05 July 2009

Bernie Ecclestone on Government

Apparently Bernie Ecclestone, on being accused of a dictatorial approach to his business, made the reasonable point that democracy isn't as good as it's cracked up to be, and followed with a rather ill-considered defence of Hitler.

I suspect the comments were off the top of his head, as they show signs of not having been thought through. Politicians are too worried about elections, it is true, but modern dictators generally come to power on the same basis of mass support as democratic politicians, and hold on to power by maintaining mass support. Ecclestone acknowledged that, even going much further than I would in claiming that Hitler had been "pushed to do things he didn't want to do", but he didn't draw the relevant conclusions about the similar natures of populist dictatorships and democracies.

I think the difference between a democratic leader and a dictator is not so much whether elections are held, as whether the normal expectation of the society is that the leader will remain in power. If that is the norm, such that opposition is unrespectable, then elections can be held and even be reasonably fair, but the government will still be considered a dictatorship. I would put Putin, for instance, somewhere in that category.

Ecclestone said that Max Moseley would make a competent dictator for Britain, based on his experience of working with him. That may be true, but a struggle for political power does not in general promote competent managers such as Ecclestone assures us Mosely is. It promotes the likes of Hitler, who I suspect would have done a poor job of managing a motor racing competition. A dictator Moseley would have to spend all his attention and skills on hanging onto power, and would not be able to manage the country like a profitable entertainment business.

Politics is the problem, and a dictatorship is not an alternative to politics. It is merely a rearrangement of who the ruler has to do politics with. Because the dictator can be deposed by a rival at any time, he does not even have the secure truce period of a democrat's term of office. Every year is election year. This is one reason why dictators tend to be even more tyrannical than democratic governments.

This is also the reason why attempting to make government better by making it more responsive to the population only makes things worse. The contradictions show through in every attempt at reform, such as have been put forward by Douglas Carswell. Yes, politicians would be more accountable if they could be recalled. That would indeed be more democratic. And if every year was election year, would government be better, or worse? The opposing forces of democratic ideology and realism result in an equilibrium, which is as much democracy as we can get without producing government so drastically bad that people start to realise that democracy is the problem, not the solution. And switching to a new Moselyism would cause just the same problems as would "fixing" the undemocratic elements of the status quo.

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