets of the few, who then perpetuate the fraud by using wealth to build power in a cycle that looks remarkably like Ottawa and whatever provincial capital we might choose. Great essay.

Lorne said...

Another, perhaps even greater casualty of this cult of efficiency, Owen, is any kind of grand or defining vision for the country. In its none-too-subtle message to the electorate, the powers-that-be are telling us that we can no longer afford to dream dreams that provide any kind of cohesive national purpose.

We might as well be ruled by chartered accountants if that is all there is.

Owen Gray said...

Sibley understands the mentality of the technocrat, Danneau. And that is what Stephen Harper -- and many of our "leaders" -- are.

Owen Gray said...

In fact, the chartered accountant as king isn't far off, Lorne. It's worth remembering that Mr. Harper's response to the Attawapiskat tragedy was to send in an accountant.

the salamander said...

.. thus Canada has not a single glowing heart within a majority government that is no longer called The Government of Canada ..

Instead we have The Harper Government which embraces the root cause of electoral fraud.. elections and Canadian voters

Owen Gray said...

When all is said and done, salamander, we still get the government we deserve.

And, if enough of us are stupid or ignorant enough to accept the proposition that self interest is in the nation's best interest, then we are doomed.

Anonymous said...

What do we do about the Politician, that will use every dirty tactic in the book, to be elected? A Politician that has no, decency, ethics nor morals, what-so-ever? A blatant Dictator who is a control freak. No-one is permitted to say nor do anything, without the great Dictators approval? This is in the House and outside the House?

Don't forget, Harper hides behind, millions of dollars of security. There is nothing in this country, Harper doesn't control. This is why some country's, take up an armed resistance. However, Canadians don't behave as such. We were brought up to believe in, good over evil. Canada is no longer that country. Canada is, a cesspool of corruption. Canada's image on the international scene, is in tatters. Canada is no longer a democratic Canada. Canadians must change their mind sets.

Owen Gray said...

As salamander says, Anon, the root cause of electoral fraud can be found in elections and Canadian voters.

the salamander said...

.. the 'root cause' meme is facetious.. satirical .. ironic.. and would be comedic if not for how dreadful our Canadian electoral status quo is .. So I apologize for my poor attempt.. and usage.

I cannot accept that 'we still get the government that we deserve' .. yet I understand your message.

As an idealist.. I wonder why we sing our song ..
Yes, that 'with glowing hearts' - 'stand on guard for thee' song .. 'true north strong and free'

I promise to use it more and more as my compass .. or measuring stick.. or reference point.. when I feel lost or disillusioned.. confused.. or deeply offended & angry.

Can you steer me to a single Canadian who can convince me or you.. that our current government, our unelected PMO, the Conservative Party, their lawyers, cronies, lobbyists, captured media, or 'advisors' or electoral service bureaus or petroleum or energy advocates .. have a single 'glowing heart' among them.. ?

Does Dean Del Mastro or Bruce Carson or Mike Duffy or Peter Van Loan or Arthur Hamilton or Jenni Byrne make you feel like humming the theme to Oh Canada ? How about Joe Oliver or Peter Kent or Ms Wallin .. ?

Or do you feel like weeping for the future of Canada, and young Canadians when you contemplate these Harper Brand self interest droogs ?

As always, your warm, open forum and true Canadian journalism and comment is highly appreciated & valued

Owen Gray said...

Believe me, salamander,
I understand your anger and I share it. As for one Canadian, let me suggest Davis Suzuki.

More than anyone, perhaps, he understands what is at stake. And he continues to remind all of us what the consequences of this mad worship of money will be.

It is a far, far better thing he has done.