Ignorant Electors, Incompetent Government.

11/09/2012 11:30 | Updated 09 November 2012

We make considerable play of our democratic systems. So confident are we in their virtue that we are willing to destabilize less virtuous regimes, even if doing so results in large numbers of innocent civilians being killed in the mayhem that follows. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs seems to be the mantra, as it was when communism struck out towards the green fields of its own perfect world. And now here we are in the west with a debt mountain that has almost brought about the collapse of our economic system - and still might. While politicians thrash around for a banker or two to blame (even though bad banking behavior was a symptom not a cause) who is going to hold the true villains - the politicians themselves - to account? Of course it should be us, but we are the patsies who put them there!

In the United Kingdom, voting for those to enter parliament was restricted in various ways up to 1928 when the Representation of the People Act meant you only had to be 21 or older and a national to vote. In 1989 the age limit was lowered to 18. Previous restrictions might mean you had to own so much property (on which taxes were generally levied) or be male (because females were thought to have a purely domestic orientation). Literacy might be another threshold, as it was in several US states, and Mrs. Thatcher's ill-fated Poll Tax emerged out of her belief that local government was unlikely to be responsive to people unless they paid its bills. The principle that those who govern should have direct knowledge of those they govern is old, well practiced and clearly sensible. America's war of independence against Britain was fought under the banner no taxation without representation!

So what has gone wrong? Universal suffrage created a potential disconnect between those in receipt of government largess and those who had to foot the bill. For a while, the call to tax the rich! seemed like manna from political heaven, until it was found that economies ground to a halt when the policy was applied. In recent decades, politicians have come up with another ruse by which to purchase votes - borrow! In this way the burden could be pushed onto the shoulders of a future generation, one as yet outside the bounds of universal suffrage.

The level of ignorance amongst most electors (and many politicians) about the nature of their government's finances is appalling. Most every housewife, and almost certainly every teenage drug dealer having to survive in one of our inner-city sink estates, has sufficient grasp of finance to understand, if only the politicians and bureaucrats, hiding behind their Wizard of Oz curtain, were honest enough to come clean. But our ignorance is the basis of their power. It is also the reason for their incompetence.