Democracy and wealth are the secret hopes on the wish-list of the neglected global child. All over the world people expect that with the advent of industrialization and the abandonment of dictatorships better and happier times will eventually unravel, but in reality this is hardly ever the case. Instead, corruption, social and political inequality, majoritism as the favoritism of self-declared elites and, most depressingly, the consolidation of these phenomena into a self-perpetuating dysfunctional global system paint the tapestry of contemporary human misery.
The inequality of societies and its negative social consequences has been critically illuminated by Richard Wilkinson’s research (Wilkinson, 2005, 2011). A less investigated aspect of inequality is how wealthy and poor populations create mutually interdependent and self-regulating, but deeply dysfunctional systems in many poorer nations.
For wealthy elites political power breeds contempt for corruption. The low risk of detection siphoning off a nation’s wealth, simple opportunity, the perception of entitlement and low accountability create ideal conditions for self-serving behavior. For the poor corruption helps to make ends meet and creates incentives for supplementary income. Both conditions inform each other: the wealthy buy their loyalty without ever developing authentic legitimacy and the poor are glad to benefit from the transaction in the form of handouts. The locus of control is set externally in the gratitude-response behaviour between personal benefactor, the self-entitled aristocracy, and their dependent subordinates. The price to pay for this comfortable interwoven arrangement is the stabilization of wealth and poverty on both sides. Industrialization and technology bypass to a large degree the social construct.
Seini O’Connor and Ronald Fischer (2012) note that cultures promoting social values such as individual autonomy, social diversity and more egalitarian structures are less likely to be corrupt, regardless of economic conditions. The authors’ finding, based on the analysis of 59 countries from 1980 to 2008, may also explain why traditional values such as social conformity, conservative social behavior and preference for hierarchical beliefs contribute to perpetuating poverty. This is perhaps the deeper reason why a pro-forma prescription of a Western-style democratic model rarely yields significant outcomes of fairly distributed common wealth for developing nations. Local communal values and their perceived immediate benefits fulfill people’s expectations (Race, 2012), whereby institutionalized and culturally alien imperatives easily fall short of turning into internalized new beliefs. Public indicators for the dysfunctional rule of elites are phenomena such as vote buying, cronyism, populist politics, political corruption, creating a biased judiciary and deflecting from internal problems via nationalism. The silencing of critics and opponents is necessary to defend the established belief in one’s legitimacy which, as it is knowingly driven by taking unfair advantage, is underpinned by the continuing fear of losing the achieved power positions and riches.
The ideal of the fair distribution of primary goods and opportunities lies at the heart of concepts of contemporary models of liberal justice, as Anca Gheaus (2009, p.77) correctly mentions. Public, visible ethics of care and ethics of justice both play their part in eradicating poverty by promoting egalitarian structures. Rationalized care includes kindergartens, day-care centers, affordable health-care, quality-education and services for the disabled and the elderly. In order to assist parents to not passing legacies of poverty on to the next generation they require governmental support as rationalized care. Much depends on the parent’s willingness and motivation to support their children way into adulthood and not all parents are unconditionally caring. Gheaus advocates healthcare and education for disadvantaged populations as the central goals for developing rationalized public care.
Democracy as an authentically experienced life-choice entails to happily give voice to all of society. True democracy is about sharing power and responsibilities, not fighting over them or instrumentalizing them for personal gain.There cannot be peace in a deeply polarized society. There cannot be human growth, flourishing and thriving for all in inequality.
Gheaus, A. (2009). How Much of What Matters Can We Redistribute? Love, Justice, and Luck. Hypatia, (4), 63. doi:10.2307/20618181
O’Connor, S., & Fischer, R. (2012). Predicting societal corruption across time: Values, wealth, or institutions?. Journal Of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 43(4), 644-659. doi:10.1177/0022022111402344
Race, J. (2012). Fighting “Corruption” with What Really Works: lessons from today and from History. Retrieved from: http://www.jeffreyrace.com/document/nacc2012.pdf
Wilkinson, R. (2005). The impact of inequality : how to make sick societies healthier / Richard G. Wilkinson. London : Routledge, 2005.
Wilkinson, R. (2011). Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies. Retrived from: http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html