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Too Much Democracy? Part II

#1114 'Too Much Democracy?' Part 2
PBS feed date 5/1/2003

Funding for Think Tank is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending nearly five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.

(opening animation)

BEN WATTENBERG: Hello Iím Ben Wattenberg. In the rhetoric of diplomacy, the words Democracy and Freedom are often used interchangeably, but do elections, democracy, insure liberty? In fact is there such a thing as too much democracy? Does Democratization these days mean Americanization? Those questions have never been more timely. To explore them, Think Tank is joined by Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, and author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. Fareed Zakaria 'Too much Democracy Part Two' this week on Think Tank. Fareed Zakaria welcome back to Think Tankís program 'Too Much Democracy' based on your book The Future of Freedom, and let me ask you to give us a definition of what you call illiberal democracy.

FAREED ZAKARIA: when I began thinking about the subject, I realized you look around the world in the 1990s, there were lots of countries holding elections. But the governments that were produced were awful. And I was asking myself 'Whatís going on here?' And I realized that what we in the west mean by democracy is really liberal democracy. Itís democracy but also constitutionalism, the rule of law, the separation of powers. If you think about the United States, what do we like about America? We think of America as the most democratic country in the world, but in many ways among the democracies, itís the least democratic. We have a Bill of Rights thatís at the heart of American democracy. What does the Bill of Rights say? It says, 'No matter what the majority says, you cannot abridge freedom of speech. You cannot engage in unreasonable search and seizure.' The Supreme Court is probably the most important branch of American government and it has nine unelected men and women serving for life.

BEN WATTENBERG: if the Supreme Court was really just plain unelected and opted by a five to four vote, to say that Bush was President and not Gore, I shutter to think of the results, but this way you can say, 'Look, you know, there, these are nine guys. They were appointed by four different presidents, or five different presidents. They were confirmed by the Congress. I donít like it, but XYZ.'

FAREED ZAKARIA: Look, I think you always want the people to have ultimate power. But the question is how you structure a government that allows for the uh, that allows for leadership in a way...that allows for the institutions that protect liberty to not have to worry about public opinion polls. And what I, what I discovered, I mean if you look at the history of the west itís these institutions, building these institutions that has been at the core of western liberty. Democracy came much, much later you know. Liberty produces democracy in the western experience, not the other way around.

BEN WATTENBERG: Well, you, think that the modern world, let alone the less developed world is suffering from too much democracy. Now, thatís something youíre gonna catch a lot of flack fr-from because people say, you know, 'We believe in democracy, what is this guy cominí up and saying we have too much democracy?'

FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, democracyís like motherhood and apple pie but, but I...

BEN WATTENBERG: Well, but most people have mothers and almost everybody likes apple pie, so you got a problem.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Yeah. Um, the point Iím trying to make is that democracy works best when it is anchored in certain traditions, institutions in a certain civic culture. And we should be paying as much attention to those. If you end up with a lopsided balance, with just elections, with just populism, with just poll-taking and without enough attention paid to these guides, these restraints, then you will end up with a very hollow kind of democracy. Toqueville [?] warned about this a hundred and fifty years ago. Where he pointed out that the anchor of American democracy will be what he called intermediate institutions. These groups, political parties, lawyers, uh, courts, even church groups that guide uh, uh, American democracy, that are a kind of buffer between uh, the state on the one hand..
BEN WATTENBERG: The so-called mediating structures...[crosstalk]

FAREED ZAKARIA: ...and the family. Mediating structures, exactly. And my fear is that you, we, we are paying too little emphasis to those and too much emphasis to the pure democratic aspects...elections, polls, public participation

BEN WATTENBERG: Well, what is your, what is your evidence that, letís take America first, uh, to coin a phrase. Uh, uh, that America is suffering from too much democracy. I mean, after all, over the period that youíre talking about be it the last twenty years or the last fifty years, we have become what the French call the hyper-power, weíre the most wealthy nation in the world, weíre the freest nation in the world, weíre the cultural leader, the technological leader, I mean, if, if you looked at the, the output, uh, by any human standard itís pretty good and yet you say weíre doing a lot of things wrong and itís gonna get worse.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Well if you look at over those last thirty years, some other interesting things which is despite this extraordinary rise to power, despite this extraordinary generation of wealth most Americans think the United States is doing something wrong. They, they trust their politicians less. They trust the government less. They think American politics is going badly. If you look at surveys done asking, 'Do you trust Washington? Do you trust politicians?' Theyíve gone from seventy percent in the 50s to twenty-five, twenty-eight percent. Even after September 11th. Uh, you find that voting levels have declined dramatically. Uh, people feel thereís something wrong with the political system. They feel it doesnít do what itís supposed to do. And what I argue is that thereís a paradox at the heart of American democracy. In the late 60s and early 70s we opened up the democratic system. We democratized it further. We opened up Congress, Congressional structures; we opened up the political process. Get rid of the smoke-filled rooms...

BEN WATTENBERG: And what did that yield?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, Iíll give you uh, I think, uh, I quote in the book Dale Bumpers saying you know, in the old days we used to, when we passed legislation we had to do it all in closed committee votes and weíd do what we thought by and large, weíd do what we thought was good for the country. Weíd come out, thereíd be fifty lobbyists waiting for us and I could tell each one of them, 'You know, look fella, I really tried for you. I really tried, but it just didnít go through.' Now everything is open. Itís much more democratic and they can see how you voted. So whatís happened is instead of getting rule of the majority you have rule of the minority. You have particularly, targeted interest groups that know how to penetrate the system. Youíve, youíve, youíve opened up the system so much...

BEN WATTENBERG: But donít, donít those interest groups, arenít they really a, uh, a in some ways a parallel and beneficial uh, structure alongside of our regular democracy? I mean, you, here weíre sitting in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C. I think now has about twenty-five hundred trade associations. Well, you sit down with any one of the heads of those trade associations and theyíll say, 'You know, I represent people, too. Doctors, lawyers, Greeks, Jews, uh, businessmen, uh, whatever. Uh, why shouldnít I have an input? Before it was all a smoke-filled room and we couldnít get our voices out.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Whatís happened is you have these groups which do represent some people, but often very small minorities being able to amplify their voice and amplify their [unintelligible] effect on the political system so that what ends up happening is you have constant continual pandering to them.
Look, the problem, Ben is that there is no interest group for the problems of tomorrow. There are no interest groups for the, the long term interest of the country. There are always interest groups for what, what exists now and so what you have in Washington is increasingly the preservation of the status quo, the preservation of past programs. I think that part of what Iím trying to do is to, is to shift the balance of the system a little bit more so it encourages acts of leadership, so that it encourages people to do what they think is right and not feel like theyíre going to pay a heavy consequence and you talk to any Congressman today, they will tell you that theyíre terrified of doing what they think is right, because they have so much daily, even hourly pressure.

BEN WATTENBERG: So specifically for the United States, for the modern nations, what do you propose?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Some decisions have to be taken outside of the realm of day-to-day politics with the political pressures of it. Look, who would have predicted, uh, a hundred years ago that the smartest way to govern the economy was to take the single most important aspect of economic policy, which is the setting of interest rates, and have it done by an independent, uh, uh, administration. The Federal Reserve. But who, but we can all I think are accept that that has been a roaring success and that it is successful precisely because Alan Greenspan is insulated from the day-to-day pressures of, of politics and politicking. That he doesnít have to take a poll to figure out what the interest rate should be. If you ask Americans what institutions of American government they respect, I was fascinated by this when writing the book. The three institutions that come up in poll after poll are the Supreme Court, the Armed Forces and the Federal Reserve. Now why is that? Because I think people understand that these institutions insulated from public pressure, insulated from day-to-day democratic control have the ability to make decisions independently, to lead. And so I think that itís a very healthy part of democracy to allow people a certain space. This is Burkeís [?] famous line about, about elections. He said when he was running for Parliament in Bristol, 'I owe my constituents, not to faithfully reflect their opinions, but I owe them my best judgment.'

BEN WATTENBERG: How does this all relate to whether the United States will be a - I donít wanna use this truly simplistic term but I will - uh, isolationist or internationalist power. I mean, George Bush ran for office saying he wasnít gonna do any nation building, he wasnít gonna get involved in gettiní pushed around by all these international organizations, and of course events turned out um, other, uh, otherwise.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Letís take it one at a time, I think.. First, what you find, what you find in, American, in recent American histories that consistently polls show that Americans think weíre too involved in the world, weíre doing too much, we should be more isolationist, but the reassuring part of it is that people also understand that if thereís good leadership theyíre willing to, to listen. Throughout the Cold War, the United States was able to maintain a very active and engaged policy toward the world militarily, politically, socially, economically because the leadership of the United States framed the issues in a way, a strategic moral way where people understood that we had to stay involved. And even if their instincts were somewhat isolationist they went along with it. I hope we can continue that tradition [crosstalk] of leadership in that regard...

BEN WATTENBERG: But you think as I have been reading your stuff that the Bush administration has behaved in a very clumsy and oafish sort of way in the international fora.

FAREED ZAKARIA: I think that the United States has so much power, um, and this, in, in, with as much power as the United States inevitably youíre gonna arouse suspicion, envy, resentment. And you should be very careful not to needlessly rub it in. Not to make people feel humiliated...friends, allies. And I think the Bush administration has while often pursuing the right policy, uh, managed to diplomatically isolate itself needlessly. There were many cases where you could have done the same thing, but you didnít have to leave this sort of, this, this wreckage of international alliances in its wake.

BEN WATTENBERG: Letís take one example thatís always brought up and this anti-dates 9/11. The Kyoto Treaty. Now there are a lot of people in the scientific community particularly those who are associated with the Bush administration that arenít at all convinced that the global warming situation is as described and even if it were that the Kyoto Treaty is not the way to go about it. I mean the two biggest countries in the world are exempted. The senate by ninety-five to nothing said they wouldnít vote for it and yet, so, uh, and yet, what were we supposed to do when this came up in these European deli-deliberations? Just sort of play round-heels? Roll over and say, 'Well itís alright because we wanna be your friends.' Or are we supposed to say, 'You know, we donít wanna be a bully but we donít, we donít accept those views.'

FAREED ZAKARIA: Kyoto is a perfect example, I think actually because youíre right. Kyoto is fundamentally flawed as a treaty for all the reasons youíre describing. The question we faced was could you have said it in another way? We recognize that environmentalism is a very important issue. We want to try and tackle it as do you. But letís face it, Kyoto isnít working that well. Thatís why we have found it difficult to ratify. Thatís why most European countries, by the way, have not ratified it. So what we have proposed is letís get back to the drawing board and letís come up with some modifications and emendations to it.' Instead of that we said, quote, 'Kyoto is dead.' Unquote. Um, now what that, the signal that sends to the world is that the worldís largest consumer of energy does not give a damn. Does not care what theyíve done. So, itís all, and sometimes in diplomacy style is substance. Especially when you have so much power. A, a friend of mine, a European CEO said to me, he said, 'You know, when youíre the most powerful person in the room, you never need to tell other people that. Theyíre all acutely aware of it. Theyíre acutely aware of the limitations of their power. Your job is to reassure them that youíre still listening to them, that youíre still taking them into account. They know at the end of the day that you have more power than they do.' And I think itís, itís just a matter of recognizing that with this much power you are trying to reassure the world, or you should seek to reassure the world. One of the great things about America is that for a hundred years itís been the most powerful country in the world. And it has defied the predictions of balance of power theory. That people will gang up against you because youíre so powerful. And why is that? Because America has always combined its power with a certain generosity of spirit and been able to give the rest of the world a sense that we were taking into account their interest. You know, if you think about it at the end of World War I, we donít propose that we take away all the riches. We proposed the League of Nations. We at the end of World War II, we donít propose that we divide up the world and take you know, the lions share. We proposed the United Nations Bretton Woods whole system of economic cooperation that has fueled the world economy. This is the great American spirit...to combine power with generosity and I just think we shouldnít loose sight of that. People will always know that weíre powerful. They also need to know weíre generous.

BEN WATTENBERG: There are only two countries in the world that have more than a billion people. One of them is China which is about a billion two and the other is your native land of India, uh, which is free and which has had a pretty good run of economic numbers. Uh, not as dramatic as China, but is doing pretty well and yet you lay some pretty heavy strokes on uh, on, on, on India in your book. I wonder what your feeling is about that.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Indian democracy is a marvel. Itís, itís an extraordinary achievement.

BEN WATTENBERG: Itís been going on for fifty some odd years.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Itís been going on for fifty years.

BEN WATTENBERG: Itís a real place.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Right. Itís a real, and itís real democracy particularly if you look at things like freedom of the press. Itís extraordinarily vibrant, uh, society. My concern with India is that many of the best characteristics of Indian democracy, uh, a real respect for the rule of law, a real tolerance for other religions and communities turns out to have been put in place by a kind of dominant culture uh, of the Congress party...the party the liberated India from the British. As India has become more democratic...

BEN WATTENBERG: And, sort of socialist...
FAREED ZAKARIA: Right, and socialist. Absolutely. You take the bad with the good.

BEN WATTENBERG: Like the late Senator Moynihan said that the Fabians in England set back India fifty years.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Oh, at least fifty years. Yeah. Um, but over the last twenty or thirty years you have had a much more democratic India. Much more competitive political party system, many more voters entering the roles and youíve seen an odd thing happen, which is more democracy but less liberty. What I mean by that is the rise of political parties that appeal to peoples basest and raw emotions. Anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, anti-Sikh, so what youíve seen is the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and more than that you have seen the electoral process kind of encourage that because itís an easy way to win the elections. A confident successful culture would embrace the world and embrace the diversity within it, but what youíre getting fueled by this political process is a great deal of violent anti-minority behavior. The most uh, egregious example of this was last year in Gujarat. There was essentially a state-assisted pogrom probably the first in independent India. The state actually allowed the police to assist in that process. And hereís the worst part they knew it had been so popular that they called quick elections and you know what they were right. They won the elections. So that dynamic of the electoral progress fueling ethnic nationalism and then goading people to get more extreme which happened in Yugoslavia with dramatic and terrible consequences is beginning to happen in India. And my fear for young democracies like India, Indonesia, places like that you will end up with a system that that politicians realize that the simplest way to win votes is to demagogue minority communities.

BEN WATTENBERG: You were born a Muslim?


BEN WATTENBERG: And practiced the Muslim religion.


BEN WATTENBERG: Do you still?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Iím not particularly religious, but I wouldnít say Iím anything else, yeah.

BEN WATTENBERG: And does this uh, color your view of, of what is going on in India?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Sure. I grew up a minority so maybe Iím sensitive to minority rights. But I grew up in a very secular India. I mean, I, I celebrated Hindu holidays, I celebrated Christmas. That was very much the tradition of India in the 50s and 60s, uh, that there was enormous attention paid to trying to uh, to try to create a secular culture in which every religion was, was given an equal space. And it was not uncommon for somebody like me to celebrate the religious holidays of other, other faiths, or for them to celebrate ours. That was very much part of the mix. It was something people like Gandhi and Nehru [?] spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to build and one of the disappointments for me was to see that culture eroding, uh, with the rise of Hindu nationalism.

BEN WATTENBERG: Why, why is it that India, which is still a very poor country, has generated this incredible high-tech sector that is really the uh, one of the marvels of the world. I mean, it, itís not where twenty-five years ago you would have expected it to come from and I guess what is it, the Hyderabad region, uh...

FAREED ZAKARIA: And Bangalore...[crosstalk]

BEN WATTENBERG: Uh, has, has, developed a uh, a huge wealthy and middle-class society based on the most modern of technologies.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Well a lot of people like to say these things are cultural. That, you know, Indians are somehow good at this kind of stuff, which I would be flattered to believe, but that wouldnít explain Indiaís rather miserable economic growth for much of its history or Chinaís economic growth, which was for much of its history miserable. For the most part Indiaís economic policy since independence were socialist and therefore counterproductive. The one area where India invested in human capital was scientific education. Nehru created a string of scien - of technological institutes called the Indian Institutes of Technology. Very high quality, very high level and it kind of spread that culture of high achievement in science and education, spread through the educational system. So Indiaís great success has been in educating its human beings in science and technology. Nothing more than that.

BEN WATTENBERG: Before moving on from India and China let me ask you a question because, uh, a lot of people, a lot of economists are looking out into the future and saying, 'Whereís the growth coming from?' and itís pretty, may not be a recession in at least in the United States, but itís not very good. Is it possible that these two giant economies growing in one sense at seven, eight percent and the other four or five percent, uh, that despite their uh, low uh, earning level, but that the rate has been so solid and relatively high that these could become the locomotive economies to, to pull the world ahead?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Right now if you look around the world, there are simply no other locomotive and particularly the Chinese economy and to a much lesser extent, the Indian economy. The, theyíre having the effect of powering a certain amount of growth regionally, but the real effect unfortunately in the short term is going to be deflationary, because what China is doing is producing goods at lower and lower prices than anybody else can and so theyíre undercutting the price of almost every manufactured good in the world and India is undercutting the price of every service in the world, so that anything a telephone operator or accounting clerk can do in America, somebody in India can do at a tenth the price.

BEN WATTENBERG: Yeah, sometimes when you do press one, press two, press three and finally you...

FAREED ZAKARIA: Youíre really going to Bangalore.

BEN WATTENBERG: Youíre really going to Bangalore. :Fareed, the argument has been made uh, for many decades if not longer, you say Americaís been the most powerful country in the world for a hundred years is this gonna continue?

FAREED ZAKARIA: I donít see anything uh, stopping it. I think if you look at our military might, it is probably only going to increase. In about a year or two we will be spending more on the military than the rest of the world put together. All hundred and ninety-one countries. And that doesnít even take into account our technological edge. If you look at economics, Europe is getting to be an aging, sclerotic society. We remain a dynamic one because of immigration. Um, if you look at higher education, Harvard Universityís endowment today is twenty billion dollars. The largest university...

BEN WATTENBERG: Maybe theyíd like to fund my show.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Some people call it a hedge fund with a small college attached to it.


FAREED ZAKARIA: If you look at the top twenty universities in America on scientific research, theyíre almost nothing... If you look at the top twenty universities in America, there are no colleges, universities outside America that do anything like it in terms of advanced research, in terms of scientific research. So all the predictors of, of growth and success for the future suggest that the twenty-first century will be the second American century. Itís not implausible. Britain had two, why shouldnít we?

BEN WATTENBERG: Itís okay with me. So, uh, just to wrap it up, we in America not withstanding some of the things you think we need to do, are doing pretty well?

FAREED ZAKARIA: American democracy is a work in progress and you always want to fix its flaws. But, you know, the immigrant in me, when you look at all the other countries in the world, yeah. This is an, this is an extraordinary democratic experiment but it is extraordinary in large part because it is constantly self-correcting. Because we look at our flaws, some of which I write about in the book, and we try to do something about it. Uh, thereís, thereís that constant urge to be introspective, to be critical and to be correcting.

BEN WATTENBERG: Well, thank you for your contribution to that dialogue and thank you for joining us on Think Tank, Fareed Zakaria.

ZAKARIA: My pleasure.

BEN WATTENBERG: And thank you donít forget to send us your comments via e-mail, itís how we make Think Tank a better program. For Think Tank Iím Ben Wattenberg.


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Funding for this program is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending nearly five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.

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