Monday, September 03, 2012

We don't need or want a CEO for president

Think about it: have you ever elected your boss or voted on the price tag for the goods or services you produce? Of course, not. Business functions pretty much as a dictatorship, not a democracy. Bosses command, employees obey.

That's not the way democracy is supposed to function. Democracy is about people governing themselves. We have elections, discussions, votes. The more the merrier.

Montesquieu was fond of saying that democracy was like a raft going down rapids, always on the verge of overturning; even if it does, the raft will float on. Monarchy, he added, was like a stately ship capable of sailing the seven seas; but fire one cannonball at a precise spot and it would sink like a rock (this was especially true of the galleons of his day).

Today, democracy's antagonist is not monarchy but plutocracy, which is government by the wealthy (and their corporations).

The style of plutocracy is that of corporations -- slick, shimmering, always promising the rainbow's end with each new product. The yardstick is money. You're smart if you have it; dumb and lazy if you don't. In plutocracy, everything should make a profit, even your family, your friendships and your leisure.

Everything should be efficient: if some way could be found, all the rich people would have one servant, a single person pushing the buttons of immense machinery to make them happy. The rest of us ... well ... we're dumb and lazy and didn't beat the button-pusher to the job, we should all be unemployed and poor, but grateful for any bone they throw us.

In plutocracy, money has disparate and unrepresentative weight in policy decisions. Elections are won by whomever spends the most.

Democracy is the very opposite. It's always trying to improve on itself and its ability to serve people well, which is the yardstick by which it is measured. Every person counts, no matter what. Because people are self-contradictory and riddled with flaws, democracy is usually very messy, slow, unglamorous and full of disagreements.

The best person to run a plutocracy is a chief executive officer.

The best person to run a democracy, however, is a a president, someone who merely steers the messy, inefficient and unprofitable collection of human beings we call society according to the will of its people.

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