Is American Democracy More Like Plutocracy? If So, That Might Be the Best Thing About It


Economist Bryan Caplan, whose research feeding into his book The Myth of the Rational Voter led him to wonder why policies in a democracy aren't even worse than they are, finds some answers in the research of Martin Gilens in his new book Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America

The key? Evidence seems to indicate that government here listens mostly to the opinions of the rich. Note: not just protects the interests of the rich in a purely pecuniary sense, but skews toward their opinions. Some details from Caplan:

[From Gilens' data], Democracy has a strong tendency to simply supply the policies favored by the rich.  When the poor, the middle class, and the rich disagree, American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class…..

And from a libertarian perspective this is just fine, Caplan thinks:

the rich are noticeably less statist on both economic and social policy.  Rich and poor alike favor raising the minimum wage, but the support of the poor is nearly unanimous.  The poor are slightly more in favor of extending unemployment benefits.  They're much more anti-gay.  They're much less opposed to restricting free speech to fight terrorism.  The list goes on…..

Gilens is clearly disturbed, even frightened, by his own results.  On social policy, his findings horrify him as a democrat: Even if the lower classes are intolerant, shouldn't they have equal say?  On economic policy, his findings horrify him as a liberal and a democrat: Isn't it awful when our government fails to adopt the oh-so-wise regulations non-rich Americans support?  

While Gilens is disturbed, Caplan is delighted, and as usual unafraid to offend democratic sensibilities:

Democracies listen to the relatively libertarian rich far more than they listen to the absolutely statist non-rich.  And since I think that statist policy preferences rest on a long list of empirical and normative mistakes, my sincere reaction is to say, "Thank goodness."  Democracy as we know it is bad enough.  Democracy that really listened to all the people would be an authoritarian nightmare.

Reason on Caplan.

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  1. Evidence seems to indicate that government here listens mostly to the opinions of the rich.

    Yet another proof of the self-evident:

    Money and power will always find each otehr.

    1. Again, it’s as if there’s an “Iron Law” or something. WEIRD!

    2. This is really all that needs to be said, and applies to pretty much all governments, not just democracy. This just seems like another mostly unscientific study that produces some utterly nebulous “results” that can then be interpreted the way one wants. Yay for non-science.

    3. It’s almost like there is some built-in incentive. Weird.

  2. Democracy is like a large scale voluntary community that sprung organically from a free market. Tony said so.

    1. What is this “free market” of which you speak?

      1. It’s a market where people are freed from themselves. I think.

        1. A free market is PEOPLE!!!!

          1. That’s a disturbing thought.

    2. It should warm his heart then to know Bush made essentially the same argument that democracy and free markets are synergistic when he pushed for the bank bailouts.

      ‘Democratic capitalism is the best system ever devised.’


      1. democracy and free markets are synergistic when he pushed for the bank bailouts.

        That made my head hurt.

        Again… I think it did the first time too.

    3. There never was a “free market” that preceded government (and never can be), and obviously democracies evolved from more authoritarian systems.

      But what do libertarians have to offer in terms of what democracies should evolve to? Democracies with most decisions made and set in stone by certain people with a libertarian worldview?

      The voluntary communitarian societies you guys offer as alternatives to standard social contract democracies don’t actually differ from them in any meaningful way. It all amounts to you saying you want smaller nation-states than we have, which is arbitrary.

      1. Even a libertarian dictator would inherently allow everyone to organize into their own voluntary communities, contract their rights and responsibilities internally and live by whatever principles they choose provided they don’t impact others. Thus there would be no “force” involved.

        If what you believe is true and desireable, then lots of people should want to voluntarily congregate in Tonyland, the voluntary community you set up on your own property – and live by your rules. The difference between voluntary, private democracies and state democracies is certainly not arbitrary unless you believe your neighbor has the right to steal, kill and trespass upon your property and tell you how to live your life.

        1. So there’s still an over-arching set of rules. I can’t set up a voluntary commune in which it’s considered perfectly legitimate to plunder my neighbors, right? That “federal” law would, like any law, need to be enforcement. Ta-da, force. And I don’t see how you become a dictator without some force.

          We are living several generations away from the institution of this country. Theoretically each generation has had the ability to burn it down and start anew. Instead they chose to work with the system they were born into and live according to its rules, changing it piecemeal. How else could it work? How does your system work given what should be the painfully obvious fact that new people are born without the capacity to choose what type of society they want to live in?

          Sounds like if we just pretend people are born adults and that everyone will obey the rules without enforcement, libertarianism works!

          1. If people wanted to live in a community where other people were allowed to steal from them, I say go ahead

            1. What if they wanted to live in a community in which they were allowed to plunder your libertarian paradise?

              1. Then it’s not a “voluntary commune,” is it, considering they’re imposing their rules on those outside the commune? At that point we call them pirates.

                But fine, they can go ahead. And their neighbors want to live in a community where property is protected, so they will fight back to protect their possessions. Unless one community captures the other in conquest, they will eventually agree to respect each others’ customs within their recognized territory. And we’d be back to Calidissident’s scenario, of the commune folk plundering each other to their liking and the libertarians living with their property secured.

                1. Sorry, but strong principles don’t overcome physical violence. The thugs with the biggest army will take over your paradise and there’s nothing you can do about it except try to be the biggest thug. It’s just nature.

                  I can sit here and describe my ideal fantasy world too if I thought I were allowed to ignore basic realities.

                  However we have, to a degree, achieved the cooperative free society you describe. It just seems to require strong democratic government. Strength to protect against the thugs, democracy to ensure that strength is in the hands of the many rather than the few.

              2. What if you wanted to live in a house in which you were allowed to rape any woman outside or inside the house and then stone the woman for adultery? How does that give you license to do it?

                Same principle applies.

                1. Proprietist, if someone bought land and set up a society with those rules, and women, for some insane reason (maybe they have a rape fantasy? I don’t think this would ever actually happen) agreed to live there and was not coerced, then I don’t see the contradiction. The key of course is that people are not coerced into living or staying at these places. And that would be where the role of the larger government comes into play

                  1. Exactly. One can voluntarily contract away their own rights for whatever reason they choose, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can coerce anyone else.

                    Tony’s point was inherently stupid because he continues to confuse libertarian miniarchism with anarchism. I’ll let the resident anarchists defend themselves since I find anarchism equally indefensible. A government that’s sole role is to defend individual rights could not stop Tony’s syndicalist collective from coveting my possessions, but would stop them from and/or punish them for taking them.

                    1. Meaning we just disagree about the scope of government, not any fundamental role of it. It can tax and redistribute wealth in order to perform its duties. You think it should restrict this to defending your short list of individual rights, I think it should provide healthcare in addition. I think we should be able to debate this and have such collective decisions decided democratically. You think your policy preferences should be forced on me with absolutely no room for my say in the matter.

                    2. In Tony’s world, not forcing somebody to do something is forcing someone else to do something. Can you really not see the distinction between a government that on the one hand only mediates disputes and punished the use of force and coercion, and your government, where money is taken, and laws are made regarding personal behavior, for “the greater good?” I can’t speak for Proprietist, but I personally don’t really view government as necessary but rather inevitable. There will be government of some sort. So logically, wouldn’t a libertarian want that government, that is going to exist regardless, to be limited to doing what a government, by definition, has to do? Any government will have a criminal justice system, law enforcement, and a military (or some means of protecting from outside forces). If one thinks government is inevitable rather than necessary, how is that contradictory at all (not that I buy your argument in any case)?

                    3. . Can you really not see the distinction between a government that on the one hand only mediates disputes and punished the use of force and coercion, and your government, where money is taken, and laws are made regarding personal behavior, for “the greater good?

                      No, because you want government to do exactly that, regulating personal behavior such as murdering and raping, for the greater good.

                      I don’t see government per se the way you do. I see it government per se as a definite good. You obviously think the pooling of resources and legitimate force in order to enact your antiaggression policies is good, so government at least can’t be all bad. I think government as the means of collective action should do other things. Just a few more than it does, and in fact some things I believe it should stop doing.

                      The point is your preferences don’t get to be imposed without getting the consent of your fellow citizens. I don’t presume that for mine either, and no matter how many aspects of the status quo I don’t like (and there are many) I don’t presume they are illegitimate just by that fact.

                    4. Oh my God, I practically spelled it out for you and you still didn’t get it: I don’t think government is “good”; it just is. It’s inevitable. Given that fact, I’d like to see the government do as little as possible, which would logically mean restricting it the functions that a government, by definition, must do, which I listed above. And again, you have to be insanely dense to not grasp the distinction between regulating personal behavior that violates the rights of others, such as murder or rape, and regulating personal behavior of someone just because you don’t like what they’re doing, whether it’s drugs, sex, or making too much money. And my entire point is that I’m not forcing my preferences on any one. My system is one where the only thing the government does is prevent/punish people from forcing others do what they want. Preventing people from imposing something on me (or someone else) is not me imposing anything on them. Sometimes I feel like I’m conversing with someone fluent in Newspeak when I talk to Tony

                    5. I know you don’t think government is good; in the abstract (i.e., contrasted with no government) I do. It’s fairly useful.

                      My system is very similar to yours, it’s just that pollution, discrimination, market failures, and wealth concentration itself count as forms of force. You’re stuck on thinking government is the ultimate evil, so you neglect the force in the private sector except the very obvious.

                    6. I don’t think government is the ultimate evil Tony. There you go again with the strawmen. As for your last sentence, that’s because I actually use a definition of force (or coercion more appropriately) that actually means what the word is supposed to mean. Wealth concentration, provided the individual did not use violence or fraud to gain his wealth, is not a form of force. Private discrimination is not force. Discrimination isn’t even necessarily bad. We all discriminate. There are certain types of discrimination that you and I would agree are immoral, but that doesn’t make it force any more than a “moral” form of discrim ination is. Market failure to you is “anything that the private sector doesn’t provide to my satisfaction” so I won’t even debate that. As for pollution, civil liability, injunctions, and/or in certain circumstances, criminal charges of those responsible, could handle that

                    7. …And Tony still believes we’re all anarchists, no matter how many times we tell him we aren’t. Stopping private sector force and fraud is the sole purpose of government.

                      And by the way, discrimination, market failures and wealth concentration are not inherently forms of private sector force or fraud.

          2. For the millionth time, I’m not an anarchist. The government has a specific duty to prevent violations of individual rights to life and liberty, to enforce the property rights inherent in life and liberty and to determine conflicts of rights. There does not need to be a democracy to do this. A democracy would merely make it likely the government would not administer these responsibilities equitably, and would merely benefit the politically connected and the majority, and punish the politically disconnected and the minority.

            1. So the bureaucrats charged with administering the enforcement of your minimalist set of duties would be appointed by whom? And what would possibly prevent them from being corrupt? They aren’t even subject to elections!

              1. Well, if it’s a libertarian dictatorship, the dictator would appoint the bureaucrats and judges. If the dictatorship becomes corrupted, they are no longer libertarian, nullifying the point in the first place.

                If it’s a republic, the democratically elected president would appoint the bureaucrats and judges and all would be legally bound to existing within the core libertarian Constitutional premises. Candidates and parties could differ vigorously on the law in the case of conflicted rights like abortion and pollution but could not ever exceed its core constitutional definition.

                1. Which translate to: they are not allowed to even debate a vast portion of the qualities of a modern society. Way too little freedom for me.

                  1. Oh, they can debate it all they want. Freedom of speech and all. But I’d support a 99% requirement for any Consitutional amendment, explicitly delegated and limited powers and legal penalties against executives who enforce laws that violate individual rights or exceed the delegated powers.

                    If individual freedoms (for instance, the right not to be a slave) are not negotiable, why should a simple majority be able to decide that they are? Why 66%? Why even have a Constitution in the first place if the government is not legally bound to follow it?

                    1. Why have a constitution if it’s practically impossible to amend? Why not just have a sacred text and theocracy? That is, in fact, what you’re advocating for.

                      Obviously slavery violates democratic principles, but the only thing preventing it is laws, not natural rights deities.

                    2. So supposing a democratic consensus develops to put blacks back in chains and send gays to concentration camps, that does not violate their individual rights because natural rights don’t exist unless a majority or supermajority approves of them, as long as they had an equal vote on the subject?

                      Seriously, are you listening to how stupid you sound?

                    3. It violate them according to my own morality, and yes I’m capable of having moral beliefs without anything magical whispering them in my ear. But if slavery and genocide are sanctioned by law, it’s hard to say what rights their victims actually have. This is an endless loop of pointless semantics, resembling every dimming ember of debate between empirical rationalism and mysticism. I think it’s best we keep our eye on the ball. Pretend for too long that rights aren’t hard-won and hard-kept human constructs and they might disappear from under your nose.

                    4. It violate them according to my own morality, and yes I’m capable of having moral beliefs without anything magical whispering them in my ear. But if slavery and genocide are sanctioned by law, it’s hard to say what rights their victims actually have.

                      A slave has the right to freedom regardless of what the government, the slaveholder and the democratic majority say. A raped woman has the right to live instead of being stoned for adultery regardless of what government, her rapist, her executioners and the democratic majority say.

                      There’s nothing remotely magical about it, especially when compared to your beliefs in a “right” to education and health care, which I guess will be “violated” somehow if there’s no one around to provide them willingly.

                      This is an endless loop of pointless semantics, resembling every dimming ember of debate between empirical rationalism and mysticism.

                      It would help if you would stop using Newspeak and calling government “society”, libery “tyranny” and coercion “freedom.”

          3. And Tony comes up with a pathetic rejoinder that is a “gotcha” in his own head, replete with the usual straw men. Tony, the closest we’ve come to a mass libertarian society was the first years of the United States, with a healthy distrust of central government and a popular respect for individual rights. For lack of space, most libertarians would return to that form of government, except without the institutional racism that you and the rest of the liberals so desperately cling to.

            1. the closest we’ve come to a mass libertarian society was the first years of the United States

              Except for slavery and all. Sorry, I don’t like idealizing the “good old days” when the real point is that a libertarian country has never existed thanks to democracy and/or authoritarianism.

              1. except without the institutional racism that you and the rest of the liberals so desperately cling to.

                Helps if you read the whole comment.

                1. No, I saw that. I’m just saying I don’t think that was the point in history we were closest to realizing a mass libertarian society. I’d even argue we’re in some important ways closer now than we were then. It’s a shame the Founding Fathers failed so spectacularly on their own core, revolutionary point.

        2. But Tonyland would never be able to function without stealing from productive communities, so not letting them do that is not fair! Also, Tony is an obnoxious power-worshipping twit, so no one else would want to live there, and that would hurt his feelings!

          1. I’m the one arguing for dispersed power and you guys are the ones arguing for plutocracy and autocracy, so who worships power again?

            1. You do, because our plutocrats and autocrats are essentially powerless.

              1. Because magic?

                1. No, because a Constitution includes checks and balances and the limited powers they do have will be explicitly delineated. And violation of those limits on power will invoke criminal penalties against the executive.

                  1. So what we have, just with more explicitness with respect to denying most of modern society to people?

                    1. What is it denying? It doesn’t deny anyone anything except the “right” to harm, coerce or defraud others.

                      Oh, right…by “denying most of modern society” you really mean “not providing big government programs.”

      2. “The voluntary communitarian societies you guys offer as alternatives to standard social contract democracies don’t actually differ from them in any meaningful way.”

        You know, when you modify a word with “social” it renders that word meaningless. A “social contract” is no way shape or form similar to a “contract”.

        1. It’s similar in many ways and differs only in a couple: you are assumed to be under its terms unless you explicitly reject it (like many actual contracts, really).

          The libertarians here are advocating for a much more specific social contract, anyway.

          1. It’s similar in many ways and differs only in a couple: you are assumed to be under its terms unless you explicitly reject it (like many actual contracts, really).

            That’s a huge and fundamental difference, Tony. You believe in coercing individuals into a contract, we believe in letting individuals choose their own contract, provided they don’t coerce or defraud others into following it or being ruled by it.

  3. my sincere reaction is to say, “Thank goodness.

    That was exactly my reaction as well.

  4. Democracy that really listened to all the people would be an authoritarian nightmare.

    Hence, all countries with “People’s Republic” or “People’s Democratic” in their names tend to be authoritarian shitholes.

    1. “Aric Barrrwin….DO SOMETHING!”

    2. That didn’t listen to the people much at all.

  5. Athens was a deomcracy (of sorts) once.

  6. We’re a representative republic, which means we elect wealthy people to represent us. So all is good.

  7. Also, how can a “Plotucracy” be bad? Pluto is such an adorable character! And dogs are the best people – ergo, a “Plutocracy” should be WONDERFUL! Yaaaay!

  8. Also – you know who else listened mostly to the opinions of the rich…

  9. Shorter Reason:

    Stupid poor people!

    1. Even shorter than you, joe? I didn’t think that was possible.

      1. Yeah he kind of waddled right into that one.

    2. Wait, I thought we were all racists. We hate the poor, too? Perhaps it would be easier to list who we don’t hate.

      1. I get along tolerably well with my monocle vendor even if I do have to beat him with a cane on occasion.

        1. I buy my monocles off the internet, so my glorious presence never has to be sullied by the presence of mere craftspeople and their mercantile middlemen.

          1. It’s right beside the shop of my tobacconist. I dearly love to spend the afternoon romping around in the steamcoach and stopping by the shop. You can’t get that rich pungent aroma from the internet even if the naked Colombian lady farts on the cam.

          2. If we libertarians could get a majority to pass a ballot initiative to turn the poor into our monocle-making slaves, that would be ok with Tony, because “having an equal say in one’s government is the ideal foundational right, prior to all others”. It’s even prior to the individual rights of the poor! How very progressive and enlightened of you, Tony.

        2. It’s a walking stick!

    3. Shorter Derprider:


    4. So you think it’s not stupid to hate gay people and civil liberties?

      1. joe doesn’t think, he’s a partisan. He just regurgitates what he’s told to regurgitate.

    5. So you’ve never argued that education for the poor is severely lacking, right?

    6. Yes Joe, if you’re a statist then you’re stupid.

  10. “From this view of the subject, it may be concluded, that a pure Democracy, by which I mean a Society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the Government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of Government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is, that such Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives, as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of Government, have erroneously supposed, that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.”

    James Madison, Federalist 10

  11. “Government should do whatever 50%+1 of the population wants, even if they want slavery”

    – Tony, Alan Vanneman, and other Regressives

    1. Unless, of course, it means that they are part of the 49%.

      1. No, that could never happen because they’re only voting to enslave patrons of tractor pulls.

    2. Well of course. You wouldn’t want things run by a rights-minimalist autocrats, would you?

    3. “Government should do whatever 0.000000003% says it should do.”


      1. Tony, our community just took a vote and we decided you have to donate all your money to the Koch brothers or leave.

        Democracy baby. Deal with it.

  12. Democracies listen to the relatively libertarian rich far more than they listen to the absolutely statist non-rich.

    How do you reconcile this with the fact that a good number of the democracies in the world either are going or are headed for bankruptcy?

    1. Their rich people are stupid.

    2. Democracies listen to the relatively libertarian rich far more than they listen to the absolutely statist non-rich.

      1. Realtively more stateist.

          1. Most of the crackpot central and control socialist programs come from the rich not the poor.

            1. If there was never any debate or instruction from elites, how do you think the Bill of Rights would have polled?

              1. The current elites are a bit different from the elites of the 18th Century.

                1. But the elites today are much better than everyone else, at least according to that graph.

    3. Maybe he is just referring to or inferring about the American version?

  13. “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.”…..ser_Tytler

  14. The problem with this theory is that all of the worst big government ideas of the last century haven’t come from the poor or middle class. They have come from the upper middle class and the wealthy. Leftist can only dream about the masses or the poor ever actually embracing their bullshit ideas.

    1. The early progressive movement came from among the wealthy. Hell, Marx came from a wealthy family.

      Perhaps that’s why he didn’t understand where wealth came from, he didn’t have to do anything to acquire it.

      1. Everyone knows it grows on trees.

      2. Isn’t it more likely that Marx felt guilty for coming from a wealthy family?

      3. Which just goes to my theory that socialists and communist thinkers just want to go back to the way things were in college when mommy and daddy paid for everything.

    2. That’s why I scoff when I hear progressives say that the rich don’t create jobs. Apparently poor people create jobs. Jobs like Case Manager and Receptionist at the homeless shelter.

      1. In my home town an illegal immigrant started a burrito business out of his garage and now runs one of the largest frozen burrito firms in the world, with thousands of employees. Perhaps tens of thousands. (The business is nominally in his legal son’s name).

        He could never have started his business today. The regulatory climate would make it impossible. The best he could have done in his situation would have been a burrito truck. But even those are getting regulated out of existence in many cities.

        The rich don’t create jobs, the poor don’t create jobs… people create jobs. It doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor, all that matters is that they are free to create them. Too many taxes and regulations and those jobs never get created. It’s not about rewarding the rich, it’s about not stifling job creation.

    3. You need to refine your theory a bit. Statism coming from the upper middle class is easy to understand. But the wealthy are not a homogeneous bloc. You’re going to find a huge difference in attitudes between those the working rich and the idle rich. Much of the bad statism of the last century came from the children and grandchilden of the very wealthy, not from those who actually earned their wealth. I’m talking about the Rockefellers, Fords, Kennedys, etc.

      I am against all forms of taxes, but seeing how the scions of the very rich promote the very worst sorts of government interventions, I would not shed too many tears over a more draconian inheritance tax on the rich.

    4. Perhaps some of it is rich people hoping to buy off the poor. If you’re in line for government cheese you’re not in the streets agitating to eat the rich.

  15. An interesting analysis. It seems to imply that Dems cater to the social attitudes of the wealthy while pursuing economic policies of the poor, while Repubs reflect the social attitudes of the poor while pursuing economic policies of the wealthy. This makes sense as a political strategy to shore up a base for election that allows you to claim to represent America at large.

  16. …wonder why policies in a democracy aren’t even worse than they are.

    Because even bureaucrats want material wealth and know they need a semi-functioning free market in order to obtain that wealth?

  17. Yes, the rich want to buy privileges from the government. That goes without saying. But outside their narrow pecuniary interests they very much tend to be life-and-let-live quasi libertarians.

    I’m fortunate to have a small handful of the very rich in my circle of friends, relatives and aquaintances. Including one billionaire. Not one of them has horns, or green skin, or lizard scales. They are all human beings no different from you or I. If you think otherwise you have never gotten to know one. Sure sometimes they lobby for special treatment for their industry, but how is that any different from you complaining to your local city council about some new development?

    The rich tend to be a bit more fiscally conservative and socially liberal than the poor and middle class simply because the tend to be more individualistic. You don’t get rich by following the herd but by taking risks and heading off in other directions. I’m not saying they are actual libertarians and neither is Caplan (a few are but most are not), but on average they are more libertarian than the poor and middle class.

    p.s. The exception are the children of the rich. Idleness is the devil’s playground they say, and those whose vocation is sponging off of the family foundation are the swing sets in that playground.

  18. Plutocracy is good because plutocrats tend to agree with my worldview. Stunning contribution to political philosophy.

    Yeah I accept that letting poor people vote means civil rights might take longer to get enacted. But having an equal say in one’s government, rich or poor, is the ideal foundational right, prior to all others. And one libertarians, by virtue of their ideas not being very popular, seem to suspect more than most.

    Nobody’s ever explained just what “free” alternative there is to authoritarianism and democracy (in whatever form, including representative republic, yadda yadda). Seems like you guys just think you’re so right you should get to decide for the rest of us.

    1. You just don’t get it. We have no interest in deciding anything for you. Libertarianism is about letting YOU decide what is best for YOURSELF!

      1. I want to live in a modern social democracy like every other human being who possesses a life worth living.

        Oh, I can’t have that, because you don’t like universal healthcare?

        1. You can, Tony. You can build Tonyland, privately funded by you and all the people that agree with you on your own private property. It can be your absolute ideal democracy and you can take in the poor, huddled masses onto your property and provide them the safety net you believe they inherently deserve.

          Meanwhile, I can start Proprietistland on my own property, funded by the people who agree with me and slam the door in the face of the huddled masses who won’t volunteer to chain themselves to the tables in my monocle factory.

          You and I can both leave each other alone and live under our own respective principles provided we don’t violate each others’ (or any third parties’) individual rights.

          1. No I can’t. And no you can’t. The land’s been claimed. You want to claim a piece of it? Build an army and try. I’m sorry that force exists in the world, but you really can’t wish it away by waving copies of Atlas Shrugged around and looking indignant.

            The homesteading era is long gone. Maybe try another planet?

            1. Purchasing land is now illegal?

            2. Ah, so there’s no way to voluntarily acquire land now? News to me.

              And I’m an Ayn Rand fan? News to me.

              And geolibertarians like me would free up massive quantities of unused lands to be bought at the lowest price or given away by making government funded solely by land rents.

              1. You can acquire a title to own land but you can’t acquire absolute sovereignty.

                1. What’s your point? in a libertarian state, the government wouldn’t be constantly overruling them, as long as people were allowed to leave

                2. Maybe not under current law. A libertarian state would give you absolute sovereignty over your own legally acquired land provided your actions do not harm the absolute sovereignty of your neighbor. The concept is not that difficult.

                  1. So people would be able to murder on their own property? Or do we keep adding caveats until your system starts to resemble the real one? What can’t you do on your own property that you think you should be allowed to, except do drugs and run a brothel (which would be simple policy changes I’d agree with you on)?

                    1. Only if the “murdered” party agrees willingly and without coercion or fraud, which case it is not really murder but euthanasia. Just like if a “raped” party agreed willingly and without coercion or fraud, it would be called consensual rough sex.

                    2. Okay so add euthanasia and rough sex to the list. Still with you (though I’d insist on excellent documentation for the former).

                  2. “The concept is not that difficult.”

                    Tony does not want absolute sovereignty over his land while his neighbor sovereignty over his. Tony wants absolute sovereignty over his neighbor, that’s why he is objecting, because he fears nobody worth anything is going to sign up for a voluntary “social democracy”. You cannot have a successful society of moochers without people to mooch off of.

                    1. Only the libertarians are arguing for absolute sovereignty over their neighbors, I’m arguing for the right to make collective decisions with them on an equal basis.

                    2. Strawmen are made of straw Tony. We explain our positions to you, and then you repeat the exact same inaccurate caricatures you previously said. Are you capable of learning?

                    3. You are arguing that tyranny is better than democracy. You have yet to describe a third way.

                    4. This is exactly what I’m talking about Tony. Nowhere did I say that tyranny is better than democracy and yet you accuse me of arguing for it. Is English your first language?

                    5. And even so, autocracy does not necessarily equal tyranny. Note, none of us are advocating for autocracy, we are just pointing out that the specific system of electing politicians has no inherent correlation with how free or tyrannical a government is, even if 99% of the time, autocracy will usually also be tyrannical. The possibility of a libertarian autocracy makes your idea that only democracy grants individual rights falsifiable.

                    6. That wouldn’t be my assertion. Autocrats can dole out whatever rights they want (they’re autocrats!) That only demonstrates my point that rights are constructs of governments. Democracy is the application of the expediency, fairness, and legitimacy of common decision making. Expedient because they seem to make better decisions than dictatorships; fair and legitimate because people have an equal say about (and responsibility for) collective decisions.

                      Dictatorships are not expedient if we’re talking about conferring individual rights, if we just go by the available data.

                    7. Those rights would still exist in anarchy.

                      Natural rights don’t require action from anyone else to exist – and the rights don’t cease to exist just because some brute or some government or the majority of voters chooses take them away.

                      Slaves still have the right to freedom, even though his master and the government conspire to keep him in chains. I don’t think you mean for your logic to endorse slavery, but at the core it does.

          2. You can build Tonyland, privately funded by you and all the people that agree with you on your own private property.

            B-B-But then they won’t have enough money to actually do any of those things!!

            Stop oppressing him! Come see the violence inherent in the system!

            1. Dude, absolute sovereignty. They can print Tonybucks until every Tonyland resident from the huddled masses is a multi-millionaire.

    2. And one libertarians, by virtue of their ideas individual rights not being very popular negotiable, seem to suspect more than most.

      You know who else was elected by a democracy?

      1. Everything’s negotiable. Ask Old Mexican. You want to assert a right, take it up with my friends Smith and Wesson. We could do it peaceably, but you don’t think I should have a say over my own life when it comes to what you deem nonnegotiable. Let’s just test the extent of the magic invisible shield that protects you from force and that establishes itself with a mystical incantation.

        Or you could just try to get your desires enshrined in law or in the constitution by using free expression to convince a majority in the marketplace of ideas, like everybody else has to.

        You know who else was an autocrat?



          1. If everyone were a libertarian (well, a well-fed libertarian), we wouldn’t need law and order. Everyone’s not a libertarian. Your ideal society relies on so many fantastical alterations to reality it’s hard to keep track.

            1. Except to you law and order also means free healthcare, food, income, regulation of personal behavior, etc

              1. Not free, collectively paid for. And regulation of personal behavior only to the extent necessary for law and order. Libertarians and I think that includes minimal intrusion. Christianists think that includes policing sex and doctor visits. We should feel lucky if our power is democratically distributed. That just means we have to outnumber them, which seems the least bloody of all the alternatives.

                1. How about a society where Christianists are free to form Christianist communities, progressives are free to form socialist utopias, and so on and so on. What’s wrong with that? Why do you insist on one government to rule everyone?

                  1. We have that society. It’s called planet earth. Many alternatives have been and are being tried. The US happens to be a Hamiltonian democratic statist system with a mediocre welfare system, heavy on law enforcement and international entanglement. Want a bigger welfare state move to Finland or try to change the US. Want a smaller welfare state move to some shithole or try to change the US into a shithole. Plenty of choices. Not many libertarian societies among them, but perhaps that’s because theoretical libertarian societies seem to rely on so much magic?

                    But for the record I do believe in global governance (since there are global constituencies with global issues), though I admit it does present a problem in terms of principled emigration.

                    1. No, Tony, that’s not what I’m arguing. What I’m arguing is for a nation where people are allowed to do what they want as long as they do not coerce others. This nation would allow people to form communes on land they privately own if they wish to live an alternative lifestyle (whether it’s Christian, socialist, white separatist, black separatist, etc) as long as they don’t coerce people into living or staying there. That is not planet Earth.

                      I’ve never said a libertarian society is likely to form. Libertarian societies are hard to come by because people generally want to force their way of life (or force someone to pay for theirs) on other people and people in government (in any system) especially so. In any case, someone could have used that exact same argument against democracies and republics 250 years ago. Does that mean you would have agreed with monarchists back then?

                    2. And I’m saying that’s already the system we have and, almost universally through brute force, certain types of societies have dominated (in what would inevitably be a Darwinian process). Libertarian forefather Thomas Jefferson grabbed half a continent in one fell swoop, and there’s only so much land to grab. We’d need some kind of major event to start over, and even then all that would happen would be a repeat of the cycle: viciously bloody systems would compete in a Darwinian process and, with some luck, they’d evolve somewhat less viciously bloody systems. You’d be lucky to get where we’ve already gotten again.

                      Maybe you’re just daydreaming, in which case I apologize for insisting on a modicum of reality, but really how old are you that you have time for such frivolousness?

                    3. Now you’re just being intentionally dense. That does not at all describe the system we have or have ever had. You can’t argue that. And the process you describe would not be necessary to achieve the society I’m talking about. All it would require is people purchasing land, something that happens every single day Tony.

                      As for your last paragraph, what’s that even supposed to mean? It’s not like it took me months to think of such an idea; it’s a pretty logical vision of what a libertarian society would look like. I’m not saying it’s at all likely to happen. But more to the point, do you not see the irony in you of all people lecturing people on spending their time frivolously?

        2. Or you could just try to get your desires enshrined in law or in the constitution by using free expression to convince a majority in the marketplace of ideas, like everybody else has to.

          My ideas are already mostly enshrined into the Constituton. Thanks to democracy, this fact is irrelevant.

          1. Hey that’s what I think about my ideas. We must agree on everything.

            1. Ok, so I’ll gladly give up my opposition to the 16th and 17th Amendments if you’ll give up your opposition to the 2nd, 9th, 10th and 14th Amendments. We’ll meet in the middle and call it a day.

              1. You seemingly are unaware that “compromise” to progressives means giving them half of what they want, while you get none. Repeat ad infinitum

                1. I don’t like using the word “progressive” to describe anyone who supports the principle of democracy as superceding the individual rights of the poor (or anyone else).

                  1. Democracy is the most fundamental of individual rights. It guarantees the others, it doesn’t supersede them.

                    All you’re getting at is that you want some higher authority to decide a whole bunch of stuff for everyone, no appeals allowed.

                    1. Democracy is the most fundamental of individual rights. It guarantees the others, it doesn’t supersede them.

                      Simply incorrect. Democracy means the wealthy and middle class majority can vote the poor minority to be enslaved as permanent human chairs and ottomans, provided the poor also got an equal vote in the matter.

                    2. Quite true. Nobody said it was perfect, just that it’s the best system we’ve come up with. You’re not offering a nonautocratic alternative. As it happens we’ve essentially voted them to rot in prisons or otherwise be unable to escape poverty except for a middling safety net.

                    3. So the safety net is the path to escape poverty? Good lord, Tony, do you not know anything about history?

                    4. Yeah, the lower classes did a lot better when they had more money in their pockets. When all the money is in the hands of the top fraction of a percent, the rest do worse. That’s not so much history as tautology. If capitalism doesn’t deliver a living wage to all people then a safety net is necessary to buttress it. Capitalism works better that way.

                    5. That post is utterly nonsensical. It’s interesting how liberals always clamor to return to the economic (taxes, labor regulations, etc) policies of the 1950’s, but totally ignore the massive explosion in social spending since then.

                    6. Nobody said it was perfect, just that it’s the best system we’ve come up with. You’re not offering a nonautocratic alternative.

                      No, Tony, you’re missing the point. First of all, I offered the nonautocratic alternative of a strictly Constitutional Republic, my preferred system.

                      Second of all, my point is that a theoretical non-democratic, strict libertarian autocratic miniarchy which would prosecute both political executives (including the dictator) and individuals for murdering, enslaving, raping, defrauding or stealing from anyone else would be preferential to your system where the majority can vote to murder, enslave, rape, defraud or steal from the political minority.

                      The libertarian system states individual rights are sacrosanct, while the democratic system states that rights are subject to the whim of the majority.

                    7. So sacrosanct as to be sacred–you can’t add or subtract for any reason, and the list of rights is decided by you (the dictator, in this sense another pretender to godhood).

                      Constitutional changes should certainly be subject to more scrutiny than simple majority whim. But anything other than authority being vested in the people–not inviolable first principles, not a sacred text, and not the whims of you–is tyranny. Dictatorship is actually the best system, provided the dictator is benevolent with perfect knowledge and immortal (dictator’s kids are often a little off). Again, we need a deity.

                    8. So stating that absolute rights to not be enslaved, murdered, raped, etc. is just another form of tyranny and religious theocracy, while claiming the right for a majority to decide if they want to enslave, murder, rape, etc. the minority or set up a tyranny or religious theocracy is the foundational principle…

                      Up is down. Black is white.

              2. That’s the spirit.

  19. Well, expect this shit to get some circulation at DU and the like.

    I’ll just add fuel to the fire by noting that to the extent that wealth in society is earned through decision-making and strategizing (I include some forms of rent-seeking here, though not simple inheritance or title or random luck), the wealthy statistically tend to be smarter and more informed than the poor. Certainly there’s a correlation between education level and wealth.

    Democracy is a collective decision-making process, and the quality of the result for the typical citizen is going to be based on two things: 1) that the system isn’t hijacked to serve the ends of an elite, and 2) that the system doesn’t make stupid decisions. Design by nomenklatura won’t produce good results for the masses; design by committee can’t.

    Representative democracy was chosen over pure democracy because of the theory that voters would select both for integrity and wisdom. It was a nice theory.

  20. Wait, we’re rich? I want my stuff!

  21. It’s more like a Blutocracy.

  22. Bought and paid for politicians.

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