2014 April 05 Saturday
Having Faith In Democracy Is Like Having Faith In Humanity

I have no faith at all, let alone in humanity.

Why do I bring this up? A guy named Damon Linker has written a piece about evil Republicans with the following title and subtitle: The GOP's case for scrapping democracy: In the past week alone, the Republican Party has shown its true colors. He does not address the failings of democracy. He doesn't want to acknowledge that right wingers who are losing their enthusiasm for democracy have got concrete reasons to feel that loss of enthusiasm.

Democracy is not the Holy Grail. Dictatorship is occasionally benevolent and wise. But usually not. Sometimes (not always) democracy is a better alternative. It depends on the voters. In some countries (e.g. Arab ones with a Sunni Muslim majority) the minorities are pretty much shafted in a democracy. A Coptic Christian in Egypt would have to be self-hating to want democracy in Egypt. Ditto an Alawite, a Christian, or a Shiite in Syria (or a Christian or Kurd or Yezidi in Iraq). In some countries (e.g. Ukraine) democratically elected governments are corrupt and a burden on the population. In some countries (e.g. Argentina) governments are corrupt and repeatedly prone to economic policies that are insanely destructive.

So the point is that electorates sometimes extremely fail in their responsibilities to choose wise (or at least not incredibly bad) leaders and in some countries they do this for decades with no sign of improvement. Venezuela, Argentina, Ukraine. These are not poster children for democracy.

Democracy is failing in the United States too. Take, for example, US taxes and US entitlements. Our voters have decided they want politicians who will give them high entitlements and low taxes. Our voters made this choice and have persisted in it for decades.

Now we come to my post title: Having faith in democracy is like having faith in humanity. It does not make sense to have faith in humanity. It makes for really good political rhetoric to laud fellow citizens and the human race as a whole. But the vat majority of people accomplish little that benefits the rest of us. Some are innately psychopaths, innately criminal, innately narcissists, innately dumb, innately incurious, innately impulsive and/or use a high discount rate (giving little weight to medium and long term consequences to actions) when making decisions. Most can't be troubled to understand the consequences of their supporting whoever they vote for.

A woman from an undemocratic but rapidly industrializing country (you can guess) asked me in all sincerity how voters in a democracy can be prevented from robbing other people and robbing the future by supporting politicians who will give them what they want at the expense of the most productive. I told her I did not know.

In the above linked article the writer links to venture capitalist Tom Perkins who argues that only people who pay taxes should get to vote and those who pay more should get more votes. That would probably improve the quality of government.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 April 05 08:35 PM 

JB said at April 5, 2014 11:18 PM:

There hasn't been a failure by democracy here, there's been a failure of democracy. The majority of the people (white people I mean, I don't care about the rest) have been on the correct side of almost every issue, almost nothing that is rotten in this society has bubbled up from the bottom, it has been imposed by the scum at the top. That's why they've had to open our borders, to overcome this common sense. The weakness in your argument is that kings, dictators, and oligarchs are humanity, too. Typically the dregs of humanity, and their rule is generally no more permanent or productive than democracy. Tom Perkins and his ilk overwhelmingly support open borders and "free trade", probably gun control and affirmative action for everybody but themselves, and a host of other bad policies - the only real interest of this class is squeezing the blood out all those below them. I think it was John Derbyshire who correctly quipped that if after the war the vote had been restricted to PhDs the result would have quickly been a Stalinist dictatorship. Take the blinders off, the so-called elite are more destructive than the poor, and that's how it's always been. What's happening now has happened to most great societies, it's the end of empire, where the elite wrest all power from the people and turn imperialism inward, the final market to exploit. (A disdain for filthy lucre was once a solid conservative value.)

But the vast majority of people accomplish little that benefits the rest of us. Discounting welfare recipients and excess government sponges, you can't believe this and in capitalism. The janitors at your local hospital probably do more to prevent infection than the medical staff does, and they certainly make it a more pleasant place to heal or work. Benefits are a funny thing.

Some are innately psychopaths, innately criminal, innately narcissists, innately dumb, innately incurious, innately impulsive and/or use a high discount rate (giving little weight to medium and long term consequences to actions) when making decisions. Most of these are far more likely to be true of the so-called elite, particularly among those who seek political power. Do the Chicken Tysons think about the long-term consequences of turning America into a third-world dump? Did the bankers think about the long term consequence of Ponzi derivatives? Apparently not. But they're big successes, plenty of money, and they'd get plenty of votes under your system. Hell, they're getting them now (see Adelson, Sheldon) that a large part of the problem.

Nick said at April 5, 2014 11:29 PM:

Great post Mr. Parker. A country is only as good as the citizens that occupy it, regardless of the political system.

Black Death said at April 6, 2014 5:00 AM:

Someone once said that all democracies fail when the voters discover that they have the keys to the treasury. I think we're seeing that now.

destructure said at April 6, 2014 9:38 AM:

Excellent post! I agreed with every word... until the second to last sentence. You think people who pay more taxes should get more votes? Gates, Buffet, Zuckerberg, Soros, Adelson, etc are all billionaires pushing open borders as hard as they can.

Sgt. Joe Friday said at April 6, 2014 10:01 AM:

Who said Gstes, Zuckerberg, et al pay taxes? Isn't Buffet complaining about not paying enough? A typical upper middle class small business owner pays more in taxes as a percentage of his income than those guys do.

James Bowery said at April 6, 2014 12:19 PM:

Saying that only taxpayers should be allowed to vote is like saying only customers of a company should be allowed to vote in its board elections.

The proper model for legitimate government is a mutual insurance company. In that model, those who are not placing a load on the underwriting function should not be required to pay premiums but would still receive dividends as long as they fulfilled their other duties, which may be as simple as being on call in the event of a disaster.

The real problem facing such a mutual insurance company isn't deciding who should be allowed to vote; it is deciding who should be allowed in.

Wolf-Dog said at April 6, 2014 10:47 PM:

RP: " In the above linked article the writer links to venture capitalist Tom Perkins who argues that only people who pay taxes should get to vote and those who pay more should get more votes. That would probably improve the quality of government. "

Let's suppose that future legislation will one day make the voting power of any citizen proportional to the amount of taxes he or she pays. In this case, the richest 10 % will gain total control of the government, and then they would probably re-legislate to make the government use the tax revenue (that they give to the government) to provide services only to the upper 10 %, at the expense of the lower 90 %, which would essentially bring an end to the tax burden for themselves, since all the money they are giving away is returned back to them in some other form. This would be similar to re-legislating to cancel all taxes paid by the upper class. Currently, the government uses at least 50 % of the taxes paid by the top 10 %, to help the lower 90 %.

WJ said at April 7, 2014 7:36 AM:

One big problem with democracy is the mindless elevation by so many of the ideal of maximizing voter turnout. An extremely high fraction of the citizens in ANY society will be irresponsible, uninformed, uncommonly selfish, and even criminal. And yet we have people (even Republicans) trying to increase their turnout. Tea Party-favored Senator Mike Lee actually spoke out in favor of allowing convicted felons to vote (his own state already allows it).

Convicted felons should not be voting. People who are long-term welfare cases should not be voting. Dual citizens should not be voting. Illiterates, and those who can't even pass a basic civics test, should not be voting. People who have declared bankruptcy recently should not be voting. And those people who are so uninformed as to not even remember it's election day, shouldn't be voting.

No democracy can thrive when it maximizes turnout of the irresponsible and stupid. We need a system that gives more sad to those who contribute, like military veterans, than to those who don't.

Mike Street Station said at April 7, 2014 8:35 AM:

Good post, and I think the founders had it right; a Republic with a limited franchise. Of course we've moved a long way from that since there is agitation in some communities for illegals to be allowed to vote on local issues. My preference would be a Starship Troopers type Republic in which military veterans had the vote since to paraphrase Heinlein, they've made the safety and security of the nation a personal responsibility. No other group in our society does that. However that's never going to happen. No society is going to vote in people who will take their vote away. They will vote in people to take their rights away, but they are trading those for goodies. So a Democracy doesn't have a self healing mechanism. It will have to crash and crash hard first.

Wolf-Dog said at April 7, 2014 10:37 PM:

But these days the engineers and scientists who are innovating and improving the future of the country should also be given more voting power, not just the military veterans who risk their lives and health for their country. The survival of the US will depend on science and technology in the future. Hydrocarbon reserves are being rapidly depleted, and if we don't find something viable to replace it in the future, then the world will be doomed.

John Cunningham said at April 9, 2014 6:10 PM:

Our Founding Fathers wanted a republic, they had scorn for democracies. some key quotes, very true today--

"Neither the wisest Constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose
manners are universally corrupt." -Samuel Adams

“Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was
never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
― John Adams

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.”
― John Adams

Eastside School said at April 22, 2014 11:45 AM:

There's an asterisk on your phrase "our voters". Obama was elected and re-elected by a winning margin that came from Emanuel Celler's Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

Martin M. said at April 22, 2014 7:46 PM:

Yes, Anne Coulter recently agreed: "If this country were the same demographically today as it was in 1980, Romney would have won a bigger victory in 2012 than Reagan did against Carter."

But the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was about more than just Emanuel Cellar, Ted Kennedy, JFK, or LBJ.

It passed by a landslide, with 75% of congress in favor.

The House of Representatives voted 320 to 70 in favor of the act, while the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 76 to 18. In the Senate, 52 Democrats voted yes, 14 no, and 1 abstained. Of the Republicans, 24 voted yes, 3 voted no, and 1 abstained.[7] In the House, 202 Democrats voted yes, 60 voted no and 12 abstained, 117 Republicans voted yes, 10 voted no and 11 abstained. One unknown representative voted yes.[8] In total, 74% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans voted for passage of this bill. Most of the no votes were from the American South, which was then still strongly Democratic. During debate on the Senate floor, Senator Kennedy, speaking of the effects of the act, said, "...our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually... Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset..."

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