Democracy fails in many respects. One of the main failures is that its coercive, or an enemy of liberty in the Lockean sense of violating the normative claim of the “respect” principle, i.e. the consent theory. The consent theory of government is “the universal demolisher of all governments, but not the builder of any” Josiah Tucker. I’d have to say it even destroys anarchism to a degree.
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” HL Mencken ‘Notes On Journalism’ in the Chicago Tribune (19 September 1926)
How else does democracy fail? In a number of ways:
1. Rational ignorance— uninformed voters (due to the ‘cost’ of acquiring information); result: opportunistic rent-seeking lobbyism
2. Rational irrationality— buying low-cost beliefs instead of rationalism (intellectual apathy, self-interested bias, coherence bias, social bonding bias); result: the potential for systemic bias (systemic shift in an outcome) where ‘feel good’ and ‘actually good’ are at odds
3. Groupthink— perhaps missing alternative solutions in favor of harmony with a social group
4. Misinformed voters
5. Incompletely informed voters— voting based on shortcut information
6. Expressive voting— voting to express (sometimes systemic) beliefs
7. Majority desires can be in conflict (Voter’s paradox)
8. The best collective outcome may conflict with the best individual outcome (Prisoner’s Dilemma/ Voter’s paradox)
9. Public interest may conflict with the interests of elected officials (public choice theory/positive political theory)
10. Outcome may be lose-lose (zero-sum)
11. One vote changes nothing (in a large voting poll) unless it breaks a tie (in that sense then vote for who you really want for the greatest satisfaction)
12. Affluence correlates to political Influence (Martin Gilens)
13. Anonymity and perceived small impacts (#10) may cause people to vote spitefully, or hastily
14. Choice is often framed as dichotomy (a captive market ratcheting attention to the “choice”)
15. Results are typically binary— yes vs. no, all or nothing
16. Disenfranchisement— ineffective votes that don’t produce desires outcomes
17. Voting is rooting for your team, but it doesn’t put you in the game.
Other political and democratic issues:
- Rent-seeking— obtaining economic rent(production cost vs. sale price) via politics to influence policy instead of actually producing wealth, i.e. rentier politics
- Monopoly rent-seeking— price gouging due to exclusivity: quotas, subsidies, copyright, tariff protection
- Lobbying— due to the listed democratic failures lobbying tends to siphon a large pool of money into a small pot of interest (see#12 as well)
- Democracy can result in mutual coercion similar to gang violence
- The will of voters can be tyrannical
- Autonomy is forfeited to an outside power
- Casting a vote casts away the will, it is no longer yours— your right to decide, to act, is now in the hands of others, not yours
- What begins as self-management, or direction by ballot, ends as being managed
also see this post: the-solution-of-social-problem
Solutions or alternatives to democracy? I won’t entertain monarchy, oligarchy, autocracy etc., and admit that it’s hard to maximize liberty in large groups without some form of democracy. Its not impossible though. Proudhon suggests this:
The “ideal republic” is “an organization that leaves all opinions and all activities free. In this republic, every citizen, by doing what he wishes and only what he wishes, participates directly in legislation and government, as he participates in the production and the circulation of wealth. Here, every citizen is king; for he has plenitude of power, he reigns and governs. The ideal republic is a positive anarchy. It is neither liberty subordinated to order, as in a constitutional monarchy, nor liberty imprisoned in order. It is liberty free from all its shackles, superstitions, prejudices, sophistries, usury, authority; it is reciprocal liberty and not limited liberty; liberty not the daughter but the mother of order.” JP Proudhon‘s 1848 pamphlet, The Solution of the Social Problem
The question is how can we avoid the pitfalls of democracy discussed above? We can’t. We can soften them, but the ills will remain. There are two other options: consensus, and contracts. Democracy is the third best means, but its dangerous. I’m partial to Jeffersonian democratic-republicanism, but a step closer to the individualism of Benjamin Tucker, and Proudhon. I don’t think liberty is safe by way of representative democracy and the centralized power of a republic with so-called “checks and balances” (that fail).
A State monopoly breeds privilege, the power to trump individual liberty/autonomy, and as noted earlier a range of systemic issues in the means of that power: the vote itself, and the separation of actor and director once the acting begins. Furthermore, being that humans are by nature self-interested actors (see#9 above) there is little hope that putting power in the hands of a representative will reap rewards for the so-called directors/voters sitting at home with interests different than those acting in government.
How do we “self-manage” interactions on a larger scale, i.e. society? How do we have a more horizontal framework? How do we balance individual and collective sovereignty when they can be at odds? The freedom to abstain? The freedom to withdraw from outcomes that impact the individual that must suffer them? How do we limit oppression, exploitation, and domination? We have four options to play with to address these questions:
- submit to the will of others (slave)
- subject others to your will (authority)
- socialize (associate)
- mix and match 1, 2, 3 (vote).
1 and 2 are obviously related. Representative democracy is 4, 2, 1, with little 3 other than casting a ballot. Direct democracy is 4 and 3, and less 2, 1. Consensus is 3 (not immune to 1, 2). Contract is 3 (not immune to 1, 2).
In lieu of representative democracy, one answer is in combining direct-democracy components like participatory democracy and consensus democracy (both terms seem to be oxymoronic) with anarchism (libertarian consensus and contracts). In a direct-democracy, everyone involved has a direct say in the choices that might affect them, but not necessarily a means to escape democratic decisions they don’t wish to suffer. However, they are less likely to suffer if they are directly involved in the decision process. Here’s what combing anarchism and direct democracy would look like: a) anarchism: balanced power, therefore no power, no exploitation, no hierarchy, no representation, in essence consensus or voluntary cooperation, the non-aggression principle, and self-management with b) some horizontal direct-democracy.
What does combining direct-democracy and anarchy look like in more detail? A republic of voluntary cooperation, and polycentric order. (see this: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3D82D71342FF00E5) First let me say that some anarchists will cringe at my attempt to relate or combine the two. Regardless, as you will see, this model is much more anarchism than democracy. What follows is a rudimentary libertarian model of large scale social interaction. It begins with the individual, autonomous and sovereign (anarchism). Lets call this individual a citizen/cell. They form (associate), if they consent (anarchism), “collectives” or “syndicates” of self-management (anarchism) at the workplace, and maybe their community. The syndicate/collective, like a bodily organ, is made of individuals/cells/citizens that interact (associate) to perform a common function or task. These syndicates/organs work together (associate) as a collection of organs, or an organ system/“(con)federation” when needed. Therefore, we could say federalism, BUT it lacks a central Authority, so its still anarchism. A delegate (or several) is elected (democracy) or selected (by lottery) from each syndicate to form the federation. The delegate is a ‘representative,’ but they can be INSTANTLY (direct-democracy) fired or replaced if they fail to carry out any function/mandate (binding instructions) of the syndicate. In addition, the delegate is also a citizen, not a career politician in a bureaucracy of centralized power. Their actions can be instantly revoked if they breach the contract/mandate. The delegate is not a leader, not a manager, but a delegate brought to life to see that the mandate/function of the organ and organ system is carried out. In this sense the federalism is still majoritarian, but does not ask that cells or organs submit if they feel a function is not in their interest. Neither will it always stop its function in your rejection. It’s not perfect, just better than government, and better than a representative Leviathan. The organ system temporarily comes to life as an organism when needed, preforms its function, and then dies as the danger of causing harm is too great if allowed to live too long, as noted by Arthur Silber:
“Any individual who rises to the national political level is, of necessity and by definition, committed to the authoritarian-corporatist state. The current system will not allow anyone to be elected from either of the two major parties who is determined to dismantle even one part of that system…if you vote for almost any of the candidates for national office — you’re voting for murder. You’re voting for torture. You’re voting for criminal war. You’re voting for the growing surveillance state. Is that what you choose to do? Is that what you choose to support?”
The above scenario scratches the surface of society without a State. It does not address legal, defense, and other issues of social order. It also does not address those that wish for succession in lieu of participating. Although I am not an unabashed fan of Murray Rothbard (a capitalist reframed by Brad Spangler as a “stimergic socialist”), he makes a few good points about a society without a state here:link. Another springboard is here and here.
Speaking of choice, below is the contract we never consented to, but are held to live under in the United States:
I, signature not required, agree to the following terms of this social contract between the United States Government and myself:
- I will own no land. If property taxes are not paid, although the land is paid in full, the land will be confiscated and returned to the State.
- To pay for the land I can’t own, or the land I rent, the State will permit me to work. Some stipulations apply, as determined by the State.
- I will apply for a State identification number to aid in tracking my work income.
- I will surrender a percentage of my income as determined by the State
- I will not be able to dictate the allocation of the money I surrender.
- I will not receive a refund for State waste or misallocation of the money I surrender.
- The only drugs I will consume are those permitted by the State.
- Sexual activities are limited to certain State mandates.
- State laws trump religious law.
- I can speak freely within the limits to be determined by the State.
- The State is not liable for the follies and inadequacies of government officials.
- The State is not liable if it fails to protect my property or person.
- I agree that the State may hold me fully liable if I fail to abide by the above terms.
- I will forfeit my rights and liberty to the State if asked.
- The terms of this contract are subject to change without my permission and/or beyond my ability to negotiate.