Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Most third world countries are bimodal. That is, they are divided into two distinct groups of people: a small, wealthy elite and a very large number of poor people. During the early part of the 20th century, the relationship between these two poles was defined by the dictatorship by one over the other. All this changed during the Reagan years, when an unprecedented shift to democratic forms flowed over the world like a tsunami. Now the relationships between the opposing poles of third world societies would have to be defined by democratic institutions.

Many of the positions held by political rivals during the pre-democratic period simply carried over into the new electorally based systems. There was a revolution through the ballot box, but those revolutions still carried the baggage of the failed ideologies of the 20th century. In consequence, as the Hoover Institution observes, many third world democracies are now in crisis. "The list of struggling democracies is long ... Nigeria ... Malawi ... Senegal ... the Philippines ... South Africa" and of course -- Latin America.

In Latin America many of ideas discredited by the Cold War have ridden the democratic process into power. In many parts of the southern continent a leftist ideology is now officially ascendant.

In December, Venezuelans narrowly rejected a sweeping referendum that would have given socialist president Hugo Chávez unprecedented power and control, including sway over the nation’s petroleum resources. Bolivia and Nicaragua have also encountered challenges and setbacks in sustaining democratic governments. In Nicaragua, former president and Marxist rebel/Sandanista leader José Daniel Ortega Saavedra won the 2006 presidential election. He has since declared that he wanted an end to 'savage capitalism,' a statement that raises concerns among some Latin American scholars who believe that Ortega’s socialist policies could derail Nicaragua’s democratic efforts. In Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, the election of socialist president Evo Morales has failed to bring stability to a nation racked by economic disasters, increasing ethnic tensions between indigenous and nonindigenous populations, and the ongoing war on drugs.

If Zimbabwe used the vote to reverse the domination of the whites by the blacks, in Latin America switch involved the rich and the poor. But one of the unfortunate legacies of the Cold War has been to resurrect in third world countries many of the Marxist nostrums that have been laughed into the grave in Eastern Europe, Russia or China. Five year plans may be largely dead in those countries, but they still roam like zombies in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The archetype of this phenomenon is Zimbabwe. Majority rule brought Robert Mugabe, who in turn brought his vision of '30s socialism to power. Then the Night of the Living Dead began: those long buried policies roamed the earth again bringing starvation, misery and impoverishment in their wake.

The process of "Zimzombification" is now overtaking Venezuela. The Chavez government is now seizing food in order to stem shortages. "Venezuela's top food company has accused troops of illegally seizing more than 500 tonnes of food from its trucks as part of President Hugo Chavez's campaign to stem shortages. The leftist Chavez this week created a state food distributor and loosened some price controls, seeking to end months of shortages for staples like milk and eggs that have caused long lines and upset his supporters in the OPEC nation."

As anyone with the slightest knowledge of economics knows -- excepting Marxists, who by definition already know everything about economics -- Chavez's policies will guarantee even greater shortages, spur the growth of blackmarkets, recreate the breadlines, drive producers into idleness, and in general follow along the well-trodden path of Robert Mugabe.

The political consequence of this "Zimzombification" may be to create such desperation that the starving populations will turn once again to the old elitist juntas of the past, hoping that subsistence in subservience is better than starvation while in political power. The danger is that democracy will be discredited along with the Mugabes and Chavezes of this world. Thus the essential crisis confronting third world democracies is whether it can resolve the ideological debates of the Cold War, especially with respect to economic policy, within the framework of the electoral process. If for example, the Zimbabweans and Venezuelans could rid themselves of the Leftist strongmen who have led them into catastrophe, they might eventually find a leader who, while still representing their essential interests, can lead them to prosperity using market methods that really work. There is no reason in principle why Zimbabwe can't elect a competent, economically literate black man to lead it nor why a man of Indian descent can't do better than the buffoonish Chavez. No reason at all, that is, except for Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez themselves.

Democracies in the third world have yet to solve the challenges posed by allowing totalitarian parties to participate in the electoral process. Mugabe and Chavez represent the phenomenon of the "absorbing state", a situation akin to the Roach Motel, which it is possible to enter but never leave. It has sometimes been described as the problem of "one man, one vote, one time". Third world democracies, having chosen a Mugabe or Chavez, now face the problem of successfully deselecting them.

These disastrous leaders must be changed somehow for the survival of their nations. Yet how they are changed is equally important. Tyrants like Mugabe and Chavez must somehow be deselected according to the democratic process, not overthrown to make room for an old-fashioned junta of generals and industrialists. The debris and pus of the totalitarian infection must be purged from the body politic while leaving the structure of democracy intact. This will take some doing. Both Mugabe and Chavez have subtly subverted the structure of democracy itself and have, to varying degrees, re-established totalitarianism anew under the color of ostensibly democratic forms.

The opponents of Chavez and Mugabe will multiply apace. And eventually they will succeed in casting the dictators down. The trick is for them to remember, in their moment of triumph, that the vacant presidential palace must be filled not by force of arms, but in despite of what happened, through the risky business of elections.


Blogger Whiskey said...

I am more sympathetic to the view of the critics of the neocons that many/most people are simply incapable of ruling themselves and cannot function in a democracy.

Zimbabwe is likely just too tribal and divided by tribe to be capable of democracy. A "nicer" strongman is likely the best they can do. Look at Kenya. Or Somalia. Or Rwanda. Or even South Africa. Deep tribal divisions guarantee violence unless a strongman like say, Tito can paper over it by even more violence.

I am more optimistic about Latin America, but not a lot more. There is less tribalism to the degree that there is in Africa, but tribal-type divisions still exist and IMHO are the primary driver of people like Chavez or Castro having what essentially is hereditary rule.

1/23/2008 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...


In Latin America it is more of a caste system than tribal. Criollos (Europeans) prey on Mestizos (mixed bloods) who prey on Indios in turn.

You end up with the same problem that you see in American black communities: Business and wealth creation are associated with the wealthy classes, so the Mestizos and Indios often reject capitalism as being "white." Obviously such attitudes are not universal, but there is enough of it to get idiots like Chavez, Morales and Correa elected.

I may be a baboso, but am not a Marxist. So I don't believe that history has to pass through certain stages or gates to progress. Nevertheless, I do think that there is something to be said about about Taiwan, Chile, and Korea passing through periods of relatively enlightened despotism before making the successful transition to democracy. Sometimes you just need someone to build society for a generation while cultural hatreds cool and fade.

1/23/2008 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

What may have started out as “sticking it to the man” may end up in sticking it to oneself. Populism leads the unwashed masses to vote for feel good measures that are probably too good to be true. But I wonder if the Palestians will regret voting in Hamas. I somehow doubt it.

1/23/2008 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger Kinuachdrach said...

Today Zimbabwe, tomorrow -- maybe us?

Look at the problem of incumbent politicians even in an advanced democracy like the US -- the 90+% "re-election" rate for senators & representatives is a standing disgrace to the concept of democracy. And the elected "representatives" are anything but representative of the general population.

And let's not discuss the Clinton ruling family -- where the wife is on track to replace the husband; and anyone who thinks that there will not be a big effort to replace a President Mrs Rodham-Clinton with her daughter in 2017 has not been paying attention.

The west exported a rather flawed model of democracy to the Third World. All the Third World is doing is making those basic flaws visible more quickly.

1/23/2008 07:17:00 PM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

El Baboso,

In general I agree with your concept that "passing through periods of relatively enlightened despotism before making the successful transition to democracy" has historically worked better.

What has also worked -- and worked for many of the original limited democracy: that is, democracy limited to the relatively well off by means of property qualifications, literacy requirements etc., that, by fits and starts, are gradually expanded and relaxed to include more people. The United States and Britain progressed in this way, but I'm primarily thinking of France under the Bourbon restoration, the Second Republic, the Second Empire and the Third Republic, all of which combined a good deal of enlightened despotism. This facilitates the development of oligarchy with politically combative factions driven to gradually expand the franchaise as more groups organize sufficiently to demand a stake, and where the in groups are looking for new supporters.

Probably this route is impossible now, in the media age, because this clashes so with the expectation of universal equality at all times, by all people, so one is either left with dictatorship with a completely sham "democracy" or tribal democracy where "Zimbobfication" is the rule.

1/23/2008 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

To me the big issue is tribalism or as el Baboso points out, caste-racialism divides that subvert any idea of nationalism or national institutions of a nation.

Yugoslavia wasn't great, by any means, but Tito through despotism kept various tribes from killing each other. A man like Lee Kwan Yew had a much easier time. Not the age-old struggle of tribes intent on wiping each other out. So thieving and corruption can be bounded somewhat.

1/23/2008 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...

Probably this route is impossible now, in the media age, because this clashes so with the expectation of universal equality at all times, by all people, so one is either left with dictatorship with a completely sham "democracy" or tribal democracy where "Zimbobfication" is the rule.

Sadly, quite possibly true. For every Chile there are a handful of Ecuadors, Nicaraguas, Venezuelas, and Bolivias.

To riff off your theory of limited democracy, I would recommend studying the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The most important legacy that revolution left us with was solving what I call the "succession problem." Before 1688, you may have an enlightened despot and rule of law, but upon his death or ousting, you may have organized plunder and tyranny. A nation incurs enormous risk due to uncertain succession and all must protect themselves by charging very high premiums on almost every transaction.

In 1688, the British are the first in human history to solve the succession problem. And yes, they solve it with limited democracy. Premiums go down, wealth increases rapidly, and the sun never sets on the British Empire.

The US has weathered any and all succession (and secession) problems for two centuries. I would propose that as the solution to why the rest of the world is "irrationally" buying our debt and assets. The succession premium is so low here that any short term losses will be trivial when weighed against the succession costs in their own countries.

1/23/2008 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...


So where did Park Chung Hee and Pinochet go right and Josef Broz Tito go wrong?

1/23/2008 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger amr said...

Wretchard wrote: The trick is for them to remember, in their moment of triumph, that the vacant presidential palace must be filled not by force of arms, but in despite of what happened, through the risky business of elections.

That is a tall order. Shays’ Rebellion in 1787 set the US on a course for better government under a new constitution. Fortunately there were democratically minded leaders that were available to correct the situation. Shays and his men were pardoned by the newly elected Massachusetts governor and not executed for their rebellion. The former governor was not arrested. The rule of law in bad times was upheld.

Unfortunately various Venezuelan governments were ineffective and there was no strong democrat to challenge Chavez. We were so lucky to have had so many men in our country’s founding that placed country and ideals above ego. Washington’s resignation of his commission and his return to Mt. Vernon, abandoning all trappings of power, was amazing to the world of that time and to me today.

1/23/2008 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

El Baboso -- I don't think Josip Broz Tito went wrong. Unlike either Park or Pinochet, he ruled over various tribes who have hated each other for around 700 years. The Albanian Muslims were linguistically and religiously separate, and hostile to anything but greater Albania. The Bosniak Muslims represented an existential threat to Serbian identity in that they would ally possibly with mortal enemy the Albanians (who were the shock troops for the Sultans).

Add to that the confessional divide between the Orthodox (who look to Russia as their protector) and the Catholics (who had looked to first Vienna and the Emperor, later Hitler, and then the US and NATO), and you have a multi-sided fight.

Slovaks and Croats, many who's WWII leaders collaborated with the Nazis and inflicted massive misery on the Serbian civilian population, were fellow Slavs but Catholic and oriented to the West. Serbians viewed themselves as the successors of the Byzantines and are Orthodox, oriented towards Russia (the third Rome). Then there's the Bosniaks and Albanians. A five-sided fight.

Park and Pinochet by contrast faced mostly city-country divisions. No linguistic, "tribe-national" and religious divisions, with patrons in the outside eager to meddle (and a long history of doing so).

Very likely the only way for Tito to have "solved" the problem was to have expelled most non-Serbs from Yugoslavia which was not possible given the NATO-Stalin/USSR showdown across the Continent.

1/23/2008 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Democracy is like a flower that requires a garden, or if you prefer the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, like wheat which needs good soil. While the 1980s saw democracy sown in many countries, it requires a favorable intellectual climate to flourish. Otherwise, the proverbial weeds will spring up and choke it.

America because of its history and common law heritage had the intellectual spark which enabled the seedling to survive the storms which blew it about. Without that it might easily have foundered. It's to be expected that democracies will be challenged in places like Venezuela or Zimbabwe. It's survival, like any flower, is not guaranteed. But if other flowers are sown beside it, any vacancy will sooner or later be replanted by the nearer blooms.

In practical terms, this means that the democratic tradition must be spread and spread again, just as the sower reseeds the soil. Unfortunately, there are other seeds being sown. The UN for example, while paying lip service to democracy, is many ways temperamentally a totalitarian institution. Even large parts of the West would like nothing more, for reasons which escape me, than to see "socialism" in the Third World.

1/23/2008 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

These failing states are crippled by their cultures, not just the distribution of wealth and power. The zeitgeist of America was formed by the Protestant Reformation (individual rights and Christian ethics), the Enlightenment (rationalism and the scientific method), and the great traditions of British common law and liberty.

Nations that don't have these foundation stones are built, at least partly, on sand.

But we're also in bad shape, with Christianity losing ground, rationality losing ground to the "feel good" crowd, and our history and traditions being rubbished in the schools in favor of an idiotic multi-culturalism that celebrates every culture but our own, and teaches our children nothing but contempt for the heritage that makes their freedom and privilege possible.

Homeschooling and other such measures are just a finger in the dike.

1/23/2008 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...


I liked Chauncey Gardner in Being There better than the Constant Gardner (which was crap). Your remarks about a garden are like Sellers in Being There's remarks about gardens.

What about Brazil? This is a country moving in the right direction. In part they have great natural resources but they are developing them in a modern way. They haven't nationalized their oil or mining companies and don't plan to. I don't know what it is there but they are on the ball.

Venezuela still has much greater oil reserves than Brazil but with Chavez stealing the oil the oil companies are not maintaining their equipment and things will only go downhill.

1/23/2008 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

We're really talking about the Classical Conservative critique of liberal democracy. Way back in the 18th century David Hume and Edmund Burke were saying that governments come from the history and traditions of their societies. You can't bring in a blueprint from outside and expect it to work.

Burke said that English democracy was a product of their unique history and the French Revolution proved that it wasn't transplantable.

It's good to keep in mind that change can happen. France is no longer a despotism. Societies are not unchanging monoliths. Change is much slower than the news cycle. Liberal democracy didn't even reach all of Europe until a few years ago.

Venezuela does have traditions that work in its favor. There has been constitutional government, which is why Chavez has to hold elections and referendums. There is a civil society. There is a tradition of opposing the government peacefully. It isn't like Zimbabwe, which has never had a peaceful transition of power.

1/24/2008 12:02:00 AM  
Blogger The Wobbly Guy said...

In Singapore here, I only have to say: we got lucky. So did Malaysia.

If not for Lee Kuan Yew and his strongarm tactics and almost outright betrayal of the commies, Singapore would not be where we are now. There were other factors at play, of course, but I doubt those other factors would have mattered if a Marxist had come to power via the elections.

I would advocate the strongarm leader, but one with the right attitude. Only once the people have a reasonable level of prosperity and education can democracy be allowed to flourish. Problem is: How do you ensure such a leader?

Luck of the draw, I guess.

1/24/2008 04:12:00 AM  
Blogger El Baboso said...


I was going to say it was because Tito was a filthy Marxist and Park and Pinochet implemented capitalist policies. I like your analysis though. Maybe Marxism worsens latent tensions as tribal, ethnic or caste groups fight over scarce resources. So when the socialist state unravels, the hatreds explode.

In Taiwan, there was also conflict between the natives and the mainlanders. Google the 228 Incident.

Wretchard: I've always had a problem with the sower parable insofar as it seems irresponsible. To sow blindly is to end up with a lot of wasted seeds and stunted wheat. In real life, these translate into destroyed and stunted lives. The sower must remove the stones, chase off the birds, and pull the weeds. He must make the land ready for sowing. As recent events show, this is tough, backbreaking work.

1/24/2008 05:52:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

el baboso, just look at Marxist tactics, divide and conquer. Of course Marxism worsens latent tensions, they deliberately do it so they can rule. Look up Gramscian Marxism/Socialism.

Analogies only go so far, on real land you can recognize rocks and remove them, societies are a lot more complex. Iraq seems to show that sometimes, being able to experience both despotism and democracy in alternation makes a very convincing case for democracy.

1/24/2008 06:44:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

The problem for the U.S. and other Western countries in responding to this is that almost no one believes that Marxism is a threat any more. Form our viewpoint it looks like a old nut with a broken down 30 year old car with its gas tank full of water threatening to run you over unless he gets his fair share of what you have in your wallet.

After the collapse of the USSR one Russian official said the rest of the world owed Russia a debt for its grand experiment that proved Communism did not work. So they went from saying that they had a right to what we owned because of the eventual triumph of Marxism to saying that they had a right to what we owned because of the failure of Marxism.

But don’t forget back in the 70’s the most popular belief among the elites of Western Europe was that the USSR simply could not expect to suppress the far more sophisticated and intelligent people of Eastern Europe and that it would all get fixed eventually. But in fact it got fixed through Pershings and Tomahawks and Peacekeepers and B-1’s and an attitude that said “Just try it sucker. Go ahead, make my day!”

1/24/2008 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

We seem to have forgotten that many of the most successful democratic governments are actually hybrid governments. The British government at its height of power and effectiveness combined a King, a hereditary House of Lords, and a democratically selected House of Commons with a meritocratic Judiciary. This was an impure democracy. And yet Winston Churchill, who was a member of that House of Lords, was Britain's greatest wartime leader of the last 200 years.

The US Constitution originally described a system where Representatives were elected directly, but Senators were elected by elected officials from their states and the President was elected by democratically chosen electors, while the federal Judiciary was appointed for life by the President. This is not pure democracy. This is a republic. I tend to think that the republic structure works better than the democratic structure because it removes the way that 51% of the populace can raid the common treasury and bankrupt the nation.

If countries choose to implement a hybrid system with some democratic elements and some feudal or theocratic elements I do not think it's all that bad. Sure you and I might not prefer to live there, but if it gives the citizenry the freedoms and rights they value, then what's the problem?

What must be identified and protested are those situations where the democratic input is completely nullified by a Mullah and his pals, by unelected judges violating the prerogative of legislators, or by an unaccountable bureaucracy that implements its whims as policy. In these situations someone is above the law. That's the violation that must be fought. The law applies equally to all. No man is above the law.

That's the real benefit we seek to spread with democracy promotion. Let's keep it in mind.

1/24/2008 08:55:00 AM  
Blogger Rich Casebolt said...

One aspect of governance that we may have inadvertently omitted in our efforts to spread "democracy" to other nations, is that American democracy does not start -- or end -- with The Vote; i.e. representative government/"self-determination".

Well before the foundations of representative government were laid down in our Constitution, our founding citizens clearly stated that government -- even representative government -- is only a means to not just an end ... but millions upon millions of ends:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ...

And, even as the founders laid down those foundations with the Constitution, they already had the "tuckpointing" of the Bill of Rights on the schedule, to assure that the new government would work to facilitate the fufillment of those millions of ends.

Unfortunately, as we worked to teach others what had worked for us, the omissions of the need for structural protections of those inalienable rights from the syllabus -- coupled with the "non-judgmental" culture of relativism in my lifetime -- led people (Here and There) to believe that The Vote was all they needed.

They were wrong ... as we see in places as diverse as Iran and Venezuela.

Mere democracy is not enough. It is rights-respecting governance, including representation in the decision-making processes, that secures safety and prosperity for all who are willing to establish and maintain it.

Accept no substitutes.

1/24/2008 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Democracy only exists until the electorate realizes they can vote to make themselves rich. Then the wealth of the nation is destroyed. Look at our unfunded Social Security future obligation. The job of a demagogic politician is very simple: make sure the collapse occurs AFTER they leave office. The insane juggling act continues until one day they drop the ball.

Guys who appoint themselves Dictator for Life don't realize this.

Perhaps if when Idi Amin left Uganda he was kidnapped and slowly tortured to death (video on You-Tube!) then there wouldn't be so many dictators attempting to follow his model.

Oh well, the Mayan calendar ends in 2012. Maybe they knew something...

1/24/2008 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Pangloss - The US Constitution originally described a system where Representatives were elected directly, but Senators were elected by elected officials from their states and the President was elected by democratically chosen electors, while the federal Judiciary was appointed for life by the President. This is not pure democracy. This is a republic. I tend to think that the republic structure works better than the democratic structure because it removes the way that 51% of the populace can raid the common treasury and bankrupt the nation.

Horseshit. All the structures you describe just order the function.

And just delay the mob if you somehow end up with 51% of the voters out to get the greater wealth and productivity of the minority that makes things happen.

America, for most of it's day, seems to have succeeded by limiting democracy. Then, when conditions were right, added blacks in a limited capacity, woman with full sufferage, then in the early 60s added full sufferage to blacks AND to people that contributed nothing in the way of work or taxes (elimination of the poll tax).

The giving of full votes to parasites was the root of the gradual decline in America and the wastrel spending of the Federal government. If one quarter of the population pays no taxes, and a little more than another one quarter believes that the expansion of government nets them far more than they pay in taxes, the prescription is in and all the institutions favor voters staffing them - Senators, Judges - and eroding those checks so eventually the 51% DOES raid the common treasury and bankrupt the nation.

It has already happened.

The cancer is compounded by dogmatic Republican idiots that believe any tax cut, down to zero taxes, automatically pays for themselves and allows funding all the nice entitlements and huge military the Republicans want.

Add in that I also favor stripping women of the right to vote.

That is based on decent beer going from 2 bucks a sixpack to 8 bucks in my short lifetime and my property taxes doubling in 10 years to pay for local "cost is no object" spending on "the children! the children!"

1/24/2008 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Cedarford said:
"The cancer is compounded by dogmatic Republican idiots that believe any tax cut, down to zero taxes, automatically pays for themselves"

First of all, gold sold for an inflation-adjusted price of $2800 an ounce in 1980.

Second of all, no politician has adequately explained how tax cuts can pay for themselves, so I guess it's left up to me. If the income tax rate was 0% the government would have zero revenue because it wouldn't collect money. If, on the other hand, the tax rate was 100% the government would collect zero money because nobody would be dumb enough to work for zero reward. This leads you to the inescapable conclusion that there is a magic "revenue maximizing" tax rate somewhere between 0% and 100%. If you are above the magic tax rate, raising taxes will DECREASE revenues because people are not sufficiently rewarded to work as hard as they are capable.

When Kennedy cut the tax rate revenues went up. When Reagan cut the tax rate revenues went up. When Bush cut the tax rate revenues went up.

In each of these instances, the preexisting tax rate was above the magic revenue maximizing rate.

I hope that clears up your confusion.

Overspending, on the other hand, is a real problem. Reagan doubled the country's GDP, but his Democrat Congress spent all this and more resulting in a sharp increase in the National Debt. If you want to fault the Rebublicans for six years of overspending, you'd get no argument from me.

1/24/2008 08:39:00 PM  
Blogger Gary Rosen said...

"I hope that clears up your confusion."

Not unless accompanied by a good shot of Thorazine.

1/25/2008 12:45:00 AM  
Blogger Gary Rosen said...

"in my short lifetime"

Puh-leeze, C-fudd! You're an aging boomer even if a self-loathing one, you old Beatlemaniac.

1/25/2008 12:47:00 AM  

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