In my post the “What’s So Great About Democracy?,” I argued that we have no prima facie reason to support democracy. In this post, I shall explain in greater detail the problems of a democratic regime. In fact, since there is a broad literature out on the Internet, my job here will be to briefly consolidate and expose some of the most important and comprehensible arguments.
- Rational ignorance: This argument states that the cost of acquiring the necessary information in order to vote rationally, i.e. for the best candidate, outweighs by a large margin the benefit of voting, since a single voter can only affect the result of an election in an extremely incremental way. Thus, only those who could have other intrinsic motivations, being for example genuinely interested in politics, could claim to be rational in acquiring such information. In the same, though, that market actors could have other motivations apart from the profit motive.
- Short-sightedness: According to this argument, the politicians who constitute the government establish some sort of de facto temporary political property rights over the area of their jurisdiction due to the fact that they won’t be in place for more than a few years. Hence, democracy will tend to deplete its resources at the present state and for the benefit of the present generation in order to win as many elections here and now as possible.
- Special interest groups: The more concentrated an interest group, the more capable it is of raising the funds to support the political campaigns of those politicians who promise to legislate in the group’s favor. Thus, the larger sum of these concentrated interest groups determines electoral results, and binds politicians to legislate in favor of these special interests.
- Imperfect packages: One politician or party does not represent a single policy but a package of policies to which it is very difficult to completely agree with. Unlike a free market where one can pick and choose to buy different, say, ingredients for a specific meal from various sellers, in politics, one’s vote may depend on one specific policy which is important to her, while the rest of the party package may be overall harmful. The situation may in fact turn out to be one in which as politicians adapt to serve as many special interest groups as possible, and as the special groups vote by focusing on whether their specific program is in the political agenda or not, a coalition in which virtually everybody loses out in the end is formed.
- Risk-aversion: Politicians and bureaucrats in a democracy tend to be overwhelmingly risk-averse to the point where this is purely destructive. For example, the FDA by not allowing drugs to be marketed before the officials are absolutely sure of their effectiveness has killed hundreds of thousands of lives. The whole issue lies in what Frederic Bastiat called “That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen.” We might be able to see all those that would die from an unsafe approval, but we cannot see all those that die because of the rejection of a safe drug for which the FDA is still unsure. Why would any official risk his own reputation to save people whose death will never be attributed to his actions?
- Scaremongering: If we assume, as we always falsely do for actors in the free market, that at least some bureaucrats are self-interested, then they will tend to augment problems, engage in demagogic scaremongering, and impose pressure on the government to fund their programs in order to maximize the budget of their respective programs and maintain their government jobs.
- Trial and error and counterfactual conditions: Trial and error and ability to compare are elements to be found in markets and not in the area of politics. The political system is not flexible and innovative. There is no way of testing a politician before giving him power for a number of years and there is no way of finding out if someone never elected would be better than the present members of government. Information, the most important advantage of free markets, in the case of politics is not only costly but impossible to attain.
It is time that those defending government and democracy know what they are defending. Is there any reason to expect a democratic state to be optimal? If such a system could work due to the benevolent nature of all human beings (as is assumed for those in power), then why are we even in need of a government? The problem lies not with the actors themselves, but with a system that gives such power to some. Try liberty!