вторник, 10 января 2012 г.

Why There is no Consent in a Democracy

Since the time I was translating into Russian Bryan Caplan's insightful book "The Myth of the Rational Voter" I have been thinking about the connection of the main argument of the book with praxeology and its implications.

Now I think I realized how to put Caplan's argument on a sound praxeological footing and that the restated argument has even more radical implication than those envisaged by Caplan.

The main argument in TMRV may be summarized as follows. Voters in a democracy because of their sheer numbers do not have any hope of actually influencing the outcome of elections because the probability of their votes becoming decisive is close to zero. Because of this voters don't make decisions for which candidates/policies to vote based on the evaluation of the consequences of policies they vote for. Instead, they choose to be rationally irrational and vote for those policies that make them feel good. To this Caplan adds the empirical argument that voters seem to be prone to various biases that make them feel good about voting  for bad economic policies.

The problem with the argument thus stated is that it is inconsistent with praxeology. There is no necessary logical connection in it between the voters not being able to cast a decisive vote and not taking due account of the consequences of the policies they vote for.

However, there is a way to put the argument on a sound praxeological footing. Praxeology teaches us that people choose among alternative courses of action that are known to them and, what is very important for this post, that the choosing people must believe that the alternatives are realizable.

This brings us directly to the reformulation of Caplan's argument. Because voters know that they don't actually decide the outcome of the election it means that they DO NOT ACTUALLY CHOOSE among the alternatives that are on the ballot, since these alternatives are knowingly unrealizable for them.

This is a simple idea but if reformulated it has radical implications. First of all, it implies that there is no consent, no popular rule in a democracy and there cannot be. Therefore, democracy is a form of government where voters paradoxically determine to a certain extent what happens but do so not by means of conscious choice. Thus, all the theories treating elections as choice among policies should be discarded.

What further implications does this have? I am sure there are plenty but I will outline only two of them in this post.

1) The ethical implication. The withdrawal of actual choice from democracy deprives it of the ethical defense that makes it somehow in itself ethically more preferrable to other forms of government because at least some people in a democracy give a consent to the policies.

2) The implication for libertarians. The implication for libertarians is that it is close to useless to try to advocate libertarian changes to the general populace and hope that one day the electorate will one day swing to libertarianism.  

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