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March 19, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Smash the State

Why the state should be smashed

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

He’s right, but he missed one crucial point: there’s no government quite like not having a government. What if the incentives that democracy creates for both its professional politicians and citizens actually harmed everyone? What if the solution lay not in another type of governance, but in the absence of governance? Let’s take a look at some of the perverse incentives that democracy creates, first for its citizens, and second for its politicians and their special interests.

When someone buys a car, they research what type of car they want, assess how much they are willing to pay for it, and then proceed to look for a bargain. They bear the full cost of any bad decision, and enjoy the benefits of a good decision.

Incentives mean they are more likely to make a good decision. But what if, instead of buying a car, every person voted for one car that everyone should own? It is absurd in the first place to suggest that there is one car that suits everyone – a point we shall return to later – but this is the effect of our version of democracy. Each individual has very little incentive to research the best voting option, because they represent only a tiny fraction of the voting population.

The cost of educating yourself about the issue to make the best possible decision is high, and this cost would most likely outweigh any benefit that one ‘correct’ vote would bring.

Similarly, people begin to vote to make themselves feel better – for what they hope rather than what they actually know to be true. People vote for the Green Party because it’s an easy way to ‘care’ about the environment. They don’t have to sell their car, stop flying in planes or using a dryer. Instead they see themselves as environmentally conscious by voting for a political party, one that also happens to have economic policies that are essentially xenophobic and would harm the people they supposedly help. If you don’t believe this general theory and think that people’s political decisions are informed, ask an ardent supporter of any political party what their forestry policy is – they wouldn’t know. Nor should they. It would be a waste of energy to know since they could not change it. This theory helps explain why people become so partisan and ardent in their support for an individual party – the cost of being certain is small, but the cost of doing enough work to get it right is huge.

This phenomenon, known as ‘rational ignorance’, can be mitigated by reducing the size of the state. People would make good decisions if the population of their country was 100 people. They’d make even better decisions if they simply made all decisions about themselves – if we moved away from democracy towards self-rule.

At this point you may be confused, wondering who will provide all the vital functions of government, or even thinking that democracy and self-rule are synonyms. But democracy as we know it is a majority controlling every single minority (who combine to make up the entire population). The justifications for this system are confusing.

On one hand, statists say that “everyone wants free health care” or “everyone likes the police force”. On the other hand, they say that no one will voluntarily part with their money to pay for these things. Huh? At this point it becomes clear that if the statists are right – that everyone agrees on these things – then there’s no need for coercion. However, if most people do not agree on these things, then why should they pay for things that ‘rationally ignorant’ people force upon them?

The reason this is confusing is that the language of politics hides our disagreement over policies with unrealistic dreams that incorporate words such as ‘free’ or ‘public’. Public health sounds nice, we agree, but can we agree as to whether we should have 200 more hip replacements or 17 triple bypasses? In the past, socialists promised to plan the economy with fairness in mind. However, fairness may mean different things to different people, as does a national curriculum, ‘free’ schooling, or any other term politicians use to deceive the masses. Until we stop using the word ‘democracy’ to cover up the coercion in our society, politicians will always take power away from individuals to vest it in their special interests.

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