The Feel-Good Franchise

Sheldon Richman seizes upon the senseless sequester squealing as an opportunity to make more general points (via Cafe Hayek). There’s nothing strikingly original, but it’s all impressively sound. The point of departure is Bryan Caplan’s analysis, which Richman summarizes as the question: “…if the ‘informed voter’ is a chimera, how can we expect democracy to yield desirable outcomes?”

Since democratic large numbers drown out both the effectiveness of any vote, and the private consequences of subsequent policy …

… it’s costless to vote for the candidate who makes you feel good about yourself. As Bryan Caplan has shown, given these incentives, people tend to vote according to their biases, which for most people embody economic fallacies.

Yet the keepers of the system (pundits included) play a game in which they pretend that voters are informed and make wise decisions.

Common rhapsodizing about democracy notwithstanding, the details of what Leviathan does are beyond comprehension. (Remember, members of Congress don’t read the bills.) Even an enthusiast for big government can’t tell if this government’s policies do good or harm. Yet the cult of democracy aims at maximum participation in elections. If a small number of ignorant voters is not good, how can a larger number be an improvement?

Here’s a better idea: let people cooperate with one another in the free market, and leave as few matters as possible to the overrated democratic arena.

Good luck with that.

March 11, 2013admin 16 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Uncategorized

TAGGED WITH :

16 Responses to this entry

  • Steven Hickman Says:

    Yet the keepers of the system (pundits included) play a game in which they pretend that voters are informed and make wise decisions.

    But the truth be known the voters already know the keepers (pundits included) ill-informed and always make foolish decisions. It’s all a trade off each wears the other’s mask for a day!

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Your inexterminable optimism is showing.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 11th, 2013 at 5:33 am Reply | Quote
  • survivingbabel Says:

    Let’s play reactionary Mad Libs:

    “Yet the keepers of _________ (pundits included) play a game in which they pretend that _______ are informed and make wise decisions.”

    the free market… consumers
    academic journals… peer reviewers
    the CRA… underprivileged home buyers
    the Protestant tradition… the laity

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 11th, 2013 at 2:27 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nick B. Steves Says:

    You wanna talk optimism…

    I have a dark secret about human nature. I don’t think the great mass of people are all that stupid and incompetent. I think if you take away the machinery (centralized democratic politics), and let people govern themselves as they see fit, solid spontaneous order will arise in almost every place. Even in the… erm… underprivileged districts. And this spontaneous order will be much more profitable on averaged than our currently imposed sort-of order.

    Give us a Great Leader (Chesley Sullenberger anyone?), and the great mass of people will quickly forget they ever believed in “democracy” (or they’ll remember it like they remember smoking a bit of pot in the ’70s). A few tenured profs and editors will probably have to be killed for the sake of societal stability, but the body count will be really low.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    As long as it is broadly price-sensitive, human economic behavior is adequately rational (Misesian), and certainly incomparably more so than human political behavior under democratic conditions — which is not even random. So I have no problem at all with your ‘optimism’ — albeit under a massively optimistic (‘post-demotist’) scenario.

    [Reply]

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    human political behavior under democratic conditions — which is not even random

    That, or some edited version of it, deserves to be in the quotables bucket. “Not even random”… random would be vast improvement I suppose.

    [Reply]

    Handle Reply:

    Sounds like Peter Woit’s “Not Even Wrong”

    Posted on March 11th, 2013 at 6:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    If Western politics had been on a random walk since 1900, there would be thriving colonies on the moons of Jupiter.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 12th, 2013 at 1:58 am Reply | Quote
  • AD Says:

    In order for genuine democracy to function, a meaningful degree of free speech and free association must exist.

    Anti-democratic systems can of course call themselves “democracies,” “people’s democracies,” and so forth, but that does not make them so.

    Contemporary states in which mass media are concentrated in the hands of tiny, totalitarian minorities with no one else permitted a say in public discourse, that formally designate pornography “free speech” and proscribe core political and historical speech as “hate,” “racism,” “anti-Semitism,” “Holocaust denial,” “disparaging the memory of the dead,” etc., are not democracies.

    Scorn democracy as zealously as you will, the fact is that contemporary “democratic” countries hate it as much as you do.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Reading between the lines, I take it that you hold out hope that empowering the Volk will lead certain [*ahem*] ‘market dominant minorities‘ to a wholesome thrashing. Well, I agree at least this much: that’s an exemplary democratic impulse.

    [Reply]

    AD Reply:

    No, I don’t “hold out hope that empowering the Volk will lead certain [*ahem*] ‘market dominant minorities‘ to a wholesome thrashing.” I’m not a Nazi if that’s what you’re implying.

    Do you disagree with my comment about contemporary democracies?

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    If I misunderstood the target of your denunciation (“tiny, totalitarian minorities with no one else permitted a say in public discourse, that formally designate pornography ‘free speech’ and proscribe core political and historical speech as ‘hate,’ ‘racism,’ ‘anti-Semitism,’ ‘Holocaust denial,’ …”) I apologize. It sounded so familiar that my reading comprehension suffered. As to whether I agree with your point, whilst I understand what enthno-nationalist anti-semites are saying when they criticize contemporary democracies for insufficiently empowering the people, after accepting that the direction of your criticism is quite different, I have no clear sense what it is.

    Is your first sentence the key (“In order for genuine democracy to function, a meaningful degree of free speech and free association must exist.”)? In that case, my agreement is at best partial. There might be an important sense in which such liberties provide a foundation for the construction of democracy, but the functioning of democracy then reliably erodes them. Suppression of liberty in the name of the people is what democracy does. Does history offer any examples of democratic processes generating real (= negative) liberties?

    Posted on March 12th, 2013 at 3:02 am Reply | Quote
  • AD Says:

    @AD

    I don’t believe ethno-nationalists criticize contemporary democracies for insufficiently empowering the people. I don’t think they necessarily want the people to be empowered. Many of them are favorably disposed towards authoritarianism. Their concern seems to be that contemporary democracies are attacking or are hostile towards a particular people.

    If your agreement is “at best partial”, it’s because you’ve defined “democracy” in terms of its failure mode, which is absurd. It’s like defining monarchy as a system whereby a man enslaves a mass of people to build monuments to himself, or whereby an inbred, mentally deficient dynast ruins his kingdom. Or like defining corporate rule as a system whereby stockholders put in boards of directors who put their buddies into executive positions to squeeze all the capital out of the stockholders’ corporation.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Democracy is structurally slanted towards the elevation of time-preference, making it essentially anti-capitalist, and ruinous of civilization. That is not its ‘failure mode’ but its basic nature, as HH Hoppe has explained with great thoroughness.

    [Reply]

    AD Reply:

    That is its failure mode. A failure mode is the manner in which something typically fails due to structural reasons. Everything has failure modes. Anything can be defined strictly in terms of its failure modes. It appears you’re doing so selectively, defining democracy by its failure mode while refraining from defining other things by their failure modes.

    [Reply]

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    It’s not that hard to design a system where failure modes manage to avoid body counts in the 6 or 7 figures: spell out formally in advance who gets paid and who doesn’t, so that unreasonable expectations don’t get cultivated in the first place. Evolved democracy seems quite special in its position at or near a local optimum on the body-count axis.

    Posted on March 13th, 2013 at 7:35 am Reply | Quote

Leave a comment