Ethical democracy: An exercise for the reader

With a title like the above, there are so many things this post could be about — the last few days and weeks have been excellent for providing examples of less-than-ethical democracy. But this post is in fact about none of them — it’s about a tricky personal conundrum I faced today, in exercising ethical democracy.

The thing is, I’m not a US voter, or citizen. But I am a US taxpayer and legal resident at the moment. Tomorrow the US Congress will be voting on a bill (of which more later) on an issue very dear to my heart — because it represents probably the largest ongoing damage that the US does, every day, to the poorest of the poor in the developing world and especially Africa (of which I am a citizen). So the question for the reader is: should I phone my representative in Congress and ask them to vote the way I’d like on the bill?

The bill in question is the huge farm bill, and more especially the Fairness Amendment component thereof. US (and to be fair, European) farm subsidies are a mess: they cost the taxpayer huge sums, benefit predominantly the largest agribusiness concerns instead of small farmers, offer only marginal assistance to hungry people within the US and EU, and make it impossible for developing world (especially African) farmers to compete on the global market. For instance, farming cotton in Texas costs about three times the raw price it does in Mali, on the southern edge of the Sahara. But after subsidies Malian farmers can’t compete — and so huge areas of Africa aren’t even being farmed. Cotton is Mali’s main commercial export, despite this huge disadvantage — so one can only imagine the huge difference even a small tweak to the subsidies would make to the 10 million inhabitants of this desperately poor country. And as in cotton, so too elsewhere — US and EU farm subsidies are together larger than the total GDP of sub-Saharan Africa. But enough rant — contact me if you’d like more!

Anyway, the Fairness Amendment is a step in the right direction. The vote is tomorrow. In the end I went ahead and phoned my Congressional rep — using this really convenient and easy service.

Now the more suspicious amongst you might think that what this post is really about is getting those of you who can phone US representatives without suffering any complicated ethical choices, to indeed go ahead and phone. In fact, you might even be right. But I am also interested in what people think about whether it’s ethical for me to make such a phone call.

And yes, it’s been a while since my last blog post. I have a few stacked up awaiting typing, but this one came first thanks to the obvious deadline. Thanks for your patience!

9 thoughts on “Ethical democracy: An exercise for the reader

  1. Nice to have you back, Bob. Trip ok, I take it?

    The right to exercise freedom of choice and making up your own mind seems to be one of the last rights we truly have. Also, we frown upon not being able to express our own opinions.

    If you get a chance to say what you feel, especially given that it may make a difference to what you believe in, then by all means you should go ahead and offer your opinion. As an example of how this ties in to success…the average politician’s success is measured only by the number of people willing to listen and agree to what he has to say.

    On a related note, I didn’t get a chance to call your Congress rep…but I DID call my girlfriend to tell her that the brownies she made were delicious. She said she’d make more, so I obviously scored some brownie points there (oooh! a new pun! I claim it in your name & mine).



  2. I don’t see where the ethical conundrum on your side is… You have every right to call them, and they have every right to ignore you. Even if you WERE an American citizen. Go ahead. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll laugh at you? The Paul I know isn’t afraid of being laughed at. Especially if it’s something close to his heart. Besides, with a phone call you don’t have to tell them you AREN’T a citizen, do you? Unless, of course, they ask? Or is that your conundrum?


  3. Seems that the consensus is that I can call, but shouldn’t disguise the fact that I’m not a voter. Sounds right to me!

    Anyway, the amendment failed in Congress. Damn. I guess the agribusiness lobby groups won again.

    Chris: Nice one on the pun! And the brownie points. And on eating brownies too, that’s always a good idea. In fact, an excellent idea. (What? You were expecting another pun? Ha! Fooled you again!)


  4. Go, Paul, go. Great to have your commentary back in business! As regards the condundrum I think you were absolutely correct to call. When a country’s policies have so great an impact on other countries, it is important for their lawmakers to hear from the other countries.

    And it is important to speak, even in a lost cause. Remember Wilberforce.


  5. Dude…I never remember which email address to use anymore. Also, I never remember which of you & Neil were born on the 21st & which on the 23rd 🙂

    In that spirit, a belated happy birthday!!!



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