Do 'the people' get the governments they deserve?

So Obama has been re-elected.  Did the American people get the government they deserve?

I spent several years working in development economics -- specifically in education for development, mostly as a consultant to The World Bank, but also to USAID, UNDP, and the OAS.  One question which often was raised, particularly when the project implementation was going badly, was if national groups -- the people -- had the government they deserved.  Some specialists in development thought the question was cruel and demeaning.  But many others thought that the nature and culture of the national populace were major factors in the success or failure of development projects.  A look at a few examples might be helpful.

Nicaragua is a good sample.  From 1979 to 1990, the Sandinistas, led by Daniel Ortega, ruled Nicaragua by dictatorship.  Since they painted themselves as "freedom fighters," they got a lot of attention and sympathy from left-wing governments, particularly in Europe, who donated about 10 billion dollars to them.  The money was divided up among the loyalists.  No new schools, hospitals, or roads were built or paved in eleven years.  I kid you not.

In the 1990 elections, Violeta Chamorro defeated the Sandinistas, much to their surprise.  She came into office with an economy in ruins.  During the Sandinista Revolution, per capita income had fallen by 80%.  Chamorro could do little to improve the economy; she tried to emphasize education (I was briefly the only non-Nicaraguan on the National Council of Education).

In 1996, the conservative Aleman was elected.  His administration was subsequently accused of money-laundering, theft, and corruption.  Aleman was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail (which did not last).  His successor, Enrique Bolanos, attempted to get corruption under control and reignite the economy without much progress.  In the elections of 2007, Ortega won and became an elected president.  After five years, the per capita income is very low -- 171st in the world.

Do the Nicaraguans deserve the government they have?

They voted for it; they deserve it.

The Venezuela/Chávez case is quite clear.  Chávez was recently re-elected for the third period in a vote that mostly pitted the have-nots against the haves (if anyone still has something in Venezuela!).  What is fascinating about Venezuela is that while it is a country of great potential, it has historically been the victim of dishonest demagogues (I lived there during the period of one, Carlos Andrés Pérez).  Chávez fits the mold.  He tries to create favor with the people and also with Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador.  He is unscrupulous, and, while intellectually challenged, he has managed to mislead, deceive, and betray his people even as he holds them in his grip.  He has ruined the state's main source of revenue, the oil industry.  He has alienated and pursued the more intelligent and resistant people of his country and done consistent damage to the economy.  Despite its rather significant oil wealth, Venezuela's per capita GDP is 97th in the world.

Do the Venezuelans deserve the government they have?  Without doubt.

Zimbabwe has been a difficult case from its inception.  The intransigence of the Smith white government created a negative background which Robert Mugabe used to create an anti-white highly centralized government, which proved to be enormously incompetent and unfair -- not only to whites, but also to blacks in the country.  Agricultural policies created bad results and much poverty.  Mugabe was charged with human rights violations and economic incompetence.  His people are poor, undereducated, and unhappy.  Per capita GDP is $500 per year, 226th in the world (abysmally low).  Yet Zimbabweans keep electing Mugabe to the presidency.

Do the Zimbabweans deserve the government they have?  Without doubt.

Equatorial Guinea was once a successful country.  It then became a failed and very poor country, but it has now returned to success in some ways.  From 1929 to 1969, it was a Spanish colony, economically successful, with the second-highest PCGDP in Africa, after South Africa.

In September of 1968, Francisco Nguema was elected as the first president of Equatorial Guinea.  In July of 1970, he created a single-party state and a reign of terror that cause the death or exile of one-third of the population, with an estimated 80,000 killed.  The economy collapsed.  So much for the Spanish success.

Nguema's nephew, Teodoro Obiang, deposed him in a bloody coup in August of 1979.  Obiang has created a sham democracy, in fact ruling as an iron-fisted and sadistic dictator.

I spent a few months in Equatorial Guinea writing an education-sector analysis for the World Bank.  My local minder drove me around a deserted hotel and told me that it was the place where Forsyth wrote a novel about an attempt to overthrow EQ.  I met and provided some minor help to Severo Moto, Obiang's principal opponent, who was made to "disappear" in about 2006.  Recently another attempt was made that included the participation of Mark Thatcher.

Teodoro Obiang continues in power.  The country found oil and now has a PCGDP of about $25K, which definitely does not get down to the people.

Do the Guineans deserve the government they have?  They did not vote for Obiang in any way.  While they cannot get rid of Obiang, they do not deserve him.

I could go on to contrast Argentina and Chile.  The Argentinians voted for Perón in 1946 and have kept Peronists in office for most of the past sixty years.  About thirty-four percent of Chileans voted for Allende in September of 1970, and he lasted only three years (see my historical novel about how Allende was ratified by the Senate).  The Argentinians deserved Perón and all the rest, down to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is currently ruining the country.  I would not suggest that the Chileans deserved Allende.

So do the people of the USA deserve their currently re-elected government?  Difficult question.

Take, for example, this quote translated into English from an article in the Prague newspaper Prager Zeitungon:

The danger to America is not Barack Obama, but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with the Presidency.  It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president.  The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails America.  Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince.  The Republic can survive a Barack Obama, who is, after all, merely a fool.   It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools, such as those who made him their president.

A variation on that comment was made by Bill O'Reilly on election night when he said that Kennedy's suggestion -- "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country" -- is no longer operative and that the majority would rather get by on their government check (or food stamps) than make the effort to work, succeed, or be comfortable or even wealthy.

Under Obama's administration the national debt has increased by 50% to an astonishing $111,414 per taxpayer, and our debt per person is 35% higher than that of Greece.

On the other hand, Gallup polls show that voters believe, by a margin of 15 percentage points that the government does too much.  And Gallup also suggests that conservative outnumber liberals by 40 to 21 percent.  Also, after the elections, thirty states will have Republican governors in 2013, and 26 state legislative chambers are Republican while only 19

Do the American people get the government they deserve?  The results are mildly schizophrenic.

Yes, they get what they deserve in the case of the president, and we must think that the Prague newspaper nails that one quite clearly. 

But what they get in the case of the states -- the governors and the legislators -- is quite different...yet, logically, it too must be deserved.  So there is hope that Americans will look around them at their local governments and vote from the ground up, so to speak -- that on a federal in addition to a state level, they will reaffirm the sort of character that ensures a simultaneously good and "deserved" government.