Saturday, July 22, 2006

Accountability and democracy

In my past entry, I examined how markets implement the concept of accountability. Accountability is a feedback system by which producers have to account for their conduct. In a market, this is indicated by profit. Producers whose conduct is less than desirable are punished by lower consumer demand, and therefore less profits. Protection agencies also provide a more immediate feedback, in cases of fraud and coercion.

The state is obviously not part of a market. It is a monopoly that plays by its own rules, crowding out the most important market of all : force. As a monopoly on the production of force, the state is extremely inefficient and exploitative, like any monopoly. It is also not accountable to anyone, since no one else has the force necessary to halt the state's profit and exploitation (except in rare cases of bloody civil wars).

This is where democracy supposedly steps in. Voting is supposed to make politicians accountable to "the will of the people". This is all very nice when you look at it from such a distance that you can't see any detail. Once you start picking this idea apart, it crumbles easily.

If voting provides accountability, then it should provide a means for the individual to change products. It should provide a means for the individual to stop buying the product. It should provide a means for the individual to choose between a vast variety of products. It should provide a means for the individual to get some kind of restitution for damages caused to him by someone else. And yet it does none of these things.

How can I say that democracy does not permit the individual to change products ? After all, voting lets "people" change the party in power. Well, that's the first problem. The individual is not "people". Voting is a majority rule, not a market. When I choose a different protection agency in a market anarchy, I am taking away a small part of a producer's profit. In a statist system, I can take away no part of the monopoly's profit. At best I am taking away an extremely small chance of one group of politicians reaping that profit against others. Therefore, if there's anything that the state is accountable to, it is to mass movements and popular beliefs.

And since any single vote is relatively irrelevant to the outcome, people have few incentives to make an informed decision. On the other hand, a person who deals with a protection agency is extremely interested in making an informed decision, as much as he is interested in making an informed decision about buying a car or a house. Who has that kind of commitment about voting ?

Compounding this problem is that fact that choices in a statist system is artificially severely limited. Once parties have established themselves in the traditional right and left axis, they will seek to pass laws to prevent other parties from getting in the debates and gaining legitimacy. If you can't get a single-party system, you shoot for an oligarchy.

As a system to give legitimacy to the state, democracy is great. As a means to create social warfare, democracy is great. As a process of accountability, democracy is about as bad as you can get without outright dictatorship. To claim that democracy makes politicians accountable is about as braindead moronic as claiming that a woman is not powerless against a rapist because she can complain to him about mistreatment.

Now, governments do have some incentive to make themselves accountable, insofar as scandals lower the credibility of any government. But political scandals are only one very small part of the whole of state exploitation, a wholly insignificant part.

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