Democracy is a curious notion. The ancient Athenians are said to have practiced it with an assembly of male property owners, a fraction of their population. The founders of our constitutional form of political government were by and large opposed to the idea of allowing a popular vote amongst the common people determine their representatives, let alone policy, yet they endorsed the idea of majority rule within their congress. Americans today take majority rule for granted; if five vote yea, and four vote nay, the yea wins. We call this democracy. Does this really work in practice?
Let’s take a small city of 100,000, and let’s be generous, and say that half of them are registered to vote. Come election time, after a noisy, nasty campaign, 30% of registered voters show up at the polls, and somebody is elected by a 5% margin. What have we got here? Out of 100,000 people, 14,350 have picked their next rulers. Is this democracy?
I’m guilty of optimism in that scenario; local elections often bring out only 3% to 15% of registered voters, who may only account for 20% of the total population to begin with.
I got to see that kind of democracy in action when I lived in a small unincorporated town several years ago. The permanent population was around 12,000, most of them retired. There was one county sheriff’s deputy in residence; he made the rounds about midnight, and if he found an oldtimer a little too lopsided to drive, he took them home. There was no crime to speak of.
But a handful of people had a stake in that town. They gambled, and quietly bought up whatever potentially prime real estate was sitting idle, then they launched a noisy campaign to incorporate the town. Suddenly the local newspaper was full of crime stories, and drunk drivers. We need a police department, it screamed. (Guess who owned the paper.) All of the local merchants were opposed, because incorporation meant Wal Mart, McDonalds, Burger King, all of the franchises that will not locate in an unincorporated town.
The election took place: 601 aye, 598 nay. The town incorporated, got a mayor, a city council, and a police department. The cops preyed on the oldtimers until the city cut a deal to look after parolees and their families from the state prisons. Need I say more? Oh, that handful of people; funny thing, they all sold out and moved away.
Many commentators complain about the stupid Americans who keep electing one psychopath after another to our highest political office. Some commentators then blame the American population as a whole for the psychopathic behavior that radiates from the District of Criminals. These commentators overlook the facts of our democracy.
I don’t know if anybody knows the size of the American population. My family, for example, has never been counted in a census. As many people accept 1.3 billion for China, I choose 300 million for America. In the 2004 election, 121,480,019 voted. That’s 40.4% of the population. 62, 040, 606 voted for Bush. That’s 20.6% of the population. Is this majority rule? Is this democracy? Is this a mandate?
No. This so-called democratic tradition to which we supposedly pay homage, wealth, and blood is a fraud. I’d much rather be able to pick the services I want from a private menu, and buy them myself, like coercion insurance. The sooner we discard the curious notion of democracy, the better.
Robert Klassen [send him mail] retired from a forty-year career in critical-care respiratory therapy. He is the author of five books, including Atlantis: A Novel about Economic Government, and Economic Government, which describe a solution to the problem of political government. Here’s his web site.