Neoreaction and the failure of democracy

A very good, very intelligent article called “What is Neoreaction” by Clark, formerly of, at his new group blog Status 451:

Why democracy doesn’t work

In what ways does democracy fail?

First, as noted above, many people vote as an expressive act. The typical Obama voter knew nothing of his policies, but wanted to be “part” of “something”. There are all sorts of cultural and emotional connotations associated with Team Pepsi, and people want to affiliate themselves with those signals. Team Coke is no better: many Republican voters are in favor of a culture of God, Flag, and Apple Pie, and cast a vote for the GOP as an expressive act, without knowing or caring the actual positions of the candidates they vote for.

Second, we are rationally ignorant: even if every voter chose to vote based on policy, not emotions, our individual contribution to the outcome of an election is insanely close to zero, and — at some level — we all know this. Thus, almost none of us bothers to educate ourselves about the candidates and their positions. This is, individually, a smart choice.

Third, democracy has the principal-agent problem: we voters send politicians to Washington DC for — well, for whatever purposes we have. We hope that, once there, they will do our bidding…and we expect to motivate them to do that bidding by using the threat of our future votes and future campaign donations. But a lot is hidden in that “voters hope to motivate them”. Because voters don’t have time or inclination to monitor politicians, and because they tend to vote for expressive purposes rather than policy purposes (think of all the anti-war Democrats who support Obama and his various undeclared overseas wars), politicians need only do just enough to appear to serve the voters, while actually pursuing their own policies.

Fourth, we humans are hyperbolic discounters. Given the
promise of one marshmallow now over two in five minutes, we choose the
one now. Is it any surprise that we, en masse, repeatedly vote for the
politicians who promise us bread and circuses today, and a bill that
won’t come due for … a while?
Fifth, democracy has the public choice problem. There are many
issues which affect each of us very little — ten cents per person in
extra taxes for program X, or three dollars per person more in the price
of a commodity because of trade barrier Y, or a slight bit of extra
hassle in doing thing Z. These hassles, collectively, destroy a lot of
value in our lives, but individually, harm us very little. However,
these small barnacles did not randomly accrete on the body politic —
each is placed there by the dedicated lobbying of some group that
benefits quite a lot from the tax, regulation, or trade barrier.
Ethanol in our gasoline harms all of us a little, but helps a small
influential group quite a lot. The outrageous salaries of some tenured
public school teachers harms all of us a little, but helps a small
influential group quite a lot. As long as one small group benefits from a
regulation, they will be motivated to secure an outsized influence on
politicians. And they will succeed.

However, I would note it should be kept in mind that what the author means by “democracy” here is “representative democracy” and not genuine direct democracy of the sort practiced in Greece, US state referendums, and European national referendums of the sort in which Great Britain is presently engaged. But regardless, a very good article.

My opinion, as I have previously expressed, is that the problems of “mob rule” of which the Founders so famously warned have proven to be considerably fewer and less problematic than the problems of establishing a political elite that uses the illusion of democratic approval as a protective shield. Now that technology makes it viable for larger polities, direct democracy is a moral imperative in any society with a government that is justified by the will of the people.