Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Democracy?

I talk a lot about polls and how our society doesn't reflect the values expressed by the general population. If it did, we wouldn't be at war in Iraq. We wouldn't be in Afghanistan. We'd have a nuclear weapons free zone in the middle east, we'd have a peaceful resolution to the occupation of Palestine, NAFTA would not have been ratified, we'd have a health care system similar to that of the rest of the industrialized world, we'd have adopted the Kyoto protocols, radically reducing our greenhouse emissions, etc. Aggression and the embargo against Cuba would end, methods for fighting drugs would change for the better. (See here, here, and here for some of my sources on these points). The list goes on.

But we don't have these things because our society in fact reflects the needs and values of a privileged, propertied minority. These people are largely immune to the negative consequences of these policies, especially over the short term. So take global warming. Who will suffer first? The poor. The rich will run the A/C more, pay extra for food from newly developed crops. They can afford to drink bottled water. They don't depend on glacial runoff. Since they don't feel the consequences, but do reap the rewards of large profits due to the sale of fossil fuel and consumer goods, it's natural for them to pursue policies that don't reflect the will of the public at large.

Take war. Those that suffer of course in Iraq are poor Iraqi's. Something on the order of a million dead so far. The next group that suffers is US military personnel. Finally the American public as people from occupied regions react with violence in the only way they can: assaults on civilians (though there hasn't been a lot of this yet). The wealthy can insulate themselves from this better than the poor can. And the upside is substantial. The worlds largest proven oil reserves are of course a source of revenue and profit.

The two greatest threats to human survival are probably environmental catastrophe and nuclear destruction. Because our society reflects the needs of a privileged few rather than the public at large, the policies that are pursued in fact exacerbate both of these threats. If our society enacted policies that reflected the values of the public at large our society would be organized in such a way so as to reduce these threats.

These problems must be addressed. But what can be done if not the imposition of democratic values? And how to do that except through democracy?

Some suggest that we get away from democracy and government intrusion and move to free markets. People are the best judge of their own needs. Let them, via free interactions, engage in their own exchanges.

Well, we know what the values are of the public at large. We have the polling data. What values would be reflected in a society without government intrusion or democracy? That's obvious. Those with the most property would have the largest involvement in shaping that society, and that society would reflect their needs and desires. These are the people that just turn up the AC when things get hot. These are the people that pay more for food when it becomes more scarce. These people would send their own private armies, consisting of their poorer employees, to enact policies that they favor by force. The victims would be the peoples that were attacked and the private army personnel that suffered the reprisals. We would expect the same kind of society that we presently have.

Privately owned businesses are nothing but totalitarian institutions. The decisions made are not based on the will of the public at large, but on the needs and desires of the few owners. Therefore the decisions made reflect their needs. What reason is there to expect that abolishing democratic government entirely would change the societal structure given that the needs and desires of the heavily propertied peoples should be expected to match the policies presently enacted by the government we have which is not responsive to democracy but only private power? These two systems have the same incentive structure, so they should be expected to produce the same results.

Darf tells us that Arrow's Theorem shows that no voting system can entirely satisfy the needs and preferences of a community. True enough. But neither can an exclusively price based system. Democracy is imperfect, but so is every other system. So let's get out of our ivory towers and offer solutions to the serious problems our world faces. Democratic values reflect a move toward alleviating these serious problems. The values of the few and the wealthy are already in force and are exacerbating the problem.


Darf Ferrara said...

First of all, you are the wealthy by most standards. Secondly, many of the illustrations from your first paragraph can't be accomplished by voting in the US (peaceful resolution of Palestinian conflict e.g.). Thirdly, some of the policies you advocate are certainly suboptimal (health care) and almost certainly can't be transplanted to the US very well. Fourthly, to illustrate Arrows theorem, polls don't necessarily tell us what people want in Iraq, Afghanistan, NAFTA, and so forth. Fifthly, a price mechanism does reveal what individuals want, since it is a not a collective decision making process, but an individual one. But even though the decisions are made by individual, the values of the transactions are influence by values of everyone in the community.

As for solutions, one of the main things to do is a have a system that severely limits what the government can do. For example, our constitutional requirements that the President declare war, limits on the authority of the larger federal government over the states, limits on the authority of the government to trespass over individual liberties are all good things. The fact that these hindrances in the constitution are ignored is a social problem, and I don't have the answer to that. Removing the Governments power to control the money supply would limit its ability to make war. A free banking system would be a good idea, and there are other ideas that might be tried. If evolutionary change isn't to your taste, you could look into David Friedman's book on free market anarchism, The Machinery of Freedom.

The price mechanism works fantastically when there aren't negative externalities and commons problems. What to do when there are externalities and tragedies of the commons? Ideally they could be worked out by some sort of a Coasian bargain, but if the information costs are too high, then a Pigou tax might be a next best alternative. As for commons problems, Lin Ostrom won the Nobel a couple years back for her work on how communities have come together, and by mutual consent have found solutions to these problems.

If you have any other problems that need solution, feel free to ask.

HispanicPundit said...

And we'd also get TSA scanners, anti-Global Warming legislation, rescinding of ObamaCare, the Patriot act and other pro-poor policies. Because really - who does a terrorist hurt more? Of course the poor! Therefore, fighting terrorism is being pro-poor!

I know this is news to you Jon, but pretty much everything hurts the poor more. Anti-corporate legislation, harms the poor most (jobs losses). Anti-pollutant legislation, harms the poor the most (jobs losses). Shoot, even taxes exclusively on the rich, probably hurts the poor most. And certainly global warming, as I've shown you repeatedly, global warming itself, on net, helps the poor.

You may got to sleep easier at night thinking you are "fighting for the little guy", but really both sides make that claim.

HispanicPundit said...

Now, to address your main point: have you ever read David Friedman's (the son of Milton Friedman), book, The Machinery of Freedom (probably not, since you don't really waste your time with intellectual rebuttals to your views - Rush Limbaugh notwithstanding)?

If not, you should. It addresses many of the things you are tackling right now. It's free too. See here. For chapters related to this post, you should pay special attention to those that talk about communism, ie the workers owning the factory. Start with the chapter on "Creeping Capitalism", for example, and move forward.

Jon said...

So HP, do you oppose democracy as well?

HispanicPundit said...

Nope - big believer in Democracy. :-)

Jon said...

Well then stop arguing with me. BTW, I think rescinding Obama Care and going with single payer would be awesome. You're right on the scanners, but I think if we were more democratic, like parts of Europe, we wouldn't have the fear mongering and thus the public could shift on that. But that's speculative.

Global warming legislation hurts everyone in one sense. It's an economic slow down. But it helps everyone long term. Long term the poor especially are helped. Might be better for longevity when you don't consider the effects on agriculture and other factors. Move south and you might be better off. But as your link says, on net it's still bad, possibly catastrophic, as the vast bulk of experts believe.

Darf Ferrara said...

I don't claim to oppose democracy. I simply state that it has enormous flaws. I will state unequivocally that democracy is a superior decision making process to dictatorship. It is, however, inferior (usually) to a price system with private property.

HispanicPundit said...

But as your link says, on net it's still bad, possibly catastrophic, as the vast bulk of experts believe.

Its not this simple. Global warming legislation slows economic growth, and economic growth saves lives - especially in underdeveloped countries like China and India. So lives lost due to a reduction in present day economic growth has to be included in any formula that calculates the necessity of global warming legislation.

Also, the money spent on fighting global warming can't be spent on other things. Things like fighting world hunger, fighting malaria, and other such present day human life issues.

So the future lives must be weighed against present day lives. These are issues that scientists cant solve. It's an economic issue.

And on that, economists tend to put global warming low on the priority list.

Then you have to add in the probability of the catastrophe from global warming actually happening. This further discounts the value of lives lost in the future vs those definitely lost today. When you ask global warming experts how sure they are of their prediction, you don't get anywhere near the certainty the media has you believe. See here, for example.