It has taken centuries to replace autocratic for democratic governments to let our democracies end up captured by very powerful minorities. Despite new ways and circumstances, the challenge that humanity faces since ancient times to make progress in equity, justice, and solidarity is still in force.
The frustration of citizens that feel unrepresented by governments that had been democratically elected keeps rising in numbers and expands territorially. A Gallup survey done in 60 countries where governments were electorally selected found that just 10% of surveyed people believed that their country’s government complied with the people’s will. The abysm that separates voters from their government shows that incumbents impose courses and ways of functioning that bend or replace the will of the people. Powerful groups distort the democratic principles seizing contemporary democracies for their own benefit.
The implications of living in captured democracies are serious as they dissociate peoples from a governing system that was born after centuries of fighting against invaders, colonizers, autocrats, and dictators. The answer should not be to reject our democracies but rather to organize ourselves to dismount what allows democracies to be captured by minorities that privilege their own interests over the general wellbeing. The challenge that humanity faces since ancient times to make progress in equity, justice, and solidarity is still in force but takes new forms. The type of globalization that has been imposed on us has generated a concentration of economic, media, and military power never seen before.
What are captured democracies?
Captured democracies are those where large majorities of people have electoral rights but not an economic or cultural parity, they coexist with concentrated economic groups that get hold of some strategic institutions. These groups work not only on short-term but also on medium term strategies: they know they can win or lose elections, thus, besides playing in the electoral front they set up institutional trenches to resist democratic transformations that might affect their privileges. They impose their perspectives and decisions, co-opting or buying complicities from the hegemonic media and sectors of politics and the judiciary. In this way, they manipulate public opinion to win political power but, if they feel threatened, then they mobilize their judiciary allies to block the changes promoted by people-based governments. When this is not enough, they unfold a battery of operations to destabilize or even remove them.
In search for solutions
It must be recognized that if a minority manages to establish mechanisms for capturing a democracy, the ways of solving these situations are not technocratic but essentially political. That is, to dismantle submission mechanisms there has to be a political work to build a superior power than the one of those sectors that has captured our democracies. Therefore, though theses lines focus on unveiling the variety of submission mechanisms that concentrated powers use (which helps to understand how a democracy is captured), the bottom-line is to form solid governments with a wide, popular support base.
Mechanisms for capturing representative democracies
No power group openly accepts that he has captured for his own sake a democracy. On the contrary, as those goals cannot be openly defended, assailants use subtle mechanisms for accumulating power and impose it to the majorities. It is such an old process as humanity itself, only that before brute force was extensively used without caring for the forms and now it is reserved for cases where subtle submission mechanisms have been identified and are at risk of being eliminated. Clarification does not replace political action but adds validity and orientation for the needed efforts.
Some of the most important mechanisms through which our democracies are captured are the following:
- Mechanisms for accumulating economic and decision power
These mechanisms are multiple and changing as they are continuously adjusting to shifting circumstances. An uncontrolled financial speculation, the imposition of unfavorable prices to suppliers and consumers done by concentrated groups, a widespread tax evasion, capital flight and the sovereign over-indebtedness are some of the most harmful mechanisms.
- Mechanisms for resisting transformations
To protect their interests, economic powers impose institutions that then remain overtime while support ideologies that favor them. The legal framework presents ambiguities that some sectors of the judiciary interpret with a clear bias towards their accomplices in the concentrated groups. Complicities mobilized to resist transformations include the mass media, sectors of politics and a group of consultants, forecasters, and risk agencies.
- Electoral mechanisms that manipulate popular will
In an election, political debate is a critical instance to know the positions, proposals, trajectories and personalities of candidates. However, the imposed type of debate turns the electoral process into a marketing operation. Instead of contrasting visions, programs, and projects, the electoral preference is based on fake empathies, theatricalities, slogans, phony scenarios where musical screens, prefabricated gestures and feelings mock situations of joy and happiness that are presented as informal and spontaneous. A team of sellers of images and illusions drains the significance out of politics replacing it with commercials that conceal indefensible interests. Only political parties attuned with the economic power are privileged by the media and generously financed by concentrated groups.
- Post-electoral submission mechanisms
Once established, elected governments suffer the permanent lobby of powerful pressure groups that try to extract public policies and contracts in their favor. These pressures open huge spaces for corruption: bribes to win allegedly impartial bids and, even much worse for the magnitude of involved resources, public policies that secure large transfers of resources towards concentrated groups. At the same time, monitoring of promises and electoral lies is silenced with a clear bias, thus most of the noncompliance remain unpunished.
Faced with these submission mechanisms there is no room for discouragement, lamentation or a stunned look. Efforts to build more democratic societies have always faced very powerful groups. Today, as always, we need to address new searches, advance in understanding, unveil what is concealed, work to widen up the popular field in an organized fashion and align multiple interests and diverse needs of the social collective. In this effort, a main component is having our own strategic thinking that will protect from disorientation, offer better alternatives, and renew hopes.
To avoid manipulations and ploys, popular and middle-class sectors cannot renounce to understand, to reflect, and to recognize mistakes as well as to generate and manage better options. Let us not fool ourselves, a better future demands rectifying the course and not keep going the same way. For that, a clear understanding of what is happening, far sightedness, open-mindedness, organization, and, very especially, reinforcement of our determination, are very much needed.