10% Less Democracy

Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less

[Amazon Link]

I got this book via UNH Interlibrary Loan, up from Southern New Hampshire University's Shapiro Library. It's by Garett Jones, econ prof at George Mason and the Mercatus Center. He undertakes a brave task, taking on the sacred cow of "democracy"—is it really the best way to run things?

Well, of course it is. Except when it's not. Jones says: let's back off and really examine real-world results of democratic procedures. And comes to the reasonable conclusion that we'd be better off with slightly less of them. As the title says, about 10% less.

Some of the data is telling. Independent central banks, insulated from "democratic" political pressures, seem to deliver better economic results for their countries. Independent judicial branches reach better decisions than more politicized ones. Bondholders—nobody elected them—can act as important sanity checks on governments' fiscal policies. Plenty of other examples and sensible observations.

This could be all dry and abstract, but Jones isn't afraid to drop some wit into his discussion. For example, in his discussion of "unanimity rule" (as opposed to "majority rule"): "If 90% of the people at the party want to order so-called pineapple pizza badly enough, and if the party can only order one kind of pizza, then even under unanimity rule, those 90% will probably be able to buy off the wise minority who are rightly skeptical of this pineapple-bread monstrosity." Heh.

A late chapter is particularly relevant to the current "democratic socialist" argument that we should be more like Denmark. Jones compares Denmark with (roughly equal in population) Singapore. Singapore's per capita income is about 80% higher than Denmark's. Singapore's life expectancy is 2.5 years longer than Denmark's. And: "Since 1960, Denmark has grown about four times richer per person, but over the same period, Singapore has grown about twenty-three times richer per person."

And Singapore is not particularly "democratic": Jones estimates that it has "50% less democracy". Yet, it flourishes. We don't need to, and probably shouldn't, go "Full Singapore". But it would be a good thing if we were at least wondering if it wouldn't be a decent idea to move in that direction.

Everything Old is New Again

[Amazon Link]

[Note: Depending on your Pun Salad reading habits, you may have already seen something about this in a book post.]

When Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the race for president, we all had a good laugh when MSNBC airhead Brian Williams and New York Times Editorial Board airhead Mara Gay promoted a tweet they found especially profound:

Approximately 5.6 million right-wing bloggers, including yours truly, pounced on the stunning mathematical illiteracy. And we were not averse to finding Deeper Meaning in the fact that the illiteracy was exhibited by people generally in favor of governments spending lots of money they don't have. A good example was Charles C. W. Cooke at National Review, who found it …

… extremely telling. This, right here, is why so many left-leaning Americans think that “the billionaires” can pay for everything. It’s why Elizabeth Warren was enthusiastically boosted by the media despite her ridiculous pretense that she could pay for a series of gargantuan initiatives without raising taxes on anyone but the extremely rich. It’s why Democrat after Democrat promises not to raise “middle class taxes” while promising programs that require the raising of middle class taxes. How did this bad tweet make it onto TV to be endorsed? Why did Mara Gay agree with it? Why didn’t Brian Williams notice? Because the people involved in this clip thought it was true. This is how they see the world.

[Amazon Link]

… and then we went into Covid-19 24-7 social distancing. Which caused me to power through the library books I had out, including Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World, by Matt Parker, Amazon link at right. Which noted a meme from "our side" from back in 2015, criticizing the $360 million spent on the Obamacare rollout. And here 'tis:

[Bad Math Meme]

Not only that, but this spawned a raucous, hilarious, debate on Facebook and Reddit. Details at Daily Mail from that era.

Now, there are differences. The 2015 meme was from some anonymous Facebook guy, not respectable TV talking heads. It might have been Russians, for all I know. Or it could have been some progressive troll trying to lampoon right-wing stupidity: what better way to do that than to pretend we don't know how to divide?

Still, I'm glad we're now a lot better at catching silly fake news…


Last Modified 2020-03-16 10:10 AM EDT