Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The problem with democracy

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947

Democracy is a process by which the people are free to choose the man who will get the blame.
Laurence J. Peter (1919 - 1988)

On account of being a democracy and run by the people, we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government four years, no matter what it does.
Will Rogers (1879 - 1935)

Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

All those pithy quotes come from this very helpful site - it is interesting browsing.  There is truth in all of the quotes and my favourite is the first one from
often misquoted.  I have always had trouble with the idea of democracy, even as a young boy I realized that the two words "wisdom" and "majority" are not always correlated.

For libertarians democracy is problematic much like Churchill's quote. In the present day, those countries that are democracies tend to have the most freedoms available to its citizens. When problems occur freedoms are often "suspended" even in democracies and frequently under the guise of protecting the majority. Those of us in the Toronto area recall how the recent G20 debacle interfered with daily life, freedom and commerce in the downtown core.  Clearly democracy and liberty are correlated but sometimes not guaranteed in practice. In fact, just the presence of the G20 meetings and the security disruption caused, was to me neither democratic or in any way advancing freedom no matter what local politicians said.

Democracy is also intrusive. If allowed, governments that are democracies, will grow by claiming responsibilities that rightfully belong to individuals or groups. When this happens, governments that claim they know best will confiscate resources (taxes) and spend them often inefficiently. When taxation becomes too intrusive governments will amass debt, with the promise of repayment underpinned by the 
productivity of the population. Expanding the debt while increasing government responsibility is characteristic of almost all of today's democracies and it is unsustainable.

This week Neil Reynolds writes in the Globe and Mail about the disintegration of the welfare state in Europe, democracies that are living beyond their means and it's a warning to us.     

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