Saturday, 8 April 2017

Government Should Represent Average Folks, Not Just the Wealthy and Powerful

In a democratic country, leaders are elected by the people to represent them in government. Ironically, however, the people that often get elected to political office are not truly representative of society at large. It's generally known, for example, that women are underrepresented in the world's democratic legislatures, sometimes to a very significant degree. But do you know who I think is also underrepresented? Average people; the people who make up the majority of voters in a democratic society. Middle class people, working class people. In other words, people who aren't wealthy or powerful. You would think that it is these sorts of people who would make up the vast majority of representatives in a democratically-elected legislature. But you'd be wrong.

The best example of this irony resides on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Two years ago, the Net Worth of the U.S. Congress was estimated to be $7 billion, with the typical member of Congress earning over a million dollars! And this is just America's legislative branch, never mind the president or his inner circle. Clearly, the U.S. government is more representative of the country's rich and powerful rather than the bulk of American citizenry. Yet it is these kinds of people that millions of American voters put in to office each time there's an election. And then these average voters wonder why government policies haven't improved their lives. They ask themselves, why after so many elections and so many promises made by one politician after another are they still having trouble paying the bills? Why does the cost of living keep going up, but their salaries have barely budged in ages? Why do the rich keep getting richer while so many others still struggle to make ends meet? 

There's one logical answer to questions like these. To put it simply, people like to look out for their own interests, so if you put a bunch of millionaires and billionaires into office, they're probably going to do what's best for themselves and other millionaires and billionaires. In contrast, if average people would elect other average people into office, they would probably have a government that would enact policies favorable to middle and working class folks rather than the wealthy few. Over seventy years ago, a Canadian named Tommy Douglas said pretty much the same thing with his Story of Mouseland. Canadians also have the tendency to elect wealthy and powerful politicians, though I would say not to the extend that Americans do. Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, rounds out the Top Ten Richest Politicians of Canada, though he's actually a lot less wealthy than Tom Mulcair, who is now the leader of the federal New Democratic Party, the same party that the late Tommy Douglas founded. I guess it's no longer the party of mice anymore, is it?

So why do average people in democratic countries like the U.S. and Canada keep electing rich, powerful people to govern them when they would be so much better off if they elected other average people? The simple answer is that elections cost money. LOTS OF MONEY! And of course, it is the rich and powerful who have the money to pay for election campaigns. This is especially true in the U.S., where regulations on election spending are either lax or nonexistent. But even in countries like Canada, where there are controls on election spending, money still plays a significant role in determining who wins and who loses. And I think that as long as there's money, it will always play a significant role in how we cast our ballots. Now of course, I don't have a problem with the wealthy and powerful being represented in government. I am a staunch capitalist after all and I think every sector of society deserves representation. My concern is that those with money and power are over-represented in many cases, and that's just not fair to the multitudes of people who can't count themselves among society's well-endowed.

The Government of the Average Person:

Just for fun, I would like to outline who I would have as members of a government that I think would serve average middle and working class people well. First, the person who heads the government. Call him or her a prime minister, a president, whatever. He or she will be a person who always considers the interests of others before his or her interests. A person who values the lives of others over his or hers. He or she should be a person who has encountered great adversity in his or her life. Perhaps he or she lived through poverty or through disaster. Maybe a person living with a disability or chronic illness. In short, whoever heads a government of average citizens should be a person who is selfless, experienced, compassionate and empathetic.

Joining the head of the government will be a minister of finance. He or she will have been a single parent struggling to raise three children on social assistance. There will be a minister of education, who will be a recent university graduate who is now more than twenty thousand dollars in debt. Next is our minister of health, a person with a chronic illness that has spent his or her whole life dealing with the healthcare system, or perhaps a medical professional who has spent the bulk of his or her time looking after the well-being of underprivileged children in Canada's inner cities or on aboriginal reserves. The minister of agriculture will be the owner of a small family-run farm. The minister of housing will be a person who was once homeless, or maybe just a person who has spent the majority of his or her life working with the homeless. The minister of transportation will be someone who has been a regular user of public transit. Another minister will be in charge of the government's revenue agency. He or she will be a small business owner. I could mention other potential government portfolios and the kind of people who I would put in charge of them, but I think I've made my point. 


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