Balkinization  

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Death of Democracy in Greece

Sandy Levinson

The Greek Government (such as it is) has "scrapped" the call for a referendum on whether to accept the bailout plan (and concomitant austerity) imposed by the rest of Europe. No doubt this will lead to greater market stability and, indeed, gains for many investors, as evidenced by the almost immediate rally on Wall Street. But no one should take satisfaction in this latest demonstration that political elites (including, of course, our own Framers in 1787) basically mistrust democracy and the intervention of the great unwashed in the decisions of governance. Floyd Norris has written an eloquent and insightful column for the New York Times, forthrightly titled "Why Not Give the Greeks Their Say?"

Could any decision be more important for the future of Greece--including the future of Greek children and grandchildren--than the implications of the bailout? Might we not believe that the Greek people should play some role in deciding what they want their futures to look like, even if we fear they will make the "wrong" decision? (Perhaps,in emulation of Elena Kagan's marvelous opinion in the Arizona election finance case, I should simply say, at this point, "I didn't think so.") It is a rich irony, of course, that the country that initially gave us the idea of democracy--and, according to my UT philosopher Paul Woodruff's book First Democracy carried it off reasonably well--is now the poster child for the necessity to accept the fact that the very possibility of "popular sovereignty" is unacceptable. All hail the new order!

Comments:

So many thoughts come to mind with this post. First of all, consider the Articles of Confederation that gave each state a virtual veto. The Constitutional Convention recognized this and other problems with the Articles and came up with a Constitution that avoided the veto for each state. Yes, the procedures of the Articles were not followed in eventually adopting and ratifying the Constitution. Yes, the Constitution may have been flawed (even beyond slavery), but just imagine if each state had a virtual veto.

The EU and Eurozone came along only fairly recently. Each nation has certain veto rights. The economics and financial aspects of the Eurozone have become a problem. (See Paul Krugman and others on this.) Some sort of a bailout (of Greece and perhaps other EU nations) is necessary for survival of the Eurozone as well as the EU. Greece took advantage of the Eurozone in various ways that led to its financial situation. Like the Articles, Greece was in a position to veto, whether with or without a referendum. Greeks were looking for a better deal, without accepting some - actually much - of the blame for their plight. Was this a variation on the theme of "The Mouse That Roared"? Perhaps. But let's not forget that the Greek democracy tradition of ancient times has not continued throughout the history of Greece, including in recent years.

The problem, of course, is the system of both the EU and the Eurozone. Perhaps as in the case of the Articles of Confederation, there should be a realization of the destructiveness of providing any nation with a veto.

I haven't read Floyd Norris' column as yet. But in the meantime, "Beware of Overbearing Greeks."
 

I think the problem is that the whole EU, from the start, has been an exercise in circumventing democracy. It's goal being to create a super-state out of individual states whose citizens don't WANT their governments to be dissolved into a greater whole, while the structure is designed to move all important decision making away from anyone directly democratically elected.

That's why the keep reacting to the prospect of referendum the way a vampire reacts to sunlight.
 

What Norris seems to be proposing is a form of populism where the people are confronted with the fact that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Interesting idea, but its hard to imagine any actual populists going along with it.
 

Progressivism and socialism are incompatible with democracy because the nation will become insolvent when the people discover they can vote themselves other people's money. Much of the EU is heading in the same direction as Greece.

The problem here is that the Greek government dependents have not realized that they have almost run out of other people's money.

Even if the EU bypasses the Greek voters to enact this plan to loot Greek bond holders of 50% of their property, this bandaid creates an enormous moral hazard because Italy, Spain and Portugal are then going to want the same deal, for which even the Germans or the Euro banks could not pay.

The EU has this one chance to stop the contagion by making an example out of Greece that the other PIIGS nations will not want to follow - stop all further loans to Greece and informally freeze Greece's assets held in foreign banks to cover any potential default until Greece balances its budget.

Both American political parties better be paying close attention to Greece. At our current rate of borrowing 10% of GDP per year on top of our current debt of 100% of GDP, we will join Greece in 5-6 years and no one will be able to bail us out.
 

As the victim of more referenda than I care to count, I'm pretty skeptical of the plebiscite-as-democracy theory. Representation may be convenient, but the experience here in CA has convinced me that Madison was right to claim that representation would improve the quality of decision-making.
 

Said column:

"Referendums are seldom a good way to deal with complicated issues, but this might have been an exception."

I am confused though. Greece does have elections, doesn't it? If so, the people there "play some role" in governance. Speaking out, protests and other means also "play some role" as they do here, even w/o referendums.

I know little about Greek government. All Greek to me. So, don't know how just the "such as it is" dig is. The same can be said about governments here, probably.

Anyway, "might" means it is debatable. Anyway, few things are submitted to referendum here either. "Here" for me not being CA. So, I guess, my "opinions are irrelevant." I don't quite think so, but, well, you know.
 

Progressivism and socialism are incompatible with democracy because the nation will become insolvent when the people discover they can vote themselves other people's money. Much of the EU is heading in the same direction as Greece.


Which is why Sweden and Denmark are in such horrible straits....
 

Dilan:

You have noted the exceptions which prove the rule across the vast majority of the EU population.

Sweden avoided debt by maximizing taxation and then shrinking their welfare state. We will see how this balancing act holds up when their boomers retire with a sub replacement number of children.
 

I'm thinking the vote would have been to some extent a vote on things you can't vote on, to some extent moot, and the remainder pretty much bad faith.

It's no knock on democracy that you can't vote on e.g. the volume of a cube, or to change the past, or for good things against bad things for more love.
 

Representation may be convenient, but the experience here in CA has convinced me that Madison was right to claim that representation would improve the quality of decision-making.

Word.
 

Direct democracy is not practiced anywhere except for the occasional referendum but that doesn't mean democracy is dead. Democracy can be said to be dead or dying when government(s) consistently act counter to popular sentiment and in the case of bailouts, of every sort, that is what they have done universally. While most of the bailouts have been carried out without legislation but rather through claimed authority of central banks, extra national institutions and Treasuries in any case it is doubtful a single bailout would have passed a vote anywhere in the world. (It has been helpful politically here that most of the bailouts are and were invisible to the general public. You can be sure when Fannie Mae comes to congress for the next $XXbillion to pay off their MBS holders in full not a voice will be raised by the deficit scolds in opposition)

While good policy and good politics are frequently at odds it is certain that when something like bailouts which are universally unpopular are shoved through again and again and again that democracy is failing. And so too is the system.
 

I echo Mark, MLS, and Joe.

Direct democracy is not all the great (and I'm sure Paul Woodruff had some qualms about the death of Socrates, the mutliple exiling of Alcibiades, and the threats agianst Aristotle).

I think it is particularly undesirable when the issues are complex and sovling problems requires immediate 'sacrifice.'

ChrisTS (apparently now transformed into CTS by Google.)
 

Slightly off topic:

This past Thursday afternoon I attended several of the panels at the Boston University Law School program on Jack Balkin's "Living Originalism" and David Strauss' "The Living Constitution." The Originalism Blog provides a link to BU's website which provides links to panelists' papers. I enjoyed the program and wished that I could have attended all of the panels. I have read several of the papers, which may be of interest to visitors to Balkinization. In particular, Prof. Larry Yackle's "in Medias Res" focusing on Strauss' "The Living Constitution" should be of interest to Sandy and those who have been following Sandy's views on the need for a constitutional convention.

By the Bybee [expletives deleted], I reintroduced myself to Jack who seems to be in fighting trim. (I had met Jack at the same locale several years earlier at a program on originalism - perhaps before Jack's "conversion.")
 

In a true representative democracy where the people elect representatives to enact the people's will and not that of the representatives, then there should be no difference between the results of a referendum or a vote of the Greek parliament.
 

But:

" ... then there should be no difference between the results of a referendum or a vote of the Greek parliament."

there is the matter of timing, as the parliament may have been elected, say, a year or so ago, and the referendum may be considering events that occurred more recently.
 

It does not matter when the parliament was elected. Elected representatives have a duty to enact their constituents' will for the duration of their terms.

The Greek government is avoiding a referendum because the Greek government dependent people would vote it down and demand that other people keep lending them money to support the welfare state.

As I posted originally, progressivism and socialism is ultimately incompatible with democracy. We are seeing this play out in Europe and at a slower pace now in the United States.
 

Is our yodeler, with this:

" Elected representatives have a duty to enact their constituents' will for the duration of their terms."

defining a representative form of government? I think not.
 

Shag:

What precisely does representative mean if not to represent and act as the agents of the people.
 

The economic blocs always have been the modern steering committee of europe; and that is one of greece's less attended concerns. However, imagine the Acropolis if renamed the CommercialCompanyNameHere site. Greece ought to follow the examples of renamed coliseums and stadia in the New World and sell advertising rights, including the names of its hallowed halls of early democracy.

However, Shag was accurate at the outset in the comment thread to mention slaves; I would add women's lack of suffrage, too, as primitive aspects of what was called democratic government's golden age. I doubt greece will return to the times of benevolent despotism, though I wonder occasionally if other western nations are concocting recipes leading to that dull end. greece has too much self image to reqlinquish its core values, transitory debt crises notwithstanding.
 

Today's WaPo features George Zarkadakis' "Modern Greece's real problem? Ancient Greece." provides an interesting history lesson, especially following Greece's independence in 1832 from the Ottoman Empire and the roles of Germany and other European nations in "restoring" Greece. Here's a taste:

"The profound gap between the ancient and the modern had to be bridged somehow, in order to satisfy the romantic expectations that Europe had of Greece. So a historical narrative was put together claiming uninterrupted continuity with the ancient past. With time, this narrative became the central dogma of Greek national policy and identity."

The author relates his experience growing up in Greece. Alas, many of us know Greece from ancient history in contrast with "Never on Sunday."
 

What precisely does representative mean if not to represent and act as the agents of the people[?]

Edmund Burke had an idea...

"Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

--Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol
 

Good quote Nate; the film/play 1776 cites it as well.
 

There are times when I wish representatives would echo popular opinion--for example, the broad popular support for the elements of the health care legislation (including single payer options) and increasing the effective tax rate of the rich by closing loopholes. I'm guessing, however, that many of those who hold the "representatives have a duty to maintain their constituents' opinion" would point to election as proof of mandate without need for revision or consultation.

I think that the "mandate" would be taken even more to heart in the case of a political party that prided itself on unity of message and action. Odd to hear it here from an historically loyal activist to such a party.
 

I thank Nate W. for his quote of Burke, which backs up the point I tried to make in an earlier comment on a republican form of government in response to our yodeler's comment:

" Elected representatives have a duty to enact their constituents' will for the duration of their terms."

Our yodeler fails to inform us how the elected representative determines his/her constituents' wills (including competing wills) during his/her term. Is it by means of periodic polling? Is it measured by means of campaign contributions, including via Citizens United? As Burke points out, constituents must rely upon the elected official's judgment, hopefully exercised in good faith. Constituents may take "corrective" action via referenda or elections.
 

Nate:

Burke had a very dim view of democracy and preferred the rule of an elected elite - such as himself.

I much prefer Andy Jackson:

As long as our government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us the rights of persons and of property, liberty of conscience and of the press, it will be worth defending.

It is interesting that the modern left has abandoned the father of the Democratic Party - Andy Jackson - in favor of the father of classical conservatism - Edmund Burke; while the allegedly radically right Tea Party has taken up Jacksonian populism.

This pretty much demonstrates the limitations of labels.
 

Shag: " Elected representatives have a duty to enact their constituents' will for the duration of their terms."

Our yodeler fails to inform us how the elected representative determines his/her constituents' wills (including competing wills) during his/her term. Is it by means of periodic polling?


While polling can be useful, there is this old fashioned technique of actually going home and talking with your constituents. Indeed, if Congress spent more time talking with the constituents than they do devising new means to run their lives, the Republic would be a far better place.
 

As a follow up to Nate, it's worth noting that Madison was a Burkean on the subject of representatives and their constituents:

“The effect of [representation] is ... to refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.” Federalist 10.

And, of course, Madison famously said in Federalist 55 that “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

When Madison introduced the BoR, someone else offered and additional amendment which would allow constituents to "instruct" their representatives. Madison opposed this form of "direct" democracy too:

“[I]f we mean nothing more than this, that the people have a right to express and communicate their sentiments and wishes, we have provided for it already. … If gentlemen mean to go further and to say that the people have a right to instruct their representatives in such a sense as that the delegates were obliged to conform to those instructions, the declaration is not true. Suppose they instruct a representative by his vote to violate the Constitution, is he at liberty to obey such instructions? Suppose he is instructed to patronize certain measures, and from circumstances known to him but not to his constituents, he is convinced that they will endanger the public good, is he obliged to sacrifice his own judgment to them? Suppose he refuses, will his vote be the less valid. … What sort of a right is this in the Constitution to instruct a representative who has a right to disregard the order if he pleases?”
 

Bart DePalma said...
"In a true representative democracy where the people elect representatives to enact the people's will and not that of the representatives, then there should be no difference between the results of a referendum or a vote of the Greek parliament".

ok then...

http://www.gallup.com/poll/149567/Americans-Favor-Jobs-Plan-Proposals-Including-Taxing-Rich.aspx

shall we convene the house and the senate, and begin the roll call?
 

phg:

As soon as they poll districts and states concerning approval of the actual legislation and the actual cost, we might have something to discuss.

There is a vast difference between generic polling without costs and the opinion of voters when presented with actual legislation and actual costs. See generic polling for Obamacare's disingenuous promises vs. the 2010 election and current polling with majority or plurality disapproval of the actual Obamacare bill.

As I suggested above, however, Congress does not need to take polls to discover where their constituents stand on actual legislation. For example, angry constituents made their feelings about Obamacare rather clear to their Congress critters at all the town hall meetings and other meet-and-greets over 2009.

The problem with Obamacare was not that there was any doubt about where the voters stood on the bill, but rather that Congress gave their constituents the finger and enacted the bill against their will.
 

Consider "60 Minutes" yesterday with its segment on former lobbyist Jack Abrramoff and how he "bought" congressmen. This is one of the problems with a republican form of government.

But what is now obviously clear is that our yodeler does not understand a republican form of government as he continues to dig a deeper and deeper hole. When an elected representative goes back to his district, how many constituents does he contact or hear from, other than perhaps select or special interest groups? It should be kept in mind that an elected representative represents all of his constituents, not just the ones who voted for him. How many elected representatives seek the views of constituents who did not vote for him? How about some quantification of how such a representative learns of the will of constituents on a district trip? Perhaps such a representative spends more time gathering political contributions via Citizens United.
 

Shag from Brookline said...

When an elected representative goes back to his district, how many constituents does he contact or hear from, other than perhaps select or special interest groups?

Thousands to tens of thousands - far more than polling.

Representatives can not only meet with hundreds at public meetings and their own visits to public places and home, but they also have access to telephones, email and social media.

If after all that contact, the will of the constituents is still unclear or evenly divided, then yes the representative will have to use his or her best judgment. This will be the exception rather than the rule.

It should be kept in mind that an elected representative represents all of his constituents, not just the ones who voted for him.

The vast majority. Indeed, in our contacts with both Republican and Democratic representatives over the years starting with my brother's nomination to the USAF Academy, I have never once had one ask our political affiliation.

My problem with Congress is not that they restrict themselves to following the will of the majority who elected them, but instead that they say one thing to get elected and then govern against the will of that majority.
 

Our yodeler with this:

"If after all that contact, the will of the constituents is still unclear or evenly divided, then yes the representative will have to use his or her best judgment. This will be the exception rather than the rule."

proves he still does not understand a republican form of government.
 

As long as our government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will ...

I assume you like this quote because it means (if words have any meaning) that the will of the people cannot compel the government to act.
 

From a Post on the Greek Government's refusal to have a Referendum on the EU demands, incorrectly designated "The Death of Democracy in Greece", to the assertion, also incorrect, that the GOP is simply following the "Will of the People" in dismantling the Program via the usual discursive, cognitive ramblings of the (to themselves, at any rate) well-regarded intelligentsia is to be expected. That the group gestalt, so to speak, must be interrupted is a given.

That this interruption is left up to the guy with a 9th grade education (but very well-read) is a crying shame and, of a certainty, is representative of the intellectual laziness that has added its own inertia to the dire Economic, Political and Religious (viz-a-viz: Islam) straits in which America is mired.

Except for hints, I see nothing of the all-to-real "Greek Tragedy", et al, which just might, mind you, have some bearing on America's predicaments; just a lazy back-and-forth exchange of intellectual barbs and the quoting of long dead 'sages' of this or that.

And.....

WTH is the "yodeler"?
 

The "yodeler" is an inside reference to Mr. DePalma.

The intelligent common man is as much of a trope as anything else cited here. But, thanks for contributing a new voice.
 

This is such a very interesting topic and I learn very something new about this topic. I know this is a hard thing to learn but we can still be able to achieve it
British Food
 

Oh my!!! You are just too true to be good. How do you manage to write and research on such wonderful things? You have inspired me to work harder now. I shall try as much as possible to enjoy life to the fullest and be satiated with the wonderful things that are around me, which I have been unaware of until now.
San Diego Office & Modular Design
 

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