Politics are activities relating to government or public affairs of a community or country. In theory, politicians in a democracy have to reflect the views and promote the welfare of a large proportion of the population of the voters if they wish to retain power. In practice, politics are often about leaders or elites doing what is expedient to get and keep power.
In civilised societies, politicians are elected because voting determines the popular will. There are four major voting systems. Plurality voting
, 'first past the post', in which each voter has one vote to allocate and the candidate getting most votes is appointed. However, with several frontrunners, the majority of voters could have voted for the other candidates.
Plurality with elimination voting
, in which successive votes are taken and, after each vote, the least strong candidate is eliminated, and the next vote taken and so on until one candidate obtains a majority of votes.
, in which voters give one point to their first choice, two to their second choice and so on. The candidate with the lowest total wins.
, in which the candidate who wins the most one to one match-ups is the winner. However, allocation of votes to low chance candidates may affect who emerges as winner.
There are two problems with these straightforward voting systems. Henry Arrow's so-called impossibility theorem demonstrates that, when there are three or more viable candidates, application of these voting systems will not necessarily produce the same result. And with plurality voting, a party only needs just over half of votes in half of the constituencies to be elected. So straightforward voting may be fallible.
There are non-straightforward voting systems. If there is organised block voting, the voting system may be manipulated by a block of voters who are strongly motivated by specific concerns that cause them to vote together in secondary elections and decisions may be made that do not reflect the wishes of primary voters. Block voting systems may also make easy intellectual or geographical gerrymandering (manipulating the boundaries of an election constituency to favour one party).
Electoral colleges, as in the US, are one example of block voting in which a set of secondary electors are appointed directly or indirectly by voters to elect a candidate and can distort the wishes of the original voters. Voting may be rigged but if there were a large number of constituencies then vote rigging will be almost impossible to organise. Evidences or rigging would be easily available. Except in the US for reasons only known to Republicans. Sometimes votes can be lost or even, as occurred in Persia, women were allowed to vote, but the votes weren't counted.
Most people wish to bumble along, do not make political beliefs part of their identity, do not seek power or leadership roles, and are thus easy to persuade and manipulate. These factors all allow power seekers and elites to arise that may wish to disenfranchise voters. Voters can be misled or lied to. I shall not mention the usual suspects. If voters do not interest themselves in current affairs, they are ill-informed but if they read some news media they will be misinformed. Some people like to hear only what they want to hear and deceivers find it only too easy to recruit those willing to be deceived. For example, some United States evangelical Christians want to hear Trump's claim that he opposes abortions but they choose to disregard his neglect of several of the 10 commandments.
Democracies tend to have two competing ideologies with one party emphasising unsupervised free enterprise to create wealth that, so they say, will trickle down to the lower levels of society: 'The guiding hand of the market will benefit all'. The other party also wishes to create wealth, but their emphasis is on progressive taxation with a more liberal distribution of wealth across all elements of society, with the rich paying more (the rich unsurprisingly disagree). If wealth and incomes are widely disparate, then civil unrest or even revolutions may occur.
Competing ideologies include socialism – an economic and political system where the workers or the government own the means of production or their delivery through decentralised and direct worker-ownership – and capitalism, in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit.
Similarly, US Democrats advocate rule by the majority, with equality of rights, opportunity and treatment, whereas Republicans emphasise the participation of citizens for the common good subordinating personal to public interests. Only a few years ago, competing Democrat and Republican politicians (Obama and McCain) respected each other and, whilst disagreeing over policies, were not disagreeable towards each other. Times have changed with Trump being most disagreeable towards anyone who differs from his views.
There are five major varieties of lies. Lies of Denial
– a person simply saying that they were not involved. As will have been informed, Trump was not involved with the insurrection that was apparently not an insurrection. Lies of Omission
– concealment. 'I am not a crook', as stated by a previous US President. Lies of Fabrication
– myth making or fearmongering. 'America was Great'. Lies of Minimisation
and Lies of Exaggeration
– spinning with elements of minimisation and exaggeration.
Lies disrupt democracy. Truths, like lies, can be relative and can vary according to the audience. Children, students, adults, educated adults and highly-educated adults may have different opinions of what they are prepared to accept as truth. 'If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it' (Joseph Goebbels). Was OJ Simpson innocent or guilty? Did Jeffery Epstein actively commit suicide or was he passively suicided? Opinions differ.
Biased news media, especially those with rich patrons, may present unbalanced views as facts that, even when disproved, will be devalued or disregarded. For example, after their allegations that Dominium supplied flawed voting machines, Fox News presented a defence that no-one would believe their news reports. They claimed it was obvious that they were providing entertainment that was mostly opinion and hyperbole rather than fact!
Most conspiracy theorists are victims of lies. They have often been lied to or lie to themselves. Anyone who opposes a conspiracy theory is conspiring against the theory and the fact that believers in a particular conspiracy theory are in the minority proves that they are the chosen insightful few. Rarely conspiracy theorists are correct, and conspiracies did occur, but more often irrefutable evidences are being denied in the face of overwhelming evidences. Tobacco companies denied obvious evidences that their product caused lung cancer and thereby killed their best customers – a business model hopefully not to be repeated in future. Similarly, power generating companies denied that global climate change was occurring, and then that their industries were contributing.
Elites are select groups that are perceived by others or experience themselves to be superior in terms of ability or qualities. What works best for elites usually does not work well for non-elites. The rich elites include newspaper owners and social media billionaires who often involve themselves with politics because they naturally want lower and fewer taxes, less regulation, fewer strikes and weaker trade unions.
Most assets are valued in monetary terms and rich elites need to seek political power to tap into the associated resources, especially if they might wish bailouts if they run out of money. In effect, socialism bailed out capitalism following the 2008 financial crash caused by bankers.
The rich pay to be elite. The potential to send a son to Eton (about £45,000 a year) or similar schools is almost a definition of a rich elite family. And such favoured sons (it usually is sons) will also meet other favoured offspring and this is one way rich elites perpetuate themselves.
Elite financial firms assist politicians by giving 'party donations' and donations 'to help with expenses' and these politicians must know that they, after retirement from their political roles, will be rewarded with munificent sinecures. Such firms advise politicians how to design tax laws whilst also giving guidance on how to avoid the tax laws. Tax havens are frequently advised to hide company profits. Despite beliefs to the contrary, payments to company owners resident in the UK are taxed but such payments do not include 'necessary expenses', including sea-going yachts and luxurious houses outwith the UK. These are, you understand, company assets rather than personal assets. Having said this, rich elites often make warm personal gestures to themselves (JK Galbraith's phrase) by awarding themselves large payments 'bonuses'.
To be fair, a proportion of the rich do pay their taxes appropriately, do invest and help develop worthwhile industries, and make donations to worthy causes.
Once rich, the rich are more easily able to become richer. An archetypal example of rich elites becoming richer is the use of hedge funds. The typical hedge fund method is to 'sell short' that involves renting assets of companies or in one instance of a government, the values of which hedge funds predict will fall and undertaking to return them at a specified future date. The assets are immediately sold on at the high price. If the assets value falls, then the short seller purchases the same number of assets (at the reduced price) and returns them as agreed to the lender at the specified date. And pocket the difference.
The huge profits are often at the expense of businesses that are struggling to survive. And the value of a firm's assets falls if it becomes known that hedge funds have rented their assets. Arbitrage is another example. If the value of a currency is predicted or known to be about to rise, then these currencies are bought at the initial price and then sold at the higher price. Instant fibreoptic communications means that unearned profits can be made in seconds. These are pure examples of money being used to make money, a form of greed as featured in the Fourth Circle of Hell in Dante's Inferno
. End of rant.
Elites require leaders
Who becomes leaders? Typically, those brought up to believe, rightly or wrongly (often the latter) that it is their 'entitlement'. Leaders are usually those who were born into privilege or had striven to achieve their position. Occasionally, the rich become rich because they got lucky by, for example, founding a dating agency whilst a student at Harvard. Often such self-made leaders, because they had not previously been part of any elite groupthink, later reveal naivety-based attributes and occasionally flawed independent thoughts.
Some leaders are psychopaths, people with little or no conscience but are able to follow social conventions when it suits their needs. Some are sociopaths who have a limited, albeit weak, ability to feel empathy and remorse. It has been estimated that 4% to 12% of CEOs exhibit psychopathic traits and a higher proportion exhibit sociopathic traits. Form your own opinion regarding Trump, Boris and the like. I could not possibly comment.
Elites of the powerful or rich, like any other group, need leaders. If there are no free and fair elections, press freedom, free speech, or freedom of assembly, then elites and their leaders can do what they want and they tend to serve their own interests. Elites must keep their supporters happy. Are we really going to let a majority of our supporters decide what is best for us? How many supporters need to be kept happy? Not a majority, just a number of key influentials preferably drawn from the supportive elites. These selected key influentials, predictably, will be those who will be most likely to depose them. These key influentials around leaders need not be competent, indeed loyal incompetents are safer than competent rivals.
Unless restrained, leaders may try to become dictators. Revolutionary leaders may overthrow governments but in turn often take leadership up a notch and become dictators, classically claiming to take power on behalf of the people. For example, Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Castro and Ceausescu. Such dictators characteristically keep key influencers under close control, and when necessary, eliminate influential rivals as witnessed by use of fratricide in the Ottoman Empire.
So what is to be done? Perhaps leaders should be drawn from those who do not wish leadership roles? May I put forward myself?
I will empower you, readers of the Scottish Review
, who may not even recognise that you until now have been neglected, ignored or abused. I will bring about a return to stability and justice for you. I will pass the necessary laws and will ensure strict obedience is enforced. I will not be hindered by detractors. 'The future will be better tomorrow' will be the party motto. This will be a difficult task, but I will persist until this is achieved. Hold on a second…
Philip D Welsby is a transient hairy bipedal life form sharing ancestors with unicellular and multicellular organisms