unbiased analysis of things relating to politics and philosophy

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finding a balance: a comparative analysis of the distribution of power.

The way in which a government aligns itself with its people varies markedly between nations. Some nations have a distinct hierarchy the advantage of which is the leader’s accountability for his actions, and his responsibility to the citizens. Other Nations approach government locally, dispersing power as far as is necessary to ensure representativeness and responsiveness. The continuum on which centralization and decentralization rest is dynamic, and nations may stand somewhere in between a centralized and decentralized approach. Using history as a guide, one can compare the situations in which centralization and decentralization were effective and analyse the effectiveness of each and the implications this has on modern politics.

Centralization holds power in the ability of a leader to accomplish goals promptly and effectively, while providing accountability and responsibility to the citizens. In the evolution of a government from medievalism, centralization allowed a monarch to overcome the conflicting ideals of aristocracy. “Monarchy became the magnet, attracting local loyalties to the capital and the court, and overriding the separatist tendencies of competing institutions. Hence, with centralization came integration”. The effect of this centralization became so supreme in Europe that “Louis XIC of France, the Sun King, in his remark “L’Etat, c’est moi,” a comment whose boast of personal pre-eminence exceeds even the claim of Adolf Hitler: “for 24 hours I was the supreme court of Germany”” This supreme power through centralization allowed these European leaders to summon an unprecedented nationalism from their people, and allowed them to accomplish their personal goals in a way no other form of governance could.
Only through the strength given by centralization did the thirteen British colonial states successfully break ties from its parent and become an autonomous union of states (1775-1783). The significance of centralization in the success in the American Revolution is illustrated by William Anderson “all powers of government were brought for the time under a single control, that of the convention or congress in each state. Perhaps in no other way could the quick and decisive measures have been taken that were needed to sever the bonds with Great Brittan”. History clearly illustrates the ability of centralization to allow the leader of a nation to accomplish their goals, and summon an unprecedented nationalism from their people. The disadvantage of this centralization is the lack of involvement of the citizens in their governance.

Decentralization was the Greek response to extreme centralization, under (Tyrannos) Peisistratus there was such an intense distaste for “the title of rex (king) and any type of one man rule, that the roman constitution evolved with a pattern in which authority was elaborately subdivided and distributed”. This form of divided government was advocated by Montesquieu as a device to “make the government safe for the governed” because of the citizens involvement in the creation of policy, and the distribution of wealth. In effort to distribute power, the American constitution appropriates the bulk of each function to a branch, but “smaller slicers were given to each of the other branches” (L. Lipston). Imbued in American policy is the thought of individuals like James Madison

“The accumulation of powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the
same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary,
self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of

The conclusion drawn from a historical analysis of centralization as put by L. Lipson is “fraught with abuse”. Decentralization has proved an effective antidote to the shortcomings of a centralized government. The dispersion of governmental powers is a meticulous task that must be done with extreme care lest excessive decentralization dilute power or excessive centralization bring tyranny.

There is no one answer to the question of how far does a government need to decentralize to prevent tyranny while retaining power. The conclusion those have drawn in the past is only relevant in their historical context. An important safeguard against rogue leadership was developed by the Brittan’s in 1688- after the discharge of the Stuarts, the Brittan’s introduced a parliament so that “the supreme institution was henceforth a legislature”. This theory was proposed by Locke who originally said “there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate”. This proved to be effective and was adopted by the American government, Madison warned that the collection of executive and judiciary power by the legislative branch makes room for abuse. “by assembling all power in the same hands must lead to the same tyranny as is threatened by executive usurpations”. Madison’s warning further illustrated by Locke’s statement “it may be too great temptation to human frailty, apt to grasp at power, for the same persons who have the power of making laws to have also in their hands the power to execute them. The passion with Americans instilled decentralization in their government was too great, their system became so complex that it became possible for a party to “control the courts because of their role in law enforcement plus their power to review legislation... the parties determined the selection of candidates and ensured the support of the voters... a boss was able by his mastery of the party machine to achieve a concentration of power that violated the fundamental concepts of American democracy” (L. Lipson). Modern governments have evolved an antidote to this over-decentralization- dividing the government further into two institutions; the political party and the civil service. The synergy between these institutions creates an environment resistant to the “intruders” that circumvented the checks and balances within the American political system. In this system the head of a party “ceases to be a chief executive in the narrow sense and becomes in addition a party leader, chief legislator, and mobilizer of public opinion”. With the support of a judiciary and legislature, a party and civil service have the power to resist corruption and server the people better than all previous institutions. Governments will continue to evolve with the citizens in the society that it governs, learning from history and finding a balance where power most effectively lies between centralization and decentralization. The only sure conclusion that can be drawn about the choice to distribute power about a nation is that power in politics is not enough; it must be used with wisdom.

Balancing the creation and distribution of wealth: a comparative analysis.

In liberal market economies like the United States the pursuit of wealth is fiercely competitive. The lack of government intervention has led to a grossly uneven distribution of wealth. Organizations that amass wealth, unregulated by the government, have the power to shape and influence governmental policy in their favour. The government policy literally ensures that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Rich neighbourhoods receive priority to all of the governmental dividends; the poor are left without adequate service. Wealth creation and wealth distribution represent two critical tasks that all governments confront. A historical overview rationalizes the cause and effect relationships between the factors that influence how governments address wealth creation, wealth distribution, and how they balance the demands of each.

Governments must address wealth creation relative to the nature of the economy. A government is a living organism which must evolve to adapt to changing circumstance, creating policy that matches the status quo. Economic liberalism is based on the premise that commerce is mainly between individuals in agrarian market societies. In developing agrarian market societies Laissez-faire style of economic policy has proved to be an effective manner of addressing wealth creation. Mercantilists were able to take advantage of the laissez-faire doctrine in place in both the United States and Brittan in order to amass wealth, people, and thus power. Over time with the development of technology broad unregulated capitalism bred “business firms powerful enough to come to grips with the state” (L. Lipson). Areas where the wealthy reside flourished while the poor were pushed out, segregated into communities with little of the governmental support the wealthy received. This is a result of a government that evolved with principals that are intended for commerce on an individual level- instead of taking into account the repercussions of unequal wealth distribution, and properly taxing the rich.
“The presence, side by side, of rich organizations of trusts, cartels, and
monopolies; and the rise of holding companies and interlocking directorates
negated the ideal of free competition among equal individuals... business spelled
power- power in any sense: the amassing of wealth, control of people, dispensing
of social influence, and, above all, mastery of the state... In this way political considerations were subordinated to economic.” (L. Lipson)
When political considerations become subordinate to economic, we risk the exploitation of people domestic and abroad. The principal reason for government involvement in commercial policy is the need of currency, and the need for security in the contracts between employee, employer, and between both participants in commerce. Governments are continually evolving to redistribute power, and wealth as a result of the imbalance that has widened continually since the industrial revolution.

With the income the government receives it is their responsibility to distribute it about the population. It is in how they do this is a major factor determining the success or failure of the nation’s government. The Romans had to address two innate principles of wealth distribution; finding the minimum a state can provide without aggravating its citizens, and finding a balance between an individuals and the government’s responsibility to protect the wellbeing of citizens. In order to do this, the government built roads to facilitate the flow of commerce, the tax they received paid for the highways, implemented currency, and provided protection to participants in trade. Evolution of government to include the welfare of the citizens into their responsibility was marked by the use of this tax to distribute wheat at subsidized prices or for free to prevent riots among the poor. In deciding where to draw the line between an individuals and the government’s responsibility to protect the wellbeing of citizens, John Stuart Mill illustrated the significance of allowing individuals to satisfy their own needs
“In all the more advanced communities, the great majority of things are
worse done by the intervention if government than the individuals most interested in the matter would do them, or cause them to be done.”
The ability for citizens to satisfy their own needs with pure necessity as a catalyst exceeds the government’s ability to satisfy the same need. For a market to succeed participants must be self interested. As a result, inequality between domestic populations must increase to spark the concern of citizens to progress their society in a way that suits them instead of a way that suits those in power.

Finding a balance in the need to regulate commerce, redistribute wealth and provide service is a fleeting task because the needs citizens and the nature of commerce are rapidly evolving. Nations like the United States and Brittan that practice Economic liberalism try to “curb the sphere of the state” (L. Lipson) and leave the agrarian economy to regulate itself. Socialist Eastern European nations “have argued that any service or commodity which is crucial to the entire economy... should be run by the state”. This is a crucial difference in deciding how they approach wealth creation and distribution, and their theories have a major impact how the nations approach the human needs of their citizens and citizens of nations with whom they do business. In liberal market economies the growth of large organizations and thus the amassing of wealth and power have overwhelmed the ability of the government to remain nonpartisan in providing services and ensuring the fair distribution of wealth to their citizens. The proof of this imbalance is shown by “The consistent trend evident across the 100 largest metropolitan areas... is one of a shrinking proportion of families with middle incomes” (Booza, Cutslinger, and Galster). The government further neglecting to address the changing nature of the American economy is finding itself in a situation prospected in the article Where Did They Go?
“the polarization associated with the decline of middle-class neighbourhoods is likely to create greater disparities across jurisdictional boundaries that could ultimately create greater political conflict and competition for scarce resources” (Booza, Cutslinger, and Galster)
This imbalance created by the governments lack of presence in providing for its citizens is furthered by the situation illustrated in the article Life at the top in America isn’t just better, It’s Longer. The result of this is a phenomenon where essential services establish around the rich, and the poor are segregated from both these necessary services (like healthcare) and the opportunities provided. This lack of resources has created a situation where the poor are segregated from the wealthy, and there is no “in between” lifestyle to accommodate mobility through the classes. A difference between the theories of capitalists (who promote liberal market economies) and the theory of socialists is set out by L. Lipson
“capitalists argue for profit-making as the test of the success or failure
of any economic activity, socialists argue that service to the community
is the prime consideration, even if some kinds of service may not be
profitable in financial terms”
The idea that wealth created in the country is the sole factor of economic success has through the death of the middle class in America been disproven. The American government, by keeping its hand out of economic matters allowed itself to be subverted to the concerns of businessmen in the interest of personal profit. Where capitalist theory fails, socialist theory succeeds- providing necessary service to its citizens, ensuring standards of quality are met by service at a cost affordable to the citizens.. Wealth creation and distribution must be addressed with regard to the nature of the economy. As the economy grows, and changes, a government must evolve to meet its needs.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Equity Led Sustainable Growth and Globalization: A comparative analysis

Countries like Mozambique, Sudan, and Zimbabwe are being bled dry. They are so far in debt to organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank that they are forced to sell needed food in order to pay off debt. Globalization: Cause or Cure for Underdevelopment (Comparative politics of the world, Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 2003) examines the economic status quo of under developed nations, and various factors pertaining to the economic burden of international . There are many parallels between this “status quo” and the insights that D. Korten posts to avoid problems along the path of development in the article Equity-Led Sustainable Growth. Globalization is inevitable, to the detriment of 3rd world countries everywhere; debt is currently the vehicle for the meticulous exploitation of lesser developing countries (LDC) by multinational corporations.

Globalization: Cause or Cure for Underdevelopment begins with a resonant quotation from the 7th UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan “The combination of extreme poverty and inequality between countries, and often also within them is an affront to our common humanity”. This inequality is sparked by neoliberalists’ blind pursuit for growth funded development colliding with structuralists’ insight that growth can occur without any development. The quantitative evidence of this imbalance is clear “the poorest 20 percent of the world’s population control about 1 percent of the worlds GNI [Gross National Income]” (page 111). Income is only one facet of the quality of life, for economic growth to most efficiently benefits the citizens; it must be “for the people by the people” this ensures that the implementations will be efficient in benefiting the citizens who need it most. The IMF and World Bank serve as a lender of last resort to countries in economic crisis, in a way that “makes it very difficult for LDC’s to protect infant industries and diversify their economies” (118). The IMF have created strange situations for countries like Nigeria who stricken with poverty took loans out on terms that they would export their most exploitable natural resource, oil (which accounts for 95% of exports). Total reliance on a single resource makes a country very vulnerable to global trade volatility. Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan are all examples of countries that have grown in a structure that supports self reliance along with global trade. In order to shape the countries industry for exporting, the governments of these countries actively reformed policy that ensured domestic firms could compete with foreigners. This article concludes that development should not be a profit-making enterprise for the rich at the expense of the poor.

Equity-Led Sustainable Growth: from Vision to Strategy starts on the basis of a people-centered development vision. Unfortunately few of the nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) that implement global development are rarely engaged at the policy level, where a strategy to encourage sustainability and “broadly based integrated or uni-modal growth”. An important differentiation of integrated or uni-modal growth from dualism is that export performance is more of a result of economic success than its cause. The Asian Tigers – Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan are a group of countries that model this form of integrated growth. The government invests highly in adult literacy and education to achieve “broadly-based participation in the growth process”. Agriculture within the Asian Tigers is predominately based on citizen controlled co-operatives that articulate the needs of the members; all farms are built on resource allocated by the government. This ensures an increase of productivity, and labor-using, capital-saving technologies. This sustainable growth is best described as equity led rather than export led, they focus on providing for the internal market before the rest of the world. The benefit of taking an integrative approach to growth is the intensive management and application of these resources to optimize productive potential, and to increase the likelihood that the benefits of growth will be widely shared. This solid foundation is impermeable to the risk of export promotion to support debt repayment, a problem common with LDC’s that take on international assistance. The main goal of this approach at politics is creating an inclusive, class-consciousness among both the powerful and powerless.

Organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, while providing international assistance, lure developing nations into a viscous cycle of exporting their most valued unrefined assets. The article Globalization: Cause or Cure for Underdevelopment examines the shortcomings of current international assistance and globalization. The shortcomings of our current system are examined and a strategy to avoid these pitfalls put forth in the article Equity-Led Sustainable Growth. Globalization is inevitable, and if we can change the way in which we do business, it can be a positive force for both developed and undeveloped nations. The key to our success in pursuing this goal is an integrated approach to growth and effective management of all nations’ human resources.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Imbalances in American politics: Circumventing Congress, the Constitution, and International Law

George W. Bush was potentially the most regressive president in American history. During Bush’s presidency, he succeeded in bypassing congress and the courts; violating a number of sections of the constitution, along with the Geneva Convention, and the UN Charter. The current Bush administration has gone further than all previous administrations in its attempt to fundamentally alter the American system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts. In the course of Bush’s presidency (2001-2009) we have witnessed many events that clearly violated domestic and international law; underneath these events are a number of calculated decisions made in order to bypass the constitutionally instated system of checks and balances, and congress. The Bush administration, from their collective self interest went even farther in their pursuit to alter the American political system than the memorable Nixon administration.
Under the recent Bush administration, a series of events have occurred that violated the constitution, and the obligations held to the citizens. One such event in which the Bush administration knowingly violated constitutional obligations to its people was the “data mining” done by the National Security agency (NSA) to spy on citizens, which circumvents the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and violates the fourth amendment of the American constitution. In 2005, George W. Bush admitted to the New York Times that he had authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans
“NSA is "data mining" literally millions of calls - and has been given
access by the telecommunications companies to "switching" stations through
which foreign communications traffic flows” (John W. Dean).

The FISA was set up in the aftermath of President Nixon’s Watergate scandal to prevent future unlawful surveillance, but, unfortunately, President Bush was able to circumvent these regulations and execute a surveillance program of larger and more unethical proportions. Processing the private information of millions of American citizens clearly violates the constitution’s fourth amendment right against warrantless search and seizure, and also undermines the trust the people have in the President. Another event that marked the imbalance of power in the American political system is the war in Iraq. The decision to bypass the United Nations (UN) to invade Iraq was a deliberate violation of a number of International, and Domestic laws. The invasion breached the UN Charter by taking pre-emptive military action. The UN Charter specifically states that all members must: “settle their international disputes by peaceful means” and “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” (article 2, paragraphs 3-4). The Bush administration justified this pre-emptive attack with the fear that Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) were hidden within the country, none of which have been found. This invasion not only violated UN charter, but undermined the power of congress, the courts, and the American people to judge when war is necessary. There are many more examples of a further altered balance in power in the American government, such as their decision to bypass the Geneva Convention in American prisons abroad like those in Cuba, and Iraq. The now famous American detention camp in Guantanamo bay, Cuba, is known for its cruel and unorthodox treatment of captives. The Secretary of defense under the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, told reporters that “he had approved the use of harsh interrogation measures” amounting to torture - such as the use of muzzled dogs, water torture, and sleep deprivation up to 72 hours. This is a clear violation of the Geneva Convention, which states that prisoners must be “humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence” (Article 27, fourth Geneva Convention). The actions facilitated by the Bush administration arguably amounted to torture, and have been pointed to as an enabling factor leading to the human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Another shocking fact is that “Bush asserted the right to keep nearly five hundred enemy combatants in detention in Guantanamo, of whom only ten were charged with a crime” (Power Grab). This violates the prisoner’s right to Habeas corpus, a fundamental principal in the American constitution which guarantees relief of unjust detainment (article 1 section 9). George W. Bush signed a document where he virtually granted himself immunity of international law.
“I determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaida in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world” (The Guardian)
The Bush administration fell short of its obligations to its citizens and the world by deliberately violating the Geneva Convention and the American constitution to allow unfair treatment of captured enemy combatants. Under the recent Bush administration, a number of actions violated domestic and international laws such as: The UN Charter, The Geneva Convention, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These violations are evidence that the Bush administration has fundamentally altered the division of power, and the system of checks and balances in the American system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts.

A great deal of criticism arose of the many violations of domestic and international law during Bush’s presidency, begging the question – where was congress when it came time to limit the abuse of presidential authority? As is stated in the Constitution of the United States, the function of congress is to make laws and provide for the general welfare of the states and its citizens. When put through congress, a bill called the McCain amendment was posed to prohibit the inhumane treatment of prisoners. The McCain amendment was passed, but unfortunately the senators overlooked a subtle yet important section providing additional information pertaining to the bill, known as a signing statement. This signing statement that Bush provided in this amendment said “[Bush's] power as Commander-in-Chief gives him the authority to bypass the very law he had just signed” (Jennifer Van Bergin). This reveals a clear imbalance in the power the president is supposed to hold. In order to circumvent restrictions on the presidency set in the constitution, George Bush decided he could interpret these signing statements he slipped through congress as permission to bypass these intrinsic laws of the nation. Patrick Leahy, currently senator of Vermont had strong words of protest for Bush’s use of signing statements.
"This practice poses a grave threat to our constitutional system of checks
and balances. During his five years in office, President Bush has quietly -- yet consistently -- used his bill signing statements to assign his own interpretations
to laws passed by Congress" (Patrick Leahy)
The Bush administration used an alternative interpretation of the laws that were in their way to justify many of their actions, not only the signing statements, but even the constitution itself. The theory of a Unitary Executive is laid out in the constitution as a means for the president to act as the chief executive, particularly regarding matters of national security (vesting clause, article 2). A major part of the theory of having a unitary executive is the responsibility of the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”, however, Bush absolutely disregards his obligations to execute these laws in good faith. The events that occurred during the Bush administration in no way reveal any intent of good faith – but often the opposite, these actions show shameless self interest and blatant disregard for public wellbeing. The Bush administration bypassed congress, the courts, violated the constitution systematically and did so with obvious intent. The system of checks and balances within American politics have, until now been an effective restriction that draw a line between where the power lies between the executive, legislative, and Judicial branches of government. Bush has refused to enforce laws that protect whistle-blowers and provide safeguards against political interference in federally funded research. The department of justice is a cabinet department of the American government, poised to ensure fair and impartial justice within the government and to the citizens.
Maurice Hinchey, a Representative from New York received a letter from a member of the department of justice stating that essentially they were unable to do their job investigating this impeachable issue.
“People within the Bush administration have blocked an investigation
into the role that members of the Justice Department played in establishing
and executing this secret domestic spy program”

This is evidence implies an imbalance of power between the president, congress, courts, and the system of checks and balances that keep order between them are askew. Somebody within the Bush administration directly ordered a system check be disarmed so that the president’s constitution-violating decision could stand. The Bush administration has clearly circumvented the system of checks and balances set by the constitution, despite direct opposition within congress and in the courts. The evidence presented against the Bush administration shows them as unprecedented in their pursuit to fundamentally alter the foundations of American politics.

The only administration to rival the Bush administration in its attempt to skew power amongst the 3 branches of government is the Nixon administration. Richard Nixon, The 37th president of United States was impeached in 1974. The event that sparked the removal of Nixon from office is commonly called the Watergate scandal. The Watergate scandal consisted of: Nixon’s ordering a governmental organization to illegally wiretap political opponents, various illegal actions taken to cover up the illegal wiretap (bribes, etc), and a blatant misuse of power in a final attempt to cover up Nixon’s crimes. There were three facets of the Watergate scandal that gave grounds for this impeachment: Obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of congress. The most serious of the actions include bribery, unlawfully utilizing agencies of the executive branch, and obtained classified information from the IRS. The Watergate scandal was essentially Richard Nixon’s ill thought out attempt to gain an edge over political opponents, and his reckless attempt to cover up this scandal with a series of progressively more questionable and immoral actions leading up to his impeachment. While the issue of wiretapping is consistent between the Nixon and Bush administrations; Nixon’s motivation to violate the constitution, and bypass congress was brash and destined for failure. The motivation behind the Bush administrations’ political violations was a unbridled pursuit of power and a deliberate attempt to fundamentally alter the foundations of politics in the USA. The main difference between the two administrations is; where Nixon’s actions were ill thought out, Bush’s actions were systematic, and deliberately posed to fundamentally alter the American political system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts.

In the course of Bush’s presidency (2001-2009) we have witnessed many events that clearly violated domestic and international law with systematic intent. Underneath these events are a number of calculated decisions made by those within the Bush administration in order to alter the division of power and the system of checks and balances within the American system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts. The Bush administration, more than any previous administration went much farther in their pursuit to alter the American political system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts.