Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The political economy of Star Wars

Since the latest saviour of the Fauji Republic of Pakistan burst on to our TV screens shooting his pistol in the air, I’ve had frequent arguments with many brothers about the benefits of democracy. The government of, by and for the people might be bad, but not all brothers agree that it is still better than any other form of government ever attempted. Some echo the dead Field Marshal: democracy does not suit the genius of our people. Others see some merit in some form of democracy, though not in a liberal one. These brothers want some guidance from the wise elders. They point to the Galactic Republic, before the Clone Wars, as the model state.

This post is addressed to these brothers. It argues that both the Galactic Republic and the Empire were fundamentally undemocratic states, and both deserved to die.

Let us begin with the state of affairs in the Republic when the events of the prequel trilogy occurred. The Republic was governed by a Chancellor who needed a majority in the Senate to stay in office. The Senators were beholden to sectoral and vested interests. It was the bureaucrats who really goverened.

Then there was the Jedi Council, the wise elders that my brothers so admire. But the Jedi Council was much more than simply wise counsellors to the executive. Nor were they the judiciary. The Jedi were the keepers of the peace, exercising extraordinary powers. They actually operated outside the executive, legislative and the judiciary arms of the state: they were a state within the state. They claimed to live by their code, but there were no external checks and balances. They were a law unto themselves. Considering how easily Dooku and Anakin turned to the dark side, the Jedi code was not much of a substitute for intstitutional accountability. Further, they were a highly secretive organisation, entry to which was rigorously restricted. And they were openly contemptuous of the elected politicians.

The elected politicians were of course no angels. The prequel trilogy shows quite clearly how the actions of selfish and self-serving senators failed the people. Their misgovernance regarding tax complexity and trade restrictions led to some idealists demanding secession. This ultimately led to the Clone Wars, at the conclusion of which the Chancellor Palpatine, promising stability and order ended the Republic. Of course the secessionists were duped by Palpatine, who was the Dark Lord. Meanwhile the Jedi, for all their powers, failed to stop the rise of the Empire. Hell, they almost got wiped out entirely.

What is the lesson in all this? Well, the massive state that the Galactic Republic was, it brought its downfall on itself, the lesson being that the larger the state, the larger the bureaucracy. A larger bureaucracy is of course bad news for representative government. And the unaccountable, super secret, super powerful Jedi Council was no defence against a dictatorial takeover.

Moreover, the Jedi for all their power to see the future, couldn’t predict their demise. This is also true for the Sith Lord of course. The lesson here is that no government planning agency is likely to be able to plan efficiently for the future — central planning just doesn’t work. And if it is tried, even with the best of intentions, it begins a road that ends in serfdom.

The Galactic Empire was of course not the solution. If it were, we would not have had the original trilogy. We would not have the resistance. If the Empire were indeed popular, if people only cared about the inter-galactic commuting services that ran on time, the Emperor and his minions would not have needed the Death Star to terrify the galaxy.

If neither the Republic nor the Empire, then what? While we don’t have a sequel trilogy, the logical conclusion must be that the Galaxy’s best hope is to not have galactic governance. Free systems, being the dispensers of their own destinies, uncontrolled by the extraordinary powers of the Jedi or the Sith, under government of the law made by the people for the people: that would be the solution.

This sounds awfully like democracy to me.

Hopefully I’ve convinced the brothers that the Jedi guided Republic is no model to be followed.