While I am not a big fan of democracy when it comes to the state, I often find myself wishing that we actually were more democratic.
Democracy is somewhat of an anti-libertarian idea. Much of the Bill of Rights is anti-democratic in nature. The government shall not prohibit your speech, even if it is unpopular. There is no need to protect popular speech, as that will naturally be allowed. The key is to protect unpopular speech, as long as the speech is not threatening violence.
Democracy can be thought of as two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner. Taken to its extreme, democracy will naturally violate property rights and individual liberty.
With that said, certain democratic processes can help protect individual liberty from an overreaching government. Also, it is important to note that democracy is only dangerous when we are talking about violence or encroaching on property. In other words, democracy is dangerous when it comes to dealing with the state because the state uses force or the threat of force to make people comply.
If you and your friends have a vote on where to go for dinner, there is no harm done. Sure, you may not like the choice of restaurant that a majority of your friends picked, but you are not forced to go out to dinner with them. If you don’t like their choice, you are not compelled to go to that restaurant.
It seems in today’s world that we would often be better off if the politicians in Washington DC were to actually listen to their constituents. The powers-that-be often ignore public opinion.
I want to illustrate this with two examples.
First, there is the bailing out of banks. This was opposed by a large majority of Americans in 2008, but it happened anyway. I think opinions would have changed if it had been a choice between bailing out the banks versus the bankruptcy of the FDIC. In other words, people would only accept the bailouts if the alternative were seeing their checking and savings accounts gone because their bank had failed.
The government could have bailed out the banks just enough to make depositors whole, but of course, the bailouts went way beyond this. The stock and bond holders of these companies should have essentially gone to zero. This is one of the few industries where a libertarian could actually make a case for nationalization. This is only because of the government’s explicit guarantees and interference in the industry in the first place. If there were no central bank and FDIC, then this would not be acceptable from a libertarian standpoint.
The Federal Reserve (which is essentially a branch of the federal government) has figured out a way to bail out banks without any fuss. The Fed pays interest on bank reserves. Every time you hear an announcement of the Fed raising rates, this means that the Fed is paying more to the banks for their reserves. The Fed is paying the banks not to lend. Every time you hear about the Fed raising rates, think “bank bailout”.
This is barely reported in the establishment media. Even for those paying attention to the likes of CNBC, it is not widely understood. Most Americans don’t know this is happening. The Fed gets to bail out banks (or subsidize them) without the American people even knowing. It makes everything a lot cleaner from their end.
The second example of the federal government subverting the will of the people is in foreign policy. There are secret operations all over the place, while most Americans remain in a state of ignorance.
One of the best examples is Syria. To be sure, there are many other places we could use as examples.
The interesting thing about Syria is that Obama tried to go to war several years ago. He was trying to get the American people on board with the idea of going after Syria in 2013, but Americans largely rejected the idea. When John Kerry smugly stated that we could only avoid war if Assad were to give up his weapons, Putin pounced on the statement and said that Russia would ensure the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons. War seemed to be averted.
Since that time, Obama, and then Trump, have waged war on Syria. We hear of some stories about troops on the ground and bombings, but most of it is rhetoric. We don’t hear that the U.S. government has essentially waged an all-out war against Assad, the person who is actually trying to get rid of ISIS.
Again, the will of the people is ignored. The government relies on the establishment media to cover up these things. The problem with the establishment media isn’t just that they lie, it is that they choose not to report certain things.
I do want to clarify that even though the politicians are ignoring public opinion, the American people could still put a stop to this stuff. It is easy for someone to say they are against war with Syria in a survey. But they may also say that we should be trying to eliminate ISIS. And some people just don’t care that much, even if they have an opinion that leans one way.
If a large segment of the American population understood that these covert operations were taking place, and if they were strongly anti-war, then things would change. Politicians can only go against public opinion up to a point. If the public gets educated and demands certain things, then things will change.
The American people often hold contradictory opinions on things. Most people will say that they are against running up the national debt, but then in the next breath they will not be in favor of any major cuts in government spending. Many people hold similar contradictory views on foreign policy.
Still, I think it is important to educate people and make them aware of what their government is doing in their name. It is not enough just to say that you don’t favor a war or a bank bailout in a survey. You have to have some knowledge of the subject, and you must have a firm set of principles. Until that happens with a greater number of people, the politicians will continue to get away with things. They will continue to subvert the weak will of the people.