RationalWiki will be going through an upgrade cycle this weekend. This will cause some down time, details are at the tech blog. As a reminder, we try and add information to the tech blog during any outage, you can always refer to it for details or as a form of communication if the site is down.

from Tmtoulouse (Talk), group Site wide (urgent) at 15:23, 18 April 2014

Democracy

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
It doesn't stop at the water's edge:

Politics

link=:category:
Key players
Theory
Practice
Random strands and actors
Other concepts
Country sections

Flag of the United States.svg
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg


(If you arrived here from a page about US politics, you may need to see Democratic Party.)
Democracy is a system where two idiots outvote one smart person.

Democracy is an old Greek word meaning "rule by the people." Aristotle considered it the third best form of government (after aristocracy and monarchy), but also warned that when corrupted, it resulted in only the third-worst form, ochlocracy. (The worst two were oligarchy and tyranny.)

Contents

[edit] Direct democracy

A direct democratic system is a system in which votes are directly counted by the people and action is taken according to such. This method is mostly found only in small countries and communities, for two reasons. First, a few people can take less time to decide than a lot of people, and it takes time to count all the votes.

This sort of democracy has been continuously practiced in some Swiss cantons, in the form of a meeting called the Landsgemeinde, since medieval times.

[edit] Ballot initiatives and referenda

One form of limited direct democracy which exists in conjunction with representative democracy is the ability of citizens to propose new laws, and collect enough signatures to put them on the ballot as a referendum to be voted on by the people. This exists in some states in the United States, although not at the federal level. Attempts by a few such as former Senator Mike Gravel to enact the right to initiatives and referenda at the federal level have found little support.

At the state level, this form of direct democracy has become controversial in recent years due to the passage of such ballot measures as California Proposition 8 in California, the presence on the ballot every election of initiatives proposed by libertarian activist Tim Eyman in Washington state,[1] and the use of ballot initiatives in several states to legalize medical marijuana. This can be seen two ways, either as a positive thing in which citizens can make an end run around a legislature which does not represent the actual majority view, or in a negative way as either giving too much power to one unelected person (e.g. Eyman) or as enabling a majority vote to run roughshod over the rights of a minority as with Prop 8. Which view one takes often varies state by state and issue by issue; the same people who might praise the initiative process when it is used to legalize medical marijuana might be critical of the process when it is used to ban same-sex marriage, and vice-versa.

Because ballot initiatives give any group the ability to pass a law quickly and without the likelihood of it being debated and amended to death in the legislature, there seems to be little desire to end or limit the practice even among those who dislike some of the outcomes; after all, if their political opponents can use the initiative process, they can too. Fortunately there has been little success by cranks proposing fringe causes using ballot initiatives, as these usually fail at the polls by a wide margin or more likely fail to collect the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot. In any case this limited experiment in direct democracy points to both the possibilities, and limitations, of direct democracy, and while there is little desire to end the practice attempts to expand it to the federal level or to expand its use at the state level (for example having the people give their final approval at the ballot to all laws passed by the state legislature) have little to no support.

[edit] Voting

The key to democracy, one way or another, is what we call "voting." This is where each enfranchised citizen expresses their desired outcome in a given situation.

[edit] The franchise

The concept of who is allowed to vote has been critical to democracies since the first. In many, only a few of the people subject to rule were allowed to vote for their rulers. In some, huge portions of the population were not allowed to participate - to use the example of the United States - women were not allowed to vote until the early 20th century, and people with dark skin, despite the reforms of the 1960s, still struggle to participate in the franchise.

In general, the rule has been that whoever is allowed to vote, can only vote once.

[edit] The secret ballot

This concept is a key idea to fair democracy. If one is required to raise one's hand in public, as in old New England town meetings, the police will always get their budget request, however ridiculous it might be. If one is allowed to present one's opinion on these matters in private - via a secret ballot - one's opinions can be trusted to be honest and not coerced.

Public voting has a long history of coercion and stifled votes.

[edit] Representative democracy

A representative democracy (also referred to as a "democratic republic," though not always correctly) is a system in which people choose and authorize representatives to make decisions for them. The parliamentary system is a version of representative democracy. Some countries have claimed to create new kinds of democracy, including "direct democracy" or "people's democracy." Most of the time, the leaders of these countries are slimeballs who are trying to pull the wool over people's eyes, and their countries are actually totalitarian states.[2]

A common exercise in pointless semantics is for some to claim the United States is "a republic, not a democracy," done primarily by partisans. Those who say this might define democracy to mean only the direct kind, not the representative kind and claim that democracy leads to mob rule. In fact, the United States is both, and a representative democracy is sometimes also a republic (although not all republics are representative democracies).

[edit] Democratic centralism

Democratic centralism is based on the notion of a democratic process of discussion and formulating public policy only up to the point where a policy is decided on, but then once the policy is decided on it is enforced on a top-down manner. Democratic centralism is associated with one-party governments, particularly Marxist-Leninist, and the only debate that exists takes place within the ruling Communist Party. Such countries may have universal suffrage but only the ruling political party's candidates are on the ballot so "voting" has no effect on policy; the only way to have a say is to join the ruling party and try to move up in the party heirarchy. This form of "democracy" is a sham, as party members only have a limited voice and non-members don't have any at all.[3]

This can be contrasted to a democratic republic, where citizens retain the continuous right to petition their elected representatives, public policy can undergo continual change in response to public opinion, and multiple competing political parties exist.

[edit] Flaws

Democracy, like all forms of government, has numerous flaws.

[edit] Voting systems

There is no "perfect" voting system; every single possible voting system is inherently flawed. In fact, this is a mathematically demonstrable fact; between Arrow's Impossibility Theorem[wp] and the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem,[wp] every possible voting system with more than two positions or candidates to be voted on has significant problems. All possible voting systems have at least one of the following flaws:

  • The rule is dictatorial (i.e., there is a single individual who can choose the winner), or
  • There is some candidate who can never win, under the rule, or
  • The rule is susceptible to tactical voting, in the sense that there are conditions under which a voter with full knowledge of how the other voters are to vote and of the rule being used would have an incentive to vote in a manner that does not reflect his or her preferences.

This means, in other words, that there is no truly "fair" voting system. Worse still, rank-order voting systems, which are the easiest systems to use, suffer from additional flaws, and the more complexity is added to the system in order to mitigate these flaws, the more power individual voters have to vote strategically and the more confused voters get on how to vote. They also more easily lead to very undesirable outcomes, such as very unpleasant extremist candidates being elected due to large numbers of people gaming the system.

[edit] Inefficiency

People in democracies have a tendency to vote in their own perceived personal interest, which leads to widespread inefficiency and corruption; because representative democracy relies on being elected by your personal constituency, "pork barrel" spending on local projects is pure upside for your constituents, even though it may be bad policy. Because everyone thinks the same way (and is rewarded by doing the same thing), candidates who do so have an advantage over those who do not. Thus, even though each individual voter seems to be behaving rationally, they are in fact making an irrational decision, leading to a wide-scale prisoner's dilemma of sorts.

[edit] Hoi polloi fuck-ups

There have been several instances throughout history where the electorate are not actually competent to make good decisions about what to do (or who to put in charge) because of misinformation on even important issues.

[edit] Selection criteria

Democracy selects for electability, not competency at leadership, and charismatic but poor leaders (or poor leaders with no charisma at all) can be, and frequently are, elected and re-elected.

[edit] Mob rule

Because decisions are made by the majority of voters, this can lead to repression of minorities, and extensive un-democratic protections are necessary to protect minorities from the majority. In the United States, the non-democratically elected judiciary is the major bulkwark against the majority repressing minorities, and still are not always successful (other nations are better). Additionally, panic can lead to very disastrous decisions being made, such as were seen in the wake of 9/11 in the US.

[edit] Lack of choice

First past the post systems, for example, typically decay over time into two-party rule, barring strong regionalism or other independent factors which cause political parties to collapse. This is because it is better to have a leader you can tolerate than a leader you cannot; the more power an acceptable party has, the more likely it is to remain in power, even if it is not what you would choose if you could choose anyone to be in charge (simply because the harm done by an unacceptable party is seen as too great to allow to take power). If neither major party is acceptable to you, unless you make up a sizable enough portion of the electorate to usurp one of the major parties, your vote has no power.

[edit] Quotes

  • It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried. - Winston Churchill
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again; democracy just doesn't work. - Kent Brockman[4]
  • All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm, and more good, than any other form of government. - Will Durant[5]

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Most of Tim Eyman's initiatives attempt to limit taxes, government revenue, or government spending. His controversy is such that some people will vote against any of his initiatives, even those they might individually agree with (such as cutting Washington's exorbitant vehicle plate fee to a flat $30, opening HOV lanes during non-peak hours, and legalizing scratch ticket gambling), solely on the grounds that "it's a Tim Eyman initiative." Another activist filed a ballot initiative in 2003 that if passed would "proclaim that Tim Eyman is a Horse's Ass," but it failed to make the ballot.
  2. Example: Pre-2011 Libya, where the direct democracy or "Jamahiriya" (state of the masses) exersized little actual control over governance, with actual power concentrated in a unelected revolutionary council and its leader Muammar al-Gaddafi.
  3. Does this sound similar to the way governance takes place within religious heirarchies, particularly the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches?
  4. A character from The Simpsons.
  5. An American philosopher.
Personal tools
Namespaces

Variants
Actions
Navigation
Community
Tools
support