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English

To Protect Democracy, Reform It

We vote every four or so years for candidates about whom we know little, in a process mediated by political parties, which are often less than fully democratic themselves. No wonder, then, that more than half of respondents in 27 countries say they are dissatisfied with democracy.

LONDON – Democracy may be “the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” as Winston Churchill famously said, but that does not mean democracy is good enough. Voters know it, and they are as mad as hell about it.

According to the most recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey, an average of 51% of citizens in 27 countries surveyed report being dissatisfied with democracy, while 45% are satisfied. If that 51% does not seem high to you, note that the figure is 55% in Britain, 56% in Japan, 58% in the United States, 60% in Nigeria, 63% in Argentina, 64% in South Africa, 70% in Italy, 81% in Spain, 83% in Brazil, and 85% in Mexico. This sentiment is not unique to one social group. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor, highly educated and not, report being disappointed by democratic performance.

That should not come as a surprise. In the past 250 years, almost every human endeavor has changed beyond recognition – except democracy. We vote every four or so years for candidates about whom we know little (and we do so in person, often with paper and pencil!). This process is mediated by political parties, which are often less than fully democratic themselves. We elect large groups of peoples known as parliamentarians, who meet in ornate chambers and, following arcane rules, discuss at length and with great showmanship subjects they understand only superficially. Sparks fly, yet little illumination occurs. Many social and economic problems remain unaddressed. Four or five years later, the cycle starts again.

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