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Problems of Democracy

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University of Toronto St. George
Political Science

POL101 (Lecture 5) Oct. 18 , 2010 Problems of Democracy Democracy and Equality Rules of the game Distinct, discreet rules of the game (political institutions, how elections are run, when and if you can vote) Structural underpinnings of democracy are law; most importantly human rights About the rule of law as opposed to the rule of man (to a fair degree democracies are predictable) Managing diversity Democracy seems to do a better job at managing diversity Oftentimes characterized by their moderating powers (most voters tend to vote somewhere in the middle) ->moderates excess, and radicalism Adhere to the norms of inclusion, as citizens we are included in the political system Institutionalized uncertainty What makes democracy stable is that we never know what the next election outcome will be, meaning that if you lose this election you have every expectation to win next time Next election is always uncertain – contributing to stability, different leaders Variations of democracy Institutional make-up of democracies vary around the world (presidential in the US, parliamentary in Canada) No one model of democracy, every democracy is structured by a different set of rules Dynamism by which they can change the rules through constitution Equality Core principal of democracy (I) Equal Opportunity Political equality (all citizens treated politically equally, essence of democracy is that we will all enjoy equality) Procedural democracy (apply the rules of the game equally to all individuals; equality of opportunity through fair elections) Polyarchy (Robert Dahl): Public contestation –> equality of opportunity: all have the ability to contest, argue, fight it out with words; inclusive participation –> everyone enjoys the right equally to contest (II) Equality of opportunity is one of the core principals of democracy Equality of Outcome (Consequences of democracy) Political-economic equity Procedural versus substantive democracy -> rules matter insofar that they facilitate equal and fair outcomes Example: democratic warfare state -> theory of the rise of the welfare state (government that promote equitable socio and economic outcome) Correlation between the size of the working class, the rates of unionization, and the presence of an elected party (all erodes out of a democracy) “No democracy has ever experienced a famine.” Putting practices of equality into practice is where the real challenge exists (some of the inherent problems of democracy) Voter Turnout Rates (Why do so few people vote despite equality of opportunity?) Collective action problem: (i) Costs (ii) Benefits (iii) Free-riding (Collectivist reading) Not surprising due to the fact that it is not “rational” to vote Difficult to mobilize people to go out and vote The cost of mobilizing and engaging in political action is costly Costs of voting are high; information cost of voting is costly Benefits of voting are not entirely clear, thus we tend to free ride; certainly enjoying the benefits As rational actors, people free ride – someone else will vote, and they will get the benefits There really isn’t any incentive to vote, or immediate material benefits Sense of social solidarity by voting One of the challenges of procedural democracy, we don’t exercise or use equality of opportunity Challenges (#2) 2. The Fallacy of Democratic Pluralism Canada US Presidential Mid-Term Democratic pluralism – assumes political equality Example: US health care reform US has consistently failed to deliver universal healthcare American political system is institutionally fragmented; a bill is required to get passed in order to get anything done Tremendous institutional fragmentation Many veto points along the political process where someone can say no Privileges the political pow
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