Democracy in disarray - and not just in Papua New Guinea
13 May 2016
PAPUA New Guinea seems to be on that slow but inexorable slide towards the fate of so many post-colonial countries in which a very small elite enriches itself at the expense of the great majority of citizens.
This depressing pattern has played itself out across the world, regardless of whether countries are governed by an authoritarian or ostensibly democratic government.
This phenomenon seems to me to represent clear evidence that the classic liberal democratic model of governance is a great deal harder to establish and maintain than its advocates, including me, have previously understood.
Worse still, the capitalist economic model that ultimately triumphed over communism has proven to have some major drawbacks unless it is very tightly regulated and controlled.
Basically, human avarice and greed, if unleashed without restraint, produce some very nasty results, with enormous wealth being steadily concentrated in the hands of a relative handful of super wealthy corporations and individuals.
This is, inevitably, very bad for democracy, as the managerial and owner classes can and do exert enormous political influence to defend and entrench their economic interests.
I think that the use of the Marxist term "class" is entirely appropriate to describe these people as they manifest the main characteristic associated with this term, being in effective control over the production and distribution of critical goods and services.
In Papua New Guinea, for example, we have the spectacle of a prime minister and government acting in support of vested interests and powerful elites, all the while in open defiance of judicial authority and the rule of law.
Most members of parliament and the national media have been either unwilling or unable to defend the rule of law, which lies at the very heart of an effective and functional democracy.
Meanwhile, in Turkey, President Erdogan is exerting all of his influence and efforts to accumulate more and more executive power, slowly stripping away the hard won secular rights established by the country's great founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Erdogan's biggest political success to date has been to blackmail Europe into allowing Turkish citizens to have unrestricted travel rights in Europe in exchange for cutting off the influx of refugees from the Middle East conflicts. This is a reflection of his ruthless application of power, as well as the weakness and division amongst Europe's political leaders.
In the USA, the current presidential election seems likely to end up being a contest between a multi-billionaire property developer with no experience at any level of government and a woman whose track record can best be described as patchy and much of whose financial support apparently comes from powerful Wall Street based financiers.
So, we a left with the dismal prospect of some of the least impressive presidential candidates in modern history being likely to fight it out for the role of "leader of the free world".
In Australia, we have a multi-millionaire former merchant banker pitted against a former union official, very much reflecting the traditional capital versus labour contest which dominated much of politics throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It is arguable that what is happening in PNG is merely a more extreme example of a pernicious malaise that has spread across the democratic world in the post-communist era.
In the absence of any serious contest of ideas from the left of politics, the so-called neo-conservatives have been able to dominate the political process, imposing their ideology upon us all.
Thus, we are all enjoined to enthusiastically sign up to what I regard as "casino capitalism", where it is winner takes all and the devil takes the hindmost.
Iin Australia, despite the object lesson offered by what happened to the US and European property markets in 2007-08, we have inflated the "mother of all property bubbles", indebting ourselves to a level unrivalled anywhere else in the world in the process.
All this is in the utterly mistaken belief that everyone can be a winner in the property "casino". How dumb have we been to swallow this nonsense. More importantly, how much suffering will have to be endured when the wheel of fortune stops spinning, as it always does?
We are rapidly regressing into a form of capitalism that prevailed in the 18th and 19th centuries. True, its worst excesses have been disguised or curbed because a "rising tide has lifted all boats", but there is now abundant evidence that this metaphorical tide is no longer rising.
Across the world, central banks are desperately trying to reinflate their countries' economies by slashing interest rates and engaging in quantitative easing (basically throwing money at the financial system). In the face of clear evidence that these tactics have failed, other than to inflate huge asset bubbles, central banks are supposedly contemplating using "helicopter money" that is, literally handing out cash to citizens to spend.
There are no precedents for such action and no-one knows what their long term impacts may be, so we are truly entering unexplored economic territory.
It has been said that any fool can make money when the economic tide is rising but what happens when the tide begins to fall and the boats are left high and dry, as must inevitably happen? What then for the people?
Extending this analogy, PNG is paddling along with its little canoe already shipping a fair bit of water. With the tide running out faster, the captain's capacity to guide the canoe safely to shore becomes extremely important.
And what is PNG's captain doing to guide the canoe to safety? Why, he is busily arguing about his right to be captain, not focussing on what is happening to the "ship of state".
But PNG's captain is not alone in this. All over the world, it seems that elected leaders are focussed primarily on staying in power, not on the task of leadership. They spend their time reacting to events rather than acting to shape those events.
The world's democracies seem to have spawned a generation of politicians who, with few exceptions, do not know how to govern (as distinct from managing or administering or oversighting the routine work of government).
If, by chance, Donald Trump should become president of the USA, we will see the ultimately expression of this tendency, with a man having precisely zero experience in government gaining the world's top government job. What could possibly go wrong?
PNG's elected leaders, in the main, are sleep walking into disaster, albeit in company with many politicians in other countries.
That they are not alone will be of no comfort to the ordinary Papua New Guineans, who will bear the brunt of the ensuing socio-economic debacle.
Of PNG, the key is still democracy, its stability and efficacy.
Of the 'still standing', who has grasp, gumption and 'go forward'?
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 19 May 2016 at 11:02 AM
Why do we have to write in cipher? Why make life more difficult then it already is? And if you cannot deliver? What then is your intention, please?
A whole lot of questions?
Posted by: Raymond Sigimet | 17 May 2016 at 08:04 PM
Peter Warwick - thank you for your high praise.
It has been a struggle trying to write things as simply as possible without losing the poetry in the process.
Your comment assures me that I have successfully achieved that objective, although clearly "this does not touch your process".
Indeed my poetry does not have a bootlace to compare with Lindsay F Bond.
But bootlaces are cheap to replace at a whim or at will.
But I believe my poetry attends to the sole/soul.
When the sole/soul is destroyed the shoe/vessel is discarded/dead.
You couldn't lace up a dead shoe even with the greatest of skill.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 17 May 2016 at 06:53 PM
For Michael Dom,
Sori tru ya, but your poetry is not a bootlace on that of Lindsay F Bond.
LFB writes such cryptic poetry, it consumes a few idle hours try to decipher it.
LFB should be a cryptologist for the Australian Secret Services. Imagine the Chinese intercepting a message written by LFB. They would be scratching their heads for hours. Could even be a message, "We start bombing China in 24 hours", but still Chinese head scratching.
We are safe with LFB - all the way with LFB!
Posted by: Peter Warwick | 17 May 2016 at 05:58 PM
Democracy is a thing many-varied and not necessarily many-splendorous.
A thesis may yet emerge with respect to PNG as a nation, to road-map through a topography of group alliances and obligations, care and control, custom and collectiveness.
Whither that documentation and whether its reception?
One of the contributors to PNG a few years ago, wrote of a possibility that PNG may experience (need?) a dictatorial (stronman) regime. Can that item be revisited?
Also for the grin of a Cheshire Cat and more or less persons:
From lashing by cream amidst extreme,
en passant revolting mood,
look long forward for good.
Froward ho, enter pleasant revolt
as Wyclif spurred on a Hus
look like-wise, lessen fuss.
Free thinking; unleash future-ing theme;
on Luther’s script yearning good
loom dreams: could, would, should.
Fast-forward, entice how laws may deem
of unborn, spurned by our tuss
doom-bound; was it us?
Five versing forlornly seems retort
yet plainly and understood
looks, hopes for and lauds good.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 16 May 2016 at 08:14 AM
Depending on the fat content, which is likely to be considerable on today's favourite human diets, and their physico-chemical potential to form micelles in the fluid medium (that is groups of cells bound together), yes, faeces will rise to the top.
The description may sound familiar.
They're called scum, and the faecal particles may share the same name but tend to be a lot more nutritious for microbial and plant growth.
In short, while the recycling of faeces may provide benefits to mankind's survival, the kind of human waste recycled in parliament provides very little of value to humanity.
Please remember this when you go to the toilet er ballot next year.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 14 May 2016 at 06:48 PM
Maybe Karl Marx’s philosophy was better. The Chinese model seems to be working.
Posted by: Marcus Mapen | 14 May 2016 at 04:53 PM
Phil - I think perhaps it may be an oblique analogy that excreta rather than cream also rises to the surface?
Posted by: Harry Topham | 14 May 2016 at 04:25 PM
Abraham Lincoln's philosophy has degenerated into government versus the people!
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 14 May 2016 at 02:03 PM
Chris - This is a fabulous article and much of what you have written is reiterated in a great book entitled 'The Internet is not the answer' by Andrew Keen.
He writes about the winner take all philosophy in Silicon Valley and how technocracy attempts to monetise almost every human activity and the impact of the internet on unemployment and economic inequality.
George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were such visionaries.
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 14 May 2016 at 08:44 AM
Phil, wasn't Murphy (that mythical Irishman), an optimist?
He always reckoned that if anything could be stuffed up, it would be.
Perhaps you have to be Celtic to understand Murphy's Law?
Posted by: Paul Oates | 13 May 2016 at 05:54 PM
Does anyone know what Lindsay is talking about?
I met him in Port Moresby in 2014 and he is a nice bloke with a kind heart but I can't fathom half the comments he makes on PNG Attitude.
I suppose the Irish are famous for their melancholy Paul but it's bloody hard to be optimistic these days.
As Chris says, we've got a choice between a party in thrall to big business and another too scared to stand up for its ideals.
I did the Vote Compass thing and apparently I should vote for the Greens. With them madly trying to stitch up preferences with anyone and everyone there's no way I'd vote for them.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 13 May 2016 at 03:14 PM
Bertrand Russell did warn us.
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 13 May 2016 at 01:09 PM
So a democracy denote? Is it where the ilk of fat globules are reduced in size and dispersed uniformly through the rest of the pool? Is hope in homogenization that ‘pastorising’ permeates?
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 13 May 2016 at 11:02 AM
O'Neill declares that the detainees are free. But they are in a secure naval base and have to sign an agreement to be resettled in PNG before they are allowed to wander outside the compound.
Some deal. Some freedom. Some prime minister.
Posted by: Peter Kranz | 13 May 2016 at 10:21 AM
First class article Chris. I think it sums up the conclusions that a lot of thinking people are slowly beginning to appreciate.
I've always thought that capitalism must inevitably disappear up its own fundamental orifice.
And I love Robin's conspiracy theory that it has all been planned so that "they" can take over the world - where is James Bond when you need him.
I wonder what the capitalists will do when they've squeezed the last drop of blood out of the stone - start eating each other no doubt.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 13 May 2016 at 08:44 AM
The real issue revolves around one's perspective. Exactly what is good government and what are a person's knowledge, education and expectations.
To those few who were part of a very simple but responsible and accountable system as we had prior to PNG Independence, good government evidently doesn't seem to be practiced almost anywhere these days.
The recognised benchmarks of the past appear to be irrelevant to today's young people. Government of the people, for the people by the people appears to be a distant memory that hasn't come down through even our living memory. Emi no komput!
Almost 1 million young Australians are reportedly not prepared to register to vote when they see the choices or alternatives they are being given to vote for. As an American once said: 'No matter who you vote for, you end up with a politician.'
That fact appears to be lost on the current leaders who appear to be unable to grasp the fact that they and their 'modus operandi' are the problem.
So what's the answer? In the old days the poor leaders led their people to disaster and the good leaders led their people to a better life. At least that's what we were taught when we were young and fairy tales always had a good ending.
Phil, your 'blues' are starting to become infectious.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 13 May 2016 at 08:31 AM
Great comment, Chris. The question might be raised as to whether PNG's general air of optimism regarding faith in the UN to solve their problems is well placed or misplaced?
In regard to the economic dilemmas posed by current events, I don't find it strange that a chaotic landscape is emerging, as you depict.
I do presume the intended solutions to arise from the chaos to be well founded upon plans made by architects of the New World Organisation.
I think it will largely take the shape of precepts allied to Technocracy, a process evolving from earlier in the 20th Century.
For expo's on that theme, a helpful site is Technocracy News: https://www.technocracy.news/
Posted by: Robin Lillicrapp | 13 May 2016 at 07:27 AM