Democracy As Privilege and Responsibility
It is perhaps this narrative that Varoufakis is questioning, and we should too. Is democracy a means to an end, which is 'development' or even more ephemerally, economic growth? Or, if democracy is such a precious thing, should be an end in itself?
Now, while we casually equate development with economic growth, they are two different things. Apart from definitional differences, the most crucial difference between them is that economic growth is blind to quality of economic activities and whether they actually make life better. The pursuit of economic growth seeks to keep the social pecking order exactly the same, even if it is unequal, unjust or plainly corrupt, and in fact, any aspiration to change the social order, however urgently needed (think of India), is actually counter-productive in the pursuit of growth. 'Development', on the other hand, gives at least equal weight to qualitative aspects of economic life, and tries to measure, however imperfectly, whether life is getting better. The pursuit of development, in many cases, makes it necessary to change the social order, and, in the least, a mechanism to hold the elite accountable. And, that, if we come to think of it, is democracy. These rights to vote, of free speech, of holding the administrations accountable and various legal provisions that uphold this, were not given by God or some benevolent ruler, but were fought for and won: We must not forget that democracy, in itself, is development, and a precondition of a fair social order.
The leaders selling a technocratic vision equates growth and development, as do the media and academic literature making 'economic growth' the principal object of democracy. This sleight of rhetoric creates a self-destructive model: It makes growth the government's responsibility! While that may have worked in an industrial order, which was, at its core, extractive - it pooled cheap labour into processes to generate a surplus - but not as useful in the participative economic models which are emerging now. People like Mr Trump and Mr Modi are making promises of making lives better by executive action, and yet, in today's economies, driven by innovation and participation, they can not do anything unless the people themselves take the responsibility. And, indeed, this is why many technocratic solutions have failed, and even China, which may have performed a miracle of growth in building an industrial economy, may eventually falter in making the transition to the innovation economy.
Democracy - and the evolutions it has had in the last two hundred years - has been the greatest marker of human progress, but we have now taken it for granted. Not only we have forgotten that democracy is development, we have also missed that, in a democracy, nothing is given from above, but everything has to be worked for and earned. The elite may be doing what they have done always and promised salvation- now the earthly kind rather than divine - but being a democratic citizen is about being an adult: We should treat democracy as a privilege, a precious one, which comes with the responsibility of owning our futures and working for it.