The premature ‘Death of Democracy’

Is State Protection a Threat to Liberal Democracy?

This is another one of those liberal-democracy-is-on-the-brink type articles. Such articles warning of the impending death of democracy have become commonplace since the election of Trump, about how Trump and the supposed rise of right-wing extremism are to blame for democracy dying or being on the brink of dying, but this article levels some of the blame at the left for demanding a more paternalistic government.

Decades ago someone could have written a similar article about the end of democracy, but replace Trump with Clinton or Reagan, China and North Korea with Japan and Russia, Floyd with Rodney King, Covid with AIDs, 911 with Pearl Harbor or the Oklahoma City bombings, climate change with global warming {it used to be called global warming decades ago, but now it’s called ‘climate change,’ to encompass any deviation from some idealization of ‘normal climate,’ regardless of the presence (or lack thereof ) of any actual warming}, Obamacare with Hillarycare, 2008 financial crisis with 1980-1981 hyperinflation and recession, etc. There are always going to be existential threats to democracy and The Order, but things keep humming along nevertheless. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Rumors of the death of democracy are greatly exaggerated.”

The more you read about early American history, the more you realize that as bad as things seem now, things were much worse as recently as 100 years ago. The media keeps showing the same photos of a same building burning because that is the highlight of the damage that was done, but by comparison the Black Wall Street Riots of Tulsa 100 years ago razed an entire neighborhood. Sam for the 1967 Detroit riots, which destroyed 2,000 buildings and resulted in 1,200 injuries and 7,200 arrests.

But you see the protests on TV and social media think to yourself, “how does society not collapse when you have so much dysfunction,” yet somehow it doesn’t, and here we have Amazon worth $1.3 trillion and Tesla at $1,000/share, so evidently it has not collapsed. I think a more accurate description of that is happening is the splintering of America into prosperous and poor regions. The poorer regions were hit hardest by Covid in terms of high mortality rates and have high joblessness and elevated civil unrest, and those parts are separate, both socially and geographically as Dr. Charles Murray has alluded to, from the prosperous regions. A combination of rule of law, high IQ enclaves of wealth and innovation, and enforcement of property rights helps too. The breakdown of law and order or the confiscation of private property means the end of society. These protests are bad but self-contained and self-limiting, so they do not threaten law and order too much.

That is not to say there hasn’t been widespread unrest. This is a bad situation, but not an existential threat to the US, at least not yet. People think the job of the police is to maintain law and order–and that is true to some extent–but their job is mainly to protect private property. When this fails on a local or small scale, the result is looting and vandalism and other crimes of opportunity, as we are seeing now. Failure on a larger scale is a revolution, in which the government, police, and military abdicate such responsibility, due to a coup or uprising. Rather than looters stealing property, the government, military, and police seize/nationalize it by decree. This would mean the end of America as we presently know it, at at least how the Founders conceived it, as property rights are enshrined in the Constitution. This what happened to Russia in 1918, Iraq in 2003, China in 1949, Iran in 1979, etc., in which the winners of the revolution seize the private property and erase the history of the predecessors.

The question also arises, why don’t the police do more to stop the unrest such as shooting looters and vandals on site with lethal force? The problem is, using violence to suppress unrest can beget more violence and unrest, making a bad situation worse. It may be optimal to try to contain the unrest, wait for things to cool off, and then let the insurance companies and state/local governments to pay the tab, than risk turning a riot into an uprising or insurrection. The use of overwhelming force to suppress unrest could work, but when it does not work, you get a worse situation, so it’s not a sure thing. This is what happened in regard to the Hong Kong protests, which in spite of a strong police presence and use of force, have not yet been quelled.

Many of the deaths due to this riot were self-inflicted by accident or unrelated but still lumped into the total death count, such as “In Philadelphia, during the fourth day of unrest, a 24-year-old man was severely injured after attempting to use an explosive device to destroy an ATM machine. He was rushed to a local hospital before being pronounced dead.[177]” [Darwin awards, FTW.]

Public expectations of state economic protection have been high. The calls for government intervention are everywhere. In 1986, Ronald Reagan said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” In 2020, these are the words that everyone wants to hear. As journalist George Monbiot put it, “it may not be true that there were no atheists in the trenches, but there are no neoliberals in a pandemic.” Ideology is reemerging only now as countries debate how quickly to move out of lockdown. A recent survey across six liberal democracies shows that people overwhelmingly look to the state to address the economic emergency. Sociologist John Falzon expresses the view of many: “we have a right to expect government to do what markets cannot, namely, achieve collectively what we cannot achieve alone: social and economic protection for all of us.”

I think he frames this incorrectly as citizens demanding such restrictions, when in reality it’s governments and politicians that impose such restrictions, and citizens go along with it. It’s not like citizens were clamoring to be quarantined or to have their businesses shut down. But there is some resistance, as the sporadic anti-lockdown protests in the US have shown. It’s not like everyone supports this, as he wrongly generalizes.

As we have have seen with Covid, democratically elected politicians are more than happy to rescind liberties in the name of public health and safety, and citizens are willing to go along with it with minimal to no resistance.

Governments and central banks have intervened to a remarkable extent to support individuals and businesses. They have adopted a range of extreme measures including paying businesses to retain their employees, purchasing government and corporate bonds, bailing out companies, increasing social welfare payments, providing funding to the banks, and even paying “helicopter money” direct to citizens. Governments are spending staggering sums and incurring frightening debts. Populations are being scarred and traumatised by these two crises. According to Census Bureau data in May reviewed by the Washington Post, “a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression… the most definitive and alarming sign yet of the psychological toll exacted by the coronavirus pandemic.” That was before anyone had heard of George Floyd.

But this is not a new trend, The welfare state has been expanding since its creation.

As 2019 drew to a close, the first reports appeared of a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. Less than six months on and the world has changed forever. The novel coronavirus has produced two disasters—the worst health crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918–19 and the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is still too early to know when and how the health and economic crises will end and what the final toll will be.

They said that in 2001, 1941, 1981, 2008, 1992, 1989, etc. Every year the world changes, as the world is a dynamic as opposed to being a static system, so each new event alters the current state. Also, it was not that big of a disaster. The hospitals never were overcrowded as many feared they would be. The infection fatality rate was much lower than originally estimated, at .1-1% versus 1-7% initial estimates. The economic contraction, a 5% reduction of GDP, will be recovered within a few quarters, no later than 2021. The 2008 crisis was worse than this in that major financial institutions failed.

Overall, my prediction is these riots will fizzle out, as these things tend to do, and normalcy will return. It may be a few weeks to a month at most. The left is fanning the flames of these protests in the hope of increasing the likelihood of Trump losing, but will fail, as they did with Covid. Additionally, they want people on the streets protesting, not only to engender civil unrest, but also in the hope there will be a massive second wave of Covid-19 cases, which will justify additional lock-downs and quarantines. The election cannot come soon enough.