Fewer Voters Are Better Voters

A Guest Post

by

Jamie Whyte

Last year, the British government decided to lift the top rate of income tax from 41 to 52 percent. Last month, Lord Myners, the UK Secretary of State for Financial Services, said that the policy would raise not nearly as much revenue as had been expected. People are apparently making efforts to avoid paying it. A host of politicians and commentators responded that it was always a foolish idea, a purely “political” policy.

But how can a bad policy be good politics? What defect in the electoral system can explain this?

The most popular explanation these days is the malign influence of “special interests”. Perhaps there is something in this. But a more fundamental defect is always overlooked, presumably because it is mistaken for a virtue of modern democracies. The reason so many bad policies are good politics is that so many people vote: about 62 percent of adults at the last general election, both in Great Britain and in the United States. The best way to get more sensible policies would be to reduce the number of voters to less than 0.01 percent of the population.

To see why, consider a question that arises in banking. How many bankers should be involved in deciding whether to approve a loan application? The ideal number may vary with the complexity of the application. But the right answer is always, “very few.”

If a loan officer’s initial decision required sign-off by a majority of 100 other bankers, his own judgement would have little effect on the final outcome. So he would have little incentive to think hard about the application and the likelihood that the loan will be repaid. Since this would be equally true for each of the other 100 bankers, none would bother to think hard. Why struggle to make the right decision when your decision will have no effect?

This is the position of voters in a general election. Each individual’s vote makes no difference to the outcome. Even marginal districts are won with majorities of hundreds. If you had stayed home instead of voting, the same candidate would have been elected.

If each person’s vote makes no difference to the candidate elected, why do so many people vote? One answer, as the economist Geoffrey Brennan has argued, is that people enjoy it. The simple act of going to a polling booth and ticking a box is imagined to display democratic virtue. And, by ticking one box rather than others, people can feel themselves to be generous or pragmatic or progressive or something else they like to be.

Enjoying such feelings is easily worth the cost of taking two hours off work on a Tuesday every couple of years. But it is not worth the effort of learning anything about economics, jurisprudence, international relations or even the policies of the candidate you vote for. Research into voters’ knowledge shows a stunning degree of ignorance. Most voters would be as likely to vote for the best candidate if they entered the polling booth blindfolded.

In fact, blindfolds would increase most voters’ chance of making the best choice. Because, as Bryan Caplan shows in The Myth of the Rational Voter, ignorant voters do not make their mistakes randomly. They are biased towards particular errors; they tend to underestimate the benefits of trade and they believe that the prices of goods and labour are determined by corporate greed rather than by supply and demand, to take but two of many examples.

Hence the many foolish policies followed by democratic governments. And hence politicians’ sentimental and grandiose rhetoric. Modern politics is just as you should expect it to be when votes are cast by ignorant people taking advantage of a low-cost source of emotional gratification.

So what is the best way to improve modern politics? The answer is not to increase voter turnout. On the contrary, the number of voters should be drastically reduced so that each voter realizes that his vote will matter. Something like 12 voters per district should be about right. If you were one of these 12 voters then, like one of 12 jurors deciding if someone should be imprisoned, you would take a serious interest in the issues.

These 12 voters should be selected at random from the electorate. With 535 districts in Congress – 435 in the House and 100 in the Senate – there would be 6,420 voters nationally. A random selection would deliver a proportional representation of sexes, ages, races and income groups. This would improve on the current system, in which the voting population is skewed relative to the general population: the old vote more than the young, the rich vote more than the poor, and so on.

To safeguard against the possibility of abuse, these 6,420 voters would not know that they had been selected at random until the moment when the polling officers arrived at their house. They would then be spirited away to a place where they will spend a week locked away with the candidates, attending a series of speeches, debates and question-and-answer sessions before voting on the final day. All of these events should be filmed and broadcast, so that everyone could make sure that nothing dodgy was going on.

Some will complain that this system would disenfranchise most of the population. It would not, because every adult would be eligible for random selection. Of course, each of us would have a tiny chance of being selected. But, on the current system, it is equally improbable that any individual’s vote will make a difference to the election’s outcome. The difference with this “jury” system is that those whose votes make a difference would know who they are. And that would give them a reason to take the job seriously.

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Jamie Whyte is the author of Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists and Other Serial Offenders.

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45 Responses to “Fewer Voters Are Better Voters”


  1. 1 1 Snorri Godhi

    The best way to get more sensible policies would be to reduce the number of voters to less than 0.01 percent of the population.

    When I got to this point, my reaction was: wait a minute, we already do that! to take the example of the US Congress: “435 in the House and 100 in the Senate”, that means that about 1 in a million Americans actually get to vote.

    Actually, I should have found a fault already in the first paragraph:
    A host of politicians and commentators responded that it was always a foolish idea, a purely “political” policy.

    (Let’s leave aside the fact that only a tiny number of British people actually voted for the tax increase.) It remains to be established whether it was good politics, i.e. whether it will lead to more votes for the Labour party. It is at least conceivable that voters will decide whom to vote for, based primarily on the answer to the question: am I better off than I was at the last election? One does not need to know anything about economics, international relations, jurisprudence, etc. to answer that question. (Though it is more difficult to answer the next most important question: am I likely to be better off with the alternative?)

    Note that this is the theory of democracy proposed by Popper in chapter 7 of The Open Society: democracy is the power of the people to change rulers without violence. (Note also the analogy to reinforcement learning.)

  2. 2 2 Jyotirmoy

    What will happen is that the 12 voters will extract the maximum benefit possible for themselves. It would be pork barrel politics for the common man. Broadcasting does not help. Even if the majority of the people don’t like the deals stuck, they would have no way to express their dissatisfaction, since the probability of any of them being a voter in the next election would be negligible. In the next election 12 other random people would be chosen and they in turn will take the kickbacks. It would be like a lottery.

    Even if we assume to the contrary that the voters would act in the ‘common interest’, imagine the horrible sampling errors you would face when you select just 12 people out of a diverse population of thousands.

  3. 3 3 Mark Vorkosigan

    It would be even better to have no voters and choose the congress by sortition

  4. 4 4 optimist

    I have always taken the view that the (unfinished) reform of Britain’s House of Lords is a golden opportunity to experiment with a jury system as a legislative chamber. Choose 500 `lords’ at random from the population (perhaps allowing people to nominate a substitute) to sit for five years. This would enhance the one good feature of the hereditary system — that it has an element of randomness — and avoid the duplication of elected chambers that is such a problem in second chambers generally. There would be huge squeals from the superannuated politicians currently entrenched in the House of Lords, but that would be fun, too.

  5. 5 5 GregS

    I’ve always liked the idea of a vote by random sampling as opposed to voluntary voting; this post definitely adds something of substance to that idea.
    I do worry, though, that a regime with the authority to spirit away voters in the middle of the night would also have the power to “influence” the vote.
    Steve, does it change the analysis if a selected voter can say “No, pick someone else” when chosen?

  6. 6 6 thedifferentphil

    GregS – the ability to opt out would reduce the quality of the sample as representative of the population. That is why surveys with low response rates are unreliable as predictors of a whole population’s sentiment or behavior.

    I disagree that the proposed sampling system would yield better outcomes. Anyone who is basically ignorant of the issues is unlikely to be able to draw a valuable independent conclusion through the pre-voting seminar. Many of the issues are normative in nature anyway (abortion, war, social welfare, etc.). The preferred nature of the system perhaps relies on the old “if only I could reveal the facts to people, then they will draw the same wise conclusions as me,” line of thinking.

  7. 7 7 Snorri Godhi

    Optimist’s comment reminds me that I have already seen an article proposing exactly that: substituting the Lords with people chosen at random. I can’t give a reference, but the author was inspired by ancient Greece. I believe that the Republic of Venice also had an element of chance in its elections. My previous comment was not meant as a criticism of random selection of voters, I only meant to show that it does not address a real problem.

    WRT this observation:
    it is not worth the effort of learning anything about economics, jurisprudence, international relations or even the policies of the candidate you vote for.

    Speaking only for myself, I am interested in politics for pragmatic reasons: there is a small, but not negligible chance that at some point in my life I’ll have to emigrate to save my life or my freedom or my wealth, or at least my quality of life.
    Without knowing anything about politics, I cannot know when to emigrate and where to.
    Once I have learned about the issues, I might as well vote: it’s only a 10 minutes walk from here.

  8. 8 8 GregS

    thedifferentphil
    I understand this “survey effect”; I’m not sure it changes the election outcome in a meaningful way. I actually wonder if the outcome wouldn’t be better if people who aren’t motivated could opt themselves out. But I’d like to hear the opinion of someone who has worked on this problem.
    I think the point of the post is that voters WOULD make better decisions, because they have a greater stake in the outcome of their own actions when there are fewer of them. If you’re one of a few hundred million, you can blithely cast your vote for the “pro-union” or “anti-trade” candidate as a means of political self-identification; you can do this more easily when your single vote doesn’t matter. If you’re one of very few voters, you have to think a little harder about whether your vote for an import tariff will make your children’s school clothing more expensive or increase your family’s grocery bill.

  9. 9 9 Michael

    I can’t speak for the British parliamentary system, but the plurality method used for national office in the United States divides the electorate in half, selects the largest individual subgroup in each half during the primaries, then decides which of these subgroups is closest to the center of the electorate during the general election. Even under the *best* circumstances, you are basically choosing the center of the left versus the center of the right, which squeezes out true centrist candidates. It’s like replacing your steering wheel with two buttons — turn left and turn right — and then trying to drive down the freeway.

    I personally like either proxy methods — a legislator’s voting strength is proportional to the number of votes he or she receives — or in single-member districts, Condorcet methods, which tend to pick candidates at the center of the electorate. (As an aside, the father of Oregon’s voter Initiative, Referendum, and Recall, William Simon U’Ren, pushed for a proxy method, which was promptly squashed by the legislature. Fascinating person, though. Probably should have his picture on my wall, to go back to an earlier discussion on this site.)

    For those that like pretty pictures, here are some visualizations of five voting methods: Plurality (the current U.S. method), Approval, Condorcet, Borda, and Hare (also known as Instant Runoff Voting).
    http://zesty.ca/voting/sim/

  10. 10 10 Harold

    Two quotes from Winston Churchill:
    “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

    “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government – except all the others that have been tried.”

    To that I think we must add “and some that have not been tried”

  11. 11 11 Neil

    The popular vote is useless as a means of aggregating collective preferences. Its only utility is preventing tyranny. Give everyone a voice, as unimportant as anyone’s vote is, so that there is a collective interest in resisting dictatorship.

  12. 12 12 Harold

    Neil: I think you have hit the nail on the head, the purpose is not to select the best policies, but to avoid tyranny.

  13. 13 13 ryan yin

    Neil & Harold,
    What about the tyranny of the majority? Couldn’t we avoid tyranny even better by putting strict limits on the power of government?

  14. 14 14 Neil

    ryan,

    Of course. Popular voting is to prevent the tyranny of the few, and constitutions with rights are to prevent the tyranny of the many. I like both.

  15. 15 15 bart.mitchell

    I’ve always harped that having everyone vote on anything is obtuse, but I think my system is better.

    I think that the idea of representational government works, and it should be reduced all the way down to the neighborhood level.

    Imagine my perfect world. Neighborhoods would get together to solve their local issues. They would put forward one representative for their neighborhood. All the neighborhood reps would meet to work on the problems of their town. The town reps would put forth a representative to work on the county, county reps to the state, state reps to the nation.

    That way, instead of random (where you have a random chance of putting an idiot or ideologue in power) you percolate the greatest thinkers upward.

  16. 16 16 thedifferentphil

    “I actually wonder if the outcome wouldn’t be better if people who aren’t motivated could opt themselves out.

    This all depends on what you mean by “better.” My comment was on how sampling would reflect the population. I personally would not prefer 100% participation (see Churchill quote above), because I have a dim view of the opinions of most nonvoters. Of course I have a dim view of the opinions of many current voters too, but I would rather take my chances with them than with the whole population. Similarly, if I was ever wrongly accused of a crime, I would opt for a judge instead of a jury of my peers.

  17. 17 17 Bennett Haselton

    A less radical solution would be to promote the civic virtue that when a large majority of experts in a field (who have no conflict of interest and who have arrived at their conclusions more or less independently of each other) support or oppose a given policy, then people should listen.

    We already have a somewhat misguided version of that civic virtue — most civilized people (notwithstanding the Tea Partiers) believe that in a democracy you should defer to the rulings of judges just for the sake of keeping order, even if you disagree with them. The problem is that we’re deferring there to the wrong “wise folk”. Judges and lawyers haven’t earned that level of deference to their conclusions, because they don’t arrive at their conclusions by the same rigorous standards as scientists and academics. (For example, scientists and academics try to arrive at their conclusions *independently* of each other, so that when they reach the same conclusion, they have more confidence in it. Judges, on the other hand, when they hear a case on appeal, are instructed to defer to the lower court ruling. So the fact that three judges in a row agreed with a lower court’s decision, doesn’t tell you anything.)

    So change around that civic virtue so that people listen to the opinions of economists (and climate scientists, and doctors, etc.) and maybe that would improve the voting. If 90% of climate scientists say global warming is real, listen. On the other hand, if 90% of economists say that the proposed solutions would cause more harm than global warming itself, then listen to that, too.

  18. 18 18 Tim

    I believe John Stuart Mill thought that voting should be linked to paying taxes. According to Richard Reeves in JOHN STUART MILL: VICTORIAN FIREBRAND, “He (Mill) also insisted that there should be no representation without taxation. Allowing non-taxpayers to vote, he said, amounted “to allowing them to put their hands into other people’s pockets for any purpose which they think fit to call a public one.”

    While I’m not sure I totally go along with Mill, that type of requirement would certainly reduce the size of the electorate if the only you counted was federal income tax.

  19. 19 19 Snorri Godhi

    Bennett Haselton:
    For example, scientists and academics try to arrive at their conclusions *independently* of each other, so that when they reach the same conclusion, they have more confidence in it.

    Obviously, you have never worked in academia.

  20. 20 20 Richard Pointer

    One problem:

    The current system has at most 7-8 candidates from each office. I could see the new system having more than the number of voters. Indeed preferences might be scattered and no candidate would be able to gain more than one vote. How do you resolve this problem?

    As to the bribery problem. Keeping politicians and voters sequestered from each other would reduce the ability of politicians delivering bribes. Also, I think this would be solved by the repeated interaction politicians have with a random selection election. Incumbents would have to seek the common good because of the risk of failing a potential voter in the next election. The only danger would be the corruption of the actual voting process.

  21. 21 21 Harold

    Scientists attempt to arrive at results that can be reproduced by others working independantly. After redproduction you can have confidence.

  22. 22 22 Manfred

    This is not *exactly* the topic of this blog, but it is very much related: coincidentally today, in VoxEU, Timothy Besley and Andrew Scott [Scott I do not know his work, but Besley is a famous political economist at LSE] have an article arguing in favor of an “independent fiscal agency” [very much like an independent central bank] that could potentially set fiscal policy, taking away such power from politicians.
    You can look up the article in:
    http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/4680

  23. 23 23 Philip

    Tim-

    “I believe John Stuart Mill thought that voting should be linked to paying taxes.”

    Who doesn’t pay some type of tax: income, property, sales, etc.. I don’t think this disqualifies anyone.

    And it’s impractical to have different voting rolls for those who pay federal taxes vs those who pay state taxes vs those who pay local taxes when elections for multiple levels of offices are held at the same time and place.

    No, the best solution is to repeal the 26th, 23rd, 19th, 15th, and 24th Amendments to the Constitution which gave the franchise to 18 year olds, residents of DC, women, and blacks and outlawed the poll tax, respectively.

    Then you have to repeal laws that date back to around 1800 that expanded the franchise beyond white, male property owners.

    That should do the trick.

  24. 24 24 Eric

    How would this change the incentive to pander to interests? Rather than pandering to a whole jurisdiction (or a lobbying group), the representative/senator would pander to 12 voters. These voters will represent their jurisdiction, whether they like it or not. The voters will be under pressure to gain something from the politician for their jurisdiction, much like lobbyists, except these voters are unskilled at lobbying. When unskilled lobbyists fail to get favors they pack up and go home, but these unskilled lobbyists are required to vote. Even worse, they then face the wrath of their jurisdiction when they go home after millions have seen their faces for weeks on live television. Their votes might be secret, and they might be more informed than the rest of the community, but there’d still be conspiracies as to which of the Voting 12 let the evil free-market rep/senator come to power and ruin the neighborhood.

    It seems an easy answer would be to keep them anonymous. But I can’t imagine a jurisdiction being very thrilled about the presence of an “anonymous 12″ who voted to phase out their medicare or remove the public rail. Do the Voting 12 qualify for witness protection programs as well? Because if I were chosen to be one of the unlucky 12, screw rationality. I’m voting for the thing that makes everyone people happy just so I don’t get shanked in the night. And I’ll be damn sure I let the public know who I voted for.

  25. 25 25 dave

    i think we should combine the last couple of topics and have a tournament for office. the tournament winners would be able to serve back some of their lost production.
    what system of voting would allow for the best fair and random sampling at the lowest cost to the society?
    plate spinning on ice! whomever can keep the most plates spinning at one time while ice skating shall lead us!

  26. 26 26 James

    A paper that would be very useful in support of this idea can be found in the journal Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 31 no. 4, December 2008, by Andranik Tangian. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in this topic.

  27. 27 27 Philip

    All these schemes involving selecting a small group of voters to determine campaign outcomes are non-starters.

    This subject has been dealt with over hundreds of years of democratic theory and was at the center of some of the debates covered by the Federalist papers.

    The classical view that dominated democratic theory from Pericles up to the 1700s was that democracies were highly unstable and could only survive for any length in small societies.

    One of the great contributions to democratic theory was Madison’s and Hamilton’s arguments, some of which are reflected in the Federalist papers) that, through constitutional restraints on government and internal checks and balances, a large representative democracy could be sustained over a long period of time.

    One of the factors driving their concern about small democracies (i.e., a small number of voters) was the ease with which those voters could be manipulated by (1) strong emotional appeals, (2) threats and fear, and (3) bribery.

    These small-electorate schemes all fall victim to these inherent weaknesses.

    Finally, Aristotle, who was no fan of democracy, would have turned thumbs down on the whole notion of selecting a few wise men to serve as the electorate: “the majority ought to be sovereign [i.e., all men of independent standing--propertied men], rather than the best, where the best are few…. [A] feast to which all contribute is better than one given at one man’s expense.”

  28. 28 28 Eric

    “One of the great contributions to democratic theory was Madison’s and Hamilton’s arguments, some of which are reflected in the Federalist papers) that, through constitutional restraints on government and internal checks and balances, a large representative democracy could be sustained over a long period of time.”

    If by sustained you mean it manages to at least break even when it does its accounting then I’m not certain this has worked out as well as they hoped. I can’t really imagine any other version of this format being an improvement, since they all seem to boil down to political interest in being voted for and having a large salary rather than fostering a strong economy and turning a profit.

  29. 29 29 Tim

    Philip,

    I agree it would be impractical. I was merely pointing out that Mill, who is viewed by many as a thinker ahead of his time, linked the franchise to a level of property.

    Mill also felt that representatives should vote against their consituents when the situation called for it; should not use their own fortunes for electoral purposes; and in an ideal state, would not campaign.

    And we can just imagine how far those things would go.

  30. 30 30 Philip

    Eric-

    “If by sustained you mean it manages to at least break even when it does its accounting then I’m not certain this has worked out as well as they hoped. I can’t really imagine any other version of this format being an improvement, since they all seem to boil down to political interest in being voted for and having a large salary rather than fostering a strong economy and turning a profit.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by this, but on the face of it, you seem to be arguing against a constitutional democracy.

    If so, how do you account for the country’s growth over the last 220 years from an agrarian society well behind the curve in the industrial revolution to the strongest economy in the world?

    Harold pointed out the oft-quoted Churchill line:

    “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government – except all those others that have been tried.”

    Tim-

    “Mill also felt that representatives should vote against their consituents when the situation called for it; should not use their own fortunes for electoral purposes; and in an ideal state, would not campaign.”

    Madison, Jefferson, Washington and most of the other founders shared Mill’s opinion on that score. They had a noble, idealistic vision of public service that was part of the inheritance of the Enlightenment. All that was largely swept away by the rapid democratization of American society by the early 1800s.

    This is discussed in Gordon Wood’s excellent “The Radicalism of the American Revolution”. Highly recommended.

  31. 31 31 Eric

    “If so, how do you account for the country’s growth over the last 220 years from an agrarian society well behind the curve in the industrial revolution to the strongest economy in the world?”

    There are plenty of constitutional democracies that function poorly, and some autocratic governments like Hong Kong and Singapore that outpace America. I have a hard time seeing the direct connection between democratic government and growth. Just because the two coincided doesn’t mean democracy bred a great economy. Democratic governance was one innovation among millions of others, and I’d argue other innovations can take much more credit for our growth. Democracy may have been sustainable under certain conditions, but when it starts breaking down and running trillion dollar debts it’s almost impossible to get rid of. That’s a major problem when the basis of our Democracy is that we can supposedly just get rid of the thing when it stops working, and yet obviously we can’t. Or at least, it’ll take another innovation to figure out how to really change how things are run.

  32. 32 32 Philip

    Eric-

    So I’ll repeat my earlier statement in the form of a question:

    “I’m not sure what you mean by this; are you arguing against a constitutional democracy?”

  33. 33 33 Eric

    Yes I am, and I don’t see how randomly selecting 12 delegates per jurisdiction to represent everyone will help solve the problems that we have with voting.

  34. 34 34 Philip

    What system other than a constitution democracy do you prefer?

    “I don’t see how randomly selecting 12 delegates per jurisdiction to represent everyone will help solve the problems that we have with voting.”

    I agree.

  35. 35 35 Hugo

    How do you think Condorcet’s Jury Theorem applies?

    As I understand it (in general): if you think that the average voter is more likely to be correct than to be false, opt for democracy including everybody. If you think that the average voter is more likely to be false than to be correct, opt for a decision by one person.

  36. 36 36 Philip

    Hugo-

    I think that’s a pretty good working version of the Marquis’s theorem.

    Here’s why it doesn’t apply:

    * It ignores the fact that one person is a lot easier to bribe or blackmail than a lot of people.

    * It ignores the fact that a decision made by one person is more likely to be decided based on their interest than one made by many people.

    * It ignores the fact that real votes are not independent and don’t have uniform probabilities.

    * It ignores the fact that the ability to make “correct” decisions is not very meaningful when making policy decisions vs deciding questions of fact.

    * It ignores the fact that most policy decisions require selecting among a myriad of options, not two, involving complex trade-offs requiring judgments of values not just facts. (If I recall, Arrow addresses this one.)

    * It ignores the maxim: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    If you’re not familiar with James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds”, it’s worth a look.

  37. 37 37 Eric

    Phillip, one that that can balance its checkbook. Without a balanced checkbook entitlements bean bunk. You end up like Greece. A government that balances its checkbook is just like a business, and like a business it would want to attract customers and incentivize them not to expatriate. If we oppose the idea of governments acting like businesses, then we get governments that spend like the US and end up like Greece. These go bankrupt. So whether voters have a “say” or not is meaningless if there’s nothing left to spend.

    I just noticed that we already a similar system as this one. The electoral college is similar, except it’s one person per district, they’re chosen by voters (rather than randomly by bureaucrats, which has its own problems), they’re paid to vote “correctly”, and they do a lousy job.

  38. 38 38 Philip

    “Phillip, one that that can balance its checkbook.”

    Ahhh, checkboocacracy. That’s a new one on me, but inspired no doubt by Plato. I’ll guess this translates as “rule by philosopher kings” in which disciples of Hayek and Mises choose the king.

    So your argument is that only representative democracies run up big deficits. I think it would be pretty easy to refute that, don’t you?

    “I just noticed that we already a similar system as this one. The electoral college is similar, except it’s one person per district, they’re chosen by voters (rather than randomly by bureaucrats, which has its own problems), they’re paid to vote “correctly”, and they do a lousy job.”

    You need to study up on this one. There are just too many errors to address in this statement, but here are three:

    * no, there’s not one per district
    * no, they’re not chosen by voters
    * no, they’re not paid to vote “correctly”

    If you can’t figure out why my statements are correct, let me know and I’ll walk you though it.

  39. 39 39 Eric

    Rather than disciples of Hayek and Mises choosing a leader (they wouldn’t want one anyway), let the best businessman set up his business and attract clients. I doubt students of The Mises Institute would have picked a very good Whole Foods CEO.

    “So your argument is that only representative democracies run up big deficits. I think it would be pretty easy to refute that, don’t you?”

    Not sure where you read “only rep democracies run deficits” in my replies, but they do, as do other types of business-governments, like Islamic governments that are largely monarchistic (corporate) but emphasize religious restrictions over property rights. Like any business this is because of powerful shareholders (clerics). But if Iran is really more competitive than Hong Kong then people will want to do business there. Places with a lot of business activity tend to be better for people in general. Of course lots of other types of governments run deficits too, but those often have the power to liquidate their assets. In a constitutional democracy, voters decide on liquidation.

    An easy analogy is to think of governments like stores, where customers don’t vote on the prices but affect prices and policies based on shopping preferences. High-cost stores that lock their customers inside and murder them usually don’t get much business. Lower-cost stores that protect their customers do pretty well. I don’t know what the best method is, but lately we see lots of examples of really bad ones.

    Profitable places also tend to be small places relative to countries. America run by Microsoft would be no more efficient than America run by Obama or Bush because of its sheer size. But the nature of our government results in a country of this size. Therefore it’s big and clunky. Realistically reducing the size of a “checkbookacracy” (I like this :D) would be a corporate matter. They might create subsidiaries, auction off assets, etc. Standard stuff.

    Granted the electoral college parallel wasn’t well thought out. It was just to illustrate that the method for choosing electorates or changing the number of them probably won’t matter since electorates are just as responsible to voters as 6000 randomly selected citizens. And then there’s always gerrymandering.

  40. 40 40 Philip

    Me: “So your argument is that only representative democracies run up big deficits. I think it would be pretty easy to refute that, don’t you?”

    You: “Not sure where you read “only rep democracies run deficits” in my replies…”

    I interpreted the following exchange from previous blogs to mean you were “arguing against constitutional democracy” because of their spendthrift habits.

    Me: “I’m not sure what you mean by this; are you arguing against a constitutional democracy?”

    You: “Yes I am, and I don’t see how randomly selecting 12 delegates per jurisdiction to represent everyone will help solve the problems that we have with voting.”
    —————-

    “…but they do, as do other types of business-governments, like Islamic governments that are largely monarchistic (corporate) but emphasize religious restrictions over property rights.”

    OK. Please name a type of government that doesn’t have a proclivity to run deficits? Miliary dictatorships? As just one case, Hitler ran huge deficits before the war and even larger ones during it.

    I can’t think of any, in which case, this isn’t a good basis for opposing constitutional democracies.
    ————————–

    “Places with a lot of business activity tend to be better for people in general.”

    No disagreement on that one.

  41. 41 41 Eric

    “I interpreted the following exchange from previous blogs to mean you were “arguing against constitutional democracy” because of their spendthrift habits.”

    I think we’re just misunderstanding each other. I argue they do run deficits, but that they’re not the only types that do.

    “OK. Please name a type of government that doesn’t have a proclivity to run deficits? Miliary dictatorships? As just one case, Hitler ran huge deficits before the war and even larger ones during it.”

    Some small, modern autocratic states are good examples. Singapore, Hong Kong, the best 2 economies in the world are autocratic. Various free economic zones are popping up now and it’ll be interesting to see how those work out too (hopefully not like Dubai, an example of bad business planning). Nowadays information access makes people far more able to live under autocratic rule and still get the information they need and vie for some basic rights. Autocracies aren’t fool-proof though. Leaders can run deficits no matter what their government type is, like Dubai. But leaders (and constituent shareholders) with a direct stake in a territory tend to balance their books better. If given the choice, voters will vote in a nice-looking leader who will run the well dry.

  42. 42 42 Philip

    Eric-

    I see. So the bottom line is that you think these small autocratic states are more desirable than constitutional democracies, at least in terms of implementing responsible budgetary policies.

  43. 43 43 dlr

    Hmm, well, it’s a truism, but it isn’t the people, it is the system. Voters make bad choices because they are asked the wrong questions. I am asked to vote for and against dozens of people I have never heard of, whose qualifications and job performance I have no way to determine, if I spent hours each day researching the issue.

    And for the cases where I actually do have an opinion, I can’t vote for the person I actually want to because of geographical boundaries. People should be able to vote for anyone running for the House of Representatives (or the Senate) regardless of what district they live in. If 10% of the population voted for one guy in the Senate, he would have 10% of the votes (ie, 10 votes). If 2% of the population voted for one guy in the Senate, he would have 2 votes. This would let people vote for the person they really agree with, on all the issues, instead of the poor substitute that happens to be running in their district. It would also provide MUCH better representation to minorities. And I don’t just mean racial minorities, but minorities of all kinds, including Libertarians, etc.

  44. 44 44 Eric

    “I see. So the bottom line is that you think these small autocratic states are more desirable than constitutional democracies, at least in terms of implementing responsible budgetary policies.”

    Responsible spending policy plus secure governance, minimal corruption, solid law and contract enforcement, makes a good product. The democratic aspect of government has not made very good products, i.e. numerous mass-slaughterings in the 20th Century at the hands of democratically elected people. Democracy + good governance has some charm to it, but it’s not an ideal mix. These things have gone south before.

  45. 45 45 Will May

    Like Fishkin’s deliberative democracy!

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