Demonizing democracy

Given Insight

Students, faculty and online commenting trolls, the libertarian troublemaker is back! Last semester, I was called an “idiot,” a “frat boy rhetor” and — my personal favorite — a “dumb libertarian who jerks off to Ayn Rand.” Yet, despite the fact that my IQ is greater than 30, I don’t belong to a fraternity and Rand was an objectively ugly woman, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the abuse and am thrilled to be your political columnist for my final semester at Berkeley.

Why, you may ask, am I such an intellectual masochist? The answer, dear reader, is discourse. Berkeley is an awfully comfortable place to be a liberal. And while I understand the unlikeliness of my column changing minds about the role of government, I hope my unorthodox viewpoint will seem sensible enough to cultivate respect for dissenting opinions.

Indeed, it’s all too easy to demonize one’s political opponents. In the heat of argument, we can get swept up in our ideology and make hyperbolic statements about dissenters. Liberals become “socialist Nazis” and conservatives become, well, “fascist Nazis.”

In reality, all popular ideologies have an intellectual heritage that should be respected for the pursuit of civility yet scrutinized for the pursuit of truth. I hope my column can function as a call to both by civilly scrutinizing the conventional wisdom of Berkeley’s political norm. And if you disagree with me at the end of each article, at least you will emerge with a “livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error,” as the great philosopher John Stuart Mill once wrote.

Let’s begin with democracy. With the Occupy movement marching forward, we’ve heard a lot of hubbub about the virtues of democracy lately. This comes as no surprise considering we’re constantly surrounded by parents, teachers and authority figures extolling the virtues of representative government. Democracy, we are taught, is the best system of government because it relies on the consent of the majority. And while it may not perfectly please everyone, in the famous words of Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” There is no better system available short of totalitarianism, so we are told, so anyone who disagrees with democracy must be a socialist, fascist Nazi.

Years of mind control have deeply embedded such logic into our thinking, but do we ever stop to reflect on this societal assumption? What, after all, is so great about the political system that condemned Socrates to die, elected Hitler to the German chancellery, instituted systematic discrimination in the Jim Crow South and passed Proposition 8’s ban on gay marriage? Indeed, it seems as if the tyranny of the majority often intrudes upon the individual liberty of minorities.

Uneconomical policies are popularly supported by democracy as well, as shown in Bryan Caplan’s critically acclaimed book “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies.” Caplan, a Berkeley graduate and professor of economics at George Mason University, claims that economically uneducated citizens bring several biases with them into the voting booth. Among these are the “antimarket bias” that capitalism is evil, the “antiforeign bias” that free trade and immigration are bad, the “make-work bias” that high employment is equivalent to prosperity and the “pessimistic bias” that the economy is continuously getting worse.

Despite the fact that economists across the ideological spectrum have falsified all four, voters continue to elect politicians promising to fix these “market failures” through harmful policies like protectionism.

Not surprisingly, most attempts to implement direct democracy in American policy-making have been utter failures. Take California’s initiative process for example, where residents can surpass the state legislature by putting statutes and constitutional amendments on the voter ballot. As California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton explained in a recent interview on “The Daily Show,” the initiative process was originally intended “to protect people from the special interests” but has since “become a tool of the special interests to screw the people.” Nowadays, mega corporations like Amazon and Pacific Gas and Electric back initiatives with big bucks to support their business interests.

Of course, the solution to democracy’s woes shouldn’t be authoritarianism. As much as Plato would have us believe it, there are no philosopher kings to solve the world’s problems, and all attempts to find them have miserably failed — like those socialist, fascist Nazis! Instead, we should minimize the role of democracy and allow individuals the freedom to live, love, interact and trade with each other so long as they don’t harm anybody. This is precisely the way we live our everyday lives, so why won’t the government follow suit?