Democracy: more confusing than a barrel of monkeys

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Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s. Zimbabwe now.

My esteemed colleague Jonathan Wilde has already weighed in on the matter, but I thought I would add a little. The two examples I've given are counterexamples to one of the most fundamental assumptions of the Western world, and are good counterexamples because of how stark they are. There is no denying the heavy-handedness of these regimes.

But as we libertarians have been pointing out for years, you don't always need a sharp change to effect tyranny. A feature of democracies everywhere is that the scope of governmental powers grows all the time. This phenomenon ought to lead honest thinkers to wonder if it is a necessary feature of democracy, though so far it doesn't seem to have done so.

The evidence is everywhere. Can you name a democratically-ruled country where the government and its bureaucracies, dependents, employees, contractors, and powers have been in decline for any significant amount of time? Off the top of my head I can't think of one, though I'm open to correction.

Where democracy is supposed to increase freedom it generally fails.1 Democracy is no guarantee of freedom, and we have many examples of its delivering the opposite (and good theoretical reasons why this should be so).

Surprised by the election? I am too, a little. But don't be surprised at the end result. It's happening here, there, and everywhere.

fn1. I don't mean newly-democratized countries. It's possible that newly-democratic Iraq is/will be more free than it was under Saddam Hussein, for instance. I mean countries that have been democratic for the long-term.

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Phelps: You are a stickler

Phelps:
You are a stickler for detail, and you seem to be good at it. It's mostly that males are more politically active, then? That seems plausible, but assuming your numbers are good, how do I explain the hundreds of LP events I've been to (in many different states) where about half of what few gals show up seem to be mainly accompanying their guy?

Meanwhile when I accompany my gal to a Democratic event, it is usually jam packed with gals (and lots of them are very bright and attractive). Have you all had experience quite different from mine? Honestly, if you are out cruising for a political gal... you are heading for an LP event? Am I wrong to think this is a problem for the movement?

Dave, you are confusing

Dave, you are confusing Republicanism with Democracy. Women and minorities gained their rights in spite of democracy, not because of it. Democracy, in this country, or any other, leads to politicians discovering they can bribe voters with their own money and voters discovering that they can vote themselves bread and circuses. On top of that, while there have been dramatic advances in freedom and liberty for parts of our population due to the Republican nature of our government there have also been much more subtle, but equally as astounding when viewed as a whole, declines in freedom and liberty for the entire population due to the Democratic/Populist nature of our elections. Consider the amount of restriction on a citizen's actions today compared to 1900. The change has been much more subtle in this area than in the area of women's and civil rights.

All that said, Patri makes some good points. I will choose representative democracy over monarchy or some form of authoritarian government any day of the week. But that doesn't mean that I'm happy with where we are today nor that I think we have the same amount of legal freedom that we had 100 years ago.

Dave, you are confusing

Dave, you are confusing Republicanism with Democracy. Women and minorities gained their rights in spite of democracy, not because of it.

Exactly. Discrimination is free for voters, but it carries concrete costs for market participants, so even when a majority of voters support discrimination, we should expect to see very little of it in the markets. Note in particular that Jim Crow laws were passed because white voters were unhappy that many merchants refused to discriminate against blacks.

moreso i’m not the one

moreso i’m not the one posting all over the internet about how great libertarianism is, so i don’t feel any obligation to “do” anything.

Why should proclaiming something is great necessitate one "doing" something about it?

i don't see you doing

i don't see you doing anything that has made any significant impact.

moreso i'm not the one

moreso i'm not the one posting all over the internet about how great libertarianism is, so i don't feel any obligation to "do" anything.

Have you ever wondered why

Have you ever wondered why the LP seems to be 96% male?

A better question is why you think the LP is "96% male". Judging from the data I can glean from the FSP as an example, it is more like 75%, which tracks pretty well with the GOP and DNC. Men are more politically active than women overall. I would be surprised to see a difference in gender voting patterns for LP votes.

I don't agree that democracy

I don't agree that democracy reduces freedom. Yes, every democracy grows steadily more regulatory and decreases freedoms, But they replace things that are even worse.

One thing to remember is that you may be mixing up the effects of democracy with the effects of increased wealth. The latter, I think, makes people wiling to tolerate far more taxes. If taxes were too high a few hundred years ago, people starved. If a democracy makes a country rich enough to handle higher tax rates, but with a much higher post-tax average income...is that really a loss?

Anarchists can't be

Anarchists can't be libertarians? What's a "true" libertarian?

Anarchists who pose as

Anarchists who pose as libertarians hate democracy because nobody votes for anarchy.
True libertarians :smitten: democracy.

Dave Meleney, It's true,

Dave Meleney,

It's true, we've made many advances in the democratic age. But I would chalk most of these to changing cultural attitudes and technological advances, not to government action. The most powerful image I have of the civil rights movement (being born after it) is the lines of black men marching with signs that read "I AM A MAN."

so.. what are you going to

so.. what are you going to do about it?

The plan is so simple a socialist could have thought of it (but not a Malthusian). I'm going to fall in love with some smart chick, and she and I are going to have a dozen kids. One of them will doubtlessly be able to figure out a way to fix this mess.

so.. what are you going to

so.. what are you going to do about it?

Man, I miss Things You Never

Man, I miss Things You Never Knew Existed (and can't possibly live without!). I recognize that "surprise package" advertisement anywhere...

Mr. Meleney, no doubt that there were aspects of the various governments in the US from 1776 through the enactment of the various civil rights bills that actively engaged in, endorsed, or ignored vicious rights violations by both private individuals and government agents. No honest "pessimistic libertarian" (for lack of a better term), would doubt or contest that. It was baseless tyranny and it should be condemned.

However, it must also be said that other aspects of life have not enjoyed liberation from government. Many of those vary laws that made it illegal to discriminate against some group are actual infringements of the liberty of others where no such infringement occurred. We have to get "licensed" or "certified" by the state to do more things than ever. I see little loss in steam for the impetus to have a law passed when a tragedy strikes (the recent school shooting being an interesting exception). Even in conservative states like Texas (where I live), no significant group of legislators is considering the actual privatization of education as an option in the sick play that spins each year about how to fund a child's education.

There have been several major advances in individual freedom in the United States. Along with them have also been a million smaller steps backwards.

Eric: I think the claim

Eric: I think the claim was... that everywhere you find democracy (and I don't think it was suggested that democracy is always as simple as 50 plus one, after all, those women whose career choices were so limited were also unable to vote until pretty recently) you'll also find bureaucracy getting more powerful.

Are you standing for that claim? I think the claim is typical libertarian horrifying. When I was in college one of my professors proudly showed off a WStJ front page article wherein he was cast as an amazing prognosticator ... having predicted double digit inflation long before it arrived. In the article he predicted triple digit inflation would soon arrive.

As to the Civil Rights Revolution. Yes, it's very much a product of democracy. Even excluding the marches and TV coverage from your def of democracy.... 1. Officials in a democracy can sometimes be shamed into doing right even against the "will of the people". Like when they see film of dogs turned on marchers and get anguished calls from their friends and children. 2. Lots of politicians and writers and editors pushed for civil rights at least in part because they thought it would help them politically and career wise.

I am not suggesting every good change that has come our way has to do with "50% plus one".... but that our political system that is often called democracy (by folk who know well how to describe it more carefully if necessary) has done darn well for us. And specifically that, on net, we have far less bureaucratic hassle than we used to. When Hernando de Soto describes the bureaucratic hassles that keep the 3rd world poor, he spends a lot of pages describing how much of that we had here when we were at similar stages of development. Imagine you were a new fellow in town and wanted to do horse trading, or barrel making. But you didn't believe in the correct nuances of the doctrines of Christ's resurrection ... well you get the idea. I dealt w bureaucracy in China... and was darn glad I knew a judge thru whom I could pass Marlboros to the necessary orifices. Few Americans can even imagine what bad bureaucracy is really like. Or how hard it was to practice a trade back in the good old days, if you got on the wrong side of any powerful dude in your town.

Libertarians love to think how great was the freedom back when, and if only we could return to yesteryear... why is that vision so persistently attractive? Have you ever wondered why the LP seems to be 96% male? Can it stay 96% male, stay attached to this fable of the near perfect freedom of grandpa's day, and stay 95% negative.... and hope to actually persuade people? I mean in real numbers?

Most of your neighbors have a more nuanced notion of the meaning of democracy...

Will it help us to think better or to grow our movement if we insist on 50+one.... or if we go around shocking people by saying we think democracy kind of sucks. Some might say this fits into what Michael Cloud calls "libertarian macho flash". Lots of incredibly bright people do it sometimes. Of course it will impress and confound some people, even sometimes people with stratospheric IQ's. Is that what you want to do?

Dave

Dave, do you honestly think

Dave, do you honestly think that a 50% + 1 majority brought about the changes you are talking about? Or do you think it was brought about in spite of the 50% + 1 majority? Stop and think about what brought about black Americans having their inherent rights protected as equally by the law as those of white Americans.

You say: "A feature of

You say: "A feature of democracies everywhere is that the scope of governmental powers grows all the time.... " Oh, really? All of them, or on net?
You say: "The evidence is everywhere. Can you name a democratically-ruled country where the government and its bureaucracies, dependents, employees, contractors, and powers have been in decline for any significant amount of time? Off the top of my head I can’t think of one, though I’m open to correction."

Wow... you might be even more pessimistic than the average libertarian... tho you seem much less prone to adopt the whiny tone! "grows all the time"? Consider this.... Not so long ago bureaucrats, with very little effort kept most women and Blacks and Indians and about 85% of Americans out of most jobs..... Sure my Mom could have become a lawyer or civil engineer.... But it was incredibly harder due largely to tons of bureaucratic red tape and inertia. My girlfriend, who was in the first real wave of female law school students, has some stories about bureaucrat welcoming that'd curl your hair.

I know it's more fun to see ourselves as victims... but really! Oh, yea... how about our increased safety without so many Nukes pointed at us.... I'll trade the risk of Al Qaida for that ongoing risk of really big nuclear war, how about you? If bureaucratic proclivity to end life on earth has been cut by 80% we have to figure that in, don't we?

And how about access to info. We used to have Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntly... who let that whole thing get out of hand, and is he the bureaucrat most hated by all the other devotees of true bureaucracy? Is there a purgatory somewhere in which they are constantly calling him names and poking him with sticks?

Do you ever read the liberal weblogs and see how disturbed they are with all this chaos and trade and gosh darn Walmartization of the world? Who wants to see a couple of billion Chinese and Indians taking our jobs and driving cars and, and , well, it's just not right, I tell you, it's just not right!

Dave Meleney

Regardless of how you feel

Regardless of how you feel about government, it's fairly clear that the men who founded this country clearly understood the dangers of democracy. Since then we have replaced the myth of the divine right of kings with the myth that 50% plus 1 is right. This hasn't had any better result than the divine right myth had, and in quite a few cases it's clear it has been worse (Nazi Germany, for example, or the way that the Bolsheviks took power during the fall of the Kerensky Government in Russia). Unfettered democracy results in tyranny just as surely, if more subtly, as monarchy does. We just feel better because we voted.

Unfortunately I cannot find

Unfortunately I cannot find the article right now, but a case could be made that New Zealand (parlimentary democracy, I guess) is increasing the amount of freedoms available to people. They are privatizing a lot of government functions and eliminating a lot of licensing requirements and such. It is a bit of a stretch, in this case, but it is worth highlighting.
If I can find the article again (it was an interview with NZ's trade minister, I think, probably from here: www.foreignpolicy.com/), I'll post it.

Once you actually do any of

Once you actually do any of those things, get back to me.

Once you actually do any of

Once you actually do any of those things, get back to me.

Sure. Now, please tell me, what are *you* doing about it?

you’re taking me too

you’re taking me too literally jonathan.

How else am I supposed to take your claim that I've been agitating for an "anarchist revolution"?

i simply ask what you plan to do now that you’ve established how bad democracy is (in comparison to your ideal).

Democracy is bad, but if the cultural institutions aren't there to support a more federalist order, democracy is the least worst we've got. Any political system that lacks cultural institutions to back it is a recipe for disaster (see Zimbabwe).

To answer your question: I work 80 hours a week and spend a few more hours per week of reading job-related material. With what little free time I have, I eat, sleep, pay my bills, pay my protection money to The Man, cheer for the Hokies, pursue my lifelong process of education, and satisfy the most primal urges of the women of Boston. When that is done, with the few minutes I have leftover, I try to do my small part in building the cultural institutions necessary to support a more federalist order with the media publication you are currently reading.

In a few years, I'll have more time and money. Sooner or later, I hope to produce a film documenting the atrocities committed by communists during the 20th century, fund startups that try to implement cryptographic cash and private space travel, live on a floating city that can change legal jurisdiction efficiently, and hopefully by that time, I'll have a media publication that can compete with metropolitan broadsheets.

Now tell me - what are you going to do about it?

i don’t see you doing

i don’t see you doing anything that has made any significant impact.

Likewise, though perhaps I'm wrong. What have you done?

I note that among my

I note that among my critics, none of you have disputed that a huge percentage of Americans are now greatly more free... but instead I get challenges about weather this great advance is due to Democracy or Republicanism or due to bureaucrats or others...and more comments about the growth of modern formal bureaucracy which we all find appalling.

Mr. Hueter's comments suggest that against "several major advances in individual freedom" we face 1 million smaller steps backwards. :end: That IS a pretty decent summary of the general view, isn't it?

I suggest it is critically important we develop an honest evaluation of where we net out in this process. (Hueter obviously thinks freedom is headed south in a hurry) As a wrestling coach, I found an expectation of failure was almost always self-fulfilling. If our whole movement expects failure and everyone keeps reinforcing each other in this expectation, the negativity could be expected to invade other parts of your life and reduce your shot at winning at work or in romance or in relationships with your kids.

Any of you who are sales professionals, (if only you have to sell your work product to your boss, ocassionally), should recognize both the power and the risks of negative marketing. If we all act like the last passengers on the Lusitania, we may strike others as a bit severe. Anyone ever encounter that reaction? With all due respect to how much fun it is to feel like part of a libertarian remnant, still managing to man the bilge pumps...

If you went to the Honda dealer and all you heard were harsh critiques of his competitors, one after another, after another, wouldn't that be fun? And then he thru in some amazing forecasts about how far the car would run (how perfect life would be if we could just get a true free market), and then as he slid a contract your way he mentioned that he felt "democracy was kind of evil."

Some great auto salesmen have probably gotten good at selling cars with shock techniques, saying things that are the equivalent of "democracy tends to destroy freedom, I can't even think of a counter example...," but it's very, very hard to do it well. I never heard Murray Rothbard sell gently, he was always trying to shock ... and he brought aboard Robert Nozick and lots of other greats. If you have a good list of converts to libertarianism, I shouldn't wish to encourage you to be more positive... who can argue with success? But, honestly, how long is your list?

Why not consider seriously the possibility that we should be darn happy to live in such a remarkably free time and place? (Note I didn't say we should be complacent)
A. 85% of our population has gotten vastly improved rights to open a business, hold a title, file a lawsuit, reject a mental hospitalization, practice medicine, law, finance, accounting, ... etc. etc. :cool:
B. The chance that bureaucrats'll kill us all in a Nuke-blow out seems reduced at least by two-thirds...
C. The bureaucrats in gov and out kept us so in the dark we didn't even know FDR was crippled, let alone what led to Pearl Harbor... and they are still working at keeping us dumb but they are loosing now....
D. Bureaucrats around the world are forced to compete with low tax havens like Ireland and China and now even India.... who'd a thunk it?
E. Ward Churchill and Fidel are among the last of a dying breed.. :dunce: granted campuses nationwide have important outposts of Marxism, but no one takes it half as seriously. :wall: Even the pseudo-Marxist in Venezuela is getting lectured on market incentives in Beijing!
F. About 10 Nobel prize winners are classical liberals (list available, pl inquire), some self-described libertarians! Check out the web page of the head of econ at Harvard of all places!

Okay a very pushy and silly official was recently fussing about my back yard, and even the Republicans are growing government in new and preposterous ways, and Putin may even take Russia in some very unfortunate directions.... :bigcry: It's all true!!

But do you want to go out on the wrestling mat of life focused substantially on how life sucks when there are 4 billion people who are dramatically freer than their grandparents were... and maybe a billion who are less free (and most of those only if you count insidious teams of code enforcement officers as equivalent to teams of soviet missile launchers).

all the best,
Dave

ps: if the bureaucratic red tape of yesteryear was less codified and more informal... but startlingly effective...does that mean it counts for less?

so.. what are you going to

so.. what are you going to do about it?

What are you going to do about it?

Anarchists who pose as

Anarchists who pose as libertarians hate democracy because nobody votes for anarchy.

True libertarians should check the polling data of this democracy before getting smitten.

Jonathan, I'm not the one

Jonathan, I'm not the one making the calls for an anarchist "revolution" of sorts. Just answer my question.

When have I ever called for

When have I ever called for any kind of revolution? In fact, as I've said before, I think revolutions are pretty bad things in general. I like living in this country. The liberal democracy that currently defines the political system, while imperfect, is a lot better than what exists in other countries. It certainly beats Zimbabwe. I enjoy my family, friends, learning, and practicing my trade. I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else.

When have I ever called for

When have I ever called for any kind of revolution? In fact, as I’ve said before, I think revolutions are pretty bad things in general.

You wouldn't know it from all those pamphlets you send me.

At any rate, from at least one of the definitions, "anarchist revolution" seems like an oxymoron.

revolution, n.

2. The overthrow of one government and its replacement with another.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation; further reproduction and distribution restricted in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved.

David, you argue that A. 85%

David, you argue that A. 85% of our population has gotten vastly improved rights to open a business, hold a title, file a lawsuit, reject a mental hospitalization, practice medicine, law, finance, accounting, … etc. etc.. My response is: compared to when?

I have tried to say that Populism/Democracy leads to less freedom, not more, and you have presented irrelevancies that distract from that core concept rather than address it. The increased freedoms you constantly discuss did not result from Democracy. Almost every thing that resulted in an increase of freedom and liberty in this country was in spite of what the majority wanted.

The one thing I'll agree with you on is the pure negative approach isn't the way to go. The far better approach is "over all things are good, but this one idea isn't, and here's a better one." That said, it doesn't mean I'm going to change my mind about Democracy (as opposed to some other forms of governance that don't rely on direct majorities but don't leave power consolidated in the hands of unaccountable rulers either).

Brandon Berg: Note in

Brandon Berg:

Note in particular that Jim Crow laws were passed because white voters were unhappy that many merchants refused to discriminate against blacks.

Well, no, not quite. Jim Crow laws were passed because white supremacist terrorists systematically stopped Black people from going to the polls to stop them from being passed (or to stop candidates who would pass them from being elected). It's not an accident that massive disenfranchisement of the Black population was one of the central planks of Jim Crow; there were many communities in the South, prior to the mass migrations of the 1920s, in which Blacks were the numerical majority, and they exercised substantial power in state politics when they had the chance (as they did in the 1860s-1870s, and as they did again in the 1960s-1970s) to vote.

Eric:

I have tried to say that Populism/Democracy leads to less freedom, not more, and you have presented irrelevancies that distract from that core concept rather than address it. The increased freedoms you constantly discuss did not result from Democracy.

Maybe you could explain more clearly what you mean when you distinguish the Republican parts of the American constitution from the Democratic/Populist ones. What makes a particular aspect of the government Republican as opposed to Democratic/Populist?

I ask this because a lot of libertarian discussions that I've seen on this topic end up simply defining Republicanism and Democracy in such a way that one's guaranteed to have better outcomes than the other by linguistic fiat--e.g., by stipulating that part of what it means to be a "Republican" form of government is to have a constitution that effectively limits government power, while giving a definition of "Democracy" in some sort of purely structural terms (e.g.: election of legislators or 50%+1 referenda). Of course if you define one of them by reference to achieving the goal you want to achieve, and define the other only in terms of the means of decision-making, one of them's going to look like a much stronger candidate for achieving that goal than the other. But it's unclear what intellectual gains you make with that sort of apples-and-oranges comparison.

Charles, I'm not a historian

Charles, I'm not a historian so I can't add my own knowledge of the Jim Crows laws to the mix, but what you said and what Brandon Berg said are not incompatible. His is about motivations, yours is about tactics. I wouldn't be surprised if you were both correct.

you’re taking me too

you’re taking me too literally jonathan. i simply ask what you plan to do now that you’ve established how bad democracy is (in comparison to your ideal).

Spread the word, of course.

you're taking me too

you're taking me too literally jonathan. i simply ask what you plan to do now that you've established how bad democracy is (in comparison to your ideal).

moreso i’m not the one

moreso i’m not the one posting all over the internet about how great libertarianism is, so i don’t feel any obligation to “do” anything.

You're moving the goalposts. First, you claimed I was agitating for an "anarchist revolution". When I pointed out how wrong that claim was, now you say that I'm "posting all over the internet about how great libertarianism is".

You're wrong on both counts. I'm not posting "all over the internet". I'm posting on my blog. It's private property. It's located on a server in Wisconsin. Anyone who reads my writing, such as yourself, comes here to read it. I'm not "all over the internet", though I wish I were, because that would mean a lot more people would be reading what I say, instead of the mere 6,000 or so unique IPs that visit regularly at least once a week.

Regardless, that doesn't obligate me to "do something" anymore than it does you. Since you obviously agree with what we say about libertarianism, I ask again -

What are you going to do?
What have you accomplished?