Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Q: I have heard you say in an interview that people have become more receptive to your message over the years. What do you think the reasons are for this message having so far barely impacted politicians in North America? Penny Coupland, Canada

A: It is not a personal matter. The US population has become far more civilized (by my value judgments) as a result of the activism of the 1960s and its aftermath. That's a continuing process, and of course has elicited a strong backlash from defenders of power and authority.

The US (Canada is not much different) is, to an unusual extent, a business-run society. Elections are largely bought: campaign spending is a very good predictor of electoral outcome, and the core of funding comes from concentrated economic power, which has many other means of influencing policy as well. We can see that dramatically in the US right now.

State interests are closely linked to concentrations of domestic power, though sometimes conflict with them in interesting ways. I've written about the matter, and discussed it also in several recent talks in London, which may be available on the internet.

There is a very considerable gap between public opinion and public policy on a host of major issues, a matter that has been well studied and documented, including mainstream political science. Quite often, both political parties are well to the right of the population on major issues. These are among the reasons why elections - basically extravaganzas run by the PR industry - systematically avoid issues and focus on personalities, gossip, rhetoric, etc.

I wouldn't expect political figures even to be familiar with dissenting views, just as other elite sectors are not, except rarely, though changes in the public mood do, over time, of course influence policy, sometimes in significant ways.

Q: When compared to the last few administrations, has there really been a 'fundamental shift' by the Obama administration in dealing with Iran and North Korea? Andrew Lindsay, Singapore

A: There are some rhetorical differences, but not much of substance. These are matters I discussed at some length in talks recently in England, which may be available on the internet. And also in other material that should be accessible.

Q: I highly appreciate your critical comments on the workings of the Western system. Can you propose an alternative and good governance model? Sileshi Tujji, Ethiopia

It is easy to make proposals. What is more significant is true advocacy, meaning, sketching a path from here to there. There are many ways to improve the functioning of the formally democratic societies. This is not the place to spell them out, but they are numerous, and many are suggested even in mainstream political science, the work of Robert Dahl for example, though I think we can go far beyond, including democratic control of all institutions: workers councils in industry, for example.

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