Thursday, January 31, 2008

Democracy is very bad at fine-tuning the details of economic policy

I believe that we should revere democracy as one of the modern world's greatest achievements...That all said, we should not demand from democracy what democracy cannot provide.
Democracy is pretty good at pushing scoundrels out of office, or checking them once they are in office. Democracy is also good at making sure enough interest groups are bought off so that social order may continue and that a broad if sometimes inane social consensus can be manufactured and maintained. We should expect all those things of democracy and indeed democracy can, for the most part, deliver them.
But democracy is very bad at fine-tuning the details of economic policy. Democracy is very bad at bringing about political solutions which are not congruent with the other sources of economic and social influence in a country. The solution is not to be less democratic, but rather to appreciate democracy for what it is good for. And the excesses of democracy should be fought with ideas, albeit with the realization that not everyone will be convinced. Those are the breaks, as democracy needs all the friends it can get...
Social democrats and progressives often view democracy as a potential instrument of control, and as a way of giving us "the best policies." I do not, and that includes for my own economic views as well. Here is Matt Yglesias on libertarianism and democracy. Here is a Hilton Root review of the new Michael Mandelbaum book praising democracy.

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