Democracy is A Winning Idea, but So too is …
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Democracy is A Winning Idea, but So too is …

I was watching Fareed Zakaria’s interview of Bill Clinton this morning on CNN.

Fareed threw Clinton a complete softball when he asked him whether the US was responsible for Russia’s behavior and unlawful war against Ukraine today as a result of having been pushed into a corner by NATO’s expansion in the 1990s.

The answer is that of course Clinton and the US weren’t responsible.   Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Baltic nations (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) became sovereign nations in the early 1990s and made the democratic decisions they made to join their own alliances and to move towards Europe and the West.

So too, incidentally, did Ukraine, but the US and the West adopted an arm’s length policy towards Ukraine – making it dispose of its nuclear weapons to not alienate Russia, and to continue to keep Russia close.

And, by the way, so too did Russia.  In fact, more than any country in Eastern Europe, Russia rushed towards the West, adopted democracy and democratic institutions.   The US government, through its own institutions and agencies and international institutions and agencies, invested heavily in instituting democratic foundations throughout Russia.  It wasn’t a fleeting moment.  It was a real investment in Russia’s transformation that was wholeheartedly adopted by Gorbachev, Yeltsin and the Russian people.

I know.   I practiced law in Moscow from 1994 to 1997.   I saw it.

But, another winning idea is wealth, and wealth, even if concentrated in the hands of a few, can be completely perverted.   With the advent of social media, it can be used to create and energize tremendous anger in those that aren’t wealthy to the degree that it obviates democracy as an idea.

This is what happened in Russia in a slow moving form in the two decades since Yeltsin resigned.   It happened in China and Brazil over the same period.  It happened in the US in a much more condensed form (beginning, or at least only becoming apparent, when Trump came down the escalator and announced his campaign).

Wealth is an absolutely great thing.   We’ve used it over the last Century to take scores of people from poverty and to make tremendous expansions in the areas of transportation and communication.

But, the challenge of our time that is so apparent from the war in Ukraine is that it must be used to preserve democracy and create and pursue a transformative climate agenda.   If those converging on New York for the UN General Assembly this week again fail to understand this, then these windows on preserving democracy and taking urgent climate change worldwide will both be closed very quickly.   

Ari Socolow
Ari Socolow: Ari Socolow is the Chief Economist and Editor-in-Chief at BestCashCow. He is particularly interested in issues relating to bank transparency and the climate crisis. Since co-founding this website in 2005, Ari has been frequently cited in the media as an expert on local and national savings accounts, CD products, mortgage and loan products and credit card rewards products.

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