Our regular commenter Moggsy is a blogger herself, posting at our mutual friend JMB's site, Nobody Important. Today she considers the problems of democracy. She proposes, controversially, that the votes of different categories of voters should carry different weights. Even more controversially, she suggests that voters be licensed like motorists.
One man, one vote is such an established principle that to challenge it is almost unthinkable. Yet this model of democracy seems to tend to economic collapse. Majorities or decisive minorities of financially illiterate or irresponsible voters demand ever more from the state. Governments (or more precisely politicians who want to remain in government) are forced to tax or borrow from the prudent in order to deliver. Holding down interest rates while inflating the currency with Quantitative Easing is merely one current example of the state impoverishing the prudent to bail out the feckless. If interest rates returned to their historical average (so that the prudent earned from their capital) millions of over-borrowed voters would be bankrupt and house prices would collapse to sensible levels.
So democracy requires that economic justice be denied.
Harvard Professor of Economics, Martin Feldstein, recently wrote in the FT that a mere 3% cut in Italy's public spending would solve its financial problems. I am sure he's right but will Italy's state 'payroll vote' permit it? After all our public sector workers are out on the streets in 'righteous' indignation when our feeble government is not (contrary to their claims) making any cuts at all. Government expenditure in Britain continues to rise. The hated 'cuts' are merely a reduction in the rate of increase. It's as if the massively-indebted British nation was on its way to buy a Bugatti, but 'prudently' decided to buy a mere Ferrari instead. The National Debt continues to rise apace (see the debt clock now in my sidebar). Yet such is their sense of entitlement that our cocky 'servants' demand even more.
It has been said that;
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing.
Could a reform of our democracy prevent that collapse? My own preference would be rather to scale down the state and prevent its re-expansion by an entrenched constitution permanently limiting its scope. We could then safely continue with 'one man, one vote' as, while it's a terrible way to choose a master, it's a perfectly adequate way to choose a servant. But whether you favour my approach, Moggsy's suggested electoral handicapping or some pipe dream of your own, how can any reform ever be achieved when the state payroll vote is now decisive?
Unless a truly charismatic leader emerges to explain patiently, relentlessly and - most of all - convincingly that we can't keep spending more than we earn, our model seems doomed to collapse. Every state's credit has a limit and its cheques will eventually bounce so that its dependents starve. Yes, a small state might then be built on the impoverished ruins of the old, but at what terrible human cost?