2015 March 24 Tuesday
Universal Suffrage Violates Right To Have Competent Government

From an essay by GMU economist Garrett Jones: 10% Less Democracy: How Less Voting Could Mean Better Governance

“Citizens have a right that any political power held over them should be exercised by competent people in a competent way. Universal suffrage violates this right.”

-Philosopher Jason Brennan

Our rights are degrading because the quality of the electorate is degrading. Good to see some academics agree with a view you will find among non-mainstream thinkers on the Right.

A similar view:

Do we have a right to be ruled by the informed?

“Three uncontroversial points sum to a paradox:

  1. Almost every democratic theorist or democratic political actor sees an informed electorate as essential to good democratic practice….
  2. In most if not all democratic polities, the proportion of the population granted the suffrage has consistently expanded, and seldom contracted, over the past two centuries….
  3. Most expansions of the suffrage bring in, on average, people who are less politically informed or less broadly educated than those already eligible to vote….
Putting these three uncontroversial points together leads to the conclusion that as democracies become more democratic, their decision-making processes become of lower quality in terms of cognitive processing of issues and candidate choice.

Jennifer Hochschild, Professor of Government and of African and African-American Studies at Harvard (emphasis added)

A stunning statement coming from a Harvard prof.

Can we partially role back democracy and impose competency requirements (or perhaps responsibility requirements) on voters?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2015 March 24 04:38 PM 

Wolf-Dog said at March 24, 2015 8:08 PM:

Maybe it is time to force all citizens to take a course on US government, how government policy can affect economics, national security, etc. The course itself must be obligatory, and attendance must be enforced.

After all, in order to buy a gun a citizen must pass a written exam to demonstrate competency to use the gun without endangering innocent people. Even a driver license involves both written and practical tests. Choosing a government is also a serious matter. The only thing that can prevent such a malevolent government to get elected is the well informed citizen who decides not to vote for a clever and manipulative demagogue. So educating the voters and requiring competency is a good idea.

Perspective said at March 24, 2015 8:54 PM:

This is an interesting thing to hear from a Harvard professor, but it probably doesn't indicate much more than that Harvard intellectual life is incredibly homogenous. The people she's imagining restricting voting are those uneducated hillbillies in flyover country.

Stephen said at March 25, 2015 12:27 AM:

Wolf-Dog, the devil's in the details. Whose version of political economy would you teach? Whose truth? Whose received wisdom?

The deeper problem is that I don't believe voters actually matter very much. In an entrenched two party state, people are presented with a choice of Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum, and if they dare to vote for a 3rd party they're branded crazy.

Stephen said at March 25, 2015 12:33 AM:

Perspective, you make a good point. I wonder if the Harvard professor would remove suffrage from the same class of people as others given that power? Again, the idea sounds good but the devil is in the detail, and that's why these ideas fail. And deservedly so.

Nick said at March 25, 2015 3:58 AM:

An intentionally provocative article, but food for thought: http://www.returnofkings.com/34330/women-should-not-be-allowed-to-vote

Its not discussed much that female suffrage inevitably entails a dramatic change in societal direction. Feminists and other will shriek that its better now, but I disagree. I would at least suggest that only married women be allowed to vote. 67% of single women voted socialist in 2012: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/09/single-women-voted-favour-obama

I don't think people receiveing government assistance should vote either. Racism, sexism, classism they'd scream, but we'd have a better country and would be moving in a more sane direction.

Black Death said at March 25, 2015 6:49 AM:

John Adams said:

Democracy... while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.


Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.

Winston Churchill said:

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.


Surprising comments from Harvard faculty, but I wonder if they're serious. Clearly we're headed for a crack-up, as Adams suggested. A growing impoverished and uninformed electorate, living off government handouts and voting only to get more of them cannot be sustained.

Mike Street Station said at March 25, 2015 7:30 AM:

Those comments on Democracy seem radical now, but it was considered conventional wisdom up until the last couple of decades.

High Schools used to teach civics, so the average High School graduate 60 years ago probably was a better informed voter, but that was in the day when we had a national consensus on what civics actually was. That no longer exists so it's impossible to revive that practice. Maybe a course that teaches the basics of the citizenship exam that naturalized Americans have to take?

WCN said at March 28, 2015 5:21 AM:

Case in point: Singapore

WJ said at April 12, 2015 1:37 PM:

An African-American studies professor all but endorses literacy tests. Wow.

I've been saying that for years, including here. There is no virtue in increasing the number of voters. The only democracy that can survive is one where informed people who contribute to society, aren't burdens on that society, aren't criminals, and have no reason to feel a grudge against that society have most of the say.

Eliminate voting for convicted felons for at least 10 years after they're out of prison. Eliminate it permanently for those convicted of multiple felonies.

Give more votes to those who know how to read, and who can pass a basic civics test.

Give more votes to those who are native-born citizens, and whose parents are both native-born citizens.

Give more votes to veterans.

Give more votes to those who are gainfully employed - reducing the impact of those on welfare and social security.

Crackpot idea? Yep. Will it ever happen? Almost certainly not. Is it the way it should be done? Yep. Perhaps when this society comes crashing down and we have to design a new one the idea will gain some traction. OTOH, perhaps technology will negate all our stupidity and make everything better.

Paul Rain said at April 14, 2015 1:54 AM:

WJ: To be fair, I wouldn't say he endorses literacy tests. I am sure he recognizes that they would be a very positive thing. I also have no doubt that he is also aware of the research by Lott and others which shows that extending suffrage to women had a negative effect on the degradation of economic and social policy decisions.

I think the solutions he proposes are the ones that we should be focusing on first, followed by the extra vote idea, which I will note was also put forward (though unfortunately, not successfully implemented) by LKY. From memory his 'modest proposal' was an extra vote for married persons with children over 35. It would be a move in the right direction for sure.

To my mind the ultimate solution would be something like a modified version of the Rhodesian system, but less based on pure educational qualifications, with moral qualifications for the class B's and with the class A's requiring recognition for civilisation-preserving achievements- military service against the enemies of such a nation, the rearing of a sound flock of healthy non-bastard children of good stock to preserve the nation, and scientific and artistic achievement that helps it stay safe and healthy. Of course, you wouldn't get an electoral system like that without starting off from a point very different from any Western nation today. But hey, it'll take a revolution to arrest the fall of the West now anyway.

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