Competition In Government

For those of you who haven't subscribed to Let A Thousand Nations Bloom yet, continuing the whole Cato Unbound debate, we have several replies to Will Wilkinson's Libertarian Democraphobia post:

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From Will Wilkison's

From Will Wilkison's post

Like the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage was rooted in the rejection of a shameful tradition of paternalism that held that some classes of people are less than fully able to govern themselves.

Voting = governing oneself... pathetic.

Theil vs. Wilkinson? No, Theil + Wilkinson

I suspect Thiel and Wilkinson are both looking at the same elephant, but describing different ends.

Democracy is not the same thing as libertarianism, and at the margin it makes sense that the expansion of any one system may coincide with the contraction of the other. That said, Thiel argues that expanding democracy to include women coincided with the decline of the appeal of libertarian policies. Wilkinson rejects the idea that expanding democracy would cause the decline of libertarianism.

In the abstract, I see no reason to think that libertarianism would be less popular with a voting population of 100 million than with a voting population of 50 million. But when we look at things less abstractly, I think I see a pattern. And no, gender is not the explanatory variable; power is. There are two unstated dynamics at play here: Powerful people already vote, and libertarianism is a superior good.

1. Powerful people already vote. Ever since Magna Carta, we observe that the next group to gain the franchise is the next most powerful group that didn’t already have the franchise. That is, within any population, the franchise is skewed toward the powerful. The choice to expand access to the ballot is not merely a choice to add names to the voting rolls, therefore; it’s a choice to dilute the voting strength of the powerful.

2. Libertarianism is a superior good. I mean that in the economic sense – within broad limits, libertarianism becomes more appealing to people as they get richer. Poor immigrants have tended to embrace collectivist policies; as they have grown richer, they and their children have grown less attached to such policies. In the abstract, expanding the voting rolls should have no bearing on the relative appeal of libertarian policies to the voting public at large. But expanding the voting rolls in a manner that dilutes the voting strength of the rich WOULD reduce the appeal of libertarian policies to the voting public at large.

Bottom line: Wilkinson is right. There’s nothing necessarily inconsistent with expanding the franchise and libertarianism. The inconsistency is with POVERTY/WEAKNESS and libertarianism. To the extent that we can adopt policies that bolster the wealth and power of people of all demographics, then people of all demographics will be better positioned to appreciate what libertarianism has to offer.

But Thiel is also right. If your goal is to promote libertarianism through democratic means, you have a strategic interest in keeping the vote in the hands of the relatively rich and powerful. Consider international institutions. The World Bank and IMF tend to be controlled by affluent nations, and (in recent years) these institutions have tended to clamp down on the behavior of recipient nations, imposing structural reforms and promoting transparency. The UN is arguably a more “democratic” institution, but hasn’t seemed quite as interested in promoting such reforms.