Direct Democracy: Power to the People!

Via David Broockman at the Flaming Libs blog, a study that suggests "that localities with direct democracy have much lower government spending as compared to those with representative democracy."

This contradicts a lot of my conservative friends who, fancying themselves aristocrats, tend to argue that the rabble would vote themselves bigger and bigger entitlements and fritter their money away on faddish programs without the wise hand of a (democratically assented to) representative elite to check them.

I'm in no position to judge the social science behind the study, but I think there are many reasons to favor direct democratic decision making as a second-best alternative to contract and anarchy.

  • Direct democratic referenda are about the only form of electoral politics where libertarian laws can get considered seriously and where libertarians can vote without holding their noses. Think of things like Prop 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California.
  • Direct democratic voting avoids a lot of the problems with log-rolling and special interests. It's prohibitively expensive, both due to the transaction costs and total number of electors involved, to bribe off the entire voting population.
  • A serious commitment to direct democracy naturally tends towards the decentralization of power and smaller jurisdictions. The unwieldiness and slowness of direct democracy are features not bugs. Because of the hard limits on the number of questions that can be seriously considered and voted on, a direct democratic system will of necessity tend to cleave to the principle of subsidiarity, the notion that decision making should be deferred to the smallest competent units.
  • Another feature of the ponderousness of direct democracy is that in many situations, cooler heads would prevail. If it had required several months for the gears of democratic legislation to turn, there would have been more debate regarding the response to 9/11, especially things like the PATRIOT Act, and more time for people's emotions to cool down.
  • The slowness of direct democracy would also give the market and civil society a shot to solve problems and get a head start on government intervention before the state could bring the hammer down. Perhaps the question of a financial bailout would be a moot point by the time voters got to decide on the issue and one reason that the internet is so free is that it changes faster than bodies like Congress can react to regulate it.

I find the example of Switzerland very encouraging. Direct democracy has a long history in Switzerland and the country is notably more decentralized, libertarian, and conservative than most developed countries.

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Well put.

I'm doubtful that 51% of the electorate will protect the rights of the other 49% in a direct democracy, but I'm sure the <1% of people elected in a representative democracy ran for office to fuck over the other >99%.

Surely sortition for legislative bodies would end the waste and bias of modern campaigning. In the current system, a just person has close to zero shot of getting elected or staying elected – much less of a shot than if we were selected at random.

Also, as you may have read about, range voting is another method to 'open up' our political process.

Keep it up!


Switzerland is a really stunning example of decentralization. The median population of a canton is about 200K, the mean a bit under 300K. To put it in perspective, for the U.S. to have the same population/state ratio, we'd have to have over 1000 states. And these are polities with real decisionmaking power, not the local dog-catching commissions. I'd love to see that here.

Also interesting you mentioned as a positive Switzerland being "more decentralized, libertarian, and conservative than most developed countries." As a federalist, right-leaning libertarian that's just about perfect for me, but I'm surprised a "10" would agree.

Also interesting you

Also interesting you mentioned as a positive Switzerland being "more decentralized, libertarian, and conservative than most developed countries." As a federalist, right-leaning libertarian that's just about perfect for me, but I'm surprised a "10" would agree.

Unfortunately, these days, anyone who is serious about defending family, tradition, and culture, has to be a radical left-winger. Corporate capitalism and the state are the biggest threats to cultural ecology around.



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While Switzerland might be

While Switzerland might be considered a great example of democracy, it's not without its pitfalls. Several parties are abusing the system, gathering signatures for subjects that are thoroughly unconstitutional. Also, you might be surprised to hear that the turnout rate averages only 30%.

Kind regards,
Marco Gravatti
Guide to study in Switzerland

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