What is Better Than a Republic? (Hint: It’s Not Democracy)

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Scott Asks: What is Better Than a Republic?

He writes,

But if I get to vote on every issue, I feel a personal responsibility to the people affected. There is a big difference between watching your elected representatives abuse a minority group and doing it yourself. I can tolerate other people being evil – because I can’t fix the entire world – but I’m not okay with being evil myself

The problem with voting for specific items is that the Naturalistic Fallacy is invoked, meaning that people will vote for things that feel good even if it’s bad policy, and there is no guarantee the will of the people is the correct or best one. In some instances the public may be correct (such as supporting the post-911 response and war on terror), but other times not. But if congress can arrive at the correct response, such as by initiating air strikes against Afghanistan, do we need to take the risk of putting important issues in the hands of the masses? From Wikipedia, US Congress authorized president George W. Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against the terrorists who orchestrated the September 11th attacks. The vote in the U.S. Senate was unanimous. There was only one dissenting ballot in the United States House of Representatives.

Imagine a system that involves direct citizen voting on every issue. But in addition to voting yes or no on a ballot question you can also assign your vote FOR A PARTICULAR TOPIC to any other voter who is open to that assignment.

For example, I might cast my own direct vote on simple topics, such as gay marriage, weed, and doctor-assisted dying. I feel I know enough about those issues to be useful.

But the problem is someone who is woefully ignorant about an issue is probably also going too be ignorant about who the experts are of that particular issue.

And who would come up with the items on the list, and how would the items be chosen? What if someone were to put ‘free houses for all’, or something really absurd like that. Anyone who is ignorant about economics, which is the majority of people, would probably vote for it.

The idea behind having representatives instead of a direct democracy is that representatives are supposed to be more informed, acting as a firewall between the potentially irrational whims of the people and the creation of policy, and to prevent the ‘tyranny of the majority’.

James Madison in Federalist No. 10 gave a scathing critique of democracy, positing that republics are a far better solution, writing, “…democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

This can be interpreted to mean that a republic is better at enforcing private property and protecting economic stakeholders, who may be in the minority compared to to the majority who are not stakeholders.

All too often when people pontificate about reforming government, they come up with these radical ideas that sound good but have no possibility of happening. But maybe the best or most feasible approach is not a radical transformation but incrementalism, with an emphasis on optimizing cognitive capital and financial capital.

Perhaps an argument can be made for putting the elite in power since the elite would have the most to lose financially and in terms of social status if things go wrong, and hence would enact proactive/pragmatic policy as an act of self-preservation. To some extent, that’s the system we have today. As an example of pragmatic policy, consider the bank bailouts of 2008, which pretty much everyone hated, but were necessary and a success. Policy that involves pubic goods (tax payer dollars) should be optimized in such as way as to generate a high ROI, even if such policy is not necessarily popular.

Maybe let people’s votes matter on the small stuff, but not when stakes are very high. But if anything, we need less voting, not more – perhaps a Timocracy, meaning that only property owners can vote. Most people are so ignorant about issues and policy, they don’t even realize the scope of their ignorance. The naturalistic fallacy means that people tend to vote from their heart instead of their brain. Also, there is an epidemic of ‘net-negative’ value people who take from the economy instead of contributing it, as alluded by Mitt Romney in his infamous 2012 remarks about the ’47%’ – people who are dependent on the government for a handout at the cost to productive taxpayers. One solution is to exclude net-negative people from the democratic process, since such individuals perpetuate the entitlement spending problem by voting for candidates who promise more handouts.

From my article, The Futile Pursuit of Equality

Neoconservatives were possibly wrong about Iraq, but their economic policy is pretty good, or at least compared to the alternatives on the left. If you own a home or stocks, for example, you are thankful for the bailout even if you don’t like it or oppose the other aspects of neoconservative economic policy. Pick your poison: doing too much and staving off crisis or doing too little and having things get worse. That’s why consequentialism and Minarchism is a superior system to pure libertarianism. We have free markets where individuals can create profits within the rule of law and government intervention in crisis.

And from Neo-Reaction & Techno-Libertarianism

That’s kinda why I created the ‘Grey Enlightenment’ as a middle ground between far-right NRx, neo-liberalism & neo-conservatism and libertarianism. I’m picking and choosing between both ideologies to create an incrementalist hybrid one that is similar to the system we have today, but with some tweaks and adjustments to make it better. The state is not inherently evil, but should exist to serve the best and brightest and to defend the nation, or in other words, to optimally allocate public resources for a ‘greater good’, in which I give the example of funding innovative, high-IQ companies like Tesla.

That’s why I’m a partial libertarian, or perhaps a minarchist. There is a role for the state, but also a role for the free market; the two can compliment each other. For example, in 2008 many on the right were cornered, and understandably so, that the bank bailouts would lead to a ‘slippery slope to socialism’, but the bailouts may have actually helped capitalism by sequestrating the problem sectors (housing and banking), allowing the healthier sectors (technology, retail, payment processing, web 2.0) to thrive without being weighed-down. And there was no socialism. Only a 100 or so companies were bailed out (even if they didn’t want it); furthermore, thousands of companies fail every year, so one could hardly argue that the government was ‘preventing failure’ – only preventing failure for key institutions where the financial toll on the economy by allowing them to fail would have exceeded the costs of the bailout. And the bailouts, which were the antithesis of ‘free market capitalism’, didn’t stop free market success stories like Facebook, Uber, Instagram, and Snapchat, to name a fee. It’s not like Zuck dejectedly threw up his hands in 2009, exclaiming ‘Oh no, the banks got bailed out. Capitalism is dead. Better shutdown Facebook’ Now it’s worth $250 billion when capitalism is supposed to be dead. That’s an example of free market capitalism and intervention coexisting.

And of course the liberals, who whine about banks getting bailed out, forget that it was their policies in the 90′s that contributed to the problem. The problem with saving ‘Main Street’ is that average people tend to be very ignorant about financial matters, as evidenced by the thousands of home buyers in the late 90′s and 00′s who thought it was a good idea to buy a McMansion in the exurbs on a $40,000 a year income, which ties into my criticism of democracy.

In a perfect word there would be no crisis, no systemic risk, and no bailouts. But with our economy as large and interconnected as it is, while we cannot prevent crisis, we should have systems in place to keep crisis contained and as brief as possible. Decentralizing everything without economic disruption is not possible.

Related:

Optimal Allocation of Public Resources in a Meritocracy
Creating Optimal Socioeconomic Environments for the Cognitively Exceptional