The ancient Athenian democracy that emerged in the 6th century BC is often cited as a model for more modern democracies.
In some ways, it had some features that were superior to the once-in-three-year vote we get in the parliamentary democracy we have in Australia today. It was based on regular assemblies where the citizens exercised direct, rather than just representative, democracy.
But ancient Athenian democracy was democracy only for slave-owners. The majority of the population were slaves, and they, along with women and foreign residents, were excluded.
Further, of the minority who were formally enfranchised, the richest had the most free time (and energy) to take part in these assemblies.
The lesson is that one has to look beyond the form of things to get to the truth.
Many people in Australia confronted some home truths about the billionaire democracy we have today when media mogul Rupert Murdoch anointed Tony Abbott's Liberal-National Coalition as the next government of Australia with his screaming “KICK THIS MOB OUT” Daily Telegraph front page on August 5.
Murdoch, a US citizen since 1985, is now exercising a much bigger say in who becomes the next government than anyone who can vote in the elections in Australia on September 7.
Murdoch knows that his money can buy election results and for the same reason, Australia's richest person and mining heiress Gina Rinehart is in the process of buying up the Fairfax media empire.
Yet another mining billionaire, Clive Palmer, has gone out and bought his own new political party — the Palmer United Party.
But buying an election result is just a small part of the billionaire democracy. While the great majority of us get a once-in-three-years vote in a money-gerrymandered election, the billionaire class exercises a direct say in big decisions affecting society daily.
Through closed-door boardroom meetings, direct investments of their obscene wealth (as well as the savings and superannuation of other people they effectively control), the billionaires are making decisions that are locking us into climate catastrophe, increasing housing stress, and running down public health and education systems.
We don't have any real say in these big issues that affect our lives today and for generations to come.
The ugly power Murdoch's media empire underlines the preciousness of alternative media projects. The Daily Telegraph, the Australian and the other Murdoch rags voice the interest of the billionaires, but Green Left Weekly is a voice for the oppressed and exploited.
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