Trust democracy?

I’m often accused of being too cynical and too negative about the intelligence of voters. In contrast, I think most people put too much faith in democracy and over-estimate most voters.

Democracy has become a new faith. Simply saying the word supposedly makes an argument stronger, as though there is some inherent morality in two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Democracy has it’s uses — it allows you to change government without any killing and it puts downward pressure on corruption. But I doubt that it leads to better policy, and indeed I think it has a built-in bias towards ever more totalitarian policy controlled by special interest groups (as suggested by Schumpeter nearly 100 years ago).

As for the intelligence of voters… well… I suspect that about half of them have below-average intelligence. 🙂

But more seriously, the issue isn’t intelligence. Plenty of smart people remain rationally ignorant of politics, and rightly so. It would make little sense becoming an expert on every policy debate just to inform your 1/15,000,000 vote between two mostly-identical political leaders. And so I find it very easy to believe that most voters don’t have a clue about health policy, or fiscal policy, or micro-economic reform, or international trade, etc. The idea that the better argument wins in democracy is laughable. Clearly, the better spin wins.

I recently came across an interesting paper looking at political knowledge in Australia. These were some of the findings:

* 55% of voters don’t know that the Senate is proportional representation
* 63% don’t know how the constitution is changed
* 70% were confused about how long between federal elections
* 30% of people don’t know who their MP is, and 40% don’t know which party they’re from

And these people control the rules you and I live by.

In other contexts, people are assumed to be quite dumb. Apparently, Australians aren’t smart enough to make their own decisions about smoking, drinking, drugs, wearing helmets, saving for their retirement, wearing seatbelts or generally taking risks. Well, if people aren’t smart enough to do those things, then I suggest they are not smart enough to run my life.

Democracy may be better than dictatorships… but it’s still shit.

75 thoughts on “Trust democracy?

  1. ‘Democracy’ has nine letters! It also, therefore, tells us which TV Channel to watch!
    I have wondered for some time why the British Electorate kicked out Churchill at the end of WW2, and I have found some answers in a book about London in 1945.
    Some people voted Labour, because they didn’t want socialists to get in.
    Other people thought that Churchill would still be head of the Coalition Government, whichever party won office!
    How on Earth did they win the war?

  2. Representative democracy isn’t about choosing policies it is about choosing representatives to act as our proxies. And what interest we have isn’t much correlated to how smart we are. As libertarians we expect people of below average intelligence to be allowed to spend most of their own income unsupervised. This is because we think most people know what their interests are. Democracy is flawed just as capitalism is flawed but compared to most of the known alternatives it’s a pretty fine system.

  3. I hate to nitpick but I think you’ll find that half of voters are below median intelligence 😉

    I know what you’re saying about democracy, but I tend to agree with Winston Churchill who said “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.

    I’m glad you put in the qualifier that democracy is better than dictatorships – let’s leave it to the big government socialists to advocate ruling by the elites shall we?

    But I don’t think democracy is ‘shit’. It has flaws (populism and spin), but all the problems you point out are more faults of the parliamentary system than democracy per se. I’ve heard arguments for and against different forms of democracy e.g. first past the post elections, local direct democracy, citizen-initiated referenda etc, and it is worth discussing the merits of all of these. But Democracy is the key – even the dictatorships like to pretend they are democratic, hence all the ‘People’s Democratic Republic of Tinpotistans’ out there.

    I don’t agree that democracy leads to more totalitarianism – it might do so slightly at times, but if we are to be committed libertarians, it would help to be optimistic about people’s natural desire for liberty. If people are occasionally hoodwinked into voting for less liberty, it’s because we haven’t done a good enough job in promoting freedom.

  4. Papa — that’s why I said “about half”. 🙂 And the Churchill quote seems to fit pretty closely with my conclusion too. I admire your faith in humanity, but I think it is a triumph of hope over reality. The natural tendencies of democracy seem pretty clear if you look unemotionally at the last 100 years.

    Terje — as a libertarian I am happy for people to spend their own money on their own goals. That does not mean that I trust them to make decisions about my (or your) life. These are very different ideas, and I think it’s wrong to confuse them.

    When making a decision about your life, you have significantly more information than you have when making a decision for 21 million other people. When making a decision about your life, you have a 1/1 say on what happens, and not a 1/15 million say. When making a decision about your life, you are dealing with your own outcomes and your own resources, which are relatively more important to you than the outcomes and resources of strangers in Broome or Hobart. When making a decisions about your own life, you don’t need to use coercion, or corruption, or deal with rent-seeking.

    The consequence is that people generally make better decisions for themselves. The logical consequence of this is that democratic government decisions tend to be worse than free decisions.

  5. The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeois. … Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880)

    John; I don’t know why you are picking on the voters on this issue. You would be better turning your guns on the incredible ignorance of those who inhabit the ivory towers of opinion making, government, political science etc who for all their knowledge are unable to grasp the rather simplistic and uncomplicated idea of liberty. Voters after all are constantly subjected to the most incredible campaign of misinformation on the very nature of the relationship between the state and the people to the point where most probably still think we are a free society.

    I note that in your last paragraph you are running up the surrender flag to the statists with:
    Well, if people aren’t smart enough to do those things, then I suggest they are not smart enough to run my life.

    Geez mate its about running our own lives. 😉

  6. I think that the only libertarians are ever going to make any headway is though education. Not creating a society of 21 million economists, but through convincing a sizable minority of the population of the fundamental principles of liberty: the idea of self ownership is a simple one, anyone who has better than subnormal intelligence can grasp it, even if they do not agree with it.

    This has been the real success of the small-government revival of the US with things like the campaign for liberty: they have been able to sell the idea of liberty, and many people have taken that idea to heart. Those working in the US do have somewhat of a headstart on us, they are able to hang their hats on constitutionalism and the rule of law, and have a much richer tradition of talking the talk on liberty, if not walking the walk. In addition, they are blessed with a charismatic spirtual leader in Ron Paul who has been able to construct a very persuaive narrative that absolves the citizen from blame, and places it squarely on the government and Federal reserve.

    In contrast, Australia was a prison colony and imperial property. We have never overcome that mentality, nor have we been able to produce politicians or philosophers who are charismatic enough to reach ‘the masses’. If we are able to at least people think about the consequences of their (democratic) actions, they may opt representatives less keen on intervention into people’s private affairs. The great moralist libertarian crusade, I know, but I believe that it is a better strategy than simply appealing to economic self-interest (after all, free cash handouts now are much more persuasive than the potential to earn a better living in ten years).

    Now in a round-about way back to democracy. I believe that absolute democracies will fail, for much the reasons laid out in the apocryphal quote attributed to Alexander Tyler. On the other hand, a constitutionally restrained republic does limit or at least slow the progress of some of these defects. The real problem is who writes the constitution and to what end? We have a constitution at the moment, but it is largely worthless, being designed largely to give the government legal authority to do as they please, nor would I would I trust any of our current wave of ‘leaders’ to undertake constitutional reforms. Any meaningful change will only occur when people realise that they have liberty, and begin to vote accordingly.

  7. I hope this means you are coming round to my view that we need to start a well armed citizen militia to protect our property rights.

  8. Voting with your feet
    I always feel a little uncomfortable when people start bagging democracy. Erstwhile High Court judge Michael Kirby seems to enjoy the practice. I suspect his honour’s actions are more from a latent elitism rather than the academic conjecture that John is engaging in. Considering there just IS NO alternative I think it’s wasted effort to worry about its possible vices.
    That being said, I would surmise most criticisms of democracy derive from its practice in a unitary state (Churchill’s Britain) rather than that in a federation like that of Australia, Canada, or especially the USA. I can’t remember any American president or senior polly disparaging it.
    Democracy works best when the state is divided into semi-autonomous regions which have political power over everything apart from that which for practical reasons can only be handled by the central government (defence, air traffic control, customs, disease prevention (pandemics), etc). Even immigration can be state based: The fed decides the annual quota and then grants each state selection rights (subject to federal health and character checks) proportional to their population.
    People don’t have to be geniuses in economics or criminology. Over time they simply gravitate to those states which seem to have the feel of doing things according to their own beliefs and values. A state drawing new residents attracted by Workchoices legislation or alternatively, “progressive, social justice” agendas will further accentuate its Weltanschauung at the next state election. More definition in political alternatives would be both the cause and the result of more migration, which in turn can only lead to the greater happiness of the peoples of each particular region.

    As our neighbours will be ‘one of us’ we will gradually get to tolerate how stupid some of them might be.

  9. I heard a Labor supporter and Greens supporter discussing politics the other day at uni and one of them stated, “I’m against direct democracy because people would vote for stupid things like lower taxes.”

    John seems to think that direct democracy would lead to higher taxes. Right now I’m leaning towards direct democracy being a good thing. The kind of system I envision is one where most people would just have almost all their votes go the same way as their favoured political party by default.

  10. John – you have missed my point. I agree that we should have less government and that voting should decide less of our lives. However in deciding on a process for selecting a government you need to consider the interests of the selectors not merely the intellect of the selectors. Democracy may throw up some awful governments and some awful policies but I can’t see any selection system that is better. We can tweak democracy but it is hard to envisage a workable government selection system that isn’t mostly democratic. In my book a wise set of libertarian kings (as opposed to a wise set of libertarian institutional constraints) won’t deliver good government for long without some form of democratic accountability to the people. If I had a free hand to rewrite our constitution it would still entail a system with democracy, all be it one with a lot more limits to government power.

  11. Non-compulsory voting might help a little… should people who don’t understand how the system works, don’t really care about the issues, and don’t even WANT to vote be forced to do so? Who benefits from this?

    Other than that, a strong constitutional bill of rights would (in theory) give some protection from “tyranny of the majority” – though I generally oppose current bill-of-rights movements for various other reasons… not least of which is the undoubted desire to enshrine “positive rights” (such as right to job, shelter, health-care, maternity leave, and “right not to be vilified/offended” to name just a few) and a propensity for “living-document” judges of the day to legislate from the bench.

    A bill of rights that lists only negative rights (ie, things that can’t be taken away from you – not things that have to be given to you by others) is another matter, but I fear it’s too risky to even pursue the idea.

  12. Besides intelligence (or lack of) I think apathy could be just as an important factor in regard to these statistics . This does not reflect well on democracy either when people decide that the process is largely futile.

    No matter who you vote for the government always gets in.

  13. All we need is better ways to pass and reject laws. Make it so that if any representitive doesn’t like a law, it is repealed immediatly unless it only covers natural law. Oh well I guess I can dream….

  14. Fleeced wrote “Non-compulsory voting might help a little… should people who don’t understand how the system works, don’t really care about the issues, and don’t even WANT to vote be forced to do so? Who benefits from this?”

    Seriously? The people in the political machines, i.e. the politicians themselves and the apparatchiks. They no longer need the grass roots to get the vote out and end up with more control cheaper. That’s why they introduced it, after all.

  15. Tinos — direct democracy in California led people to vote for tax cuts, spending increases, and a rule saying the budget must be balanced. But I like the idea of having CIR that can veto policy.

    Jim — but I do think people should be allowed to make their own decisions about smoking, drinking, drugs etc. I was just pointing out the inconsistency in the “paternalistic democratic” position. The idea that people are too dumb to run their own lives but smart enough to run other people’s lives seems to me to be the inverse of reality.

    Joe — yes indeed

    Fleeced — I agree that voluntary voting, a better constitution, and other rules (better separation of powers, more houses of review etc) would improve democracy. But then… having a perfect ruler would also improve socialism. Are either likely?

    Terje — You seem to have reached the same conclusion I did in my original post. I should also point out that I didn’t say the main problem was stupidity, but rational ignorance.

    Also, my complaint was not just with democracy… but more specifically against the deification of democracy, where people seem to think it has magical powers, and so use it to justify all manner of interventions. Fine, let’s have a democracy. But let’s also remember that it sucks, and we only have it because there is nothing better.

  16. An alternative idea. How about, instead of elections, a person is appointed to a “governing panel” if they have the support of, say, 1000 people.

    Assuming that half the voting population takes up this option we would have 7500 people on the panel. From the panel, a person would be appointed to the “legislature” if they had the support of, say, 50 panelists. That would give us 150 legislators (the same as our current house of reps).

    Perhaps the cabinet could be elected from among the panelists, and allow them to be separate from the legislators. Indeed, perhaps mandate that they must be different to the legislators.

    People could change their allegiance at any time, meaning that the make-up of the panel and legislature is never assured.

    The panel could act as a house of review. Alternatively, a separate house of review could be elected by the panel, or by the general population, or by the states (or by all of the above, giving us several houses of review).

    This would give more voice to more different groups. And people would be more likely to appoint people they trust, rather than people representing a political party. Though undoubtedly political parties would still exist and apply for people’s support.

  17. John,

    Isnt what you propose in post 16 similar to the US Democrat/Republican presidental candidate selection process and the electoral college?

    Of course, you seem to suggest divorcing it from geography, but otherwise?

  18. John – your last post seems to me to be a mechanism to move us towards an idea that I have been thinking of lately as a zero party system. Not a system where you can’t have parties (that would compromise freedom of association) but one in which it is far from natural for members of the legislature to be in permanent parties. I’d consider supplementing your system with some degree of randomness in selection (as with juries) and also some term limits. Either way your idea is neat.

  19. Two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner is not democracy. Democracy is not just voting. Besides the notion of majority rule, democracy also includes the ideas of equality and the protection of minority rights. The essence of democracy is that we all get to participate in making the decisions that affect our lives, including the sheep.

  20. Wayne, I get what you’re saying, and broadly agree (though I would say the rights should be protected as individuals, not as a minority). This is certainly the idea behind western democracy – namely that it is the governments job to ensure these rights, and that a democratic vote is the best way to keep them in check… but this idea has been corrupted over the years, so that democracy is seen as an ends unto itself.

    It has, unfortunately, become to two wolves and a sheep scenario. Without safeguards, there’s little the sheep can do about it.

  21. I agree with the post. People think democracy is a synonym for freedom when it isn’t. It’s more like mob rule these days.

    Democracy means 1 man 1 vote and that’s about it.
    The reason we vote on political representation is because there’s no better way to do it. But voting itself is not necessarily a good thing.
    Unfortunately these days, freedom is not popular. As long as politicians have popularity on their side, they potentially have almost unchecked powers over business and personal life.

    Also Wayne, Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea have plenty of equality, all without democracy.

    The key issue is protecting individual rights from initiary force from anyone, including the state – even if the state doe have the popular support of most peolpe to violate the individual’s right to their life.

    I think the two wolves one sheep metaphor is actually highly accurate.

  22. To improve democracy most though not all government workers shouldn’t be allowed to vote. People receiving welfare shouldn’t be either.

  23. One could be mistaken for believing that mass democracy is just a relatively orderly and polite tool for short sighted special interest and factional plundering at the expense of humanity. A continuous process of bloodless pillaging matched with cunningly crafted pacifying propaganda.

    It’s all conveniently legal in the minds of all participants who often psychologically deceive themselves in order to cope defaulting(with out explicitely acknowledging it)into a belief in the possibility of personal omniscience or often medicate themselves in heavy doses of self deifying emotional altruism.

    We really do need to hammer specifically on the democracy is god mentality no matter how unpopular a response we think people would exhibit because it really is at base still with many delusions just a barbarous political value to hold in and of itself regardless of how it may relatively outshine other political cultures and regardless of how deceivingly repetitious or sanitized with cultural symbolism the political ritual itself is staged in practice (The people, the dress, the ‘experts’, the ‘news’ etc.)

  24. Democracy has nothing to do with freedom. “We the people” are not the government. The proper class analysis is RULERS vs RULED. The parasitic non productive class, consumes at the expensive of the productive class. One uses theft and the threat of violence, the other uses voluntary trade.

    Those in power hold a gun to your head and say: “Your money or your life?”

    Now, if you must have a state a monarchy is actually the best for of government. There is no illusion that you are a serf, as there is with democracy.

    As we see the move from monarchy to democracy, we see the move from wars fought between kings, which were basically property disputes, to where the populace is mobilized in total war.

    Democracy: The God That Failed – LRC interview with Hans Hoppe

    “What are historically – the two most important people to Western Civilization? Arguably, but I think agreeably – Socrates and Jesus Christ.

    Who killed Socrates and Jesus Christ?

    Democracy did.”

  25. The situation is actually more like one wolf and two sheep.

    But with a winner-take-all voting system, the wolf has a “majority”.

    We need a proportional voting system so the sheep can keep the wolf in his place.

  26. I agree with JC. Only productive members of society should be allowed to vote, by that I mean:
    – No public servants are allowed to vote
    – No recipients of welfare are allowed to vote
    – No current prisoners are allowed to vote (obviously when they got out again they would be allowed)

    That would release the vice-grip of the public service on the collective ‘nads of Canberra

  27. Wayne… the easiest way to allow people a say on how they live their lives is to let them control their own life.

    The idea of out-sourcing your life decisions to a group, and then having a 1 in 15 million say in how that group functions, is not much control. Indeed, I think it is dangerous because it is the illusion of control… which justifies all measure of policies that reduce your real control over your own life.

    Todd — I think the non-geography point, and the lower number requirement (only 1000), and the ability to change your alliegence at any time, make the system quite different.

  28. At # 28.
    I don’t see why public servants shouldn’t be allowed to vote.
    In an ideal political system, there’d be a fraction of the amount of public servants compared to today, so they wouldn’t have so much power at the polls.

    It’s true that for example in the UK, the public health system is so large (Daniel Hannan mentions the figure in his recent interviews in the US available on YouTube) that these workers almost certainly create a voting “vice grip” – and this has the effect that privitisation becomes very difficult. (Incidentally over half of the employees are administrators! not doctors or nurses).

    However the real problem is the existence of public health in the first place.

    Disallowing public servants voting doesn’t seem fair. It seems like a pragmatist band-aid solution rather than attacking the problem at it’s source.
    I think it may be a case of two wrongs don’t make a right scenario.

    But perhaps if there’s an explanation …..?

  29. Whether or not democracy is better than dictatorship depends entirely on the dictator.

    There are some places that work reasonably well as dictatorships, e.g. Singapore and Hong Kong were effectively dictatorships for most of the 20th century, and managed to do a pretty good job of it.

  30. I should add the biggest problem with dictatorships is that when they go bad, sometimes it’s impossible to do anything about it.

    E.G. All the people in China have no hope of ousting the government by force, even if they wanted to. The people of Singapore could quite easily have carried out a revolution in Singapore under LKY, but they never saw any need.

  31. John: As for the intelligence of voters… well… I suspect that about half of them have below-average intelligence.

    My reaction: Well that’s a bit mea…oh..oh right.. hehehe.. that’s funny. Oh, that means I’m one of them.

  32. I heard a better example- an American President was horrified when he was told that half of America’s Students were below the average IQ, and wanted steps taken… to raise them all above the average!
    I don’t know why- below averageness didn’t stop him becoming President, after all. And it’s the ones who (think they) are smart who cause a lot of trouble! A simple do-nothing President might be best!

  33. Democracy defines what people want on the basis of popularity. This makes the effectiveness of democracy on a national or international scale liable to greater scale of error and misfortune particularly as there are many rationally ignorant voters and opportunistic politicians who make poor decisions.

    The fundamental error, as you have suggested is that embracing democracy as an ultimate good, makes as much sense as saying evil is undemocratic. Democracy appeals to the masses most basic instincts and has nothing to do with the best possible decision. It is worshipped like a religion and is akin to the bandwagon fallacy or consensus concept, such that an idea will have merit simply because many people believe it or practice it.

    Democracy, I feel can work when practiced in the local arena and when it is accepted for its non-violent principles. Unfortunately on a grand scale, it plays into the hands of the politicians and there politics. Quiet often poor and very expensive decisions are made and are difficult to correct because of the size of the original interventions.

    Democracy and freedom are not the same thing. Democracy was always meant to be a tool by which we ran our society, however rather than treating it as a “means” it is looked upon as an “end” and used incorrectly it has lead to political bloodbaths as history documents to this day. It is not a libertarian quality, but a social tool whose strengths and weaknesses we must learn to use effectively. This is difficult when it is used under the global government banner, politicians can use it for advantage and the people give it godly powers.

  34. Tim R — is your starting assumption an “ideal political system”? I find that a strange starting assumption.

    I like the idea that only people who are net contributors to the government should be allowed to vote on the government. Similar ideas were suggested by J.S. Mill and Hayek. And more recently by Dubossarsky and Samild in a CIS publication.

  35. The main concern I have with a ‘net contribution’ idea is that it is only a short intellectual leap from net contributors having a vote to net contributors voting in proportion to their contribution – a ‘shareholder democracy’, if you will.

    On the one hand, the man who has more capital than another (and pays more tax on the proceeds of that capital) makes a greater contribution to the expense of the state. On the other hand, the man of more modest means doesnt have any less liberty than the immensely wealthy and thus has no less right to determine who will represent him in government.

    My concern is that you would lay the foundations of an oligarchy who would use government to exploit those of lesser means to their own ends. The rich would inevitably create loopholes to unfairly avail themselves of the authority of the state (such as central banking monopolies) while maintaining the pretence of ‘contributing’ to it.

    Another concern is what to do with foreigners? Should resident aliens be given the rights of citizens simply because they chose to be productive in a foreign nation rather than their own? What about foreign corporations? Should they, or those who own them, be enfranchised as citizens and able to determine our political leadership. I hesitate to think what would happen if the Chinese government was given absolute liberty to both invest in our country, and then to use this investment as leverage to affect our political system.

    Even if we fall back on each net contributor having a single vote, the communist government could effectively argue that state-run Chinese industry effectively has one billion ‘shareholders’. I admit that is a little hyperbolic, but I still think that its worth considering.

  36. We could have one house with open franchise, and another with taxpayer franchise. That would ensure that all policies had to be acceptable to both the majority, and also the people who pay for the policies.

    Anyway — the best solution is simply to make it so that most decisions were not determined democratically. But instead determined by each person for their own life.

  37. I think the limited franchise idea has very limited benefit. Britian has had something similar for centuries (ie the house of Lords) to which the appointment process has only recently been significantly altered. It hasn’t stopped britian evolving into a near marxist disaster.

  38. For JSM:

    “It is also important, that the assembly which votes the taxes, either general or local, should be elected exclusively by those who pay something towards the taxes imposed. Those who pay no taxes, disposing by their votes of other people’s money, have every motive to be lavish and none to economise. As far as money matters are concerned, any power of voting possessed by them is a violation of the fundamental principle of free government; a severance of the power of control from the interest in its beneficial exercise. It amounts to allowing them to put their hands into other people’s pockets for any purpose which they think fit to call a public one; which in some of the great towns of the United States is known to have produced a scale of local taxation onerous beyond example, and wholly borne by the wealthier classes…”

    “I regard it as required by first principles, that the receipt of parish relief should be a peremptory disqualification for the franchise. He who cannot by his labour suffice for his own support has no claim to the privilege of helping himself to the money of others. By becoming dependent on the remaining members of the community for actual subsistence, he abdicates his claim to equal rights with them in other respects. Those to whom he is indebted for the continuance of his very existence may justly claim the exclusive management of those common concerns, to which he now brings nothing, or less than he takes away.”

  39. “Anyway — the best solution is simply to make it so that most decisions were not determined democratically. But instead determined by each person for their own life.” – John Humphreys

    Nailed it on the head. For a start we shouldn’t have legislation that is state or national wide. At most legislation should never pass beyond our direct representitive. If a law is passed and our rep didn’t vote yes, then that law should not apply to us. That way people will move to eletorates with the best laws and best representitives that actually serve the areas. You can bet that there would be far far more independants and far less 2 party non-sense. How many electorates would actually approve of most of the laws that are passed? Almost none I would guess, but as a party, almost anything gets passed.

  40. “For a start we shouldn’t have legislation that is state or national wide. At most legislation should never pass beyond our direct representitive. If a law is passed and our rep didn’t vote yes, then that law should not apply to us. That way people will move to eletorates with the best laws and best representitives that actually serve the areas.”

    I’d hesitate to go that far, but I think there was some merit in the idea behind Virginia resolution in response to the sedition act of 1798. Namely, that states are not bound to unconstitutional laws, and the states are the ones who have the power to interpret the constitution.

    Of course, that first supposes a constitution worthy of respect, which is something entirely lacking here.

  41. There is a discussion currently running at the John Quiggin blog on alternate voting systems. There is also some discussion of appointment via random means.

  42. Mark raises another point, about judges. Do we want or need a high court? Shires don’t have them, and my minarchic counties would run well without them. Referendae should be the things that interpret local laws, which in any case should be limited to non-private property, with private property untouchable. Judges should be limited to actual law courts, as referees, with professional jurors deciding cases. If problems occur, then the judge can inform the county government, and that can vote on the issue.

  43. I’ve been thinking about democracy recently and I think the problem really is that government has become the “divine problem solver”.

    Government really has numerous roles. Tax and welfare (which includes infrastructure, education, health, stimulus) is one role and one where I’d agree that only taxpayers should have input.

    A second role and the most important role of democratic governance is law and order. There is no libertarian answer to how crimes are best dealt with. No libertarian answer to the compensation vs punishment views to sentencing. This things go beyond the scope of libertarianism. So there’s two approaches to take to matters of crime- one is have a utilitarian public servant governed approach. The other is to have matters of crime decided upon by “community standards” and democracy. Democracy at its core is a way of showing that all man are equal and should be treated equally. Libertarianism and freedom are philosophies as much as anything, the philosophy needs to be embraced for the politics to be. Unless people want freedom, it doesn’t matter what government we have, people won’t be free.

  44. Only taxpayers should have input in education and health decisions? Remind me to shoot you if you ever get into politics. And stimulus? Damn it Shem, if you’re going to trip acid, at least invite me! 🙂

    And it’s simply not true that democracy relates to all men being equal. If we were all equal, then one group would not be allowed to tell the other group how to live.

  45. I often preface my statements with proper, ideal or optimal. I do think that you need to go right back to the basics of ethics and politics to work out the fundamental issues as opposed to just jumping into the mess of today and trying to apply band aids. This is because I think human knowledge is heirachical – builds on itself in a causal chain. And this approach doesn’t imply that I am only theoretical. Because I think the organisation of people in society can be determined from induction.

    I’m not necessarily totally opposed to the idea of voting restrictions. I was just interested in a more detailed justification.
    Also, the idea of stopping welfare recipients from voting seems different to stopping government workers from voting.
    At the moment, I definitely don’t see why you should stop say a policeman from voting.

    Lastly, I think your statement, pointed out at #45 is quite similar to mine. We both think the best (ideal) solution is a dramatically smaller government and a system of individual freedom.

    I realise that the public sector block voting is a problem. But I can’t even see a possibiliy for implementing the voting restrictions you guys are talking about in today’s world. The massive public sector wouldn’t allow it. In the same way as they wouldn’t vote for cuts to bureacracy (one of the current problems), they wouldn’t vote for voting restrictions. Only a dictator could achieve this – and that’s probably worse than a democracy.

  46. Phil,

    Approval voting is first past the post where you can vote for as money candidates as you like, but only once. Typically this is used for single winner elections.

    I’d extend this to electing panels beyond single winner to the top ranking candidates taking the positions.

    This does away with the aspects of voting for legislative bodies that are “unseemly” for judges etc.

  47. “Referendae should be the things that interpret local laws…”.

    That’s bad grammar. Where the singular is referendum (neuter singular, nominative, vocative or accusative), the plural is referenda (neuter plural, nominative, vocative or accusative). Referendae (feminine plural, nominative or vocative) would only be correct if referenda had been feminine singular (nominative or vocative).

  48. So, PM, ‘referenda’ could be neutral plural, or feminine singular. How on Earth did they, the wars, win? Should I have used referendums, referenda for dummies?

  49. When you use “referenda” or “referendum” in that free standing way, there is an implied neuter noun – it means “[the thing that] must be referred”. Referendae would need to have something feminine plural (nominative or vocative) around to connect to (or feminine singular, genitive or dative). In any case (pun unintentional) there isn’t, so “referendae” is wrong.

  50. Now here is how the hidden totalitarians reveal themselves! Whilst everybody understood what I said, a member of the language police pulls me over and charges me with misuse of the latin language! Look no further for Australia’s own Hitler!
    Aren’t there more important things to worry about, such as how to trick Julia Gillard into dying her hair blue?

  51. We could have one house with open franchise, and another with taxpayer franchise. That would ensure that all policies had to be acceptable to both the majority, and also the people who pay for the policies.

    John, you’re the one that said this.

    I was accepting the idea of only taxpayers voting as being rational, but expressing that it should only extend to policies that are directly linked to government expenditure. Prohibitionary laws (while having an enforcement cost) themselves aren’t actually costing taxpayers anything and I don’t think taxpayers should have be the only ones to vote on such issues. Nor on sentencing.

    I actually can’t find a logical reason for accepting consensus as more valuable than individual action beyond the questionable argument that collecting better organises human action better than individual interaction (see Lockean social contract theory). But even a libertarian should be able to see that a state is more legitimate if it has the consent of the governed and that a totalitarian state is far less likely to achieve this than a democracy.

    Voluntary government is the “ideal” in which everyone actually accepts the social contract in reality. Social contract theory supposes that people would accept the contract, but a voluntary government requires that they DO.

    Decentralised government is the closest we will be able to get to an actual social contract. But I do believe such a decentralised government would be democratic.

  52. Shem, your ideas are similar to mine. I think citizenship should be like membership in amy club, except this club’s grounds are called ‘roads’, and any properties have the adjective ‘public’.
    It might take a while to achieve such a ‘state’, but a good start would be if the upper houses of our states were composed of ‘ambassadors’ from all the shires. similarly, shires might have a ‘review panel’, composed of all the towns, and/or villages and/or suburbs within them. Our Federal Senate tries to have equal numbers of Senators from each state, after all.

  53. Shem — prohibition laws certainly do cost consumers. Cocaine & hookers would be much cheaper if they were legal.

    You’re drawing a false dichotomy between individual action and collective action. There is nothing wrong with voluntary collective action. The distinction is between individual and voluntary collective action on the one side… and involuntary collective action on the other side.

    Sometimes collective action may be better than individual action. In which case, people will voluntarily get together. There are plenty of examples of this — clubs, businesses, friendly societies, families etc.

    But there are very few examples of involuntary collectives achieving better results than free individuals and voluntary communities. That includes in the areas of health, education and welfare.

    I also disagree with your use of the word “totalitarian”. I use totalitarian to mean the government is involved in all parts of your life. I use authoritarian to mean that the people who run government don’t have to answer to anybody. It is possible to have a democratic totalitarian state, and I don’t think the magic word “democracy” at the front of the term makes the idea acceptable.

    I agree with the point I think you’re making… which is to say that authoritarian states aren’t good either. But I think a totalitarian state is a greater “evil”, and if Hayek is to be believed, a democratic totalitarian state will steadily give up its democracy anyway (“road to serfdom”).

    Voluntary government wouldn’t be government in the traditional sense of the word. It would just be a range of voluntary community groups. I agree that is the ideal. And I think it would work fine.

  54. Constructive criticism deals with the content of the message, not its mode of delivery. Your contribution added diddly squat (should that be hyphenated?) to the debate, PML, simply coming across as pompous, academic snobbery.

  55. Just came across
    An extract:

    Under what I’ve called `futarchy’, we could continue to use democracy to say what we want, but use speculative markets, similar to the stock market, to decide on the best way to get it. Our elected representatives could formally define and manage an after-the-fact measurement of national welfare, an augmented GDP, while market speculators show us which policies will best help us to achieve improvements in it.

    Anyone willing to pay a deposit could put forward a proposal to become policy. Two betting markets then open – one predicting welfare if we adopt the proposal and the other predicting welfare if we don’t. The basic rule would then be: a day after market prices clearly estimate national welfare to be higher given the proposal than without it, that proposal is adopted. If it is adopted, the deposit is refunded 10 times over and investments pay off years later, after national welfare is measured. Speculators can of course sell their entitlement to a share of any pay-off in the future and those who buy low and sell high are rewarded for improving the prediction.

    But why speculative markets? Because they are an exemplary way to collect and summarise information, at least when we eventually learn the outcome. In head-to-head comparisons of the accuracy of the information produced, speculative markets consistently tie or beat everything from surveys to elite committees. To have a say in a speculative market, you put your money where your mouth is. Those who know they are not experts shut up, and those who do not know this lose money, and then shut up.

  56. Seems a very utilitarian idea, Tim, national welfare may increase but for some individual welfare may decrease, possibly marginally for the former and significantly for the latter.

  57. DocBud & Nuke — I think language can be important. In this case it didn’t alter the meaning, but sometimes a subtle language shift can change the perception of debates. Consider the confusion over the words “freedom”, “anarchy”, “coercion”, “property”, “capitalism”, etc.

    PML wasn’t rude, and a person isn’t a snob just because they correct a minor error.

  58. Thank you, JH. I was thinking of it as being like what happens when someone lets a draft through with typos, where they should be cleared up so that readers won’t see them and think “if they can’t be bothered to fix the little things, maybe they were just as sloppy with the important stuff and it’s not worth my while bothering to read anything they come out with”. Then someone asked for clarification, so I gave that.

  59. When I peer review reports I’m an absolute stickler, the client has a right to expect a professional report, and given that the reports are likely to be dissected by other professionals and may still be referenced in a decade’s time, it is not good for the company’s image.

    I do think, however, that blog comments can be given a fair bit of latitude. If we are going to pick people up on spelling and grammar then they may well take their ideas elsewhere (or stop commenting altogether) or the comments get bogged down in discussions on correct spelling and grammar and the real subject gets lost. Half the population cannot correctly use apostrophes but I don’t think we need a comment pointing it out everytime someone makes a mistake unless the meaning is changed or not clear.

  60. Discussions on the relative importance of grammar in conversation always remind me of this:

    “[Should] one of the Company should seize the Opportunity of saying something; watch his Words, and, if possible, find somewhat either in his Sentiment or Expression, immediately to contradict and raise a Dispute upon. Rather than fail, criticise even his Grammar.” – Ben Franklin’s Rules for Making Oneself a Disagreeable Companion.

  61. Democracy has it’s uses — it allows you to change government without any killing and it puts downward pressure on corruption.

    Depends what you mean by ‘goverment’ and ‘corruption.’

    The ruling party? Yes. The associated entrenched bureaucracy? Good luck.

    Personal, direct, secret corruption? Yes. All you have to do to make it ‘respectable’ is declare it. Though it helps if it’s for your party to.

  62. Pingback: Quelles mesures pratiques peuvent être prises pour améliorer des résultats de politique dans les démocraties ? | Liberté et Épanouissement

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