Monday, September 23, 2019


This is Joseph

There are two types of democracy that have been tried: direct democracy and representative democracy.  Direct democracy is most famous from Athens, a city state small enough that it was possible for everyone to gather in one place to make decisions. The more advanced representative democracy evolved to allow for geographical distance and to make discussions tractable. The downside is that it insulates specific decisions from direct participation, which creates an opportunity for corruption.  Direct democracy has the disadvantages of "mob rule" where the heat of passion can cause a large group to make poor decisions that are difficult to reverse.

So far, so good.

However, there is a new fad of mixing these two types of government, and it seems to bring the downsides of both. For example, the US has several states (Washington, California) that allow ballot initiatives to bar tax increases. This tends to have distorting economic effects and starves the state of revenue.  The UK had a referendum on leaving the UK, that created an ongoing crisis because it didn't specify how it was going to leave.  In the absence of a specific plan, all sorts of positive assumptions are plausible since you don't have to look at the fine details.

Worst of all, the representatives have to sort this out, creating situations that nobody likes and often causing no end of political headaches. And, unlike a body of representatives, which refreshes every few years, these decisions are often permanent until repealed. Like a lot of "simple" solutions, referendums create a lot of problems, unless the goal is for government to work poorly.

Just a thought for the day.

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