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.