The Democracy Fallacy

Imagine living in a foreign dictatorship. The dictator . . .

Allows the largest newspapers and most popular televisions stations to be mildly critical of him, but enacts laws making it nearly impossible for ordinary citizens to publish or broadcast their criticisms . . .

 Promises to go after the editor of a website that posts leaks revealing corruption in his administration . . .

Asserts the right to assassinate his own citizens . . .

Invades and occupies other countries that posed no plausible threat to his country . . .

Detains and waterboards both foreigners and his own citizens whom he claims are "terrorists" . . .

Taps phones, monitors web activities, and inspects confidential records without a search warrant . . .

Demands that everyone carry a government-issued ID card, with personal information logged into a central database . . .

Requires that you undergo a naked body scan or sexual molestation in order to fly on an airline . . .

 Arbitrarily prevents people from flying if they have the same name as one of the dictator's supposed enemies . . .

Confiscates common toiletries, grooming instruments, and beverages from people who want to fly . . . 

Confiscates cars, homes, and cash of citizens who are never even charged with a crime . . .

Conducts military-style police raids on the homes of individuals who were never suspected of being violent . . .

Lets his police officers off the hook when they engage in brutality or raid the wrong house . . .

Places massive taxes on the people to build schools in which the nation's children would receive propaganda about the greatness of the dictator's government . . .

Restricts the right of individuals to defend themselves in criminal attacks because he fears an armed citizenry . . .

Kicks people out of their houses, and gives their property to business developers . . .

Protects his wealthy friends from competition by imposing excessive taxes and regulations on entrepreneurs and small businesses.

If this dictator existed, the President and Congressional leaders of all parties  would denounce his human rights record and corruption.

And yet, for at least nine years and in some cases much longer than that, they have imposed the same policies on the American people!

This points to what I call the Democracy Fallacy:

Actions that would be considered reprehensible if done by an absolute dictator, are considered morally legitimate if done by a democratically-elected government.

People who embrace the Democracy Fallacy think that the "right to vote" is the most precious and, perhaps, only right you have. Your vote makes the government legitimate, and the "will of the people" expressed through elections makes the actions of the government legitimate.

And what about the citizens who didn't vote because they found all candidates to be distasteful? "If they don't like the system, they should move to another country!"

In contrast, economist Arnold Kling writes: "I like the democratic process only insofar as it can be used to limit political power. To the extent that the democratic process fails to limit the power of too few to decide for too many, it loses its enchantment."

The most notable features of our political system are its protection of liberty through Constitutionally-limited powers and a Bill of Rights. The right to vote was once valued as a check on the power of rulers: we could throw them out if they infringed on our liberty and property too much. Democracy was viewed as a means, but liberty was the end.

Today, however, the right to vote is valued because it allows one to vote for a candidate who adheres most closely to one's beliefs and values -- even if one's beliefs and values involve taking the liberty and property of one's neighbor.

But if it is wrong for an unelected dictator to loot you, then it's ALSO wrong for a democratically-elected government to loot you. And if it is wrong for a dictator to loot your neighbor, it's ALSO wrong for a democratically-elected government to loot your neighbor. To fail to recognize this is to embrace the Democracy Fallacy.