Mixing Ignorance and Democracy

Many Americans won't learn the most rudimentary facts about the people running for office and the policy issues they will have to address.

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This is an election year, which means all of us will spend the next few months carefully following the campaigns, finding out all we can about the candidates' proposals and pondering what issues are most vital for the nation's future.

Just kidding. Most of us wouldn't do that if you Tased us to within an inch of our lives.

In fact, many won't learn the most rudimentary facts about the people running for office and the policy issues they will have to address. Some of us will jump to believe any half-baked rumor or stereotype that confirms our prejudices.

We'll vote to reward or punish incumbents for events that they have nothing to do with. Some voters won't even find out the names of the people running for many offices. In short, the citizenry as a whole will carry out what looks like a giant cartoon parody of democracy.

Our form of government is one of those inventions that often look much better in concept than in practice. We see ourselves as a sober, enlightened people who jealously guard the national ideals and voting prerogatives for which our forebears died. We trust that our sound principles and attention to current events will yield good government in the end.

But we rarely live up to our self-image. There is a consistently large gap between what people need to know and what they actually do know.

Most think the federal budget is too big, but the only program a majority wants to cut is foreign aid—which makes up about 1 percent of spending. Voters think taxes are too high but don't realize they've been reduced. One reason Americans supported the invasion of Iraq was that most of them had the erroneous idea that Saddam Hussein carried out the 9/11 attacks.

It's not just the issues of the day that flummox people. Most Americans don't know the three branches of government. They don't know the name of the person representing them in Congress.

Civics teachers, foundations and the League of Women Voters strive to improve the functioning of democracy by educating people about politics and government. Their efforts bring to mind the joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb: only one, but it has to really want to change.

The most concerted efforts to inform voters won't work unless voters have good reason to learn. And they don't.

After all, a person who learns a lot in order to vote intelligently has almost zero chance of changing the outcome of any election. Aside from the feeling of virtue it may confer, it's an irrational indulgence. Ignorance, by contrast, is perfectly rational.

"Political knowledge levels have risen little if at all over the last several decades, despite major increases in education and the availability of information," writes George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin in a draft book, "Democracy and Political Ignorance." "Demand for information, not supply, is the main constraint on political learning in a world where most people are rationally ignorant about politics."

This knowledge void is hard to square with our belief in democracy—which relies on ordinary people to 1) figure out what the government should do and 2) elect candidates who will implement their preferences.

Their depressing failure is enough to raise doubts about the validity of government by the people. Of course, the founders of the American republic had plenty of those doubts. That's why they built in checks on popular control, particularly restrictions on who may participate in elections.

But we're not going back to limited suffrage, and it's hard to believe the country would be better off if most people were barred from voting. Even an ill-informed electorate will fare better if it has a role in choosing its leaders—just as patients gain from being allowed to choose their doctors, despite not having been to medical school.

Can widespread political ignorance be cured? Probably not—though, as Somin argues, we can minimize its effects through simple, transparent institutions and decentralized power, which reduce the amount of knowledge voters need. But however serious the flaws of popular government, we really have no alternative.

Democracy may produce fiscal bloat and political gridlock, but it doesn't produce Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il. It's not an assurance of the best outcomes. It is, however, a pretty good protection against the worst.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman.

NEXT: Kids in the Hall

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  1. Female auto-erotic asphyxiation moral panic on Fox News right now.

    1. Or maybe is was just a suicide?

        1. Blackout, Fainting Game, Space Monkey, Dream Game, Suffocation, Roulette, Passout, Flatliner, California High, Airplaning, Space Monkey, American Dream, Funky Chicken, Tingling, Gasp.

          1. I recently knew a young woman who liked to be choked a little bit . . .

          2. Dandelion sniffing deaths are on the rise too, I hear.

    2. I’ve had relations with several women that really got off on being choked.

      The trick is more of a firm grip than actually trying to choke them though. Maybe I should be a sex-ed teacher.

      1. Just grasp the back of her neck firmly, or her hair, or the top of her head. Most women get off on symbolic control and perceived dominance, not on getting hurt.

  2. … what looks like a giant cartoon parody of democracy.

    With many labels and heads that look like a penis.

    1. The incorrect assumption is that democracy ever functioned well anywhere ever.

  3. Its the mysticism of democracy, somehow a lot of stupid people voting will produce very clever people to solve their problems.

    1. It’s even worse: there are people who are fully informed, but vote for their chosen Team anyway. I know lots of liberals who are against things like the War on Drugs and drone strikes, but will vote for Obama anyway. And I know conservatives who want smaller government, but refuse to vote for the one guy promising to actually shrink it, mostly because he won’t use the aforementioned drone strikes.

      So yeah, I guess they are all stupid after all.

      1. ‘cuz ya gotta stop the EVIL Republicans (or Democrats) from taking over! or whatever ploy works – hence the demagoguery about guns, gay rights, contraception, terrorism, blah blah blah

      2. For about 2/3 of voters, politics is purely tribal. Its sub-rational.

        Nothing anyone can do about it. That’s just the way it is.

    2. But doesn’t the wisdom of crowds apply even to politics? What if the current situation really is the best possible solution given the current state of society and human nature?

      1. The basic requirements for the wisdom of the crowd to function is (from wikipedia YMMV)

        Diversity of opinion:
        Each person should have private information even if it’s just an eccentric
        interpretation of the known facts.

        Independence:
        People’s opinions aren’t determined by the opinions of those around them.

        Decentralization:
        People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.

        Aggregation:
        Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

        1. Diversity of opinion:
          I think we have that covered pretty well. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

          Independence:
          This is the one that screws us…

          Decentralization:
          No problem here.

          Aggregation:
          Election night covers this.

          So does it follow that our collective wisdom is being thwarted by the major news networks? Is the internet in the process of solving this problem?

      2. But doesn’t the wisdom of crowds apply even to politics? What if the current situation really is the best possible solution given the current state of society and human nature?

        It isn’t the best possible solution. A strong set of unvote-on-able and untake-away-able rights is better than majoritarian democracy aka kleptocratic mob rule.

        The best solution is to have basically nothing to vote on, because nothing is up for grabs — the non-aggression principle is incompatible with the aggression that is voting for stuff and rights via democracy.

    3. It goes with the same theory that a room full of monkies and a typewriter will eventually produce Shakspear or something like that. The only problem is how long will it take and in the meantime everything will be destroyed.

  4. it’s hard to believe the country would be better off if most people were barred from voting. Even an ill-informed electorate will fare better if it has a role in choosing its leaders

    Citations needed.

    1. Would a list of countries in which people can’t vote and how those people are faring suffice?

      1. Well, sort of. But it wouldn’t address the contextual substance of Steve’s assertion. Perhaps an ill-informed electorate “fares better” simply because they feel they have a role.

        1. As he says at the end, though, an empowered electorate may have to settle with the Bushes and Obamas of the world, but at least they can protect themselves from the Castros and Konys. It’s just risk management.

      2. “Would a list of countries in which people can’t vote and how those people are faring suffice?”

        Those countries are barring the wrong people.

  5. I need to respond to the author comparing voting to choosing what doctor one goes to. Yes, people do not need to have medical degrees to decide which doctor to pick, the problem with voting is that they do not only decide what they want for themselves, but also for everyone else who did not share their voting preference.

    Voting is like saying you have choice, but you get the doctor that the majority voted for, even though its not your choice.

    1. The problem decreases as you require a larger and larger majority to take an election. Imagine if a candidate needed 75% of the vote before he could take office. Most of the country would end up being very happy with their representatives. But the two parties are very similar and the citizens are very polarized on the few issues on which we don’t agree. So, you have to settle on 50% + 1 when electing candidates.

      You don’t have to settle on 50% + 1 when it comes to passing legislation, though. Imaagine if a law needed 75% of both houses before it passed. That would be do-able and it would prevent controversial BS like PPACA or the Iraq War Resolution from ever even getting to the floor.

      I think that’s how you patch democracy. You make sure all the laws have broad super-majority support. Of course it would take broad super-majority support to make the necessary constitutional amendment, so we’re screwed.

      1. Maybe true on the Affordable Care Act. Iraq was authorized by a margin of 68% in the House and 77% in the Senate. So maybe not such a good example. It’s easy to forget all of 10 minutes after the fact that the entire Democratic party supported Iraq, dating back to when Clinton was still in office. It was only once the political winds shifted that Team Blue became the principled Anti-War Party (TM).

  6. I have to add one more thing, democracy in fact did produce the worse, the author seems to forget somebody in history (sorry for the Godwin law, but it is true).

    1. One man, one vote, one time.

      1. Vote early; vote often.

      2. “One time.” Interesting take on modified suffrage.

        Since you broach the subject, however, I’ll put in a plug for this system: the voter should be able to cast +1 or -1 or 0 for every candidate on the slate.

        1. I bet you are also leading the charge on adding a dislike button to facebook…

          1. Nope.

            A variation is: given N candidates, each voter gets N votes to divvy up among the slate.

    2. In all fairness, Hitler’s rise to power was achieved only partially through democratic means. And by 1934 all pretenses of democracy had vanished from Germnay.

      1. Plus, Hitler initially took power despite getting like 30% of the vote.

        But, the “power-sharing” arrangement Hitler negotiated gave him control of the police and the military, which he quickly turned into control of everything.

      2. Yeah, but he had widespread support amongst the populace (high 80s approval). Had there been open elections, he would have won in a landslide.

        1. Not only that, but he was constantly in fear of losing popularity with the electorate, up to the end of his life. He wasn’t a poll chaser, and his take on what the people wanted was often distorted by his own views and those of people around him, but he was always bothered when he misjudged and had to rescind orders due to unpopularity.

          For another example, look at Hugo Chavez. I think the main reason extremists who don’t give up power are underrepresented as products of democracy is that until recently, democracy has been uncommon. Over the next century, this statistic will probably even out, and a greater fraction of tyrants will have been installed by democratic process. Democracy is unstable; the rules can always be changed legally by democratic means to install dictatorship indefinitely, and it’s unusual for dictators to change their minds and step down by legal means. So it’s a trap door effect, or roach motel, or whatever metaphor you like for one way tendency.

  7. The problem is the fucking socialists.

    Democracy works fine when it’s about picking leaders to manage government and reach consensus on a few broad laws.

    It falls apart when it’s used to implement nannyism and ‘social justice’.

    1. The only flaw in democracy is humanity.

    2. Of course it’s the socialists. Isn’t it always? As long as people hold property > democracy, democracy is harmless.

  8. Let’s say that you own a business, and the local mob is extorting you for “protection”.
    Every few years the enforcers allow you to select from a predetermined list of guidos as to who the mob’s next leader will be.
    Are you really participating, or just being given an illusion of participation?

    How is government any different (except that instead of choosing from a list of guidos you’re choosing from a list of lawyers)?

    1. Though I do like this analogy, it’s basically a red herring.

      Your analogy assumes a predetermined behavior independent of the “guido” you might happen to vote for. In reality, the choice of guido does matter. While Romney and Obama (or D’s vs R’s) might not be that different, there still are differences.

  9. It also doesn’t help that since the end of the Civil War voters have been brainwashed by the Government into only believeing they can only vote for either a Democrat or Republican. As long as we continue to put people of those two parties (Ron and Rand Paul excepted) into the White House, Congress, Governors’ Mansions, State Legislatures and Courts, we’ll always have a Government that intentionally dumbs us down.

    1. without proportional distribution, the only result you will ever get is a majority party and a minority party. Everything else will wither on the vine.

      1. True, but prior to the civil war, the 2 only two parties changed every decade or two.

    2. Yeah, that’s what I was getting at in my 8:36 comment above.

    3. (Ron and Rand Paul excepted)

      Those two might not necessarily be the magic wish granters that people make them out to be either. And are you saying there is nobody else in either party that shares the same “right” views?

    4. or you could end up with the cluster they have in Italy where there are at time as many as 26 different parties and every other year a different party wins and they change several laws so no body knows whats going on and nothing gets done. On second thought I guess it’ no different then our two party system. You see there is no good system except for a benevalent dictator which has never existed.

      1. I agree: a benevolent dictator is easily the best for of government. And benevolent dictators have existed. In fact, thousands, if not millions of benevolent dictators exist right now, in the form of bosses, project managers, and heads-of-household.

        Democracy will never give us a benevolent dictator. This is a feature, however; not a bug. There is no mechanism by which a dictator can be made to be benevolent. As such, while Democracy is explicitly designed to prevent the worst possible case (a tyrant), it can never produce the best possible one.

  10. If their ignorance is so rational, why are they not rational enough to:

    * know that their opinions are ill-founded and thus STFU; or
    * decline to vote?

    1. There was a study that was done last year sometime that showed that at a certain level of ignorance people actually believe they are smart. There is a group of people that is so dumb and clueless they think they’re brilliant. I’m worried that that group is growing in numbers.

      1. I suspect this is tied in with the “self-esteem” aspect of child raising. “No matter what I do, I’m OK. Indeed, I’m *special*!”

      2. You’re thinking of the Dunning-Kruger effect – when people are so incompetent they cannot accurately gauge their own incompetence.

        The flipside is that the truly competent often don’t really understand how far ahead of the pack they are (also borne out by the D-K research)

        1. I had never heard of that effect before, but i have experienced it, from both ends. I have seen very smart but unskilled people consistently overestimate their competence in unfamiliar fields. I have also seen highly competent and productive people grossly underestimate their contributions. I never thought it was a well-described psychological phenomenon.

        2. The difficulty is convincing people in positions of authority (which they didn’t get to by skill in the field in question) that you really do know better than they do. Makes it hard to get jobs, for one thing. Another problem is defensiveness; hard to convince people something they did needs fixing, even if they weren’t confident about their product to begin with.

      3. I guess it’s been around a bit longer than that. I just remember hearing about a study that was done last year trying to prove it.

        1. Beat me to it.

      4. Also known as Peter Griffin syndrome.

  11. I think a combination of turning back the clock on many direct elections (like president and senators, governors and state senators) might reduce the ignorant voting. There are many sci-fi short stories about the preils of the ever expanding “direct democracy” and the more things a person divides their attention on, the less desirable the outcome. I mean, we have elections for dog catchers for christsakes. A caveat to that would be term limitations across the board. No more than 6 terms at congressman, 2 as senator. Mandatory retirement after 15 years as a judge (local, federal, supreme, etc). Federal, state and local prosecutors only get 4 years.

    If elections consisted of electing just representatives, alot of mischief and money could be reduced.

    1. Why would term limits fix anything? Like anything, being a representative is a job. Once elected, it is your duty to serve people. Part of that duty is learning the process. Without experience, as you can easily see in most first-term elected officials, they are more-or-less incompetent, and unable to understand the difficult process of making and subsequently passing law. Your comment about the complexities of current low proves my point.

      Like any job, there are downsides to being experienced. A common worker will probably know (especially after many years) how to cheat and swindle the system to come out ahead. That’s not uncommon. The reason we have to reelect these people is that, if they become the kind of person why cheats the system (focuses on personal gain, etc), we can get them out. All term limits do is punish dedicated and effective civil servants in the name of stopping corruption that, if it existed, should be voted out anyway.

      1. Yeah, that’s the problem with the US government – too many virtuous representatives who haven’t had enough time in office to bestow marvelous benefits upon us.

        Meanwhile, back in reality, your representative from a sainted family stays in office for 60 years, enriching himself off of public largess and trading on inside information (which, until this year, wasn’t illegal for congressman like it is for you and me), then retires to the “private sector” greasing the palms of his former colleagues on behalf of major corporations and grievance mongers for the rest of his life, all while collecting a handsome pension and unrivaled health care on the taxpayer dime. Term limits combined with a moratorium on lobbying for a certain number of years after you’ve left office may not make government necessarily any better, but it would make it less obviously a circle jerk of corruption and influence peddling.

      2. Part of that duty is learning the process. Without experience, as you can easily see in most first-term elected officials, they are more-or-less incompetent, and unable to understand the difficult process of making and subsequently passing law.

        Parliamentary procedure and drafting a bill are not that difficult. High schoolers learn the former and congressional aides the latter.

        First-termers don’t get anything done because they aren’t allowed to by the system in place – you have to earn the privilege, through seniority and patronage, of being appointed to the right committees to get legislation introduced and passed.

        Term limits get rid of the whole current system of getting laws passed. If first-termers make up a substantial portion of the legislature and have nearly as much experience as everybody else, there’s no reason they would be shut out of the system. The ‘complexities of current law’ are not a cause of our current system, they are a result.

        Yes, term limits do get rid of good politicians as well as bad, but it’s not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The cure is not necessarily worse than the disease, it’s just not cost-free. But if you can’t cure Ol’ Yeller, you gotta take him out back. The bad things he can do outweigh the good things he can do.

        Or as the man said – You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!.

        1. And apparently the squirrels think Oliver Cromwell was German.

  12. If people are so stupid, how can we believe that they’re capable of watching out for their own interests when it comes to workplace safety, building codes, toxic waste, etc.?

    1. which robot overlord would you prefer?

      1. the one without the spinning razor claws.

        1. Well, it’s either that, or the one with the spiny metal phallus.

    2. There are clever people that can look after their interest, the assumption that only government can supply these clever solutions though, shows that you belong in the stupid group.

      1. There are enough clever people who will voluntarily look after the interests of stupid people? What world do you inhabit?

        1. In a market it’s not about clever people looking out for their idiot brethren.

          It’s about clever people looking out for their own interests and inadvertently also benefiting the ignorant.

          1. Actually, it’s about clever people who recognize a profitable opportunity to benefit the ignorant. For example, that’s what Steve Jobs did at Apple.

    3. Its because people are so stupid that we don’t want them looking out for anything except their own interests.

      First, that’s the one thing they might actually apply themselves to.

      Second, if they can’t even manage that, why the hell do you want to let them leverage their stupidity over the entire society?

      1. why the hell do you want to let them leverage their stupidity over the entire society?

        I don’t. I’m an elitist.

  13. Most Americans don’t know the three branches of government. They don’t know the name of the person representing them in Congress.

    Serious question: What would be a “reasonable” test for qualifying a voter? E.g., recite the Constitution?

    1. “Uh the three branches of Government are Hollywood, Wall Street and The Pentagon!”

      -Steven Hyde

      1. “Right this way to the booth, Sir!”

    2. Paraphrasing Blade: I know who represents me in Congress: an asshole.

      1. Some motherfucker’s always trying to ice skate uphill.

    3. Voting the right way. That’s how some jurisdictions decide whose vote gets counted and whose vote ends up in the wastebasket.

    4. What would be a “reasonable” test for qualifying a voter?

      Paying taxes.

      If your tax burden is positive, you get to vote.

      That way you can’t vote to get “free” shit at the expense of someone else.

      1. While I’ve advocated net positive taxation as a voting requirement in the past, it disfranchises people who work, yet cannot or do not or will not make enough to pay the taxes on a wildly inflated tax burden laid on them by an bloated state.

        Taxes are three categories to me:

        1. Taxes to pay for the legitimate and Constitutional operation of the federal government.

        2. Taxes to pay for the current unconstitutional bloated federal government, dedicating to violating rights.

        3. Transfer payments, the immoral redistribution of wealth.

        I think you can vote if you meet 1, should get more votes on a sliding scale based on 2, and 3 is outright theft.

        1. If only people with a positive tax burden can vote, do you think they will choose people who support 3?
          I think not.
          Same with 2 for that matter, because federal bloat is an impediment to economic growth. People who pay taxes are more likely to understand this, and less likely choose people who support it.

          1. Proportional voting past stage 1 solves this as well, and maintains the illusion of democracy for the tards.

            I’d love to see a well-researched look at what the stage 1 price is. It would be a pretty tough calculation, and I bet it would be super-low, like 10% of what were are currently taxed at.

            1. Besides, what you are saying wouldn’t matter if the Judicial branch did it’s job.

              The federal government would not be what it is without the failure of the Judiciary to strike down legislation that, despite being democratically passed, is in obvious violation of the Constitution.

              1. The Judiciary strike down a democratically passed law? That’s preposterous!

                1. Unprecedented, even. All constitutional scholars know this.

        2. So, would corporations get votes too, because they pay taxes? What about foreign nationals? Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea. The problem is that our current situation regarding taxes and nationalization makes it very difficult to figure out who deserves a say in our democracy. We would probably have to fix the tax structure before we could implement it. But if we already fixed the tax structure, then what’s the point?

      2. I’m sure plenty of taxpayers vote to get “free” shit, but I get your gist.

        Seems we’re at the tipping point. Better get your idea implemented quickly!

        1. Maybe we should sell shares of government on the market. Government will always be for sale through one currency or another. We might as well let the price mechanism set the value right.

      3. How would you even quantify whether or not someone is paying positive net taxes?

        1. Math. Look it up.

          1. You don’t have to be an asshole. You made the fucking proposal, but can’t even answer an easy fucking question, what the fuck?

            Take this situation:

            I pay property taxes but have no children, my neighbor also pays property taxes on a similarly priced home but has six children. I make less money than he does and received a tax return last year; he didn’t. I bought two automobiles last year paying sales tax on each, but he spends a lot more on taxable consumer goods than I do. I work for a small business doing local electrical work he works for a bank that received a bailout.

            etc etc…

            Who’s the net payer?

            1. I pay property taxes but have no children, my neighbor also pays property taxes on a similarly priced home but has six children.

              You’re both paying in so you both get vote on how the money is spent.
              Services != direct transfers.

              I make less money than he does and received a tax return last year; he didn’t.

              Was the return greater than total taxes paid? If no then you paid taxes, if yes then no vote.
              Also, is this state or federal? I could see a situation where you could get a ballot for one but not the other.

              I bought two automobiles last year paying sales tax on each, but he spends a lot more on taxable consumer goods than I do.

              Sales taxes are sales taxes. But not all states have them. In states with sales taxes I fail to see how anyone could be excluded from voting unless their entire income is in the form of wealth transfer, such as welfare.

              I work for a small business doing local electrical work he works for a bank that received a bailout.

              You’re not receiving the bailout directly, so it doesn’t count.

              1. See, this is the stuff I was thinking about.

                What I envisioned is a majority paying $1 in taxes a year, and voting themselves “free” healthcare, education, light rail, etc…

                It would probably take longer to occur but that seems that natural evolution of democracy. Once some politician figures a way that he can buy votes using the force of government the floodgates are opened.

                1. Once some politician figures a way that he can buy votes using the force of government the floodgates are opened.

                  Ever heard of the New Deal?

              2. You’re both paying in so you both get vote on how the money is spent.
                Services != direct transfers.

                A guy with six kids in school is costing the system about $100,000 a year right there.

                So unless he’s in the top 0.003% he’s a net tax eater.

                1. not to mention that he is deducting the crumb-crunchers from his gross income while the childless guy gets no such break. As long as the tax system rewards or punishes the choices people make, it is going to be jacked up.

            2. You call someone an asshole then completely meltdown like a fucking child. Way to go. It was SF’s proposal and I’m pretty sure it’s not linked to your state property taxes but your federal income taxes.

              1. Yes, that’s what happened.

      4. Why not do away with universal suffrage based on birth place, which incidentally sounds almost as ridiculous as royalty by birthright? Any foreign national that wants to be a citizen MUST pass a test which covers the structure and function of the government offices for which one would vote. Why not extend that to anyone who wants the privilege? Also, the pledge of allegiance, if you believe in such things, mentions republic not democracy. Democracy is the tyranny of the majority and as many have mentioned herein has never functioned well.

      5. This is probably the best solution under current conditions. Ideally, the income tax and government knowledge of a person’s income wouldn’t exist, but I see no reason not to use that information for at least one positive thing, since we have to endure the income tax anyway.

    5. Serious question: What would be a “reasonable” test for qualifying a voter? E.g., recite the Constitution?

      Pay more taxes than received, proof of citizenship (photo ID), & not a felon.

      1. Other than a passport there is no “photo ID” that is proof of citizenship. Do you think everyone needs to get a passport before they can vote.

        The purpose of photo ID is to establish your identity not your citizenship.

    6. Give ’em a blank ballot. If you can name the candidate and what office they are running for, you get to vote for them.

  14. There’s really only two ways to solve our current problem: limiting who votes or limiting what everyone can vote for.

    Both are impossible, therefore DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM!

    1. There’s really only two ways to solve our current problem

      What about replacing voting with a lottery? It would raise revenue and probably maintain the current quality of the various legislatures

      1. Random assignment of representative status would work as well as what we have now, but you still have the problem of letting them vote away people’s rights. Rights must be non-negotiable and inviolate before any sort of sustained liberty is possible.

        1. Rights are not voted away.
          They may be ignored and trampled upon, but that doesn’t negate their existence.

          1. Don’t get metaphysical on me.

            1. wow, finally a kink that disgusts you

        2. Okay … make recall elections easy.

          Better yet, make it a capital felony for representatives to propose or vote for any legislation that violates the self-ownership principle or the non-aggression axiom. And a successful recall election could serve as prima facie evidence of such a crime if petitioned as such.

    2. Now you’ve got me thinking, SF.

      How about if we make the voting age 18 — that is, only people 18yo and UNDER can vote.

      TEH CHILLENZ are our future!

      1. If we recognize a minimum age for voting, I don’t see the problem with recognizing a maximum age.

        1. OK, the voting age range is 18 to 30.

          /Logan’s Run

          1. Average US life expectancy is 78, so voting age is 18-60.

            1. Joining AARP negates your right to vote.

              1. This x100

  15. I vote every election… WITH MY DICK. The touch screens make it easy but boy, back when they were punch cards, let me tell you, very tricky.

    And let’s face it, high school civics teachers are generally pretty terrible at their job.

    1. what don’t you do with your dick FOE?

      1. Let’s just say it’s surprising you don’t see more typos in my comments here.

        1. I think that certainly says something about the size of the instrument you’re using to type. Keyboard keys are pretty close together.

          1. Or, does it say I got skillz?

            1. I don’t think I could press one key at a time with a hammer, no matter how good of a carpenter I was.

              1. Dialing wand.

    2. I trust you wear a condom. Lord knows where that screen has been!

    3. >I vote every election… WITH MY DICK

      so, like one of those pencils at miniature golf, only smaller

  16. Let me adjust my monocle as I say, perhaps the Founding Fathers were onto something with the idea that only property owners should vote. There are two clear benefits: 1) You’re interested in property rights, which extend to cover just about all rights, and 2) You’re a competent enough human being to have gotten the resources together to purchase a parcel of land. This indicates a modicum of intelligence about how the world actually works.

    1. Do renters count? I’m thinking we could eliminate a large pool of elitists if it doesn’t.

      1. You must own 5000 sqft of land to vote.

        Thus we eliminate those pesky townhouse dwellers too.

        1. And it doesn’t count until you pay off your mortgage.

          Because the Mortgage Interest Deduction sucks.

          1. then the property tax better be picked up by the mortgage holder

        2. Also, how much do you think 5000 sq. ft. is going for out in Nevada, Wyoming or Alaska? 10$, give or take?

    2. So do you hate poor minorities, or just women?

    3. Well put.

    4. Would mortgaged property count as owned?

  17. Chapman is just pissed because his boyfriend Block Yomomma is behind in the polls to Romney.

    1. Chappy and most of the rest of the Reason staff would prefer you forget about those votes cast.

      1. The rest of the staff won’t, but Chapman is definitely voting for Obama again. He’s a liberal Obama nut licker.

  18. While the idea of letting only property owners vote has merit, it still does not solve the problem that the majority of property owners can still screw you out your own property using their majority vote.

    1. The flaw in your analysis is thinking renters are people. They are equivalent to Morlocks.

    2. If laws are to be applied equally, how can property owners screw you out of your property without screwing themselves as well?

      1. Why should laws be equally applied when one side controls the laws?

      2. Did they not have those eminent domain laws that can take away property so that it can be developed for “better” ends.

        1. What’s to stop those laws from being used on property owners?

    3. How is this for an alternate.

      Vote buying.

      Everyone gets 1 vote for free but they may purchase additional votes from election officials on an exponentialy rising scale,

      So it would cost like this…

      Vote 1 – $0
      Vote 2 – $1
      Vote 3 – $10
      Vote 4 – $100
      Vote 5 – $1000
      etc.

      In addition to giving those with more ivestment into the system more leverage it avoids limiting franchise or creating a defacto aristocracy and would provide a significant influx of funds to the government as well.

  19. This knowledge void is hard to square with our belief in democracy — which relies on ordinary people to 1) figure out what the government should do and 2) elect candidates who will implement their preferences.

    Their depressing failure is enough to raise doubts about the validity of government by the people.

    Part of the problem is the commonly accepted definitions. We’ve come to think of representative democracy as “democracy”, and the fact is that representative democracy in important ways is undemocratic.

    If true democracy is government by the people, then people abdicating their responsibility to govern themselves, by way of electing representatives to govern them, is not true democracy.

    We already have functioning systems that are truly democratic and don’t involve representatives, too, systems where we all represent ourselves–they’re called “markets”.

    Markets are far more democratic than representative democracy, and rather than markets suffering from their participants’ ignorance, they tend to convey the most important information participants need to know to make the best choices for themselves.

    We should be promoting markets as a superior alternative to representative democracy, superior because, among other reasons, they’re more democratic–they let people represent themselves.

    1. Who settles disputes between people in a market democracy? Government helps in this regard.

      1. I didn’t say government was useless.

        We need someone to run the criminal justice system and our national defense.

        Beyond that, how much more should voters need to know about “what government should do”. Customers who don’t care about “what Wal*Mart should do” don’t have to–not to get from Wal*Mart what’s most important to them.

        Wal*Mart hires the smartest people they can find to spend all day trying to think up new and better ways to give their customers what they want–day in, day out, every day, not once every four years…

        With politicians in a representative democracy, it ain’t like that.

        1. Good point, but anytime I see Walmart spelled with that asterisk, I think “what’s up with that asshole in the middle of their name” Seriously.

          My attention span does not exceed most lower life forms.

    2. Markets are not democratic. Everyone does not have an equal vote in markets. The entire purpose of the establishment of democracy was to counter the concentrations of power that occur in the natural course of life, and that would include in the market. Democratic political power is meant to be sovereign, even over the market.

      In the last few decades as the market has resembled that of the gilded age more and more, the claim that markets are democratic becomes all the more implausible.

      1. Markets are not democratic. Everyone does not have an equal vote in markets.

        Why should people who have no involvement in an issue have the same say as people who are involved in an issue?

        You wanna know another thing that makes representative democracy less democratic than markets?

        In a market, I can choose not to participate at all! If I don’t want to shop at Wal*Mart, I don’t have to!

        It’s not that way in representative democracy. The representative make choices about me and my life, and if I don’t want to participate, well that’s just too bad–they’re making rules about me and my life anyway.

        The entire purpose of the establishment of democracy was to counter the concentrations of power that occur in the natural course of life…

        The entire purpose of the establishment of democracy was to try to give elite landowners a more legitimate means to power–something more legitimate than a king.

        1. You get to choose whether to participate in your society. You don’t, however, get to reap its benefits without performing certain duties. That doesn’t include voting, as it happens, which is optional, but it is the established means by which legitimacy is conferred on government power–which (and libertarians seem to fail to grasp this) will exist in some form no matter what. You choose not to participate, of course, by moving out of the jurisdiction controlled by a legitimate government. That it may be difficult to find a piece of land not governed is simply a reality of the limited nature of habitable land on this planet.

          True that power was vested in elite landowners at the beginning, but since then the principle of self-governance has been extended to include all people. If you don’t have a vote, then you are not legitimately governed. I wonder how libertarians would feel about their suspicions of democracy if they thought about how those people they might be tempted to exclude would also not, by any democratic or moral principle, be subject to its rules. If you imprison people for breaking laws they had no democratic role in, you have tyranny.

          As for markets, some people are definitely more influential than others, and by orders of magnitude. This is by definition not democracy.

          1. So then, as a simple example, slavery would be moral as long as it was implemented by a majority and the enslaved got the opportunity to vote on it? But imprisoning a man for murder would be immoral if the man hadn’t had the opportunity to vote on the morality of his crime? When you get more than a micron deep into such moral issues, you realize what a steaming piece of shit democracy is.

            Representative democracy is indeed the least offensive compromise thus far established to confer legitimacy on a government by giving it at least the facade of the consent of the governed without devolving entirely into mob rule, but that doesn’t change what democracy is: large groups of people forcing things onto smaller groups of people. The Law of the Jungle rolled in powdered sugar to make it go down smooth.

  20. To me, the obvious answer is that the citizenry has lost touch with it’s supposed leaders at a local level. In order for representative democracy to actually work, the representative needs to have some real connection to the electorate. But with roughly 750,000 people to each US Rep, that’s impossible. Even at the state level there are often too many people represented by too few people. At it’s height, Athens had only 25-40K citizens with voting rights (out of a total population of 150-300K). That limited group had many representatives. When people are removed from their government (as is today in the US) they will become removed from the process.

  21. For several years I lived in a New England (MA) town that relied on the local government model known as Annual Town Meeting. In the ten years I lived their the single-most largely attended annual town meeting was in the year a dog lease law was up for a vote.

    It should be harder to vote, not easier. Given the relative engagement of my fellow citizens in the politics and policy issues, I may take to leaving my reading glasses at home when I go to vote, thereby turning my vote into one of random selection. It would make my vote about as effective.

  22. Crap! “there” not their, “leash” not lease.

    1. I don’t know, you might be on to something with this dog leasing thing.

      Or maybe dog renting?

      Could be a profitable venture.

  23. “Democracy may produce fiscal bloat and political gridlock, but it doesn’t produce Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il. It’s not an assurance of the best outcomes. It is, however, a pretty good protection against the worst.

    You wanna make a bet on that?

    Some of the biggest mass murderers/dictators in history were popularly elected. Hitler, Duvalier, Chavez, Marcos, and Jackson all come to mind right off the top of my head

    Just because someone was popularly elected does not mean he is in any way prevented from becoming a dictator.

  24. Rational ignorance…

    I voted for candidate Y and candidate Y won, had I switched my vote and voted for candidate X instead, candidate Y still would’ve won. Thus, I wasted valuable time researching the candidates to take a course of action that did not affect the outcome at all.

    …Rational ignorance

    1. I live in Maryland. A Democrat is going to win no matter what anyone marks in the ballot box. That is why I am a registered Democrat despite being a solid team red guy. The democrat party primary is the only election that comes close to meaning anything.

  25. this article is so true. most people are to stupid to vote. although if voting actually made a difference it would be illegal.

  26. Shit stupid voters say: “[Obama] shows an intelligence and temperament that suggest he will govern more pragmatically than ideologically.”

    1. Only really, really stupid, delusional voters say shit like that.

      The plain stupid voters just say shit like:

      “Obama inspires hope and change, so I’m going to vote for him.”
      “Obama’s black, so I’m going to vote for him.”
      “Obama is going to protect my social security and Medicare, so I’m going to vote for him.”
      “Obama is going to pay for my gas and house payments, so I’m going to vote for him.”
      “Obama cares about ordinary folks, so I’m going to vote for him.”
      “Obama is better than McCain (Romney) so I’m going to vote for him.”
      “McCain (Romney) is better than Obama, so I’m going to vote for him.”
      “I’m a Democrat.”
      “I’m a Republican.”
      “I voted!”

  27. Learning about politicians is like learning about the ingredients in hot dogs – I say just scarf ’em down and enjoy the chicken beaky and toey, pig eary and taily, foreskiny flavoer…

  28. Folks:
    In a 2008 survey, less than 50% of adults could name the 3 branches of government.
    So is it any wonder why Obama pretends that the Supreme Court is not a co-equal branch?
    Here’s how you deal with the ignorant:
    Don’t hire them except for menial jobs, don’t help them unless they earn help. Let them talk to each other and get stupider, let them fornicate with each other, and create stupider children, let them self-segregate into a cluster of failure that will eventually be de-selected by evolution.

    Ignore the ignorant! Focus on developing yourself and others who work hard and study.

    Stop worrying about how stupid everybody is, and get out there and compete!

    1. If evolutionary selection eliminated the ignorant from a given genetic group we probably wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. Besides, they out-breed the educated by exponential numbers. By nature’s calculation, that makes THEM the better suited group – it is the educated and informed that will slowly go the way of the dinosaur.

  29. It’s only April and already the voters are stupid.

    Obama must be in serious trouble.

  30. So true I just want to weep.

  31. I am pretty cynical, but so was Madison when he wrote the Constitution. He realized that the big problem with government was in governing the governors. Hence the checks and balances on a tripartite republican form of government, no one faction of society could become powerful enough to tyrannize the rest. He got that idea from Machiavelli, the most cynical man ever in politics.

    So what if we go full-tilt cynical and just assume everybody is a bunch of scumbag crooks and liars? Appealing to their better nature works about as well as appealing to your bank that since your kid got sick and you spent the mortgage money on a doctor maybe they could let you slide this month? It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker and all that. We gotta figure out how to pay politicians to make them go away and leave us alone.

    My idea? Make it so that every agency gets its’ own budget and the elected official in charge of that agency gets to keep half the money his agency doesn’t spend with the rest getting returned to the treasury. How many people would we get running for office, how fast would we run a budget surplus and how many things would politicians suddenly decide didn’t need to be done after all?

    You want the government to do something? All you need do is get yourself elected and figure out how to do what you want to do with what money you’ve got – just like everybody else in this world.

  32. I disagree with the premise. We ask citizens to demonstrate some basic skills before driving our streets. We should also find a way to make sure voters have basic knowledge about America and the Constitution before they cast a vote. The last three and a half years have been a case study in what happens when stupid people vote.

  33. Ignorance is more like a quality of democracy than anything added, but democracy isn’t about wise decisions (besides who says what is wise?) it’s about two far more important things: providing a check on state power, and giving some play to an individual’s probable superiority in determining what THEY THEMSELVES want. Usually democracies have a lower level of internal and external violence and oppression, as individuals tend to share a common interest in avoiding those things being directed against themselves. Sometimes they even foster economic growth and personal liberty, icing on the cake.

  34. Shorter Steve: Stupid people are going to vote against Obama because they don’t realize all the nifty things he’s done for them in the last 4 years. He’s really a tax cutting peacenik – how could these stupid rubes not understand?

  35. good article,learn more from this,thanks

  36. Reminds me of an H.L. Mencken quote, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

  37. Best argument for that government which is closest (local) will govern best. We are more likely to smell thatwhich is in our neighborhood. Good case, also, for the republican form over the democratic. A filter on the will of the people provides the opportunity for examination of government’s activities by a minority who might wish to challenge that corrupt government. I’ll settle for what we have if we can do something about campaign finance (and I don’t mean just those nasty old corporations).

  38. What will I do? I’ll vote for Gary Johnson! http://www.garyjohnson2012.com

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