Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why I hate democracy

There was a special election in Massachusetts recently. This was held to replace the seat held by the late Ted Kennedy. Based on the results of the election, and the campaign rhetoric, the people voting seem to be making a statement about President Obama’s healthcare agenda: they don’t like it. If a republican can get elected on this platform in the single most democratic state in the US, then they’re simply no avoiding what is being said by a majority of people. Simply put, they agree with that platform: opposition to the President’s healthcare agenda. Personally, I oppose this agenda as well, so I’m breathing a sigh of relief that it looks like this agenda is going to be defeated.

But while a majority did agree with this, this is *not* a landslide victory like some seem to be suggesting. Brown won 52% to 47%. 5 points. If this were a basketball game, that’d be a pretty close game. If this were measuring market share of two competitors, the leader would be worried. Only in politics is a 5 point victory considered a big win. And what it has me thinking about is the 47% of Massachusetts that lost.

I’m a huge fan of markets. I think markets work better than the political process for the provision of just about everything. And while I think there are a few things that governments probably ought to do (e.g. national defense) it’s only “probably”. I have incredibly little faith in government. I have incredibly little faith in empowering one tiny group of people to make rules for the rest of us.

And when you’re on the losing side of an election, that’s what you worry about. That other people whose ideas you don’t like, will dictate your fate. That you will lose some bit of freedom that you had hoped was coming as a result of your guy winning.

But this problem doesn’t exist when markets provision goods. Over the summer, I bought a car. I chose a Hyundai Elantra Touring. I’m pretty pleased with my choice. Although I have a friend who found this choice troublesome. He’s a Ford mechanic, and believes that the Ford Focus was a much better choice. It certainly has much better market share than the Hyundai I ended up buying. But here’s the thing that makes this experience so different than government. My vote for the Hyundai did not force me to live with a Honda Civic – the car with the biggest market share in that segment. I voted for, and got exactly what I voted for.

In a market, if I vote for the 2nd place option, I don’t worry that I’m going to be forced to live with the 1st place option. Heck, if I vote for the 20th place option in a market, I get the 20th place option.

This is in huge contrast to how it works in government, and democracy in particular. Because it’s not true that only 47% of the population of Massachusetts are the ones who don’t get what they want. None of the rest of America got to vote on this pivotal election. There are a *LOT* more people than those in Massachusetts who are feeling like they’re about to lose something that they thought was coming. They voted for 2nd place, and from it they’re going to get nothing.

Democracy is the illusion that your vote counts for something. But that illusion is only upheld if your guy wins. Markets allow 2nd, 3rd, 4th, … to get what they want even if they don’t get 1st place. Why do I hate democracy? Because it creates a huge number of losers at the expense of the winners. Markets don’t do that. I much prefer markets for providing goods and services. Not even the vaunted democracy comes close to making as many people well off as do markets.