For the quick reader, find a summary of my argument at the bottom of the post.
The political philosopher Albert Hirschman coined the terms "exit" and "voice" to contrast the non-political world against the political world. I seem to remember, the terms occurred to him when trying to account for cycles of waxing and waning political engagement in the population. For the libertarian, "exit" means the good world unaffected by political conduct and influence, "voice" represents the mean world of political machinations and imposition. I continue my defence of democracy in an indirect debate with Arnold Kling.
Arnold, you write:
"I just think that the wisdom of crowds is channeled more effectively through exit than through voice. As for democracy, it is a good way of arranging for the routine replacement of high-level officials. It is otherwise much over-rated."
First, isn't the "peaceful discharge" feature of democracy, that you consider its best aspect, just the top of the democratic iceberg? Do we not need a lot of democratic play, interaction, and structure underneath before we can hope to avail ourselves of this feature?
Second, in light of my hypothesis that you need a lot of democratic substructure to enjoy "peaceful succession," what does it mean to say democracy is "otherwise much over-rated?"
Third, is it not a contradiction to favour individual freedom, while at the same time wishing away mass political participation?
Fourth, "exit" is a cool term, but what does it mean in a free society with no despotic restrictions to political participation?
And finally, personally, as a libertarian, I find it hard to know how to act as the channeller of "the wisdom of crowds."
Democracy, I surmise, is the response by which a free society guards against efforts at such channelling.
I suspect, democracy is not primarily about fostering and utilising wisdom, but about trust-building among millions of people who are ignorant and rationally ignorant about (1) one another and (2) the conditions of peaceful coexistence on a high level of productivity, playing a game called democracy so as to find and test practices of minimal, non-violent trust in mass society.
The outcomes of the democratic game may often be stupid and unpalatable but if condition (2) is consistently maintained, we have achieved a lot.
There was this reply:
Fourth, “exit” is a cool term, but what does it mean in a free society with no despotic restrictions to political participation?
Imagine a world in which many of the services of existing governments — especially large ones — were shifted to some combination of (a) private businesses (b) voluntary clubs (c) social circles and (d) smaller governments, such as municipalities. Then “exit” would mean moving your custom, your membership, your friendship or occasionally even yourself to another partner.
To which I responded as follows:
Politics and the State (P&S) are inescapable – there is no “exit” from P&S.
It seems a case of “déformation professionelle” especially among economists to have a hard time appreciating this.
P&S is more fundamental than economics in that it can control more factors vital to individuals and humankind than can be achieved by “well-behaved” market action. The options for economic behaviour are set by P&S.
One of the very few economists who did understand that there is “no exit” from P&S is the late Armen Alchian:
“To change the move toward socialism, we must change the ability of various forms of competition to be successful. I know of no way to reduce the prospective enhancement from greater political power-seeking, but I do know ways to reduce the rewards to market-oriented capitalist competition. Political power is dominant in being able to set the rules of the game to reduce the rewards to capitalist-type successful competitors. It is rule maker, umpire, and player … But I have been unable to discern equivalently powerful ways for economic power to reduce the rewards to competitors for political power! Each capitalist may buy off a politician, but that only enhances the rewards to political power.”
Armen Alchian in The Collected Works of Armen A. Alchian, Volume 2, in Economic Laws and Political Legislation, p.604.
I don’t think that P&S commits us to an unavoidable movement toward socialism, but be this as it may, my fellow-libertarians’ “economistic” disregard and even disdain for P&S isn’t particularly helpful.
SUMMARY: The work of politicians conscious of freedom, like Senator-elect Laura Ebke, and of politically active citizens in capacities other than politician is immeasurably valuable.
See also Herbert Spencer... , On the Importance of Politics, Alchian on Politics, Property Rights, Why the State Persists, Glaciers of Peace, Democracy and Freedom, Two Views of Democracy, Trust and Democracy.