Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Democracy, Equality, Stability. Pick Two.

Democracy does not imply equality, either in the social or the political sense. No historical examples of democracies of a significant size granted universal suffrage. The conviction that democracy means equal political input by all in the citizenry is more of a modern experiment than some time-tested attribute of democracy. Even in the US women have only had the vote for about a hundred years.

Democracy does not imply stability. Democracies tend to avoid the turmoils of succession endured by autocracies, such as late Rome, and often even seen in hereditary monarchies. Yet at their worst democracies are subjugated to the whims of the mob.

Equality does not imply stability. There isn't much of a historical accord for universal equality to judge the concept empirically. If equality were true then it seems it would be highly stable. But of course equality is not a concept seen in nature, but a theoretical construct imposed by man. In reality humans are highly varied in their capabilities to produce, lead, and make rational policy decisions.

Government systems that employ equality can be stable. Under autocratic communism the people are theoretically equal components of the state, and in practice they mostly are all equally disenfranchised of any political power. Mostly those regimes have not been stable in the long run. (But what is?) One explanation might be that they don't suffer from inherent instability, but they tended to fall because they could not compete economically with their capitalist adversaries. But that doesn't gives us much reassurance that they fell as a matter of unique circumstances. Economic performance is essential for the stability of any state. Communism may be unique in the sense that by imposing economic equality on the citizenry, the benefits of market pricing are lost. Competent employees are not incentivized to work any harder than the least capable, and manufacturers have no incentive to generate products at anything but the lowest required standards. China has attempted to ameliorate this consequence by allowing economic freedoms. The rising inequalities in China raises the question as to whether the political autocracy can be maintained in the face of free market forces.

Democracy can be stable. Equality can, perhaps, be stable. But democracy and equality merged cannot be. In a stable system the most competent are elevated to positions of authority. Capitalism tends to be stable for this reason. Those who invest wisely will tend to accrue capital, giving them increasing input into the economy. Those who invest foolishly or are wasteful will not survive long as venture capitalists. Society benefits from the resulting stability.

Democracies succeed because they provide analogous hierarchies. The American system was founded to employ this sort of elevation of the competent. Franchisement was limited, and those permitted to vote did so to elevate competent individuals to decision-making roles. The benefit of a representational democracy is not that it gives "one man one vote" so much that it tends to elevate the competent. Promotion of the most competent is generally a big problem in government. A great king may rise to power and rule his people with extraordinary competence and wisdom, but regression to the mean applies. Nothing say his descendants will inherit any of his great abilities. Non-hereditary monarchies also tend to fail at succession, with Rome being the prime example. Most Roman emperors ended their reign's on the wrong side of a broadsword. There's this paradox where the best outcome for the nation is if the monarch chooses a successor early, so there can be no succession fight, yet that is not always the best choice for the emperor. For one, any man competent enough to be chosen as successor is probably also competent enough for regicide. Second it tends to erode the enthusiasm of all his remaining lieutenants who were not tapped for succession, and causes bitter resentment.

Democracies under equality tend to stop promoting the most capable to office. Elections become something of a popularity contest based on appeals to the lowest common denominator and promises of government largess. An electorate distracted by bread and circuses and mass propaganda might be most convenient for the ruling class but it basically defeats the purpose of democracy. In fact I would say it's more tyrannical than outright despotism, in the way that Noam Chomsky describes American corporate propaganda as more effective than Soviet-style state propaganda. In the Soviet Union everyone knew the propaganda was propaganda. In American they call it news. Similarly, under a dictatorship everyone ultimately realizes it's a tyranny. Under a democracy they don't. There's plausible legitimacy.

For democracies to succeed the electorate must be intelligent, informed, and moral. The three attributes are correlated to some degree, so let's just look at intelligence. The higher the IQ of the electorate, the more likely they are to make wise choices in selecting government officials. If a nation wanted the highest IQ electorate possible, they would simply have the single smartest individual be the only voter. There are numerous drawbacks to such an approach. The highest IQ person might still be something of a loon, and it eliminates the major point of democracy: to give input from the people, both in the sense that distributed decision making has inherent advantages over top-down control, and in the sense that giving my toddler two choices of toothbrush helps prevent bedtime revolts against the patriarchy. So we should allow a number of lower IQs to vote. But where to stop? Under equality we don't. Universal suffrage yields the electorate with the lowest average IQ, which is where we find ourselves today. The natural variances of human attributes are cast aside, and the citizen with 140 IQ has no greater say in governance than one with 70 IQ.

Jim's Blog described democracy in a recent post:
The basic theory of democracy is that instead of holding a civil war, every so often you count heads, declare who would have won if you had actually held a civil war, and proceed in a civilized manner, thus avoiding a lot of death and destruction.
If this is the model for democracy, then clearly it must be true that the outcome of the elections must at least loosely follow the outcomes expected of a civil war. That means the people who would actually be fighting the war must believe that they are being served by the decisions of the electorate and their appointed governments. Under equality the vote of the most useless counts just as much as the vote of the most capable. Eventually, if the would-be-warrior class sees that they are losing all self-determination to a bunch of losers bribed by welfare and other freebies, they will start to wonder if civil war isn't in their best interest after all.

Democracy + Equality = Collapse. The people can only be bribed for so long. The treasury can only be raided for so long. The warriors can only be placated for so long. Natural hierarchies can only be suppressed for so long. Market distortions eventually correct themselves.

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