Anti-democracy, part 5

Social Matter lists six fundamental flaws of democracy:

1. Long to non-existent feedback cycles for political actions

2. Incentives to destroy people’s belief-forming faculties, or what I call full-spectrum weaponization

3. Reduced incentives to do the right things to get status on both top and bottom

4. Inherent need for everyone to model other people’s thoughts is not stable even in theory

5. Incentives to alter demographics are not necessarily consistent with long-term survival

6. Incentives to create perceived fragility lead to real fragility

In the posts, Anti-Democracy Sentiment Going Mainstream and Millennials Losing Faith in Democracy, I discuss why democracy is falling out of favor, both among the ‘left’ and ‘right’.

Regarding #3:

3. Reduced incentives to achieve power on both top and bottom
If you are or ever were a libertarian, certain things might be obvious to you: progressive taxation and redistribution reduces incentives. If you get free money, then what’s the point of working? Also, if your marginal tax rate is 80%, then what’s the point of doing additional work? Both the bottom and the top work a lot less than they would without the system in place.

The exact same mechanism is at work in democracy. If you get the extra power of a vote from simply being a human, then what’s the point of striving for more? Status is a zero-sum game, so the power granted to people in a democracy had to come from somewhere. It comes by reducing the power of some natural elites. Those more natural elites hit limits of their development in some way, and this reduces their own desire to work, as well. This becomes worse as state power increases, thus making votes more valuable.

I think it’s just the opposite: democracy does an inadequate job concentrating and maintaining individual power, so this means politicians devote considerable time and effort to acquiring power and then trying to maintain it than governing. The fleeting nature of power in democracies means politicians have to be obsessed with power in order to keep it. Second, the revolving door of power means earlier policy can be rescinded, which means both sides (the ‘left’ and the ‘right’) spend too much time trying to undo whatever policy was put in place by the other ‘side’. Democrats try to undo right-wing policy, and vice-versa. This is very inefficient, as one can imagine. From Anti-democracy, part 4:

One problem with politics is that it attracts people who seek power and status, so they will do anything to attain and keep it, because power and status in democracies is fleeting. So much effort is wasted trying to maintain power and status, instead of doing actual policy. An absolute monarchy does not have this problems, because power is permanent. Also, because monarchies are hereditary, one can not ‘aspire’ to it the same way people aspire to become politicians. In democracies, it’s possible to have a really competent politician; but mostly likely, it attracts the overly ambitious. Some liken elections to ‘popularity contests,’ and there is truth to that observation, but then why are so many candidates just so awful?

However, perversely, representative democracy is the ideal system of government for America, because it’s so inefficient. This allows the private sector to have more power and assume some of the roles of the government. Corporatocracy benefits from a weak, encumbered government. So although many an-caps and libertarians may oppose democracy, ironically, representative democracy is possibly better for an-caps and libertarians than alternative governments that are too efficient and put too much power in the hands of an individual(s).

Even if an autocratic ruler is aligned with the interests of capitalists and wealthy, there is still more variance, which means more risk. This was evident during the 2017 Saudi corruption crackdown, in which dozens of wealthy Saudi elite, including one of the richest men in the world, were overnight put under house arrest and risked having their fortunes seized/nationalized. That would never happen under a representative democracy.

So, the problem isn’t that democracy is fragile enough to be influenced by small attack vectors. The attack vectors described before were large and required several generations to pull off. The problem is that losing the election can cause the losers, especially the Left, to question whether democracy has any credibility in the first place. Which, to be fair, isn’t much. However, this fundamentally implies there is always an incentive to attack the legitimacy of elections and ability of the majority to rule.

Quite the opposite, unfortunately. Democracy is very stable, because it’s so inefficient and slow. As discussed earlier, the redundancy and dispersion of power creates stability. People may question the legitimacy of elections, but they cannot do much about it. That’s also why for democratic countries, the news is a waste of time. Yeah, unless you were a Jew living in 1930’s Germany or an aristocrat living in 1900’s Russia, politics is a waste of time mostly and has no effect on your life. When Trump came into power, everyone–both the left and the right–thought there would be this cataclysmic change, yet a year later, despite all the hype, all he signed was a single piece of legislation (tax cuts in a GOP-controlled House, which is as easy as of win as it gets), and will likely be the only legislation he ever passes. Expect more immigration, more dreamers, higher tuition, higher healthcare costs, more debt, more surveillance, more military spend, etc…all the stuff we’ve grown accustomed to under 16 years of Bush and Obama.

Short feedback cycles are great for both productivity and addiction. You write some software, it instantly breaks something, you fix it, it works, you feel great. The same pattern makes video games addicting. You make a good or a bad decision, and you find out the result at the end of the game, which occurs shortly after the decision. The point is that learning and getting stuff done happens a lot faster if something, preferably reality, shows you to be right or wrong as quickly as possible.

What is the feedback mechanism for democratic decisions? Say a vote takes place every couple of years and a politician is elected. You might get some information about whether that politician fulfills his promises. You won’t get a whole lot feedback on whether his votes, policies, or decisions were any good for another couple years. You may not even be capable of assessing the feedback at all and assigning proper blame and praise to the right actors. Historical counterfactuals are tough, and it’s very easy to deny or twist any statement about them. Even on a shorter scale, how many people have predicted that the stock market will come down under Trump? How many of them mentioned their surprise, instead of claiming that the economy was already doing well?

This is not unique to democracy. A corporate turnaround also takes a long time. But feedback mechanisms exist. The fact that in 2008 House Republicans lost many seats and their majority is evidence of the entire party as a collective bearing some responsibility for the failings of a single individual, Bush.

Overall, if one seeks drastic change/reform, then direct democracy or autocracy is the way to go. But if one seeks to maintain the status quo, then representative democracy/Republicanism fits the bill.