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Sharan Burrow

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Democracy of the Banks, by the Banks, for the Banks

Posted: 06/12/2012 9:27 am

It was Abraham Lincoln who coined the famous phrase: democracy of the people, by the people, for the people. Such a sentiment may be now considered hokey, emanating from a simpler, less cynical time.

But this hokey sentiment was something that people were prepared to fight and die for: the idea that ordinary people could elect governments that would rule in their interests and build a better society where their basic needs could be met so that they could lead good quality lives.

The majority of people from around the world no longer believe that democratically elected governments are doing this.

An international public opinion poll of citizens from 13 different countries -- Indonesia to the United States, Japan to Greece, to name a few -- points to a massive disconnect between the governing elite and the populace.

Sixty-seven percent think that international banks and financial institutions have too much influence on their governments. Conversely, 67 percent think that voters have too little influence.

The global economic orthodoxy is being widely rejected by people who are pessimistic about the direction their country is taking. Most people have little faith that the lives of their children and future generations will be better off.

A fundamental driver for social and economic progress, confidence in our children's and grandchildren's future, is not in place in most of the countries surveyed. Sixty-six percent think future generations will be worse off.

Austerity and cost cutting adopted by many governments as a panacea to the financial crisis created by the banks is resoundingly rejected by people who want their elected representatives to invest in jobs and growth as the best way forward.

They want their governments to give small business and workers more influence on economic decision-making and to reduce the power of international banks and finance corporations.

They want the people they elected to step up and protect the interests of workers and their families, with active income measures, decent unemployment benefits and pensions, and affordable education, health and childcare -- the hallmarks of a civilised society.

The rhetoric from the conservative side of politics, which labels these desires as those of lazy, spoilt people who have had it too good for too long and who now simply need to tighten their belts and tough it out, is completely undermined by the fact that more than half (58 percent) are telling us that their family incomes have fallen behind the cost of living.

One in seven people (14 percent) struggle to pay for basic living expenses like housing, food and electricity, and a third feel insecure as they say the threat of unemployment looms large.

This survey was not just amongst Greeks. These views have been gathered as part of the first public opinion poll commissioned by the International Trade Union Confederation.

Citizens in 13 countries, representing 1.4 billion people or 20 percent of the current world population, were asked their opinions. G20 economies, European countries and emerging economies -- Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, France, Canada, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, the UK and the U.S. were polled by TNS Opinion.

Union and non-union members alike are voicing deep uncertainty.

The collapse in the belief that governments are acting in the interest of their voters sounds a warning bell that governments should heed.

Political instability will be the result if governments continue to delude themselves that they are doing the right thing, if only the rest of us could just see that all the pain we are enduring is for our own good.

History has taught us that this kind of divide between governments and its citizens leads ultimately to suffering and turmoil.

Large swathes of people losing faith in democracy is a dangerous thing. Conflict, desperation, totalitarianism are the products of that loss of faith.

Perhaps if governments stopped insisting just for a moment of the righteousness of their path and started listening to their citizens, they might learn that only 10 percent agree with the austerity measures as a way to combat the financial crisis.

They might learn that people want action from their governments to stand up for their citizens and not the interests of international finance.

They might learn that their electors are not buying the austerity message because it's not working for them. Sixty-four percent are no longer able to save any money.

They might learn how angry and resentful people are that they are made to suffer for a crisis not of their doing.

At this very difficult time for many people around the world who are struggling to put food on the table, governments might learn that their citizens want them to do what they elected them to do: deliver programs that create a better society for them and their children, to govern for their people.

And to put the welfare of their citizens before the ledger sheets of international finance conglomerates.

Because after all, it's not the banks that vote for them.

 

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