Freedom and Democracy: Oil and Water

Democracy Most western states have some type of a democratic republican form of a government.  These types of governments rely on democratic elections to appoint the leaders of the republic.  Few people take the time to weigh the benefits and costs of such a system.  However, if we are to live in a system such as this, it is of the upmost importance to understand the efficiency and effects of such a system.

First, let’s look at the supposed benefits of a purely democratic system.  Power is dispersed among the entirety of the population.  The larger the population, the less power any one person has over everyone else.  Furthermore, this system allows each person to have some minute say in how the state governs their lives.  A democratic republic is slightly different.  Here, each person has an equal say, should they choose to vote, in electing a group of people who run the government.  Therefore, the power to choose these individuals is dispersed among the entire population.  However, these elected “officials,” are far less constrained in “serving” the “needs” of the public.  This is a very basic outline of the common arguments in favor of such a system.  However, there are some very glaring problems that must be addressed.

The first problem of such a system is economic in nature.  It produces a phenomenon known as rational ignorance.  In other words, a democratic system dis-incentivizes citizens from researching and being informed about both the political system and the issues that are to be addressed through this system.  Rational ignorance springs forth from the fact that time is scarce.  Every hour, every minute, every second is constrained by scarcity.  People do not have an infinite amount of time and since time is scarce, individuals must economize their time in ways that best serves their personal interests.  The problem with any democratic system is what is commonly perceived as its main benefit.  The dispersal of power means that no one person has any real say in the outcome of an election.  Rational people, people looking to economize their scarce resources, will employ their resources only if they think that doing so can accomplish a goal or task.  Taking the ten minutes to vote can certainly fall within the purview of rational people.  It is very little time and it fulfills that nationalistic desire that “good” citizens and brought up with.  However, they are much less likely to take the time to research every issue, every topic, and every political matter that their vote weighs in on.  After all, one vote among millions is statistically insignificant.  Because each individual has a scarce amount of time and an insignificant contribution to the democratic process, they don’t reap any benefits from spending the necessary time needed to become informed on the very issue they are voting on.  In other words, the rational individual in a democratic society is the individual who disregards politics altogether in order to spend his or her time on actions that can actually affect his or her life.  The result of rational ignorance is that bad laws and incompetent leaders infect the democratic system.

The second problem with democracy has to do with how individuals treat and perceive each other.  The one defining feature of every government is coercion.  Every government claims a monopoly on the production of law and how that law is to be enforced.  To clarify, coercion is the instrument through which the state establishes and maintains the laws that it produces.  This is no different in a democratic system of government.  Because of this defining feature, voters are attempting to enforce their political views on every person that falls within the territory of the state.  Interpersonal relationships are not affected by certain political views that individuals hold and vote on.  Certainly, you’d be hard pressed to find opposition to the outlawing of murder.  However, most political topics are little more than divisive opinions.  Topics such as the minimum wage, war policy, foreign policy, budgets, health care, and civil liberties are all issues with multiple sides.  Because coercion is the instrument by which political change is enacted, all democratically decided policies are enforced on everyone.  To elaborate, let’s look at the vitriol that Democrats and Republicans have for each other.  Each party vehemently opposes the other and rightfully so.  After all, each party is attempting to force the other party to live in their ideal government.  Another example is the typical Facebook feed, littered with conservatives trashing liberals and their positions, and liberals ridiculing conservatives and their positions.  There is this great myth that democracy is the process that brings together a diverse populace to collectively decide the laws of society.  In reality, it only polarizes and divides the society it pretends to bring together.  There already is a process for bringing diverse groups of people together.  It is called the market.  Even the bitterest enemies might be brought together through trade, each person only trying to make themselves better off.  The difference between the market and democracy is the decisions of democracy are coercively imposed whereas the decisions on the market occur through voluntary trade and agreement.

What are the implications of such conclusions?  If a society is to live under democratic rule, it must do so with extreme caution.  Every time an individual has a chance to vote to bring another good or service out of the market and into the power of the state, they must ask themselves if they are ready for that good or service to suffer the lower quality that will result from rational ignorance and if they are ready for the bitterness that will spring forth from the individuals opposed to the newly coerced measure.

– Will Shanahan, Contributing Editor, the Humane Condition

Check out Will’s blog at thefuriouslibertarian.com

Practicing Political Pacifism: The Immorality of Voting.

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Up until recently, I had never missed a political election that I was eligible to vote in (to be fair, I’m only 20).  Philosophically, I’ve considered myself to be what some call a “voluntaryist” for over three years.  However, for much of that time, I also considered myself to be a “pragmatic libertarian” who was willing to combat the government through the system of voting.  I now realize that, ultimately, voting is incompatible with a voluntary society and that it constitutes an act of aggression.

To understand these conclusions, one must understand the nature of the political process.  Libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard summed it up nicely when he wrote that “libertarians regard the State as the supreme, the eternal, the best organized aggressor against the persons and property of the mass of the public. All States everywhere, whether democratic, dictatorial, or monarchical, whether red, white, blue, or brown” (For a New Liberty).  How exactly is the state the “best organized aggressor against the persons and property of the mass of the public”?  Again, Rothbard has the answer.

For centuries the State has committed mass murder and called it “war”; then ennobled the mass slaughter that “war” involves. For centuries the State has enslaved people into its armed battalions and called it “conscription” in the “national service.” For centuries the State has robbed people at bayonet point and called it “taxation.” In fact, if you wish to know how libertarians regard the State and any of its acts, simply think of the State as a criminal band, and all of the libertarian attitudes will logically fall into place. (Rothbard, For a New Liberty).

However, if governments are in fact a “matrix of coercion,” why would disengaging in the facility of government that gives me some voice be the morally correct thing to do?  The answer to this lies in the libertarian axiom of non aggression.  It is also referred to as the Non Aggression Principle and holds that all initiations of aggression against humans are immoral.

What does this have to do with voting?  To put it simply, voting is not self-determination.  I was not just selecting who I wanted to represent me when I went to the 2012 New York primaries and voted for Ron Paul.  I was also attempting to select a person who would “represent” 330 million other people (it is important to note that politicians don’t actually “represent” anyone seeing as their policies are enforced via coercion).  Therefore, even though I voted for a voluntaryist, I attempted to enforce a ruler on everyone else.  This did not sit well with me when I first realized it and for good reasons.  If it is immoral for me to force another person to live a life that I deem fit for them, how is it any less immoral for me to support someone who would then force another person to live a life that I deem fit for them?

However, I did not stop voting after drawing that conclusion.  Instead, I started to just write my own name on the ballots in an act of reclaiming my “personal-sovereignty” and to show my disgust with the choices being offered.  I eventually realized that even this act of the “protest vote” violated the NAP.  After all, I was writing my name on a ballot that would give the winning person the power to rule other people.  By writing my own name down, I was just as guilty as the politicians who sought those government positions of power.

This just leaves one question to answer; how should one go about changing the current state of affairs if not through voting?  The answer is through voluntary interactions among those whom are needed to change the world in the way that you see fit.  Don’t attempt to change the world through voting or through the use of government.  After all, government is force and brute force is the lazy way to solve any problem.  Regardless of the immorality involved, an idea that requires forced cooperation of the people involved is probably not that great of an idea.  What would you prefer? A world you changed dramatically through the instruments of coercion or a world you changed minutely through voluntary interactions?  Jeffrey Tucker summed it up on his Facebook page when he wrote

You know what’s evil about politics? It turns people into enemies when they should and would naturally be friends in a normal society. In the marketplace you are happy to cooperate with anyone to mutual betterment. But in politics, it’s all about hating your neighbor… a person who believes all of civilization rests on a Romney win would naturally and rightly regard all Obama voters as mortal threats, wreckers of the good life itself. And the demographics of voting are rather predictable. You can often tell quickly how a person will or will not vote, by appearance alone. That creates prejudice, bias, and hate. So politics creates these stupid battles between people — for absolutely no reason — and wars against the brotherhood of man. It creates the divisions it pretends to heal.

– By Will Shanahan, Contributing Editor for the Humane Condition

Contact Will: wshanahan.student@manhattan.edu