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Majority rules
September 17, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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Majority Rules?

Democracy is the devil; someone call the exorcist!


In March 2010 National replaced the elected members of the Canterbury Regional Council with a group of unelected commissioners. The Council’s main job, which it was apparently not very good at, was to process resource consents. The move, and this week’s decision to continue to suspend democratic elections until 2016, triggered a wave of protest against this anti-democratic “dictatorship”. For many people, aside from any actual practical outcomes for the Canterbury region, the loss of democratic rights constituted an offence of the highest order. 

This peculiar fetishisation of democracy pervades political discourse. Commentators from across the political spectrum throw apoplectic fits at any “attack on democracy”. Democracy is held out as a platonic ideal, some enlightened discovery that should be defended at all costs.

Yet, it is a simple fact that democracy is a terrible form of government. Against any objective standard, the democratic experiment has failed.

Across the world, democratic governments are bloated waste-monsters, corrupt and actively and frequently stripping rights from vulnerable minorities. The United States elects buffoons who start trillion-dollar wars, Greece elects to spend itself into a depression, marijuana users are persecuted and the gays can’t marry. Successive governments take action that we suspect will make our lives worse, make us poorer, make our children sick, and deny people rights. We protest, we complain, we elect the other team, and then it all starts again.

Governments, be they democratic or autocratic, operate by doing two things. They either force people to give up resources, backed-up with an implicit threat of violence, or they ban people from doing things, backed-up by an implicit threat of violence. When a warlord takes your crops to feed his soldiers, he does so by threatening to shoot you. When the IRD does it, they do so by threatening to throw you in jail, and yes—if you resist, they will shoot you too.

While the difference in method between a dictatorship and a democracy is relatively minor we still like to distinguish them. We try to do this because a democratic government has a “mandate” to do what it does. Even if it enacts terrible policies, it’s justified because it has “the public will” behind it. Apparently if the warlord gets 50 per cent of your neighbours to agree, his theft is all good. Of course, this is patently absurd, so instead we invent things like the “social contract”, a fancy way of saying we think democracy generally makes our lives better.

It’s a pity then, that democracy is rubbish. Public choice economics asks how actors make decisions in a democratic context, and the conclusions of these scientists are chilling. The average voter is, for want of a better word, useless when it comes to evaluating policy and voting for what is best.

This is not, however, a slur on the average voter. They are not dumb. They simply choose not to know anything about politics or policy. Why?

Because acquiring information comes with a cost. Informing yourself about the specifics and potential outcomes of policy takes time and effort, which most people gain no tangible benefit from undertaking since statistically their vote will never matter. Consequently, no one knows anything and votes either randomly, on the basis of personality, or on the basis of a fractured and inconsistent snapshot of the political spectrum.

But even if voters actually knew how to vote coherently, the system would still be terrible. Voters, being inconveniently human, vote for what they think will benefit them the most. Thus they seek benefit at the expense of others, strip minorities of fundamental rights on the basis of marginal personal harms, prioritise their own comfort over the future generations and generally dick anyone who isn’t themselves.

Take the poorest people. For fresh- faced young Randians clutching poorly understood copies of Atlas Shrugged the poor constitute a threat—a heaving unproductive mass whose potential voting power could allow them to steal from net taxpayers to fund an ever-growing welfare machine. Of course, even if this were possible, it doesn’t happen since the masses have both the highest rate of non-voting, and are also the easiest voters to exploit with deceptive messaging of bourgeois political elites. Democracy is so fail that it even fails at failing.

Instead we get a hodgepodge of contradictory policies, mixing welfare lolly-scrambles with big-business tax breaks, with a healthy dollop of random restrictions and arbitrary dictates overseen by a ruling class of people who couldn’t succeed in business, or the arts, or anything except being a freak in the most important circus of all.

The thing is, though, that even with all these flaws, we have yet to find a system that works any better. The problem is that, as debt-ridden don’t-tax-but-still-spend democracies’ systematic failures bring them ever closer to the abyss, we seem to be in somewhat urgent need of a better system.

Let’s hope we find one, somewhere amongst vague ideas like ‘seasteads’ and ‘anarcho-syndicalist communes’ and ‘green democracies’. Frankly, though, it’s likely we won’t do anything at all, and will wake up one day and ask, “How the hell did we fuck this up so bad?” The answer, of course, is democratically. ▲


Let’s look at some of the other models “flourishing” out there. 

Bureaucratic capitalist autocracy.

A one-party state that brought the party to its people. Uplifted a billion people from poverty by “encouraging” them to work in Dickensian hell- holes. Most of its people seem fine with this. Those who don’t tend to face “corrective measures”. May or may not harvest criminal’s organs for fun and profit.

Non-Liberal democracy.

A multi-party democracy, as long as that party is the PAP. Rich, with a booming economy and low levels of corruption. Really, really fond of execut- ing people, and for curbing annoying things like freedom of expression.

The United States
Two-Party Derptatorship.

The richest country in the world, unless you are black. Has a lot of democracy, ranging from the federal to state to local level. Perpetually electing people for various roles ranging from President to local sheriff. Both parties have a strong idiot streak, and the whole system seems to run on an elaborate patronage system of kickbacks and pork barrels. It also somehow keeps working, since Americans remain able to fill enormous houses with junk, and eat until they are morbidly obese.

Anarcho-capitalist utopia/pestilential shithole.

Depending on who you talk to, Somalia is an example of the good that comes when the state is absent (it has some of the most advanced and competitively priced telecommunications in the world!), or is a shining example of how Things Can Always Get Worse (famine! War crimes! Possible genocide!). Certainly not a fun place to live, but neither is Eritrea, or Tanzania which both have functioning central governments. Has a pirate stock market, where struggling solo mothers can invest in RPG shares.

Russian Federation
Oligarchic kleptocracy.

Has a multiparty parliament referred to as the “Vladimir Putin”. Excellent place to be filthy rich, which one achieves by abusing the levers of state to participate in crony capitalism, which is capitalism without the important element of “competition”. Vladimir may or may not be a James Bond villain.

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  1. Winston P says:

    We should put this matter to a referendum.

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