Clem Sunter

The contagion of democracy

2011-02-23 12:45

I prefer the Ancient Greek pronunciation - deemos kratos or people power. It has a harsher ring about it, but it is closer to the truth when describing the momentous events taking place in the Arab world. No more dictators telling us what to do. We want our lives back. Now!

The demonstrations show a freedom of spirit which has been bottled up for years under tyrannical rule. The genie is out and the contagion is spreading. The internet, social networks, mobile phones following events for YouTube and even old-fashioned landlines when the internet has been banned - all these channels are in use to make the world aware of what is happening. And the seed is being planted that if they can do it, so can we. The oppressed elsewhere are listening.

The ground has never been so fertile for revolution. The gap between the rich and the poor has been widening in both advanced and emerging economies. Globalisation has created a new category of super-rich individuals and families but has made precious little difference in the lives of many middle-class and working-class individuals. Who for example is bearing the brunt of the great recession in terms of lost jobs and broken businesses? Not Wall Street which is nearly back to its all-time high. It’s Main Street where the vast majority live and work.

One of the deposed rulers so far is rumoured to have salted away $50bn. That is equivalent to the wealth of Bill Gates. And what for? At least Gates invented something and is now busy giving his money away. The victors in this world are those whose runaway greed caused all the problems and the losers are the innocent bystanders. The level of anger everywhere is palpable - in America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and even China. It is just not fair!

What do the revolutionaries want? Certainly not the same old politics and tired ideologies. The right wing merely offers more of the status quo suitably dressed up in a new rhetoric which disguises the staleness of the message being preached. The left wing has demonstrated the same penchant for the good life as the right wing once they have achieved the level of domination that allows them to do as they please. So the invisible hand of Adam Smith and the heavy hand of Karl Marx have both been discredited in the minds of the masses.

My take when looking at the crowds demonstrating is that most of the participants are regular guys - the silent majority like you and me who just want to have a fairly decent life along with their family and friends. They are not fundamentalists. They are not interested in the “isms” of any kind.

They want a leader with a moral integrity to lead them and they want a government that effectively provides all the services and infrastructure that governments are expected to provide. What stands out is their ordinariness. Obviously, they want the vote so that in future they can hold their leaders accountable.

As a scenario planner, I am intrigued as to where this new wave of people power will lead. The oil price has already risen as a result of the unrest in Libya and stock markets are skittish. If the unrest spreads to Saudi Arabia or China, the impact would be massive on the global economy. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Africa, dictators must be taking note.

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