Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Political debate at its best...  

I urge you to take the time to follow this TED talk (20 min.) and then note if your opinions on one-party rule vs. democracy have changed at all.


Then read this careful response [also worth your time]. An excerpt:
Like Li, I do not like the messianic tone some have invoked to support democracy. I support democracy on pragmatic grounds. The single most important benefit of democracy is its ability to tame violence. In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker provided these startling statistics: During the 20th century, totalitarian regimes were responsible for 138 million deaths, of which 110 million occurred in communist countries. Authoritarian regimes caused another 28 million deaths. Democracies killed 2 million, mainly in their colonies as well as with food blockades and civilian bombings during the wars. Democracies, as Pinker pointed out, have trouble even bringing themselves to execute serial murderers. Democracies, Pinker argued, have “a tangle of institutional restraints, so a leader can’t just mobilize armies and militias on a whim to fan out over the country and start killing massive numbers of citizens.”
Contrary to what he was apparently told when he was a Berkeley hippie, the idea of democracy is not that it leads to a nirvana but that it can help prevent a living hell. Democracy has many, many problems. This insurance function of democracy — of mitigating against disasters — is often forgotten or taken for granted, but it is the single most important reason why democracy is superior to every other political system so far invented by human beings. Maybe one day there will be a better system than democracy, but the Chinese political system, in Li’s rendition, is not one of them. 
To have the opportunity to balance these two views is also a more common event in democracies I would think. But to see political debate done well and persuasively can only remind us of what we have lost in our public sphere. I found Li's suggestions persuasive until the critique jolted my memory of what our democracy has been and could be again. In fact, upon reflection I think the our two political systems could pass each other going opposite directions. Not a strong chance, but a real one.

[via Mankiw]

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