Saturday 24 March 2012

Democratic Oligarchs.

Immature and mature forms of HIV [A]
"Like immune-deficient patients, children are wide open to mental infections that adults might brush off without effort." (Richard Dawkins, Viruses of the Mind)


Although the idea of meme already existed, Richard Dawkins, who coined the term, may have been onto something when he described meme as an infectious agent of the mind.

So, what's the problem I'm addressing? As summarized by SMH's Wright, Ireland and Grattan:
"Mr Swan accused Mr Palmer and other mining bosses Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest of wielding too much power and being a threat to democracy". (See here)
And what's the solution? Let's list the, to me, logical options:
  1. Do nothing. This is not such a problem, perhaps some readers would say; or, if those readers concede that is a problem, maybe they would argue that any solution would be worse: so, just leave things as they are;
  2. To do nothing is inconceivable, I'd say. We must do something: expropriate their wealth (no money, no power);
  3. Tax them good, so they have less money/power: a moderate variant of (2);
  4. None of the above.
Peter Hartcher, it seems, is much more imaginative. For him the options above are unthinkable, except for (4): his answer is none of the above. And he offers an innovative solution.

Quoting the authoritative figure of the "Father to Oligarchs", Anatoly Chubais:
" 'The existence of these guys [billionaires/oligarchs] is not the problem,' he [Chubais] told me in 1999. 'There are two real problems. First is the problem of political strength of government'.
" 'The solution is to strengthen the government, and in Russia that is a challenge for the next government and the next president'.
" 'The other problem is not that there are too many oligarchs but too few. We need more billionaires'."
(See here)
So, those are Hartcher's premises: there is a problem, and we need to do something.

But this is his solution: the problem democracy faces when some people have too much economic power can be solved by having even more people with too much economic power. We need more billionaires! These new billionaires would be, presumably, nicer, more civically minded, than the previously existent billionaires.

In this he coincides with Bronte Capital's theory, which I summarized a few weeks ago:
"If billionaire A pushed public opinion and the government in the direction her vested interests pointed; well, perhaps then billionaire B could push public opinion and the government in the opposite direction."
There is only one teeny weeny little question I don't see these guys asking: what the fuck would stop billionaires A and B from colluding and gaining control of government? Oh, I see: billionaire B is a nice guy.


So, there: we give up democracy in exchange for an enlightened oligarchy, trusting that the nice billionaires will push things in the right direction.

And we'll do that based on the expert advice of Anatoly Chubais:
"We were perfectly aware that we were creating a new class of owners. The privatisation was not a question of ideology or some abstract values; it was a question of a real, political daily struggle. (...)
"We did not have a choice between an 'honest' privatisation and a 'dishonest' one, because an honest privatisation means clear rules imposed by a strong state that can enforce its laws. In the early 1990s, we had no state and no law enforcement." (See "Father to Oligarchs", above)
In other words, for Chubais, the looting of public property was a reasonable price to pay. In exchange, one gains political support and on top deprives one's political enemies of positions of authority. If one becomes dependent upon our new allies and screws the livelihoods of pretty much everybody else, it is still a  reasonable trade-off.

Undoubtedly, in Chubais's case, the personal advantages he might have gained did not play any role in his choices, so we can safely follow his advice. (See also  here, here, and here)


Now you see why this particular meme of the "democratic oligarchs" is indeed a disease of the mind. A potentially deadly disease for which immune-deficiency is quite common, it seems.

Image Credit:
[A] Diagram of the immature and mature forms of HIV. Wikipedia.

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