How Democracies restrict your individual freedom
Western Democracies take great pride in extending universal suffrage to all their citizens. The right to elect one’s leaders is even considered the quintessential hallmark of freedom. Millions of people around the world have throughout history been willing to risk life and limb to fight for this right.
So, why would anyone with his head screwed on straight question this concept of divine virtue? Because, as is argued below, the pillar of Democracy, namely majority decision-making is highly incompatible with individual freedom. The former must essentially come at the expense of the latter.
From Athens to Washington
The critique of Democracy is as old as Democracy itself. James Madison, one of the founding fathers, observed that Athens’ direct democracy had been unstable and relatively short-lived, whereas Rome’s Republican variety lasted much longer. (Direct Democracy, Economist 2009)
America thus sought to tame Madison’s Tyrannical majority by creating a Republic that protected specific individual rights. Thus constitutional representative democracy became the order of the day and the model for others to follow. So far so good, most of us don’t have time to bother with the day-to-day decisions of governance anyway.
Still, let’s see what this means in practice. We elect representatives to do the decision making for us whilst we still keep certain inalienable rights. In America that means the right to bear arms and the right to say whatever you want, just to mention two often-cited examples. One right, which is potentially the most important of all, the rights to keep and enjoy the fruits of your own labor, is conspicuously absent.
Once elected, these representatives, then vote, often along party lines, on new laws that affect how we will have to live our lives from then on. And this is where your individual liberties start to whither away. These parliamentarians (Congressmen in the US) vote on how much of your house you really own, as an increase in property taxes really means that you own a corresponding percentage figure less of it than you did the previous fiscal year.
They vote on how much of your own sweat and toil you are allowed to keep. A 40% income tax, by extension means you only own and get to keep 60% of your own labor. Last and possibly even worst, they don’t vote on, but arbitrarily decide what size their own bureaucratic ranks will be allowed to swell to, again at the expense of your personal finances.
Now, most people still accept this. You do get some public goods and services in return after all. Still, the more you dig underneath the surface of this puzzling status quo, the stranger it is that so few people dare openly challenge this individual freedom restricting agenda.
The Democratic mirage of alternatives
Instead, scholars, journalists and politicians argue that democratic elections make us free and the division of power protects us from arbitrary decisions made by government. In other words, representative democracy safeguards our individual liberties.
Violating administrations will be swiftly voted out of office. That however presupposes that we actually have a choice to make and something to elect at the expense of an alternative. But what kind of choice do we really have, when as in most parliamentary elections across the European continent, you get the choice between big government, bigger government and biggest government?
In other words, less individual rights, even less individual choices to make and less economic freedom than your pre-tax paycheck dictates you could have had. In elections all over the old continent, and even across the Atlantic to the New World, voters are left with basically no choice.
Governments from France’s, who accounts for a greedy 55 percent of GDP, to Sweden’s, who is also a relative monstrosity at 45, have all fortified their positions and stranglehold on society’s, read citizen’s, personal wealth.
“That’s fine”, responds the ever-loyal yet condescending Eurocrat. Those that don’t like it can start their own political party or become members of a national parliament to work and change the rules of the game.
This willfully ignorant statement however ignores one inconvenient fact. Namely, that the rules of the game are unchangeable and that the system is rigged. Rigged in favor of big government. Rigged in favor of ever growing public expenses. Rigged in favor of ever growing bureaucratic obesity and inefficiency. Rigged at the expense of your personal finances and individual liberty.
Unfair is the new fair, or so we’re told
So why exactly can’t big government majority rule systems co-exist with individual liberty? Let’s take a closer look and re-new Madison’s notion of the Tyranny of the Majority in the light of the word fair.
What constitutes fair is a highly subjective and arbitrary topic. It also lies at the core of the concept of individual liberty, as fairness will vary from person to person. Yet this is ignored in our contemporary democracies.
What is fairness in our current political system? It is simply what the 51% decide to do at the expense of the 49 with the caveat that if the figures increase to an 80-20 decision, leaders and subjects alike will proclaim the election even fairer!
The tyranny of the majority
The whole democratic system is built upon this at best rather spurious utilitarian principle that the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people is the epitome of equity. Now you might whole-heartedly agree with this assertion. That is until you find yourself in the un-fancied position of the minority 49 percent.
If you recall the loyal servant of the system from a few paragraphs back and his claim that you should start your own party or join parliament if this is so terrible. Let’s say that you do just that and you garner support from 10% of the electorate. That still leaves you a whole 41 percentage points away from the levers of power.
Form a coalition with other parties you say? Then your original goals are going to be so diluted that they will hardly be worth pushing for once you’ve watered them down at the insistence of your coalition partners. You’d also have to contend with the legislative agenda of other parties.
Suffice is to say that the only thing you’d be able to implement would be cost enhancing rather than cost cutting policies. Each party will defend their pet projects vehemently.
This leads to the natural conclusion that in parliamentary representative democracies, any minority is allowed to be part of the decision making process, but no one is allowed to really decide or change anything. You’re only allowed to add and increase. You as a minority, let’s call you a Marxist, are allowed to stand in an election with your Marxian agenda.
But unless you can garner support from 51% of the electorate, you will not be allowed to implement your stated agenda. You will have to continue paying your exorbitant tax rates just like everyone else and abide by the restrictions the majority elected government places upon your individual liberty to live as a Marxist. You can live with your personal belief in the ideology, but you will not be allowed to implement them in practice.
You won’t make a difference unless you can somehow become the new oppressive 51 percent. In that advent, you’d be a happy camper, so would the 51 percent of the electorate that voted you into power (before they realize the folly of Marxism that is) and share your governing principles. The losing 49% however would be left without their choice of regime and lifestyle.
The limited government alternative
So what’s the solution? The solution is to create a society so free that anyone who’d want to live as a socialist could do so. At the same time, those that want maximum Libertarian freedom should have equal rights to realize that ideal.
Is such a society utopian and unachievable in contemporary democracies? Yes it is, considering that everyone today have to conform to the will of the majority. We only conform and accept this however, due to lack of a viable alternative. Or more correctly our blissfully ignorant belief in the lack thereof.
In a free society governed by an extremely limited government, such an agenda is fully implementable. The US early on in its existence closely resembled such a society and enjoyed fantastic results.
To create such a free society today, all you’d need would be a state guarantee that you and your like-minded peers would not be punitively taxed or have to abide by the national government’s one-size fits all dictatorial laws. Then you could set off to create your own commune if you so wished. The trade off would obviously be no government subsidies or financial assistance of any kind once the break was final.
Suppose a group of 3000 ardent Communists decide to create their own community. Such a society of like-minded people sharing everything and living in a commune is the exact opposite of the kind of society a libertarian would espouse as ideal.
Yet, libertarians still accept and would even support, anyone who sees such a society worth creating. Today’s social democracies however deny groups of people whom do not share societies’ big government social democratic ideals, the option to live according to their political ideology of choice.
Therein lies the crux of my beef with contemporary representative majority rule democracy. You’re only allowed to live like a big government-loving socialist. Living as a libertarian with low taxes and maximum freedom is not possible or even legal.
On the flip side, in a Libertarian society you could live as a communist, socialist or statist, whichever you prefer, within the same national boundaries.
In the former, which closely resembles Western Europe today, one-size fits all through government decrees and the courts system. In the latter, all can fit into various shapes and sizes.
The attraction of individual liberty and choice
Individual freedom should be held up as the highest goal to strive for in any national polity. It should be the gold standard we measure progress and life in any régime against. Our current utilitarian Democratic arrangement on the contrary does not strive towards advancing the cause of individual liberty.
Instead, governments go for conformity in political culture, not diversity. They require servile and obedient subjects, not creative and independent citizens. Any polity man is able to conjure into existence may be unable to ensure one hundred percent citizen satisfaction.
Freedom and fairness are both arbitrary concepts. So are degrees of contentedness. Still, one must recognize that neither fairness nor freedom has anything to do with what the majority decides at the expense of the minority. Libertarians recognize this. Our current political system and social democratic governments do not.