End of the Republic

The American Republic is in decline. The decline is self-inflicted, a sort of suicide by choice. Why are people deciding to follow the "Road to Serfdom" over the "Road to Freedom"?

Location: Chesapeake Beach, MARYLAND, United States

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Democracy - a tyranny of the motivated minority

Some would argue that a supporter of pure-capitalism should, by nature, support pure democracy. After all, is not democracy a "perfectly competitive political system"? The arguement follows that capitalism is perfect competition between individuals economically. Under capitalism, each individual works in his own interest and uses his labor or invested capital in such a way as to increase his own wealth. If this is the economic system I advocate, why do I not support a political system that mirrors this economic activity? Is this a contradiction?

Well, for starters for a pure democracy to work, we must all be very interested in public affairs. Reality is that we spend much of our time on our own private activities: our jobs, our homes, and our family. We do not spend a large portion of our time concentrating on who is running the government and thinking about the long-term implications of their decisions. In addition, the size of government makes it impossible to track. The larger the government becomes, the more difficult it is to follow effectively. That leaves less time for family, jobs, and friends. Even a small government like Washington Grove requires many volunteers and a handful of elected officials (each with their particular area of expertise). Even a professional political expert could understand only a small fraction of what the government does.

What encourages people to vote in a situation such as this? We can only understand so little of our government even if we devote a lot of our time and resources to tracking it. Is it not best to "leave it up to the experts in their field"? To put it another way, government, by its very nature, does not encourage full political participation. We can ask ourselves a simple question: if voting does not cost us anything, how come so few people do it? The answer is that there is a cost to voting, especially if one is an "educated" voter.

How does the government then encourage participation? It uses its lack of transparancy to its own advantage. The people who vote are often motivated by the temptation of using the coercive power of the state for their own benefit. They can vote themselves "concentrated benefits". The costs are diffused among the rest of the population. In other words, a motivated few can vote themselves money and power and hardly anyone in the general population will notice a decrease in their own money and power becuase the losses are spread accross the entire population. In reality, instead of getting the will of the majority in these issues, we get the will of a "motivated minority".

The town of Washington Grove is a great example of this. The town is a pure democracy: one voting age citizen=one vote. Does this work in practice? Do the majority show up to vote? Or does a motivated minority take over the agenda? Last March (before the war in Iraq began), the town held a referendum. A few statists wanted the town to pass an offical (town government) statement against the war. According to the 2000 Census the town's population was 515. 115 of them are under the voting age. That left around 400 voting age adults. The final vote approving the resolution was 59-12 (a total of 71 voters). In other words, about 18% of the population voted (and only about 15% voted for the resolution).

Why I voted against the resolution has nothing to do with my position on the war. My vote had everything to do with my position on individual rights. I do not believe that any government has the right to make opinion statements on behalf of its citizens. What is next? Will they make proclamations on abortion, on gay marriage, etc.? 11 states recently did make statements like that and sacrificed individual liberties in the process. I also do not think that 15% of my neighbors should have the power to make a statement on my behalf without my authorization. Let us be clear: this was not an official town policy. The vote was about some neighbors enforcing their political opinions on others. In my presentation, I requested that they make the resolution a petition: "The following citizens of Washington Grove think..." vs. "The town of Washington Grove declares..."

About 80% of the population was not motivated by the potential loss of their freedom of speach. Many of those were probably did not have the resources to follow our small town government. Or, perhaps they did not want to stand against their neighbors and create rocky relations. The point is that they have a choice to vote or not in a pure democracy. They chose not to vote (and they have to live with the consequences of that choice). But take a look at the situation from a different perspective. We have a super-majority of the population who does not feel "worse off" as a result of the town proclamation. They do not really think to deeply about the principle established by allowing the government to make decisions for them, especially when the town has no input into the final decision to go to war or not. However, the motivated minority is able to push their agenda through the government. The minority is able to satisfy their whims (I still am not sure what their true goal was - they could have more easily conveyed their message by using a privately organized petition than public resources.) They must have had some other purpose beyond their desire to communicate their anti-war sentiment.

OK, my town is only a small community. How does this play out on the national scale? Well - 59,459,765 people voted for Bush. The USA has a population of 294,695,623 as of tonight. In other words, Bush got the support of just a little more than 20% of the total US population. (Of course the percentage will slightly increase when we substitue the percentage of eligible voters for the total population.) The fact remains that Bush won only the support of a motivated minority in this country (not the 51% he claims gives him political capital).

What motivated this minority to vote Bush? What costs will it impose upon us over the next 4 years? How much more freedom will we lose?

J. Thyme Matz


Anonymous Anonymous said...


November 10, 2004 at 7:11 PM  

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