American Democracy – One Glaring Imperfection

“The law perverted! The law – and, in its wake, all the collective forces of the nation – the law, I say, not only diverted from its proper direction, but made to pursue on entirely contrary! The law become the tool of every kind of avarice, instead of being its check! The law guilty of that very iniquity which it was its mission to punish! Truly, this is a serious fact, if it exists, and one which I feel bound to call the attention of my fellow citizens.”

– Frederic Bastiat, The Law, 1850

Whenever I complain about the American political system to my dad, he says “Democracy isn’t perfect, its just the best thing we’ve come up with yet.” I tend to agree with my wise father.

However, just because something is superior to previous inventions, that doesn’t mean it is the best that can ever exist. If that were the case we’d all still be using rotary phones and driving around in Model T automobiles.

The principal benefit that democracy bestows upon its people is domestic peace. Under kings it required civil war and all kinds of death and destruction to overthrow a government. Within a democracy people feel like they at least got their say in who will govern them. Even if they get stuck with politicians they don’t like, at least their voice was heard. Rioting and revolutionary violence are kept to a minimum.

This allows the free market to work its civilizing magic uninterrupted. Capital is accumulated. The division of labor becomes becomes more and more acute. Indeed, peace is the most important prerequisite for an advancing economy.

As long as the democratically elected government focuses on keeping the peace and protecting liberty and property, democracy seems like a dandy of a system. Unfortunately, there seems to come a time in all democratic societies when the government makes a terrible error. It allows, and even encourages, citizens to use the government  as a means of voting property away from others for their own use.

In the United States, we have a representative form of democracy. Congressmen and Senators write the laws. The President enforces them. The Supreme Court is supposed to step in and void unconstitutional laws when they get passed. All of these people, except the Supreme Court justices, are elected to their office by a popular vote.

Being in government confers a lot of power onto an individual. Successful politicians are able to write laws. They have the power to tax. With the stroke of a pen they can shower benefits upon certain groups. With power comes wealth and stature.

In order to get elected, politicians promise all kinds of special favors to their constituencies. They pledge to legislate on behalf of those who vote for them. Free gifts are promised to all those who help a politician make it into ofiice.

It takes a lot of time, money, and energy to run a political campaign. There are millions of people out there who have to be convinced. A politician needs funds to travel, to advertise, and to put out materials. The politician will look to donors to help defer some of the costs. Those donors, in turn, will also be assured that a few important laws will be written to their advantage.

Democracies, even representative democracies, devolve into a struggle over who can use the government most ruthlessly. Government officials, instead of keeping the peace and promoting an advancing economy, devote their time to partisan warring.

Laws stop be written that make citizens safer and more secure in their property. The law is turned on its head. It actually makes citizens less sure about their future. In order for politicians to carry out campaign promises, money will have to be taken from somewhere. Instead of investing in a precarious future, people decide that they may as well spend  their money now while they’ve still got it. The standard of living gets progressively worse. Democratic society goes into decline.

Some special interest groups see wars as beneficial to their business interests. They can sell weapons and tanks to the combatants. In a democracy, weapons companies only have to convince 51% of the people that the war is a good idea. The government can institute a draft and make citizens fly off to foreign lands to fight unknown enemies. People are forced to ration their consumption, focus their efforts on producing war materiel, and of course cough up taxes to line the pockets of the military industry.

This all results from the most glaring imperfection of American democracy. The government is allowed to take property from citizens against their will.

On this imperfection rests the entire catalog of complaints lodged against the government. Politicians bail out the rich. Government welfare makes people lazy. It subsidizes big oil. Torture. Spying. You name it. It can all be traced back to this fundamental problem.

To make matters worse, there is no way around it. Voting politicians out of office has been tried time and again. The system has been corrupted beyond repair. Too many people owe too many favors. And there is only way to come through on those promises: take from one group to give to the other.

While this democracy thing may be the best form of government we’ve come up with yet, it too can be improved upon. It isn’t the say all end all of political arrangements, just like horse drawn carriages weren’t the end of the line for transportation technology.

There is only one way to fix American democracy’s weakness. People must be allowed to deny the government. If the politicians start to do more than keep the peace and protect property, citizens must have the right to opt out.

Without the ability of citizens to withhold funds from the government, democracy will continue to spiral out of control. There will be more war, more debt, more unemployment, and a continuing erosion of the American standard of living.

The core issue of American democracy must not be what the government should do. It should be who will be put in charge of keeping the peace and protecting property. It is a who issue not a what issue.

However, that stallion has long ago left the corral. If we are to re-tame this runaway beast, we must deny it nourishment. We must deny government the right to take property.


One Response to American Democracy – One Glaring Imperfection

  1. Pingback: Feature and Characteristics of American Democracy « Jaggi

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