Orion Digest №7 — By the People, For the People
Society, from it’s inception, was originally designed to be a system that caters to the needs of the people within it. After all, what other need would we have of it if not for our mutual benefit? As explored by psychologist Abraham Maslow, human beings have a set of needs that range from basic components of survival (food, water, shelter) to psychological needs (social interaction, validation and purpose). Given agriculture and food production was what organized civilization, and tribal life was directed around culture and relationships, we came together for our mutual physical and social benefit.
Even as we evolve what it means to live in a society, the structure of our world should reflect that purpose. Anything that exists above the people should be to help all who take part in it, not to take advantage of them. It is true that the perks of a civilization do require participation to the best of your ability (i.e. you must follow the rules of an organization to gain the rewards of being in one), but the balance between labor and compensation is a delicate one, and too much to one side causes an inherently flawed system.
Civilization is a finnicky human invention, and it changes constantly through internal and external factors, so the relationship between government, economy, and citizen will naturally have to evolve to suit the needs of the times. With that change can come imbalance and domination of one of the former two over the latter. Such has been the case with the post-Industrial Revolution societies in the case of the individual vs. the economy, and has been an ever-present debate in the case of the individual vs the government. The relationship between government and economy itself has spawned schools of thought that shaped the world over the last two centuries, and continue to dominate the realm of political thought.
But even as we evolve and change what civilization looks like, we must not forget that we created this vast machine that is society for the purpose of providing for the needs of humans, and the fact that we see people on the streets, starving and homeless, stands as proof that society has failed at it’s most basic purpose. Any society, at any level of development, should provide for the needs of its citizens — a fact that defines the purpose of human civilization itself. Otherwise, we have a mechanism that serves itself, and has no reason to exist in the world.
For the two components outside of the individual, government and economy, there are many options thought of over the years that provide structure with various levels of community interaction. While there are crowds that favor their own type of theorem, a general consensus is that for both types, people prefer a system that lets them have input in decisions rather than a system controlled by a group separated from the rest of society, unknowledgeable in the concerns of the lower classes.
A degree of outside management is required in most systems of government — after all, if everyone is busy performing some function in society, people can’t also always manage complex systems of bureaucracy, so some people make it their jobs specifically to govern. In the simplest and most ancient societies, tribes would have elders and leaders, the wisest among the people who most believed fit to represent and guide them. With more modern systems, however, as people wish for representation, we move to more democratic government, where everyone has some minimal level of involvement (voting), and selects people who summarize the people’s wants (representatives) to run the government.
There are risks, of course, to representative government — someone who claims to be for one cause doesn’t always have an obligation to follow up on that promise, and can simply follow their own agenda. The less representation you have, the more specific public opinions get diluted, but the more representation you have, the more complex and slow government can get. Whereas a single-entity government has a clear and forward moving direction, true democracy only makes progress when representatives tell the truth and get along with each other, which is not always the case.
However, even if progress is slower moving in a democracy, it’s in a direction that the people choose for themselves, rather than having it chosen for them. For example, in a kingdom, a monarch could order the people to refurbish the roads of a city, regardless of whether the people wanted new roads or not. The work would likely get done much quicker if one person had the authority to make the decision, but the satisfaction of the people would be irrelevant. On the other hand, while the decision would take longer in a democracy, opinions on the state of the roads could be collected by citizens and the decision could be made after determining whether or not the people would prefer a refurbishment. The informed, democratic decision would require more effort, but make the people happier than a simple command, and in the end, that’s the important part — giving everyone a say.
Regardless of how much a democratic system changes in policy from a more central form of government, it certainly can help morale and public opinion. If people think that they have more of a choice in matters, they will be more likely to be active in their community, as the idea that they can make a difference facilitates motivation to ‘do their part’. If someone commands you to do something and it doesn’t work, you might just blame those in charge for it’s failure, but a community that makes a decision that fails might take the chance to learn more from their mistakes and improve upon the idea. It’s a positive feedback loop that can lead to greater overall involvement, and more input that satisfies the people, as they feel that they contributed. This ties directly into the more social needs of Maslow’s hierarchy, fulfilling a critical function of their lives.
On the other hand, economy is far closer to us in modern society, and is the subject of much more contentious debate. While the system of economic organization can vary from nation to nation, I’ll go with a common structure — capitalism. In basic capitalist theory, people form hierarchal businesses that compete in an open market to sell goods and services to customers that, in return, become a part of businesses themselves. The higher you are in the structure of an individual business, the more money you make, and the more successful the business is, the greater resources it will have, and ideally, the more employers and employees alike can get paid. In return, customers, having money earned from their labor, must make decisions about which businesses to buy from, affecting the revenues of others in a constant domino chain system.
At its core, capitalism is about competition — workers have to compete to gain positions within a business, businesses and their owners have to compete to innovate and attract more customers, and anyone who earns a wage has to decide the proper balance of spending they must achieve to obtain fulfillment of their needs. The contentious part of this competition becomes clear when it is unbalanced — an economy where certain parties in these fights have a clear advantage, and the deck is stacked against the underdog. As a result, many are fighting an uphill battle in an unbalanced capitalist system, which has resulted in much backlash against the structure.
Many corporations, pre-established and owning many smaller companies, have a clear advantage over any business that enters the market. People are familiar with the brand, and are more likely to trust something they know when buying goods and services, while the smaller competitors require blind trust. Many allow themselves to accept the money offered by these corporate giants, and get bought up, becoming no longer an opponent but an asset. Having one entity in the marketplace does not automatically harm the customer — they can still pay and get paid, receiving the goods and services — but it means that there is nothing to stop the business from conducting itself however it chooses.
With government, democracy prevents decisions from being made that negatively impact the people, as the public at large has checks and balances. However, in the economy, an elitist business that has dominance over the marketplace is not subject to public authority, and in capitalism, only slightly regulated by the government, which means there is plenty of wiggle room with which to raise prices, decrease quality, and leave customers with no option but to shrink down into greater poverty. With multiple competitors, you will have the option to buy goods and services at low prices if you cannot afford higher value items, but as the pool of companies shrinks, you are left with little choice in the matter.
Other forms of government and economic structure supersede this by giving either government, worker, or both more control over the economy, most notably socialist nations. As inspired by the initial Marxist philosophy, socialism details an economy where the internal hierarchy of businesses is less pronounced, with working class citizens having democratic decision of how the business should operate, and as a result, the elitist structure that characterizes modern capitalism would be shed for one more considerate of the common citizen. As mentioned earlier, the more removed a commanding force is in any organization, the less they’ll represent the desires of the rest of the organization, and socialism (or at least, democratic socialism) reflects that belief in allowing collective decisions by people affected by corporate decisions not only as workers, but as customers themselves.
As in a democratic government, a democratic workplace might not see as much overwhelming success, but it provides much more meaningful success than in a direction decided by an elite, removed class of society. Decisions made by democracy are those the people support and are responsible for, and if a business had trouble due to democratic decision making, the more likely people would learn from that mistake, take responsibility, and work to improve, resulting in a system that learned lessons collectively and improved over time.
Society was created for the people, and unless it is managed by the people, we risk having ruling parties lose sight of what average citizens go through, drifting off course until we have success of the few at the expense of the many. It is not a bad thing that some people should find success due to innovation and personal ingenuity, but it is unfortunate when others are not given the opportunity in the first place to achieve that success, or when those who become prosperous disadvantage others with their power. If society does not meet the needs of all those who live within it, then it has failed its core purpose, and must be fixed.
- DKTC FL