With all of the attention focused on this election, it is easy to get caught up in a patriotic fervor.
Everyone posted ‘I Voted’ stickers and talked about how it is a duty to make your voice heard. Celebrities paraded around talking about how important it will be to have “the most qualified” candidate, Hillary, as president, and preachers talk about how important it is to have the supposedly pro-life Trump pick the next Supreme Court justices. Everyone disagrees on who should be president, but everyone agrees that voting for president is the most important thing we can do as Americans.
Even the most independent citizens are pulled in. They too can sense the importance of having their candidate in the White House, or, more importantly, not having their opponent in the White House. Everyone has gotten swept up in election fever.
But is this really a good thing?
It occurs to the objective observer that this election has done a lot of things to this country and none of them are particularly good. Four stand out:
- First, it has given motivation for otherwise good people to become enraged and violent against their fellow citizens. Winning has become so important, so essential to our well-being that people rationalize behavior that they would never have accepted.
- Second, due to its importance, voters have gotten into a defensive mindset that prioritized defeating the other guy as opposed to promoting the best candidate, the result being what many pundits have identified as the worst two candidates possible.
- Third, thanks to this all-or-nothing mentality, most voters have compromised their ideals and supported—even to the extent of fawning over—politicians that they previously despised.
- Fourth, the intensity of this race will mean that a very many people will be very disappointed when it’s all said and done.
No matter who wins this election, this country loses.
This is nothing new, of course. But it seems to get worse and worse each election. A variety of solutions are proposed every year, but all tend to overlook the very blatant fact that our voting system in itself is fatally flawed and a significant reason for out troubles.
Every election cycle, we are more and more disgusted by what it does to our country, and yet, every election cycle, we hunker down and vow to do better next time.
Maybe that’s the wrong approach. Maybe the voting system itself is to blame.
Now, this isn’t to suggest that we should give up our franchise and go back to a feudal system of bondage. Rather, it is to suggest that we have put far too much pressure on the voting system such that it can no longer support it. With astronomical state and federal budgets and a government of, by, and for the special interests, we have arrived at a point that we are asking too much of the voting—and, indeed, the representative—mechanism.
People want their guy or girl to win because their lives will be much better. But why should a person have so much power in the first place? How far have we gotten from the Founders’ ideal that we rely so heavily on this system for our happiness and well-being?
As I explained in Juggernaut, the voting system is a capable form of representation for certain, minimal things. And when we try to do too much with it, it breaks:
In order to know exactly what the people want at all times and for every action, a governing body would need a very sophisticated system of communication, which would prompt the people for their input for every possible desire and wish and transmit that information to a central repository. Now, one might well assume that even in this technically advanced age such a mechanism would be hard to generate. We can be certain that state governments do not employ anything of the sort. The best mode of communication they have at their service is a voting system which is administered once or twice a year and allows the people to choose elected representatives who might best convey their desires to the government. In some instances, this polling system allows the citizens to vote on specific measures that will affect them directly, though these make up a small minority of legislation passed.
Granted each country has its own form of election process, it can still be said that nearly all fail to convey the information needed for the government to act as the voice of the people in a sizeable proportion of its actions. The fact is that, in most voting systems, the electorate depends on elected representatives to speak for it, even when it is quite likely that no representative agrees with the voter on all relevant issues. To begin, there are just too many constituents for every possible representative to have the slightest inkling of what each citizen wants and needs°. Simply, it is impossible for any representative to take into account the needs of all his constituents. As a result, nowadays the voter is forced to choose between two or more candidates who share perhaps a handful of main concerns with the voter, and, beyond that, may well differ on everything else.
And yet, to vote for a politician would be to vote for his entire package, good and bad, even if one does not want the bad. In effect, one votes for five bills he doesn’t want to get the two that he does want; for instance, he must accept the war to get the welfare. The modern cliché that a voter in a modern election must choose the lesser of two evils rings true; he doesn’t vote on what he believes in, but rather on what he believes will hinder him the least. It can be no wonder that voter turnout is traditionally low in Western elections—voting is just not a viable way to communicate the citizen’s beliefs and desires.
Moreover, the system that most governments have employed is based on some form or another of majority rule, so that the party who receives the most votes is the one that wins complete control, and the policy that gets the majority of votes is the one that all citizens must follow. Everyone else who voted for the losing parties must accept the rule of the winner despite the likely fact that they may well oppose the victors’ every belief and desire.
Though everyone has a say in the election, once it has passed only those in the majority keep their voice and those in the minority are necessarily silenced. Medicare and Social Security represent perhaps the best examples of this in practice. These are programs which comprise the largest component of the federal budget, with Medicare taking up around 13% and Social Security taking up around 21% of the budget, and they are designed for everyone despite the fact that only 5 to perhaps 10% of the population is unable to plan and prepare for their own retirement. These programs may well be helpful to a handful of Americans, but, since we live in an all-or-nothing society, everyone is forced to comply. As Milton Friedman put it, government produces conformity even when there is no unanimity, a fact that Medicare and Social Security are only the primary examples of. In effect, all government action forces the will of the majority on the population as a whole.
This is to suggest that even the most direct government in existence today—the democratic-republic that America is supposedly framed upon—does not represent the people to the greatest extent possible. At best, such government embodies the voice of a certain majority of the voting public (if one can be assembled) as heard at some point in the recent past and on very broad issues. The minority’s voice is not heard at all and is doubtless contradicted by the actions urged by the majority.
Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic analysis of what he called the ‘tyranny of the majority’ suffices to illustrate the extent to which the majority in democratic nations control total wealth and subdue the needs of the minority. “The majority,” he states in Democracy in America, “exercises a prodigious actual authority, and a moral influence which is scarcely less preponderant; no obstacles exist which can impede or so much as retard its progress, or which can induce it to heed the complaints of those whom it crushes upon its path.” Like a true Juggernaut, a political majority is inclined to the same exploitative tendencies as a financial one.
There is a feasible system of communication that could be used to convey the beliefs and desires of the people, but it is one that collectivist governments flatly reject—the price system. Organized spontaneously with its swift adjustments and fluctuations, the price system is the only reliable reflection of the needs and wants of the individuals in a given society. In contrast to government action, the price system provides unanimity without conformity, allowing individuals to think and act without forcing others to do the same. Of course, the price system is not a perfect reflection of the people’s needs and wants, by any means—Keynes for one proved that prices reflected effective demand and not, as it may have been assumed, real demand. Still, it is much more robust an indication of beliefs and desires, and much easier for the people to control than the voting system. A consumer can vote for or against a company or ruling party by purchasing or not purchasing this good or that service. By doing so, the consumer translates his intents in a very clear, quantifiable manner, thus adjusting the supply and demand for those goods and services. Altogether, the price system is a form of organic direct democracy that is exponentially more comprehensive and timely than any artificial voting system could possibly be.
Noting the deficiencies of the price system, however, and the effective demand problem that Keynes identified, socialist reformers concluded that the state could provide a better solution. Planned economies not only fail to use the price system to its greatest potential, but rather distort it by forcing certain kinds of production, hindering others, keeping prices high or low, and manipulating the buying power of the consumers. In order to accomplish their redistribution of wealth, centrally planned economies, and really all central governments, must necessarily abandon the best tool at their disposal for judging how their people can and should want to redistribute that wealth.
As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, there is in socialist nations a ‘problem of calculation’. How, Mises asks, does a socialist government decide what should be produced or consumed? As he found, it can only do so arbitrarily, based on the bureaucrats’ best guesses, because both the production and consumption processes are based on subjective value, which can change and shift depending on a number of unknown factors and cannot possibly be gauged by a few elites at the top of the organization. With regard to business executives and their employees or politicians and their constituents, the talk is of being ‘out of touch’, unable to relate to the needs and wants of the people far below them. In a socialist framework, it is the inevitable condition.
For example, how does a socialist government decide how much corn or beef or laundry detergent is enough to satisfy its people? It can determine a rough guideline based on what the administrators think, but what if a group in one part of the country suddenly craves more hamburgers? Or what if a new hybrid soap is developed? These shifts in beliefs and desires almost certainly cause wrinkles in demand, wrinkles that cannot possibly be distinguished by planners in an efficient or timely way. The upshot is, necessarily, delayed and ineffective governance.