Greeks protest austerity measures, October 19 (RT Television)
This week was a sharp reminder that the ancient ideal of democracy is just as threatened -- and to some, just as threatening -- as it's ever been. In government offices in Athens, G20 meeting rooms in Cannes, and "Super Committee" chambers in Washington, we learned that there are still places where the will of the people can be overruled by the whims of the powerful.
From the Parthenon to the Potomac, it was the same story: Elites still hold veto power over the democratic process, and they're not afraid to use it.
Democracy: 'Radical,' 'Irrational,' 'Dangerous'
Ironically, this week's ferment began in the country that's usually credited with creating democracy. In many ways the Greek economy couldn't be more different from our own. The government's fiscal problems there are due in large part to widespread corruption and massive tax evasion -- not tax breaks, tax evasion -- which are very different from our own problems. The government's finances dramatically worse than our own -- almost like night and day -- and a default could create the next major financial crisis.
A certain level of fear and concern was understandable when Greek President George Papandreou announced there would be a referendum on the new bailout plan imposed on his country. The global economy is still unstable, top-heavy, and still riddled with too-big-to-fail institutions. In a worst-case scenario, Greece could trigger another financial meltdown.
Yet the fear was rarely balanced with an understanding of what's really happening in Greece. There was no acknowledgement that the bailout's terms might be grossly unfair (they are), that they're likely to make a terrible situation even worse (they will), or that Greece is in chaos, misery, and despair. (It is.)
And what was most striking was the assumption the elite -- the 1%, if you will -- have veto power over the democratic process. In most of the commentary that flowed from the powerful and the press, a surprising number of world leader didn't even acknowledge that Greece had the right to its own democratic decision-making process.