It is disturbing for me to read pieces by libertarians in which they discount the American political system as a source of unmitigated evil, when at the same time I am witnessing the enormous efforts of millions of Americans organising and partaking otherwise in elaborate and expensive political campaigns in the run up to the mid-term elections 2014.
Freedom necessitates democracy - the possibility for political participation for everyone -, and democracy depends on a political culture maintained by people that value and practice political participation, even at considerable cost to themselves. The importance of these personal political efforts for our freedom cannot be overestimated. Yet, in typical libertarian manner:
With a snap, as it were, a commenter on Arnold Kling's "My Election Take" dismisses the democratic system, in view of:
1. The unelected “staff” and other administrators (bureaucrats) to whom the elected have devolved the authority to legislate by regulation and “policy.”
2. The extensive “lobby” system operatives, especially those for particular interests (that includes social policy objectives as well as economic objectives). These people “write” the laws, modify the regs and “capture” the regulators.
3. The Principals (politicians within groups such as workers, teachers and scientists) who use the numerical or reputational significance of groups they purport to “stand” for or whose members they purport to represent – so called “leaders;” subsidiary politicians.
4. The money-hungry media and its wordsmiths whose constant efforts are to “wage influence,” not to inform. They are the reason money is so effective in politics. Less so, with the growing importance of “ground games” (get out the vote).
To this I replied:
You put your case well; still, I have reservations one may subsume under the term “the public choice syndrome.”
Valuable as many of the insights typically delivered by public choice thinkers are, their approach is highly problematic. It reminds me of advertising a book on “The Elephant”, when, in fact, the book is entirely about “Elephant Diseases”.
Your four points represent generic categories: (a) “(executive) delegation”, (b) “lobbyism”, (c) “group/identity building”, and (d) “media”.
Any desirable political system would have to provide services subsumed under the above four categories, and the US political system does achieve precisely that – in large enough a measure to make the USA one of the politically most stable and freest countries in the world.
For a realistic picture of politics, it is not helpful, to conceive of these categories exclusively in terms of abuse.
My fellow-libertarians are rather good at detecting violations of freedom, unfortunately they are not equally good at knowing freedom when they see freedom.
Freedom (= life in civil society) is as non-clear-cut, messy, and intricate as politics; you must search hard to find the good in the mess, yet the good does exists, and its operative existence is vital.
As a result of an overly rash presumption against politics and the state, libertarians don’t look carefully enough at politics as an unrenounceable condition of freedom, preferring to constantly hibernate in a (to a significant extent) self-made winter of discontent, producing little to better understand the difficult business of surviving peacefully and productively in a world in which politics is indispensable.
And I was rather taken aback when I read the following in Arnold Kling's post:
Arnold you write:
“ I really do not understand why people think that democracy is so great.  Its chief advantage is that it provides for peaceful transitions of power.  I continue to believe that markets, imperfect as they often are, produce better outcomes than voting.”
Three sentences containing three major errors in the thinking of liberals (European meaning):
As for : Try the absence of democracy. Liberals ought to be committed defenders of democracy. After all, a free society is one that allows, indeed, promotes political competition and diversity more than any other social arrangement. Liberals should be at the forefront of institutional change and design to improve the democratic processes of political competition.
As for : At the bottom of anti-democratic tendencies in liberals is the fallacious notion that markets can do the job of the political system. Markets are incapable of creating their own preconditions, and the latter are of a political nature. Markets are not capable of resolving the problems of political scarcity [the paucity of unanimity on issues considered vital by large numbers of people]. It is an illusion to think that markets create peaceful reciprocity; they presuppose a political order that does well at managing political scarcity. Democratic structures are good at managing political scarcity – see “As for “.
Put differently: A market transaction presupposes that there is no conflict between the transacting parties, and that both have recognised a mutually advantageous trading opportunity. A market transaction does not create concordance between the trading parties, rather it presupposes the compatibility of their respective interests. Market transactions are not a means to overcoming conflict, instead they are engaged in to take advantage of mutually complementary benefits already present.
As for : Once one has formed a preconception of democracy as being an ineffective oddity or indeed a systematic threat to liberty, one is not likely to look at the phenomenon with the requisite patience and precision, falling prey to a naive and one-sided take of democracy.
Democracy is a complicated set of institutions, cultural rites and preferences with more than just one set of functions: it fulfils an intricate symbolic function and is a discovery procedure no less than a free market, yet adapted to issues that markets cannot cope with. Democracy is a way of discovering good practices and ideas about how to live together peacefully and on a high level of productivity in extremely large human communities. Its function is to signal and thus ensure enough trust among total strangers so that most people are most of the time protected against lethal distrust by others.