What is the function of democracy?

Until 2014 the majority of the UK electorate supported the re-introduction of the death penalty.  Only in 2014 did they turn against it in the annual British Social Attitudes Survey (run since 1983), and only by a very narrow margin.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32061822

Mainstream political parties (run by an enlightened liberal elite) have conspired to keep this issue off the agenda since capital punishment was suspended in 1965.  That suspension was unpopular at the time, and has probably remained so until recently (even longer than I’ve been a member of Amnesty).

The issue of the death penalty has been highlighted recently, because voters for Brexit were more likely to support hanging than they were to be members of UKIP.  If liberal democracy does not (usually) give an apparently illiberal electorate the brutal and self-harming policies that they say they want, then what is it for?

One could try to argue that democracy is a way of taking decisions that are popular, even if they are bad ones.  However the Brexit referendum result has highlighted the weaknesses of that argument.

Direct democracy (referenda for example) often lacks a deliberative element.  Some people decided how to vote in the recent referendum based on what they saw on Facebook, or in the tabloid press.  They didn’t really think for themselves about the issues, they didn’t read serious newspapers, nor watch/hear TV/radio documentaries.  It would have been preferable to have unbiased expert advice put to a citizens panel, and their conclusions included on the ballot paper.

According to the Venice Commission code of practice for referendums in Europe, a majority of 50% +1 person should be enough to win a referendum, even if this leaves an electorate deeply divided.

http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2007)008-e

Even representative democracy can still be very divisive.  The last coalition government was the result of an election in which no party had an overall majority in parliament.  Nobody voted for the compromise programme of legislation that they enacted.  I’m not saying that all of it was bad, merely that it lacked legitimacy.

A significant minority are either unable, or unwilling, to vote.  This is true even in referenda, where the issues are clear, and every vote counts.

A tiny majority in a referendum, or a coalition of minority parties at a national election, or even a low election turn-out can all reduce the perceived legitimacy of the outcome.

Regardless of the issue of legitimacy, any group is more likely to make bad decisions than an individual.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07jysds
“Democracy and the Wisdom of Crowds”, “The Human Zoo”, Series 8, Episode 5 of 8

According to this documentary, had the electorate been asked a simple numerical question, such as guessing the number of jelly beans in the jar, then we might have had a better collective decision than an individual one.  More complex value judgements often tend to come out wrong when a crowd is making the decision.

Unfortunately, the alternatives to democracy are even worse.  I think the best thing we can hope for to help democracy to work better is that basic economics is made compulsory in schools.

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Winston_Churchill

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons (11 November 1947).

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”

Attribution debunked in Langworth’s ‘Churchill by Himself’. First known appearance is in a 1992 Usenet post.

What polices could mitigate/avoid income inequality?

In the UK the April 2010 Equality Act imposed a duty on Government Departments when drafting legislation to take into account any potential impact on inequality.  Great policy, it’s a shame that it took the Labour government so long to formulate!

 

Only month after this act was passed into law, the Labour government was replaced by the Con-Dem coalition.  That new government then scrapped the public sector equality duty component of the 2010 act, before it was intended to come into effect (in April 2011).

 

The Scottish government has stated that they plan to re-introduce this duty.

 

https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/nicola-sturgeon-plans-revive-legal-duty-public-bodies-reduce-inequalities?platform=hootsuite

 

This of course is only one such possible policy measure.  The OECD outlines several possible policies:

 

http://www.oecd.org/social/in-it-together-why-less-inequality-benefits-all-9789264235120-en.htm

 

Eliminate gender inequality in employment.

Promote good quality (permanent, full time) jobs with opportunities for staff development.

Reduce labour market segmentation (by improving the ability of workers to move between different occupations, different areas and different industries).

Provide training, and re-training, throughout the working life of the workforce.

Redistributive taxation and state benefit policies.

 

How bad is UK graduate unemployment and underemployment?

Graduate unemployment 3 years after graduating has been under 4% since 2006 (the class of 2003).

 

Graduate median salaries were £5,500 above the median for the working population in 2012-13.

 

Of those in employment, 80.5% were in professional jobs in November 2014.

 

In 2014 there were 5.1 graduates working full time for every one working part-time, a year after graduation.

 

So, there may be some underemployment in terms of occupations and working hours, but little unemployment.

 

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-34053555

 

“More UK graduates are in work than at any time since the recession, new figures suggest.

 

Researchers asked almost 82,000 people who graduated in 2011 about their occupations in November 2014.”

 

ie these figures relate to the 3-years after graduation follow-up study.

 

“The last time that graduate unemployment was this low was in 2008, among graduates who left university in 2005, according to the figures.

 

Graduate prospects were worst in the 2010 survey when only 86.4% of were in work, three years after leaving university in 2007.

 

A total of 3.5% of this group were unemployed.”

 

Survey date Degree finished In Work (FT or PT), +/-Study Further Study (FT or PT), +/-Work Unemployed Other eg travel
2014 2011 87.9% 6% 2.6% 3.5%
2012 2009 87.1% 6.7% 3.2% 3.0%
2010 2007 86.4% 6.5% 3.5% 3.6%
2008 2005 89.7% 5.5% 2.6% 2.2%
2006 2003 89.3% 4.9% 2.3% 3.4%

* In Work includes those starting work that month.

Work/Study: Those doing both designated one of them as primary.

 

“In November 2014 the median salary of those graduates in full-time work in the UK was £26,000 and of those in employment, 80.5% were in professional jobs.

 

More than three-quarters (76%) of the graduates said their course had prepared them well for their career and two-thirds (66%) said it had been good value for money – but this group were at university before fees trebled to £9,000 a year in 2012.”

 

Some more details on the 1-year follow-up study here: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/sfr217

 

“In 2013/14, there were 424,375 UK and EU leavers (398,105 UK, 26,270 EU) whose destinations were known (427,870 in 2012/13).

 

Over two-thirds, 71% (303,300) of leavers (both full-time (70%, 244,045) and part-time (76%, 59,255)) were working, either in the UK or overseas, a slight increase from 70% of leavers in 2012/13.

 

A further:

6% were working and studying,

12% were involved in further study,

6% (full-time 6%, part-time)

3% were unemployed (the same as in 2012/13) and the remaining

5% were involved in some other activity, such as taking time out to travel or something else”

 

So there were 5.1 full-time workers to every part-time worker.

 

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-34186954

 

“The annual survey of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) indicates a 13.2% increase on 2014 in vacancies being offered by graduate recruiters.”

 

“The median starting salary for graduates in 2014-2015 was £28,000 – up from £27,000 in 2013-14 and a continuation of the steady increase from £25,000 in 2010-2011, £26,000 in 2011-2012 and £26,500 in 2012-2013.”

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_in_the_United_Kingdom#Taxable_income

 

“The most recent SPI report (2012/13) gave annual median income as £21,000 before tax and £18,700 after tax.”

 

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/personal-income-by-tax-year