The Religion of Democracy?

January 1, 2008

Note: This was posted at Feel free to check it out, join in the discussion, or whatever. A good time had by all with a political / philosophical leaning.

Okay, this is going to end up sounding really bad. So I’ll just admit that right out the shoot.

I just finished reading a book titled The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, the main premise of which is that voters don’t vote rationally, and as such we shouldn’t expect democracies to lead to an overall good condition.

The author is an economist, and as such he has an obvious bias for a free-market type system. But then again, so do most economists. He proposes that people don’t actually vote their pocketbook, they vote for what they think will be best for everyone, but because they don’t actually have any sort of economic training, they usually come to false conclusions. Basically, selfless voting leads to boneheaded policies whereas selfish free-market principles lead to efficient, altruistic systems.

All that is pretty much the standard shrift of libertarians. But the chapter that hit hardest for me was entitled “‘Market Fundamentalism’ versus the Religion of Democracy.” The main point of the chapter is that no one stops a person from saying, “Hey, that Ayn Rand was such a bimbo. She totally took that whole free-market system thing lock, stock, and barrel.” But if you should happen to say, “Well, you know, our founding fathers were pretty smart, but maybe they didn’t know everything there is to know about economics, game theory, politics, psychology, etc. Who knows, maybe democracy isn’t the be all and end all of political systems,” then forget about it. You’re going to be skinned as a fascist, as an elitist, as a free-market nut, as a Machiavellian devil. When you think about it, that seems kind of biased.

And very indicative of taking democracy as a form of religion. In the secular world, it seems that more and more the religions of the elites aren’t the typical theistic ones, but instead the political ones. And just as with the old school religions, with the new ‘religions of politics,’ neither side wants to listen to the facts. It’s easier to just assume the other side is wrong, no matter what all the statistics, case studies, models, etc., say.

So, I guess my proposal is that, in the modern world, we take it on ‘faith’ (and I mean that in a literal, not metaphorical, sense) that democracy is the finest form of government. To quote Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” But doesn’t that mean we should continue to look for a better form of government? This also brings up a point that fascinates me about humanity: we always seem to think we’ve reached the end of the line. That we’re as far as it’s going to get, in EVERYTHING. Which makes next to no sense when you take the entire history of the universe into account. We’re just a speck, as speck that will change or won’t. But history is on the side of those that change.

I should note that the author only focuses on economic issues in this book (being an economist, it’s good to see that he at least understands his bounds in that area and doesn’t try to pretend he knows everything just because he has a PhD). So he doesn’t propose how a free-market would deal with ‘value’ based issues (eg. abortion, gay marriage, etc.).

If you want to read a little something that the author wrote for the popular press (well, as popular as Reason Magazine is), check out this article.


One Response to “The Religion of Democracy?”

  1. dave in the west said

    Probably the best way to make a government is to allow only people that know what they’re doing to vote.

    But the problem, as always… is how the fuck do you find those people and shut up those who have no idea what they’re talking about? Bahhh… government.

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