The rich or the powerful?

There has been a lot of debate on this blog recently as to whether or not political outcomes are unduly influenced by the rich; in this post I want to consider the influence of other nondemocratic agents – activists, civil society pressure groups, non-corporate lobbyists and academics in the social sciences and humanities. The reason for the inclusion of the last category is because most political leaders are educated in these disciplines – unlike, say, in China, it’s hard to identify political leaders who studied the natural sciences or engineering – so academics in these fields will have had a powerful influence in their formative years. There are more Oxford PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) graduates in the House of Commons than Old Etonians (35 to 20) and 50% of ministers and 28 percent of MPs were educated at Oxbridge, the vast majority in the above-mentioned subjects. Jeremy Waldron, in his inaugural lecture for his (Oxford) chair of social and political theory argued against the focus of the PPE syllabus on the ’57 varieties of luck egalitarianism’ as opposed to ‘political’ issues like representation, sovereignty and the rule of law, and it’s the resulting influence of the equality lobby that I want to address in this post. Some of the material is anecdotal, and some evidence of partisan influences in the formulation of a UN convention on disabilities equality.

The primary school in my village (pop. c.300) has recently constructed, at considerable expense, a ‘sensory room’ to meet the needs of one part-time disabled pupil. (Bear in mind this is happening at a time when local authority budgets are squeezed to the extent that rural residents are being told that they will need to grit their own roads this winter (and pay for the materials) as the council does not have the funds.) This is the result of government policy that insists that the disabled must be fully integrated in regular society, and has closed down most of the special schools that accommodated the specific needs of disabled children. Speaking to two parents of disabled children (one Aspergers and one cerebral palsy), they both volunteered that this politically-motivated policy has been disastrous for their children because, unlike their peers in special schools, their everyday growing-up experience provided a constant reminder of their neediness.
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English translation of part of David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections

A section of Belgian author David Van Reybrouck’s sortition book, Against Elections has been translated into English and posted online:

Representative democracy is in crisis. Low voter turnout, abstention, falling party membership, and the phenomenal rise of populist parties – these are the symptoms of Democratic Fatigue Syndrome. Considering democratic innovation from classical Athens to present day, it becomes apparent that our democratic institutions haven’t been updated since the late 18th century. How to renew the centralised, hierarchical party system to reflect the horizontal power relationships of the hyper-connected, interactive society of the 21st century? A bi-representative system, combining elections with the democratic principle of sortition, or drawing of lots, could steer democracy into smoother waters.
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