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.