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8 Reasons Democracy Doesn’t Work

November 30, 2013 • Kulturkampf

1. Democracy is rule by whoever informs the people. Each voter only has firsthand information about minuscule parts of the country—they can’t be everywhere at once—but they must still vote on national issues. They have to get their information somewhere; and that ‘somewhere’ is usually a news organization. This means that news organizations have political power: what they report (and ignore) and how they report it informs popular opinion, and therefore influences voters’ decisions. This leads to the media primarywhere news outlets parcel out name recognition—an important factor in elections!—and decide who is a ‘legitimate’ candidate and who isn’t; and it also allows the media to determine, to a large extent, the issues that will be focused on.

2. Democracy is incompatible with liberty. It’s easy to get votes by promising more government: constituencies that benefit from government expansions, whether they’re would-be welfare beneficiaries, victimologists, or military contractors taking government money to make $219-million planes that don’t work, have motivation to vote in their self-interest—much more motivation than those who are harmed by those expansions have to vote against them, since the individual benefit of each beneficiary outweighs the individual detriment of each voter harmed. And once government is expanded, it’s notoriously hard to roll back: beneficiaries will defend the benefits they’re used to getting, and the bureaucrats hired as a result of the expansion will defend their jobs.

3. Elections aren’t only about the issues. Being telegenic makes a difference: just ask Richard Nixon’s makeup artist.

Despite Nixon’s exhaustion and Kennedy’s preparedness, the Republican and Democrat were more or less evenly matched when it came to substance. Each held forth skillfully and presented remarkably similar agendas. … And yet, while most radio listeners called the first debate a draw or pronounced Nixon the victor, the senator from Massachusetts won over the 70 million television viewers by a broad margin. … The following day, the Chicago Daily News ran the headline “Was Nixon Sabotaged by TV Makeup Artists?”… A month and a half later, Americans turned out to vote in record numbers. As predicted, it was a close election, with Kennedy winning the popular vote 49.7 percent to 49.5 percent. Polls revealed that more than half of all voters had been influenced by the Great Debates, while 6 percent claimed that the debates alone had decided their choice. … Two years after the Kennedy-Nixon debates, the man on the losing end acknowledged their importance–and his fatal misstep–in his memoir Six Crises: “I should have remembered that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’”

4. Democracy increases governmental time-preference. Time-preference is the degree to which one prefers immediate to delayed gratification: a society with low time-preference is willing to think long-term, to forgo immediate gratification in favor of a better future, but a society with high time-preference refuses to think more than a few years ahead. Elected officials necessarily have high time-preference: they face elections every two, four, or six years, so if they pass on making their constituents happy in the short term in order to focus on the future, on times beyond the election cycle, they risk their jobs.
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5. What’s necessary may not be what’s popular. The economic dogma of the Reagan era promoted low taxes and low spending, and Reagan’s administration tried to win Congress over to it. They had no problem getting Congress to pass as law the first part of their platform—but the second part died, for obvious reasons. Many voters like low taxes—after all, it’s in their financial interest—but far fewer voters like low spending, since lowering spending requires cutting government programs, and it’s in the interest of many voters to preserve those programs. The chart above should show you how that worked out.

6. Democracy is civil war where the sides just line up to be counted. There are two ways people can deal with dissatisfaction with a government: voice—attempting to influence the government’s decisions, through voting, protesting, etc.—or exit. Democracy is all about voice, especially today in America, where exit on a local level (from incompetently-governed cities, forced busing in public schools, etc.) is discouraged and derided as ‘racist’. In a regime of ‘all voice, no exit’, disagreement, which often has deep cultural roots—most visibly in the case of gun control, but there are many other examples—simply cannot be resolved. Secession is effectively impossible, though fervently wished for, and understandably so: voice offers no solution to these conflicts except mutually unsatisfactory compromise—or the elimination of one side.

7. Voters are rationally irrational. There are two types of rationality: epistemic rationality—seeking truth—and instrumental rationality—working toward whatever it is that you want. Rational irrationality is what arises when it’s instrumentally rational to be epistemically irrational—that is, when your ends are not best served by seeking the truth. Doing the research necessary to become as informed as possible before voting is hard, boring, and time-consuming, but your individual vote is very unlikely to matter, and voting feels good. You get a sticker! And bragging rights! So you don’t do much research, but you vote anyway, based on self-interest, name-recognition, the candidates’ appearance on TV, which one you’d rather have a beer with, or however else you feel like deciding who to vote for. The problem is, each vote has a negative externality: each ill-informed vote makes the result a tiny bit more ill-informed, but when there are millions of voters, there are millions of those tiny bits, and they add up to grand displays of stupidity.

8. Democracy incentivizes population replacement. Politicians often can’t think about the long term, but journalists, reporters, party apparatchiks, and advocacy bureaucrats can: after all, they aren’t elected. But they still have influence over the political process—and they have long-term interests. Advocates of a certain political agenda want to maximize the percentage of the population that agrees with that agenda—but the population itself can change, due to differences in reproduction rates—or immigration. If progressives benefit from increased third-world immigration, they’ll push for increased third-world immigration; and they do stand to benefit from it, so, of course, they’re pushing for it—the wishes of the current population be damned.

The immigration proposal pending in Congress would transform the nation’s political landscape for a generation or more—pumping as many as 11 million new Hispanic voters into the electorate a decade from now in ways that, if current trends hold, would produce an electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.

Beneath the philosophical debates about amnesty and border security, there are brass-tacks partisan calculations driving the thinking of lawmakers in both parties over comprehensive immigration reform, which in its current form offers a pathway to citizenship—and full voting rights—for a group of undocumented residents that roughly equals the population of Ohio, the nation’s seventh-largest state.

If these people had been on the voting rolls in 2012 and voted along the same lines as other Hispanic voters did last fall, President Barack Obama’s relatively narrow victory last fall would have been considerably wider, a POLITICO analysis showed. …

To support the measure virtually guarantees millions of new Democratic voters.

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