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Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’

Like many supporters of individual liberty, I’m an anti-majoritarian. I don’t want my freedom to be at the mercy of 51 percent of the population. For all intents and purposes, I want the Supreme Court to protect the country from democracy.

So, based solely on the title, I was automatically disposed to like 10% Less Democracy, a book authored by Professor Garett Jones of George Mason University.

But Garett’s book isn’t a manifesto about the American Constitution and its (sadly neglected) provisions designed to protect economic liberty. It doesn’t even mention my favorite part, Article 1, Section 8, which lists the few and limited powers of the central government.

Instead, his book focuses on a different topic. He’s arguing that we will get better outcomes if ordinary people have less influence on public policy.

And he’s not subtle about that point. The full title of his book is 10% Less Democracy: Why you should trust elites a little more and the masses a little less.

All of a sudden, I was less instinctively favorable to the book.

Simply stated, there are too many cases where the elite tends to be on the wrong side.

When someone says we should trust the elite, I envision people like Mitt Romney and Michael Bloomberg deciding everything from how much tax we pay to what food we’re allowed to eat.

To be sure, people like that would produce a much better outcome when compared to having a lunatic like Bernie Sanders in charge of the government, but I’d like to have a government filled with people who are more likely to leave me alone, such as Calvin Coolidge, Grover Cleveland, and Ronald Reagan.

But you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. And that means you shouldn’t judge it by its subtitle, either.

So I took the bold step of actually reading the book (unlike, for instance, when I wrote about Nancy MacLean’s smear job against James Buchanan).

And I liked it. A lot. It’s well written, avoids needless jargon (you don’t need to be a trained economist to understand his points), and touches on many important issues.

And Garett does a great job of dispassionately providing evidence. So even when he made points that rubbed me the wrong way, I was forced to wonder whether I was thinking with my heart rather than my head.

Here’s a small sampling of why you should buy – and read – the book.

In Chapter 1, you’ll learn that there’s very little evidence that democracies produce better economic results, but you will learn that they’re less likely to produce famine and mass killings.

In Chapter 2, you’ll learn how Congress is a “favor factory” and read Garett’s hypothesis that politicians will be more likely to support good policies such as free trade if they have longer terms.

In Chapter 3, you’ll learn that independent central banks work better (yes, feel free to criticize the Federal Reserve, but nations such as Argentina show it’s always possible to get worse outcomes).

In Chapter 4, you’ll learn from state evidence that independent judges also generate better results, at least when compared to judges that are directly elected by voters.

In Chapter 5, you’ll learn that not all voters are created equal.

In Chapter 6, you’ll learn that public policy might improve if bondholders had a bigger say in government policy, an insight from Alexander Hamilton.

In Chapter 7, you’ll learn some “public choice” insights about getting things done in Washington (whether that’s a good idea is an entirely different discussion).

In Chapter 8, you’ll learn that joining the anti-democratic European Union is the right choice for some nations, but also that the United Kingdom had good reasons for Brexit.

In Chapter 9, you’ll learn how Singapore is a huge success story with “50% less democracy.”

Garett concludes with some analysis on how to get the right amount of democracy.

His basic hypothesis is that we have too much input from the masses and he even put together his own version of the Laffer Curve to show that we would get better outcomes with less democracy.

By the way, I can’t resist pointing out that you want to be at the peak of Garett’s Laffer Curve.

With the original Laffer Curve, however, that’s not the right outcome.

P.S. Garett’s book does suffer from one sin of omission. I would have appreciated a chapter on the anomaly of Switzerland. It’s a very successful, very well-governed nation, yet it has an extremely high level of not just democracy, but direct democracy. Voters directly decide all sorts of major policy issues.

Is Switzerland an exception to the rule? Are Swiss people simply more rational than their neighbors? Does the country’s federalism-based model lead to better choices? It would be fascinating to get Garett’s insights.

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If you want to go to a Presbyterian church instead of a Baptist church, should the government be able to interfere with that choice? Even if, for some bizarre reason, 95 percent of the population doesn’t like Presbyterians?

If you want to march up and down the sidewalk in front of City Hall with a sign that says the Mayor is an idiot, should the government be able to throw you in jail? Even if 95 percent of the population somehow has decided the Mayor is a genius?

Most Americans instinctively understand that the answer to all these question is no. Not just no, a big emphatic NO!

That’s because certain rights are guaranteed by our Constitution, regardless of whether an overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens feel otherwise.

And that’s what makes us a republic rather than a democracy.

But the bad news is that many of our rights in the Constitution no longer are protected.

For instance, Article I, Section 8, specifically enumerates (what are supposed to be) the very limited powers of Congress.

Our Founding Fathers thought it was okay for Congress to have the power to create courts, to coin money, to fund an army, and to have the authority to do a few other things.

But here are some things that are not on that list of enumerated powers (and certainly not included in the list of presidential powers either):

And the list could go on for several pages. The point is that the entire modern Washington-based welfare state, with all its redistribution and so-called social insurance, is inconsistent with the limited-government republic created by America’s Founders.

These programs exist today because the Supreme Court put ideology above the Constitution during the New Deal and, at least in the economic sphere, turned the nation from a constitutional republic into a democracy based on unconstrained majoritarianism.

Here’s some of Walter Williams wrote on the topic.

Like the founders of our nation, I find democracy and majority rule a contemptible form of government. …James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” …John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” …The word “democracy” appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. …the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t say Congress shall grant us freedom of speech, the press and religion. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” …In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. …Laws do not represent reason. They represent force. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government. …ask yourself how many decisions in your life would you like to be made democratically. How about what car you drive, where you live, whom you marry, whether you have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner?

And click here for a video that explains in greater detail why majoritarianism is a bad idea.

But perhaps these cartoons will make it even easier to understand why 51 percent of the population shouldn’t be allowed to rape and pillage 49 percent of the population.

We’ll start with this depiction of modern elections, which was featured on a friend’s Facebook page.

And here’s one that I’ve shared before.

It highlights the dangers of majoritarianism, particularly if you happen to be a minority.

P.S. George Will has explained that the Supreme Court’s job is to protect Americans from democracy.

P.P.S. Here’s more analysis of the issue from Walter Williams.

P.P.P.S. Some leftists are totally oblivious about America’s system of government.

P.P.P.P.S. Though Republicans also don’t really understand what the Constitution requires.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Looking at the mess in the Middle East, I’ve argued we would be in much better shape if we promoted liberty instead of democracy.

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I haven’t commented on what’s been happening in Libya, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world. This isn’t because I don’t care, but rather because I don’t have much knowledge about the area and I’m not sure what, if anything, the United States should do. Or could do.

I will say, however, that one of my concerns is that these countries will stumble from one form of oppression to another. And maybe the new form of oppression (post-1979 Iran) will be worse than the old form of oppression (pre-1979 Iran). I suspect President Obama and his team understand this, which is why the White House is being very cautious.

What I would like to see, of course, is genuine freedom and liberty. But this is not the same as democracy.

Democracy and liberty can overlap, to be sure, but democracy also can morph into untrammeled majoritarianism – what is sometimes known as tyranny of the majority.

Interestingly, even researchers at the International Monetary Fund share my concerns. A recent study from the IMF reported that, “economic freedom [is]… beneficial to growth, while democracy may have a small negative effect.” In other words, give people liberty, and good things happen. Give them democracy, and the outlook is not nearly as encouraging.

Walter Williams, as is so often the case, explains the real issue. This is a long excerpt, but every word is worth reading, especially the quotes from the Founding Fathers.

Like the founders of our nation, I find democracy and majority rule a contemptible form of government. …I’ll begin by quoting our founders on democracy. James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph said, “… that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.” John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Alexander Hamilton said, “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real Liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship.” The word “democracy” appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. …What’s the difference between republican and democratic forms of government? John Adams captured the essence when he said, “You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.” That means Congress does not grant us rights; their job is to protect our natural or God-given rights. For example, the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t say Congress shall grant us freedom of speech, the press and religion. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” …In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. As in a monarchy, the law is whatever the government determines it to be. Laws do not represent reason. They represent force. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government. To highlight the offensiveness to liberty that democracy and majority rule is, just ask yourself how many decisions in your life would you like to be made democratically. How about what car you drive, where you live, whom you marry, whether you have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner?

Here are a few of David Harsanyi’s sage comments, from an article he wrote for Reason. He makes many of the same points about the importance of protecting individual liberty, regardless of the sentiments of 51 percent of the general population.

…a number of anchors and talking heads have made a careless habit of using the words “democracy” and “freedom” as if they were interchangeable ideas. …Alas, it only takes 51 percent of you to ban a stiff energy drink or a decent light bulb—a crime against not only liberty but also decent luminosity. When liberals crusade to end electoral colleges or scoff at states’ rights, they are fighting for a more direct, centralized democracy in which liberty becomes susceptible to the temporary whims, ideological currents, and fears (rational and sometimes not) of the majority. When the tea party members talk about returning “power to the people”—as they’re apt to do on occasion—they’re missing the point, as well. We already defer too much power to other people. If you knew the people I do, you’d be chanting “power from the people.” …democracy is clearly a vast improvement over an autocracy. …Democracy without a moral foundation, economic freedom, or a respect for individual and human rights, though, has the potential not to be any kind of freedom at all. We all wish the Muslim world the best in shedding its dictatorships and theocracies and finding true liberty. But let’s not confuse two distinct ideas.

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Actually, that’s too broad of a brush, but I do despise people of any nationality who think that they are entitled to mooch off the labor and capital of others. I also fear for my country because of such people. Benjamin Franklin is rumored to have said that, “When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” I don’t know if that is a real quote, but it accurately captures the problem with modern democracy (which is why our Founders gave us a constitutional republic, where our rights to life, liberty, and (especially) property were not subject to the tyranny of the majority). Writing for the City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple makes the essential point that what is happening in Greece is democratic corruption. In other words, the Greek people no longer have the social capital needed for a functioning democracy:

When the crowd tried to storm the Greek parliament, shouting, “Thieves! Thieves!,” its anger was misdirected. It was a classic case of what Freudians call projection: the attribution to others of one’s own faults. It is true that the Greek politicians are much to blame for the current situation, and no doubt many of them are thieves; but their real crime was not stealing, but offering a substantial proportion of the Greek population a standard of living that was economically unjustified, maintained for a time by borrowing, and in the long run unsustainable, in return for votes. The crime of that substantial proportion of the Greek population was to accept the bribe that the politicians offered; they were only too prepared to live well at someone else’s expense. The thieves were not principally the politicians, but the demonstrators. Such popular dishonesty is by no means confined to Greece. In varying degrees, most countries in the West have displayed it, Britain above all. It is perhaps an inherent problem wherever the universal franchise is unaccompanied by widespread virtues such as honesty, self-control, providence, prudence, and self-respect. Greece is therefore a cradle not only of democracy, but of democratic corruption. The Greek demonstrators did not understand, or did not want to understand, that if there were justice in the world, many people, including themselves, would be worse rather than better off, and that a reduction in their salaries and perquisites was not only economically necessary but just. They had never really earned their wages in the first place; politicians borrowed the money and then dispensed largesse, like monarchs throwing coins to the multitudes.

Meanwhile, Mona Charen is rightfully amused at the absurdity of the press writing about “anti-government” riots when the rioters are overpaid government workers and the target of their wrrath is a socialist government. She also makes an excellent point that the bureaucracy is so pervasive in Greeece that government unions just elect the people who promise to give them absurdly unaffordable pay and benefits:

That “anti-government mob,” it must be understood, consisted of civil servants, tens of thousands of whom took to the streets to protest austerity measures. …One in three Greeks works for the government. Government employees enjoy higher wages, more munificent benefits, and earlier retirements than private-sector employees. Civil servants can retire after 35 years of service at 80 percent of their highest salary and enjoy lavish health plans, vacations, and other perks. Because they are so numerous, and because Greece is highly centralized, public-sector unions hardly have to negotiate. They simply vote in their preferred bosses. Some civil servants receive bonuses for using computers, others for arriving at work on time. Forestry workers get a bonus for outdoor work. All civil servants receive 14 yearly checks for twelve months’ work. And it’s almost impossible to fire them — even for the grossest incompetence.

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