*Democracy for Realists*

by on February 4, 2016 at 2:01 pm in Books, Current Affairs, Data Source, Political Science | Permalink

The authors are Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels, and the subtitle is Why Elections Do Not Produce Representative Government.  This book is brutally depressing, not to mention very well presented, though I cannot say the core message is surprising at this point.  Voters choose on the basis of partisan loyalties, and these days party voting has a much bigger influence on state and local elections than it used to.  So where is the accountability?  Some voters engage in “retrospective voting,” but on the basis of super-short time horizons, and often the voters hold politicians accountable for matters those politicians cannot control, even storms and other natural disasters.  The authors really do demonstrate these points with lots of rigorous analysis.

OK, now a segue.  Given all this, the natural and appropriate policy response should be to a) expand the responsibilities of democratic government, or b) consider limiting the responsibilities of democratic government?

You are allowed only two guesses…

The book is due out in April.

1 Pasha February 4, 2016 at 2:05 pm

And transfer the responsibility to whom? The free market. Lulz.

2 Abe Froman February 4, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Yes – the free market has done so poorly relative to government officials over the past century and a half. Lulz

3 Adam February 4, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Pasha’s point is overly simplistic, but in a way that makes it a pretty appropriate rejoinder to Tyler’s incredibly simplistic framing.

4 Quite Likely February 4, 2016 at 3:22 pm

I mean, yes, that is the case. Was this supposed to be sarcasm somehow?

5 Chris s February 4, 2016 at 8:46 pm

…says the sausage king of Chicago.

6 Well.... February 4, 2016 at 2:57 pm

To the taxpayers maybe?

7 Floccina February 4, 2016 at 3:59 pm

To individuals and organizations.

8 TMC February 4, 2016 at 8:12 pm

Should have stopped at ‘free market’ and appeared to have been paying attention for the past 200 years.

9 Brian February 4, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Yes. And that is related to the theme of Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter

10 rayward February 4, 2016 at 2:11 pm

There’s a disconnect between those who promote free markets while tolerating (or even supporting) political manipulation. Cowen’s two choices are intended to ignore the third choice, which is expand responsibilities for citizenship in a democracy.

11 Urstoff February 4, 2016 at 2:20 pm

What does “expanding the responsibilities for citizenship” mean?

12 jb February 4, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Perhaps it means to devolving the State’s power back to social power, from where it came.

13 Thiago Ribeiro February 4, 2016 at 3:45 pm

“Social power”?

14 rayward February 4, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Media, and its dominance in our lives, together with vast resources of those who wish to exploit it, make manipulation of democracy more than a small concern. Indeed, democracy in these circumstances is a farce. Do we care, or do we prefer an outcome whereby a few, with the resources to manipulate, control government because voters can’t be trusted to vote for the right candidates.

15 msgkings February 4, 2016 at 2:54 pm

Wasn’t it ever thus? Political machines, votes bought with bottles of liquor, etc? The problem, as always when trying to improve ‘democracy’, is figuring out who gets to be the unexploitable decider(s)?

16 Pshrnk February 4, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Do you want one king or oligarchy?

17 chuck martel February 4, 2016 at 3:10 pm

All things considered, the reincarnation of Charles II would be a better POTUS than the present one. Oligarchies run the show no matter what the ostensible variety of government might be.

18 Thiago Ribeiro February 4, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Why not George III as long as you are at i?

19 msgkings February 4, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Nah, gotta go back to Charlemagne! Which ‘chuck martel’ oughta support.

20 chuck martel February 4, 2016 at 5:15 pm

The Merry Monarch was one of the most productive kings in UK history, despite the machinations of Cromwell and his Roundheads. He was the founder of the Royal Society, rode his own horses in races and fathered who knows how many children by an unknown number of attractive ladies. My kind of guy.

21 MKBARCH February 4, 2016 at 3:17 pm

But we’ve got competing oligarchies. One is spending about 20 to 1, not just on elections, because their results can be fleeting, but on social engineering. The choice may be between oligarchies, not just to guess what’s what accoding to Tyler’s framing.

22 MKBARCH February 4, 2016 at 9:07 pm

When one side wants to outspend the other 20 to 1, ‘why?’ Who are the intended beneficiaries?
Even when accountability is extremely weak, this is not a difficult decision. Picture life in 19th c., pre-progressive era, & life 20th c., post-progressive, & it’s overwhelmingly obvious which entity is the lesser evil.
Even with a percentage of crooks & self-serving malefactors in office, we’re far better off in a system of imperfect constraints and beneficial social norms than what the big spenders strive to create.

23 Floccina February 4, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Fewer than the number of politicians and party insiders?

24 JWatts February 4, 2016 at 5:48 pm

“or do we prefer an outcome whereby a few, with the resources to manipulate, control government because voters can’t be trusted to vote for the right candidates.”

I can be trusted to vote for the “right” candidate just fine, thank you very much.

25 Albigensian February 5, 2016 at 9:58 am

As government becomes larger, the rewards for manipulating it become greater.

A larger government is also more bureaucratic, with much legislation leaving implementation details up to the agencies that will administer the legislation. Yet bureaucrats are not only corruptible but they have no need to seek voter approval.

Media may be important, yet media today is far more diverse than it was fifty years ago. Perhaps it’s worth considering that the root cause here is the sheer size and unresponsiveness of government?

26 Anon. February 4, 2016 at 3:12 pm

What does this mean in practical terms?

27 Kronrod February 4, 2016 at 2:16 pm

The appropriate response is decentralization and direct democracy. Decentralization improves accountability and direct democracy removes power from politicians, thereby also reducing the influence of lobbyists. Even if direct democracy would lead to inferior political decisions (which I doubt), it would be more ethical as it would be the people’s own fault if something goes wrong.

28 Brian February 4, 2016 at 2:38 pm

After that everyone just has to get educated on everything and we’ll be set!

29 Kronrod February 4, 2016 at 3:12 pm

As a player of “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, would you rather ask the audience or a politician who claims to be an expert on the topic? Statistically, the audience gets the answer right 91% of the time. I doubt the politician would score better.

30 SeanV February 4, 2016 at 3:35 pm

Actually Kronrod is kinda right here. Kronrod for President 2016!

31 nigel February 4, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Yeah that works for “Which of these four choices starred in the Godfather as Michael” not so much for “What regulatory scheme, if any, best addresses the problem of excessive leverage in the banking system”. Especially once you add in voter irrationality and associative signaling. Most people can’t even distinguish between the three branches of the federal government. It’s bad out there Kronrod.

32 Ricardo February 4, 2016 at 6:00 pm

It isn’t a matter of who you choose to *ask* about what you should do. It’s a matter of to what degree others should be allowed to *tell* you what you can do.

33 Thor February 5, 2016 at 12:26 pm

The people might know a large number of individual propositions. But their judgement is poor.

34 Urstoff February 4, 2016 at 2:18 pm

This wouldn’t happen if Citizens United something something…

35 nigel February 4, 2016 at 3:46 pm


36 derek February 4, 2016 at 2:21 pm

As opposed to what? Some imaginary system that never existed? Maybe limiting the vote to landowners? Or excluding women, raising the voting age,etc.

It isn’t democracy. It is the ability of governments to borrow. A democratic government who cannot borrow quickly runs into a wall of accountability, even within the typical four year terms.

37 JonFraz February 4, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Governments have borrowed money for as long as money and loans have existed.

38 Welllll... February 4, 2016 at 2:48 pm

“Limit the powers of democratic government” can mean expanding the Bill of Rights, for example. A right to free association, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, right not to be entrapped, right to encrypt your personal data… Right to engage in mutually consenting transactions…

That kinda thing?

39 Aaron J February 4, 2016 at 2:58 pm

I think it can be read as either greater Supreme Court intervention into the political process- something that is already happening to a certain extent. Or perhaps greater control for bureaucrats and administrative agencies, which doesn’t seem like Tyler’s preference.

40 cowboydroid February 4, 2016 at 5:07 pm

AKA the 9th Amendment?

41 Art Deco February 4, 2016 at 5:17 pm

No, the 9th Amendment is useless for adjudicating anything. No one has a clue as to what it might mean.

42 Aaron J February 4, 2016 at 6:32 pm

If you look at the the importance of the cases the Supreme Court has decided this decade compared to the 2000s and 1990s, there is a pretty clear trend.

I think Supreme Court intervention could go two ways- either the Court deferring to an aggressive Executive bypassing an ineffectual legislature, or a Court that places a ton of emphasis on the 5th, 9th, and 14th amendment and strikes down a lot of laws under economic liberties and creates new social rights.

43 Willitts February 5, 2016 at 9:26 am

As a practical matter, yes perhaps you and Robert Bork are correct that some judges can and will read any form of entitlement they want as a right. But it is quite clear from the context of the 9A that it was never meant to encompass things like guaranteed minimum income, health care, or even public defenders. Just about any good or service is automatically disqualified. You have a right to eat, but not a right to be fed.

To be clear though, I think there is a compelling public interest in providing public defenders. I just dont call it a right. The interest aims in the direction of a valid right: to preserve the presumption of innocence, due process of law.

44 Aaron J February 5, 2016 at 12:46 pm

Wiillittts- I’m not for a broad reading of the 9th Amendment- I would follow the Court’s long history of not deciding cases on the 9th Amendment even if I favor some of the policies that could theoretically fit under its breadth.

As for public defenders, I think the plain meaning of the text of the 6th Amendment is that everyone gets a lawyer.

45 Willitts February 5, 2016 at 1:18 pm

Aaron, the ‘plain meaning’ of the 6A, as you put it, was unfamiliar to the people who wrote the 6A.

It wasn’t until the 1850s that some states provided counsel for indigent defendants, and not until the 20th century was it solidified into federal law. Gideon v. Wainright was in 1963.

As much as I agree that the terms of the 9A are expansive, it was meant to be so. As someone else said, the primary fear was that people would come to believe that constitutions confer rights.

Refraining from interpreting the 9A is supremely cowardly, relegating one of our most cherished principles as literally an inkblot rather than figuratively so. I refuse to believe the founder and ratifiers spent all their time on the 9A foolishly. Our Founders had a very clear idea of what rights are, and the behavior contemporary to and subsequent to the 9A tells us much about what the 9A does NOT mean.

46 Aaron J February 5, 2016 at 4:15 pm

I’m not arguing from original intent. Happy to grant you that.

But from a textualist perspective the language is pretty clear: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to…have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” Q.E.D.

47 Horhe February 5, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Weren’t the Americans who argued against the Bill of Rights worried that people would come to think of it as a definitive list of rights, rather than a non-exhaustive one? In this respect, you always had a right to mutually consenting transactions etc. But the current Bill of Rights, as it stands, has already been gutted over the years, so why add to it instead of first propping it up and making it mean something again? Originally, the Constitution enumerated the powers of government, meaning that all the rest were reserved for the people (and administrations closer to the citizen, like state and city). Now, the government is supposed to have all the powers, except those that can be contradicted by the Constitution and, even there, social transformations and political expectations can lead to reading the Constitution like one reads into tea leaves, meaning whatever one wants.

48 Willitts February 5, 2016 at 1:20 pm

I agree.

49 Thiago Ribeiro February 4, 2016 at 3:49 pm

“A democratic government who cannot borrow quickly runs into a wall of accountability, even within the typical four year terms.”
And it is crushed by governments that can borrow. Not to mention that governments can borrow because people allow them to. If people can not figure that one, why should they be trusted with any other aspect of ruling themselves?

50 HL February 4, 2016 at 6:37 pm

Thank you. I wonder how well a strict Jefferson democracy would have fared in the 1940s

51 Willitts February 5, 2016 at 1:21 pm

The US was deeply mired in debt at its founding. There are always exigent exceptions to well worn principles.

52 Heorogar February 4, 2016 at 2:27 pm

American “education” has been subverted. It’s indoctrination, not education. As evidence the popularity of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Hussein Obama, Bernie Sanders, The Donald Trump, . . .

Now, we have a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy.

53 JonFraz February 4, 2016 at 2:34 pm

In other words there are too many people supporting politicians whom you don’t like so there must be something wrong as not everyone agrees with you.

54 Heorogar February 4, 2016 at 4:59 pm

In other words, it’s that the first three promise to give free stuff to some people paid for with other people’s money; and that too many people don’t see anything wrong with that. And, too many people listen to them and do not have the education, knowledge, or experience to see that it’s largely wrong.

Are you following the media coverage about the $600,000+ speaking fee (was it?) Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan Chase paid Secretary Clinton for a speech (Because bail-outs!!)? Here’s a fun fact that the Hillary-worshiping media is not covering> She required that no video, no tape and no transcript be made. Wonder why? Probably same reason she employed the private server at State.

I could like her if she were not an incompetent and a sociopathic liar. Bernie Madoff is an honest man compared to Hillary Clinton.

55 Jon Rodney February 5, 2016 at 9:09 am

It’s good to get a totally unbiased opinion about HRC sometimes.

56 Will February 5, 2016 at 2:02 pm

But how do you REALLY feel?

57 Agra Brum February 5, 2016 at 6:32 pm

American society indoctrinates people to like Jewish socialists from Vermont. Who knew?

58 Foobarista February 4, 2016 at 2:28 pm

There’s a third choice: selecting the legislature using a different mechanism than elections. I’ve often thought that if you truly want a “representative sample of the people”, you should simply select the legislature by a sort of lottery or draft, something like we do with juries today.

59 dearieme February 4, 2016 at 2:29 pm

That was used in Ancient Greece.

60 Shane M February 4, 2016 at 3:58 pm

your post exposes how little confidence I have in a representative sample of the people.

61 Foobarista February 4, 2016 at 8:13 pm

This is a truly worthy contribution to the comment thread.

62 Ricardo February 4, 2016 at 6:17 pm

“I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University” — William F. Buckley

63 Millian February 5, 2016 at 3:51 am

He also didn’t like the idea of giving the vote to poor or black people, so I guess he was lying.

64 Art Deco February 5, 2016 at 10:05 am

No, you are lying.

Blacks had the vote throughout the course of Wm F. Buckley’s life in 2/3 of the states and he never objected. His one intervention in the matter was in 1957 when he said that ‘universal suffrage is not the beginning of wisdom or the beginning of freedom’ and clarified some weeks later at the request of his brother-in-law that disfranchisement should be equal opportunity. He was asked in 1982 which 30% of the electorate he thought should be removed from the rolls and he said: “the 30% which has never heard of the United Nations”. That is not a property qualification.

65 Willitts February 5, 2016 at 1:23 pm

It would remove the narcissism factor, but we would gain the retard factor in exchange. Bernie Sanders doesn’t scare me half as much as the people who vote for him.

66 CD February 4, 2016 at 2:29 pm

“hold politicians accountable for matters those politicians they cannot control”

I see this teaching econ. Students think gov’t does a whole lot more than it does. You have a version of this now with Donald Trump speeches premised on the idea that U.S. businesses need the President’s permission to build foreign plants.

67 Pshrnk February 4, 2016 at 3:14 pm

On my first day as President I will repeal Obamacare, lower gas prices, balance the budget, and make Mexico sign a treaty to build a wall! Don’t need no stinking Congress or markets!

68 Brian Donohue February 4, 2016 at 5:45 pm

I think there’s a larger point there. The President does not lead the country, he leads the executive branch of the government.

And nowadays, the institutional inertia of bloated government means that not much rides on who the President is. The system is robust. We just went through eight years under a breathtakingly inexperienced President. We had a bad recession- 8 million jobs lots – then a long slow recovery – 12 million jobs gained. How different would any of that been under a different President?

The system is even robust enough to manage Trump or Bernie. It doesn’t matter too much to the daily lives of most of us. But it’s something to talk about and get all worked up over. Have at it.

69 Willitts February 5, 2016 at 9:29 am

We should teach the Fallacy of Omnipotence in high school.

Unfortunately, politicians of all stripes have attempted to manipulate this perception, and to exploit Galen’s Fallacy when things go wrong.

70 Andao February 4, 2016 at 2:45 pm

Just reading the Amazon page, but it seems they conclude election results are essentially random when parties are evenly matched…that might not be an inherently bad thing. Better to be random and have a chance at a positive outcome, right?

In any case, I’m sure the Chinese publishing rights have been purchased. They love putting this type of book front and center in bookshops.

71 Aaron J February 4, 2016 at 3:00 pm

I’m sure the book still advocates for democracy.

And certainly the title will be changed.

72 Oliver HN February 5, 2016 at 7:36 pm

You’re probably right. Tyler has already made an alteration to the subtitle, which reads on Amazon as “Why Elections Do Not Produce RESPONSIVE Government” (my caps obv.)

73 Welllll... February 4, 2016 at 2:49 pm

One tax dollar paid, one vote?

74 Michael Foody February 4, 2016 at 2:54 pm

This idea is both ghoulish and foolish.

75 Willitts February 5, 2016 at 1:27 pm

Not as foolish as you think.

The rich could only lower their taxes or raise middle class taxes just enough to maintain the plurality. If they spend tax dollars, they are spending mostly their own money.

And the Billionaires for Obama demonstrate that the richest don’t always vote in their own financial best interests.

76 Michael Foody February 4, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Why should voters casting their vote based on partisan loyalties imply that voting doesn’t work. The number of people loyal to a particular party is a function of that party’s reputation for effectiveness, and the perceived soundness of that party’s ideology. Would a study showing that people are evaluating brands where they used to evaluate individual products lead you to conclude that responsibilities of the market should be limited? Is this just tarted up mood affiliation?

77 Well.... February 4, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Speaking of foolish!

78 Pshrnk February 4, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Well……people voluntarily pay a “Pink Tax”.

79 Millian February 4, 2016 at 3:05 pm

It never works well, though, does it?

I mean in real life, not the dreams of Thielisch neo-reaction Chesterton fan club conventions.

80 Millian February 4, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Of course it was a thing. And I am sure we would each have been lucky enough to be born as a plantation owner, living to look over one’s wide expanse of property and contemplate one’s libertah.

81 TMC February 4, 2016 at 8:30 pm

And it was better than the 18th century, which was better than the 17th. Not sure you are proving anything.

82 B.B. February 4, 2016 at 3:20 pm

I think we have a dilemma.

Having a small government is one thing.

But to have a small government, the voters have to vote for it. And if voters are irrational, and if the government doesn’t represent them anyway, what exactly is the path to small government?

83 Brian February 4, 2016 at 3:23 pm

The real art is how to communicate the benefits of limited government. Those favoring more liberty and less government have probably not been very convincing or persuasive enough to those who trust a) a larger role for government or b) are easily swayed by false promises.

The last line in the post is reasonably compelling. We need more of these kinds of statements, and the battle for this is going to happen in between elections, not during elections. It is too easy to paint political opponents as evil, and people are too willing to accept this line of thinking during the emotional ride of political rallies.

84 Millian February 4, 2016 at 3:48 pm

Emotion is an important motivator of politics. Failing to understand this is failing to do politics.

Emotionally, the median voter doesn’t trust atheist pot fans with neckbeards who want to abolish Medicare.

85 Brian February 4, 2016 at 4:11 pm

I think you are right.

And more troubling, I’m not sure there is anything in the pro-liberty thinking that is particularly “emotional.” It is too erudite, academic, and elitist.

There is a possible exception with a brave heart style shout of “Freedom!” — this IS an emotional plea.

But the emotional appeals (by Sanders, Trump) in today’s climate are not very “freedom” related. They are based on perceived fairness, envy, and anger.

Do people already feel “free” enough, thus making impotent the only emotional play of a libertarian?

86 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly February 4, 2016 at 4:29 pm

Plenty of people feel “unfree”–African Americans, Hispanic immigrants, women–in both the social and economic spheres and support the Bernie’s of the world as a result.

Whether that will actually improve their situation much is debatable.

87 Oliver HN February 5, 2016 at 8:03 pm

“Too erudite”? Quite the opposite! Just look at the fan-base of Stefan Molyneux.

What would seem erudite of a libertarian would be their acknowledgement that there are a number of other concepts of liberty besides the one they espouse.

The libertarian idea of freedom is one that doesn’t resonate with a sizeable number of the electorate, especially among “African Americans, Hispanic immigrants, women” who ‘Not That Bill O’Reilly’ mentions. Libertarian foundations are deontological, not consequentialist and it has a narrow and ahistorical conception of power and injustice. It doesn’t self-evidently promulgate liberty as you might suppose. But do you care?!

88 Brian February 6, 2016 at 3:11 am

I’m not sure I underatand what you mean by, “do you care”

But there are both deontological and consequentialist libertaruan strands of thought.

My point is that libertarian thought has not done a good job of communicating its benefits, as evidenced by the small part of the electorate who support it.

The electorate wants to be taken care of. Conservatives by the church and family, and liberals by the state. Perhaps the shortcoming of libertarian thought is that it is too individualistic

89 Floccina February 4, 2016 at 4:57 pm

before we talk of abolishing Medicare we should talk about limiting it to paying for treatments with strong evidence of efficacy.

90 some guy February 4, 2016 at 3:30 pm

Why not (c) take steps towards less democratic government? You could call it “Fed”alism

91 Gabriel Weil February 4, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Using some magical lever outside the democratic decision-making process?

92 Bjartur February 4, 2016 at 3:46 pm

The Churchill quote about democracy (worst form of government except for all the others) used to be witty and clever. It has become dark and depressing.

93 JWatts February 4, 2016 at 5:58 pm

“It has become dark and depressing.”

Now you’re reading the way Churchill intended it to be read.

94 jb February 4, 2016 at 3:58 pm

There isn’t a public policy response available since by definition the State is not representative. The State will simply continue to expand its power at the expense of social institutions until it achieves what no other State has yet achieved, sustainability; or it will continue to expand its power until it so weakens or destroys the social structures necessary for its own sustenance that it eats itself and crumbles. History says bet on the latter.

95 Doug February 4, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Isn’t the corollary of this Moldbug’s theory? In a representative democracy power is ultimately held by the organs of information: educational institutions, journalists, and other “respectable” public intellectuals. Voters are fickle and easily influenced, so it’s basically about who’s best able to put ideas in people’s heads.

96 albatross February 4, 2016 at 4:25 pm

Elections are a pretty bad way to get meaningful feedback or guidance on detailed policy questions (how much research funding should be going to cancer vs hiv, say) but they may still be pretty good at giving the kind of broad-brush feedback of “I don’t like how things are going, let’s change them.” Sometimes, this just means getting mad at the president at the time of some unpreventable disaster, or changing from one party to another that have the same policy that’s leading to whatever bad thing you wish you could avoid, but at least it gives politicians some incentive to try to keep the people broadly happy.

97 Art Deco February 4, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Much voting behavior also defaults to identity affirmations.

98 Art Deco February 4, 2016 at 5:14 pm

I think that indicates that Moldbug has zero experience with street level politics. There is tremendous inertia in the electorate and tremendous indifference. What influences most voters would be problems in the public square that are rendered palpable to them or which resonate with decisions in their daily lives. If the electricity is off for two weeks in an ice storm, your drinking water is discovered to have impurities in it, if someone votes to increase your property taxes, or if someone threatens your Medicare benefits, that can get a reaction, just not one with reliably sufficient force. Sometimes remarkably petty things can also destroy a politician. A former Governor of Massachusetts was ruined (single-digit approval ratings) when it was discovered that her staff occasionally looked after her young children at the statehouse.

99 Willitts February 5, 2016 at 9:45 am

You raise some good points here.

There are clearly some apparent single issue voters, but sentiment tends to swing based upon acute and palpable pain, moreso affecting turnout than changing voter preferences.

For presidential elections, the races come down to 3-5% of unaffiliated voters in fewer than ten states. Congressional races are much more democratic because they dont have the small-geography filter of the Connecticut Compromise in them. But it also takes a more widespread sentiment to change the leadership of the House. The Senate, with only 1/3 of seats up for election, is even more resistant to change in power.

In my observation, America tolerates only incremental changes, and punishes party overreach swiftly. Ironically, GW Bush defied this trend, picking up seats in the midterms. More ironically, the GOP likely would be in a better position had Kerry won, and took blame for the financial crisis.

The nature of politics has certainly changed since Tip Oneill admonished that all politics is local. The internet has clearly made the nation a smaller place.

100 Millian February 5, 2016 at 3:59 am

This Moldbug character sounds like another neckbearded atheist who wants normal people to have fewer things. Again, this is not a winning strategy in democratic politics, leading the libertarian/antidemocrat/reactionary “spectrum” (ahem) to condemn the rules of the game.

101 Thomas February 5, 2016 at 8:10 am


Translation: slur for unathletic, unattractive, white men.

Racist, sexist, ableist slur that reinforces social beauty norms. We get it, Millian, you’re a hateful leftist feminist. You don’t have to keep repeating yourself.

102 Millian February 5, 2016 at 9:51 am

Neckbeards are also correlated with faux-noble lack of sense of humour.

103 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly February 4, 2016 at 4:33 pm

As your colleague at the law school, Ilya Somin, has already pointed out, this is a very strong point in favor of (b) with respect to the federal government. Limiting federal influence allows for greater policy diversity among the states, which in turn allows for citizens to reveal their preferences via foot-voting, rather than merely stating their preferences via ballot-voting.

Of course, those foot-voters have a nasty tendency of bringing their misguided stated preferences with them and mucking up their new homes, but at least it’s a start.

104 Agra Brum February 5, 2016 at 6:36 pm

Foot-voting is actually an abdication of the duties of citizenship. Things are bad or not improving? Don’t try to be part of the solution. Just go somewhere else where the citizens have already done their duty. It’s a policy of: in times of peril, make a mad dash to the lifeboats, and to hell with the women and children!

105 jorod February 4, 2016 at 4:51 pm

Maybe there is no real difference between the parties? They leave us just enough money to keep us alive. ‘If god did not want them sheared, he would not have made them taxpayers.’ We need term limits.

106 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly February 4, 2016 at 4:58 pm

While I see the intuitive appeal of term limits, anyone who thinks about it for more than 5 minutes should be able to realize that they are a terrible idea. Running a government is something that does actually require special skills, which take time to develop and sharpen; term limits effectively deprive the country of its best legislators on a regularized basis. If the legislature is perpetually run by inexperienced representatives, it increases the ability of unelected actors-whether career bureaucrats or private lobbyists–to influence the agenda simply through information asymmetry.

It may be more difficult to bribe a term-limited legislator (though I’m not convinced even that’s true), but it will almost prove easier to manipulate one for a fraction of the cost.

107 Art Deco February 4, 2016 at 5:07 pm

While I see the intuitive appeal of term limits, anyone who thinks about it for more than 5 minutes should be able to realize that they are a terrible idea.

I’ve thought about it for considerably longer than that, and you’re full of it.

108 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly February 4, 2016 at 5:23 pm

If you have a substantive rebuttal, I’m all ears.

109 albatross February 4, 2016 at 11:23 pm

What do you think on the limit on presidential terms? My sense is that it’s probably a good idea overall, as it prevents the same person/staff from dominating politics for long enough to, say, have appointed all the supreme court justices, be in complete control of all the federal agencies, etc. I think it’s really healthy to have the team at the top know that they’re guaranteed to be out of office at some point in the future.

It’s pretty common for senators to stay in the same seat for decades, and they can accumulate a *lot* of power. I’m not sure whether that’s a net win or lose–it’s good to have some power centers *other* than the president so you don’t get a single whackjob with the power to steamroller all opposition. On the other hand, the extremely high re-election rate[1] means that those very powerful people tend to have very little effective feedback from the public, assuming they can avoid some kind of big scandal[2].

[1] Which somewhat overstates things, because people who are obviously going to lose their seat thanks to the big media scandal / indictment / whatever tend not to run for re-election.

[2] The interesting case along these lines that comes to mind is Ted Stevens, who was indicted and investigated and then a bunch of the case was thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct. I’ve always suspected that was actually an inside-the-GOP power struggle between president Bush and senator Stevens.

110 Careless February 5, 2016 at 8:38 am

I don’t really see a pattern in good/bad governance between the 15 states with term limits and the 35 without

111 Art Deco February 4, 2016 at 5:02 pm

I think the difficulty you face is one identified a generation ago by Garry Wills of all people: elections cannot tell you what people want. They can tell you, in a vague way, what people will put up with. If you want public policy which reflects popular tastes, your best bet is to devolve authority on people who live among their public and cross paths with them regularly, or at least people who reflect particular cultures (e.g. that of Indiana or Texas).

112 albatross February 4, 2016 at 11:35 pm

One fundamental problem is that the public isn’t ever going to do a good job on in-depth technical questions. The best you can get is very high-level policy questions. “Should we invade Iraq” or “should abortion be legal” or “should farmers get subsidies” is probably about as down-in-the-weeds as you can get.

But that means that the people filling in those technical details will be in a position to have a substantial impact on the outcome of the policy, and may even be able to undermine the peoples’ choice entirely. If the voters decide not to invade Iraq, but then the Pentagon and State Dept can effectively decide to provoke a war with Iraq, the peoples’ voice doesn’t mean much. If the voters decide to ban abortion, but the people implementing the policy decide to, they can probably leave enough loopholes to allow a fair bit of legal abortion to go on. It’s just the principal-agent problem.

On the other hand, letting the people vote on fine details of those policies isn’t likely to end well, either.

113 Illiana February 4, 2016 at 5:08 pm

Given that the title of the book is “Why Elections Do Not Produce Representative Government”, I want to know if the book examines differences in the degree different types of elections (first-past-the-post, proportional, single-transferrable-vote, MMP) produce representative government.

114 Robert (Evidence Based) February 4, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Well there are some things that a lack of government does not help with. A lack of government will mean future banking crises. It will mean more scandals where lead appears in drinking water as has occurred in Flint MI. It will mean that a lot of people simply do not receive healthcare because they cannot afford it. So while I fully admit that the mechanism of representative government is highly problematic, there is not much of a reasonable alternative.

But I do have some ideas regarding voting in general. First, it appears that when voting was tied to property in Britain and US in the nineteenth century it might have been somewhat of a proxy for IQ and general awareness of what was going on. And consequently it could be that the voter pool was of a higher quality. There were also university constituencies in various countries – providing more representation to those both intelligent and educated. Of course many were excluded who should otherwise have been included.

It might be time to consider a modified system of voting. Instead of one person one vote, I propose a serious of classes of people with differing numbers of votes as follows:

Class 1 – Citizenship and above the age of 18 alone
—> 1 Vote

Class 2 – Passing a standardized exam of about 3 hours in basic public policy, politics, foreign policy and the constitution. It would take the equivalent of 2 intro econ courses, 2 intro policy and politics courses, 2 us history courses, a course in the constitution and one in infrastructure. The courses would be at a 100 or 200 level and be taught at both 4 year schools and at community colleges. The exam would demonstrate basic understanding.
—> 10 Votes

Class 3 – Passing a series of five exams each of which would be 3 hours. They would be divided up as follows – a. economics, finance, business, accounting, fiscal and monetary policy, b. Law, civil and criminal, the constitution, states vs federal powers, policing, crime and punishment etc, c. Infrastructure, science, engineering, transportation, education, agriculture, d. Foreign policy, the military, national security and foreign affairs including understanding international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, OECD, UN, etc. e. Healthcare, social welfare, issues of race, gender, class, social security,
—> 75 Votes

Class 4 – Passing a series of 15 exams as follows – applied math ~ stats and econometrics ~ physics and engineering ~ life sciences ~ education and social capital ~ healthcare policy ~ fiscal policy ~ economics, finance and monetary policy ~ municipal government ~ transportation ~ agriculture ~ the military ~ foreign policy ~ social welfare including social security ~ law and regulation particularly in regards to tradeoffs as to to how where to apply it and how much
—> 500 votes

Class 5 – Passing a series of 15 exams in class 4 in addition to five additional exams – Intellectual property including its overreach ~ evidence based sociology and social psychology ~ civil service and associated government employees ~ FAA, FCC, FDA, ~ Regulation and status of not for profit institutions. This would be followed by a data set review, a literature review of a given subject, and policy proposal paper. This would be the most rigorous class and would be required of candidates running for federal elected office.
—-> 2500 votes

In addition if you only allowed those in classes 2 through 5 to vote in the upper house while allowing all classes to vote in the lower house you might significantly change the tenure of government and of political discourse. In order to encourage people to spend great time and effort I would propose tax credits of increasing magnitude along with greater health and retirement benefits (so long as people actually bother to vote).

To my knowledge this has not been properly tested yet. Who knows, we may end up with a much more responsible government.

115 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly February 4, 2016 at 5:19 pm

I cannot *wait* too see what the debates over what content to include in these tests end up looking like.

116 msgkings February 4, 2016 at 5:33 pm

This reminds me a bit of the old bureaucracy in China, with civil service exams and the like.

117 poorlando February 4, 2016 at 6:11 pm

> A lack of government will mean future banking crises.
Governments cause or exacerbate banking crises. Ask George Selgin.

> It will mean more scandals where lead appears in drinking water as has occurred in Flint MI.
Lead in the drinking water resulted from government failure.

>It will mean that a lot of people simply do not receive healthcare because they cannot afford it.
Leftists are right now free to pool all of their resources and subsidize as much healthcare as such resources permit.

118 JWatts February 4, 2016 at 6:43 pm

“A lack of government will mean future banking crises. It will mean more scandals where lead appears in drinking water as has occurred in Flint MI. ”

It seems silly to site a lack of government causing more drinking water scandals like Flint, MI. Since the drinking water scandal in Flint was a government screw up in the first place.

119 Nathan W February 5, 2016 at 12:35 am

Or … those really smart people can just speak some sense into the people who have less time to educate themselves on such matters, and we can have one person one vote.

Also, any standardized tests are bound to become ideologized and should be considered as inherently abhorent.

120 cfh February 4, 2016 at 5:46 pm

First “b”, then “a”. 105th!

121 MyName February 4, 2016 at 6:21 pm

The book is only depressing if you assume that elections are the only way governments function and interact with its citizens (hint: it’s *not*), and also that politicians never keep their promises to the electorate and only care about self-interest (also not the case).
Elections are important in that they force parties and politicians to make their case on policy. If you don’t win, you don’t get to make any decisions. If your party loses enough, than the ideas the party is pushing aren’t going to happen. Some voters, even most, may choose a candidate for stupid reasons, but that’s only because both parties (and in fact all viable candidates) are already “good enough” by the time they get to Election day that very few are incompentent or so crooked that they shouldn’t be elected. That’s what parties are good for.
And I think Trump is a perfect example to proof my point as he’s not dependent upon the party at all, seems immensly unqualified for POTUS, and seems to have a hard ceiling in his own party of around 30%. And he’s quite exceptional to go as far as he has. I don’t think many other candidates could do what he’s done.
TL;DR some voters may give stupid reasons for why they vote the way they do, but the reality is that, as long as they follow the queue of elites who help pick the viable candidates, democracy works okay. The reason why Socialists and Libertarians lose is because not enough Americans believe in what they are saying, especially the elites who help craft the policy. This is not oligarchy, it’s the way Democracy actually works.

122 Art Deco February 4, 2016 at 6:44 pm

And I think Trump is a perfect example to proof my point as he’s not dependent upon the party at all, seems immensly unqualified for POTUS,

Was Barack Obama ‘dependent upon the party’? If so, can you explain to me why we all got stuck with such an utter tyro? If ‘immensely unqualified’ bothers you, why did you vote for him?

123 albatross February 4, 2016 at 11:47 pm

I think Obama’s greatest supporter in 2008 was, in practice, George W Bush. After eight really bad years of Republican rule, in the middle of a genuinely scary global economic meltdown, the proverbial yellow dog could have won the presidency as a Democrat.

124 Art Deco February 5, 2016 at 9:58 am

If you fancy the period running from 2001 to 2009 was ‘really bad’ and was so in ways traceable to Republican policy, you’re sorely lacking in historical perspective. (And, by the way, John McCain was competing fairly well up until the moment Lehman and AIG went down).

125 TMC February 5, 2016 at 12:47 pm

So Bernie and Hillary should just throw the towel in now?

126 anon February 4, 2016 at 6:55 pm

“Consider” limiting democratic government? Even as a percentage of GDP it is pretty limited now. Of the most successful nations on earth, we actually have one of the most limited governments. At the same time, we have a popular paranoia that we are suffering “tyranny.” I doubt Tyler is really caught up in that, but there might be a bit of zeitgeist here that is .. in error.

127 albatross February 5, 2016 at 12:04 am

Out of curiousity, at what point in the process of losing liberties, or having more and more of your important decisions dictated to you by the state (perhaps at the behest of your neighbors, perhaps from oligarchs, perhaps from the king) do you get to worry about tyranny?

I mean, suppose that somehow we decide to ban Islam and close down the mosques. We’d still be a freer country than many other countries, but that would look pretty damned tyrannical to me. (Tyranny of the majority style–with the right PR campaign and bipartisan support, you could probably get a majority of voters in the US to support banning Islam.)

Or suppose we decide to use some no-fly-list style mechanism to allow the government to ban people from the internet if they support the wrong sort of ideas. Again, we could do that and still be a substantially free country, and yet, it sure would look like a big and nasty step toward being a less free country.

Now, if you’re looking for things about the US today that, if it had appeared in a movie in the 70s, most Americans would have thought “yep, that’s some kind of police state,” a whole bunch of the war on terror (tapping everyone’s phones, “papers, please”, the no-fly list) and the war on drugs (huge prison population, armies of secret police and coerced informants, midnight no-knock raids) qualify. My feeling is that it’s good to push back on that stuff, even if we aren’t yet some kind of nightmare state where Winston is about to be convinced to love Big Brother.

128 Nathan W February 5, 2016 at 12:39 am

Strongly agree. We’re definitely going in the wrong direction on all that 1984 stuff, even though it is not remotely North Korea yet.

129 anon February 5, 2016 at 9:48 am

Surveillance is definitely growing, but that isn’t all in favor of the state. We will probably get universal police bodycams, and improved rights as a result.

Where is the actual, and not what-if, tyranny?

130 anon February 5, 2016 at 12:21 pm

“Anyone who argues that actual tyranny exists is a dangerous charlatan who should be mocked from the public square.”


131 dbeach February 4, 2016 at 7:24 pm

From what I can glean from the Amazon page, this is a US-specific argument, in which case the lack of accountability can be chalked up to the ludicrous political system, with its multiple power centers and veto points. If I think things aren’t going well right now, whom should I blame? Neither Barack Obama nor the Congressional Republicans have the power to enact their policy programs. Even if one party controls both houses of Congress and the Presidency, the minority can still usually stop things they really dislike in the Senate. So maybe, before condemning democratic government, we should give it a try.

I’d like to see a comparable analysis done for the UK or some other parliamentary democracy that actually lets election winners implement their agenda.

132 anon February 4, 2016 at 7:35 pm

I agree, but worry that we actually have a resistance to function government in the US at this point. See the “tyranny” zeitgeist.

133 prior_test February 5, 2016 at 2:18 am

Or a system that actually allows the introduction and growth of new parties. See Germany since the 1980s, with the Greens, the Pirates, the split (West German)/merger (East German) of what in the U.S. would be called the radical left in Die Linke, and the current rise of the right (to extreme right) wing AfD. In Germany, this entire ‘partisan’ line of thinking, representing a binary decision, is nonsensical when talking about democracy.

134 RobbL February 5, 2016 at 2:47 pm

EXACTLY. We have a primitive early version of a capitalist democracy. The ones that came after saw the limitations and improved. As it stands all you can do is try to pick which of the many issues are important to you. Gun lovers will vote for whoever the GOP nominates. I fear for the government outlawing abortion, so I will vote for the democrat….more or less whoever they nominate.

135 Ray Lopez February 4, 2016 at 7:51 pm

We need a ancient Greek style democracy, where you can vote to exile people for a few years. I vote on the “Kardashians” (sic). Vote them off!

136 Ryan Kupyn February 4, 2016 at 9:59 pm

Alternatively, I we could try to create a method of politics that does result in a representative and effective government. IMO, given the changes in technology and society since the 18th century, there are probably lots of ways we could make the process better. If the founding fathers were alive today, they wouldn’t create the system we have now.

137 Thomas February 5, 2016 at 8:03 am

A desire to rule ones neighbors through government, so intense, that the only way to internally justify it is to implicitly compare it to actual slavery, which would surely be the result if the Millian crowd isn’t allowed to regulate the maximum size of soda cups and the length of their neighbors’ grass.

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