10% Less Democracy

My colleagues at GMU are awesome and you can see why by reading the opening to Garett Jones’s forthcoming new book, 10% Less Democracy.

ONCE I GOT THE CALL FROM CAMPUS POLICE, I knew I needed to write this book.

It was spring semester 2015, and I’d recently given a brief talk to a student group at my university. Natalie Schulhof, a reporter for the student newspaper, Fourth Estate, had come to the event and reported on my talk, entitled “10% Less Democracy.” That was the first time I’d spoken at any length about this book’s central idea: that in most of the rich countries, we’ve taken democracy, mass voter involvement in government, at least a little too far. We’d likely be better off if we kept the voters and even the elected officials a little further away from the levers of power. Let the government insiders run more of the show. After all, the insiders don’t have to be perfect for 10% less democracy to be an improvement; they just have to be better than the voters.

About a week after my talk, Schulhof’s piece came out, quite thorough and extremely accurate, complete with a photo of me standing before the small student audience. From the article: “Garett Jones, associate economics professor at George Mason University, says that there should be less democracy in the United States. . . . Less democracy would lead to better governance.”

But in our new age of social media, that article, accurate down to the last detail, wasn’t the article that became widely shared online. Instead, the subsequent firestorm was fed by ideology-driven websites, with authors posting articles loosely based on Fourth Estate’s original piece but filling in the blanks of the short, accurate article with their own vitriol and blue-sky speculation.

…In the days after these ideology-driven websites wrote about my talk, I discovered a torrent of hate polluting both my email inbox and my Twitter account. I welcome disagreement with my ideas, and passionate disagreement is part of a healthy public debate, but for a brief period, I had my sole experience (so far!) as an object of profanity-laced Internet rage. It culminated in the call from campus police—and in my dozen years at George Mason, that was the first and still the only time I’ve received such a call. An officer left a voice-mail message, and I called back at my first opportunity. She said someone had left an angry voice mail criticizing me on a general campus phone number, and the officer noted with great discretion that the voice mail contained at least one profane expression. Was there anyone who might be upset with me lately? the officer asked.

I had an idea. And that idea became this book. So to the unknown person who left that voice mail, I offer my heartfelt gratitude. I dedicate this book to you.

By the way, the title of Garett’s book might sound inflammatory but it’s only 10% inflammatory. Surely, we can talk about that rationally? Do we want all judges to be elected? Aren’t two year terms a little short in the modern age? Might we better off with an independent tax authority more like an independent central bank? Garett discusses these and many other ideas and unlike much of the constitutional economics of the past, Garett brings plenty of empirical evidence to bear–this is a good book to learn about modern political economy regardless of whether you buy the conclusions.

You can pre-order 10% Less Democracy at the link and you should, it’s very good.


Let's invoke the 20-80 rule, or to make it easier: a 10-40 rule. I'm willing to have 10% less democracy if it also means getting rid of 40% of the elites.

We can't trust the "insiders" as the FBI and the FISA judges have proved beyond a shadow of doubt.


Hmmm... but arent't the judges also part of the elitist, insiders?

Exactly! The FISA judge did nothing once the truth came out about the FBI misusing their power in an attempted coup. Let's just get rid of the FISA court.

Oops, sorry -- I take that back. Off point. I was reading too quickly.


It's difficult to make the case we should trust elites more after watching a 3 year long slow motion coup by entrenched and apparently untouchable elites.

Things aren't looking good.

Well, "impeachment" being basically the only thing happening that is actually constitutional.

Not even that. Constitution says high crimes or misdemeanors. Still have found either.


You could impeach every living president by the standards of the Trump impeachment.

Oh, we doing base politics now Anon? Or is this your attempt at rational national security analysis?

You say don't trust Americans who have sworn oaths to defend the nation? Who you gonna trust instead?

“One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because ‘Putin told me.’”

More here.

I really hope these guys don't represent the best the right has to offer. That they just flock to the MR bug light for some reason.

Perhaps they just prefer the lack of moral guidance.

How do guys that never made more than $200,000 a year end up with $100 million net worth after 40 years in elective office?

What's the President's job if not to ensure the nation doesn't come under control of crooked politicians such as Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton?

So, you're going to cry again in 2020.

The House Impeachment proceedings were as fair and democratic as were those of the Spanish Inquisition.

Do you EVER have anything to add to the conversation? You're a muppet.

Your first point is fair. We can and should improve ethical standards for public officials.

I'm afraid "Spanish Inquisition" is just funny tho.

Remember, losing a job is not as bad as being burned at the stake. Most people in fact suffer the first at least once in life. We survive, and perhaps even prosper.

Along with 10% less democrarcy, how about 10% more police? Somebody is going to have enforce the will of that independent tax authority, while calling various people whose opinions are even less welcome in a place with 10% less democracy.


Once again the argument of government by the most intelligent (or as I like to call it chainsaw operation by committee) rears its ugly head. Plato and Aristotle's philosopher kings and Chief Seneca's council of elders.

If we've seen anything in the last 20 years - especially in economics - it's that these people have absolutely no idea what they're talking about. But sure, let's trust them more.

We already have 10% less democracy with voter suppression. And, gerrymandering.

This seems the insightful answer. We don't have 100% democracy now, and Garett's reforms may not require "less democracy." They may only restructure how non-democratic things happen.

My sister once helped write a piece of federal regulation. She didn't work for the government. She worked for an oil company.

What is it about your sister that makes her unqualified to provide advice on a piece of legislation?

* BTW - this comment explains a lot about you.

It's not that this particular legislation was necessarily bad, but it was a demonstration that the sausage-making was not particularly democratic, or even representative. It was a deal cut.

Now, if it is your position that such deals are good (1) I'd say not always, and (2) remind you that you aren't really championing democracy yourself.

Hi mouse!

Apparently you are the only one who doesn't know about "regulatory capture".

second try

Sometimes I don't catch it when my phone "corrects" href to Greg.

You can imagine how Thanksgiving dinner goes.

"So anonymous' sister, how are things going with you?"

"Great! I was able to help pass a bill that increases America's energy independence without harming the environment!"

"Great, great! How about you, anonymous?"

"I talked about impeachment in the comments section of an economics blog."

heh, there you go assuming that I don't actually know how sausage is made. "increases America's energy independence without harming the environment" is what you say no matter what, even when you are rolling back restrictions on stack emissions.

"I was able to help pass a bill that increases America's energy independence without harming the environment!"

I am sure this is what oil companies are all about!

"My sister once helped write a piece of federal regulation. She didn't work for the government. She worked for an oil company."

So your sister is precisely one of those Elites/Experts that Garett Jones is referring to.

"So anonymous' sister, how are things going with you?"

"Great! I was able to help pass a bill that increases America's energy independence without harming the environment!"

Isn't anonymous' sister the judge who signs bills into law?

Glad there was one person involved who knew what they were talking about.

Interesting trend here .. more votes against democracy, and for elites, as long as they are business elites.

How about knowledgeable elites, or better yet per my comment below, just fewer elites? Knowledgeable elites are needed on the Govt side, but I think that ship has sailed. Full disclosure - I do a lot of work for one of the better run Fed agencies.

I am for expertise, and you are right that the government needs to maintain its own, so as not to simply outsource and (potentially) have the wool pulled over their eyes.

Shout out to Exxon and 50 years of climate disinformation.

EPA has its own history on disinformation as well. We need both sides. Trend seems to be to get one set of contractors to keep the other ones honest. No one trusts the govt worker to add value, and only trust contractors a little. Seems about right. At the end of the day I say bump some of the duties the Feds took upon themselves back to the states where they belong, and kill some of the remaining.

How can government maintain it's own? If you are not on the ground in the field, how can you? It is impossible. How could they have regulated fracking, for example, when the field was new, the technologies and techniques were in development?

The best regulatory structures that I'm aware of are industry standards. The industry associations write standards that are typically accepted by local jurisdictions. An example is the electrical code. It is kept current using input from the industry in response to issues that arise. It can be carried by the people who are actually implementing the code.

About three years ago there were fatalities in a municipal facility. Fernie ammonia on google if you are interested.

Two regulatory agencies watching a municipality fail in it's decision processes in the end meant it was my fault. I had 'interviews' with various people who didn't have the faintest clue what they were supposed to be regulating, their words. The first reaction was why is this refrigerant used at all, which elicited reminders that the Paris Accord that is going to save us all mandates the use of natural refrigerants of the kind that killed three people. I wonder (actually I don't, I know) if the writers of those broad rules have the faintest clue what they are mandating?

What was remarkable was how ignorant those who were making decisions were about what they were deciding. It wasn't a stupid ignorance, it was very basic; how could they know unless they worked in the field. There are few professionals who know anything about it unless they are specialized in that specific field. It was remarkable in the official documents how they didn't even understand the import of existing regulation from the national (or international in this case, the engineering standards come from a US organization) codes.

So after wasting an enormous amount of time some basic precautions were implemented, essentially preventing municipal operators from making bone headed mistakes that would kill people.

So who knows enough about the issues to even suggest the form of regulation?

We could trade anecdotes (Bhopal) all day.

And who would would Union Carbide, or the industry generally who didn't want a reoccurence have called upon to come up with a solution? Some bureaucrat? A university professor?

No. They would find someone who knows intimately the design and operation of a chemical plant, someone who manages people. Someone with a track record of successfully running a complicated, inherently dangerous process.

Someone who works in the industry.

I point this out because it is inevitable that the experts in any field are the ones who actually are involved in the field. To find someone disconnected from the field means they don't know, and the regulations become meaningless or impractical.

So the call for experts is a call for insiders with interests. Inevitably.

The solution isn't to conjure up some illusion, but that there be consequences. Like if you lie to the Fisa court, you spend the rest of your life in a cell with Manafort bemoaning your fate.

An interesting tidbit in the Fernie situation. The equipment was past it's expected life, and had been on the list of projects for the municipality. But they hired an expert to give them a report of the state of their infrastructure, who commented that it all looked fine. So the project was dropped from their list of priorities. The expert was an engineer from a reputable company. But he didn't have the faintest clue as to the specifics of that particular piece of equipment, and used his authority and credentials to mislead the municipality

I suspect that this report was generated at the behest of the Province in the interest of good management.

The virtue runneth over, but three people died.

I also had a family member who wrote regs. She worked for the Big 3 and drafted environmental rules. The knee-jerk reaction is this is BAD. But if you really want a good regulation, its the companies who have the knowledge of what can be reasonably done to accomplish the mission. Almost by definition, a government engineer can't know much about how a corporate engineer can get things done. If they tread too heavily, you get a very costly result. Let the government stick to setting goals, and leave the details of how to get there to the corporations -- with some smart oversight to limit abuse.

That't why things are still functioning ok.

I respect the argument in the abstract. Unfortunately, the last 2 decades have shown the elites and their "experts" to be as corrupt and self-serving as the man in the street.

They've certainly managed to arrange the world very much for their convenience.

Not sure there's an easy answer as to the right level.

We might have to select for virtue, even if that means suffering some virtue signaling along the way.

Tests of "virtue" are divisive (no one agrees on what virtue is; some would say patriotism should be in, some would say out-group preference), and would greatly strengthen the power of kompromat.

They would also not solve the problems of a lack of accountability - for one, who seriously thinks that by selecting a field of sufficiently "virtue scoring" candidates on a test when they are say, 19, by the time they are senior figures who have been exclusively socializing together when they are 40, they will lack a pro-elite bias and will not simply be oriented towards serving a particular narrow class? Checking them again at 40 might help, or it might simply thin the field to the point that there are insufficient candidates to actually meet capacity and create a class of disaffected runners-up (Hong Xiuquan types).

You may see dangers in a virtue contest, but I see greater ones in abandonment of the goal. Take for example the amoral analysis that is Public Choice:

As James Buchanan artfully defined it, public choice is politics without romance. The wishful thinking it displaced presumes that participants in the political sphere aspire to promote the common good. In the conventional “public interest” view, public officials are portrayed as benevolent “public servants” who faithfully carry out the “will of the people.” In tending to the public’s business, voters, politicians, and policymakers are supposed somehow to rise above their own parochial concerns.

When all motives are presumed corrupt, no searches for those kinds of "quoted" virtues are even made.

My response to you presumed you were proposing some sort of virtue selection as an alternative to the mechanisms of voting. This has a ton of problems.

If you are instead proposing that people care a bit more about character as part of the complex stew of things they look for in a candidate for election (experience, charisma, connections, loyalties, *lack* of loyalties, commitment to promises, etc.) then, well, OK, but sort of a vague thing.

Which view fits reality?


We can pretend the government apparatus will be run by angels or we can deal with reality of perverse incentives as it exists today.

You can have a skeptical eye, but don't make the mistake of turning away the idealists who actually believe that stuff.

Don't prefer crooks because your own cynicism demands it.

On the topic of the "In theory greatness but actual in practice suck" of experts, I'd love to see a Garrett Jones vs Dominic Cummings debate on the topic. Cummings being the 'Man Of The Moment' (at least in the UK) for being plausibly able to point to experts at least of the supposedly professional expert driven civil service, being pointy-headed idiots (or 'Hollow Men') and credibly *why* they are, though he's no fan of mass herd thinking, exactly. Given he can actually sort of point to a win on the topic, and clearly cares about it and is poised to try to implement "better experts" in his proposed civil service reforms.

I don't totally respect either's opinion on the topic (Jones particularly, as made clear downthread) but would be instructive to see where they agree and where they diverge.

Self serving is one thing, but "not really experts" is another, as academics become more and more obviously political and subject to groupthink. Who in their right minds would want mandates from government experts on matters such as nutrition or climate change? Without having considered this in great depth, I'd lean to a form of democracy that harvests the knowledge of the masses in an open source or wiki kind of way, and also somehow requires skin in the game to beat down the noise.

There was a book I started reading a year ago that had the same basic premise; that the unwashed masses are fools that need experts to tell them what they really want. I started it with an open mind but couldn't get past a few chapters. I think the authors assume they will be one of the elites telling us all what to do.

In my thesis I make the case for less democratic input in science-based policies like health and safety regulation: https://figshare.com/articles/Healthy_Institutions_Technocracy_Democracy_and_Legitimacy_in_EU_GMO_Regulation/10247279#

Our constitution limited the power of government. The 100+ year progressive project has been aimed at destroying the country’s foundation and increasing the power of the rulers. Trump is turning that back. No need for Garrett Jones.

Limited government power means taking land, property, liberty from those here first who lack power?

If that is what you mean, yes, Trump has a long history of trying to go back to that.

Not any more valid than usual, but you were brief. I’d call that progress, old chap!

"Our constitution limited the power of government. The 100+ year progressive project has been aimed at destroying the country’s foundation and increasing the power of the rulers. Trump is turning that back."

How much has federal spending been cut under Donald Trump?

This argument seems highly dependent on which elites we are talking about.

GMU economists and their peers, of course.

Isn't Alex a libertarian? Why is he overlooking the obvious: replace democracy with ownership. Limit the franchise to actual landowners. Net tax consumers--government employees, contractors and welfare recipients--don't get a vote.

That sounds like feudalism. Libertarians support cutting the scope of government entirely. Land ownership is also hard to justify under the usual libertarian property theory that the right of ownership originates the fruit of one’s labor (land was not created by anyone’s labor); if we’re going to restrict the franchise based on property ownership, it should be restricted to owners of IP and business and financial assets :).

No, feudalism is where property ownership is tied to military service and training, and property owners then may or may not have a voice in government (for varying values of strength of the monarch). What Anti-Gnostic proposes is merely the old fashion proprietarian democracy that came before the mass expansions of the franchise.

A franchise restricted on ownership of existing business assets would merely be a formalization of lobbyist democracy, or of right wing authoritarian systems where business is in alliance with autocrats. The systems which Libertarians always used to claim to hate (and which they used to claim are much exaggerated), back when they tried to bother with arguing that they were pro-market and pro-consumer, and not pro-business and pro-crony.

Feudalism was where political power was tied to land ownership; the sovereign was seen as having the same powers over the entire country as a private landlord would have over his plot, and this power would flow through to lower nobles who also had virtually absolute power over the people living on their land. Land ownership was not tied to military service, at least not by the landowner—most armies in feudal times still consisted of peasants who owned no land themselves but were considered part of the land of the nobles. Landowners had to provide troops to the king, but this usually meant sending the peasants living on their land.

The danger in applying libertarian principles to land ownership is a feudal system. After all, if there is an absolute right to private land ownership, then someone who owns all the land in a country can rule as an absolute monarch. Libertarian property principles should apply only to manmade wealth, not land or other natural resources.

The smiley face emoji indicates that my response was a tongue-in-cheek response to a presumably tongue-in-cheek proposal, I don’t actually support restricting the franchise to business owners, although that would be better than restricting the franchise to landowners.

No, in the ideal of feudalism, land ownership was tied to military service. Grants of land which were owned by the king (all land belongs to the king, in theory) were granted out in exchange for military fealty and service. It was not a system where lords owned and held land held legally independently of the king and independently of feudal obligations, or where lords were not in theory obliged to personally redeem their grant from him by personal service. This is feudalism 101. (In practice there are deviations from this system, and hence historians don't use it to describe states that existed so much, but this is the way the system works in theory).

Re; smiley face, sure, but there are "libertarians" who seriously argue for what you proposed in jest!


There is no such thing as a virtual country, which is why even IP holders like Mark Zuckerberg bought 900 acres of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and four of his neighbors' houses in Palo Alto, David Letterman has 2,000 acres in Montana for his family of three, and empty-nesters the Obamas have 15 acres on the Massachusetts coast.

Can you imagine telling a Jew that he can never "own" Zion, or a Scot that he doesn't actually "own" Scotland? Do you visit Nepal and tell the Nepalese they don't "own" the physical land of Nepal? Are you insane?

There's actually only two forms of government ever: democracy or patriarchy. Libertarians, being intellectual autists, can't wrap their heads around this.

Well, we tell Palestinians they can’t own land in Zion, Bhutanese they can’t own land in Nepal, and the borders of Scotland and England were fought over for hundreds of years—all of these land ownership issues were ultimately solved by military force. “Property belongs to whoever has more military force” is hardly a morally tenable theory of property rights.

What is the distinction you draw between democracy and patriarchy? It seems that the difference between the two is a gradient—at the one extreme you might have an absolute dictator, at the other all political decisions made by surveying the population. The scope of government is another such gradient—at the one extreme you could have a totalitarian state that dictates everything, at the other a state that does nothing but prevent civil war and invasion.

If we own our persons as evinced by primal repulsion to bodily assault, then by extension we own the fruits of our labors of which the ground we stake out is a part. That's as good a theory of property rights as any. But really, property rights don't show up until the farmers come along and kill the hunter-gatherers.

Fundamentally, a social order is either demotic or patriarchal. The US was founded along patriarchal lines: free, white, male property owners held the franchise.

I suppose there's an argument that Catherine the Great and Elizabeth I didn't preside over patriarchies but I don't think that would bear a lot of scrutiny. Ultimately every social order is upheld by the men. Peace and prosperity enable us to subdivide sovereign power into democracy and pretend otherwise.

"the borders of Scotland and England were fought over for hundreds of years": except that they were remarkably stable for hundreds of years - the oldest border in western Europe. The eastern part of the border, on the Tweed, was established at some time between 973 and 1018. Over succeeding decades the Scots seem quietly to have pushed part of it southward to the watershed of the Cheviot Hills. And that's where it sits still.

This is the correct reply, well done. Over 100 replies and only one that deals with freedom.

Less government involvement not more by random special interests is the correct answer.

Less democracy is interpreted by some as more political power for those who contribute unlimited amounts to politicians or more political power for politicians who have minority support in terms of the overall number of votes but win a majority of offices because of a skewed system of apportionment. If contributions were limited, as they once were, or if the majority of voters garnered a majority of elected offices, the reaction to Jones's speech would have been much more subdued. With the kind of skewed democracy we have, it's the tyranny of the minority, which isn't really democracy, is it?

Democracy doesn't scale. That's why we wrote federalism into the Constitution and the federal government was to be kept small enough that it didn't matter so much who was in charge of it.

I thought you were a lawyer. You should be more familiar with these concepts.

How old are you? "[W]e wrote the constitution . . . ." You and Jefferson? No, Jefferson wasn't there either.

Old enough to know that as a citizen of a State operating as a going concern, the term "we" with reference to the State's first citizens may be appropriated without confusion.

Not to mention bond packages. Ninety five percent of people have no idea how judge the issue on the ballot, and would happily delegate that task to their elected representatives.

I'm morbidly curious about the kinds of people who get so worked up about what some random college professor said that they join in these email/voicemail mobs. Lots of stuff people say annoys me, but I have never had the urge to call anyone and rant to a machine about it. Sad!

For some years I worked with a person who was mentally challenged in what I was sure was an obvious enough way that others should quickly intuit her difference, make allowance for it, and if anything be impressed with how well she compensated for it.

Time and again I found she was the object of puzzlement or annoyance ... a few times customers even lodged complaints about her.

I was prepared to consider people's reaction to her an IQ test of themselves, but so many people failed it didn't really work.

Likewise, I would not dedicate a book to a mentally ill stranger who had left a phone rant, as that would seem to be the least salient possible thing you could draw attention to in a book on public affairs - someone's personal, private misfortune of having a screw loose - unless you were specifically interested in the interplay of mental health and a "free" society.

I'm morbidly curious about the kinds of people who get so worked up about what some random college professor said that they post responses on their blogs. Lots of stuff people say annoys me, but I have never had the urge to write it down and rant to a web server about it. Sad!

There's more time, effort, and intentionality involved in tracking down an email address/phone number and firing off angry denunciations than there is in just hitting the reply button here. That's why I also didn't mention Twitter mobs...those, I can at least sort of understand, because Twitter makes it easy to do that kind of thing, and impulsivity and technology aren't the greatest combination. But searching google for somebody's employer's phone number, whipping out the cell phone, and calling and leaving angry messages...that feels like it's in a different category.

So would 10% or 90% less Twitter be the most desirable goal?

I thought your question was more about what motivates, rather than the effort involved, and I thought that the motivation was self evident.

As for effort, it likely took you longer and more intentionality for you to respond than it was for me or that caller to find his phone number:

"Hey, Siri, what is Garrett Jones at George Mason University's phone number?"

"Here it is: XXX-XXX-XXXX. Do you want me to call it?"


I didn't leave a message, though.

Yeah, that's fair. I don't use Google Assistant, so these fancypants modern labor-saving devices often do not enter into my thinking. One other facet of this, though, that I suppose I neglected to mention explicitly is that there's a significant bullying/intimidation element involved in that type of behavior that I find both repelling and pathetic. Spending any time whatsoever attempting to harass random individuals who hold opinions you find irritating is not a good way to spend your time, generally, because a mob can only focus its ill-intent on one or maybe a few individuals at once, so from a purely practical standpoint, it's rather inefficient, but more importantly, it's just juvenile. Persuasion and refutation are the tools mature adults use to deal with opinions they find repugnant. Intimidation is the tool of witless would-be thugs.

No, just no. The “elites” demonstrate every day that their interests are increasingly divorced from those of the nation, state, and community, and that the “elite” aren’t very elite to begin with.

Decisions should be made as locally as possible; citizen first, then town, then county, then state, then finally national.

What cure might Jones propose for the self-aggrandizing ways of our numerous elites?

I would trust our tawdry elites only to enhance their self-aggrandizing ways if our faltering democracy were to cede even more power and influence to them (OR: as long as elites whisper soothing words about the intrinsic merits of any technocracy they might volunteer to manage).

While their total numbers are fewer, our elites know full well how to amass and direct money, influence, and some actual political power in and through our unwieldy polity, actions that accrue to their narrow class interests, no surprise.

Our elites have not shown themselves or the rest of us to be totally trustworthy insofar as their self-aggrandizing interests keep the rest of America stultified, infantilized, and anaesthetized.

Can our elite classes regenerate? Looks doubtful.

Conversely, if you have no expectation of virtue, you will not select for any.

Leading, in iterations, to less and less.

Still waiting for the FBI folks to resign following the exposure of systematic FISA court abuses. Of course, they already missed the chance to resign rather than participate in the abuse.

Virtue seems in short supply.

That was a partisan fail, and not living up to Alex's call for rationality.

(If it was, you'd have already named which prominent ex-FBI official had done a mea cupla, and acknowledged that the conclusions of the Mueller Report were unaffected.)

Here’s a nonpartisan take:

Eliminate the FISA kangaroo courts. Eliminate the Patriot Act.

The threat of terrorism has been overblown and warped to create a surveillance state with little to no accountability. If they screwed up this much on a high profile case, what happens when the POI is random Pakistani immigrant X?

I don't really have an opinion on that. Presumably there were ways, before FISA and the Patriot Act for the FBI and CIA to get legal wiretaps, secretly. It would have to be secretly, or the Russians etc. would just assign someone to read court filings.

I'm for privacy, and strong encryption by individuals, but also the competing right of investigators to try to figure it all out.

All wiretaps start out secretly, whether a local drug ring or spies. You don’t need the FISA court for these.

Using the FISA rubber stamp to wiretap Americans is completely ridiculous and Kafkaesque.

This has nothing to do with muh Russians. Their calls and data are collected regardless of FISA. This is specifically targeted at American citizens.

The FISA court abuses were certain given the abuses that Cheney, et al, did that got coded in law, then revisited, and recoded in law, in the name of "keeping us safe". And Trump campaigned with the promise of going back to Cheney et al, going further than Cheney et al in attacking McCain who supported FISA while admitting the likely abuse.

This got lots of debate over the past two decades, but the debate has gone on for much longer, as in the legality of public access to crypto during the Reagan years, leading to FBI, et al, hounding of those not as extreme as Zimmerman (PGP), debates I followed. I was a kid and unaware of Hoover's abuses until that came out with Nixon's administration and Hoover's death.

I wonder how Hoover would view Trump? Ally? Enemy? Puppet? No question Hoover's FBI file on Trump would be massive.

This is why Mulp needs a blog. I want a full write up on the Hoover/Trump paragraph. That little tidbit was far too big of a tease.

"This is why Mulp needs a blog."

+1, I'd support that as long as it comes with a firm commitment to have substantial daily content.

YES!! And I don’t want the blog to be too narrow. I want more of a random thought of the day. Give me that and it’s the first place I stop every day.

LOL at imagining the Democrats will nominate Gabbard or Yang. You know, actually thoughtful candidates.

Step on board the No Malarkey express, my friend. And no lollygagging!

Instead of 10% less democracy, pushing the responsibilities to unelected persons, how about 10% less government? Same effect as intended, but better results. (OK, go ahead and counter me at 20%)

This is do plainly the correct and conservative first step that one assumes or hopes that it is addressed in the book.

There is also the obvious irony in the fact that his current "elite" would die on the very hill of subsidizing and incentivizing all manner of antisocial behavior of which his foreword anecdote is but a fairly mild - at this juncture - example.

Ron Paul is a virtuous individual; you should have elected him.

Since you didn't, I'm voting for the sonuvabitch who hates my enemies.


Someone who describes those who vote for different people as 'enemies', and who 'hates' them, is going to be anti-democratic. It's all a Hobbesian war to you. It's a miserable way to live, but thankfully you are harmless.

The Democratic agenda is quite clear. There is no way I am going to vote for anybody who thinks I have too much unearned privilege and therefore the arc of the moral universe mandates that they confiscate it.

Miserable, but harmless.

Quite whining, Boomer.

Pop a couple Viagra, go jerk off, and STFU.

In the abstract, I agree. But regarding the current American situation, no, the elites deserve, if not the guillotine, then certainly an early retirement. Aristocracy is good to the extent it is operated for the common good. The American version is an odd mix of corruption with confidant moral authority and sincere but delusional high-minded rhetoric. They do not even pretend to act in the interests of regular Americans, a target they regard as backwards and provincial. They favor a globalist Utopianism that just happens to include lots of war and globalization of the capital and labor markets.

No one should be under the delusion that America is democratic in any meaningful sense. Notice how when Trump (a non-approved candidate) somehow managed to win (an anomaly that they will be sure never to allow again) that he was immediately brought to heel by the deep state, the kritarchy, and the media all working in furious tandem. Note that Obama as well ran on a non interventionalist foreign policy but was ultimately pushed toward the typical deeply unpopular neo-con policies.

Thread winner!

We are on to the games of the elite in the USA, UK, Australia, France, Italy , ...

They can run, but they can't hide.

Not even New Zealand wants them anymore.

Alex, are you really interested in actually reviewing this book critically? If so, do so. Puff pieces for advertising purposes convince no one.

My take is, judging by his twitter feed and comments, I don't see much from Jones that tends to suggest that he actually has much understanding of the real benefits and goals of democracy.

His argument mostly seem to boil down to "Experts tend to have better knowledge of the facts in survey, and we can show sometimes better performance with less public involvement over short time spans, so who needs accountability in the longer term?". Not really much thinking or understanding of the significant problems lack of accountability generates for corruption and cronyism (which given he tends to rather naively attribute this to a lack of IQ's benefits on large scale cooperation, so why would he understand it? Xi Jinping's crony kingdom will remain mysteriously inexplicable to him), for the public's willingness to fund a state for which they have no input on its values or involvement in forming its policies, or for the ability of democratic states to co-opt and neutralize potentially violent radical movements.

Seems like gilding the lily for the authoritarians who propose virtue, education, expertise and "merit" as alternatives to democratic selection.

If Jones wanted to make a very robust defense of liberal democracy that was completely mainstream and orthodox, then *nevertheless* to propose it had overreached at the margins, that would be one thing. As it is, he does nothing of the sort, while the guy stans for Singapore and LKY on twitter, so I'm less than inclined to believe he *really* sincerely only wants "10% less democracy" at the margins.

But what's the experience of anyone who has actually read this thing?

The US Constitution plus the mandated State charters are probably at least "20% less democratic" in merely requiring republican government, specifying layers of mob rule to elite rule. I live in New Hampshire with a massive elected mob, an elected elite, an elite 5, a governor elite with two year leash, and judge elites to hinder them all. By tradition, local rule was town meeting, most democratic, but that's fading because the cost to the people is too high because not participating always leads to bad things when self annointed elites decide to do God's work. My town has had its minute of national fame several times. Followed by Corrections.

More perfect. Bends toward justice. There is no magic bullet.

LOL you live in a 93% white State. Quit yer belly-achin or move.

Giving unelected bureaucrats greater scope and less accountability seems like a pretty bad idea in light of what know about the secret FISA court and the activities of the FBI and CIA (both recently and throughout their rather sordid histories). Do we want to make, say, the Chicago Police Department less accountable to democracy given the stellar, professional job that they've been doing?

This guy gets it.

But see, Alex thinks the Deep State are THE GOOD GUYS. They keep working for the Dems even when the people mess up and reject Dems.

As I've said in previous posts on this book, call me when we get to 90% less democracy.

I'm an engineer. Consequently, I tend to look at governance from a systems control standpoint. To me, democracy is an essential feedback mechanism required to control and moderate the power and actions of the state. Too little feedback, and the system can't respond to change in the environment, with the result that it runs off the rails or blows up. Too much feedback, however, and you get unstable control, with ever increasing wild oscillations. The places that don't have democratic institutions are repressive and subject to explosive regime change. On the other hand, too much democracy leads to polarization and oscillation between policy extremes, often followed by stabilization at repressive and unpleasant governance attractors.

So democracy is important. However, it can probably be optimized. The reverence we place in it is often quasi-religious, misplaced or out of context.

Following up on that note, it's quite possible Garett Jones is correct. However, he needs to prove it via real world changes at a small scale.

10 percent more of those guys in the Afghanistan papers

+1 (Good reporting by Craig Whitlock and credit for once to the Washington Post even if the motivation of the latter was mainly nostalgia for the Pentagon Papers and paranoia and an era era when journalists were riding high.)

A civilian hopefully has the requisite humility not to dismiss out of hand whatever safety or stability was gained overall by the endless war and a certain amount of cheerleading for it, to get Americans to go along with its peculiar, inconsistent aims - but I was struck by the litany of statements that amounted to this one: "Regardless of conditions on the ground, they claimed they were making progress."

It's hard to compare when the military side includes an inarguable list of casualties, American and other, but I think this tendency - an unwillingness to reverse course, ever - is equally strong on the domestic front, likely even more pernicious, and unlikely to improve with "10% less" democracy. Because it's not the voters, it's the best and brightest who've had all these bright ideas, such as a complete reframing of citizenship, for instance - and it is they whose interests are bound up in defending them at any cost.

Good point. Trump and his thugs would do well to take those words seriously.

Good points. Yet, those reforms and measures, implemented at neckbreaking speed in a democracy, get neither respect nor attention from the gatekeepers of America's public opinion. It is disgusting.

The concept of a bill of rights is profoundly anti-democratic. Tyranny of the majority is an actual thing, as our Founders knew and as the Jim Crow South demonstrated.

The worship of democracy might be the dumbest religion yet.

+1, both of these are excellent points

Wasn't there the predictable Churchill quip here a while ago?

The USA is not a democracy - it is a republic, if we can keep it.

It was designed for a "virtuous people", not bums who want to vote themselves benefits out of the public treasury.

Now the cool kids make their loot being unregistered foreign agents. Times have changed.

That's just your wealth envy talking. I earned every dollar I made!

I always thought the USA was designed with the idea that people weren't all that virtuous.

"A virtuous people"
I.e. one united people--a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.

It is interesting that among my white young male patients who are on the spectrum and highly intelligent...the majority of them strongly believe in stuff like this, as well as Evo Psych.

I don't think it is a sock puppet. I think the American people is waking up to the systemic injusticies it has been suffering.

Some states in the US have much more limited systems of referenda, initiative, and so forth. Do they produce better governance? In the case of North Carolina, since referenda can only be considered after being referred by the General Assembly, and the governor has no power over redistricting (legacies of the century of Democratic control when the veto was finally added-- by a referendum written and referred by the General Assembly), the elected NC Supreme Court judges are the only way to overturn gerrymanders. (Which happened both in 2009, Republican judges overturning a century of gerrymandering by the Ds, and then again this year as Democrats recaptured the Supreme Court.)

That suggests that the "10%" of course is limited, and that since NC limits some things like referenda, elected judges are a necessary democratic check. Not necessarily true in other states.

>"in most of the rich countries, we’ve taken democracy, mass voter involvement in government, at least a little too far. "

Gee, I wonder why it's the rich countries that have this "problem."

"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

Related to the above: https://www.acsh.org/news/2019/12/17/activist-legal-complex-will-destroy-american-science-and-industry-14463

10% Less Liberalization: Why you should trust the elites a little more and the markets a little less

by DF

I seriously wonder if I could write a companion book to Professor Jones' based on a simple word mapping like this. Professor Tabarrok, will you blurb it for me if I do?

The author proposes to give more weight to the opinions of "stakeholders with real skin in the game". In dilemmas of nuclear war, land distribution, taxes, interest rates, etc. everybody is an interested party, a stakeholder. Democracy should work wonderfully if everybody was informed and intelligent and resistant to mass media suggestion. It does not when a parasitic majority votes the taxes, or non-paying residents vote the water tariffs.

The Progressive ideal has always been that we'd get better government if only more day-to-day work could be delegated to experts, and especially if so these experts could be insulated from the tumult of electoral politics. It's a strain of Progressivism that goes all the way back to La Follette, Woodrow Wilson and onward into the New Deal.

Yet what, exactly, has it ever given us? When one looks at actually-existing examples of this ideal one finds institutions like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey: huge bureaucracies with massive budgets and seemingly endless "because I say so!" discretion. Yet somehow one never finds anything approaching the hoped-for quiet competence of experts going about their work. Instead one finds massive waste and incompetence; huge budget ruptures and an ongoing inability to actually complete large projects anywhere close to on-time and on-budget (and sometimes not at all).

Perhaps after a century of failures it is time to let this fantasy die?

Unless one wishes to retreat into a "but if only these experts were given a larger budget and more authority all would have worked out excellently!" wishful thinking, of course.

+1 Very well said.

Unfortunate timing for such a book, when public trust in institutions has plummeted (rightfully so, IMO) and policies that voters didn't really want but elites did (third-world legal and illegal immigration post 1965) in the US and Europe, appear to be the primary cause (see Kaufman, "Whiteshift") of what's looking like very bad times ahead.

The public must sense genuine noblesse oblige
from the ruling class for anything like this to not appear laughable.

Great, another economist who thinks he's a political scientist.

Which areas of American life are run the most by experts and the least by average Americans?

I would nominate healthcare, education, and infrastructure. All of these are run pretty much without direct input from the hoi polloi. After all, how often do the people vote on what their insurance should cover or where to have EDs vs urgent care? We cannot even make the argument that the people vote as consumers because the vast majority outsource their market decisions to their employers who outsource them to benefits managers who often outsource them to further specialists.

How about education? Well everyone who teaches is supposed to me exert at education than the masses. The administration of the colleges are all highly trained and recognized as experts. Consumers outsource the "vetting" of their K-12 to teacher licensure boards, the hiring committees are staffed with fellow experts, and the administration is universally supposed to have teaching credentials. The days where a local, non-credentialed school board handles any sort of decisions about who runs education are long gone. On the college side, again we have all manner of experts running the place, controlling all the hiring committees, and the quality control comes from accreditation organizations staffed by experts. As far as being consumers? Please. In public K-12 you are assigned your school or at best get a lottery shot. For College in order to "buy" the product you have to get past a committee staffed by "experts".

How about infrastructure? Again we are not having the public vote on where to build roads, when to replace bridges, or what environmental impacts are too severe. At most, the public votes on infrastructure strictly in the sense of "should we pay more or less", and only rarely about how or what to prioritize.

Do any of these sectors seem to be particularly better run that something like say housing? Where the US has pretty low ratios of ownership to income ratios. In spite of the much decried NIMBY zoning issues, we still have ample stock and many places are expanding in direct response to demand (and not just in the Sunbelt; Columbus and Indianapolis seem to be doing quite well). Frankly the places doing worst at building the sorts of homes people want at affordable prices are precisely those places where more of housing policy is handled in depth by experts rather than by non-expert elected officials.

Or perhaps we might look at cars, where people vote very directly with their purchases; somehow we can build cars in great number with few defects and without blowing several multiples of the inflation rate.

We have places with 10% less democracy in the economy. Are any of them doing even 10% better than the rest? Maybe the problem is that the experts get captured by the political process, well okay, but how exactly would this not be captured after a 10% reduction in democracy as well?

Truth is, running a democracy has pretty good results. Running the place by experts somehow does not. Maybe it is all coincidence, but I need some awfully good reasons to doubt the objective track records on display.

....that where to build roads, when to replace bridges, which teachers to hire, what medical insurance should cover, and so on should be accomplished by a popular vote?

"...which teachers to hire, what medical insurance should cover..."

But these things shouldn't be decided by government at all. Which teachers to hire shouldn't be a government decision any more than which waiters to hire or which free agents the Yankees should sign. What medical insurance should cover should be left between the customer and insurance company (just as I can decide on what features and coverages I want on my home, life, and auto insurance).

Garret Jones is right in wanting less democracy in the sense of wanting fewer things to be decided collectively (even when the collective decision is made by democratic majority rule).

That's a solid point, I agree. One of the utopian promises of technology is that more and more decision making can be done individually (such as designing your own curriculum, or insurance for example). We'll see if we get there.

Teachers to hire? Absolutely. I am a big believer in letting parents decide and that schools should be run by local control.

Medical insurance coverage? The best data suggests to me that we would be better off with something that provides more direct pricing feedback. Certainly on the provider side the most asinine things were all driven by exactly the sort of "experts" discussed. JACHO, for instance routinely increases my costs because their formula are based on hospitals very different from the ones where I work. Likewise, our licensure exams and CME have been used repeatedly by the "experts" who control licensure as cash cows (e.g. the American Board of Internal Medicine increased the CME requirements for that specialty just to cover shortfalls in their budget).

Bridge replacement? Ahh yes, something actually useful for an expert.

However, I am not against using experts for their own opinion. After all, you can most likely treat 80% of the stuff that brings you to my place of work just fine, you are just paying for expertise to not die to the other 20%.

What I dislike is the degree to which this sort of planning is conducted by siloed experts all the way down. Again, my area is medicine. To get into Medical school you get evaluated by specialists in academic aedicine and related fields. You get evaluated by tests written by specialists drawn from the same lots. You then get evaluated for residencies that are mostly drawn from the same lots. You then get licensure based on jumping through the hoops of specialists drawn from the same lots and then pay for your CME from the same sources to maintain it. The regs guiding actual praxis of medicine, also written by the same folks. By the time a physician gets to send out an independent bill, they are seven or eight layers deep where each of those layers is controlled by two or three layers, all of experts delineating things.

Frankly, the answer is going to be goldilock. Management at some top level by the masses and some small number of experts conferring in the middle is quite fine; the problem comes from the fact that education, infrastructure, and medicine are all among the most expert managed domains in modern life.

Is it possible that these are the only areas of American life with too many experts running the show? Maybe, but my suspicion is that the goldilocks zone is well past. After all, these are the areas we believe are the most important in life ... and they are overburdened with expert management.

Particular bridges and roads? Impractical. The opportunity cost of doing it right (with deliberation, with public information, with a fair vote) is too high, less than citizens being worse; it's inefficient and impractical, not qualitatively worse assuming a lack of time and money resource constraints.

The general budget of infrastructure spending in a country and where it goes? Probably best to put in the hands of elected representatives, yeah. Better than Chinese bridges to nowhere and empty cities, right? The principle that citizens are best placed to inform the broad architecture of these decisions seems a stronger principle than leaving it to a gaggle of colluding SimCity enthusiasts, construction unions and transport businesses.

NIMBY is too much democracy in that instead of having a right to build on your property unless the circumstances are strong (noise, odor, pollution) against it, the right has been replaced with a democratic vote to allow or disallow for any reason.

Just ask yourself a simple question -- would increased rule by the "elites" under current conditions in the US more closely resemble booming Texas or struggling Illinois?

The irony of course, is that rule by the elites would mean rule by the very people who left spittle flecked voicemails on Professor Jones' phone.

Those people are 'elite' to you?

> By the way, the title of Garett’s book might sound inflammatory

Really? Does anyone reading this consider it inflammatory?

I don’t think we should concede this ‘sounds inflammatory’ because we believe some people think it ‘sounds inflammatory’. It seems well within reasonable bounds of debate to me.

Of course, the premise -- "have less democracy" -- is politically masochistic and it's no surprise the author has received hate mail. But many of the actual propositions are commonsense and reasonable. There's no need to elect judges or sheriffs. Elections absolutely should be regulated by an independent commission, rather than having politicians draw the lines themselves. Etc. There are many areas where independent professionals would operate more efficiently and ethically than politicians desperate to hang on past the next election.

I hope there will be a sequel titled "10% Less Free Speech" going after Citizens United, Nazi demonstrations, and related nonsense currently protected by the First Amendment.

And maybe "10% Less Free Press" going after all these rabble rousing websites, twitter, etc.

And "10% Less Guns" going after semi-auto rifles and hand guns.

And "10% Less Religion" going after those nutty Scientologists and Mormons.

And "10% Less Assembly" getting those protestors and strikers off the streets.

And "10% Less protections from Unreasonable Search and Seizures" ... wait, I think we already enacted that one.

I suspect the backers of GMU would prefer that number to be 100% less.

I am curious about the ideology of the hate emailers and phone ranters who found Jones' talk so objectionable. (Or whose ire was provoked by the articles they read, it sounds like the articles were slanted or inaccurate.)

Were they populists who distrust the bureaucrats more than they distrust their elected representatives? That seems to be where the preponderance of the comments here on MR are coming from.

Libertarians, including some of the commenters here, object to big government period, but I don't see Jones' book as increasing the size or scope of government.

Advocates of pure democracy would certainly object, but I don't think enough of those people exist to even call it an ideology.

Or was the ire coming from leftists, who like the populists might distrust the bureaucrats. Or were fed a distorted story about his talk. As with the libertarians, I don't see the topic as inherently friendly or unfriendly to their cause.

"Libertarians, including some of the commenters here, object to big government period, but I don't see Jones' book as increasing the size or scope of government."

It's not that it increases the size of the government, it's that it potentially reduces the accountability of the US government. And that's an issue that's all over the headlines just this month.

We have proof that the FBI was lying and altering documentation to allow surveillance of American citizens. Probably, (though not provably) because they disliked the President.

The FBI are the type of experts that the book is recommending to which we give more power.

It sounds interesting, but it's not obvious to me based on your blurb that he's passed a representation test, nor does it seem like an invitation for polite and rational discussion. Are the people who write hate emails representative of the masses or an outlier within a larger group? And first impressions about elites... fossil fuels subsidies, fossil fuels lobby (isn't it 400K/ day in the USA?), CDOs, Harvard admissions scandal, and that old Alan Greenspan quote about how most people are parasites. These initial thoughts are almost certainly a glossing over of elites, but nothing in the title or blurb makes me think the author is prepared to consider these thoughts. And what is a title like 10% Less Democracy trying to achieve if not emotional provocation? It suggests a sort of coy, or smug, trolling. His complaints about impolite social media disdain are surprising given that the response seems not only predictable but intended.

As I understand it, the argument is that a professionally managed monopoly is somewhat better than a collectively managed one - at least when measured by economic efficiency. But in the large empire class politities that dominate our world like the US, China or the EU, both are effectively monopolies. What is truly needed is a broader, more robust market in governance. Like the one on the US founders established and the Federal monopoly has destroyed. My slogan is "Break it up, break it all up". Because musical chairs is a child's game.

Honestly, at this point I can tell Tabarrok's posts from, literally, the SHAPE OF THE TEXT.

"Aren’t two year terms a little short in the modern age?"

Omigod, no! There should be 12 year limits on U.S. Representatives and Senators (although they should both be allowed to come back for 12 more, after at least one term out of office...absolute limit of 24 years). And there should be 18 year limits on Supreme Court judges (with each Presidential term being guaranteed one nomination after 6 months, and another after 2 years and 6 months).

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