Democracy in its purest or best form would be a society in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives…so say a pair of scholars.
Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie. This is straight out of the dictionary.
The earliest known written conception of democracy traces to Greece, circa 500 BC, while there have been many variant manifestations that have since arisen, the US being one. Narrowly however, this comment is focused only on two extant variations: representative democracy that we have in the US today. And a “purely” direct democracy, Switzerland being the prime example, where citizens vote directly on referendums without “intermediary” representatives. Representative democracy exhibits the perennial “agency” problem: representatives do not always/consistently “represent” the “constituent people” who elected them. Rather they often represent “special interest groups” who financed their election campaigns, or just their own context conditional judgements. Broadly speaking this array of prospective contradictions is rampant in the “state of affairs” of the US, including in the underpinning constitution itself. Furthermore, how can newly minted social laws be determined to not contradict the constitution, or prior “social” enactments? In actual experience, rarely are new social laws, that are perpetually being enacted, challenged on constitutional grounds. Political Action Committees & Special Interest Groups (PACs, SIGs) are both prominent propellants of the behaviors of representatives, indeed even determining the outcome US elections. It becomes abundantly clear that representatives are not “the people”. The US’ form of democracy is riddled with initiatives from PACs and SIGs who lobby for enactments that narrowly benefit their benefactors…hence the US is quite distant from the definition of democracy in which each citizens’ vote reflects only themselves. Hypocrisy…
In fact, it is not easy to conceive how any one representative could realistically represent any “composite set of people” while they behave as if they do. Of course, the notion “of the people” is an inconceivably heterogeneous agglomeration of personal and social preferences, attitudes, ages, ethnicities, skills, ambitions, states-of-knowledge, health, wealth that are all too often an assortment of mutually conflicting socio-political-preferences. Why, we should ask, does a person desire a representative in the first place? We can grasp that it was not possible in the Founding 1770-95 period for residents of the original US’ thirteen colonies to vote directly…the prerequisite communications, internet, and computer technologies of today did not then exist. That is, of course, no longer the constraint: consider the vast resources that comprise the set of communications, data, computers, Internet, and social media extant today. So, Americans should be asking why does the US continue with a representative democracy in-spite-of these super-abundant conflicts of interest? Does not the Swiss model provide sufficient evidence that favors the direct democracy alternative? Of course, how could such a transition ever be instituted/accomplished in the US going forward from today: representatives are a very powerful self-serving political force that would oppose such a transition…still more hypocrisy.
Consider the following comment about Switzerland in Wikipedia:
Modern-era citizen-lawmaking occurs in the cantons of Switzerland from the 13th century. In 1847 the Swiss added the "statute referendum" to their national constitution. They soon discovered that merely having the power to veto (on national) Parliament's laws was not enough. In 1891 they added the "constitutional amendment initiative". Swiss politics since 1891 have given the world a valuable experience-base with the national-level constitutional amendment initiative. In the past 120 years, more than 240 initiatives have been put into referendums. The populace has proven itself conservative, approving only about 10% of these initiatives; in addition, they have often opted for a version of the initiative rewritten by the government (before being implemented).
That statement makes it abundantly clear that the Swiss federal government’s imposition of new social laws on their citizens is sparing…especially when contrasted with the US, which will be elaborated below, but a summary statement is revealing. In just the last 70 years, the US federal government has enacted over 10,000 new laws, vs. some 25 for the Swiss in the last 120 years…a mind-boggling difference. But before getting to more details, some general commentary provides context…
It is quite apparent in practice that a representative democracy is not “a government of the people, by the people, for the people” (as Lincoln averred at Gettysburg). It is today more nearly a government of the politicians and by the politicians that reflects the politicians’ personal interpretation of what is in the interest of the people, as well as their sources of campaign financing, and includes their own subjectivity…in most instances an impossible blend of motives brimming with contradictions. Politicians are not the people; nor are the people politicians. Politicians are attempting to orchestrate “the culture”. Herein resides the basic problem of representative democracy: the myriad contradictions apparent today in the US is exactly what should be expected…and indeed they unambiguously exist. This raises the most basic question of whether cultures can ever be “orchestrated from on high”? When history is our guide, I emerge exceedingly dubious.
Hypocrisy is a much tighter conception. What comes immediately to mind is the popular reputation of politicians…namely to be “political” is widely understood to be a highly derogatory allegation. The arch political protagonist Machiavelli’s first line in “The Prince” says it well: assassination is no longer recognized in civilized countries as an instrument of national policy…with the clear implication that it once was. Applied to the context of representative democracy, four possible causes exist. To the extent that representatives do not “represent their constituency”, it could be because (1) they have neither a complete or sufficiently accurate “model of the people”; or (2) they are incented to represent special interest groups rather than the people; or (3) they are intentionally conniving and/or dishonest; or (4) it is simply impossible. Of course, all four constitute variant hypocrisies! Are we humans so naïve as to think these four are all impossible motivators of representatives?
To become persuaded that representative democracy is effective, we should carefully study the consequences of its enactments, enactment by enactment. That is after-the-fact, we should examine the enacted laws as they are implemented. But before we even go that far, it would be first important to obtain a clear statement of intention for each-and-every enacted law. Otherwise, how can one possibly judge an outcome if the intent…the goal or mission…is not understood ex ante? Clearly impossible. When we stop and reflect deeply on enacted laws it is immediately apparent that rarely is an enactment accompanied by clear ex ante statement of intention. Just consider the act of congress that created the department of Homeland Security in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attack that toppled New York’s World Trade Center buildings:
Here is the first sentence of the formally approved Act: To establish the Department of Homeland Security, and for other purposes. https://www.dhs.gov/homeland-security-act-2002
Indeed…for other purposes! Enactments often represent compromises between the conflicting political interests required to vote the measure into law. It seems like all representatives and the architects of each individual enactment must know there is not going to be subsequent evaluation of the resultant consequences…or else there would be clear intention statements attending to each enactment. And it is perfectly obvious that well-conceived feedback loops are crucial…and there are neither. It appears that hypocrisy is structurally baked into the law-making process of representative democracy…at least the current one in the US.
It is also apparent that policies are unconcerned about the possible emergence of unintended consequences from a given enactment…since there are no provisions for ex post examinations, unintended consequences are, at best, after thoughts. Of course, it is also evident that unintended consequences are never easy to foresee, or even actually determinable after-the-fact from observed data. That is consistent with the conclusion that enactments should be few and far between, which is nearly the opposite of what is taking place in the US today. Yet, we know by casual observation that unintended consequences abound. For example, just consider the impact of the US’ recreational drug prohibitions on other countries including Mexico, Columbia, et al. Do you think the US lawmakers ever thought about such prospective impacts, or for that matter even care what the fallout would be for other countries…especially when they have chosen not to figure out the impact on the US itself?
No intention statements, no consideration of unintended consequences, and no feedback loops suggest that enactments must be aimed at other than the “apparent” intended results. That is, it must be that manifest results are not the essential expectations of enactments in the first place. It is well understood that representatives are perpetually concerned about getting elected in the first place, and then re-elected in the second place. Indeed, they spend vast sums to get elected…sometimes even their own money, but more often “other people’s money” that has been raised for campaigning “with promises”. We should ask why do “other people” provide campaign financing: what is their compelling economic and/or social interest? It is political promises that are the perpetual drivers that allure voters. Just consider health care. It is not surprising that there is considerable public interest in “free” health care…which is, of course, impossible for nothing is literally free. What this must mean is that some people do not want to pay for their own health care “insurance premiums” and would prefer to have someone else pay, like taxpayers. Another puzzle: it is difficult to determine how politicians assess their own efficacy, though it might be simply by the total number of new laws they had a hand in enacting…but quite clearly not the consequences that flow from enacted laws, for they are all but ignored. There is more said about this point in the Appendix.
It must be that if a representative perceives there is a sufficient contingent of voters who want “free” health care, one way to “buy their votes” is simply to advocate free health care. Thus, here the representative may be advocating free health care for at least the coincident reason of getting elected. But which is it: true belief that free health care is vital for their constituency or getting elected is vital, or both? Is it democracy or hypocrisy, or both? And does it matter? The bottom-line is many people do want someone else to pay for their health care…but isn’t that just an irresponsible wish that should be ignored? This consideration pinpoints the wide-spread irrational social preference for subsidizing “the have-nots by the haves” that has dominated 20th century politics in the US. That in turn contributes to explaining the ever expanding “public purse”, for the process has no brakes or boundaries constraining the expansion.
Under what circumstances should a culture be willing to subsidize the preferences of select groups of individuals? Consider a few examples of subsidizes that exist today:
Farmers are subsidized to produce far more feed corn than is required to feed livestock.
Consumers do not pay for waste CO2 from the generation of electricity they consume.
Supporting selected foreign cultures, including several in Latin America.
Support of foreign wars, such as intervention in Cuba around Castro’s rise to power.
Or more fundamentally: how are lawmakers, not to mention their constituency, going to decide when subsidizing select behaviors is warranted…while many other possible “subjective” preferences are not? Exactly who is going to decide who gets a given slice of the “public purse” and who is not? That is, by what criteria are certain beneficiaries selected while others are not? And how is the aggregate size of the public purse to be determined? Virtually all other economic entities in the human culture…individuals, partnerships, corporations, foundations, et al…operate under budget constraints, for the availability of capital is neither unlimited nor free. The US government not atypically behaves as if capital were available without constraint…the US presents the quintessential example: it prints money “as politically determined”.
Surely, eliminating representatives does not necessarily resolve this dilemma either. Suppose voters simply voted yes or no on a list of potential subsidies, and the winners get the “coins”. This makes no sense either:
Who is in-charge of making up the list of alternative possible recipients?
Is there to be no budget constraint…which is the case now, for deficits apparently without limit are the perpetual reigning condition?
Besides in the US any budget constraint can be ignored …the government then just issues bonds to cover the deficits. Today, governments just obligate future taxpayers to cover the cost of today’s expenditures.
It seems like such a government should specifically require a budget constraining “constitution” that lays out the approval and evaluative processes and sets limits, particularly in a representative democracy or else there is not likely to be any end of subsidies. My personal surmise is the founding framers probably had in mind a process that limited what could be voted-on/enacted…at least that would be the situation if the nation were to have “enumerated and few powers” as Madison famously advocated in Federalist Paper #45, 1788, at the very same time the contents of the constitution was being debated (and finally passed in 1789). Moreover, reflecting on the dozen years that it took to enact a constitution in the first place provides some clue as to the considerable difficulty that entailed. The US constitution clearly had a complex and controversial birthing 250 years ago…but in the end the entire constitution was hand-written on four…yes 4…pages of parchment! And there have only been 33 proposed “formal” amendments since 1789, of which only 27 have passed the required ratification of the states. Today as we are about to see, the constitution has been essentially bypassed with the flood of enactments dubbed “social” laws that are not distinguishable from what was originally considered to be amendments to the constitution. Indeed, the notion of unintended consequences existed at the birthing of the US constitution: both Adam Smith and John Locke opined extensively on the possibility…so the founding political architects foresaw the problem. However, the technological underpinning of today’s culture is inconceivably different from that of 1789: there is ample reason to understand that today one could, in principal, seek out unintended consequences of a given enactment if the motivation existed. Most likely the foresightful founders indeed foresaw the prospect of subsequent social-laws simply “end-running” the constitution…but I very much doubt they could have imagined the scale that has emerged. The democratic process at work in the US today is clearly a complex tangle of special interests as viewed by many critics of various socio-political persuasions, not just/only mine…for example see George Will’s “Conservative Sensibility”, 2019. Meanwhile, the social laws that have been passed through the halls of congress are numerous: when Obama left office there were over 97,000 pages in the Federal Register: www.forbes.com/sites/waynecrews/2016/12/30/obamas-legacy-2016-ends-with-a-record-shattering-regulatory-rulebook/?sh=2fdeca1b1398 To repeat, the founding architects of the US system could not have imagined today’s extant technologies, or the consequent “largess” of unbridled social-law enactments.
I simply do not see how it will come to pass that any variant on representative democracy will not be, in the end, a hypocrisy in crucial ways. Indeed, crucial enough to fuel shooting wars between constituent “peoples”, such as occurred in the US Civil War over slavery on which the founding constitution was silent. Or clearly “all men were not created equal” that points straight at blacks, and women black and white. Today, perhaps many of us…maybe even the majority…can agree that enslaving others is egregious and should be illegal. Yet, the Constitution of 1789 had nothing to say about it, for slaves were a prominent feature of the economic culture of an important economic segment of the original thirteen colonies, namely the cotton-planters in the Southern states. Vested interests always speak loudly…then and now.
By my reasoning, representative democracy is inherently and unavoidably a manifestation of hypocrisies. I am unable to conceive of how to design any representative democracy that is not also going to suffer from severe and frequent spates of hypocrisy in its creation as well as its operation, which is exactly what is omnipresent today in the US democracy. I am not suggesting that the US form of representative democracy is the worst “democracy” in existence…that would be impossible to demonstrate. I am saying, however, that the US representative democracy is obese and riddled with hypocrisies.
We should want to inquire…is not a direct democracy messy too, perhaps similarly so? Well at least there are no representatives, hence none of the campaign posturing, financing, promises, backstabbing, or the cost of consequent bureaucracies. Of course, in a direct democracy there would likely be a Town Hall where citizens gather to confer, argue, then decide what goes into the referendums. For example, there would improbably be any macro-economic orchestration of the economy without specific legislation that enabled the inherent “interference” in the microeconomy…where otherwise strictly supply and demand determined prices are “necessary and sufficient” to allocate resources. There would unlikely be wide-spread social programming centered on controlling human behavior and/or output of the economy…that would require a constitutional amendment. In Switzerland that consequence has not occurred since its founding 700 years ago. Five other countries are placed in the “freest” category along with Switzerland: Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland. See https://www.heritage.org/index/ranking?version=71 Here, the US ranks #17.
Something else of note might follow in a direct democracy. All public services might be funded by those who use them: use taxes…but this author could not find any existing example. If someone wanted health care, the premiums are paid directly by that beneficiary…which is simply buying insurance to cover health risks; various insurances are found everywhere in the private sector of the economy, for example fire, liability, life insurances. As to those deemed “too poor” by some special interest group…that would require private philanthropy, not public taxation to fund. There would unlikely be much income reallocation in a direct democracy, only a “flat tax” plus the “as-used purpose” taxes previously noted. Political “altruism” would be far more difficult to implement in a direct democracy. One significant consequence is there would be a far smaller administrating bureaucracy. And, use-fees would be collected at the local level, not the federal…which would result in desirable competition between states and counties. For example, if gasoline taxes were less in Nevada than California, drivers could at least partially arbitrage the disparity; this should mean that states would be more reluctant to raise or lower “use taxes” with respect to each other. Use taxes would therefore not necessitate citizens filing complex annual tax returns either and hence no need for a federal “internal revenue service”.
Does such a direct democracy exist today, apart from the Swiss variant? The answer is apparently not. But why not? Switzerland has far fewer federal socio-programmer originations than the US: the social-law enactments are at the level of the canton (that is, the state, not the federal government). Of course, the states in the US are busy with their additional enactments, as are the Swiss cantons…but I do not have sufficient data to contrast the two, so I will stay with just the federal comparisons.
I hope the “essence” of the prior discussion points-out that long-ago the US’ founding fathers envisioned something far closer to a direct democracy than what has morphed into existence in the US. Meanwhile, what we have today is an attempt at nearly unconstrained orchestration from on high, with no-feedback loops, and with no sense of economic effectiveness metrics. In other words, there is no accountability of consequences arising out of federal policy. Every year the US governmental system continues to get ever larger because that is what the representatives promise voters, who are apparently persuaded to believe in “free goods and services” while they have failed to note the absence of evaluative feedback loops. What extrapolation from the current system suggests is that a future could one day arrive when there is virtually no private capital left in the system, only public capital from taxing and a giant bureau to run it…exactly the Soviet model. Was not the Soviet system a sufficiently clear failed experiment to demonstrate that centralized-everything does not work? In principle, under the Soviet system each citizen would be “equal” to every other citizen…for there would be none of the private capital required to create unequal citizenry…of course that ignores theapparatchiks (bureaucrats) who call-the-shots. The Soviet system was a massive economic failure that simply collapsed after all the expropriated private capital assets had been consumed. Be clear, it was the private capital expropriated by the Soviets that was expended in the Soviet experiment; central bureaucracies do not create net new capital…governments only consume capital. I very much doubt that was what the Soviet framers intended. What materialized was just an unintended consequence of their theoretical political system. However, that outcome was anticipated by highly regarded scholarly critics, including Schumpeter in “Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy”, 1942; and Hayek in “Fatal Conceit”, 1988. The Soviet Union system economically collapsed in 1991.
Perhaps the most important question of today has emerged: is the “polity” we have today in the US what the citizenry even understands to say nothing of desires? It is quite clear that citizens are increasingly disgruntled over the political ramblings and rumblings from the extant system: the “disapproval rate” of the US “political system” (depending upon how one chooses to look at it) is nearing 80% (it is all over the web). This strongly suggests that it is not just the inevitable noise that emerges but rather the structure is seriously flawed. Then we must ask, how could US citizenry possibly change what has politically “evolved” in the US? The system has no self-correcting, no adaptive mechanism built into it. The point here is the system does not have a “course correcting” mode. Yes, congress could pass nearly anything but how likely are representatives to transform themselves out of their current “game”; and besides how would the (theoretically independent) judiciary respond? The existing revealed consequences are the opposite: an ever-enlarging government, with progressively greater disapproval rating. In 1900, the governmental budgets in the US (federal-state-local taken together) were under 10% of the GDP…today it is approaching 40%; the system just keeps piling on more laws, more rules, a progressively larger public budget and/or deficit, and an attendant bureaucracy to allocate ever more resources without ever assessing the consequences of prior enactments. The US system flunks all reasonableness tests. Still…most Americans continue to support the existing system by paying heed to what the politicians propose and being swayed by the content of newspapers and/or TV and in turn going to the poles…basically all out of subjective ignorance. Of course, we must ask: what is their option? As already concluded, the existing system has no provision for remedial responses and adaptation.
What is wrong with this picture? My summary assertion is this… The American human condition is awash in noise, false premises, and obsolete social laws…to wit:
My example of noise is the rhetoric perpetually pouring out from representatives in Washington which is predominately the clash of special interest groups vying for ever larger slices of the public purse, all subjectively driven.
A glaringly false premise that is still widely “honored” among many humans, certainly including Americans, is exemplified by the opening gambit of the bible’s Genesis which says in the beginning god created heaven and earth…today we would clearly say that is a false premise. Yet this “view” has “leaked” into the prevailing political altruism. Apparently, the same philosophy drives many of the US’ socio-programmers, the politicians, for there is no reconcilement of enactments with their resultant consequences. In this regard, government and religions are indistinguishable.
I examine in the Appendix what I mean by obsolete social laws which requires digging into details. As I have already noted above, in the last 70 years just the US federal government passed some 10,000 “substantiative” new laws. By contrast, in the last 120 years Swiss voters have approved only 25 out of 240 referendums presented to them. A whopping disparity. This disparity is more than just a curiosity…it needs to be understood, and I have this conjecture. What we have is a system of special interest groups “steering” the representatives.
The over-arching consequence is clear…we live in an unconscious system devoid of feedback loops and thus a system that is not adaptive, unlike all biological systems that depend crucially on feedback driven adaption for their survival. The US political system just keeps printing more money to finance its persistent expansion of lawgiving. Who can miss the contradiction…is this not hypocrisy?
Would anarchy be better? It should be worth trying, for as I see it we have several thousand years of past “failed” Western experiments with myriad governmental orchestration models. Consider Edward Gibbon’s summary of the four primary causes of the collapse of the Roman Empire (from his 1789 the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter Seventy-One…which we should carefully note was at the same time the US constitution was being created):
I. The Injuries of time and nature
II. The Hostile Attacks of the barbarians and Christians
III. The use and abuse of materials
IV. The domestic quarrels of the Romans
Here then are my corresponding points that prevail in the US today:
“Time and nature” have grown a totally unwieldly bureaucracy.
“Hostile Attacks” from foreign nations where the US has been meddling for decades, for example the World Trade Center debacle.
“Use and abuse of materials” includes CO2 waste from burning fossil fuels for energy that is creating global warming.
“Domestic quarrels” over who has which rights and who does not…inequality prevails amidst the perpetual effort by government to “level the playing field” for its citizenry.
Science has no application per se to governance…it is pure subjectivism. The US governmental system has totally failed to adaptively respond to its own unfolding. The system is riddled with hypocrisies...
Let me explore my obsolete social laws allegation by first considering the following bar chart:
When we accept the Pew criteria for “substantive” laws passed from the above bar-chart we infer that something like an average of 300 new laws have been passed during each two-year congressional session since 1989. Were that the norm since 1949 (my arbitrary 70 years ago starting place), there have been 35 congressional sessions (one new session every two of those 70 years), for a total of 35 times 300, or over 10 thousand new laws enacted by just the federal congress during those 70 years. For contrast, the 57th Congress of the US, in 1902-3, passed seven (7) new laws. And as cited above, in the last 130 years the Swiss direct democracy only some 10% of 240 referendums presented to voters have been approved. This should give every thinking person some penetrating questions. As for me, the US is predominately now a political law-giving process driven by special interest groups vying for an ever-greater piece of the seemingly perpetually growing public purse, with zero accountability.
It is quite apparent that the American system has evolved into an attempt to far more heavily “orchestrate” the domestic culture from the seat of federal government…and in the process creating myriad inequalities that the same government claims the desire to eradicate. This is the consequence of US congressional actions, seriously contradicting Madison’s “few and enumerated powers” doctrine. As for me, I think the opposite of Madison’s perspective is occurring: the politicians have evolved into “power wielders” without any bounds or constraints…the constitution is totally ineffective on this count, while the founding architects intended to severely constrain the on-going law-making process.
Then consider the state of California. In 2018, then Governor Brown signed 1016 new laws: https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-laws-passed-vetoes-jerry-brown-analysis-20181002-story.html According to the article, this was a larger than normal number of new laws annually enacted. So, let me just wildly guess that the “typical year” only 150 new laws are passed…same rate per year as the federal government…so in 70 years something another 10,000 new laws came into being since 1949 (my arbitrary starting year) to govern US citizenry living in California…atop the 10,000 new laws from Washington.
Next, I want to ask how many old federal laws are taken off the books, for whatever reason. One such means is “nullification”, and Wikipedia says that at least the states cannot nullify federal laws…that can only occur in the federal congress & courts. The repeal of prior laws is another seeming possibility but an exceedingly rare consequence at both state and federal levels. So once enacted, a law tends to be a permanent feature of governments’ imposition of its then prevailing will on the citizenry, and ever so rarely is any law evaluated after-the-fact for its impact. We citizens have no data after-the-fact on what the impact of all this lawgiving has had. It is a reasonable guess that all this law-giving cannot possibly be favorable to the intention, and how are we to assess intentions?
Thus, those who have lived the last 70 years in California have been subject to 20,000 new laws just during that period and nearly all said laws are still “in force”. Therefore, my examination suggests exceedingly rarely are these enactments reviewed after-the-fact for their impact. It would be even more farfetched to think that “unintended” consequences arising from these enactments have ever been imagined, to say nothing about examined with data. This line of inquiry suggests that Americans are indeed awash in social laws, whether they are obsolete or not would require a close to impossibly detailed inquiry. Clearly, some important fraction is likely obsolete. Could it possibly be otherwise with this much lawgiving from the emergent US political system?
By now it should be apparent that this author finds todays lawgiving system grossly “obese”. We should not have laws on-the-books whose impact has not been analytically evaluated from observed data after-the-fact. That also says that every enactment should carry a clear intention statement that is capable of being interpreted after-the-fact, while such ex ante intention statements are rare. In short, the existing system is totally without feedback loops and just continues to blindly expand its legislated impositions without constraint…hypocrisy.
bc Larry Jay Diamond, Marc F. Plattner (2006). Electoral systems and democracy p.168. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006  See “hypocrite” in dictionary.com  For example see https://www.nytimes.com/1988/05/10/opinion/l-constitutional-law-is-full-of-contradictions-607088.html