Sunday, January 22, 2006

Trust, Faith, and Politics

The Left is on the rise again in South America, after years (or decades, or centuries) of 'establishment' leadership, there are left-leaning (or lunging) presidents in Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, and likely in Peru soon as well.

The Post had an article about Evo Morales' inauguration, but the part that struck me was the following quote.

"All of the other governments we have had in this country have been corrupt and have stolen from the people," said Felix Flores, an unemployed 60-year-old Quechua Indian who traveled to La Paz from Cochabamba to celebrate in Plaza San Francisco with thousands of others. "With all of that money they robbed, they could have created sources for jobs. Now Evo will."
There are moments in a people's political life when there is a convergence of a political figure and the mood of the country that allows a uniting. From the sounds of opinion polls in Bolivia, this is what they've got going on (Morales has 74% approval ratings according to a Bolivian polling firm). There is something uplifting in this.

A people (indigenous Bolivians) who have been oppressed, suppressed, and repressed by rulers and governments for hundreds of years finally believe it is time for their voice to be heard, and their issues addressed. I certainly hope they are rewarded for placing their faith in Morales, but I fear that, like so many situations before, their hopes will come to nothing.

Not because Morales doesn't have excellent intentions, or because he isn't capable of implementing the types of reforms people want. But because the solutions people seek to problems are frequently excellent solutions to the wrong problems.

One of the geniouses of the American system is the division of power--not just within the federal government, but through states and down to municipalities. There is constant give and take of power; people are empowered to change their world at numerous levels and on different scales. This diffusion of power allows us the opportunity to pursue changes in various ways, and even allows different cities or towns in the same county to develop different solutions to similar problems.

Too often governments that have been centralized, or where power has been wielded by a military dictatorship (as happened throughout much of South America at some point in the past 30 years) no mechanisms for this type of differentiated solutions. Municipalities are frequently expected to respond in similar ways, discounting local variations in attitude, interest, or even in problem. While macro-level tax changes and wealth redistribution will undoubtedly benefit some people and hurt others, it might help and hurt out of proportion to the desired effect depending on local circumstances.

The point I'm trying to make here is that a President (of any country) only has so much power to wield, wave the magic wand, and make everything better through policy. Much of the work of a president, is to establish, maintain, or create autonomy and encourage initiative in local levels of government to allow people to seek solutions to their problems at many places rather than hoping that a single government agent (the President) can fix everything on his/her own.

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