Friday, February 01, 2008

The Virtues of Democracy

This map shows the Democracy Index as published in January, 2007. The palest blue countries get a score above 9.5 out of 10 (with Sweden being the most democratic country at 9.88), while the black countries score below 2 (with North Korea being the least democratic at 1.03). -- Wikipedia

Tyler Cowen:

...democracy is a very blunt instrument. Especially as it is found in the United States, democracy just isn't that smart or that finely honed or that closely geared toward truth or "progressive" values. (NB: Democracy in smaller, better educated, ethnically homogeneous nations is, sometimes, another story.)

But unlike one of my esteemed colleagues, I believe that we should revere democracy as one of the modern world's greatest achievements. We should step off a British Airways flight with a tear in our eye, in appreciation for all that country has done to promote democratic government (sorry, former colonies, but perhaps you are democratic today). This is no exaggeration or blog tease: I want to see you crying at Heathrow. The future is far more likely to have "too little democracy" than "too much democracy." I do believe in checks and balances, but within a broadly democratic framework, such as we have in the United States.

That all said, we should not demand from democracy what democracy cannot provide. Democracy is pretty good at pushing scoundrels out of office, or checking them once they are in office. Democracy is also good at making sure enough interest groups are bought off so that social order may continue and that a broad if sometimes inane social consensus can be manufactured and maintained. We should expect all those things of democracy and indeed democracy can, for the most part, deliver them.

Here is Matt Yglesias on libertarianism and democracy. Here is a Hilton Root review of the new Michael Mandelbaum book praising democracy.

My thoughts: Despite all of its flaws, democracy is indeed a wonderful blessing. Some under-appreciated effects of well-functioning democracy include giving people an outlet and opportunity to have a political voice and feel a part of shaping their nation. If you take away this outlet of expression, people will often turn to guns and violence instead. Democracy has a tendency to necessitate compromise and coalition building between conflicting groups of people, helping them to maintain peaceful relationships with one another.

Some form of representational republic (like the US) with a well-structured balance of powers is the best form of government in my opinion. It captures many of the positive benefits of direct democracy, while decentralizing power and reducing the likelihood of a tyranny of the majority. One-man, one-vote is not the ideal. The ideal is to come up with a system that maximizes individual rights, dignity, and freedom. With all its shortcomings, I don't know of any system of government that does a better job at this than ones based on some form of democracy.

1 comment:

Em said...

I agree with you. But there are different forms of democracy. The best form is The British kind and the kind we have here in Oz. Look how easily we changed governments after our election compared with so many so called democracies.