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Election Boilerplate

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Nobody.really Nov 8 2018 at 2:16am “As Churchill remarked, democracy is the worst form of government yet devised–except for all the others.” I find such platitudinous defenses of democracy intellectually empty. And thus the better form of government is…? We should sing praises of separation of powers, federalism, and checks and balances first. And democracy is inconsistent with separation of powers, federalism, and checks and balances because…? I’d rather live in a non-democratic country that has those features than a democratic one that lacks them any day. For example…? Just compare less democratic 18th century parliamentary Britain with more democratic

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nobody.really
Nov 8 2018 at 2:16am

“As Churchill remarked, democracy is the worst form of government yet devised–except for all the others.”

I find such platitudinous defenses of democracy intellectually empty.

And thus the better form of government is…?

We should sing praises of separation of powers, federalism, and checks and balances first.

And democracy is inconsistent with separation of powers, federalism, and checks and balances because…?

I’d rather live in a non-democratic country that has those features than a democratic one that lacks them any day.

For example…?

Just compare less democratic 18th century parliamentary Britain with more democratic revolutionary France. This system of government works precisely because it shackles the activity of government and leads to stability….

As you praise 18th century Britain for promoting stability, do you also praise contemporary Britain? And if not, what does this say about putative stability of 18th century Britain?

…not because the people are wise.

Who said anything about people being wise?

Last I checked, every one of those 18th century British parliamentarians were also people. What makes a system in which the people (wise or not) have no say in picking their leaders (wise or not) preferable to a system where they do?

That said, I largely share your perspectives, if not your conclusion. For example, I favor a judiciary that is not democratically accountable. But I don’t regard these criticisms as a rejection of democracy, but as a preference for certain features of government that are wholly consistent with (but not always included with) democracy.

Nevertheless, I suspect democracy has features you value that you overlook.

First, I like stability, too. Democracy is the mechanism by which we persuade people that the rulers exercise power legitimately. Is this legitimization all just a fairy tale, a national myth? Who cares? The point is not that the story is true; the point is that it succeeds in persuading (most) opponents of government to channel their frustrations into ballots rather than bullets. An autocracy with perfect separation of powers, federalism, and checks and balances will still lack this mechanism for legitimization, and thus will be prone to violent overthrow.

Second, in the absence of a mechanism for accountability to the public, autocracy will not long remain perfect. The virtue of democracy is not its perfection, or lack of arbitrary qualities. Rather, the virtue of democracy, like the virtue of science, is the mechanism for continual refinement. Which other systems have that?

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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