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The Problem with Democracy…and the Solution


So, it seems that the Democrats of South Carolina have duly nominated, as their Senate candidate, a man with no job, no money, no campaign organization, and (the less charitable might say) no clue.  And everyone’s trying to figure out how this could have happened.  Leaving aside crackpot theories wherein the Republicans secretly inserted an unemployed non-entity into the Democratic primary and mysteriously compelled everyone to vote for him, there seem to be four factors that contributed to this interesting situation:

1. The Democrats couldn’t beat Jim DeMint in 2010 in South Carolina even if they each voted three times (which would be more than usual!).  So, nobody important cared to run and nobody cared to pay much attention.  Many voters walked into the booth last Tuesday having virtually no knowledge at all of Alvin Greene or (former State Representative) Vic Rawls.

2. Mr. Greene, due to the vagaries of the alphabet, was listed first.

3. Alvin Greene is also the name of a famous musician.  (No joke!  Actual voters said that this inspired their choice.)

4. Many of the voters perceived, at least, that Mr. Greene is black.  70% of the participants in the Palmetto State’s Democratic primary are also black.  Many may have had a (hardly unique) desire to vote for a man who shared their skin color.

None of this tells of much that is comforting about democracy.  But didn’t we have the same situation in November 2008?  Mr. Obama surely had money and an organization back then.  But the more fundamental point is that the American people chose as a President someone who had never done anything.  Who had never, beyond the barest technical meaning of the term, had a job.  Who had no accomplishments.  No administrative experience running anything.    He campaigned on vague and meaningless promises.  But he spoke well.  He would be “historic”– our first African-American President.  And people were in the mood for “change”.  It is also quite clear that first his tepid supporters and now, increasingly, many of his enthusiastic and ideological supporters, are coming to suspect that they made a terrible mistake.

Democracy confronts us, in every age, with some of our most fundamental societal questions:  Can a free people govern itself?  Is there a better alternative?  Free Market Warriors answer yes to both.

Democracy has a fatal flaw and our founding fathers knew it well.  We know from economics that people only make their best decisions when they themselves live with the full consequences of that decision.  Voting, by its very nature collectivizes and disperses both the decision and its consequences.  Thus people, who won’t buy a second hand car without putting in hours of research and seeking all the best advice, go into a voting booth and their brains turn to mush.  Votes are cast for the handsomer candidate, the alphabetically advantaged candidate and the one with the most appealing name.  (A man ran for local office in Massachusetts a few years ago under the name “Jack Kennedy”.  It was a landslide!)  This all makes voting for skin color and mindless rhetoric seem almost enlightened by comparison.

But there is an alternative.  Our country has never been great because it was a democracy.  Our greatness has always been in the limits we put on democracy.  All those constitutional amendments that begin “Congress shall make no law…” that’s what America is about: stopping democracy!  And enshrining instead the rights of individuals.

Sure, our founders wanted political leaders selected by ballot.  But even more, they wanted to prevent those same leaders from going beyond the most basic functions of government.  We don’t care how many votes you won by!  Your job is to defend the borders (well it’s supposed to be!) and enforce the laws against violence and property crimes.  And that’s it.  We don’t want the majority deciding our church or our newspaper or our healthcare arrangements. 

It was appalling to watch the President and Congress push through socialized medicine, this spring, against the will of the American people.  But how much better would it have been if the majority had actually wanted it?   I didn’t want it!  And a free society doesn’t force any individual to participate in any personal medical arrangements against his will. 

I will make better arrangements for myself because I live with all the consequences of my decisions.  Like free people everywhere, I know I will be wrong sometimes.  But not nearly so often as the majority, that gets

into the privacy of the voting booth, unleashes its prejudices and caprices and imposes Alvin Greene (or Barack Obama) on the rest of us.

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