Sunday, February 11, 2007

democracy and a dash of common sense

so, i was reading about the power sharing government that's been formed between Hamas and Fatah. given the terms, and the lack of concessions that Hamas has made towards Israel (namely, recognizing it), denouncing violence, etc., i'm not so sure how effective it will be at quelling violence in and around Palestine. looks like we'll have to wait a little longer for some meaningful developments in the middle east.

one thing stuck out in the article:

The agreement calls for Hamas to control nine government ministries, the most of any party, followed by Fatah with six.
this got me to thinking. wouldn't it seem that some of the failures of democracy in other countries is that they still operate in ways akin to some sort of spoils system? the spoils system was how the American system operated in the 1800s, where whichever party was in power distributed civil service jobs to friends, contributors, etc. now of course we have a non-partisan civil service, except for the higher level positions which are political appointees in executive branch agencies.

the situation where certain factions, either de jure or de facto, control certain ministries/agenices, certainly seems to contribute to die hard political activism, violence, etc., because people really do stand to lose access in some cases if their party loses. and while with non-partisan ministries/agencies means that it's very difficult to get around bureaucratic obstructions, treatment by these agencies is egalitarian and we have limited corruption. having partisan ministries leads to all sorts of trouble: bribery, graft, selective policy application, use of power against political rivals, etc., with all the concomitant problems. iraq, for example, has situations where certain parties (i'm unclear whether this is de jure or de facto) control certain ministries, where these problems have become endemic.

the point can be made, and it has been made in similar situations, about how the current administrations fixation on "democracy" as a fixative for the problems in other countries is completely misguided. this issue of partisan government agencies only serves to highlight the inadequacies of this perspective.

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