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Financing pensions, health, and education on egalitarian lines is now seen as a system of social service with all the wrong incentives: demand runs wild, quality of service deteriorates and taxpayers groan under their weight.The trouble is that a majority of voters seem to want a Welfare State that they now know is unsustainable.It shows that liberal democracy suffers from a deep contradiction: people are discontent with our societies while they expect and demand boundless improvement from their progress.
And all around the world the sudden check in growth has revived the self-destructive hostility towards globalization.
These are muddy and perhaps dangerous waters to explore, but let me take the plunge.
The first is that government of the people, by the people, for the people has more than once been on the point of perishing from the Earth.
The second is that democracy, though the political corollary of individualism, has in practice often tyrannized the individual.
emocracy is an unstable system that often does disservice to individual liberty.
With this stark assertion I want to pose two problems that have been with the friends of democracy from the very earliest times—going back to the Athenian followers of Pericles when traduced by Plato, to Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill when concerned with the enlargement of the franchise, down to Friedrich Hayek and James Buchanan when proposing remedies for the demagoguery of our day.Despite these observable facts, intellectual opinion and political belief go the other way.Religious leaders, intellectual elites and ordinary people ceaselessly denounce the worsening state of the poor and root for political intervention to control the free market, precisely the institution that makes for the reduction of poverty and the increase in wellbeing.Why such deliberate blindness to the benefits of economic freedom enjoyed by growing numbers around the world?Again it seems that this is more than a passing fad or a mere coincidence.How acute can be gauged by the general denial of the positive effects of globalization on poverty.The commonplace assertion is that the expansion of capitalism is making the poor poorer and the rich richer all around the world. If poverty is defined in absolute terms as the state of people living below a certain threshold of consumption, then the story of globalization in the last thirty years is astoundingly positive.One explanation for the recurring instability and frequent oppressiveness of democratic politics is that they are due to the natural attrition of human arrangements. These imperfections must be brought into the open and remedied if we want liberal democracy to survive.A better answer is that they are the consequence of systematic flaws in our political systems. The financial crisis that started in 2007 is perceived in Europe as the writing on the wall for the original idea of the Welfare State.In the forthcoming columns I would like to tackle a fundamental problem of political philosophy: popular sovereignty and individual freedom are often at loggerheads, which endangers the survival of both.This is especially noticeable in Europe at present, where the recent crisis has brought to light previously hidden flaws in the Welfare State, to the confusion and dismay of voters and politicians.