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A Simple Fix for Democracy May 20, 2007

Posted by federalist in Government, Special Interests, Taxation.

Recent posts here have lamented the structural deficiencies of American democracy in withstanding the tyranny of the majority, and the tyranny of special interests.

A recent discussion with a pragmatic conservative suggested that we could probably fix these problems with two simple constitutional provisions:

  1. Progressive taxes are forbidden
  2. Only those who pay some tax (i.e., stakeholders) can vote.


1. Alan Coffey - June 1, 2007

My brother has been trying to sell me on the idea of eliminating the direct election of Senators as a cure for Democracy. I think your solution is more effective and could possibly be an addition to his idea.

Still not likely, but I like the idea.

2. Chuck Coffey - June 1, 2007

Yikes, too late for that! Negative and non-paying stakeholders are ALREADY stakeholders, and you’ll have to convince them to give that up. One person = one vote is very deeply ingrained, and while I did admire Heinlein’s suggestions in Starship Trooper, where only those who volunteer to serve the country get a vote, I sure don’t see that being changed.

I think we (although not the first) have demonstrated that democracies can (over time) only give to the masses, and have a great difficulty taking anything more from them. It’s an incremental process, and we end up looking more and more socialist over time. There does not seem to be a good way back. Ideas like the one above sure sound nice, but we don’t have any way of implementing them, nor any way of gaining the power to do that short of a revolution.

3. federalist - June 1, 2007

True, but revolutions do occur.

Even absent a revolution, if we can build a strong consensus that a certain characteristic of government (maybe even one we possess) is inherently corrupt, while another — though perhaps not presently in the selfish interest of the majority — is inherently stable and more fair, it could color the democratic drift.

After all, we do know that real-world democracies are susceptible to all sorts of propaganda, idealism, and spin. There is the abrupt “way back” of revolution, but there is also an ongoing evolution that might be gently guided in a different direction.

4. Hamilton - June 29, 2007

Has anybody read the book ‘The Myth of the Rational Voter’?

5. federalist - August 27, 2007
6. federalist - October 26, 2007

Incisive observations from John Hasnas:

Even in an ideal democracy, legislation is supposed to embody the will of the majority. In the real world, public choice economics has demonstrated ad nauseam how politically adept rent-seekers shape legislation to effectively impose their will on their fellow citizens. Western liberal democracies may have tamed the more objectionable aspects of personal rule. Rather than being subject to the arbitrary will of one ruler or clique, the citizens of such regimes are subject to the will of more diversified political coalitions that can effectively manipulate the cumbersome machinery of the democratic state.

Despite the reflexive obeisance paid to the conception of “a government of laws and not of men,” no one believes or acts like legislation produces it. From time immemorial, good government reformers have been on a quest to find just the right set of restrictions to place on legislators to prevent them from favoring their parochial interests over the common good. The never-ending search for the right set of parliamentary or congressional “ethics” rules, the proper restrictions on campaign contributions and political speech, and the correct configuration of anti-corruption criminal statutes indicates the widespread belief that legislation improperly imposes the will of “special interests” on the rest of society.

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