Thursday, February 17, 2011

Seize Democracy!

The revolution in Egypt will inspire millions of people to defy their governments and no longer submit to tyranny. But the street protests ironically acknowledge the authority of the state chiefs. When protesters demand reforms, they recognize the rulership of the regime. An alternative would be to refuse the jurisdiction of the regime.
People country-wide would create local village and neighborhood councils. They would then engage in civil disobedience to the prior regime. They would refuse to pay taxes to the old regime. They would refuse to obey arbitrary restrictions, such as permits and license to engage in production and trade.
The prior regime could seek to stifle the local democracy. They could send in the police to break up local meetings. But people could meet in houses and cafés. It would be difficult for the regime to stop local meetings nation-wide. The people would also coordinate their activity via the Internet. Has there been an election via twitter?
The prior regime could send in thug police to wreak shops that refuse to pay taxes or bribes. They could arrest vegetable peddlers with no license. So the pioneers of seizing democracy would have to be brave. But we have seen that people will have courage when they know that the people are with them.
A group of neighborhood councils would elect a greater-area council, which would take charge of the highways and larger facilities. These councils in turn would elect the next wider council, and so on to a national parliament. The parliament then elects the president. All representatives are subject to recall and replacement at any time.
The Old Testament provides a guide to governance in Exodus 18:21: ye shall choose out of the entire nation capable and trustworthy persons who hate corruption, and ye shall appoint them to be leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens. Thus the thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens represent the areas of governance.
There would thus be a parallel people’s government along with the prior regime. The national army chiefs would then have to decide which government to recognize. The sympathies of the soldiers would be with the people, and the army would switch sides. The prior regime would be gone.
With power divided into neighborhood cells, it would be difficult for the military to capture power. Bottom-up small-group cellular democracy would be government by majority. But democracy is not enough. The people of Egypt also called out for “freedom! freedom!”.
Raw democracy can impose the tyranny of the majority on religious and other minorities. A danger of seizing democracy is that people have prejudices, and could falsely blame innocent minorities for their troubles. That is what has been happening in Iraq, where Christians are being persecuted and driven out.
Let us hope that the call for freedom in Egypt was for freedom for the people and not just freedom from the regime. When people seize democracy, they should at the same time declare a state of freedom. They can adopt one simple constitutional rule: do not coercively harm others.
Revolutionary democracy has to establish economic freedom, not just freedom of speech and religion. Having abandoned the old tax structure, it would be tragic for the new government to once again stifle the economy with coercive rules and punitive costs. The youths of Egypt were also rebelling against the lack of economic opportunity.
A free society requires a truly free market. The new realm should impose no restriction or tax on peaceful and honest enterprise. All that is needed is to penalize force and fraud. The councils would declare the land value as the legitimate property of the people, and collect a community rent from all land holders. The local councils could then pass on some of the rent to wider-area jurisdictions. The assessments and collections would be organized by a board with representatives from the whole set of councils. But ultimate power would rest with the neighborhood councils and the people.
We need to differentiate righteous revolution from tyrant take-overs. A righteous revolution establishes genuine democracy and freedom. No more pharaohs!
Power is ultimately with the people. Physics differentiates between potential power and kinetic power. The people of Egypt transformed their potential power into kinetic power. If their revolution be righteous, they would cast off the power of the old realm, while recognizing and protecting the individual power of each person in the new democratic liberated Egypt.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rebellion in the Streets!

Exciting and frightening! People in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere took to the streets to demand the replacement of the ruling regimes. It is exciting because the people no longer fear the guns of the state. The people have reinstated their sovereignty. They will no longer be dictated to.
But it is frightening also because we know from history what happened to the French, Russian, and Iranian revolutions. Around the world, the liberations from colonial rule degenerated into internal dictatorships and new oppressions.
The street rebels call for the dictators to step down. But they also need a vision of what will replace it. Otherwise, extremist supremacists, who are best organized, can become the new masters. Rulers need two tools to impose power. They need force, but they also need propaganda. There has to be some story that provides a willingness to follow by much of the population.
In the old Soviet Union, the story was state socialism, which was supposed to rationally plan the economy to serve the people. In Iran, the story is supremacist religion. In the United States, the story has been representative democracy. When many people stop believing the story, the regime’s rule is finished.
A third source of support for the state consists of benefits. In the United States, Europe, and Japan, the main benefits have become retirement income and medical services. Folks support the state because otherwise, where will they get their retirement income and medical benefits? In countries around the world, folks get various subsidies. They don’t realize that the costs imposed by the state far exceed the subsidies.
In Tunisia and Egypt, the people were getting few benefits from the state. In many countries, most people live at subsistence, just getting enough to survive on, while the wealth of the economy goes to the ruling class oligarchy. The regime depends on propaganda and force, but eventually the story goes stale, as it did in the old USSR. When propaganda fails, it becomes clear that the purpose of the state is only to serve the ruling class. Force alone cannot maintain the ruling class unless the rulers are willing to slaughter with no mercy, as happened in Iraq.
When all that is left is force, the regime is supported by fear. In Egypt, the propaganda was no longer effective. The Egyptian revolution of 1952, the military coup which overthrew the king, had gotten stale. The regime could not provide the people with economic benefits, since the very purpose of the state had become the enrichment of the rulers. U.S. government chiefs and others called for economic reform, but that was impossible, as it would have voided the purpose of the state to serve the landed ruling class elite.
Thus the chiefs hang on to power as long as possible. Shutting down communications is a sign of desperation, an act of futility, as commerce needs communications media. The people also recognize the shuffling of cabinet ministers as meaningless.
But the street revolutionaries should learn from the history of the French revolution. The French overthrew the monarch, and then mass democracy become mob rule and a reign of terror. The street rebels need to also learn from the Russian revolution, where a tyrant was replaced by a much worse regime that lasted for decades because they had a gripping story. Some rebels seek to impose a different type of tyranny, or they seek to copy the mass democracy that has failed and degenerated in much of the world. Mass democracy does not even work all that well in the USA, where it is ingrained in the culture.
If he were wise, here is what the government chief would do. He would declare a state of freedom. All censorship would be eliminated. All restrictions on non-harmful economic activity, gone. All taxes other than on land and pollution, eliminated. He would announce that sovereignty was hereby transferred to the people individually. The chief would organize local elections in villages and city neighborhoods, to which government power would be transferred. The chief would go down in history as heroic.
But such is a fantasy. It has never happened, because having been a tyrant, the chiefs think tyrant thoughts. And the people are not enlightened enough to demand free markets, decentralized governance, and the implementation of the universal ethic of liberty and human rights. What usually happens is that street rebellions result in violent chaos, and demagogues take over.
It is exciting that the people are boldly rejecting tyranny, but it is frightening that new tyrants with a fresher story may replace the old tyranny, rather than true liberty and democracy.