Ballot propositions: The voice of the people or the tyranny of the majority?

January 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

Michael E. Newton over at The Path to Tyranny (a much better looking blog than mine, with a better name), writes of his hatred for Democracy in an entertaining post.

I’m not as convinced that direct democracy is such a negative thing, and here’s why:  In the 1950s, the top Federal tax rate was 90%, and that was without any sort of referendum.  The people demanded an interstate highway system, a national retirement plan, a robust military, and they were willing to pay for all of it.  What has happened, in my opinion, is that the politicians recognized that paying for what the people want isn’t really necessary when you can just borrow the money (as a nation) and get what you want without suffering the pain of payment.

The only difference I can discern between spending by referendum and spending by elected representatives is that, through ballot propositions, the people are increasing taxes to pay for needed services.  The government, on the other hand, provides services without covering the costs (which is why so many states, and the Federal Government, have budget crises).  The people are wise, while the government is manipulative.

Mr. Newton’s problem is primarily that the people vote for tax increases to pay for specific services (which is wise), and the government then keeps the money without providing the services.  The problem, then, isn’t direct democracy, but unresponsive and untrustworthy representatives.

Ballot propositions: The voice of the people or the tyranny of the majority?.

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§ 3 Responses to Ballot propositions: The voice of the people or the tyranny of the majority?

  • Thanks for reviewing my blog post. I guess I should have spent more time talking about the taxes we’ve raised to pay for stadiums and trolleys instead of the necessities. But I was only addressing one aspect of the problem in that post. My “hatred for Democracy” comes from a deep study of history and political philosophy, not just current events and the occurrences in Arizona.

    PS I write more about “Demagoguery and Democracy in Arizona” in my book.

    • There are a lot of spending projects that I don’t agree with — stadiums least of all. I think the saddest thing is the extent to which the people are misled by ‘experts’ who assure them that these projects will create a positive return on investment. All I’m saying is that the people aren’t really trying to rob from the rich to give to the poor, they are following the recommendations of experts who should know better (and probably do know better) in hopes of creating positive growth. I don’t think elected representatives are any more capable of teasing out the truth from the hype built up around these projects.

      • So we agree that democracy is just as bad as letting our representatives run government! That’s exactly my point. The progressives pushed for ballot propositions to take power away from the elite and give it back to the people. But the people have been just as bad.

        The problem of these ballot propositions, which I don’t address in my blog post, is that there are no checks and balances. Passing legislation the “normal” way requires two houses of the legislature to pass it and the Governor to sign it. But with ballot prop, 50% plus 1 can pass a bill and there is no check on this power (unless the courts say it is unconstitutional).

        You argue that the problem is that people are misled by the “experts” but that elected reps are also misled. I am reminded of what George Washington said about representative vs democratic government:

        “What certainty is there that Societies in a corner or remote part of a State can possess that knowledge which is necessary for them to decide on many important questions which may come before an Assembly? What reason is there to expect, that the society itself may be accordant in opinion on such subjects?”

        “To me it appears much wiser and more politic, to choose able and honest representatives, and leave them in all national questions to determine from the evidence of reason, and the facts which shall be adduced, when internal and external information is given to them in a collective state.”

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